Spreading the Catholic Faith: “The One Thing Necessary”

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“Only One Thing is Necessary” (Our Lord Jesus Christ, cf. Luke 10: 42)

The “One Thing Necessary” for the Church to Accomplish

In June 1979, when the communist and “anti-God” empire of the Soviet Union still appeared as if it could last indefinitely, even to statesmen such as Henry Kissinger, Pope John Paul II travelled to Soviet-dominated Poland and addressed a vast crowd in Warsaw’s Victory Square as communist officials tensely looked on from the windows of nearby hotels.

The climax of the event came when the pontiff cried out: “Christ cannot be kept out of this part of the world: to try to do this is an act against man”. The response was thunderous: “We want God! We want God! We want God in the family circle! We want God in books, in schools!  We want God in government…We want God, we want God!”

GOD! To bring God to men: this is the Church’s mission, “the one thing necessary”  that she is called to achieve: “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.”(Mt. 28:19).

The Church must be true to her own God-directed identity of proposing to every man and woman the Catholic Faith as the ultimate  meaning of reality. As Pope Benedict XVI stated:

“As a first step, we can respond to this question with another: what is this ‘reality’? What is real? Are only material goods, social, economic and political problems ‘reality’? This was precisely the great error of the dominant tendencies of the last century, a most destructive error, as we can see from the results of both Marxist and capitalist systems. They falsify the notion of reality by detaching it from the foundational and decisive reality which is God. Anyone who excludes God from his horizons falsifies the notion of ‘reality’ and, in consequence, can only end up in blind alleys or with recipes for destruction.

“The first basic point to affirm, then, is the following: only those who recognize God know reality and are able to respond to it adequately and in a truly human manner. The truth of this thesis becomes evident in the face of the collapse of all the systems that marginalize God.

“Yet here a further question immediately arises: who knows God? How can we know him? We cannot enter here into a complex discussion of this fundamental issue. For a Christian, the nucleus of the reply is simple: only God knows God, only his Son who is God from God, true God, knows him. And he ‘who is nearest to the Father’s heart has made him known’ (Jn 1:18).

“Hence the unique and irreplaceable importance of Christ for us, for humanity. If we do not know God in and with Christ, all of reality is transformed into an indecipherable enigma; there is no way, and without a way, there is neither life nor truth.

“God is the foundational reality….” (Pope Benedict XVI, May 13, 2007)

As Pope Leo XIII, in his encyclical, Au Milieu des Solicitudes, stated with transparent logic:

“First of all, let us take as a starting-point a well-known truth admitted by all men of good sense and loudly proclaimed by the history of all peoples; namely, that religion, and religion only, can create the social bond; that it alone maintains the peace of a nation on a solid foundation.

“When different families, without giving up the rights and duties of domestic society, unite under the inspiration of nature, in order to constitute themselves members of another larger family circle called civil society, their object is not only to find therein the means of providing for their material welfare, but, above all, to draw thence the boon of moral improvement.

“Otherwise society would rise but little above the level of an aggregation of beings devoid of reason, and whose whole life would consist in the satisfaction of sensual instincts. Moreover, without this moral improvement it would be difficult to demonstrate that civil society was an advantage rather than a detriment to man, as man.

“Now, morality, in man, by the mere fact that it should establish harmony among so many dissimilar rights and duties, since it enters as an element into every human act, necessarily supposes God, and with God, religion, that sacred bond whose privilege is to unite, anteriorly to all other bonds, man to God.

“Indeed, the idea of morality signifies, above all, an order of dependence in regard to truth which is the light of the mind; in regard to good which is the object of the will; and without truth and good there is no morality worthy of the name.

“And what is the principal and essential truth, that from which all truth is derived? It is God. What, therefore, is the supreme good from which all other good proceeds? God.

“Finally, who is the creator and guardian of our reason, our will, our whole being, as well as the end of our life? God; always God.

“Since, therefore, religion is the interior and exterior expression of the dependence which, in justice, we owe to God, there follows a grave obligation.

“All citizens are bound to unite in maintaining in the nation true religious sentiment, and to defend it in case of need, if ever, despite the protestations of nature and of history, an atheistical school should set about banishing God from society, thereby surely annihilating the moral sense even in the depths of the human conscience.

“Among men who have not lost all notion of integrity there can exist no difference of opinion on this point.” (Pope Leo XIII, Au Milieu des Solicitudes; for full text of this and other papal documents see  Vatican Website Papal Documents 

In teaching man “the foundational reality” the Church will build a civilization worthy of man for she will be working at the very center of  reality.

