Monday, May 18, 2009

Christ is the Law

“This I command you, to love one another.” ~ John 15:17 (RSV)

As the Living Word, Jesus Christ eloquently fulfilled the Old Mosaic Law and in so doing, recreated the law to the demands of love. Jesus commanded his apostles to go out to all the ends of the earth and to be his witnesses to the Good News of the Gospel. He promised that the Holy Spirit would assist them in preserving the true teachings of His word with special grace and help them to grasp the depths of the sacred truth. With full authority in his name, these most dedicated of the disciples committed themselves to protecting the purity of this new faith as they began to spread the Gospel.
At first the Christians, who were all Jewish, only witnessed within the Jewish community, but it was not for long. Peter, the prime apostle, right at the beginning of his public ministry was challenged to assent to the true reality of the Gospel, when he was invited by Cornelius, a Roman centurion, to come to his home to speak to the Gentiles gathered there.
Under the Old Mosaic Law, Peter, as a circumcised Jew, was forbidden to be with the “unclean” Gentiles. Before he received the invitation, Peter was told in a dream through the Holy Spirit, “What God has cleansed, you must not call common.” Even though he did not fully understand the message, he graciously followed as he was called forth by strange gentiles to come with them to Cornelius. As Peter spoke to this great crowd of faith filled Gentiles, the gift of the Holy Spirit poured out to all of them and the other Jewish witnesses with him were shocked as they “heard them speaking in tongues and extolling God.” This dramatic prophetic act of humble obedience and love for all peoples opened the door to the first theological controversy for the new born Christian Church.
By 50 A.D., as stated in Acts 15, we see this great controversy come to the forefront in the young Church’s first council in Jerusalem. St. Paul with Barnabas, following the Holy Spirit’s guidance had been building the Christian Church amongst the Gentiles. When in Antioch they encountered Christians from Judea who where teaching that all Gentiles must be circumcised and follow the Mosaic Law before they could become Christians. The purity of the message of the Gospel was under its first attack. St. Paul and Barnabas set forth to Jerusalem to converse with the apostles and other elders and witness to them about the massive and authentic conversions of the Gentiles within their ministry.
During the council of Jerusalem the primacy of the first “pope”, Peter, was affirmed by the members of the apostles and elders when an agreement was made that Gentiles were embracing the “radical newness and integrity in ways of thinking and living” , as demanded by the Gospel. They would be asked to refrain from “pollution from idols” , to live chastely, and not to eat meat or drink blood sacrificed to the pagan gods.
Basically speaking this first council of the Church affirmed that Christians did not have to be Jewish first to be converted to the Christian life. The Council avowed that the Gospel, a universal message of hope and truth, was meant for all nations who hungered for the Good News. Christ had come for all of humanity to set free man under the “easy” yoke of the Gospel. Even in the beginning the first Christians recognized that through Christ, all can receive the actuality of freedom, thereby conforming the totality of their hearts to the demands of love and embracing the abundant life of Christ – who is, who was, and who always will be – The Law.
i R. Lawler, D. Wuerl, T. Lawler, The Teaching of Christ. Our Sunday Visitor
Press, Huntington, IN, 2005, 185.
ii Acts 10: 15
iii Acts 10:46
iv The Teaching of Christ, 186.
v Acts 15: 20

Copyright May 2009 by Janelle Wingert

Perfect Charity

“Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassion, kindness, lowliness, meekness, and patience, forbearing one another…and forgiving each other,…and above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts. ” ~ Col 3:12-15

The spiritual journey towards eternal happiness is fully accomplished through the perfection of the cardinal and theological virtues, which transform the interior motives of the human heart. Through a docility of heart the Holy Spirit is free to mold and form the human interior life of the soul. Throughout the human journey, there is a battle taking place between living a virtuous life centered in Christ and a life of selfish self-fulfillment.

As embodied persons, we are transformed body and soul as in much as we freely cooperate with the work of the Holy Spirit, who works to trinify our interior essence with divine grace so that we may live as authentic human beings. “The root reason for human dignity lies in man’s call to communion with God.” (Paul VI 1965, #19) When we are trinified we are drawn into and transformed by the Trinitarian life of God, thereby trinifying everything we are and do, which makes us fully, freely and authentically human. As we begin to live our authentic life in Christ, we become more enhanced images of him as living icons of the Beatitudes and the other divine precepts of Christian life.

