The Church calls us to live up to the name of our Savior, to be literal Christians – little Christs by adoption, by faith—to each other in all ways. Until our Lord’s promised Second Coming occurs, we the faithful, in, through and by the grace of the Holy Spirit, are to represent Him to one another and to all the world. How we treat our fellow man – whether or not we act lovingly toward them as befits those made like we are in the image of God— determines not only our salvation, but whether or not non-Christians see the light of Christ in us.
In how we live our lives, we can either be instruments of the Gospel, bringing the light of our our Savior to all around us, or, in our coldness or unfeeling withdrawal, we can be responsible for the situation of those people who never encounter a true Christian, and thus, never encounter the light of the Gospel. This is our agency- we can choose to be lights to the world, or keep the light of the Gospel all to ourselves, which renders it all but meaningless. Unus christianus, nullus christianus: “One Christian, no Christian”- there can be no Christians living alone, as islands unto themselves.
So many secular ideologies today, in an effort to appeal to young souls dissatisfied or disillusioned with the status quo, whether in politics or broader society, appeal superficially to the natural youthful sense of adventure, declaring themselves “counter-cultural”, “cutting edge”, “revolutionary”, even “radical”. If only these people would realize that, if they profess the Christian faith, they already have access to the most “radical” message or “lifestyle” of them all!
Think of all the social networks, political clubs, societies and think tanks in which classical liberals, social conservatives, progressive liberals, or even anarchists, communists or proto-fascists can find common ground, acceptance, and approbation for their views! This natural and organic development of spontaneous civil society and political-cultural socialization is not at all necessarily a bad thing, and indeed, the freer the society, the easier it is for a Christian to live and practice his or her faith in that societal context. Many individual members of different political or cultural organizations and initiatives strive deeply to live the Gospel day-to-day or endeavor to encourage the free pursuit of Christian virtues in their company or cause.
This is wonderful, but think for a moment on the sheer number of organizations and individuals dedicating their time and resources to furthering specific political or secular economic ideologies. Think of the danger which any one of these ideologies or belief systems potentially poses to a Christian in terms of idolatry, the danger of loyalty to the movement or cause gradually or suddenly taking primacy in their life over living the Gospel and adoring their Creator in mind, soul and body. Then, in comparison, think of how many movements or clubs or societies exist which, above all, promote and glorify the Gospel as revealed and taught by the Church. How few think tanks promote Christian living independent of or autonomous from a set political or economic agenda connected to various secular interest groups? In today’s world, to be a Christian and actually endeavor to conform one’s life to the Gospel and the wisdom of the Church is the most counter-cultural or revolutionary thing one can do!
The Gospel of Jesus Christ transcends all petty worldly politics or “culture wars”, and certainly does not fall neatly into any one secular ideology rooted in the ideas and concepts of men, whether “liberal” or “conservative”, left-leaning or right-leaning, authoritarian or libertarian. Even the very meaning of these words – take the words ‘liberal’ and ‘conservative’ as just two examples – have changed so many times throughout history, are evolving now, and will surely continue to transition in the future as they are subject to the shifting whims of time, fashion, and circumstance. The Gospel as delivered to and maintained by the Church has never changed, nor does it now, nor will it ever. The peoples who are charged with living it and witnessing to it in every generation change, in that every generation faces different historical, political, social and economic circumstances, but the underlying truth of human nature and the constant Truth found in the Gospels remains unchanged.
What then is true radicalism today? Following Christ’s commandments with humility, living in the dynamic yet steady light of the Gospel, acting selflessly with love toward those who mock or hurt us, and summoning forth compassion and forgiveness in all situations, not just because we are told “it is right”, or it is commanded by God, but because our Lord shows us that it is for our own benefit, and we trust in His goodness and His providence for us. This path is very hard for me sometimes, as it is for most of us to achieve real humility in a world which extols self-gratification and pride, but it becomes easier when you allow yourself to internalize the simplest of prayers: “Let thy will be done for my life, O Lord”, and another simple prayer, one line of Psalm 50, “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.”
Whenever you are faced with real temptations or real adversity, by loving your tempters or foes in spite of their deceit or cruelty, you take away their power to destroy or truly harm you. That said, such love does not mean literally making yourself into a powerless, complacent victim. Do not accept abuse from anyone, whether by neglect or attack. If someone is simply unkind to you without cause, they are struggling through their own spiritual problems. If someone is repeatedly unkind to you, or cruel, there is a darkness in them, and in that time they are unworthy of the pleasure of your friendship or companionship.
If someone hurts you and does not repent, it is you alone who can forgive them, through God’s grace, but in your own time. Then, any forgiveness which comes into your heart will not only be natural and unfeigned, but long-lasting and healing in its very nature. But for true forgiveness to take effect, the person who wronged the other must sense that they must repent and ask forgiveness. Until then little healing can enter their soul, for it is still in disorder. Such a person is in great need of your prayers, and above all, the healing peace, wisdom and grace found through the Church’s teachings, her preaching and her mysteries.