Published: April 2, 2009
Our authentic self is the sanctuary where God dwells within us. It is here in solitude that we can sense the innermost movement of God and what it means to be “one” with God.
Thomas Merton wrote: “The inner self is precisely that self which cannot be tricked or manipulated by anyone, even by the devil. He is like a very shy wild animal that never appears at all whenever an alien presence is at hand, and comes out only when all is perfectly peaceful, in silence, when he is untroubled and alone. He cannot be lured by anyone or anything, because he responds to no lure except that of the divine freedom.”
During Lent we go to the desert. It is here that our self-righteous, false sense of self feels most vulnerable. This is where the devil roars and tempts us to trade our soul for the kingdoms of the world. Unlike the devil, Jesus won’t claim equality with God. Jesus undermines our false gods and false sense of self. His power is not used to exploit, manipulate and dehumanize, but to build up, heal and serve. He tells us that what we do unto others, we do unto him.
Lent reminds us just how bound we are to illusions and false gods.
When someone undermines our worldview, we dig for shortcomings, become angry and demonize our adversaries. Adversaries of Jesus did the same thing. “Why should we listen to him? He’s a drunkard, a glutton, and an intimate associate of sinners; he’s possessed; a devil and a liar. Better to just kill him for the common good of the people.”
If, like the Eucharist, Christ is truly present in the least of our brethren, what claim does that have on us—as followers of Jesus? Like it or not, we have to take up our cross even as Jesus took up his. We must stand up for what is right, not just what is politic, expedient or self-serving on our side of an ideological cultural divide.
We’re given fair warning that we will be misunderstood, rejected and persecuted. But we’re also promised that the truth will set us free and that one day every tear will be wiped away.
“It’s Our Best Kept Secret”
Catholic social doctrine is written to help us love as Jesus loves. If it’s our best kept secret, that’s because to embrace it is to invite abuse, even by fellow Catholics. If the teachings of Jesus are difficult, so is Catholic social doctrine. If we apply church teaching to an unjust war, to torture, or capital punishment, our names will be taken in vain—even if the pope, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops or someone like Mother Teresa says the exact same thing. If we advocate for the right to basic necessities like food, or the right to work or basic health care, which Catholic social doctrine advocates, we may well be called a bleeding heart liberal, a socialist or a communist. If we speak in accord with Catholic social doctrine and the pope against abortion, we may well be called a rabid right-wing conservative hypocrite who cares about life in the womb but won’t lift a finger to help a child once they’re born. None of this name-calling helps us discern the truth or what it means to love as Jesus does.
Whenever human life is aborted, be it in the womb, or by terrorism, unjust war, starvation, torture, crucifixion, Christ in the “distressing disguise” of the least is still left hanging from a tree.
What does it say about our world when the U.N. estimates that there are between 40-50 million abortions worldwide each year? Does the Golden Rule apply here? We know we came into being at conception. We know that had we been aborted at nine days, nine weeks or nine months, we wouldn’t be here. Shouldn’t the burden of proof be on the person who wants to take our life to prove we’re not an ensouled human person—than for us to prove we are? How do we pragmatically prove the presence of a metaphysical reality like love, human dignity, the presence of a soul—or God? Pro-choice advocates can no more prove a child in the womb doesn’t have a soul or human dignity with human rights than a sexist can prove a woman doesn’t have a soul or a racist can prove a person of a different race doesn’t have a soul.
Goethe once said, “As the atom goes so goes the universe.” What does it mean to a Christian then when humankind has developed enough chemical, biological and nuclear weaponry to abort our entire collective human experience umpteen times over?
It seems the world has done a better job evangelizing fear, greed, violence, individualism and extreme moral relativism than Christians and people of good will have in evangelizing a culture of life and a civilization of love whereby the truth of our being is honored, human dignity is respected and basic human rights are protected by law.
One thing’s for sure. Partisan left- and right-wing political ideologies and their pundits can’t tell us what it means to be Christ-like. They can’t tell us the Christian response to the great moral questions of our day. They can inspire great self-righteous hatred toward “enemies,” but who among them can teach us how to love one another as Christ loves us? Can they teach us what it means to be born anew in the Spirit?
God Can Speak In The Silence
For those actually seeking truth, better off going to the desert instead, where God can speak in the silence. If we seek real freedom and true happiness, better off struggling to be an authentic person than aspiring to worldly success and power.
In 2005 the Compendium of Catholic Social Doctrine was published at the request of Pope John Paul II to “give a concise but complete overview of the Church’s social teaching.” The document states: “The Church’s social doctrine must be seen as the basis of an intense and constant work of formation, especially of the lay faithful. … The Church … intends with this document … to propose to all men and women a humanism that is up to the standards of God’s plan of love in history, an integral humanism capable of creating a new social, economic and political order, founded on the dignity and freedom of every human person to be brought about in peace, justice, and solidarity. This humanism can become a reality if individual men and women and their communities are able to cultivate moral and social virtues in themselves and spread them in society. Then, under the necessary help of divine grace, there will arise a generation of new men and women, the molders of a new humanity.”
Unfortunately, as fear escalates and the dehumanizing components of technology advance, defending authentic human freedom and the sacred dignity of the human person is an area that will be increasingly contested. On the one hand, like Mother Teresa, we must simply do small things in loving ways. On the other, to be a leaven in a complex, pluralistic culture requires an educated laity. “It belongs to the laity, without waiting passively for orders and directives, to take the initiative freely and to infuse a Christian spirit into the mentality, customs, laws, and structures of the community in which they live.”
What does this mean? To the nearly one billion Catholics in the world, this doctrine is a pastoral effort to help us figure it out. Put another way, this doctrine is designed to help us do our part in ushering in the kingdom of God, which is both a grace from God and a human work requiring us to use our gifts and expertise in cooperation with the will of God.
Jesus didn’t come into the world to condemn it but to save it. May we sense the kingdom of God is at hand, all the way to heaven.
Tom Reichert is the director of pastoral and outreach ministry at St. Joseph Church, Marietta. He may be contacted at treichert@
saintjosephcc.org or (770) 422-5633, ext. 25.