“In reality it is only in the mystery of the Word made flesh that the mystery of man truly becomes clear” (Gaudium et Spes 22 § 1). In falling in love with the Person of Jesus Christ and his life, deeds and words, the sublime doorway to truth and life is cast open. Here, in the womb of the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church, the light of truth floods in, which allows for peaceful rest in the secure answers to life’s most pressing questions.
By F. K. Bartels
2 May, 2013
Humanity’s search for meaning in life is found displayed, either subtlety or boldly, in its art and artifacts spread over the centuries, some of which date to the earliest known civilizations. From the Tell Asmar Statues of the ancient Sumerians, whose striking and wide-eyed figures are fixed in postures of prayer, to the High Renaissance age and Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa, with its serene figure of a dignified and rather mysterious woman, and beyond to the art of contemporary society, it is clear that humankind is engaged in an unceasing quest to know the truth about itself and about God.
In many ways this quest has been, to some extent, derailed at present. The glossy veneer of technology and an often exaggerated emphasis on science, along with the pervasive influence of secularism, and, worse, forms of atheism such as positivism and empiricism, have dulled the ability to reflect on the heavenly things above and on the profoundness of human life. Our sense of mystery and wonder have been striped bare by the mundane, and, having lost our taste for the sacred and our desire to reflect on the exquisite, we have settled comfortably into a strange fascination with the ordinary.
Nevertheless, if we will but reflect for a time on the deepest longings of our hearts, it will become apparent that the desire to answer life’s most pressing questions remains permanently lodged within, for we intuitively sense that these answers are connected to our future happiness. That this need of ours for truth is repressed or seemingly forgotten for a time, is due to the noise and distractions present in our lives, not to its unimportance. In any case, we want to really know who we are and what it means to be human because these things matter.
Additionally, we desperately need to know the truth about God because he is the absolute end for which we were created and to which we are unceasingly called. The truth about ourselves and God is necessary in order to grasp our origin and destiny; it is required to know how to act and how to live; it is an indispensable element in the authentic development of the human person; it is something to which the human intellect is irrepressibly drawn.
God Alone Is Sufficient
Further, there is something within us all that wants to burst outward and upward, rising above the flat, muddy plains to soar delightfully into the brilliant light of the heavens. We thirst not for the mundane and ordinary, but for the extraordinary, the sublime, the profound, the Divine. Humanity is a people who crave to be “made new” and experience a wholly new way of living; something which is possible only in a relationship of love with God, who is himself the giver of all marvelous and exquisite gifts. Our spirit thirsts to unite with the Spirit of God.
That we desire these things provides clear evidence of our need for God. Some time of reflection should bring us to conclude that the sublime and perfect happiness we want cannot be acquired by the possession of created objects. No amount of wealth, prestige or power, human friendship or romantic intimacy, can fulfill us permanently, because, however wonderful they may seem, these things are fleeting and finite. We were made for eternal communion with the infinite God and thus cannot be totally fulfilled by anything less. That is why, regardless of how hard we labor to fulfill ourselves with created objects, life retains a certain degree of emptiness. In the midst of such a desert, the human heart cries out: let this aridity give way to the lush and delightful warmth of the heavenly kingdom of God, that I may be forever immersed in everlasting joy and love! As the grass and flowers alike unceasingly reach for the rays of the Sun, so too humanity seeks to fill itself with the fiery yet soothing heat of the divine love of God.
“Man bears within him a thirst for the infinite,” said Pope Benedict XVI, “a longing for eternity, a quest for beauty, a desire for love, a need for light and for truth which impel him towards the Absolute; man bears within him the desire for God” (General Audience, St. Peter’s Square, 11 May 2011).
That God is Creator really says it all. It is God who gives meaning to human life. While all of this makes sense, there is here encountered a problem obvious to anyone who is sincerely interested in the truth about God. It is not enough to simply know that God is the Creator; we need to understand something more about God and his plan for humanity. We need knowledge. However, given the perplexing array of opinions regarding who and what God is, including what John Paul II noted to be a state of deplorable disunity among Christians, we here arrive at the obvious question: how do we learn the truth about God?
The Life, Deeds and Words of Christ
Of course Catholics and other Christians will note that in “these days God has spoken to us in his Son” (Heb. 1:1-2). Jesus Christ is the Son of God made man, who “speaks the words of God” (Jn 3:34), and who himself is the perfect revelation of the Father (cf. Jn 14:9) and the complete fulfillment of God’s revelation to humankind. Yet our problem does not go away: misunderstanding, doctrinal confusion, disunity and division — all of these remain a persistent and tragic reality.
Nevertheless, Jesus the Christ, the eternal Word of God made flesh, remains the indispensable key to knowing God, understanding his plan for humanity and even to understanding humanity itself. “In reality it is only in the mystery of the Word made flesh that the mystery of man truly becomes clear” (Gaudium et Spes 22 § 1). The simplest way to solve what seems an unsolvable conundrum, then, is to take the obvious approach: fall in love with the Person of Jesus Christ and his life, deeds and words.
