Sunday, June 19, 2016

If it works for you, take up your cross and follow me

In this age of relativism there is a tendency to base choices on the desire for happiness and fulfillment, and then justify them with the simple phrase: “It works for me.” This can be used indiscriminately to defend any action, desire, decision, or belief. It attempts to remove faith and morality from the equation. It is the untouchable—the modern holy grail of mottos.

But it’s not true.

Freedom makes man a moral subject. When he acts deliberately, man is, so to speak, the father of his acts. Human acts, that is, acts that are freely chosen in consequence of a judgment of conscience, can be morally evaluated. They are either good or evil (CCC 1749).
Objectivity has been cast as evil, ugly, and unloving. But Christ preached objectivity. Maybe that’s why the world—and the willful streak in each of our hearts—rejects it. And why embracing subjectivity seems to dovetail so well with pride and willfulness.

“Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me’ ” (John 14:6).

“But let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No.’ For whatever is more than these is from the evil one” (Matt. 5:37).

“ ‘I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot! So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth.’ ” (Rev. 3:15-16).

Christ is the way, exclusively. And “it works for me” is a fiction called upon to justify everything from abortion to so-called gay marriage to false religions. As Catholics, professing faith in Christ and His Church, this cannot be our rationale for making choices.

The Church professes the Truth:
Ignorance of Christ and his Gospel, bad example given by others, enslavement to one’s passions, assertion of a mistaken notion of autonomy of conscience, rejection of the Church’s authority and her teaching, lack of conversion and of charity: These can be at the source of errors of judgment in moral conduct (CCC 1792).
Sometimes circumstances require that we tolerate an otherwise bad choice (or even a series of choices). But these exceptions do not diminish the reality that there is a good choice. Indeed, the very fact of toleration implies that the thing tolerated is evil, though not intrinsically so.

“What works for me” is usually tied to the desire for personal fulfillment. But fulfillment is not the goal. How many public figures and celebrities who “have it all” (i.e., money, fame, power) live truly miserable lives rife with substance abuse, divorce, scandal, and suicide? How many people spend their lives searching for a job they will love, a person they will love, a lifestyle they will love? This restless desire for something more, better, different, is opposed to the true means of sanctification: submission, obedience, endurance, perseverance.

And those are despised in our culture.

If we are to imitate Christ, we must die to ourselves, not tout our independence: empty ourselves for the sake of another; lay down our life for our brother; wash the feet of another. Does this sound like the modern doctrine of it works for me? Does Christ condone the modern cry, “I don’t find this fulfilling,” whether it be marriage, mothering, or the obligation to go to Mass on Sundays? Hardly.

God gives us free will, but he makes pretty clear demands. There’s not a whole lot of “if this seems unfulfilling, scrap it,” to be found in the Bible. The beauty of the Faith is that we don’t need to make choices in a vacuum, based on our feelings, and then slap “it works for me” on the wound.

John Henry Newman wrote:
The sense of right and wrong . . . is so delicate, so fitful, so easily puzzled, obscured, perverted, so subtle in its argumentative methods, so impressionable by education, so biased by pride and passion, so unsteady in its course, that in the struggle for existence amid the various exercises and triumphs of the human intellect, the sense is at once the highest of all teachers yet the least luminous (“Letter to the Duke of Norfolk,” in section on conscience).
Yet we shut out the wisdom amassed in the 2,000 years since Christ walked the earth: the Gospel, the teachings of the Church, the example of her saints and martyrs. In attempting to escape our burdens and vocations, we circumvent Christ’s work in our lives. That which we desire to escape is also that which leads to holiness. “Everything is a reminder of the Cross,” said St John Vianney. “We ourselves are made in the shape of a cross.” The harder road is often the more worthy one. “How narrow is the gate, and straight is the way that leadeth to life: and few there are that find it!” (Matt. 7:14). There is no narrowness to the maxim, “it works for me,” but an increasing disregard for the morality taught by Christ and His Church.

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Source: Titian [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons