The high standard of ordinary Christian living

The face of sorrow, the bleeding face of Christ, “conceals the life of God,” but in that paradox and in that mystery the contemplative is led to love. The contemplation of the Risen Christ confirms that discovery of love. John Paul II talks about Peter’s response “You know that I love” (Jn 21:15-17) and St. Paul “For me to live is Christ.” If it is the Risen Christ to Whom the Church now looks, our meditation on the events of the past hurtles us forward to the present — “the Church relives them as if they happened today.” There is even an eschatological hint in that the “Bride contemplates her treasure and her joy.” Augustine also describes this memory of Christ as a source of joy: “And thus since the time I learned of thee, thou hast dwelt in my memory, and it is there that I find thee whenever I call thee to remembrance, and delight in thee. These are my holy delights, which thou hast bestowed on me in thy mercy, mindful of my poverty.” So John Paul exclaims “‘Dulcis Iesus memoria, dans vera cordis gaudia’: how sweet is the memory of Jesus, the source of the heart’s true joy!”

From this remarkable series of contemplative moments dwelling on the “face of Christ” John Paul II turns at last to the summons to new initiatives as is fitting for the new millennium. He ends section two with the image of the journey, which he picks up immediately at the outset of section 3, “Starting Afresh from Christ.” If Christ is renewed in our hearts, that is, if we are “conscious of the risen Lord’s presence among us,” then we will gain a “new impetus in Christian living, making it the force which inspires our journey of faith.” §29

On the one hand, he says we gain a “new” impetus and that we need “new” initiatives, but on the other hand he says we do not need to invent “new program,” because the program or plan exists already, found in the gospel and in the living tradition of Church. Perhaps we should take from this we need to rediscover it. What must we rediscover in this living tradition? Holiness and Prayer. All initiative must be “set in relation to holiness” §30. Stressing holiness is the urgent task, he says. For this is the central point to rediscover in Vatican II — the universal call to holiness (Lumen gentium chap 5). Not an embellishment, nor a  veneer, holiness is an “intrinsic and essential” aspect of the meaning of the Church. We belong to him who is the Holy One, the Church is the Bride of Christ. Holiness is a gift offered to all the baptized. And the “gift in turn becomes a task.”

Why a task? John Paul II says that if baptism is a true entry into holiness then it would be a contradiction to settle for “mediocrity, marked by a minimalist ethic and shallow religiosity.” §31 Now John Paul II hits home and challenges bourgeois Catholicism, the religion of the well off, the complacency of those who do not wish to learn more and be more, the shallowness of those who accept a 1st grader’s knowledge of the faith and the lukewarm or half-hearted effort to follow the Lord. For too long have we rationalized and pared down the stark challenge “Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Mt 5:48) What does this mean?

The time has come to re-propose wholeheartedly to everyone this high standard of ordinary Christian living: the whole life of the Christian community and of Christian families must lead in this direction.

The high standard we would rather forget or forgo. Ralph Martin spoke about Novo Millennio Ineunte at Orchard Lake a few years back, and for our delight he read us a passage from Tolkein’s “On Fairy Stories”:

O see ye not yon narrow road
So thick beset wi’ thorns and briers?
That is the path of Righteousness,
Though after it but few inquires.

And see ye not yon braid, braid road
That lies across the lily leven?
That is the path of Wickedness,
Though some call it the Road to Heaven.

The narrow and broad roads have always been properly named. John Paul II would have us inquire after the path of righteousness.


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