I prayed and pleaded, and wisdom came to me. (Wisdom 7:7)
Pope St. John Paul II wrote that Christ invites all of us to follow Him, just as He invited the Rich Young Man: Keep the Commandments. Give what you have to the poor, so that you will have treasure in heaven. And follow me.
Christ invites all of us to follow Him in this way. And by accepting this invitation, we can find what we call morality. We can live moral lives, upright lives.
Let’s focus on this crucial point. We cannot imagine that we are morally good first–and because we are so good, we get to be Jesus’ friends. No.
The Son of God—the Way, the Truth, and the Life—invites us to follow Him, and by following Him, we find out what “being good” actually means. By following Him, by making a purifying pilgrimage in His footsteps, by spending a lifetime studying Christ, so as to know Him, love Him, and imitate Him—in other words, by co-operating with Him, we can find the peace of a clear conscience.
Who doesn’t want to have a peaceful conscience? The kind of conscience that rests, and allows you to delight in simple pleasures, to listen to other people when they talk to you, to sleep well, to enjoy a baseball playoff game. If we really want to come to full-flower as people, we need untroubled consciences.
More than a hamburger, or a Ferrari, or a good-looking boyfriend or girlfriend–what we really want, above all, is the inner peace that comes from honesty and harmony with what is right. The Holy Catholic Church says: We can have this, provided we start by focusing our eyes on Jesus Christ Himself.
Not focusing on the Bible, per se—though of course we can’t focus our eyes on Christ without reading the Scriptures.
Not focusing on ‘moral positions’ in themselves. Though of course the Church takes moral positions, based on the life and teachings of Christ our Lord.
Not even focusing on the Pope or the Church Herself as an institution. After all, what is the first sentence of Pope Francis’ letter about the Joy of the Gospel? It is not, “The joy of the Gospel fills the hearts and lives of all who encounter me.” No: Pope Francis’ fundamental idea is: The joy of the Gospel fills the hearts and lives of all who encounter…
So, three steps to morality:
1. Faith and prayer. We encounter Christ by faith, since He no longer dwells visibly on earth. We want peaceful consciences? Then let’s regularly do calisthenics of faith.
–Prayer to Christ first thing in the morning and the last thing at night.
–“Lord Jesus, have mercy on me, a sinner,” all day long. Let’s make a resolution to say, “Lord Jesus, have mercy on me, a sinner,” more often than we look at our phones.
2. Receiving the sacraments as acts of Divine Mercy. Don’t get me wrong: A lot goes into having a beautiful, prayerful Mass. I certainly appreciate all the hard work that goes into it. I try myself to work hard to prepare. The Lord smiles on selfless Christians who volunteer to help at church.
But we have to remember always: Fundamentally, the Holy Mass is not us. If the Mass were just us, as Flannery O’Connor put it, “then to hell with it.” The Mass is: Jesus giving us Himself.
Which brings me to: Truly to experience the Holy Mass as an act of Divine Mercy means regularly experiencing the sacrament of Confession as an act of Divine Mercy.
“But, Father. I’m a good person. I don’t need to go to Confession!”
Bless me, Father, for I have sinned. It’s been too long since my last Confession. I am one stubborn, proud, ungrateful wretch—who tends to forget how Jesus shed a lot of blood, and endured excruciating agony, and it wasn’t just for all the other people.
3. Which brings us to the final point I would like to try to make. Love. Morality really does fundamentally mean loving—loving God and loving other people. Love really is the law. That particular liberal shibboleth is actually true.
But the love in question, of course, is the love that proceeds from the Sacred Heart of Jesus, the love that sees with Christ’s eyes. And we know that Christ hardly looks at sins being committed and says, “That’s fine.”
No. The Lord Jesus knew that the Rich Young Man in the gospel needed to change his life.
Christ saw the sinner, and loved him, and invited him: Come, sinner, follow me. I will teach you how to do good.