Friday, January 30, 2015

"The Lord always saves his people"

In a homily he delivered yesterday (29 January) at the Casa Santa Marta, Pope Francis reminded us of something very important pertaining to salvation, a distinction that creates a dialectical tension:
It’s true, Jesus has saved us all, but not in a general fashion. All of us, each one with their name and surname. And this is our personal salvation. I am truly saved, the Lord looked at me, gave his life for me, opened this door, this new life for me and each of us can say ‘For me.’ But there’s a danger of forgetting that He saved us individually but at the same time as part of his people or community. His people. The Lord always saves his people. From the moment he calls Abraham and promises to make them his people. And the Lord saves us as part of this community. That’s why the writer of this Letter (to the Hebrews) tells us: ‘Let us be concerned for each other.’ There is no salvation solely for me. If that’s the way I understand salvation, I’m mistaken and going along the wrong path. The privatization of salvation is the wrong path
It seems to me that we always introduce a dangerous distortion when we make false dichotomies, making things falsely either/or instead of both/and.

Here's a question that occurred to me in light of the Holy Father’s insight- Is the door of new life Christ opens for me, the door of the Church? If the best definition of grace is God sharing divine life with us, then that seems like a good answer. The life of God, who is Father, Son, and Spirit is triune, communal. God is communion of persons, albeit divine persons. The Church is also a communion of persons, if sometimes all too human persons, but people in the middle of our sanctification. It is impossible to achieve sanctification on our own. As God shows us - one person is no person.



I read something in Christianity Today earlier this week by Anglican theologian Alister McGrath- “Why Knowing About Jesus Is Not Enough: The day reading Philppians revealed to me a deeper knowledge.” McGrath shares an experience he had as new believer. Experiencing some inner turmoil, he retired to a quiet place and, on the advice of a friend, read the four short chapters that comprise St Paul’s Letter to the Philippians. Among the insights he gained that day was importance of belonging to the Church. The passage that prompted this revelation was Philippians 3:20, which conveys “our citizenship is in heaven.” Part of what McGrath grasped that day was, “The church is a community of believers, an outpost of heaven on earth, a place in which a ‘spirit of grace’ (Zech. 12:10) dwells. Just as the Romans at Philippi spoke the language and kept the laws of Rome, so we observe the customs and values of heaven. As Christians, we live in two worlds and must learn to navigate both while ultimately being faithful to our homeland.”

The Gospel, the good news that is Jesus Christ, is both personal and social at the same time, unavoidably and indispensably so. For example, personal sexual morality (i.e., chastity, or lack of it) impacts society at large. Nothing brings this home more than the nuclear effects of the so-called “sexual revolution” on Western society. That the Gospel is both personal and social simultaneously is demonstrated powerfully in what I have termed the “triptych” of the unique papal magisterium of Bl Pope Paul VI, which consists of his encyclicals Populorum progresso and Humanae Vitae, along with his Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii nuntiandi.

It is no accident that is was Pope Francis who beatified Pope Paul VI, who called Pope Paul “great,” and who refers to him often. The three documents that constitute the triptych of Paul VI’s magisterium demonstrate that the Gospel of Jesus Christ cannot be reduced to an ideology, including an agnostic humanism. Pope Francis himself is vehemently anti-ideological, as so many of his words and gestures demonstrate. Most recently he demonstrated this during his in-flight press conference on his return to Rome from his Apostolic Visit to the Philippines, when he denounced the death-dealing Malthusianism that Paul VI so clearly recognized (along with many other trends antithetical to the Gospel) in Humanae Vitae. To undertake to fully live the good news is to oppose the ideologies of the world. This is how remain “faithful to our homeland.”

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