I would be remiss if I didn’t address, if not the details, at least the impact of what has happened over the past week. It wasn’t enough that our country should be hit by the dual tragedies of a worldwide pandemic and the subsequent havoc it has wreaked on our economy and culture. No: we then witnessed a heinous act of cruelty by one human being against another, as well as the violence that ensued, whereby the very fabric of society is being torn asunder. Little of the commentary that followed has been very insightful, much less constructive. I’m reminded of a line that my mentor and friend, Fr. Charlie Kohli, frequently used: “Tim, deep down, that person is shallow…” I don’t claim to know the answers. Still, it occurs to me that most public statements, even those that refer generically to God or the spiritual life, do not connect our present trials to the basic truths of Catholicism, and the light they shed on our situation. Friends, we today are front-row witnesses to the mystery of original sin, that is, the fallen state of humanity. Men and women, created in the image and likeness of God—his great masterpiece—abused their freedom and preferred themselves to the source of all goodness (Catechism, par. 398). This had disastrous implications; through sin, death “entered” the world, obscured the senses, weakened the will, dimmed the mind, created enmity between people, and transformed human engagement with the world from one of joy into misery. What’s more, every precious child is born into a situation not of his own making that mars the divine image within him. How does our faith help us make sense of this?
Today the Church celebrates the central dogma of Christianity, namely, the mystery of the Holy Trinity, our belief in one God in three persons. God is by his nature a community of love, both within himself, and in his dealings with creation, as St. Paul writes to the Corinthians. As the reading from Exodus puts it, “steadfast” love, or hesed, in Hebrew, is the closest human beings come to describing the experience of God, who is entirely gracious to his creatures, and who receives no profit in return. Finally, St. John relates what is rightly called the “little gospel”: the Good News in a nutshell. God sent his Son into the world, not to condemn it, but so that it might be saved through him. Like the mystery of one God in three Persons, or the mystery of Christ, true God and true man, Catholicism gives us yet another paradox: creation is good and fallen, sinful and saved.
Friends, the Catholic writer Flannery O’Connor once remarked that “human nature vigorously resists grace because grace changes us, and the change is painful.” For her, Catholics are the ultimate realists because we understand deep down the conflicted human heart, and we reject the shallow thinking that demands perfection right here, right now. For her, such thinking is to leave out “the terrible radical human pride that causes death.” Pulling up pride from its roots is, for all intents and purposes, impossible: for us. But this is precisely why we come here, to the foot of the Cross. As Pope Benedict puts it, prayer is the experience of walking with Jesus so that the disciple is “caught up with [Christ] into communion with God…redemption is stepping beyond the limits of human nature, which had been there in man, God’s image and likeness, since the moment of creation.” If we would reach out to our neighbor, let us first look to the presence of Christ within our hearts and minds. Then we will love as we should.