A Disjointed Life
2100 Outward sacrifice, to be genuine, must be the expression of spiritual sacrifice: "The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit. . . . "17 The prophets of the Old Covenant often denounced sacrifices that were not from the heart or not coupled with love of neighbor.18 Jesus recalls the words of the prophet Hosea: "I desire mercy, and not sacrifice."19 The only perfect sacrifice is the one that Christ offered on the cross as a total offering to the Father's love and for our salvation.20 By uniting ourselves with his sacrifice we can make our lives a sacrifice to God.
It has been a month since I posted on the Monday Morality stream, perhaps excusable given the emphasis upon the Easter Season, as well as the nature of the First Commandment chapter of the Catechism itself. The First Commandment treats of the human being’s many responsibilities to his or her Creator, and this covers a considerable amount of material. I decided not to treat of every paragraph in this section, given that some repeat earlier material, and some spell out moral responsibilities to God with more concrete expression. My calculation was that the specific teachings might be more useful.
Para. 2100 picks up a prominent theme from the later books of the Hebrew Scriptures and then forms a critical principle in New Testament writing, notably the Gospel. The moral imperative of this Catechism teaching involves inner and outer integrity in the worship and adoration of God. In our own times I suppose this a variation of the theme “Sunday Catholic,” where one might put in the hour obligation of Mass with no tangible or observable impact on the conduct of the rest of the week. As a side bar here, there is considerable discussion in sociological circles about the relationship of belief in God and living an upright life, as this October 2017 PEW report indicates.
The Catechism and the Bible, for that matter, assume a revealing God who continues to teach and make holy his community of believers. Although we can know nothing approaching God’s qualities, we can certainly possess insight in God’s vision of how he wishes to be loved, through the entire earthly sojourn of his son, Jesus, referred to by a twentieth century theologian as “the grammar of God’s utterance.” The Council of Chalcedon (451 A.D.) defined that Jesus had one operational and congruent personality even though he fully possesses two distinct natures, the divine and the human.
Chalcedon, like many of the early councils, developed a life of its own that enables Catholic believers even now to couch their moral understandings of themselves in a modern language. In the counseling profession, there is a term coined by the mid-20th century therapist and author Carl Rogers, “congruence.” In Rogerian thinking, an individual will not approach a state of mental satisfaction if there is a difference between one’s internal self-portrait and the life that one is actually living. Had Rogers lived and consulted at the Council of Chalcedon, he would have advised that Jesus is the perfectly congruent being, despite the fact that he possessed two natures. When Jesus had a thought, it was the product of the two natures perfectly joined. As my Christology professor observed, Jesus was not a schizophrenic tortured soul with his divine nature at war with his human nature.
Para. 2100 draws from Scriptural reference in its opening remark on “outward sacrifice” being genuine as an expression of spiritual sacrifice. Anyone who offers outward worship in the Judeo-Christian tradition, or the Islamic faith, for that matter, must act with a corresponding inner conviction in mind and action. Para. 2100 almost goes as far as to say that the action of forgiveness by a believer is more pleasing to God than the sacrifice in its quotation of Jesus citing the Prophet Hosea, “I desire mercy and not sacrifice.” The Catholic Mass rite represents a congruence in its prayers of adoration and sacrifice to God while celebrating a penitential rite at the opening and a greeting of peace before the breaking of the bread. The hope of course is that this congruence survives the church parking lot!
Para. 2100 gives an opportunity to look at new ways of examining our consciences daily and in preparing for confession. The first step is a candid assessment of what I actually do believe. No one can say his or her belief system is perfectly formed: we wrestle with our prejudices, our self-will, our vices, our cruelties. Little wonder that the Catechism quotes “The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit.” This assessment must consider to what extent God actually matters and whether we even have an impulse to adore and give thanks. A rider to this assessment is our disposition to the Roman Catholic Church itself. I will admit that this factor plays heavily into my examen every day.
Only a fool enters self-examination expecting to be pleased with the outcome. St. Luke paints a portrait of one man at worship who was exceptionally pleased with his inner evaluation, and we see what Jesus thought of that. The pleasing adoration of God includes transparency, a laying bare of my true self, and an earnest desire that the “broken spirit” be healed.
The “doing” is the “rest of the story,” as Paul Harvey was wont to say. Having sought forgiveness, how do we make future adoration and sacrifice an unsullied act pleasing to the Father? Again, we look to Luke, who describes a master’s enormous forgiveness of debt to his chief steward, only to have the steward shake down his underling for payment of a tiny debt. The goal of moral theology and psychotherapy is to assist its clients in living and acting in congruence with their better selves. For the baptized, the search for congruence is always the quest to walk in the footsteps of Christ, whose own sacrifice of his life is defined as the perfect worship act for all time.
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