We are at the end of an age. And that is a fact that must loom large in the inventory of our Christian lives, for which we are all individually responsible. The priest or bishop or professor who misled us in college will not be with us at the judgment seat. Neither will “the culture” or the media. Lent is the suitable time to put aside all excuses and to reflect on larger concerns, which are becoming more acute with each passing year.
The “take-out” model of parishes – where you drop in to church for the sacraments and little else – has left generations of U.S. Catholics poorly informed and largely unprepared for a culture that no longer supports life, basic faith, truth, or morality. So for Catholics, this is the question: how do I carve out my life in a world that constantly contradicts what I believe so that I become a saint?
Catholic ghettos are not the answer because they actually contradict the full meaning of our baptism. All the American attempts in that direction that I know of collapsed quickly – usually with a lot of ill feeling. We are meant, as baptized Christians, to be in the world and challenging it.
Now, to start our inventory we have to make one fact central to our lives: “Life is not a simple product of laws and the randomness of matter, but within everything and at the same time above everything, there is a personal will, there is a Spirit who in Jesus has revealed himself as Love.” (Benedict XVI) So life is a continuous conversation with the God who is love. Each event, each relationship is part of this conversation, an expression of love. Driving, phoning, touching, speaking, smiling all are parts of this conversation. Such actions have meaning for us and our salvation – or against us and our salvation.
The way we tell the difference is by turning to God become man among us. Jesus Christ “tells us who man truly is and what a man must do in order to be truly human. He shows us the way, and this way is the truth. He himself is both the way and the truth, and therefore he is also the life which all of us are seeking. He also shows us the way beyond death; only someone able to do this is a true teacher of life.” (Benedict XVI) So from him we are going to get the nuts and bolts of the meaning of life, which in practical terms means those truths that he (the Incarnate Word) speaks through the Church in Scripture and Tradition.
One part of that Tradition can be very helpful in taking an inventory of your life and relationships: Vatican II’s Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World (Gaudium et Spes). Catholicism is an amazingly objective religion. There are thousands of actual saints in history. Catholics are not lost in the false world of ideals. In the Church, there’s no indulgence of the perennial excuse of good intentions as a substitute for real witness. There are clear, objective standards in Catholicism – much to the chagrin of those who have been trying to make Catholicism fuzzy to create fig leaves for themselves.
The Pastoral Constitution is not fuzzy. It offers clear principles for Catholic life. After a brief Prologue, it divides into two parts. Part One addresses “The Church and Man’s Calling,” and Part Two “Some Problems of Special Urgency.” Among much else, Part One basically lays out the Church’s (Christ’s) understanding of what it means to be a human being. A good read for clearing up our understanding of who we really are.
In a series of chapters, Part Two explains Marriage and Family, the Proper Development of Culture, Economic and Social Life, the Life of the Political Community, Peace and the Promotion of the Community of Nations. If you have been puzzled about where to begin, this is not a bad place to start making an inventory of life.
I would suggest taking a sentence at a time. For instance, this: “The well-being of the individual person and of human and Christian society is intimately linked with the healthy condition of that community produced by marriage and family.” Do I seriously believe this? Do I hold to this fact in everything that I do? If not, I have to change my outlook and behavior. Perhaps that should start happening right now?
Try passing a day following this Christian perspective and see how it changes things. And then, do the same with the many other instances of good counsel in this rich text. You may be surprised at the result. You may find yourself wanting to be conformed to Christ more and more, to achieve success with a more Christian life. And all this despite the many and deep challenges of our passing age.
It’s called Catholicism. Have a great Lent.