This is the third of a three-part series on ‘The Way of Christ’ for the Lenten Season, appearing in the Catholic Register.
By: Peter Copeland & Brendan Steven
In this final stretch before Easter, let’s return to where we began – looking at the entirety of Christ’s way of being, as an integral whole of truth, goodness, and beauty. Any other way risks removing something essential.
How does Christ tackle problems of disagreement, of wayward sinfulness, of ideology and tribalism? He does it in a way that does not sacrifice truth for expediency, or goodness for the sake of being right, and all that he does is beautiful.
Christ teaches that blessed are the poor in spirit: to be merciful, humble, pious, devoted, loving, and self-sacrificing. He teaches that outer actions are a reflection of the inner person, so we are to make our hearts pure by ways that are gentle, faithful, loving, and peaceful. To put aside lust, power, glory, pleasure and the pursuit of wealth is only ever a chore in the moment, but it is freedom when the pull of those things are left aside, and Christ fills the heart. For in doing so, we realize a disposition that is not consumed by desires that foster covetousness and leave us emptier, but one that is oriented to gift, and to love.
To defend or promote the Way with coldness, frustration, or intellectual arguments alone is to miss the importance of Christ’s message, which is to act it out and let Him live in you, demonstrating one’s faith as a living testimony, highlighting the good, the joy, and the lightness of being that comes with putting on Christ. Lumen gentium, the Second Vatican Council’s dogmatic constitution on the Church, describes this as a calling to “make Christ known to others, especially by the testimony of a life resplendent in faith, hope and charity.” Resplendence is the ideal where our imagination takes us in envisioning our work and how we share it with others.
We cannot care for the poor in body or spirit without a lightness of heart, for care is always more than a transaction aimed at material need and righting injustice – it is a gift of self and a relationship, where solicitude reigns. We cannot pretend to have compassion for the sinner when we ignore our own sins; for, compassion is ‘feeling with’, and it withers under hypocrisy and dies with scorn. We cannot foster a reverence that fills the heart with awe and wonder, devoid of scoffing cynicism by treating nothing as though it is holy or intrinsically good. We cannot temper our covetous, consuming desires without the vulnerability and submissive hopefulness in God cultivated in prayer.
At the foundation of a healthy society is the family and the love, intimacy and respect children see modeled in husband and wife. We are cut off from genuine intimacy and romantic love when we abuse our sexuality. It can never be only desire, for then it is only a part of the person used as a good for oneself. We can only find joy in the union of persons through mutual gift of self, something that cannot be found unless it is of the whole of ourselves and our sexuality, which is ordered to the mystery of giving life itself. In the case of sexuality as with everything else, we cannot separate the integral nature of truth, goodness and beauty without destroying the whole.
What seems like a unity of opposites to some, the Way of Christ comes alive as the rich combination that it is, in an oft-quoted example from John 8, when the Pharisees and scribes bring to Jesus a woman who has committed adultery. Condemn her to death, they demand, for the Law requires it. “Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her,” he retorts. Goodness radiates resplendently in this moment—the gift of mercy Christ offers to a sinner. The beauty in his simple rejection of cruel judgement touches us all, as we feel the affirmation of her dignity—and our own, amid our own deep sinfulness. But the story doesn’t end simply with non-judgement. The accusers driven off, Jesus tells the woman that he does not condemn her — “Go on your way, and from now on do not sin again.” He has told her the truth about her sins and called her with authority to change. Nothing superfluous is added; gentleness, generosity, and boldness are offered together in perfect completion. The truth accurately describes reality. The goodness shatters the walls around fortress hearts, as mercy and love melt us, open us up to the other. Finally, the beauty stirs us with a vision of what could be, what is possible. Thus, and only together, does Christ change lives and convert souls, even to this day.
We seek the integration of Christ’s Way in our apostolate. We want what we do to be not just factually correct and truthful to Christ’s example, or appealing to the soul, or morally correct, but overflowing with each, marked always by faith, hope, and charity, and whenever possible, a healthy dose of joy.
Above all, we must be attractive witnesses, living our faith resplendently as a testimony; something that people feel drawn to because of its warmth, its hospitality, and ultimately self-sacrificial flavour. We struggle to find this balance every day, and we fail constantly. But we will always come back to it, for we know that in spite of all of our flaws, God loves and forgives us in our contrition, calling us to go forth and sin no more. In secular terms, our mission of ‘civic engagement’ is really civic renewal, civic evangelization, the evangelization that always heals; truth, beauty, and goodness and their perfection, found in Christ’s Way, a Way that is made for all of us.
The previous entries in the series are available here and here, and on the Register’s website.
The truth of Jesus Christ’s teachings has opened my heart to a better way of living and believing in life. For it is Jesus who has taught us as Christians how to be holy. It is true once you give your heart to Lord the transformation has begun.