Paige Fitch planted her shovel in the dirt and swiped her arm across her forehead.…
Letting Christ work through us in the here and now
Jason Adkins, the executive director of the Minnesota Catholic Conference, recently invited me to appear on the conference’s podcast, “Bridge Builder: Connecting Faith and Politics,” to discuss the practical implications of my column, “For Christians, the ends do not justify the means“. “Man has,” I wrote, “only one true end: to know, love and serve God. All other ends — all of the goals of our life — must be ordered to that true end.”
This is basic Christian theology, but even in the best of times, we can lose sight of that which should be the most obvious, just as we sometimes suddenly awaken with a start to the face staring back at us from the mirror. Yes, we know that everything we do should be directed toward God, but what does that really mean, in practice?
There is no magical set of actions — do this, avoid that — that amount, in themselves, to the proper ordering of our life toward God. The entire New Testament, especially the writings of St. John the Evangelist and St. Paul, makes it clear that, if we orient all of our thoughts and words and actions toward Christ, we will fulfill the Law, but if we begin with a slavish adherence to the Law, we will always fall short of true unity with him.
“I want to learn only this from you,” St. Paul wrote to the Church in Galatia, “did you receive the Spirit from works of the law, or from faith in what you heard?” (Gal 3:2).
Christianity is not a blueprint, moral or otherwise; it isn’t a series of steps to be followed in order to create a just society, or even personally to get to heaven. It consists, rather, of the Good News that Christ, in sacrificing himself for us and rising again to new life, has offered each and every one of us the opportunity to share in that life and to recover through faith in him the moral freedom that Adam and Eve discarded through their sin.
That moral freedom lifts a tremendous weight off our shoulders: not only, as St. Paul understood, the weight of the Law, which no man could ever fulfill on his own, but the weight of modern moralism, the insistence that all of our actions — and, increasingly, all of our words and even thoughts — should be ordered not toward Christ but toward an ever-changing vision of secular justice. The centralizing forces of our age insist that they can create a blueprint for a just society, but having lost sight of man’s true end, what they have drawn is a floor plan for something like the Winchester Mystery House, where stairs lead to nowhere; interior doors open suddenly to the outside, well above ground level; and windows look back into other rooms, rather than letting the sun shine in.
For centuries, we Christians, too, have felt the weight of the modern insistence on human perfectibility, the idea that, if we simply try hard enough, we can bring an end to all injustice (“sin” being an outmoded concept, like “truth”) through our own will. We have become convinced that we must spend our efforts on finding a universal “solution” to the problem of, say, abortion or poverty or racism rather than counseling our neighbor who, in her distress, is considering ending the life of her child, or helping our fellow parishioner find a job, or treating each person we encounter as if he were Christ himself.
But it was Christ himself who told us that we would be judged on how we treat, not people in the abstract, but the hungry and the poor and the prisoner we encounter in the course of our daily lives. Or, in other words, on the actions that flow from orienting ourselves toward our one true end, and letting Christ himself continue his work through us, right here and right now.
Scott P. Richert is publisher for OSV.