On Oct. 11, 1992, Pope John Paul II presented the Catechism of the Catholic Church to the faithful of the whole world, describing it as a "reference text" for a catechesis renewed at the living sources of the faith. Thirty years after the opening of the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965), the desire for a catechism of all Catholic doctrine on faith and morals, which had been voiced in 1985 by the extraordinary Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, came to fulfilment.
In order to realize more fully the Catechism's potential and in response to the request that had emerged at the International Catechetical Congress of October 2002, Pope John Paul II, in 2003, established a Commission under the presidency of Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which was given the task of drafting a Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, as a more concise formulation of its contents of faith.
Becoming Catholic is one of life’s most profound and joyous experiences. Some are blessed enough to receive this great gift while they are infants and, over time, they recognize the enormous grace that has been bestowed on them. Others enter the Catholic fold when they are older children or adults. (Catholic Answers)
by Father Charles Irvin (October 1995)
The Catholic family of faith offers belief in, and the experience of, the God of Abraham as personal; it finds God's presence in all that is inter-personal, believing each incarnate soul is of God. God, we have come to know, is significantly present to us not simply in things, but personally present in other people. (Genesis 1:27; Romans 8:29-30)
Catholics cannot find salvation individually. We find salvation by living in the world while belonging to God's Holy People, by living within the Church. We believe that the Church is the Mystical Body of Christ. The word cult and the word culture are interrelated words. Therefore, the Catholic lives in an alternative culture, a counter-culture to this world's culture; the Catholic lives in Christ's Mystical Body in order to worship God our Father while in the world but not of the world. (Philippians 3:20-21; Hebrews 11:13-16)
What are the indices of the culture that is this world's?, that we live in but are not of?
In an intellectual world of moral relativism, we stand for perennial values and ethical norms that lead to healthy and holistic human behavior, with the result that people can live lives of serenity and fulfillment even in the midst of collapse and chaos.
In a culture that values caring for self first and then for others, we stand for being responsible and caring for others first and then for self. Catholics attempt to live lives that witness communitarian values as being primary; individualistic values as subordinate. (Well, that's what the idea is, the ideology, even though it isn't lived out very well!).
Among many people who tend to regard freedom as license, we hold to the notion that freedom entails responsibility. God gives us freedom to respond to the Good. God gives us freedom of choice in order that we might choose to do what is decent, right and good. He doesn't give His children freedom as a license for shallow self-aggrandizement and the acquisition of power over others.
In a popular culture that regards faith as anti-intellectual, Catholics stand for the notion that faith is an act of human reason. Faith is based on thoughtful choice, not simply a nice, warm fuzzy feeling. Because of this we have made enormous investments in schools for young people as well as in institutions of higher education.
In a world that trivializes religion as being a sort of private hobby in which people indulge in their subjective feelings and emotions, we attempt to present religion as one of the deepest of human needs. It is an adventure, a quest of the human mind, and a reasoned choice that brings fulfillment to our human power to choose.
In a secular, civil society that tends to regard faith as individualistic, subjective and emotional, ours is a lasting tradition that has stood the test of time. We have watched what is voguish and faddish come and go in their own superficiality. Ours is an ancient set of shared beliefs that we hold in a Communion of Saints, saints both past and present. We experience that Faith as perduring with rock-like stability.
In a world that is fragmented and broken, wherein any one interest group necessarily pits itself against all others in order to gain superiority and dominant control, we stand for family, community and the common good in sharing the stuff of life and the things of the spirit. In a win/lose culture we stand for a win/win way of mutual sharing and living in a holistic communion.
In a hedonistic culture that's hung up on sex, anywhere, anytime, with anyone or anything, that regards sex as little more than mutual masturbation, ours is a tradition that regards sex as an act of spiritual intimacy and communion. We see it as an act in which souls really do unite with each other to become soul mates. But in a world wherein people do not realize that they have souls, we must appear to be mad. Sex and commitment? Sex and our innermost beings? The world around us ridicules such ideas.