For when the epicenter of civilization is God and His Truth then civilization is focused; when it is not,  there is a defocus from truth with the appearance of the Great Lie about who God is, which in turn leads to the blurring of goodness and evil, all of which create a weak-eyed and haggard civilization destined to endanger man’s soul. As Benedict XVI stated:

“Generally many people show an inclination for more permissive religious concepts, also for themselves. A supreme, mysterious and indeterminate being who only has a hazy relationship with the personal life of the human person is succeeding the personal God of Christianity who reveals himself in the Bible.

“These conceptions are increasingly stimulating discussion in society, especially in the area of justice and legislation.

“Yet, if someone abandons the faith in a personal God, the alternative arises of a ‘god’ that does not know, does not hear and does not speak; and, especially, of one that has no will.

“If God has no will of his own, in the end good and evil are no longer distinguishable; good and evil are no longer in contradiction but in an opposition in which the one would be a complement to the other.

“In this way human beings lose their moral and spiritual strength which is essential for the person’s overall development.

“Social action is increasingly dominated by private interests or the calculations of power, to the detriment of society.” (Pope Benedict XVI, September 13, 2010)

This rejection of the true God merited the red-alert call issued by Pope Benedict XVI in his dramatic message of March 10th, 2009  when he pointed to the absence of the God of Christianity in the hearts of men as the great threat to mankind in our age:

“In our days, when in vast areas of the world the Faith is in danger of dying out like a flame which no longer has fuel, the overriding priority is to make God present in this world and to show men and women the way to God.

“Not just any god, but the God Who spoke on Sinai; to that God whose face we recognise in a love which presses ‘to the end’ – in Jesus Christ, crucified and risen.

“The real problem at this moment of our history is that God is disappearing from the human horizon, and, with the dimming of the light which comes from God, humanity is losing its bearings, with increasingly evident destructive effects.”

On Self-Dedication to God the First Christian Civilization was Built

This was the theme of  Pope Benedict XVI’s speech  to the intellectuals of France during his  2008 visit to Paris. He explained how the monks in their search for God sought knowledge of Him in the two “books” that He has “written” -the universe and divine revelation – thus becoming men of “science”  in the broadest meaning of those words and in this way laying the foundations of Western Civilization:

“First and foremost, it must be frankly admitted straight away that it was not their intention to create a culture or even to preserve a culture from the past. Their motivation was much more basic.

“Their goal was: quaerere Deum [to seek God]. Amid the confusion of the times, in which nothing seemed permanent, they wanted to do the essential – to make an effort to find what was perennially valid and lasting, life itself. They were searching for God. They wanted to go from the inessential to the essential, to the only truly important and reliable thing there is.

“It is sometimes said that they were ‘eschatologically’ oriented. But this is not to be understood in a temporal sense, as if they were looking ahead to the end of the world or to their own death, but in an existential sense: they were seeking the definitive behind the provisional.

Quaerere Deum: because they were Christians, this was not an expedition into a trackless wilderness, a search leading them into total darkness. God himself had provided signposts, indeed he had marked out a path which was theirs to find and to follow. This path was his word, which had been disclosed to men in the books of the sacred Scriptures.

“Thus, by inner necessity, the search for God demands a culture of the word or – as Jean Leclercq put it: eschatology and grammar are intimately connected with one another in Western monasticism (see L‘amour des lettres et le désir de Dieu).

“The longing for God, the désir de Dieu, includes amour des lettres, love of the word, exploration of all its dimensions. Because in the biblical word God comes towards us and we go towards him, we must learn to penetrate the secret of language, to understand it in its construction and in the manner of its expression.

“Thus it is through the search for God that the secular sciences take on their importance, sciences which show us the path towards language.     Because the search for God required the culture of the word, it was appropriate that the monastery should have a library, pointing out pathways to the word.

“It was also appropriate to have a school, in which these pathways could be opened up. Benedict calls the monastery a dominici servitii schola. The monastery serves eruditio, the formation and education of man – a formation whose ultimate aim is that man should learn how to serve God. But it also includes the formation of reason – education – through which man learns to perceive, in the midst of words, the Word itself.” (Benedict XVI, Address to representatives from the world of culture,Paris, September 12, 2008)

Thus, the Christians of the first millennium built the first Christian civilization in Europe: they lived life as a pilgrimage towards Heaven and as they travelled on the roads of eternal truths a remarkable civilization sprung up along the roadsides.

Indeed this occurred even physically by means of the great pilgrimages when Catholics “at every step and filled with hope, created a pathway of culture, prayer, mercy and conversion, which took shape in churches and hospitals, in inns, bridges and monasteries. In this way…Europe developed a spiritual physiognomy indelibly marked by the Gospel.” (Pope Benedict XVI, Santiago de Compostela, November 6, 2010)