The Apostolate of the Laity

Waxing philosophical in communion with one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church.

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Location: Portland, Oregon, United States

I am just a sinner who holds fast to the notion that every human being on the planet is the result of a thought of God.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Judgement, It's a Good Thing

For your lifeblood I will surely require a reckoning; of every beast I will require it and of man; of every man's brother I will require the life of man.
(Genesis (RSV) 9:5)

The practice of judgment has taken on a very negative connotation in the western, moral-relativistic culture of the twenty-first century. Perhaps the struggle has to do with the reconciling of right and wrong when the mindset of justice has shifted from community to individualism. Time was when people's actions were guided by Judæo-Christian thought. There was a very clear understanding of what was morally acceptable.

That all began to change in the 1600s with the Reformation and subsequent Age of Enlightenment when reason, human reason, began to devolve the primary basis of thought, and faith started to become an option. The cascading effect of this period one hopes touched bottom in the late 1960's when Thomas A. Harris published his book on transactional analysis, (aka TA) entitled, "I'm okay, You're okay." It was a work that captured the mindset of the Boomer generation. In essence there's not really right or wrong only competing versions of the truth, and the path to happiness lies in one's ability to accept the other person as they are without their reality threating one's own.


Today, TA, has largely faded out of vogue, but the acceptance of an absolute truth still seems illusive. Christians of all denominations are often seen by the unbeliever as taking the stand of "I'm okay, you're not," which doesn't go very far in winning friends and an influencing people, especially when the culture fears a violation of diversity and acceptance. Then too, certitude of one's righteousness rarely comes without the cost of one's humility. A fine line must be walked between expressing tolerance versus acceptance of the sinner.

At the other extreme resides atheism which holds fast to the impossibility of their being a God with so much injustice in the world. Man must create the justice he seeks on his own. Communism, Nazism, and host of totalitarian regimes contested the existence of God and put the burden of justice solely on man, often a particular individual. Small wonder the word justice is hardly associated with Hitler, Stalin, Hussein, and whole cast of destructive characters of history.

Still, humanity yearns for some way to make sense of all of the injustices it inflicts upon itself. How many different systems for government have come along, absent of God, that attempted to cure the ills of man? Karl Marx would have the state be the ultimate authority; Machiavelli considered a benevolent dictatorship to be the answer; and Adam Smith championed a system of natural liberty, which today gets named capitalism, as the best path to social order. None of these systems reach the heart of the justice man truly desires.

It's tempting to want to infuse the Church into the state. Perhaps what man-made governmental systems need is the absoluteness of God. For if one used Christ and his teachings as a foundation, any of the economic systems above could prove to be a good platform to work from; however, man being man, makes such a system subject to the corruption of power. The Church leaned that early in her history. Be that as it may, where can one hope to find justice if not from the state?

The one true justice that man can count on is faith in an eternal life in communion with God. Man cannot possibly right all of the wrongs that seem inherent with his Earthly existence, but Our Lord gave us a hope that this life represents a mere fraction of our eternal destiny with Him. Pope Benedict brings this message home in his encyclical Spe Salvi,

God has given himself an “image”: in Christ who was made man. In him who was crucified, the denial of false images of God is taken to an extreme. God now reveals his true face in the figure of the sufferer who shares man's God-forsaken condition by taking it upon himself. This innocent sufferer has attained the certitude of hope: there is a God, and God can create justice in a way that we cannot conceive, yet we can begin to grasp it through faith. Yes, there is a resurrection of the flesh. There is justice. There is an “undoing” of past suffering, a reparation that sets things aright. For this reason, faith in the Last Judgement is first and foremost hope—the need for which was made abundantly clear in the upheavals of recent centuries. I am convinced that the question of justice constitutes the essential argument, or in any case the strongest argument, in favour of faith in eternal life. The purely individual need for a fulfillment that is denied to us in this life, for an everlasting love that we await, is certainly an important motive for believing that man was made for eternity; but only in connection with the impossibility that the injustice of history should be the final word does the necessity for Christ's return and for new life become fully convincing.
- Pope Benedict XVI, Spe Salvi

There will be an accounting for, a reckoning of one's life on Earth. Grace does not cover up the iniquities of one's temporal experience as the reformers argued in their justifications designed to lure people away from The Church. It is not the great equalizer that magically levels the playing field for everyone. In might be easier if it were, but that simply is not so. What one does here matters. The Pope references a passage from Plato that expresses the fact that in the end souls stand naked before the judge, and it no longer matters what they once were in history, but only what they are in truth.

Benedict continues:

With death, our life-choice becomes definitive—our life stands before the judge. Our choice, which in the course of an entire life takes on a certain shape, can have a variety of forms. There can be people who have totally destroyed their desire for truth and readiness to love, people for whom everything has become a lie, people who have lived for hatred and have suppressed all love within themselves. This is a terrifying thought, but alarming profiles of this type can be seen in certain figures of our own history. In such people all would be beyond remedy and the destruction of good would be irrevocable: this is what we mean by the word Hell. On the other hand there can be people who are utterly pure, completely permeated by God, and thus fully open to their neighbours—people for whom communion with God even now gives direction to their entire being and whose journey towards God only brings to fulfilment what they already are.
Pope Benedict XVI, Spe Salvi

As this author ends his Lenten walk with Benedict's encyclical on hope, let every Christian strive for a greater embracing of the way, the truth, and the life that is Our Lord, Jesus Christ. Left to his own designs, man's systems of justice will always fail someone. The love of God never fails anyone.

Our lives are involved with one another, through innumerable interactions they are linked together. No one lives alone. No one sins alone. No one is saved alone. The lives of others continually spill over into mine: in what I think, say, do and achieve. And conversely, my life spills over into that of others: for better and for worse. So my prayer for another is not something extraneous to that person, something external, not even after death. In the interconnectedness of Being, my gratitude to the other—my prayer for him—can play a small part in his purification. And for that there is no need to convert earthly time into God's time: in the communion of souls simple terrestrial time is superseded. It is never too late to touch the heart of another, nor is it ever in vain. In this way we further clarify an important element of the Christian concept of hope. Our hope is always essentially also hope for others; only thus is it truly hope for me too. As Christians we should never limit ourselves to asking: how can I save myself? We should also ask: what can I do in order that others may be saved and that for them too the star of hope may rise? Then I will have done my utmost for my own personal salvation as well.
-Pope Benedict XVI, Spe Salvi

May God bless our Holy Father Pope Benedict.


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5:50 PM  

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