One of the greatest tensions between the Church and the modern world is that the Church’s teachings are often perceived to be an arbitrary system of rules and regulations, and this can be true even for people who regularly attend religious services. People will often begin to wonder about their faith, and for many, it won’t be long before they start second guessing on this or that. (Why must Catholics attend mass on Sundays? Why can’t women be ordained to the priesthood? Do we really have to follow Catholic teaching on contraception?) On the other hand, there are those who adhere to the moral injunctions of the faith in an abstract, judgmental way devoid of true fervor or understanding.
If the Catholic faith is not seen first and above all as a relationship between the human person and Jesus Christ, people will respond to its teachings in one of three ways: either as only one system of life among other possible systems of life (relativistic), as a moralistic mentality, or as something to be rejected for being outside of a realistic vision of human life.
Fr. Luigi Giussani
, founder of the ecclesial movement Communion and Liberation
, wrote: “Christianity is an event. There is no other word to indicate its nature: neither the word law nor the word ideology, conception, or project. Christianity is not a religious doctrine, a series of moral laws, a complex of rites. Christianity is a fact, an event: all the rest is a consequence.”
The “event” of Christianity is an encounter with Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh, born of the Virgin Mary in Bethlehem two thousand years ago, who touches the heart of man and reveals himself to all in a way that cannot be ignored. One who is changed by this encounter believes the words of the one he has encountered and follows them. In this way, morality is anything but a stale system of rules; it originates in the irresistible attraction toward Jesus Christ. It is precisely when this encounter does not take place that Christianity is reduced to a discourse, or doctrine, or morality. What follows this encounter, “all the rest” as Fr. Giussani says, is adherence to the One who has been encountered. This adherence is expressed in obedience to Christ’s teachings as he has given them to his Church.
“If Christianity is reduced to a fact of the past, or to a category, what remains of Christianity in the present is merely ethics,” says Fr. Julián Carrón
, international head of Communion and Liberation. “Like when the event of love ends between two people, all that remains are the things to be done, the tasks to be performed. Fascination is already left behind and the distance between the two keeps growing.”
So what is needed in order that Christianity not be reduced to ethics? A constant renewal of the encounter with Christ, which awakens our desire to follow him.