VERITATIS SPLENDOR CONFERENCE (Part 3)
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, 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
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
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
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
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.