Guardians of Common Sense
The teachings of Christ provide benchmarks to measure “normal” human behavior. It helps if we don’t kill each other, remain faithful in marriage, don’t lie and cheat, and so on. Common sense stuff. Christians of course do not have a monopoly on common sense. But the rapid breakdown of the generally accepted meaning of life, marriage, human sexuality is taking place before our eyes. There is even immense cultural pressure to silence us, to brand the tenets of the Commandments as “hate speech.” So it seems Christianity has a whole lot to offer in maintaining “common sense.”
In the Gospel Jesus teaches us that we are the “salt of the earth.” Salt, of course, not only provides a tasty edge to food, it is a preservative. When Columbus sailed the ocean blue, salt kept the bacon edible for sailors and rodents alike. Hence, even a comparatively small number of Christians have a similarly important task of remaining faithful in a deranged world, not only for our own salvation but to offer the culture hope and direction.
Several years ago I accompanied a friend to the remarkable Barnes Art Museum in Philadelphia. The gallery holds “3,000 masterpieces, including 181 Renoirs, 69 Cézannes, 59 Matisses, 46 Picassos, 16 Modiglianis, and 7 Van Goghs.” Unschooled as I am in the fine arts (a couple of those names were new to me) my eyes were opened to a new and sometimes haunting world.
My Catholic guide observed that some of these “modern” artists had a very dim view of women, often reflected in their grotesque depictions of femininity. Their “masterpiece” artworks were outward signs of the artists’ morally impoverished personal lives. Other artists had beautiful souls to express. One painting– I regret I do not recall the name of the artist– was a pleasant and highly detailed rendering of a large number of people from various walks of life. I eavesdropped on the conversation of a few art experts – strangers to me who sounded like they knew their stuff—describing the intricacies of the work and the accomplishments of the artist.
Stepping back from the piece, however, I noticed the unnamed artist’s real purpose. From a certain distance, a distinct image of a cross came into focus, with the masses of people forming a hologram of the cross. With obvious heartfelt sympathy, the artist was clearly portraying humanity suffering with Christ on the Cross.
When I pointed out my observation to the experts, they were pleasantly surprised. In their detailed analysis of the piece, they were too “close to the trees to see the forest.” I realized that my Catholic eyes saw what the experts did not. For a moment I was so very proud of myself. But upon reflection I realized the simplest of Christians familiar with the Church’s sacred images would see the same (and would have remembered the artist’s name as well). Even secular art experts need the help of simple Christians.
Our faith gives us eyes to see a “world view” providing the nature and meaning of our existence. Faith allows us to see beyond direct and immediate experience and elevates (but does not extinguish or obscure) human reason. One of the cornerstones of our world view is that every human being is created in the “image and likeness of God.” Without the first chapter of Genesis we could not have known that; it is a truth known only by the faithful acceptance of God’s revelation.
This simple dogma of faith frames the entirety of human existence. Before we delight in cultural and racial traits, as true Christians we delight in the “image of God” we see in the faces of the people we meet. No amount of “sensitivity training” or programs “celebrating diversity” could substitute for this sublime truth. There is no room for racial hatred or bigotry for a person who holds fast to the “image of God” dogma. This we see clearly with the eyes of faith. And it allows us with compassion and Christian love to testify against the immorality of behavior that defaces a man’s God-given dignity.
I’m privileged to have known a young lady who was (and I pray remains) on the top of the game in her Christian witness. A college classmate of hers unexpectedly realized she was pregnant, somehow only making this discovery because of a slight stirring of her little unborn baby within her. The frightened girl turned to my friend for help.
The answer was immediate, the result of years of faith formation: She eagerly and happily said she had friends, a family with eight children, who would be very happy to adopt the baby! Perhaps this was a tad presumptuous, but with God’s grace my joyous Catholic friend guessed right. Her family friends arrived within a week to make the adoption arrangements. Baby saved. Mommy happy. Mission accomplished.
Outnumbered, Christians face great temptations. We all know we are a work in progress in the witness and practice of our faith. In weakness we can become so disillusioned and discouraged that we may be tempted to give up in silence, to go along to get along, or even to relinquish the validity of our world view in the name of “tolerance”– a code word for the inability or refusal to make distinctions among competing ideas. But the Lord makes it clear we can’t go there. “Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters” (Luke 11:23).
If we’re sincere Christians, we really have no choice but to hold fast to what we have received, never giving up. After calling us the “salt of the earth” Jesus quickly warns “But if salt loses its taste, with what can it be seasoned? It is no longer good for anything….” He concludes:
You are the light of the world. A city seated on a mountain cannot be hid. Neither do men light a candle and put it under a bushel, but upon a candlestick, that it may shine to all that are in the house. So let your light shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven. (Mt. 5:14-16) [Emphasis added]
Our faith not only provides us with a path to salvation; with God’s grace and our rigid adherence to the way of Jesus, our faith can and should make us true guardians of right reason and common sense. In this we must remain confident.
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