Acton‘s PowerBlog has picked up my review of AEI‘s Common Sense series (here). My blog tends to be more pastoral, Acton’s more concerned with economics and public policy so if you are interested in a slightly different style of conversation on economics and religion you can leave a comment on PowerBlog.
Recently I’ve gotten email from some readers who wonder why I write for blogs that lean to the political right. The simple answer is that groups like Acton are interested in the same things that I’m interested in here, things like the importance of virtue for our economic and political lives. While I’m happy to consider writing for left of center groups so far none have invited me to do so.
This raises another matter. Political and economical discussions in America are polarized. While I’m tempted to characterize this as “unfortunate” I don’t think that it necessarily is a bad thing. In fact, it may very well be a good thing since, as the Scripture reminds us, “As iron sharpens iron, so a man sharpens the countenance of his friend” (Proverbs 27:17, NKJV).
The problem of sharp conversation, debate and disagreement is that is we are tempted to making victory–or the other guy losing–our goal rather than a shared search for the truth. What I tell married couples is that when they disagree with each other, what they need to focus on is not whose right and whose wrong but what is God calling us to do at this moment in our lives as a married couple? How can we manifest the love of Christ for His Church in our lives (see Eph 5: 21-33)?
As Christians and as citizens, we need to always ask ourselves this same question: What is God calling us to do at this point in our lives? Unfortunately, and now I think I can reasonable use this word, we often try to answer this question by simply looking backwards—asking, what have we done that we can do again?–rather than forwards–what is God asking us to do from this moment on? A right answer to this second question won’t contradict what God called us to do in the past–how can it since “Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever” (see Heb 13:8)–but neither will it necessarily be simply a matter of doing tomorrow what we did yesterday.
There is in the spiritual life, as there is in all other dimensions of life, a certain limited discontinuity that we must expect and accept. I both am, and am not, the same person I was at a child; I will both be, and not be, the same person at the end of my life as I am today. As the very word suggests, there is a dynamism to life, a rhythm of expansion and contraction, of change and continuity, that characterize life as life.
But again, within limits.
And this I think brings me to the central concern here, the psychological problem that is at the core of our spiritual struggles, or mine at least. I rebel against my limits, I reject the manifestations of my contingency, and I do not accept with thanksgiving my absolute dependence on God or with thanksgiving my relative dependence on my neighbor. All this is to say that, repentant or not, I am sinner.
So what is God calling us to do? I think He is calling us to be who we are. Because I’m a sinner, this requires from me repentance. But because my life is a gift, it also requires thankful and receptive heart toward both God and my neighbor. And because you are as dependent upon me as I am on you, being myself also demands from me a commitment to place your good at the center of my concern.
Repentance, thanksgiving, and love–these are the hallmarks of a healthy human life and their absence signals a grave wounding of the person. The anthropological value of Holy Tradition—and for that matter of the social and human sciences such as psychology, sociology, economics and politics as well as the various biological sciences—is that they can help me to know myself, to give proper weight to the various aspects of my personality, and to express myself in a balanced and wholesome manner. In the formation process, Holy Tradition is essential; self-knowledge, self-acceptance, and self-expression all must be in Christ since these are all modes of being obedient to who God is calling us to be personally and communally.
And how could it be otherwise? We need to remember, and apply, the words of St Ireneaus:
The glory of God is man fully alive, and the life of man is the vision of God. If the revelation of God through creation already brings life to all living beings on the earth, how much more will the manifestation of the Father by the Word bring life to those who see God (AH IV, 20, 7).
In Christ and in His Church we are given the great challenge and opportunity to be fully and truly alive. In Christ and in His Church, we are called to a life free from sin, failure, loneliness, and shame. Not that these are absent from our lives—they clearly are not—but these need no longer determine our lives. Having put on Christ in baptism (see Romans 13:14) we have become “partakers of the divine nature” (2 Peter 1:4). The only thing that we lack—personally and communally—is the exercise of our freedom in Christ to be who we are already.