Spe Salvi 28: With Jesus, No Longer For Ourselves

In our examination of the true shape of Christian hope recently we’ve talked about the importance of relationship. Pope Benedict XVI wants his readers to be sure they avoid the trap of me-n-Jesus.

28. Yet now the question arises: are we not in this way falling back once again into an individualistic understanding of salvation, into hope for myself alone, which is not true hope since it forgets and overlooks others? Indeed we are not!

At the very least we have a communion of two, including Jesus. But the real truth is that even if we begin with this communion of two, Jesus will draw us to others. The Christian life must be widened. Since Jesus’ sacrifice was for all, our communion implies we will “be for all” as well.

Our relationship with God is established through communion with Jesus—we cannot achieve it alone or from our own resources alone. The relationship with Jesus, however, is a relationship with the one who gave himself as a ransom for all (cf. 1 Timothy 2:6). Being in communion with Jesus Christ draws us into his “being for all”; it makes it our own way of being. He commits us to live for others, but only through communion with him does it become possible truly to be there for others, for the whole.

If this is bothersome or unsavory, then it is up to any of us to reexamine our lives, our faith, our mindset. We must be prepared for the fullest imitation of Christ. Not just suffering in hope. But also engaging with and serving others.

In this regard I would like to quote the great Greek Doctor of the Church, Maximus the Confessor († 662), who begins by exhorting us to prefer nothing to the knowledge and love of God, but then quickly moves on to practicalities: “The one who loves God cannot hold on to money but rather gives it out in God’s fashion … in the same manner in accordance with the measure of justice” [Chapters on charity, Centuria 1, ch. 1: PG 90, 965]. Love of God leads to participation in the justice and generosity of God towards others. Loving God requires an interior freedom from all possessions and all material goods: the love of God is revealed in responsibility for others [Cf. ibid.: PG 90, 962-966].

Another saint we have visited before in this document, the Bishop of Hippo. He wanted to be a Mary of Bethany as he saw his life. God called him instead to be a man for others.

This same connection between love of God and responsibility for others can be seen in a striking way in the life of Saint Augustine. After his conversion to the Christian faith, he decided, together with some like-minded friends, to lead a life totally dedicated to the word of God and to things eternal. His intention was to practice a Christian version of the ideal of the contemplative life expressed in the great tradition of Greek philosophy, choosing in this way the  “better part” (cf. Luke 10:42). Things turned out differently, however. While attending the Sunday liturgy at the port city of Hippo, he was called out from the assembly by the Bishop and constrained to receive ordination for the exercise of the priestly ministry in that city. Looking back on that moment, he writes in his Confessions: “Terrified by my sins and the weight of my misery, I had resolved in my heart, and meditated flight into the wilderness; but you forbade me and gave me strength, by saying: ‘Christ died for all, that those who live might live no longer for themselves but for him who for their sake died’ (cf. 2 Corinthians 5:15)” [Conf. X 43, 70: CSEL 33, 279]. Christ died for all. To live for him means allowing oneself to be drawn into his being for others.

A few things … Imagine being called out at Mass for some new adventure in faith, even ordination. This citation of 2 Corinthians has always struck me in the fourth Eucharistic Prayer, an excellent expression of hope embedded in salvation history:

And that we might live
no longer for ourselves but for him,
he sent the Holy Spirit from you, Father,
as his first gift to those who believe,
to complete his work on earth
and bring us the fullness of grace. (1973 translation, ICEL)

The deep hope for Christians today is that we are indeed engaged in a completion of the earthly mission of Jesus.

Thoughts?

This document is Copyright © 2007 – Libreria Editrice Vaticana. You can find the full document online here.

About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in Minnesota, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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