In making his unique contribution to our redemption, Jesus proceeded in a way which enables us to enter into what he did. We do this by the act of faith, our fundamental option to turn from sin and accept the gift of Jesus’ new covenant. Membership in the community of the new covenant, the Church, comes in baptism, which brings those who receive it into immediate union with Jesus. This bond of union includes sharing in his divine and bodily life, as well as cooperation with his human acts. The most important of his human acts is made present to us in the Eucharist.
Thus, in the Eucharist we are united with Jesus’ redemptive act. Choices last; the choice which Jesus executed in going to Jerusalem, eating the Passover, and suffering the consequences still exists. As the Twelve took part in Jesus’ redemptive act through eating the Passover with him, so we now do the same through the Mass. For Jesus, by commanding the repetition of his eucharistic action, establishes a real, existential relationship between his choice and the act of the priest consecrating in every Mass. In short, the Mass makes the sacrifice of the cross present so that we can share in it. All of Christian life proceeds from and prepares for the Eucharist.
The following of Jesus is a central yet mysterious principle of Christian life. Scripture makes it clear that God’s children must be holy as he is holy, and Christians can do this by following the way of the Lord Jesus. Following him means keeping his commandments, for these are the stipulations of the new covenant. Faithfulness to Jesus as a partner in covenant is required of each Christian, who thus is called to love others as he or she has been loved by Jesus.
Hence, to follow Jesus is neither to do exactly what he did nor to imitate the style of his behavior in superficial ways. Rather, Christians are called to join him in his redeeming work, share his commitment to do the Father’s will, and accept the responsibility of communicating divine truth and love to others. To follow Jesus is to cooperate with him in his redeeming work.
Carrying out this apostolic responsibility in a sinful and largely unredeemed world, however, one who follows Jesus will share his fate. Yet for one who is serious about being a Christian, following Jesus takes priority over everything else. Christians love others as Jesus has loved them only by helping him redeem others as he first redeemed them. By living a life of redemptive love in union with Jesus, one prepares a suitable sacrifice to join with his offering in the Mass.
Jesus’ personal vocation is plainly not ours. Each of us has his or her own personal vocation distinct from though dependent upon his: to try to do what Jesus would if he were in our place. “Vocation” has often been used to refer only to a calling to the priesthood or religious life. Vatican II uses “vocation” in a broader sense—state of life in general—in discussing marriage as a Christian vocation. But the Council also refers by “vocation” to all the specific commitments an individual makes to carry out the basic commitment of faith. This is personal vocation: the individual Christian’s unique way of following Jesus. Jesus needs the special contribution each of us can make to complete the created part of the total fulfillment which centers in him: he needs us to extend his redeeming work to our contemporaries and our culture.
While Christians have unique personal vocations, their prophetic responsibility requires that they live these in accord with the same standards. All Christians share in prophecy, for all are to communicate Jesus in speech and action. This requires consistency between faith and life. Moreover, since Christians must proclaim the faith together, they must live the same kind of life, according to the pattern of Jesus. The pluralism of Christian life lies in a harmonious diversity of gifts, not in inconsistency and much less in dissent. Christian moral standards, even in their details, must be known and accepted by all.
The life of Catholics is communal, not individualistic, for members of the Church are members of God’s family. The Church’s moral teaching is necessary for its members to reach harmonious judgments of conscience, so that their common life in Jesus will fulfill the law of love of God and neighbor. Vatican II teaches on this matter in its document on religious liberty: Conscience is a God-given means of finding moral truth.
In finding this truth, Catholics enjoy a special help; they are guided by the Church, which by Jesus’ will is the teacher of truth. Having been helped by the Church to know moral truth, Catholics must live by it and share it with others. For her members, the Church is the supreme moral authority under God; by their conscientious commitment of faith they have accepted the Church as their more than humanly wise moral guide, to whose teaching they will conform their consciences. This does not leave the conscience of a Catholic with nothing to do, however. One must make the Church’s teaching one’s own, and one must add to this teaching what is necessary to find and fulfill one’s personal vocation.