In a world that denies the reality of death and refuses to give serious attention to life after death, we enter into it with Jesus Christ in order to show others that death is but another birth, a birth into a new and transcendent life.
Cardinal Suhard, Archbishop of Paris at an earlier time in this century, once wrote: "Every Christian, especially the Christian priest, must be a witness. To be a witness consists in being a living mystery. It means to live in such a way that one's life would not make sense if God did not exist." It's exciting to live life like that.
To be Catholic is to be passionately against our culture?s apathy and indifference toward death. To be apathetic and indifferent toward death makes one, necessarily, passive and indifferent toward life, especially the human life that is inherent in the weakest of persons.
The Church calls us to live this life so fully that we can die in the fullness of life and thus transcend this life by passing over into another. How we die depends upon how we live. Therefore, living this life is of the utmost importance. Because dying is of the utmost importance, we must treat living as having the utmost importance.
In a culture that exalts rights of privacy and hyper-individualism, with all of the resultant fracturing of communal bonds and the breaking apart of communities and churches, the Catholic Church remains bonded in unity, and (curiously!) inclusive of many diversities within its Household of Faith. The fracturing of the Church is something she has avoided at all costs, with a few spectacular exceptions. Priests will go to any length to keep folks Catholic, much to the chagrin of many. Excommunications have gone the way of the Inquisition and other past horrors.
In a legal system that regards the Church as simply an association of like-mined co-religionists who create and sustain their church solely according to human politics and standards (however high-minded they may be), we try to be that "cloud of witnesses" testifying to the reality that the Church was founded by God and is maintained by God. The Church is an edifice built by God, not by Man (Genesis 11:1-9: Luke2).
In a political climate that exalts the exercise of power, the priest comes to us with authority. Power relies on limitless dominance and control; authority relies on inner principles and truths that come from God. Power flows from the capricious and fickle will of all too human men and women. All genuine authority, however, flows from God. (Matthew 16:13-20; 18:18; 21:23-27; 28:16-20; Mark 11:27-33; Luke 20:1-8)
Catholics are very much at home in our American Experiment. The American Revolution grounded its revolt against the power of King George by appealing to "unalienable rights" with which we are endowed by our Creator. Catholics maintain that no government, Congress or Court gives us our rights -- only God does. The French Revolution came just thirteen years after ours and grounded its revolt in the self-proclaimed Rights of Man. Presently, secularist Americans are busily rewriting our Declaration of Independence to fit the French mold, separating religion from society and thereby removing our government from its grounding in God, the Transcendent Source of all human rights. Should the secularists succeed, the result will be catastrophic. Our rights would then depend upon the fickle will of human beings and the political power which they capriciously manipulate.
Secularists look to majority opinion polls and majority votes in order to determine law, norms, and even truth itself. We find truth and moral norms in the Lord of life and in the God who awaits us at the end of our life, the Finality toward which all of life is ordered. The world finds truth in information, facts and data. The Catholic finds it in a larger reality --in Wisdom. Wisdom is a reality that transcends the processing of data and that transcends our own manipulation of facts and information to suit our purposes. These things are all under human control and therefore not truly objective or absolutely reliable. The Church attempts to find truth subsisting in the One who is above and beyond that which humans can control, in Wisdom, in the One we call our God, our Father and our Creator.
John Henry Newman was born in London, England, in 1801, having an English banker for a father and a mother who was the child of a French Huguenot family. It was under her tutelage that Newman learned his religion from the bible. Newman's intellect was keen, voracious, and vital. When he was only sixteen and a half years old he entered Oxford and began to engage his intellect with the keenest minds in all of England. When he was but twenty-one years of age he was made a Fellow at Oriel College when Oriel was at the height of its literary and intellectual fame. It was the beginning of his reputation.
