Thursday, November 17, 2011
The Blessed and the Cursed (Part 2)
It would be fearful to think that someone might have suffered the loss of his soul because of our negligence. In the allegory of the last judgment this aspect of human behavior – negligence – is given extraordinary emphasis. Since it may afflict not only priests and all those in authority but also all Christians, we should all consider seriously the possibility of our being at fault in this matter. Through Baptism we have been incorporated into the Mystical Body of Christ. Thus, anything that we do or fail to do for anyone, we do or fail to do for Christ. The Communion of Saints unites us to one another in such a way that we become dependent on one another, to the extent that all the good and evil deeds we perform have repercussions far beyond our own little personal sphere. They affect as well the entire Body with its Head. And evil is always an omission, because it is the absence of good where it ought to be present. All evil actions, all sins, are founded on an omission and established upon it. When someone is deprived of nourishment, he begins to weaken so as to become useless for any type of work. He becomes incapable of sustaining himself. And the deprivation may even cause his death. Similarly, the root of all sin is the omission of prayer and sacrifice, of the study of revealed truth, of the reception of the sacraments, and of the elementary precautions against any danger. These omissions may transform a Christian into a misfit for salvation.
Salvation, eternal blessedness, is not due to man by the mere fact of his having been born. It is not due to a Christian simply because he has been baptized. With immeasurable pride, modern man (or, at least, some of our contemporaries) is spearheading an extensive movement towards secularization. They are attempting to organize the world to the exclusion of God the Creator, pretending that God does not exist or that he has had to submit himself – or conform himself – to modern man’s decisions concerning this world and the life to come. Such a monstrous pride seems to convince modern man that he has no need of God and that he does not need to be redeemed. The same pride seems to have convinced him also that his salvation (if he has not yet succeeded in eliminating this concept from his mind) is the product of his own hands and that it will be attained by virtue of rules and conditions that he himself will establish.
Naturally, such an idea is as grossly erroneous as it is monstrously false. And besides, it is ridiculous. It is Christ who has established the conditions for our salvation. He has made it known to us that the kingdom of heaven must be taken by storm. Violence is needed if we are to remove the obstacles that prevent us from attaining salvation. And it is pitiful to the extent of being pathetic to see how hard men try to deceive themselves into thinking that they will get to heaven by taking a road that leads to a different place together.
We should never have succumbed to the voices of those who hypocritically clamored for the adaptation of the Gospel message to the modern world “in order to save the Gospel,” in order to save what could be saved without displeasing the world too much. But through a multitude of negligences and omissions we have failed to resist such voices, and our failure has been the cause of incalculable harm inflicted upon Christ in the person of so many members who have been robbed of their faith, whose hope has been crushed, and whose hearts have been drained of all capacity for love. An unbearable emptiness has crept into their life and is now devoid of all meaning. This is what we have done in Christ; his members are hungry without the Bread of Life, naked without the clothing of grace, vagrant since they no longer perceive the Church as their home where they can seek the refuge God promised them. Their minds are diseased with the infection of a myriad viruses. Their wills are ailing, attacked by a thousand spiritual bacteria. They are prisoners of their own impulses, of their instincts, passions, errors, and lies. We are easily moved to compassion for those who are physically miserable, yet it is the spiritually miserable who deserve the deeper compassion from us. Those who are affected by spiritual misery need more help than those who are simply physically unfit. Their disease is the more grave.
God is love. All his commandments can be reduced to only two: love for God and love for our neighbor. Simplifying matters even further, God’s commandments can be reduced to one great commandment: to love God above all things, since if we love God we necessarily have to love our fellowman. Nor must we love them in any manner whatsoever, but precisely in the way God loves them, and in the way God wants us to love them. Thus, our greatest omission and the worst of all possible omissions is the lack of love for God. The cursed ones in the parable were reviled because they did not love God and did not, as a consequence love their fellowman either, those who with us are all made in the image and likeness of God. Love for our fellowman is, therefore, an expression of a more profound and radical love, our love for God, precisely because all men without exception have been made in his image and likeness. And real love, with human warmth and a compassionate heart, cannot exist if our fellowmen are deprived of their personal dimension by being transformed into insignificant parts of the collectivity, or into items in a computerized file, or into mere names or even numbers in a list of individuals who are scheduled to receive some form of “care” from the State.
“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him…” It will actually happen one day, and we shall all be there to see it. And we don’t know for certain whether he shall place us at his right hand or at his left, whether we shall hear him call us “blessed of my Father” or “you cursed.” No one can ever know this. No one can ever be sure of his own salvation.
We do not know for sure how many of us have actually managed to live up to the standards set by the “blessed” in this parable we are now considering. Very few, I think. We are surrounded by friends, colleagues, companions at work, and I am far from confident that we have always (or at least sometimes) had the necessary courage to warn them (if the situation called for it) of the peril they were allowing themselves to be exposed to while listening to erroneous teaching, reading pernicious books, watching sexually provocative shows, or nourishing dangerously harmful relationships. I wonder whether we have spoken to them, or whether we have simply and with comfortable indifference shrugged our shoulders thinking, “every man for himself.” I don’t doubt that our passive attitude, our negligence, our culpable silence, our toleration of evil without denouncing it or protesting against it has contributed (through there is no means of knowing to what extent) to the spread of evil, like a gangrene that spreads throughout the body. The more defenseless members of the Mystical Body of Christ have indubitably been harmed by our negligence. Many of them find themselves bruised and broken, reeling on the brink of disaster, and perhaps (may God forbid that this should happen to us) of a disaster that is already terminal. It is possible to reach this point of no return while we are still on earth: it can become so difficult to recover lost ground that it is almost impossible to do so.
Our timidity, our cowardice, our egoism, our lack of concern for our fellowman has led us to keep our lips shut tight when we should have spoken out, or has paralyzed our limbs when we should have moved them to action. By these omissions, we have harmed our fellowman by failing to do good or by failing to prevent an evil act being done. Here on earth no man can know in advance whether God will judge these (omissions simply as a matter of weakness, or as culpable complicity, or as actual cooperation with evil. Let us not forget there are omissions that are grievously serious.)
As you might expect, I have no idea to what extent this aspect of our moral responsibility is to the forefront in the conscience of each man. But in any case, I think it is beneficial for us never to lose sight of it. It is vitally important because in the final analysis the cause of anyone’s eternal damnation is simply an omission: the failure to love God. And one of its manifestations is indifference towards our neighbor.
In summary: it is God’s desire that we freely choose our eternal destiny. That final decision is completely in our hands. Each man will receive that which he has freely chosen, quite inevitably and naturally, so long as he truly loves what he has chosen and manifests his love with deeds, for deeds are love. God has prepared the kingdom for us. But do we want it? I fervently hope we are humble enough to ask God for the grace that will move us to say “yes” and to accept all the consequences of such a commitment!