In Catholic theology, Christ comes not simply to save something called the "soul," but rather a much more mysterious reality called the person.
Let us consider why it is that the human person, created as we are in the image and likeness of God, is mysterious and what it means for us to walk with God in a life in Christ.
Each of us is unique and unrepeatable.
We share, paradoxically, the quality of being unique.
We are able to experience empathy for others in which we see our unique selves in the other human person.
Empathy for others in their moments of hardship makes it possible for us to transcend our own uniqueness and enter into a sense of sameness between our neighbor and self.
It is often in moments of great need that we come to see our neighbor as really and truly neighbor.
Jesus established the second of the great commandments: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’
Collectively, we rose in many ways to help our neighbors when we were attacked by Moslem terrorists on Sept. 11th.
We came to our neighbors’ aid when hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast a couple of years ago.
Daily, when we hear that clear small voice that directs our hearts to action, we love our neighbor as our self.
Ideally, all this happens in a way that both preserves, and even sharpens, our uniqueness while making manifest, sometimes unbearably so, our sameness.
Like St Cyril of Alexandria said of the distraught widow: “I want, like Christ, to have "mercy upon the woman, . . . that her tears might be stopped, . . . [and see] the cause of her weeping . . . undone".
But because my communion with God is impaired through my sin, my communion with my neighbor is also wounded.
Because of my sin in the face of human suffering, and the renewed and deepened communion that contact within that suffering offers, I fail.
So often the face of human suffering, with its invitation to experience our common humanity, overwhelms us.
My concerned for my neighbor is well intentioned, but in the final analysis I am only able to lower my friend into his tomb.
Respect for each human person and empathy for our shared humanity are pleasing things.
As in Gal 5 these basic truths of respect and empathy must be transformed by the grace of Christ into "the fruit of the Spirit . . . love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control".
We are warned by St. Paul in his letter to the Galatians that it is only through cultivating a life in Christ through the Holy Spirit can we put to death in us:
"the works of the flesh [that] are evident, which are: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, envy, murders, drunkenness, revelries, and the like" (vv. 19-21).
These works of the flesh need to be healed since it is these that are the cause of lost resolve in the face of human suffering.
These preoccupations of self blind me to the mystery of the human person since each degrades the person and changes my stance toward him from an end into a means.
Changing him from a human person into an object.
Standing unrepentant in my sins before God in Whose image and likeness I have been created, I do prefer to think that God saves souls and not that He saves persons.
There is a cleanness, a simplicity to the idea of a soul.
This simplicity does not require from me an acceptance of a life of communion with other human persons in their embodied uniqueness.
The salvation of the person, the person in all his uniqueness, however, is an invitation to live a life of respectful communion.
Christ comes to save people, not souls.
Christ gives people life in its full abundance, not amorphous souls.
Again, St Cyril:
Christ raised him who descending to his grave.
The manner of his rising is plain to see.
"He touched," it says, "the bier and said 'Young man, I say unto thee, arise.'"
How was not a word enough to raise him who was lying there?
What is more powerful that the Word of God?
Why then did he not work the miracle by only a word but also touched the bier?
So that we "might learn that the Holy Body of Christ is productive for the salvation of man."
In Christ, human flesh becomes "the body of life" and is "clothed with [divine] might."
To be saved, to have salvation, to be in Christ, means that we are not only liberated from sin, but are united once again to one another.
St Cyril says: Christ has entered into our sinfulness and has delivered us "from evil works, even from fleshly lusts" so that He "may unite us to the assembly of the saints."
Christ unites each unique human person to all others through love!
Jesus commands us: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’
Life in Christ returns to us the transcendent possibilities of our own full humanity.
We can love one another and need not fear the weight of our shared humanity.
As Christ said to the widow’s dead son, "…I say to you, arise.”
In Christ, life everlasting is given to us in and through his Church.
Let us lift up our hearts.
Let Jesus raise us, as He raised widow’s dead son, to true life and joy in Him guided by and nurtured in His Church. Amen.
[Inspired by Fr. Gregory Jensen]
Monday, October 20, 2008
Below, our beloved Deacon's notes for his sermon on the Healing of the Widow's Son. The notes give only a glimmer of what was a fine sermon!