Monday, December 12, 2016

Christmas and the Social Doctrine of the Church

1. Christmas is the Advent Season and the celebration of the Incarnation. The Word became flesh, wrote John, and decided to dwell among us. The fact that the Word became flesh is an honor to our humanity. Jesus Christ "emptied" himself and became human and even slave, as St. Paul wrote. The human is so dear in the eyes of God, this is why he sent his Son to be one of us, to be "in solidarity" with us.

2. Let us see how this can connect with the Social Doctrine of the Church. Let us first focus on the sections #105 to #122 of the Compedium.

3. The Church sees the human as image of God. (See #105). This being image of God IS FULLY EXPLAINED IN CHRIST. Christ is the PERFECT IMAGE of the Father. It is in Christ where we have a full revelation of God. More than this, in Christ WE ARE ALSO FULLY REVEALED TO OURSELVES.

4. This is Traditional thinking taking from the early Church councils. Jesus Christ coming "from above" is able to communicate to us the divine. Jesus Christ who is also "from below" is able to say, in human terms, the path leading to God. This path leading to God INCLUDES OUR "YES" TO OUR HUMANITY. We recognize the value and beauty of our being human as image of God and so we become ready to say "yes" also to God's invitation to a life of communion with him.

5. Our difficulty in our saying "yes" lies in our wounded state. We are wounded with the deep wound which we call as “sin”. Sin is our alienation from God and from one another (see #116). Our communion with God is wounded and our friendship of unity with others is also wounded.

6. The Compendium will add that this is not just a personal sin of each of us. It is also a SOCIAL SIN. (See #117). We have become aggressive against justice, against human rights and dignity, against the common good, against our wonderful human relationships.

7. We long for salvation out of sin. Without any sense of salvation we become pessimists. We cannot see any value in the things we do, in the achievements we make. Christian realism, says the Compendium, sees Jesus Christ destroying sin and death. "In the world you will have trouble, but take courage, I have conquered the world" (Jn 16/33). Be cheerful, Jesus has won over the hold of death and sin.

8. A big part of what Christ has done was TO SHED LIGHT ON OUR OWN BEING IMAGE OF GOD. (See #121). Because of our wound, because of “sin”, we find it difficult to see ourselves as beloved of God. We are caught in the web of trouble as if there is no other way but to sin and cause death. But Jesus Christ came--the Word became flesh--to AFFIRM the value of our humanity. Jesus Christ came to AFFIRM the dignity of our being human: image of God.

9. The coming of Jesus Christ is then about manifesting fully in us who we really are. Vatican II document, Gaudium et spes, noted this, "The truth is that only in the mystery of the incarnate Word does the mystery of man take on light" (Gaudium et spes #22).  Jesus Christ, the perfect image of God, has also manifested our vocation to live in communion with God.

10. The Compendium then concludes that the reality of Christ is not really something “new”. so to speak.  It is not something added to our history. "It is rather that reality of communion with the Trinitarian God to which men and women have always been oriented in the depths of their being, thanks to their creaturely likeness to God" (Compendium #122). In other words, from the very start of our being created by God, the reality of Christ has already been actual. By nature we, humans, HAVE ALWAYS BEEN ORIENTED TO COMMUNION WITH GOD. This reminds us of one Church Father, Tertullian,  who meditated about the time of our creation. He wrote that when God was creating the human he had Jesus Christ in mind.

11. We may have sinned. We may be wounded. But the dignity of being image of God and with the vocation of being in full communion with God is NEVER DELETED. Jesus Christ came to join us, to be human just like us with his Incarnation, to precisely affirm who we are. This is "salvation".

A note on Salvation taking from a document of a Papal Commission: COMMUNION AND STEWARDSHIP: Human Persons Created in the Image of God, document of INTERNATIONAL THEOLOGICAL COMMISSION

1. The human is created in the image of God. The vocation is to live the communion of the life of the Trinity. With our wound--called SIN--we refuse to engage in this vocation. Sin is the DISFIGURATION of our being Image of God. We are alienated from God and from one another. In fact, because of sin, we are alienated from our very own selves. Rejecting God's invitation to a communion, we also reject even our fraternal existence in society. Sin does not delete our dignity as image of God. The image is DISFIGURED AND NOT DELETED.

2. What then is "salvation" here? "Salvation entails the restoration of the image of God by Christ who is the perfect image of the Father" (#47). Christ conforms us to himself. In other words, he re-configures the dis-figured image and brings it back to its true and authentic form. The human person is "fully realized". Thanks to the grace of Christ (and the Holy Spirit) we are transformed.

3. Theologically, we say that WE REALLY NEED SALVATION. We have the natural desire to live with God. Sin does not destroy this desire just as it does not remove our dignity. But we, humans, just see how INCAPABLE we are of saving ourselves. We need grace to transform us. Christ gives us this grace.

4. The Paschal experience of Christ has made it possible for us "to participate in the death to sin that leads to life in Christ" (#49). The cross leads to a new life. We die; our egoism dies, our aggression against justice and human dignity dies. Our option for sin dies. The great grace of Christ for us is, precisely, his Paschal mystery, his CONFIDENCE IN THE FATHER, his willingness to face the consequence of love for us which is the cross, and his rising again to a new life. It is a whole passage. It tells us ABOUT OUR OWN TRANSFORMATION. To us is communicated the path "of a new life of freedom, a life 'FREED FROM'AND 'FREED FOR'"(#50). What does this curious expression mean?

