Veritatis Splendor Conference

Author: Fr. Peter Pilsner


by Fr. Peter Pilsner

Again, Veritatis Splendor provides much food for mediation.

VS>> 19. The way and at the same time the content of this perfection consists in the following of Jesus, "sequela Christi," once one has given up one's own wealth and very self. This is precisely the conclusion of Jesus' conversation with the young man: "Come, follow me" (Mt 19:21). It is an invitation the marvellous grandeur of which will be fully perceived by the disciples after Christ's Resurrection, when the Holy Spirit leads them to all truth (cf. Jn 16:13).

FP>> Perhaps if the young man had realized the greatness of the call Christ was giving him, he would have given up his possessions not only willingly, but joyfully. To give up oneself and what one has to follow Christ brings great joy. In a letter to youth, commenting on this same gospel, the Holy Father said that if the young man had answered the call to follow Christ, he would not have gone away sad. Instead, he would have remained, and found great happiness. Indeed, he would have later shared with the disciples of Jesus the joy of seeing him risen from the dead.

In a like way, we often think of making sacrifices for Christ to be a thing of sadness. How very much deceived we are. Whatever sacrifice we make to follow Christ more perfectly will bring us joy, both here, and in the life to come. There is nothing greater or more joyful that to follow Christ in a spirit of generosity.

VS>> It is Jesus himself who takes the initiative and calls people to follow him. His call is addressed first to those to whom he entrusts a particular mission, beginning with the Twelve; but it is also clear that every believer is called to be a follower of Christ (cf. Acts 6:1). "Following Christ is thus the essential and primordial foundation of Christian morality:" just as the people of Israel followed God who led them through the desert towards the Promised Land (cf. Ex 13:21), so every disciple must follow Jesus, towards whom he is drawn by the Father himself (cf. Jn 6:44).

This is not a matter only of disposing oneself to hear a teaching and obediently accepting a commandment. More radically, it involves "holding fast to the very person of Jesus," partaking of his life and his destiny, sharing in his free and loving obedience to the will of the Father. By responding in faith and following the one who is Incarnate Wisdom, the disciple of Jesus truly becomes "a disciple of God" (cf. Jn 6:45). Jesus is indeed the light of the world, the light of life (cf. Jn 8:12). He is the shepherd who leads his sheep and feeds them (cf. Jn 10:11-16); he is the way, and the truth, and the life (cf. Jn 14:6). It is Jesus who leads to the Father, so much so that to see him, the Son, is to see the Father (cf. Jn 14:6-10). And thus to imitate the Son, "the image of the invisible God" (Col 1:15), means to imitate the Father.

FP>> Passages such as these give the lie to the idea that Christian morality is merely a matter of conforming one's conduct to standards set by an ecclesiastical authority, or that it is a collection of "don'ts" backed up with the threat of divine punishment. True, Christian morality does have absolute prohibitions, and there is such a thing as divine punishment, but to limit it to a consideration of these -- what an impoverished view! Our faith requires so much more of us than just NOT doing EVIL. It is a call from Christ to each one of us, personally and without exception, to follow him.

Following Christ means studying his words and his life, and striving to imitate him. It means listening humbly to his instruction, and sharing in his desire -- you might say, his passion -- to fulfill his Father's will perfectly. Further, as the Holy Father points out, since Christ is God become man, to be a disciple of Christ is to be a disciple of God. To imitate Christ is to imitate the perfections of God. "Be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect." But practically speaking, how does one go about this? Follow the advice of the book, The Imitation of Christ, and take a fresh look at the Gospels, reading them as if you had never read them before, confident that through them Christ will speak to you. Has any of you tried this? If so, what was the result? Any examples?

VS>> 20. "Jesus asks us to follow him and to imitate him along the path of love, a love which gives itself completely to the brethren out of love for God:" "This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you" (Jn 15:12). The word "as" requires imitation of Jesus and of his love, of which the washing of feet is a sign: "If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another's feet. For I have given you an example, that you should do as I have done to you" (Jn 13:14- 15). Jesus' way of acting and his words, his deeds and his precepts constitute the moral rule of Christian life. Indeed, his actions, and in particular his Passion and Death on the Cross, are the living revelation of his love for the Father and for others. This is exactly the love that Jesus wishes to be imitated by all who follow him. It is "the 'new' commandment:" "A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another" (Jn 13:34-35).The word "as" also indicates the "degree" of Jesus' love, and of the love with which his disciples are called to love one another. After saying: "This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you" (Jn 15:12), Jesus continues with words which indicate the sacrificial gift of his life on the Cross, as the witness to a love "to the end" (Jn 13:1): "Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends" (Jn 15:13).

