E CATHOLICS ARE OFTEN CONFUSED about what it is we are supposed to do. We participate in the Eucharist, in parish and family life, and work hard in our daily lives. Then what? There are a variety of lay organizations that we can belong to but, worthy as these groups are, we might still have the nagging sense that all is not as it should be. How do we address the problem of living as Christians in the modern world? How do we translate the teachings of our faith into our everyday lives?
Jesus provides a very simple answer. We are to love one another as he loves us. Jesus is very aware of our sinfulness, more than we are. He sees its deliberate and wilful nature. Yet he looks beyond the sin to the creature the Father has created. Several years ago I attended Charlie Osborne's School of Evangelization in Pensacola, Florida. One of the primary focuses of the week was our identity, who and what we are. We were taught a saying:
"You are a special, unique, one-of-kind masterpiece; a manifestation of the most high God created in his own image."
Although we often fail and are prone to error, we are also the crowning act of creation, made in the very image of God himself, brought into being by a spark of his own life. And Jesus loves us. By his death on the cross he has gained for us the free and unearned gift of salvation, of eternity with him. We can be certain of this.
This certainty is a place of great security for us. It completely changes how we look at the world around us. We are all created in the image of God. If we find difficulty loving another person, we can be confident that we have identified sin in our own life, and repentance is called for. We can relax in the certainty that God gives us the grace to be pleasing to him. Christian growth comes with our eager desire to get closer to God. It is entering into the heart of true freedom.
Jesus wants us to experience this freedom. If we are not living in freedom yet, we can be confident that Jesus will create it in our lives, as we seek him with all our hearts.
When I carry within myself the knowledge that I am a masterpiece of God, much of the pressures and opinions of the world diminish in their ability to affect me. They still exist, but my attitude to them has changed. Take for example our entertainment media, particularly television. While I can recognize my almost perverse attraction to being passively entertained, I usually find TV boring. Over time it has become unimportant, because I have found something much better. This is despite the fact that some programming, such as the specialty channels, has greatly improved over the years. (Some, of course, has gotten much worse.) However, because I almost never watch it, television has little opportunity to shape my attitudes towards life.
Similarly, when I believe that everyone I meet is a masterpiece of God, my attitudes towards them change. Sin in their lives becomes an opportunity for love in my own. Let me give an example from my own life. I am presently working in the field of sales, which I really enjoy. I recognize, however, that the pressures of selling can tempt sales reps to manipulate their customers, which I find unacceptable. I can face the same temptation, particularly when things are not going well! It would be very easy to give in, 'just this once'. Soon though, manipulation becomes a normal sales technique. Such a situation now exists with one of my co-workers. How do I deal with it? Well, this individual and I have had some conversations that a diplomat would call 'frank'. We do things differently and we both know it. We both know there are certain things that I will not do, or accept having done, to my customers. To his credit, this individual has generally respected my wishes. At first my temptation was to treat him with anger and resentment. But he is a masterpiece that God created; he just does not know it. Reacting to the situation with sin cannot help, it will only make matters worse. So I do not. What I have found is that over time I have seen that he has many good qualities to go with those I disagree with. I am able to relax and love him. Will he change? I do not know. I do know God loves him just as much as he loves me, and is calling him to himself, as he is calling me. That is all I need to know.
There is no rule of behaviour that governs all situations. Each situation in our daily lives demands its own answers. Love provides its own answer. The freedom of Christ is a wonderful thing.