Newman is perhaps the most compelling and influential figure in the English-speaking Church of the last one hundred and fifty years. His name is associated with the emergence of the Catholic laity, the founding of Universities, advances in philosophy and theology, the thought and spirit of Vatican II, and the challenges modernity presents to a life of faith. Before his conversion to Catholicism he became the leader of the spiritual renewal in the Anglican Church known as the Oxford Movement. This was a direct result of his study and love of the Early Fathers of the Church.
Tradition is something which we Catholics revere (2 Thessalonians 2:15) because in it we find the product of our human wrestling with that which God has revealed to us, the God who is (among other things) Truth. And it is in Tradition that Newman's restless mind found fulfillment and satisfaction. It is at one and the same time both authoritative as well as challenging, for Tradition is something that is, along with us, in an on-going pilgrimage through human history as it tends toward our final human destiny in God's purposeful plan. Like every other living creature of God, Tradition mutates, its content changes shape, always adding newer human insights into God?s Revelation that is the continuing work of the Holy Spirit deep within the nature of the Mystical Body of Christ.
Understanding John Henry Cardinal Newman (if one can do so with any reasonable degree of comprehension) requires an understanding of how the human mind arrives at Truth, which immediately raises Pontius Pilate's question: "Truth? What is truth?" Is it a construct of one's own individuated mental thought processes? Or is it an external and already existing reality toward which the mind tends and only in which the mind rests? Catholics experience that to be the case and have found that the human intellect can attain it in what we call Tradition.
Newman observed: "Liberalism in religion is the doctrine that there is no positive truth in religion.... It is inconsistent with any recognition of religion as true. Revealed Religion (claims Liberalism) is not a truth, but a sentiment, a taste.... Devotion is not necessarily founded on faith."
There are those who hold to such notions today, regarding religion as a matter of private sentiment, something utterly subjective, incapable of being true in its nature, something that is merely useful in teaching people to be respectable, polite, and "nice". Such indictments energized Newman's mind, giving us as a part of our Church's treasures now, his vigorous mind in support of the divine nature of the Church, her mission, duty, and reason for being.
Catholicism, as Newman found, regards Truth as incarnate in God's Word and present to us in the risen Christ who comes to encounter us in God's Word and Sacraments. With deliberation, Newman fashioned his motto to read: "Cor Ad Cor Loquitur", Heart Speaking to Heart. For the wonder of it all is that God has given us His offer in love, His offer to love and be loved by Him. And He has given us the even more awesome gift to freely respond.
God speaks to us as a Person. His Word for us has become human flesh and blood. Christ Jesus is God's revelation of Himself to us, a revelation that was foreshadowed in the Old Testament, a historical sharing of Himself in Christ as recorded in the New Testament. The bible is God's revealed word to us centered in and found in the Jesus of Nazareth who was, by the power of the Holy Spirit, raised as the Christ of glory.
Catholics understand the bible in relation to Jesus Christ, the Holy One who is the fullness of God's revelation to us. Actually there is but one revelation of God, found in Jesus the Christ. That revelation comes to us in two rivers that flow forth from the side of Christ, Sacred Scripture and Tradition.
It is crucial, then, to understand that it is the People of God in both Testaments that produced the bible. The bible did not produce the People of God. The bible is the recorded history of God's coming to us in word and in action, as well as the recorded history of our human response to God's initiatives.
Catholics never lose touch with the central reality that God is Personal and that God relates to us personally. It was necessary, therefore, that God enter our human history and into our very humanity in order to speak to us and encounter us humanly. All of God?s revelation is, therefore, centered in upon and flows from the truth that is expressed in the Prologue to St. John's Gospel:
"In the beginning was the Word:
the Word was with God
and the Word was God.
He was with God in the beginning.
Through him all things came to be,
not one thing had its being but through him.
All that came to be had life in him
and that life was the light of men,
a light that darkness could not overpower.
The Word was made flesh,
he lives among us,
and we saw his glory,
the glory that is his as the only Son of the Father,
full of grace and truth."
