A Pilgrim's Catechism
The Occasional Thoughts of a 21st-Century Roman Catholic on Journey
Towards the Reign of God
Giovanni Bellini: Christ Praying in the Garden National Gallery, London, 1569
In the face of death, Jesus assumes responsibility
for everything that he must do.
What does it mean for human beings to be responsible?
Being, life and existence (the ability to go out of oneself in order to be present to the world) are gifts from God but they must always be accepted and taken up by the persons themselves. Human beings are often subject to forces outside of themselves but these forces cannot touch the true, innermost reality of the person. As regards who a person truly is, there is nothing that is ever done immediately for the person, not even by God and much less by creatures. Human beings must assume full responsibility for themselves.
God is the ultimate cause of everything but each person remains responsible for integrating the life and power that comes from God into their own life.
Even coming into existence is not an event that is done immediately for the person. The parents supply living matter in the form of an embryo developing into a fetus. God’s one act is constantly present to the world through the Word creating, revealing and offering divine life universally to all of humanity. When the fetus is sufficiently developed to support self-consciousness, it is ready to hear the Word and the Word’s challenge to life. Enlightened through the language and logic of the Holy Spirit, and in the power of the same Spirit, a “yes” is uttered that is already responsible, and a human person, sharer in God’s own life, comes into existence. There is living matter supplied by the parents, divine life given by God but finally a ”yes” originating from the new human being.
Rather than mere intellect and will, it is this presence of the Word, accepted at the first moment of human existence, that defines and constitutes a human person. At every moment in a person’s life, before and after physical birth, and even into the world to come, the person is confronted by the Word of God challenging the person to say “yes” and “yes” again. To accept God’s life, and further growth in it, involves an integration of that gift into all of one’s own actions. It is this response or rejection of divine life that finally determines what a person is and that makes every moment a matter of responsibility.
Rejection of God’s life by sinning, however, can never banish the Word who, once accepted, always remains present calling when necessary to repentance and always to renewed growth.
My friend prays for me that I receive healing or that I undergo a conversion of life. God at every moment offers to everyone the divine gift of his life. It is only in accepting the gift myself that I can grow. The prayer of my friend cannot change God who is constant and universal in his giving but the prayer of my friend may encourage me to accept God more fully into my life. Finally I am the one who is responsible.
The gift of God’s life, in so far as it is accepted and taken up by a person, always contributes to spiritual healing. Spiritual healing affects the body as well and may help bring about a physical cure. God, of course, is always the ultimate cause. The prayers of another may be the occasion of a response on the part of the sick person to be more accepting of God. However, the immediate cause of apparent miraculous physical healing is always the sick person himself. Jesus said to her: “Daughter, your faith (italics added) has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease (NRSV, Mark 5:34).”
Jesus was first thought to have been raised from the dead by his Father in heaven. Later his resurrection came to be understood as by his own power. Although the power was ultimately from the Father who begets the Son, it was still a power that Jesus had made his own. The same for us. We shall conquer death not by being raised up but by passing through physical death, and rising, through the power of God’s life that we have accepted and made our own.
Human persons only live an authentic existence when they assume responsibility for who they are and what they do.