Angilbert (fl. ca. 840/50), On the Battle Which was Fought at Fontenoy

The Law of Christians is broken,
Blood by the hands of hell profusely shed like rain,
And the throat of Cerberus bellows songs of joy.

Angelbertus, Versus de Bella que fuit acta Fontaneto

Fracta est lex christianorum
Sanguinis proluvio, unde manus inferorum,
gaudet gula Cerberi.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Veritatis Splendor: Part 5--"Come, Follow Me!"

“COME, FOLLOW ME." These words of Jesus are deceptively simple. They are, in fact, a demanding invitation. And they are of fundamental importance in understanding the Christian manner of living. "Following Christ is . . . the essential and primordial foundation of Christian morality." VS, 19. "Christum sequi fundamentum est essentiale et naturale doctrinae moralis christianae."

In the Gospel of Matthew, these words of invitation come at the end of the earlier demand that the rich young man sell all he has and give the proceeds to the poor, and to do this on a promise of "treasure in heaven." "Following Christ is . . . the essential and primordial foundation of Christian morality."
--John Paul II, Veritatis Splendor, 19
The invitation of Christ, then, requires a reversal of values, a shift in attitude, a "turn." The follower of Christ must develop a transcendent, metaphysical view of reality: he must see all things under the vantage point of eternity, sub specie aeternitatis. The temporal world will no longer have a hold on him, and he will have the ability to let go of the temporal world. His treasure will be where is heart is, and his heart is given over to Christ, and no longer to the things of this earth. Of course, all the goods the rich young man is asked to sell are symbols for what the rich young man must really give up. To be sure, an inordinate attachment to goods of this world must be rejected, which is part of Christ's message. But, more fundamentally, Christ is asking the rich young man to give up his "very self." VS, 19.

The Christian moral call is uniquely personal. It is not a submission to a series of laws, a revelation, a book, a doctrine. At its heart, the moral call of the Christian is to follow Christ, it is "holding fast," and adherence, "to the very person of Jesus," de adhaerendo ad ipsam Christi personam." And it is this following of Christ wherein the Christian moral life may be compared to light, for "Jesus is indeed the light of the world, the light of life." VS, 19. In his light we become light, as through the following and imitation of Jesus we become imitators of God, for Jesus is the "image of the invisible God." Col. 1:15. The imitatio Christi is an imitatio Dei.

Love is at the heart of this calling to follow Christ. That is what makes it so demanding. "Jesus," the Pope states with emphasis, "asks us to follow him and to imitate him along the path of love, a love which gives itself completely to the brethren out of love of God." VS, 20. So the commandment, "Come, follow me," is the same commandment as the commandment, "love one another as I have loved you." VS, 20 (John 15:12). It requires us to do things for the other, from the simple--wash another's feet--to the most sublime--to love "to the very end," for greater love no man has that to lay down his life for his brother. (John 13: 1, 14-15; John 15:13). The commandment, "Come, follow me," includes the taking up of the cross: "If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me." (Matt. 16:24) Jesus' passion and his suffering death on the Cross epitomize this new law, and that is why the cross is often called the law of Christians:

Indeed, his actions, and in particular his Passion and Death on the Cross, are the living revelation of his love for the Father and for others. This is exactly the love that Jesus wishes to be imitated by all who follow him. It is the "new" commandment: "A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another" (Jn 13:34-35).

VS, 20.

El Greco's Via Crucis

It should go without saying that this characteristic of the Christian moral life--that it means following the person of Jesus--makes it something that is the opposite of legalism. It is also more than simply imitating the external behavior of Christ. Unlike the Muslims, we are not asked to put our shoes on, shave our pubic hair, pull out underarm hair, put kohl eyeliner around our eyes, or dye our beard with henna in the manner of Muhammad. Any man can be a copy cat. What a Christian is asked to do is not follow a man, but to follow the man-God, and this requires the dynamism of Grace, and the gifts of the Holy Spirit:
Following Christ is not an outward imitation, since it touches man at the very depths of his being. Being a follower of Christ means becoming conformed to him who became a servant even to giving himself on the Cross (cf. Phil 2:5-8). Christ dwells by faith in the heart of the believer (cf. Eph 3:17), and thus the disciple is conformed to the Lord. This is the effect of grace, of the active presence of the Holy Spirit in us.
VS, 21.

Following Christ is not only intensely personal, individual call: it is a one-on-one affair. But it also manifests itself in a corporate or communal way, because by being one in Christ we become members incorporate of his Body, which is the Church. The ecclesial characteristic of Christ's commandment to "Come, follow me," ought not to be forgotten:

Having become one with Christ, the Christian becomes a member of his Body, which is the Church (cf. Cor 12:13, 27). By the work of the Spirit, Baptism radically configures the faithful to Christ in the Paschal Mystery of death and resurrection; it "clothes him" in Christ (cf. Gal 3:27): "Let us rejoice and give thanks", exclaims Saint Augustine speaking to the baptized, "for we have become not only Christians, but Christ (...). Marvel and rejoice: we have become Christ! ".28 Having died to sin, those who are baptized receive new life (cf. Rom 6:3-11): alive for God in Christ Jesus, they are called to walk by the Spirit and to manifest the Spirit's fruits in their lives (cf. Gal 5:16-25). Sharing in the Eucharist, the sacrament of the New Covenant (cf. 1 Cor 11:23-29), is the culmination of our assimilation to Christ, the source of "eternal life" (cf. Jn 6:51-58), the source and power of that complete gift of self, which Jesus — according to the testimony handed on by Paul — commands us to commemorate in liturgy and in life: "As often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes" (1 Cor 11:26).

VS, 21.

"The conclusion of Jesus' conversation with the rich young man is very poignant," the Pope observes. VS, 22. And we shall meditate on the Pope's reflection of the rich young man's sorrow, of his turning away from the Lord, of his inordinate fondness of his earthly goods, of his selling his birthright for the mess of pottage he had in his earthly treasure trove.

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