May 27, 2005

Seeking the Face of the Lord

Jesus Christ is the Truth, not a fleeting philosophy

Do we really believe what we say we do when we recite the Creed at Mass?

This past Sunday, we celebrated the feast of the Holy Trinity—the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. This is the pivotal mystery of our Catholic faith. Our belief that the second person of the Trinity, Jesus Christ, is both God and man is integrally connected to our belief in the Trinity. We say, “Of course, this is what we believe.” Is it really?

Recently, I read an article about faith in Christ by Bishop Peter Sartain of the Diocese of Little Rock, Ark. I quote him at length in order to illustrate a point:

“Several of our priests, when poking fun at themselves for making a self-evident point, quote the fictional preacher who is fond of saying, ‘Jesus said, and I tend to agree … .’

“It’s a great line. As if a preacher could ever make himself the judge of Jesus’ teaching!

“The line makes me laugh, but it also makes me think. I wonder if at times even we Christians approach the teaching of Jesus as something with which we may agree or disagree, as if it is simply one of many philosophies of life among which we may pick and choose as suits our sensibilities.

“A modern tendency to give equal weight to all ideas and opinions has a subtle but devastating effect on the Christian life because it seduces us into thinking that there is no such thing as absolute truth. If we think there is no such thing as absolute truth, we will never truly believe that Jesus is the Son of God and Savior of the world. In line with modern habits, we might judge Christian teaching to be acceptable, reasonable or even appealing—but that’s a far cry from actually being a Christian.

“The mission of God’s Son was not to teach a philosophy but to reveal the Truth so we might be saved. He himself is the Truth, the Absolute Truth. He is God’s complete revelation of himself.”

Recently, an extract from the homily Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger preached to the cardinals before they entered the conclave and elected him as Benedict XVI has been quoted in the news media. The Holy Father spoke of the “dictatorship of relativism” in contemporary culture as a matter of grave concern for our Catholic faith.

The pundits see the pope’s remark as a sign of his negativism and pessimism. In fact, Pope Benedict was making the point that the society of the 21st century tends to dismiss the possibility of absolute truth. The implication is serious if all philosophies, all opinions are considered to be of equal validity and are to be accepted as such. If one subscribes to this theory of relativism, one denies that Jesus Christ is the Way, the Truth and the Life. And thus a basic tenet of the Christian faith falls apart.

Bishop Sartain wrote: “I have a sneaking suspicion that if we were to scrutinize our knee-jerk opinions under the light of the Gospel, we would find some that do not ‘agree’ with Jesus. … It is as if we are saying ‘Jesus said, but I tend to disagree … .’ It’s unthinkable that a Christian would say such a thing, but perhaps we do just that, and more often than we would like to admit.

“We are Christian, we are not judges of Jesus but disciples who accept him as the Truth who sheds light on every aspect of our lives. For Christians there is no hidden corner of life that does not belong to Jesus, which we are not willing to hand over to him.”

It is one thing to hold on to “a hidden corner of life that does not belong to Jesus.” It is another to have questions of faith with which we may struggle in our prayer with him. Didn’t the late Cardinal Henry Newman remark that a thousand questions do not necessarily make a single doubt? In other words, it is one thing to admit that we have difficulty understanding some teaching of Jesus, and it is quite another to cling to our disagreement and live accordingly.

Through the ages, canonized saints and holy theologians have studied and prayed over the Trinitarian revelation of Jesus and the mystery of his Incarnation in order to arrive at a deeper understanding and appreciation of our Christian faith. Libraries are filled with these theological investigations. But in the end, like all other Christians, the great scholars and saints of every era end up on their knees making the same profession of faith. There is Absolute Truth, and it is not a philosophy. It is Jesus Christ, who revealed the Father and promised the Holy Spirit to be our guide. †

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