Monday, September 12, 2011

Reducing faith to morals ultimately means rejecting Christ

Msgr. Luigi Giussani, in an article published in Italian in 1963, which originated as a talk he gave to some of his fellow priests in 1960, and translated in to English as in 1997 as Open Christianity, asks us to consider what goes on in confession, even now, for many Catholics: "Have you said your prayers? For how long? Have you followed meditations diligently? What about purity, how’s it going there? How many sins did you commit last month? Next month you’ve got to get that down by three or four. This week you sinned a dozen times by being angry. Next week you’ve to keep that figure to a maximum of ten." He is not saying we shouldn't examine our consciences in order to know what sins we have committed and be able to answer how often we've indulged ourselves since our last confession. What he is saying is that this "reflects a highly imperfect method and is far too wanting if we consider the true content and newness of Christianity."

Socrates, he goes on to note, had already extolled self-control, our very human need for a kind of acesis in the recognition that living by instinct and impulse is not a human way of living, even before Jesus came along. So, being a Christian does not simply mean conducting ourselves according "to a pre-Christian asceticism." To live that way, he asserts, is to imply that "Jesus's message [is] useless." To wit: "Self-control was not invented by Christianity; it is a terrestrial paradise conceived as a preventative, the effort or illusion of great stoic personalities."

On this last point, he offers his own mea culpa "for having yielded to stoic asceticism instead of Christianity." He charged himself "with having placed ninety percent of my cards on the structures of human will, on the exercise of freedom and its feeble energies, and then simply sticking on a label with the words 'Jesus Christ.'"

In light of this, what is one to do? We are to turn to Christ "who is imprinted upon every Christian. Jesus Christ, and in this case every Christian, is something else, another form. Jesus Christ has another meaning, other dimensions. Philanthropy and Christian charity are two totally different worlds."

Indeed, "whoever is in Christ is a new creation: the old things have passed away; behold, new things have come" (2 Cor. 5:17).

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