Due to our fallen nature, it is humanly impossible for us to live fully human as we were designed to be. We must have Christ, the perfect translation of Divine Love in human terms, to accomplish true human maturity. “We cannot reap the fruit of our moral undertakings without the help of a higher power, the mercy of God.” (Pinckaers 1995, 147) In other words, Christ is in the only one who can free us from the chains that bind us into the slavery of sin and vice. We are given a tremendous divine gift at our baptism when the theological virtues are infused within our souls. Using these divine gifts though require more divine help throughout our human journey, for we are habitually too weedy to recognize the interior movements of the Holy Spirit within our own souls.

We must be tutored, put into practice, and persevere in the Christian life so that we can gain knowledge of the desire to do only the good and reject what is bad. Perfection requires that the good become the very essence of our interior motives, to the point of becoming second nature, which becomes our true freedom. The essence of our happiness ensues on our ability to live in a virtuous way and control our emotions. It is imperative that we be meticulous about acquiring and maintaining good habits, which are virtues, or we will fall into bad ones – known as vices. Vices only lead the soul to sin, especially the capital sins which severe our relationship with God, ourselves, and each other with mortal consequences.

We are fallen creatures who have a complex interior veracity within our souls that can be constrained by perplexing emotions. These emotions are found within the depths of the three dimensions of the human soul known as eros, thumos, and logos. The affective emotions and the spirited emotions are found in the eros and thumos respectively. Without Christ we can become enslaved to the interior motives and movements of our heart as a result of the effects of original sin which causes a deep woundedness within the human soul.

We are embodied persons, which means that every action, we take affects us, bodies and souls. “The person, including the body, is completely entrusted to himself, and it is in the unity of body and soul that the person is the subject of his own moral acts.” (John Paul II 1993, #48)

Anyone who seeks to justify vice, often attempts to divide themselves into two realities, thereby separating their spiritual and moral actions from their biological or physical functions – a form of dualism. These individuals would be the first to deny the existence of a spiritual reality to human life and their actions. Often people fail to recognize that they have a soul and that their spirit is inseparable from their embodied personhood. They live in a delusion with the inability to be freed from the effects of their own fallen nature. Ultimately, a person deceives themselves believing that they are satisfied, though often enough if truly honest with themselves, they lack true happiness. These individuals are constantly seeking more power, more money, or more pleasure to fill their broken interiors, because they lack the joy and peace of the true “fulfillment” they seek- their lost humanity.

Literally, they become slaves to themselves by living in the flesh, which becomes a shallow life purely impulse driven. Humans were designed to live in the spirit in communion with God and all those called to His Kingdom. Those who live in the flesh will never reach their fullness of humanity, though the divine grace needed to do so is freely given as “gift” to all who seek it. “Growth into a virtuous life is growth in ‘civilizing’ and giving good direction even to our passions.” (Wuerl 2005, 253) A person must be able to acknowledge the need to grow in virtue before they can even begin to hope to be freed from almost animalistic like instincts which make themselves less than designed to be.

In utmost humility we must first recognize in ourselves that we have the capacity to do great evil and that we need God’s divine help before we can find authentic freedom of body and soul, which transcends human instinct and impulsiveness. After being praised for her passion for the poorest of the poor, Blessed Teresa of Calcutta responded, “I could have been another Hitler.” This great saint knew that her passion could have been used for great harm and in humility she explained to the startled reporter that human beings have the potential for evil inside - even within her own heart.

“The Christian life begins with humility, which supplies the necessary foundation for the spiritual edifice and is formed in imitation of the humility of Christ.” (Pinckaers 1998, 191) Only in humility with a desire to be reconciled to God are we able to begin the true journey to authentic humanness. Humility doesn’t mean that doing great things or the perfection of holiness is impossible, because through God’s divine grace and mercy, He can do wonders in the hearts of even the smallest among us. “God has not called his servants to a mediocre, ordinary life, but rather to the perfection of a sublime holiness.” (Blessed Henry Suso) God desires perfection from all of his children and only those who have reached holy perfection are in heaven, because in heaven all are saints. It is much better for a soul to “work out” their salvation here on earth and strive for Christian perfection in the present moment. By being authentic virtuous Christians in the fullness of our humanity now, we may be granted the grace to live out our purgatory in this life, instead of the next.

