By Cardinal Justin Rigali
One of the great joys of our human nature is our ability to engage in relationships. By their nature, these relationships differ in degree but they all contain an element of self-revelation. Indeed, if a person were not able to reveal anything about himself or herself, relationships would be virtually impossible. While it would be unhealthy to go around and immediately share our innermost selves with everyone we meet, so it would be unfortunate if we were not able to reveal ourselves at all to another person.
In allowing another person to know us in a more intimate manner, we are paying that person a great compliment and if that compliment is returned, we have the makings of an initial relationship.
This week, I would like to dwell on an even greater relationship than even our most intimate human ones and a self-revelation that is the greatest of all compliments. This is the fact that God has revealed Himself to us! He has paid to the human race the ultimate compliment of telling us who He is in reality, to the degree that we are able to understand such revelation in this life.
In human relationships, it is always harmful to believe in a “fantasy” person of our own creation. While we should always strive to make one another better as a result of our relationships, these relationships must be based on the reality of who the person really is, not an artificial construction that creates someone whom we want to exist. In God ‘s revelation of Himself to us, He has showed us His true face based on the reality of who He is. We do not create a god whom we want to love and worship, we love and worship the God who has revealed Himself to us.
God’s revelation to the Chosen People
After losing the intimacy of their relationship with God, our first parents were promised a Redeemer. After a long period of darkness, God gradually began to call us back to Himself. He did this first with those people whom He had chosen: our Jewish brothers and sisters, who are our ancestors in the faith. Very often using their leaders as intermediaries, God revealed who He truly is to this people. He told them what was expected of them, He made promises to them and He gradually unfolded His plan for the sending of the Messiah.
This was the great compliment given to the Jewish people and for it they suffered greatly. They were often persecuted for refusing to worship the false gods with which they were surrounded, and they considered it their greatest glory to know and serve the one true God, who had made Himself known to them.
Saint Paul summarizes this revelation and shows how it culminates in the revelation of Jesus as the eternal Son of God. He writes: “In times past, God spoke in partial and various ways to our ancestors through the prophets; in these last days, he spoke to us through a son, whom he made heir of all things and through whom he created the universe” (Hebrews 1:1‑2). Saint Paul refers to “these last days,” not in terms of their being the end of the world but because they are the last phase of God’s revelation until Christ comes again in glory.
As Jesus reveals that He and the Father are one and then promises the sending of the Holy Spirit, we are given the ultimate compliment not only of knowing the face of God and His intimate identity but we are also called to share His intimate interior life through our incorporation into the life of the Most Blessed Trinity through Baptism. This is not an imaginary relationship. It is based upon the reality of God as He has revealed Himself to us and our free response in love to His invitation.
This relationship must be based on truth
Just as it would be harmful to attempt to have a human relationship based on a fantasy or on the creation of another person as we want him or her to be, so it would be in our relationship with God. Our relationship with Him must be based on the reality of who He has revealed Himself to be, not upon our own creation. We are called to have a free and loving relationship with the true God who has revealed His profile to us and who calls us to love Him in return by obeying His commandments.
Having paid us the great compliment of revealing Himself to us, Jesus wanted to ensure that the truth of who He is and what He taught would not be obscured or altered with the passage of time. For this reason, He founded a Church, to which He promised spanine guidance down through the ages in protecting His message and the revelation He had made.
We can immediately think of some quotes from the Scriptures which point to this. When He commissioned His disciples, Jesus said: “All power in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age” (Matthew 28:18‑20).
In His famous promise to Peter, after Peter had confessed Jesus as the Son of God, Jesus said: “I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of the netherworld will not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven” (Matthew 16:17‑19).
Saint Paul, who may be considered the bridge between the Apostles, who walked with our Lord, and those who would come after, wrote: “For I handed on to you as of first importance what I also received” (1 Corinthians 15:3). In just these few short quotations, we are reminded that Jesus established a means by which His true image and truth would be handed down and made known in all its integrity and beauty until the end of time. This is part of His guarantee to the Church He founded: to guide her and protect her when she is transmitting His image and teaching to the world.
How is a Catholic identified?
There are objective norms which identify the beliefs of Catholics. They are not norms which we make up ourselves or which we pick and choose according to the expediency of the moment. If that were the case, we would be like the unfortunate person who attempts to know and love a fantasy of his own creation. God has paid us the compliment of revealing Himself to us. It is His face, His revelation, His truth and not one which we create.
Pope Benedict XVI has spoken about these principles several times, both in the context of the “dictatorship of relativism,” which he has spoken about and in the context of describing the mission of the successor of Saint Peter. He has said: “A dictatorship of relativism is being constituted that recognizes nothing as absolute and which only leaves the ‘I’ and its whims as the ultimate measure. We have another measure: the Son of God, true man. He is the measure of true humanism. An ‘adult’ faith is not a faith that follows the waves in fashion and the latest novelty. Adult and mature faith is a faith profoundly rooted in friendship with Christ. This friendship opens us to all that is good and gives us the measure to discern between what is true and what is false, between deceit and truth” (Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, Homily, Mass for the election of the Roman Pontiff, April 18, 2005). In reflecting on the role of the Pope in relationship to the truth, Pope Benedict has said: “In fact, the First Vatican Council in no way defined the pope as an absolute monarch. On the contrary, it presented him as the guarantor of obedience to the revealed Word. The pope’s authority is bound to the Tradition of faith. The authority of the pope is not unlimited; it is at the service of Sacred Tradition” (The Spirit of the Liturgy, p. 166, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, Ignatius Press, 2000).
A virtuous life should indeed arise from recognizing and loving the true face of Christ. However, even when we weaken the Church by our sins, the truth is no less the truth. While the true Christian must strive to follow the Gospel ever more closely and faithfully, when we fail because of human weakness, we do not change the objective reality of who Jesus is and the truth of what His Church teaches. We cannot be committed or ardent Catholics if we reject basic teachings of that same Catholic Church, which has been entrusted with guarding the truth as God has revealed it.
Like our Jewish ancestors in the faith, we too are tempted with worshiping a god other than the true God, who has revealed Himself to us. We are also tempted in our own times to make up our own definition of what it means to be a Catholic. Let us pray that we will imitate the courage of those ancestors in thanking God for showing us His true face and in remaining faithful to His profile and His Church, not creations of our own making.
September 18, 2008