Friday, April 25, 2014

What is Christian Humanism?

Man and man's lofty calling are revealed in Christ through the revelation of the mystery of the Father and His love. For this reason it is now fitting to reflect on this mystery. It is called for by the varied experiences of the Church and of contemporary man. It is also demanded by the pleas of many human hearts, their sufferings and hopes, their anxieties and expectations.

While it is true that every individual human being is, as I said in my encyclical Redemptor hominis, the way for the Church, at the same time the Gospel and the whole of Tradition constantly show us that we must travel this day with every individual just as Christ traced it out by revealing in Himself the Father and His love. In Jesus Christ, every path to man, as it has been assigned once and for all to the Church in the changing context of the times, is simultaneously an approach to the Father and His love. The Second Vatican Council has confirmed this truth for our time.

The more the Church's mission is centered upon man-the more it is, so to speak, anthropocentric-the more it must be confirmed and actualized theocentrically, that is to say, be directed in Jesus Christ to the Father. While the various currents of human thought both in the past and at the present have tended and still tend to separate theocentrism and anthropocentrism, and even to set them in opposition to each other, the Church, following Christ, seeks to link them up in human history, in a deep and organic way.

And this is also one of the basic principles, perhaps the most important one, of the teaching of the last Council. Since, therefore, in the present phase of the Church's history we put before ourselves as our primary task the implementation of the doctrine of the great Council, we must act upon this principle with faith, with an open mind and with all our heart.

In the encyclical already referred to, I have tried to show that the deepening and the many-faceted enrichment of the Church's consciousness resulting from the Council must open our minds and our hearts more widely to Christ. Today I wish to say that openness to Christ, who as the Redeemer of the world fully reveals man himself," can only be achieved through an ever more mature reference to the Father and His love.
Pope John Paul II, Dives in Misericordia 1

Reflection – This is very good stuff indeed from the soon to be Pope St. John Paul II. It’s a bit dense, as most of his writings are, but worth a careful reading. He begins by restating what was a major theme of his life, namely that the Church’s mission is to serve the individual human person, ‘the way of the Church in the world is the individual human person.’ That alone is worth meditating on a bit, isn’t it?

So often we can reduce Christianity to a list of dogmas and rules, or to a program of good works and catechetical initiatives, or (worst of all) to an ideology wielded as a club which debases our religion to a personal ego-project of the ideologue. But Jesus always related the Gospel to individuals, to this woman at the well or that blind man or this leper or that sinner.

Always it is a question, not of abandoning the dogmas and the rules (which we believe are of divine origin and thus not ours to change even if we wanted to), but of applying them in merciful love to the needs and situations of this person, that person. Always the concern is for the person first and how they are to hear and receive the Gospel of Christ. Christianity is deeply a humanistic religion.

Some would argue (or perhaps more accurately, feel) that this risks making Christianity a relativistic proposition, that truth is the first thing thrown on the fire kindled to warm the hands of this or that suffering individual, that somehow ‘truth’ and ‘compassionate love’ are opposed and we must choose one or the other.

This is precisely what the pope is clarifying here. Christianity is humanistic, but it is not a secular humanism. The truth of every human being, and hence the ultimate and lasting happiness of every human being is only found in relation to God the Father. He is the source and the goal of every human life, and so we cannot truly say we are loving a person unless we are striving to help them find their way to God, to the Father. We cannot say we ourselves are doing any good whatsoever in this world unless we are living out of that same relationship ourselves.

This is why it is so vital that we have the right image of God, that we see as clearly as we have light given us to see by, that God is merciful, loving, good, kindly. Because our whole life and happiness and eternal salvation rests on a conformation of ourselves to this God, his Truth and his Nature, and this is tough going for anyone, no matter what the circumstances of life hold, we need to have the deepest possible assurance that God is trustworthy and good.

He asks much of us, asks us to surrender so much of our own ideas and ways and tendencies and inclinations. He asks us to take on so much—this whole path of Jesus in the world which is a path of ceaseless sacrificial love and generosity. We have to know, and take our stand on, the fact, the sheer fact that this God loves us, that He is merciful, that He bids us to enter this most difficult path of Gospel love and fidelity and obedience from a place of love and mercy, not harshness and condemnation.

And this is the significance of the Divine Mercy Devotion and doctrine in our time.

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