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Chapter 19: Fulfillment in Jesus and Human Fulfillment

Question H: How is the task of Christian life related to the fullness of Jesus?

1. The human fulfillment already accomplished in Jesus and in him begun for all creation must be completed in our lives. Jesus already reigns in heaven (see Eph 1.20–22; Phil 2.9–11). From there he sends his Spirit (see Jn 15.26–27; Acts 2.33) and continually builds up the Church (see Eph 4.11–13). Vatican II passes smoothly from fulfillment already accomplished in Christ to fulfillment yet to be realized by our carrying out our own task in this world: “. . . the promised restoration which we are awaiting has already begun in Christ, is carried forward in the mission of the Holy Spirit, and through him continues in the Church. There we learn through faith the meaning, too, of our temporal life, as we perform, with hope of good things to come, the task committed to us in this world by the Father, and work out our salvation (cf. Phil 2.12)” (LG 48).

2. Though already justified, we still must work out our salvation. God’s kingdom, already present on earth in a hidden way, must be the central concern of Christians. By doing God’s will on earth, Christians not only contribute in an important way to earthly progress but also to the growth of the kingdom.

3. One can begin to see why this is so by considering the Incarnation. The Incarnation itself initiated the time of fulfillment. When sin spoiled the original goodness of humankind, the personal relationship between the divine persons and the human family with which they wish to share their life was interrupted. The Incarnation of the Word is a bridge by which God spans the troubled waters of this disrupted relationship. From this point of view, Christian fulfillment was already present at the very beginning of Jesus’ life: “Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand’ ” (Mk 1.14–15; cf. Lk 11.20).

4. Sin affected the whole of humankind and the human world; except for Jesus and Mary, it pervaded every dimension of each human being. Both the human as a whole and each individual are complex realities, composed of many elements more or less incompletely united with one another. Hence, while redemption is fully present in the risen Lord Jesus, divine truth and life have still to reach from him to all people at all times and places (see Mt 28.19–20). God’s kingdom is like leaven or a mustard seed; only gradually does it come to its fullness (see Mt 13.31–33). The work of saving humankind begins with the preaching of the gospel—something to be done at all places and times (see AG 8–9)—but only little by little does the gospel permeate a culture and draw back the human from alienation to fulfillment. Thus, the restoraton of all things to God in Jesus is a gradual, incremental process.

5. Like humankind as a whole, each human being exhibits a similar multiplicity, alienation, division, and conflict (see GS 13). However, God’s love is poured forth in the heart of any person who does not refuse the gift of the Spirit. When this happens, the act of living faith exists in what had been a sinful human mind and will, and, just to this extent, the person is redeemed—justification is an accomplished fact: accomplished, of course, by God’s gift, not by the merit of the one who receives it.

6. Yet even a heart animated by living faith and so justified nevertheless remains largely unsanctified. We can still choose without reference to living faith, and so we still face the task of integrating our choices with faith by our personal vocational commitments. An electric company generates power in a powerhouse and transmits it to us by wires, but nothing happens unless we plug into the system; the Holy Spirit generates holiness in Jesus and communicates his holiness to us by the sacraments of the Church, but nothing happens unless we do our other actions in continuity with our acts of receiving the sacraments.

7. It is thus the task of a Christian life to integrate everything which has yet to be saved with the redemption which has already been accomplished. In this way one comes to fulfillment in Jesus, while contributing one’s life to his fullness (see S.t., 3, q. 69, a. 5).

8. Christians cannot ignore the significance of their lives in this world. Although we cannot see the kingdom, except by the eye of faith, it is already here. The new creation, in which fulfillment already is realized in the risen Lord Jesus, and this world, in which it remains to be realized through human acts, are not altogether separate.22

9. The remainder of this volume will examine in detail the principles of this specifically Christian way of life. First we shall consider the relationship which God establishes with humankind by revelation; then we shall see how Jesus’ human life is the principle of Christian life. On this foundation we shall consider the make up of the Christian, the specific norms of Christian morality, and the sacraments as organizing principles of Christian life.

Jesus will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead (see DS 150/86). This judgment will be part of a cosmic transformation whose outcome will be the ultimate, lasting situation which God planned from the very beginning (see Eph 1.9–10). The coming judgment will apply to everyone and to all that everyone has done (see 2 Cor 5.10). Judgment will be according to the quality of one’s works (see Rom 2.5–11). Nothing will remain obscure; everything will come to light (see 1 Cor 4.4–5).

This judgment will involve no uncertain estimation and no arbitrary sentence. Rather, it will discriminate on the basis of performance with impartial objectivity. The wicked “. . . will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’ Then he will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it not to one of the least of these, you did it not to me.’ And they will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life” (Mt 25.44–46). What Christians are doing now not only will affect their own eternal fulfillment; it also, in a mysterious way, even now affects our Lord Jesus. The establishment of God’s kingdom on earth thus will be a revelation of something which already exists (see Col 1.13; LG 5, 9).

22. The conception of the relationship between Christian life and the fulfillment of everything in Christ articulated here is in some ways similar to the vision of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin. See, for example: The Divine Milieu (New York: Harper and Row, 1965), 57–58, 61–62, and 121–28. There are similarities in the understanding of the problem and of St. Paul; moreover, Teilhard (and others thinking along similar lines) influenced Vatican II’s documents, especially Gaudium et Spes, which are at the basis of the present theological reflection. Still, the conception articulated here differs from Teilhard’s vision, for reasons both philosophical and theological. Philosophically, I think his metaphysics of evolution is far too ambitious; it is another example of metaphysical systematization which soars beyond both data and clear sense. Theologically, I think his theology, in trying to ensure that nature and grace are not separated and opposed (a sound effort), mistakenly tends to commingle them, thus failing to do justice to the mystery of the constitution of the Christian on the model of Jesus. This last point will be developed further in chapters twenty-four and thirty-four.