Numerous occasions reported in the New Testament reveal Jesus commissioning The Twelve to bind and loose, to teach, to forgive in His name, and to reveal His Presence in this world so that people of all nations might have the opportunity to encounter Him. His teaching Presence, in the power of the Holy Spirit, was preeminent among his commissioning of The Twelve. Christ's placement of Peter as the "Chief of the Apostles" was central. (Matthew 16:13-20; 18:18; John 20:19-23; 21:15-18)
It was paradoxical, to say the least. Vacillating and unreliable Peter... compulsive and strong-willed, with narrow vision and only superficial insights.... this Peter was made to be the Rock upon which Christ's Church was to be built, the center and source of unity among the Apostles, the only one to whom Christ individually gave the power of the keys along with the responsibility of proclaiming to the world what the Church believes. It is a fantastic scene to behold, and yet very much of the Gospel.
Frequently our human minds turn to the question: "What is authentic? What is of authority? What does the Church believe and teach?" In the context of our American culture with its exaggerated individualism and promotion of the autonomous self wherein each person's opinion and autonomy is just as good as anyone else's, and wherein egalitarianism has reduced us all to individuated little monads with each person being his or her own universe, what we hold in common has become extremely problematic.
There is at the same time a "Catholic Spirituality" as well as an array of pluriform spiritualities within the Catholic ethos. Together they all focus on Christ, The Mother of Christ, our Mother Mary, the works of Christ (compassion, mercy, justice and peace), and The Communion of Saints.
All of these spiritualities point toward the sovereign majesty of God as well as to intimacy with God. Catholic spirituality sees that the reason why we are born, the reason why we live life on earth, and the reason why we die is to love God face to face. And we begin to do that in the here and now when we discover the face of God in the many faces of those who surround us. We find God looking at us in their eyes, loving us with their hearts, and near to us in all whom He has created and made to be living temples of His Holy Spirit.
Social justice is the recognition and balancing of individual rights in a community of rights. For the Catholic, social justice flows from the recognition of the dignity of each human being's nature as expression of God and as a child of God, and who is therefore one's brother or sister. Action for social justice is a constitutive element of living the Gospel; God's Incarnate Word in the Mystical Body of Christ requires us to live and act in the recognition of who each and every human being, as a consequence of that Truth, truly is in his or her nature.
Catholics experience God in the Spirit-filled and resurrected Christ who lives and moves and has His being within the Mystical Body of Christ which we know to be comprised of all of the baptized and confirmed. Those persons, who are the living cells of the Mystical Body of Christ, comprise the Church. To be sure, the Church is a legal entity, a social institution, something partially constructed and maintained by human hands. To be sure, the Church, like each one of us, is a vessel of clay. But it is more. It is created, formed and sustained by the Spirit of God; it is Pentecost on-going, down through the ages of human history communicated in the many human tongues that express God’s Word for us.
Along with other Christians, we Catholics are called to accept Jesus Christ as our personal Lord and Savior, as the Messiah of God. But in our Church, after we accept Jesus Christ as our personal Lord and Savior, we go on to share His life in His Sacraments. The Church, as we have come to know, is the resurrected body of Christ, the living, Mystical Body of Christ. Living in it means living in Christ. It means living
a life of intimacy
a life of meaning and purpose
a life in which, living in His Spirit, we join with Christ in accomplishing His work here on earth.
The historical Jesus of Nazareth has become the risen Christ of glory transcending all of human history. In baptism, and indeed in all of the Sacraments, we live in Sacraments that incorporate us into the Spirit-filled risen Humanity of Jesus Christ, victim no longer, victorious over sin and death. I no longer live, says St. Paul, it is Jesus Christ who lives in me. It is living in His life that I live.
