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Chapter 27: Life Formed by the Modes of Christian Response

Question B: How do the modes of Christian response shape the life of each Christian following Jesus?

1. Chapter twenty-three treated God’s redemptive work in the lives of Christians. That treatment considered faith as the fundamental option of Christian life, the commitment included in faith to follow Jesus, and personal vocation as each Christian’s way of fulfilling this commitment. The present question will add an explanation of the role of the modes of Christian response in shaping Christian lives, in all their rich diversity, according to the perfect model of Jesus.

2. As question A explained, Jesus’ redemptive act perfectly embodies all the modes of Christian response. This act is social and covenant forming; each Christian enters into it by the act of faith. It follows that the act of faith itself is formed by all the modes of Christian response. By baptismal faith, Christians humbly accept God’s revelation, meekly seek salvation in the Church, renounce Satan, undertake to follow Jesus, escape the web of hatred and injustice by forgiving their enemies, set about to overcome the residue of sin in their lives, are reconciled to God, and prepare to offer themselves with Jesus in the Eucharist.

3. However, while the Christian’s act of faith embodies the Christian modes of response insofar as this act is one with the redemptive act of Jesus, the likeness of each Christian’s life to Jesus’ life is still more obvious in the commitments of personal vocation which implement faith. In these, one accepts one’s own part in the cooperative action Jesus began; one carries on his work of revealing divine truth and love to others.

4. The readiness to accept one’s life as God’s gift is the work of humility, for humility disposes the Christian to listen for and hear God’s call. One’s individual vocation is a very limited part of the life of the Church; meekness is needed to accept one’s limited place obediently and to resign oneself to its inevitable frustrations. Commitment to one’s vocation requires detachment from every other possibility of individual fulfillment; it also demands faithfulness despite obstacles and temptations to swerve from one’s calling. Each vocation imposes responsibilities for the salvation of others; the fulfillment of these responsibilities is a continuous work of mercy. One’s vocation puts all one’s powers to work and demands mortification of anything which interferes with this work; this single-minded devotion is purity of heart. Through carrying out one’s vocation, one makes some contribution to overcoming sin and its consequences; even in this life, the peace of Jesus begins to be realized. But, in the end, every Christian must expect to share in Jesus’ fate, for the ultimate success of redemptive work requires that one undergo the evil one cannot conquer, and look to God’s re-creative work for vindication of one’s hope.

5. Since all Christian vocations are ways of cooperating with Jesus’ redemptive work, all are alike in embodying the modes of Christian response. Thus, distinctively Christian ways of acting are common to all truly Christian lives and markedly present in the lives of the saints. Yet, since personal vocations are different roles in the drama of salvation, each uses diverse gifts to carry out one part of God’s plan, and so Christian lives are unique. Each saint embodies the Christian virtues in a personal way.

6. Every single act of a Christian’s life should help to carry out his or her personal vocation. One’s whole life, in all its complexity, should come down to doing always and only one thing (25‑F). Thus, particular deeds will only be ways of living one’s faith by carrying out the personal vocation which implements it. Insofar as Christians do live their lives in this consistent way, the modes of Christian response which shape their vocational commitments also will shape each and every choice they make. In everything they do, they will act in Jesus and respond with him to the Father’s love.

7. Thus, the Christian modes of response are aspects of a tightly unified, Jesus-like character. Nevertheless, since they remain conceptually distinct, the Christian modes of response provide distinct principles for reflection. One can proceed from each to formulate norms, just as one can generate specific norms from each of the common human modes of responsibility.

Various approaches in moral and spiritual formation have emphasized one or another of the modes of Christian response. There is nothing wrong with such an emphasis, if the true model of Christian life—the character of Jesus—is not distorted. Whether one begins by emphasizing humility or mercy, detachment or conciliation, one will reunite all of the other aspects, since all the dispositions of Christian life are rooted in the same, central redemptive act. Of course, a form of spirituality will run into trouble if it is nourished by personal idiosyncracies or ideology drawn from extragospel sources. In such a case, humility, for example, sometimes has been mistaken for a sort of servility alien to Christian dignity. Again, mercy sometimes is reduced to a secular humanistic beneficence, ready to use violence to liberate the oppressed.