5. We are FREED FROM SIN. We are FREED FROM SUFFERING AND DEATH. Salvation, here, means that we are freed from the hold of sin and death. Of course we still suffer and die. But suffering and death now takes a new meaning. We make the effort to live properly AND THIS CAUSES SUFFERING AND DEATH FOR US. But in confidence in God the suffering is not vain. Death is not vain. We do not suffer and die for egoism and injustice and human indignity. We die for truth, justice, peace, we die for the Kingdom. We admit that God loves us. We admit and recognize the very value and dignity of our humanity. Jesus has affirmed this. Jesus has confirmed that we are so beloved in the eyes of God we are not rejected by God. Seeing this we are reconciled with God.

6. So WE DO NOT LIVE UNDER THE RULE OF INDIGNITY. "Salvation is a liberation from sin which reconciles man with God, even in the midst of a continuing struggle against sin conducted in the power of the Holy Spirit"...."Salvation brings a liberation from suffering and death which acquire new meaning as a saving participation through the suffering, death and resurrection of the Son" (#50-51).

7. Note then that salvation is being "freed from" the rule of sin so that we are free to move to God: "FREED FOR" authentic love; "FREED FOR" new life in God" (#51). The conclusion is made: "This 'freedom for' is made possible by Jesus Christ, the perfect icon of the Father, who restores the image of God in man" (#51).

8. Take a look at the story of the so-called "prodigal son" in Lk15/11-32. The young son was still far bu the Father was hoping for his return. Upon the return of the young son the Father started a feast. The son was "lost", he returned and "found again". In Jesus’terms, he was “restored again” TO HIS TRUE IMAGE AS SON.  This was already in the perspective of the Father. Remember that the son had a speech prepared to say that he was returning not anymore as a son but, possibly, as a slave. The son was returning with the identification of the old image, the image of a son who rejected his father. The Father did not listen to this. He continued to be SON. Or in what we say, HIS DIGNITY AS IMAGE OF GOD continued. The Father simply accepted his return AS HIS SON. Jesus is saying something deep in this parable. Where are we as sinners and in despair? Are we also having a "speech"in our heads because we are not sure of how we are to be received by God? 

9. The parable makes the Father a "prodigal" Father. Why? He went "reckless" in spending for a feast for the son who returned. He was prodigal also because, unlike the "usual" way of behaving culturally where a father might punish an erring son, the Father in the parable turned his back on cultural behaviour. He was true to his Paternity. 

10. The son returned. That was all that the Father wanted. The son may have been a sinner; he may have broken the heart of the Father. He returned AS THAT TYPE OF A MAN. But the Father, the prodigal Father who "recklessly" welcomed back his son without conditions, did not demand virtues and conscientiousness from the son. The Father did not ask, "Ok, are you now a better person?" He just wanted CONVERSION. The son returned as the man who broke his Father's heart, ok, but the son was still welcomed and his return awakened the JOY OF THE FATHER. Now the son can ENTER THE JOY OF THE FATHER and stand AS A SON IN FRONT OF HIS FATHER. He can enter the joy of truth and feasting. Of course that will be the choice of the son. 

11. We are like two dancers in the desert, two dancers in a troubled world, we and Jesus Christ. We learn the steps with Christ until, one day, we can dance well with him. If we reflect on what the document is saying we will notice that salvation is not necessarily a “one-shot event”. Salvation is more of a process; it is a movement we make towards become more and more true to ourselves, IMAGE OF GOD. Jesus Christ has given us the grace--and continues to give us the grace--of taking this path through his Paschal Mystery. It is a path in which we are set FREE FROM the obstacles of to going to God and we are set FREE FOR moving to God. We say yes to our humanity, thanks to Jesus. But we do it in time, in history, in steps. The basic nature of our humanity includes time. “The human heart plans the way, but the LORD directs the steps” (Pr 16/9). 

12. We are like two dancers in the desert, two dancers in a troubled world, we and Jesus Christ. We learn the steps with Christ until, one day, we can dance well with him. Ok, we may not even dance well with him. Maybe our steps are awkward. Still what is important and wonderful is that WE DANCE WITH HIM. Jesus is not watching how skillful we are, he is just glad to see us dancing with him. 

13. We say this--that it is wonderful to dance with Christ even if awkwardly--because we have to be careful with one mis-understanding about God. A question can arise: if we do not manage to dance as well as Jesus, do we then go to hell? Remember that, Biblically, God is revealed as a God of life, not of death. God did not have his Son killed. He rose his Son from death, he did not kill him. God considers us as very important and precious--we are his IMAGE. Never is it the desire of God to send us to hell--to being us death. Making someone go to hell is not God's action. 

14. GOING TO HELL IS THE CHOICE OF A PERSON WHO DOES NOT WANT TO LIVE AS IMAGE OF GOD, WHO DOES NOT WANT THE VOCATION OF MOVING TO GOD AND WHO DOES NOT WANT TO DANCE WITH JESUS. The best example of this is the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus. Watch the behaviour of the rich man and how, in fact, he really wants to go, and stay, in hell.

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