Summary: Putting aside our self-will is the key to evangelizing our society.

Thursday after Ash Wednesday 2015

Joy of the Gospel

What does it profit a human being to gain everything and lose himself in the process? These words are stark and challenging, like an ice-water drenching for our minds and hearts here at the beginning of Lent. I think of pop icons, both secular and religious, who have attained the pinnacle of fame and in the process fall prey to alcoholism or drug addiction or perversion. Those of us who have attained success in life have to know–either by believing God or by learning the hard way–that pride is the worst of sins. That is because pride causes us to substitute a false god–ourselves–for the true God. When our heart turns away and our ears fail to listen to the clear commands of the Lord, when we are drawn to worship gold or gaming or our own fame, we do not attain the full stature we are designed to have. We do not attain the image and likeness of God, that image and likeness that is Jesus Christ. Here, as we begin forty days of more intense self-discipline, we are called to turn toward the Father and let Him refine and purify our minds, hearts and imaginations. This is a blessed time of prayer, study, reflection, and doing good for others. This is a time for choosing life, which means choosing death for our pride, our self-sufficiency, our self-will. Whoever would save his life for eternity will value it just as Jesus did–a gift to be regifted in service of others.

We have been following the words of the Holy Father as he speaks of the threats to the family, and our need to improve our sense of evangelization to the secular world. He warns against individualism, an exaltation of our own needs and wants over the needs of the community. ‘The individualism of our postmodern and globalized era favors a lifestyle which weakens the development and stability of personal relationships and distorts family bonds. Pastoral activity needs to bring out more clearly the fact that our relationship with the Father demands and encourages a communion which heals, promotes and reinforces interpersonal bonds. In our world, especially in some countries, different forms of war and conflict are re-emerging, yet we Christians remain steadfast in our intention to respect others, to heal wounds, to build bridges, to strengthen relationships and to “bear one another’s burdens” (Gal 6:2). Today too, various associations for the defence of rights and the pursuit of noble goals are being founded. This is a sign of the desire of many people to contribute to social and cultural progress.’

Here I have to interject a philosophical point we can’t forget: Ever since the so-called Enlightenment, secular thinkers have turned the notion of human rights on its head. As Christians we know that there are a hierarchy of rights enjoyed by families and the members of those families. We also know that our right to swing our fists–whether physically or economically–end at the other guy’s face. We have a responsibility, for instance, to take care of those who are starving, homeless, bullied and uneducated. Rights and responsibilities run a parallel and supporting course with each other.

But secular society says that the individual has a right to whatever he or she wants. For instance, if I want to keep my own wealth, I have a right to do that irrespective of the fact that you are starving to death. If I have a desire to be fatherless, I have a right to do what it takes to eliminate any children I might sire. In a dog-eat-dog culture like that, governments exist to forcibly limit my desires and keep things operating smoothly. That means in the U.S. today that a woman has the right to pay someone to kill her unborn child, but the father has no such right because the child is by law the sole property–and I mean property–of the mother. This perversion of the idea of rights has created a culture in which two men can appear at the courthouse and demand a marriage license, and that irrespective of natural law and the good of society and the conscience of the court clerk, he or she has to issue that license.

The Pope does not despair in the face of these abominations: ‘The Christian substratum of certain peoples – most of all in the West – is a living reality. Here we find, especially among the most needy, a moral resource which preserves the values of an authentic Christian humanism. Seeing reality with the eyes of faith, we cannot fail to acknowledge what the Holy Spirit is sowing. It would show a lack of trust in his free and unstinting activity to think that authentic Christian values are absent where great numbers of people have received baptism and express their faith and solidarity with others in a variety of ways. . .The immense importance of a culture marked by faith cannot be overlooked; before the onslaught of contemporary secularism an evangelized culture, for all its limits, has many more resources than the mere sum total of believers. An evangelized popular culture contains values of faith and solidarity capable of encouraging the development of a more just and believing society, and possesses a particular wisdom which ought to be gratefully acknowledged.’ May God bring such a culture about in our world.

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