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Chapter 25: Christian Love as the Principle of Christian Life

Question F: Must the modes of responsibility be transformed so that all one does might contribute to a suitable response to God’s gift of Christian love?

1. Question E showed that there are some specific norms knowable only by faith whose fulfillment is strictly required by Christian love. But all the acts of a Christian’s life should be done out of Christian love. If they are, together they will make up an appropriate response to God’s gift of love. If the moral acts of Christian life are to have this character, all of them must be shaped by specifically Christian norms drawn from specifically Christian principles. Thus, the modes of responsibility must be transformed into modes of Christian response. This question will explain this point.

2. Chapter twenty-three showed that Christian life begins with the fundamental option of faith in Jesus, that by this option Christians enter into his covenant and commit themselves to cooperate in his redemptive act, and that each Christian’s share in this cooperation is his or her personal vocation. Ideally, every act of Christians will help carry out their personal vocations: “Whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him” (Col 3.17). Thus, every act of Christian life should be specifically Christian; in every act one should live one’s faith in response to God’s call.

3. If this requirement of Christian love is met, all of a Christian’s life will differ specifically from the life of a non-Christian. When Christians ask themselves what they are doing, they should say: I am living my faith, following Jesus, and fulfilling my personal vocation by doing this or that—for example, by fixing dinner, making a sale, studying this chapter, going on a picnic, voting in the election, and so on. One’s entire human life will be a life of faith in Jesus (see Gal 2.19–20).

4. Lived in this way, every act of Christian life will be eucharistic—that is, a sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving. God’s gifts of faith and love initiate our life as his children. Our actions should make up a life which thanks him for his gifts. If one abides in Jesus, the fruit of God’s love in one’s life will be abundant (see Jn 15.1–8). This fruit, produced by God’s grace and one’s own work, is to be offered in the Mass with Jesus’ sacrifice (23‑B).

5. By such a life, one contributes to the fulfillment of everything in Jesus, as the first principle of Christian morality requires one to do. This fulfillment will be accomplished only by God’s re-creative act. But one’s own Christian life here and now prepares the material of the heavenly kingdom (see GS 38). Just as the sacrifice of the cross remains in the risen Lord, so the sacrifices of all who take up their crosses and follow Jesus remain and will be fleshed out again when God creates the new heavens and new earth (see GS 39).

6. The sacrifice Christian love requires is service: Christians are called to love others as they have been loved (see Jn 15.12). Jesus’ life reveals the Father because of the love with which Jesus acts, and his teaching interprets the meaning of his acts in precisely these terms. Likewise, Christians living as children of God cooperate in Jesus’ redemptive act by the apostolic work to which they are personally called. In doing this, they reveal God’s truth and love, and make these gifts available to others.

7. Furthermore, since they respond to God’s gifts, prepare the materials of the heavenly kingdom, and reveal God’s truth and love to others, all the acts of Christian life contribute to one’s personal sanctity. By enlisting all aspects of the self in the service of love, one integrates them with the divine life poured forth in one’s heart by the Spirit’s gift. The charity which motivates faith is implemented in the Christian’s life, and the acts done out of love cause it to pervade one’s whole self. Doing human acts which engage all dimensions of oneself, one more and more fulfills the command to love with one’s whole mind and heart and soul and strength. Then every act of Christian life will contribute to true self-fulfillment—holiness.

8. Thus, although not itself a human act, charity utterly transforms the whole of the Christian’s life. To make sure that every choice will fit into such a life, specifically Christian norms must direct every choice one makes. Where are these norms to be found? In Jesus. His words and deeds reveal how to live a good human life in this fallen world; only his life is perfect in sacrifice, preparation of the human contribution to the kingdom, communication of God’s life to others, and personal holiness.

9. The Gospels do not provide a complete and detailed moral code. Although the sacred writers do teach specifically on some important matters, the specific moral teaching of the New Testament clearly is insufficient to form Christian conscience on many matters. Yet God’s revelation in Jesus cannot be inadequate to our needs, for he provides it precisely to meet them.

10. The solution to the problem is that new specific norms always can be derived from more basic principles (10‑B). Clearly, however, the principles of natural law known by unaided reason cannot by themselves generate specifically Christian norms. The modes of responsibility must be transformed in the light of faith into modes of Christian response to God’s gifts. This transformation is exemplified in Jesus’ life and explained in his teaching. Chapter twenty-six will examine it in detail.

The Christian transformation of the human modes of responsibility by no means nullifies them. Jesus is the perfect man, and one who follows him does not become less human but more (see GS 41). As the principle and model of renewed humanity, Jesus responds to all authentic human aspirations (see AG 8). Still, he does bring something new to human hopes (see GS 22): He becomes the norm of a new morality, as human values and the way to pursue them are freshly understood in the light of the redemption.

The uprightness of Christian lives is their human moral goodness, but in the only specific form in which, under existing conditions, human moral goodness can be realized. This way of life is marked by redemptive love which overcomes evil by suffering and forms human community by faith and hope, according to which one looks to divine intervention to render the community’s common effort fruitful and so validate one’s commitment to membership in the community.

The transformation of the modes of responsibility into the Christian modes of response is one essential aspect of the transformation St. Paul describes when he speaks of dying to sin and rising to new life in Jesus (see Rom 6.3–11). Christians must not live like pagans, but must “put on the new nature, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness” (Eph 4.24). The new nature is that renewed in Jesus; the modes of Christian response are his perfectly human way of responding both to human evil and to divine redemptive love.