The summit and source of all Catholic worship is Holy Communion. The Eucharist is that toward which all of the Sacraments of the Church are directed. It is a Eucharist of Word joined to God’s Word incarnate in the Spirit-filled and risen Body and Blood of Jesus Christ. Catholics find, and live in, the Mystical Body of Christ in the Eucharist. And we find the Eucharist in the Mystical Body of Christ. The two are co-extensive with each other. We Catholics see the face of God in the faces of all those who surround us; we encounter God in His glory in His humanity fully alive in Christ Jesus.
As we understand it, God did not come to us in Jesus Christ simply to tell us that He loves us. He did that, and yet more. And God did not come to us in Jesus Christ simply to tell us that He loves us and reveal His will for us, telling us how we can live wholesome and happy lives. He did that, and yet more. God came to us in Jesus Christ to tell us that He loves us, to reveal His will for us, and to share His very own life with us.
Our Lord taught us to pray especially in what we call the Lord’s Prayer, asking God to give us our daily bread. Catholics find the answer to that prayer in the Bread of Life that God our Father gives us on Christ’s altars each and every day of the year in Holy Mass, the Bread that is God’s life poured out for us. God has offered, we must respond, and we do so in Thanksgiving, in Eucharist throughout the days and months of each yearly liturgical cycle wherein the Mystery of Christ’s life is celebrated and into which we enter via the Liturgy.
Catholicism offers a communitarian life, a commonly held and shared body of beliefs, an authoritative teaching ministry that links us with Scripture and Tradition, the continuation of the Apostolic Office, and the Presence of the Holy Spirit within the Mystical Body of Christ, all of which are badly needed direct antidotes to the sicknesses which beset our surrounding culture.
To be sure there are wide varieties of Catholics, there is a richly variegated mix of various expressions of Catholicism. But whether we are from the east or from the west, whether we are “liberal” or “conservative” (if those terms mean anything any more) we hold to one faith, one baptism, one creed, one Lord, and one God and Father of us all. Our very diversity demands and calls down from heaven a unity that the Holy Spirit infuses into us, we who form the many and diverse parts of the Mystical Body of Christ. Catholics in their parishes live as families of faith, big families rich in diversities while at the same time bonded together in a family history that is deep, rich, pluriform, and many splendorous with the Presence of God in His Holy Spirit.
There is a difference between neurotic guilt and theological guilt. Neurotic guilt is found in feelings. There are poor souls who continually punish themselves, live in constant feelings of guilt, condemn themselves and unceasingly tell themselves that they are ?rotten to the core? and are no good to anyone, even to themselves. Neurotic guilt is an emotional problem that cries out for therapy and healing. The Catholic Church is often condemned for wanting people to live in such personal hells, but the condemnation is totally unjustified.
Jesus Christ came to save us from our sins. He came to preach Good News to us, not give us a whole lot of bad news about ourselves. And His Church, following in His footsteps, likewise seeks to lift such trunks off from peoples? backs, to enter into a Ministry of Healing and Forgiveness. She seeks, with Christ, nothing else but a total ministry of Reconciliation in order that we might all ?walk in the glorious freedom of the sons and daughters of God.?
The Church wants nothing to do with neurotic guilt. She wants to rid us of that scourge, that terrible affliction. But, in order to do so, Holy Mother Church must confront us with the truth that we are responsible for our choices. She needs to bring us to realize that our choices have consequences and that our freedom of choice is a freedom given us that we might take responsibility for our lives and for the world what we have fashioned around us. This, as you instantly recognize, is likewise psychological health and maturity. This is precisely the same message of psychologists and psychiatrists, those healers who attempt to help us bring ourselves to take responsibility for our decisions and thereby take responsibility for our lives, thus liberating us from simply being ?helpless victims.?
Jesus Christ is risen from the dead, victim no longer. By the power of the Holy Spirit the Jesus of Nazareth became the risen Christ of glory, Spirit-filled and victim of sin and death no more. It is into THAT Humanity of Christ that we are baptized. It is in THAT Spirit-filled reality that we are confirmed. It is THAT risen flesh and blood of Christ that we receive in Holy Communion. But, in order to arrive into that state of grace we must first acknowledge that we have, in our arrogance and pride, made decisions and choices quite apart from God, quite contrary to Christ, and quite against the Counsel of the Holy Spirit -- choices and decisions which have brought us into pain, suffering, loss and into the mortality that flows from living alienated from the Source of Life that is our Higher Power, alienated and estranged from God.