We begin with the belief that Christ is God made man, who suffered and died for humanity — the historicity of the gospels give irrefutable weight to this claim — and thus sacrificed his human life for love of humankind and for the truth about reality as it is. Christ said of himself, “I am the way and the truth and the life” (Jn 14:6); and “For this I was born, and for this I have come into the world, to bear witness to the truth. Every one who is of the truth hears my voice” (Jn 18:37). The Son of God did not become man merely to establish a religion or lay down a moral code. The Word became flesh to save us by reconciling us to God; that we might know God’s love for us; to be our model of holiness; and to make us partakers of the divine nature (CCC 457-460). The life of Christ reveals the profound meaning and dignity of human life, as well as our astonishing destiny, in the full light of truth.
Again, we must lovingly listen to the voice of Christ. We must sincerely, diligently and devoutly examine his deeds and words. What did our Lord have to say about perpetuating the truth about God throughout all time? What did Jesus Christ do to permanently insure that humankind would have access to the truth about God, his plan, and about humanity itself? Did Jesus leave us with the Bible? Nope. He did not write any Scripture. Did Jesus die on the cross only to leave us to ourselves in the hope that, randomly or by chance or by majority rule, we might somehow manage against all odds to sort things out, knowing all the while we would rapidly make nothing but a wreck of it all? Nope. That would be entirely incompatible with God’s omniscience, as well as with his love and compassionate concern for his children. It would indeed be reckless of God, and recklessness is not one of his attributes. Christ came to save us from sin and from error; he came to testify to the truth. In fact, he suffered and died in a horrendously cruel way for it. How do we hear his voice of truth today?
The Catholic Church: Transmitter of The Voice of Christ
The answer to that question leads us to precisely why Jesus established his one, holy catholic and apostolic Church — not “churches” nor the contemporary error of believing Christ founded a “faith” called “Christianity” that is “solely based on the Bible” — upon St. Peter (see Mt 16:17-19), giving to him the keys to the kingdom and the powers to bind and loose, and giving also authority to the other apostles (see Mt 18:15-19). Christ perpetuates the truth about God and his plan for humankind for all time by making his Church, the Church of the living God, the “pillar and bulwark of the truth” (1 Tim 3:15). He accomplishes this task by the sending of his Spirit upon the apostles, their successors (bishops), and the entire Church herself, in order to guide the Church into all truth (Jn 16:13), and transmit the voice of Christ (Lk 10:16) to all of humanity for all generations.
Simply, Christ gives to the Church her life, light and mission. Further, the Church is the body of Christ (Rom 12:5; 1 Cor 6:15, 12:20-27; Col 1:18). In a real way, then, the Church is Christ, whose mission is to perpetuate her Beloved’s words and deeds for all time and to all people.
History provides the proof that the Catholic Church has “deed and title” to the true Christian religion (Rev. O’Brien), since only she dates historically to Christ, with uninterrupted continuity and unity to the Savior’s cross itself, where from the pierced side of our Lord flowed forth the “wondrous sacrament of the whole Church” (Sacrosanctum Concilium 5).
If you want to hear the truth, listen to the voice of Christ transmitted infallibly by the Church. Within the living womb of the Church of Jesus Christ, humankind receives supernatural, divine revelation. Through this revelation, God chose to share with men “treasures which totally transcend the understanding of the human mind” (Dei Verbum 6). These treasures are God’s self-disclosure: Sacred Tradition and Sacred Scripture; the words and deeds of God; the truth about God’s intervention in human history, including his salvific plan for humanity; and who and what humankind really is, which is definitively unveiled in the life of Christ.
Here we have circled back to the beginning of our topic: humanity’s unceasing desire to really know God and really know itself. The Church provides the answers. The confusion over the truth about God and humankind rapidly dissipates if we accept in faith Jesus Christ and the divine plan of the Father, which is the “convocation” of humanity in his Son, and this “convocation” is the Church (CCC 760). Simply, the Church is the Father’s loving plan to bring truth and salvation to all people through his Son and under the unfailing guidance of his Spirit.
The Church confers on her children the gift of the Holy Spirit by virtue of the sacrament of Baptism, which is a share in the supernatural life of God, and thus, by this divine mission, has a unique affect on the entire world: “The Church does not only communicate divine life to man but in some way casts the reflected light of that life over the entire earth, most of all by its healing and elevating impact on the dignity of the person” (GS 40). The Church is not merely a human institution, but rather a total and unique divine and human community, with an indispensable contribution to make to humanity and the future of every person.
Do you want to partake of the fullness of human life, and attain the sublime destiny to which God has called you? “The Church has a single intention: that God’s kingdom may come, and that the salvation of the whole human race may come to pass” (GS 45). It is by the Church’s communication of supernatural revelation to humankind, the treasures of the word of God to the world, as well as by conferring on her children the sacraments of life, which give to the faithful a share in the divine life of God, that the Father’s plan of salvation and truth in his Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, is brought unwaveringly and without fail toward its completion.
In the secure and motherly womb of the Church, the city of truth and holy dwelling place for humanity, we mercifully receive truth and life and live, this moment, in the kingdom of God. There, the desire of the human heart is fulfilled in hearing the voice of Christ and in becoming forever united to him, whose own body and blood has paved a path for humanity to everlasting communion with the Father. Praise be to God!
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Photo Credit: By carulmare [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons.
Deacon Frederick Bartels is a member of the Catholic clergy who serves the Church in the diocese of Pueblo. He holds an MA in Theology and Educational Ministry and is a Catholic educator, public speaker, and evangelist who strives to infuse culture with the saving principles of the gospel. For more, visit YouTube, iTunes and Google Play.