As he calls the young man to follow him along the way of perfection, Jesus asks him to be perfect in the command of love, in "his" commandment: to become part of the unfolding of his complete giving, to imitate and rekindle the very love of the "Good" Teacher, the one who loved "to the end". This is what Jesus asks of everyone who wishes to follow him: "If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me" (Mt 16:24).

FP>> Again, we come to the question, how do we imitate Christ? How do we answer the call: "follow me"? Primarily, we do so by imitating the love of God made manifest in the life, the words, and most especially, the suffering and death of Jesus. "Love one another as I have loved you." How has Christ loved us? By laying down his life for us. If someone were to ask us, "Are you living according to the demands of Christian morality?" I think it would be foolish to say, "Yes," simply because we are not conscious of having broken a commandment. Even if we are keeping the ten commandments, we have yet to ask ourselves: are we keeping "His" commandment?

Now, let me go back to our critique of the idea that a person can break a commandment in order to fulfill the demands of "love" in a given situation. I would like to raise a question. When people do evil in the name of love, are we talking about "real love," that is, the love Christ showed for us, and that we should show for one another? For example, when people such as Jack Kevorkian "help people to die," should we allow such actions to be dignified with the name of compassion (that is, love exercised on behalf of the suffering)? I would say that killing out of such so-called "compassion" has nothing to do with love. It is a false love, a self-centeredness masquerading as love. True love is what we read about in section 20. It is, as Mother Theresa says, "To love until it hurts." This self-sacrificing love is a love that carries the cross, and is strong enough to suffer for the beloved. True love says to the person who is sick and dying, "You are not a burden. You repay me everything I do for you with the joy of your presence, and the presence of Christ in you. Your life is not useless. You are teaching me how to suffer with faith and with love for Christ."

What do you think? Am I being to hard on people who want to show compassion by "helping" the terminally ill to die?

VS>> 21. "Following Christ" is not an outward imitation, since it touches man at the very depths of his being. Being a follower of Christ means "becoming conformed to him" who became a servant even to giving himself on the Cross (cf. Phil 2:5-8). Christ dwells by faith in the heart of the believer (cf. Eph 3:17), and thus the disciple is conformed to the Lord. This is the "effect of grace," of the active presence of the Holy Spirit in us.

Having become one with Christ, the Christian "becomes a member of his Body, which is the Church" (cf. 1 Cor 12:13,27). By the work of the Spirit, Baptism radically configures the faithful to Christ in the Paschal Mystery of death and resurrection; it "clothes him" in Christ (cf. Gal 3:27): "Let us rejoice and give thanks," exclaims Saint Augustine speaking to the baptized, "for we have become not only Christians, but Christ (...). Marvel and rejoice: we have become Christ!".[28] Having died to sin, those who are baptized receive new life (cf. Rom 6:3-11): alive for God in Christ Jesus, they are called to walk by the Spirit and to manifest the Spirit's fruits in their lives (cf. Gal 5:16-25). Sharing in the "Eucharist," the sacrament of the New Covenant (cf. 1 Cor 11:23-29), is the culmination of our assimilation to Christ, the source of "eternal life" (cf. Jn 6:51-58), the source and power of that complete gift of self, which Jesus--according to the testimony handed on by Paul--commands us to commemorate in liturgy and in life: "As often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes" (1 Cor 11:26). FP >> When we follow and imitate Christ, not only do we become LIKE him, but in a mystical way, we BECOME HIM. In the words of St. Paul, "I live, no longer I, but Christ lives in me" [Gal 2:20]. Or, to use another idea of St. Augustine (that I cannot at present find) when we eat normal bread, it is transformed into us. But when we receive the bread of the Eucharist, it transforms us into Christ.

This process of becoming Christ is the work of God's grace in us. The life of God, won for us by Christ on the cross, given in baptism, renewed in holy communion, changes us, and makes Christ live and act in and through us.