Redeemer of Man — Love, the True Measure

AT long last we must get to the core of the document; what do we see in this mystery of Christ that may be relevant to the human person in the modern age? As Our Lord said of John, “what went you out to see? a man clothed in soft garments? Behold they that are clothed in soft garments, are in the houses of kings.” (Lk 11:8) Ecce homo. No, we see a man crucified. We see love. “Love is greater than sin, than weakness, than the futility of creation.” (§9) The theme of love and fulfillment is developed in at least three subsequent sections.

John Paul continues this theme in section 10, which opens with “man cannot live without love.” John Paul continues, “He remains a being that is incomprehensible for himself, his life is senseless, if love is not revealed to him, if he does not encounter love, if he does not experience it and make it his own, if he does not participate intimately in it.” This is an existential statement – man cannot live without love – why? Life is senseless. Against the futility of creation, he poses the life lived in love. Perhaps this is also an invitation, an offering of a clue to human existence — if you want to live a meaningful life, if you want to truly escape from futility, encounter love and make it your own.

I think this statement, in addition to being an invitation, is also a place holder for a set of more specific reasons why love is essential to human fulfillment. These reasons are: the priority of “being” over “having,” the importance of participation in community, and the cultivation of contemplation. These themes are developed in various sections of the text. And we will comment upon them in tomorrows blog.

The second place we see a claim about love is in section 15 on progress. John Paul asks whether our “progress” in history means that human beings are becoming better as humans, “that is to say more mature spiritually, more aware of the dignity of his humanity, more responsible, more open to others, especially the neediest and the weakest, and readier to give and to aid all.” Such a norm or measure sounds non-problematic as a standard, but obviously progress has not brought us better human beings, despite the hopes of Enlightenment thinkers or even Mill or Marx. To the contrary, it could be argued there is more selfishness and more exploitation of others. (§15)

Finally, in section 21 John Paul gives the most precise account of love in terms of the “kingly office” of Christ and the vocation of each Christian. To reign is to serve. “This dignity is expressed in readiness to serve, in keeping with the example of Christ, who ‘came not to be served but to serve.'” Service requires self-mastery and personal virtues. John Paul II recovers the virtues through the mystery of Christ. In the gift of service we find a principle opposed to the basic assumptions of the day — the autonomy of man, the exaltation of choice, freedom as the ultimate good. In one of the best passages of the encyclical John Paul II says, “Nowadays it is sometimes held, though wrongly, that freedom is an end in itself, that each human being is free when he makes use of freedom as he wishes, and that this must be our aim in the lives of individuals and societies. In reality, freedom is a great gift only when we know how to use it consciously for everything that is our true good. Christ teaches us that the best use of freedom is charity, which takes concrete form in self-giving and in service.” As Augustine once argued, freedom is an intermediate good and it must be used well, and used in accordance with the law of our being.

Freedom, the great desideratum of modern progress, is discovered in service, that is the truth of Christianity and the “whole truth about man.”

John Paul said that we affirm freedom, but we see a requirement and heed a warning. (§12) The requirement for freedom is truth. The whole truth about man. The truth of human flourishing. We will trace this theme into the workshop tomorrow on conscience in Veritatis splendor. And second, in pursuit of freedom we must heed a warning — to avoid an illusory freedom or a superficial freedom. Or we may use the phrase from section 10, we must understand ourselves thoroughly, not just in accordance with “immediate, partial, or superficial standards.” And to find the true measure of freedom, we must draw near to Christ. (§10)

No one has explained more profoundly how the cross is the true measure than John Henry Newman in his sermon “The cross of Christ, the measure of the world.” (Find it here).

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