Human “dignity demands that, we act according to a knowing and free choice that is personally motivated and prompted from within, not under blind internal impulse nor by mere external pressure. Man achieves such a dignity when emancipating himself from all captivity to passion; he pursues his goal in a spontaneous choice of what is good…” (Paul VI 1965, #17) From God’s design, we were made to be in complete union with God and all in his kingdom with complete freedom and fullness of our humanity. Only in the trinified human dignity is “authentic freedom … an exceptional sign of the divine image within man.” (Paul VI 1965, #17) One who resides with the full dignity of their humanity lives with an authentic faith completely integrated within their moral life.

This is a lifetime’s journey of transformation to reach the perfection all are meant to be in this life. As the excellence of Christian life is manifested through the interior work of the Holy Spirit within a person, the fullness of their humanity is attained through divine grace. Life according to the Spirit allows for the New Law of Christ to be inscribed in the hearts of faithful followers of Jesus. “The New Law … touches us in our intimate depths and our most authentic spontaneity. This is why it is called an interior law, a law of grace, a law of freedom.“ (Pinckaers 1998, 193) Thus, the New Law transforms the person into a new being who can live in the divine precepts of God’s grace.

Due to our fallen nature, we become enslaved to sin, because we fail to grow in virtues and therefore fail to balance the struggle between the three dimensions of our soul and between our bodies and spirit. Basically speaking, through our human weaknesses our emotions can get the best of us. They are not bad in themselves; it is what we do with our emotions that can teach us to grow in virtue and holiness or fall into vice and sin. Only through a more complete understanding of our relationship between our bodies and souls are we able to truly understand and have control of our own moral acts. Harmony between the body and soul is found through SPICE; or spiritual, physical, intellectual, communicative, and emotional harmony. This lack of balance in our culture is most seen in the lack of “real” adults in our society, for many of our contemporaries are more like adolescents than men or women. We see the effects of the lack of SPICE in broken marriages, domestic abuse, depression, desecration of the human body, and so many other ills in society. A moral theory of virtues transforms the impulses and motivation of the human soul thereby helping the person to accomplish SPICE in their life. (May 1992)

When one is able to master SPICE in their life, their very personhood – souls and bodies – are trinified. Through Trinification we are able to accomplish the human freedom necessary to become mothers and fathers. All of humanity is called to motherhood or fatherhood as expressed within their particular vocation and state of life. If they a called to marriage, they are called to physical motherhood and fatherhood. But those in religious life as consecrated persons and ordained priests are also called to spiritual motherhood and fatherhood. Single people also have a part to share in motherhood and fatherhood as celibate mature persons, through they way they relate to their community, church, and the families around them. We can see these expressions of mature adulthood most perfectly expressed in missionary life and secular institutes. For we only become truly human by the complete gift of self to God and others in no matter what state we are called too.

God gives us free “gifts” we need to emancipate ourselves, achieve SPICE, and discover our true vocation. These gifts are known as the virtues which when perfected become second natures that help to train our interior motives to be further propelled to the good. “A virtue is a settled disposition characteristic of the good person, a tendency toward the altogether good, truly loving, and therefore morally right action in any relevant situation.” (Wuerl 2005, 254)

The cardinal virtues help the three capacities of the soul to encounter interior harmony. These virtues are prudence, fortitude, temperance, and justice. The first three help us with our interior emotions and motives while the last helps us to protect our relationship with God and others. Prudence perfects the mind or logos so that a soul can think rightly. Fortitude hones the spirited emotions of hope, courage, fear, despair, and anger. Temperance mediates the affective emotions of love, desire, joy, hatred, aversion, and sadness. Justice helps us to treat God and all others with the utmost respect.

However, as stated before, we are still in need of divine help, which is where the theological virtues come into play. The theological virtues, especially love “… deepens and strengthens [human virtues], even enhancing them with divine dimensions.” (Pinckaers 1995, 123) The theological virtues of faith, hope, and love actually help our virtues to become “divine” second natures. “Faith furnishes motives of which reason would never dream, and theological charity offers inspiration that surpasses anything found in nature.” (Hardon 1966, 200) And of course the theological virtue of hope gives us the strength, courage, and resilience to persist in acquiring Christian perfection, because we have the conviction that the Lord keeps his promises, for he is not finished with us yet. With hope we look to our ultimate happiness of eternal life which awaits us after this difficult and arduous journey we call life. “By these means of these gifts the soul is excited and encouraged to seek after and attain the evangelical beatitudes.” (Leo XIII 1897, #654)

As St. Paul charges us, “… therefore you have received Christ Jesus, the Lord, so live in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught.” (Col: 2: 6-7) The Holy Spirit’s movement within our interior souls teaches us how to grow in virtue and divine love. God loves us so much that He has given us other ways, even Himself incarnated, to teach us how to live more fully. For as said before Jesus, was the complete translation of divine love spoken in the most eloquent of human conversation.

