We’re about half way through the ‘Year of Faith,’ now, and so we’re also half-way in our journey through the Catechism’s four parts. The four parts are: the Creed, the Sacraments, the Moral Life, and the Life of Prayer … That is: Belief, Worship, Action, and Prayer. It’s meaningless to believe in God, and worship God, if then one’s faith is dead in action. There’s nothing speaks more insistently against faith than the hypocrisy of professing a faith but acting consistently badly! So, we need now to begin to address the whole question of how, as Catholic Christians, we try to live out the daily life of morally good actions.
Before we delve into exactly how we do good, and how we work out what is good and right to do, there are three things we need first to think about:
- The first is the question about the nature of humanity. Man is made to be good; he is not made to sin and do wrong, he is made to be good! For humanity is made “in the image and likeness of God,” as Genesis says. There is an automatic dignity to the human person, since the divine image is present in every person; and in Christ, that divine image which was damaged, but not destroyed, by sin, is restored to its full dignity. So, man is made to be good. The Catechism quotes an early Pope, St Leo the Great, saying: “Christian, recognize your dignity and, now that you share in God’s own nature, do not return to your former base condition by sinning. Remember who is your head and of whose body you are a member. Never forget that you have been rescued from the power of darkness and brought into the light of the Kingdom of God.” (CCC 1691)
- The second thing is to be sure what ‘happiness’ really is. What is it that makes us truly happy? Whilst there are all sorts of things that we may think will make us happy for a time, yet there is only one thing that can make us happy for ever, and that is the blessedness of being with the Lord. In fact, Jesus’s great body of teaching in the ‘Sermon on the Mount’ begins with those famous words, the ‘Beatitudes’: “Blessed are the poor in spirit … Blessed are those who mourn … Blessed are the meek, … the merciful, … the pure in heart, … the peacemakers.” These attitudes up-end what many people might think of as ‘happiness’ — but as Christians we aren’t in the business of thinking about happiness in the short term. We are all about thinking of lasting happiness, happiness for all eternity, which means blessedness, beatitude … happiness in the sight of God. Wealth, or fame, or popularity, or career success … these do not make for real happiness — they might for a while insulate us from reality; they might provide a great distraction for some of, or perhaps much of, our life … but only blessedness, ‘entering into the joy of the Lord,’ makes for real, lasting happiness. This we must hold on to as a defining principle of the Christian life. We are here on earth to get to heaven, by God’s grace and by our faith, and by the support and prayers of one another.
- And the third and last thing is a word about ‘freedom.’ Human freedom — having free will — is a key element of humanity’s make-up. But we need to understand what this freedom means. The right to exercise one’s free will, especially in religious or moral matters, is a key right, a part of human dignity. But at the same time we must admit that, because of the Fall, man’s sinning, our free will is not infallible … we can fail, and misuse our free will. In fact, this is the very thing that mankind did at the dawn of history … our first parents, to whom we give the names ‘Adam’ and ‘Eve,’ chose freely, but tragically, to sin, to disobey God, to rebel and to put their own will before His command. So, our freedom is threatened by this constant temptation to pride, to putting ourselves first. The right exercise of free will is to put God first, to choose freely to love and serve Him, to choose freely to love and make sacrifices for others … in this way, our freedom is exercised properly. To use our freedom to be selfish or sinful, is not true freedom. In Christ — crucified, risen and ascended to glory — we are freed, freed from sin, and given the example of the right use of freedom, to love one another as He has loved us.
On this great Ascension feast day, as we adore Jesus returning to His Father in heaven, we know that we need Him in our lives to make us good. We long for that power from on high, that the apostles were to await at Pentecost, the power of the Spirit, which would fill them with heavenly strength and help them exercise their freedom for the good. Let’s us also long for the Spirit; let’s ask today for the great gifts of the Spirit, God’s grace always to exercise our freedom properly, so we can do the good that God wants us to do.