Why we need Christ to become authentically humanWhy the Moral Law is Good for Us
A second barrier concerns what it means to be human. Here the fundamental misunderstanding that blocks the path of many young people is shaped by what has been called the culture of authenticity. This is the idea that somehow being a Christian involves giving up or suppressing what is uniquely human in each one of us and accepting an external criterion or measure which is alien to one’s true self.
Like the aforementioned culture of pluralism, the supporting matrix of ideas behind this sense that “each of us has an original way of being human” (Taylor 1992, 28) is a ingrained feature of modernity and penetrates popular culture at every level. Sometimes called expressive individualism and resembling moral relativism, it actually functions as a kind of moral ideal for many people: “[T]he soft relativism that seems to accompany the ethic of authenticity [asserts]: let each person do their own thing….One shouldn’t criticise the others’ values, because they have a right to live their own life as you do. The sin which is not tolerated is intolerance” (Taylor 2007, 484). Not only is it immoral to be intolerant of the values of others. It is immoral to allow some extrinsic measure to displace one’s authentic self. Fundamental to this “moral ideal” is the understanding “that each of us has his/her own way of realizing our humanity, and that it is important to find and live out one’s own, as against surrendering to conformity with a model imposed on us from outside, by society, or the previous generation, or religious and political authority” (Taylor 2007, 475).
These ideas pose a considerable barrier to a true understanding of what Christian discipleship really entails for every human being. In response, the first thing that needs to be affirmed follows directly from Christ’s unique mediatorship. To become sharers in the communion of divine life, we must become like the Son so that the Father sees and loves in us what he sees and loves in Christ. We become conformed to Christ in order to be “at home” in the shared life of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
But the conformation to Christ that is the principle of our transformation is not a slavish conformity to a model but the realization of our distinctive and unique personal identity. This must be so for otherwise the communion with the Blessed Trinity to which this transformation is ordered could not be achieved. The image of God in us consists precisely in the spiritual capacities of knowing and loving that make interpersonal communion possible. To claim-as does expressive individualism-that each person has an original way of being human is not to deny that each person shares a human nature which can be described as ensouled bodiliness and is characterized by a range of capacities, including the capacities to know and love other persons.
In the Christian understanding, authentic interpersonal communion presupposes the full realization, not the absorption or suppression, of the individual persons who enter into it. Thus, if Christ is to be the pattern for the transformation accomplished in us by the Holy Spirit, it can only mean that in being conformed to him, we each discover and realize our unique identities as persons. This is an immense and almost astonishing claim.
“If a man wants to be my disciple, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world but loses his life? Or what will he give in return for his life?” (Matthew 16:24-26). Here Christ asserts, in effect, that each person will find his or her true self only by being conformed to Christ. In ordinary experience, this would be an outrageous thing to say. None of us, whether as teachers or parents or pastors-no matter how inflated our conceptions of ourselves or how confident our sense of our abilities-would ever dare to say to anyone in our charge that they will find their true selves by imitating us. Yet this is precisely what Christ asserts. In effect this means that an indefinite number of persons will realize their distinctive identities by being conformed to Christ. Only the Son of God could make such a claim on us. Only the perfect image of God who is the Person of the Son could constitute the principle and pattern for the transformation and fulfilment of every human person who has ever lived. The more we are conformed to his image, the more authentically to we become our true selves. Pope Benedict made this point in the stirring peroration to his sermon at the inauguration of his pontificate: “If we let Christ into our lives, we lose nothing, nothing, absolutely nothing of what makes life free, beautiful and great. No! Only in this friendship are the doors of life opened wide. Only in this friendship is the great potential of human existence truly revealed. Only in this friendship do we experience beauty and liberation. And so, today, with great strength and great conviction, on the basis of long personal experience of life, I say to you, dear young people: Do not be afraid of Christ! He takes nothing away, and he gives you everything”.
...There we learn that eros is meant to lead us to agape, to the love of God and to the love of one another in God. Pope Benedict resists absolutely the misreading, sometimes perverse, that claims to see in Christian faith the suppression of the ordinary fulfilments of human earthly life, particularly human intimacy and love, in favor of a good beyond life. On the contrary, for Christian faith the whole range of human desire-or, to use more technical language, the inclination to the good embedded in the very structure of human existence-finds it complete fulfilment in the love of the triune God, and nothing less. Although Pope Benedict does not use this expression in the encyclical, we might call this unity of and continuity between eros and agape “the sanctification of desire.” It is to this end that the moral law directs us.