Saturday, August 13, 2022

How to Love Rightly the Things of This World

Genuine Christian faith entails the conviction that created things are good. As humans, we are meant to be "attracted" by the good in creatures, drawn to desire and love them, and drawn toward God through them, drawn to love God preeminently, who is the source and fulfillment of the being and goodness of created things. The problem is not "attraction" in itself. The problem is the mess that sin has made of our humanity. It is not that things themselves are evil; rather it is our sinful self-obsession, our drive to construct the foundation of our selves through controlling things by our own power, that skews our perception of their essential, gratuitous value given to them by God.

The “world” that Jesus warns His disciples about (see e.g. John 15:18-19) is not the same as “the material world” or the created world as such. It is rather humanity’s sinful “reduction” of the meaning of creation; it is the world distorted and abused by sin (the original sin we inherit from our first parents, and our own personal sins and connivance in the dysfunctional and destructive patterns of sinfulness that weigh upon every period of human history).

We deserve to be called “worldly" (in this negative sense) insofar as we willingly blind ourselves to the whole reality of the created world. This world is meant to be the place where embodied persons are called to give and receive love in a multitude of "incarnate" gestures and expressions, which are made possible by the wisdom and goodness inherent in things created by God that contribute to the meaningful and precious environment He entrusts to us, and the beautiful path of our history - our journey toward Him. By contrast, “worldliness” is the result of the effort to cut off the world from God. Our "worldly desires” perceive only "worldly goods," i.e. things merely insofar as they are subject to our own selfish grasping and manipulation.

Thus we do violence to the world God has created in the gift of His love. We covet, take, steal, hoard, violate, and destroy things because we refuse to receive them and give them. When we forget the gift of God, we cannot engage reality: we don't know how to "possess" things with freedom, to learn from them, deepen them by "collaborating" with their riches and marking them with the seal of our own personal creativity, and thus being able to give of ourselves through them. We are the ones who have brought evil and destruction into the world; we have made the world a deceitful, harmful, dangerous place.

But God loves the world. He loves us. The Father reveals the depths of this love by sending His Son, Jesus, the Word made flesh, who dwells among us, accompanies us, dies for us (and thus stays with us even through death) so He can raise us up, heal us, and transform us by joining us to Himself and drawing our hearts to Him.

In following Him we are led to rediscover all the created things of the world in Him. We begin to see ourselves and all things as having their true meaning in Him and for Him. There is nothing reductive about this, because reality is ultimately personal and interpersonal. The encounter with the Person of Jesus is decisive because He fulfills and transcends (in infinite depth) every person and every thing.

In Him, our lives and everything on our earthly path is transfigured. Even though it doesn't often seem that way, as we trudge through the many difficult and lonely days in this life, we hold onto the truth in love and hope, through faith in Jesus who has gone before us in death to resurrection. Thus we learn to engage life and the reality of the world passionately, attentively, but with peace and joy in our hearts, because we know that Jesus Christ has saved the world, and that He is with us in all our days.