Veritatis Splendor Conference

Author: Fr. Peter Pilsner


by Fr. Peter Pilsner

A brief note about where we are in the document: Last week I said we were looking at sections 4,5, and 6. I noticed later that I had gone into section 7, and had skipped over a crucial point.

So, back to section 7:

VS>> 7. "Then someone came to him. . .". In the young man, whom Matthew's Gospel does not name, we can recognize every person who, consciously or not, "approaches Christ the Redeemer of man and questions him about morality." For the young man, the "question" is not so much about rules to be followed, but "about the full meaning of life."

FP>> John Paul II is not going to let us "miss the forest for the trees," as they say. Before he treats of any particular moral issue, he will discuss the whole of morality. Morality is not merely a set of rules-- i.e. this is what you do, this is why, this is what will happen if you break the rules. It is the answer to the most profound and serious questions we ask: how should I live? What is the purpose of my life? Where do I find happiness? Morality is about, as John Paul II puts it, "the full meaning of life."

VS>> This is in fact the aspiration at the heart of every human decision and action, the quiet searching and interior prompting which sets freedom in motion. This question is ultimately an appeal to the absolute Good which attracts us and beckons us; it is the echo of a call from God who is the origin and goal of man's life. Precisely in this perspective the Second Vatican Council called for a renewal of moral theology, so that its teaching would display the lofty vocation which the faithful have received in Christ,[14] the only response fully capable of satisfying the desire of the human heart.

FP>> Why do people ask such questions? Why do they care so much about the meaning of life? Why should a person be concerned about how he will be remembered after he is dead? John Paul II tell us that when we are concerned about not only how to live, but how to live well and virtuously, we are answering a call from God. God is influencing us, not by coercing our will, but by attracting us to His Goodness. The Second Vatican Council wants us to look at moral theology in this way, as man's answer to God's call to imitate His Goodness. This perspective will lead to "a renewal of moral theology". For, once we realize "the lofty vocation which the faithful have received in Christ," once we see the great dignity to which we are called, it will become clear to us that certain kinds of actions are inherently beneath our dignity, that is to say, immoral.

VS>>8. The question which the rich young man puts to Jesus of Nazareth is one which rises from the depths of his heart. It is "an essential and unavoidable question for the life of every man," for it is about the moral good which must be done, and about eternal life. The young man senses that there is a connection between moral good and the fulfilment of his own destiny.

FP>> Read again: "The young man senses that there is a connection between moral good and the fulfilment of his own destiny." Remember his question? "What must I DO, to gain EVERLASTING LIFE?" He knows impicitly that there is a connection between his actions, that is, what he does (morally speaking), and whether or not he will gain everlasting life.

VS>>He is a devout Israelite, raised as it were in the shadow of the Law of the Lord. If he asks Jesus this question, we can presume that it is not because he is ignorant of the answer contained in the Law. It is more likely that the attractiveness of the person of Jesus had prompted within him new questions about moral good. He feels the need to draw near to the One who had begun his preaching with this new and decisive proclamation: "The time is fulfilled, and the Kingdom of God is at hand; repent, and believe in the Gospel" (Mk 1:15). If the man is a devout Jew, he already knows the commandments. So why does he ask? As the Holy Father states: "the attractiveness of the person of Jesus had prompted within him new questions about moral good ." In other words, as I tried to point out in an earlier post, the young man would not have RUN up to Jesus and asked him this question if he did not see Jesus as an "expert" on goodness, as a perfect example of someone who lived in a way worthy of eternal life. (Note: he is *running* -- do you see how intent he is on getting the answer to his question?) He must have been profoundly attracted to Jesus by the radience of His goodness and holiness.

BTW, the next time you read and study the Gospels, I suggest that you pay attention, not only to how Jesus acts, but to how people act toward him. You can learn a lot about Jesus in this way. Here we learn that Jesus has a holiness about him that affected people profoundly. If you want to imagine how people must have felt about him, think about how people react to someone such as Mother Theresa in our own day. Don't we regard her as holy, and listen to what she has to say, considering her to be an authority on the ways of God? (BTW, have any of you read her address to the National Prayer Breakfast, which she delivered in front of President and Mrs. Clinton? If she can't teach him compassion for unborn children, I don't know who can.) How much greater must have been the attraction people had for Jesus! It comes out in the Gospel again and again. People would follow him in the desert, listen to him for hours, and forget about eating. As the Gospels say, they were spellbound. Such was the attraction of his divinity shining through his humanity.

