August 28, 2009

Seeking the Face of the Lord

Authentic hope orients us to others and to God

Our Catholic tradition looks at the world holistically, not in a fragmented or individualistic way. All of creation, both the visible and the invisible world, was created by God to be united with him at the end of time.

As individual human beings, we long for communion with God and with one another. Ours is not an individualistic faith.

We believe that we are a pilgrim people journeying together to a heavenly homeland prepared for us by the risen Lord, who has ascended to the Father and who waits for us in the company of his Blessed Mother and all the saints.

This is the heavenly Jerusalem that is promised to us in Scripture. It is St. Augustine’s City of God. It is the fulfillment of the kingdom that is at the core of Jesus’ preaching.

The kingdom that has begun here on Earth, and that will reach its perfection in the world to come, is the source of our most profound hope. Beginning now, but much more completely in the world to come, we are called to be one with God and with all the saints.

In his encyclical letter “Spe Salvi” (“Saved by Hope”), Pope Benedict XVI writes that Christians have always believed that the “blessed life” which we hope for is a social reality and not something that happens to individual persons alone.

The pope recalls the Church’s consistent teaching that sin is “the destruction of the unity of the human race.” Indeed, sin is portrayed in the Scriptures as “fragmentation and division, Babel, the place where languages were confused, the place of separation” (“Spe Salvi,” #13). The English word sin comes from the German word “Sunde,” meaning divided or separated.

Self-centeredness is a prison, the result of sin. Only openness to others can free us from the slavery of sin to the happiness or joy of life in Christ.

Hell is separation from God, the ultimate division of human community. Heaven is the exact opposite, where all of creation finds its unity and perfection in Christ, where we find happiness, peace and joy in the fullness of God’s love.

As the family of God, we are meant to be united in God’s love, which is perfectly realized in the communion of saints. This does not mean that we devalue the individual person.

On the contrary, each and every human being is made in God’s image and likeness. Each of us is known and loved by God by name, as an individual person, with inestimable dignity and worth. But precisely because every individual is important, we treasure the coming together of all people—not in false or superficial ways, but in a profound and holy unity.

We are not communists or socialists who believe that the collective (society) has more value than the individual person. We are Catholics who believe that true community exists only where the dignity of the individual person is recognized, respected and allowed to reach its full potential.

This image of “true community” applies to the family, to the Church and to human society in all its forms. It is an image of that perfect communion which is found in the mystery of the Holy Trinity—three distinct persons in one God.

As Pope Benedict teaches us, the blessed life that we long for “presupposes that we escape from the prison of our ‘I’, because only in the openness of this universal subject does our gaze open out to the source of our joy; to love itself; to God” (“Spe Salvi,” #14).

The Holy Father writes that “while this community-oriented vision of the blessed life is certainly directed beyond the present world, as such it also has to do with the building up of this world” (“Spe Salvi,” #15).

Our Catholic view of the world is sometimes characterized as a perspective that sees “both/and” rather than “either/or.” We recognize God’s kingdom both in this world and in the world to come.

We see ourselves both as individual persons made in God’s image and as members of a community, a family of faith.

And we believe in Jesus Christ, who is both God and man, as the one who is both here with us now (especially in the Eucharist), and yet to come at an hour that is unknown but eagerly expected.

Blessed Teresa of Calcutta used to tell her sisters that her service to the poorest of the poor was carried out “to Jesus, with Jesus and for Jesus.” This is unity in Christ. It is the recognition that whatever we do, we do to and with and for the Lord.

Authentic hope is not individualistic. Hope orients us to others and to the Triune God, who is the cause of our unity and the source of all hope. †

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