Such estrangement is a reality far more profound than mere neurotic feelings of guilt and shame. Theological guilt brings us to that point of psychological and spiritual maturity wherein we recognize that we got ourselves into the hell we’ve made, and, like the Prodigal Son, we can make the necessary choices and take those decisions, that will restore us to sanity, health, and wholesomeness (wholly-ness) in our relationships with self, others and God. Which is to say, theological guilt brings us to that point wherein we can once again take responsibility for our lives and taking responsibility for what we can be in the future. This means that, again like the Prodigal Son, we have to stop living in our past lives. What?s done is done and we can’t go back and change anything. God, on the other hand, beckons to us from our future; He calls us through Penance and Reconciliation, to become what we can be. He brings us to realize all that He dreams we can be. This is the work of the Church because it is the Mission of Jesus, the Christ. That freedom comes, however, at a price, namely the price we pay when we realize that we have sinned, take responsibility for our bad choices, and then re-commit ourselves to make good choices as we move forward into our futures and become all we dream we can be as well as all that God wants us to be.
The Cross, with Christ’s human body nailed on it in death, is perhaps more than any other symbol that which identifies us in the public’s eyes as Catholic. Ours is a Church of the suffering. Ours is a Church of sinners. Ours is an altogether human Church. Its humanness is, at the same time, what brings it such scandal, ridicule and scorn. Throughout history its human members have engaged in shocking behavior. At the same time, its human members have displayed extraordinary holiness. But be we saint or be we sinner, we come together each Holy Thursday and Good Friday to face the stark reality of Christ’s Cross, the one with humanity nailed to it. From His pierced human body there flows forth water (Baptism) and blood (Eucharist), that for which our souls thirst, namely the love of God pouring forth from the new rock struck by the New Moses.
Do Catholics accept Jesus Christ as their personal Lord and Savior? Most Catholics are offended by the question. Of course they do! Every time they enter a Catholic church and every time they receive the Sacraments of the Church they enter into the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. And unless He is risen from the dead and present within us then our lives make no sense whatsoever.
The question isn’t so much whether we accept Jesus Christ as it is whether or not we live His life.
Human life with all of is suffering, tragedy, pain and loss is mindless and senseless -- unless we see it through the lens of the Cross. Once we do then we can see the Light risen from the empty tomb. For one gets there only through the Cross.
Catholicism is a public religion. It ?went public” on that first Pentecost Sunday when the Apostles (note that Mary was with them!) were anointed by those mysterious ?tongues of fire? and as a result went out into the public square to make Christ’s risen presence real in the daily world and worldly affairs that occupy the minds and absorb the energies of men and women.
The Roman Emperors immediately attempted to suppress this threat to their power. Theirs was a power of domination and control. For them Might made Right. The opposite, which was and remains the message of Jesus, was a terrifying threat to them. When the Church arrived in Rome the Emperors did everything in their power to entomb it in the catacombs. Nevertheless, no matter how many times the Principalities and Powers of this world tried to suppress and entomb it, it always came out. Like Lazarus and like Jesus Christ, the Power of God in His Church could not be confined and imprisoned by this world’s Forces of Darkness.
World history is the history of the Catholic Church. She has been a public Church from the beginning and remains so even unto this very moment. This is a fact that upsets many of the Church?s enemies -- that can?t stand the fact that they have to deal with God?s Church in the public square, which is to say they are driven half-crazy in their attempts to face down the Church as an institution. An institution is something quite public, quite political, quite social in its reality, quite annoying to those who want to keep it closeted.