The optimal education of the Christian moral life can be found in the Sermon of the Mount. Within the Sermon, the Christian moral life can be ascertained within the sublime though paradoxical truths of the beatitudes. For the beatitudes speak in the perfection of human expressions drawing upon the innate universal longings of the human heart to find true happiness. They give us “…a path involving a moral and spiritual journey towards perfection, at the heart of which is love.” (John Paul II 1993, #15) This New Law in Christ is a way of life that all are called to dwell in – a new decree that bestows human liberty in its totality. “God’s call is a call to complete authentic freedom, as freedom to do with joy and spontaneity what one’s heart most desires.” (Wuerl 2005, 255)

This joy and spontaneity are found by living with the beatitudes authentically which “brings a deepening of interiority on the level of the ‘heart.’” (Pinckaers 1995, 137) The Beatitudes set “in order perfectly all the interior movements of the human person.” (Pinckaers 1995, 145) By embracing this New Law in Christ a heart feels “an interior urge – a genuine ‘necessity’…to live them in their fullness” (John Paul II 1993, #18) out of love for God, themselves and mankind. The gift of virtues lived as a manifestation of the beatitudes in a human life do “not lessen but reinforce the moral demands of love.” (John Paul II 1993, #24) As virtues become perfected within us, we begin to become a self-portrait or image of Christ revealed through the spontaneous expression of the Beatitudes in our actions and interior motives. Our love surpasses human nature and enters into the realm of the divine love of Christ articulated in the world. We literally become Christ’s hands, feet, eyes, and heart in the world working to build His kingdom in the current moment.

All we have to do to discover these truths, is to look at multitude of saints and blesseds who have lived this convoluted life with God’s grace. These other portraits of Christ have come from all ages, places, walks of life, sufferings and trials. They are a further testament to the shear power of Christ’s mercy and love working with the weakest of human beings who mastered the moral Christian life – deeply rooted in the Beatitudes, virtues, and demands of love. “The beatitudes teach us faith and courage. They put into our hearts an astounding hope, new, strong, and capable of carrying us through the worst trials, so that for the sake of the Lord we can even find joy and light–heartedness in the midst of them.” (Pinckaers 1998, 35) There are no joyless saints, which can gives us great hope that God can work a miracle in us too.

“For by the incarnation the Father’s Word assumed, and sanctified through His cross and resurrection, the whole of man, body and soul…” (Paul VI 1965, #41) by trinifing him in Christ through the expression of the Beatitudes, an authentic spiritual life of faith, and the perfection of the virtues within man's interior. Even in the midst of poverty and suffering, by living an authentic Catholic moral life all of mankind is drawn into communion with the divine. The virtues, gifts of the Holy Spirit, beatitudes, and our Christian lives are ordered to eternal happiness in the Kingdom of God. (Pinckaers 1998, 29 - 35) The theological virtues of faith and hope become the source of all the good we do. Furthermore, even in the tiniest and most routine of actions in union with Christ, can be accomplished in sanctified love – via the extra-ordinary grace of the Holy Spirit, these moral actions become trinified in the demands of perfect charity.

Catholic Biblical Association of Great Britian. The Holy Bible, RSV, 2nd Edition. San Fransico: Ignatius Press, 2006.
Hardon, John A. The Catholic Catechism: A Contemporary Catechism of the Teachings of the Catholic Church. New York: Doubleday, 1966.
John Paul II, Pope. "Veritatis Splendor." Encyclical, August 15, 1993.
Leo XIII, Pope. "Divinum Illud Munus." Encyclical, May 9, 1897.
Paul VI, Pope. "Gaudium at Spes." Documents of Vatican II, December 7, 1965: 19.
—. "Luman Gentium." Documents of Vatican II, November 21, 1964.
Pinckaers, Servais. The Pursuit of Happiness God's Way: Living the Beatitudes. Staten Island: Abba House, 1998.
—. The Sources of Christian Ethics. Washington, D.C.: The Catholic University of America Press, 1995.
Wuerl, Bishop Donald W. The Teaching of Christ: A Catholic Catechism for Adults. Huntington: Our Sunday Visitor, Inc., 2005.

Copyright January 2009 by Janelle Wingert