Now, may I blow off a little steam? The more I see in the Gospels the greatness and holiness of the person of Jesus, the more weary I become of contempory depictions and images of Him that make him out to be little different -- or in some cases better -- than we ourselves. Here are some statements I have come across in lectures and books:

"Jesus carried his cross, not knowing what would happen to him, but trusting that God would deliver him somehow." "Jesus wept in the Garden of Gethsemane, feeling that he had been a failure as a Messiah." "When Jesus rose from the dead, he was as surprised as anyone." "Jesus' remark to the Samaritain woman reflected the prejudices of his time." "Let's enterain this question: Did Jesus face death as nobly as Socrates?"

And we must not forget the movie, "The Last Tempation of Christ," with its ridiculous premise that Jesus, suffering and dying on the cross, was thinking about sex.

The great harm that such images of Jesus do, is to make it difficult for people to give him the veneration, love, and reverence he deserves as our God incarnate. After all, how can you adore Jesus, as that young man did, if you see him as little better than yourself?

Which brings us to our next point.

VS>>"People today need to turn to Christ once again in order to receive from him the answer to their questions about what is good and what is evil." Christ is the Teacher, the Risen One who has life in himself and who is always present in his Church and in the world. It is he who opens up to the faithful the book of the Scriptures and, by fully revealing the Father's will, teaches the truth about moral action. At the source and summit of the economy of salvation, as the Alpha and the Omega of human history (cf. Rev 1:8; 21:6; 22:13), Christ sheds light on man's condition and his integral vocation. Consequently, "the man who wishes to understand himself thoroughly--and not just in accordance with immediate, partial, often superficial, and even illusory standards and measures of his being--must with his unrest, uncertainty and even his weakness and sinfulness, with his life and death, draw near to Christ. He must, so to speak, enter him with all his own self; he must 'appropriate' and assimilate the whole of the reality of the Incarnation and Redemption in order to find himself. If this profound process takes place within him, he then bears fruit not only of adoration of God but also of deeper wonder at himself".[16]

FP>>Christ is God made man, the Second Person of the Trinity Who unites to Himself a human nature. Through his human nature, he reveals his divine perfections. Consider the words of Dom Marmion on this subject: "Christ is God made man, living among men so as to teach them by His words and above all by His life how men ought to live in order to imitate God and please Him. We have then first of all, if we wish to live as children of God, only to open our eyes with faith and love and contemplate God in Jesus.... When you contemplate Christ abasing Himself in the poverty of the crib, recall this word: Who sees me, sees the Father. When you see the Youth of Nazareth, full of obedience, toiling in the humble workshop until the age of thirty, say to yourself, "He that seeth Him, seeth His Father," to contemplate Him is to contemplate God.... These are so many manifestations of God, so many manifestations of the Divine perfections. The perfections of God are in themselves as incomprehensible as the Divine nature. Which of us, for example, could comprehend what Divine love is? It is an abyss surpassing all we could imagine. But when we see Christ, Who, as God, is "one" with His Father, Who has in Him the same divine life as the Father, instruct men, die upon a cross, give His life for love of us; when we see Him institute the Eucharist, we then understand the greatness of God's love."

So then, Christ reveals the perfections of God in his humanity, and he thus shows us human beings how we can, in our limited way, imitate the perfections of God. Christ then is the perfect model and example for us, our "hero," if you would. He is the perfect example of how to practice the cardinal and the theological virtues. We could say then that the moral life, the ultimate answer to the question, "What must I DO, to gain EVERLASTING LIFE?" is: imitate Christ! The great spiritual writers stress this.

St. John of the Cross: "Have a habitual desire to imitate Christ in all your deeds by bringing your life into conformity with His. You must then study His life in order to know how to imitate Him and behave in all events as He would. (The Ascent, Book 1, Ch. 13)

The Imitation of Christ: "He who follows me does not walk in darkness," says Our Lord. These are the words of Christ, by which we are warned, that we must imitate His life and manners, if we would be truly enlightened and delivered from all blindness of heart. Let it then be our chief study to meditate on the life of Jesus Christ.

Or, to draw on St. Paul, the answer to the question is: "Put on the Lord Jesus Christ," or "Put on the mind of Christ," or "It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me."

If we wish to live a moral life, then, we must be like that young man, and approach Christ, trusting that He can answer our every question to perfection, not only by giving us the words of His teaching, but simply by being Who He is.

Any thoughts?