Down through the ages the Work of the Church has been to be the voice of human conscience raised up against the arbitrary and capricious employment of governmental power over people. She has stood up to emperors, monarchs, sovereigns, presidents, legislatures and courts, point always to a Higher Authority that is the source as well as the justification of any and all human power and control over other humans. For the Church, humanistic as she is, does not see men, women and children merely as human beings. She knows them to be Children of God and herself. Like Mary, the Church is our earthly Mother who is duty bound to nurture us with the milk, the Bread and Wine, as well as enlighten us and warm our hearts with God?s Holy Fire.
Thus our Holy Mother the Church has established Religious Orders of teachers, doctors, nurses, health care providers, orphanages, old folks homes, hospitals and hospices, schools, colleges and universities, as well as academies and seminaries -- all to nurture, care for, develop and in-courage us in our weakened and broken human condition so that we might walk tall, in dignity, and with purposefulness in the glorious and Spirit-filled freedom of the sons and daughters of God. This is the Mission of Christ. This is the Work of the Church. It is in this that we work out our redemption and salvation, all of it being infused with the Spirit of God who takes our ordinary human flesh and blood and then consecrates it into the Body and Blood of Christ that we might return to our heavenly Father in His Christ.
For God did not create us in order to watch us suffer. Suffering is not His will for us. I realize, of course, that as Catholics we have spiritualized suffering to join our sufferings into the sufferings of Christ so that it can be salvific and redemptive. (This, by the way, was the basis for the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King?s civil rights movement and why it had the power to change the conscience of our entire nation). I realize, also, that joining our sufferings into the suffering of Christ is a noble and Christian work. St. Paul put it this way: “Now I rejoice in what was suffered for you, and I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions.” (1 Colossians 24)
But I also remember when Jesus was asked why there were so many things that were wrong in life, why there was so much evil, pain and suffering in the world, and His response was: “An enemy hath done this.” It is our Ancient Enemy who is at work here and in whose presence we find in the root causes of our pain and suffering. In other words, it is not God’s will that we should suffer. It is His will that we bring His healing and redemptive work to bear so that the world is made whole again and pain and suffering are eliminated. Why else should we pray that God’s kingdom come here on earth, among us here, as it is in heaven?
In Catholic morality we hold to the self-evident truth that life itself are our first and most basic gift from God, a gift over which we can only exercise careful stewardship -- not domination or dominion. The earth, the environment, our talents, our world, are gifts God has given us, along with the gift of our very lives, to use in order to accomplish His purposes, in order to return them to Him increased by our love and energy. But what we do with our lives is our gift to God. And it is not His will that we should snuff them out. Stated another way, our intentions and purpose in exercising stewardship over His gifts to us are of supreme moral importance.
The problem of suffering is, of course, ancient. The rebellion of Adam and Eve takes us to its root source, and the story of the bible finds suffering woven among its many threads. We recall, for instance, the story of Job. Job was, as you recall, that poor, unfortunate man who suffered to the point of despair, the devil jousting with God over Job’s soul while claiming that he, Satan, could make Job despair and turn his back on God. At the heartbreaking conclusion to all of Job’s horrible suffering and loss we find Job crying out: “The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.” The Book of Job reports: “In all this Job did not sin, or did he say anything disrespectful of God.” [Job1:22]
In our response to all that Jesus Christ taught, as well as in our following in the way, the truth, and of life of Christ. St. Paul tells us: “None of us lives for oneself, and no one dies for oneself. For it we live, we live for the Lord, and if we die, we die for the Lord; so then, whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s.” [Romans 14:7]
Life is a mystery to be lived, not a problem to be solved. Death, too, is a mystery to be entered into, not a problem to be solved. And as Christians we enter into death with Jesus who, when faced with His horrible agony cried out “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.” This is why the Cross with Christ’s human body nailed to it in death is, perhaps more than any other symbol, that which identifies us as Catholics. God, after all, has become totally incarnate in our humanity -- from birth through death.