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Fifth Sunday of Lent – The Law written in our hearts

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Readings: Jeremiah 31:31-34; Psalm 51; Hebews 5:7-9; John 12:20-33

The days are coming, says Jeremiah, when there will be no need to teach friends and relatives how to know the Lord. All, from least to greatest, the prophet promises, shall know me. We will have the law written in our hearts, the knowledge of God will be within us.

If this is true, and those days have become reality by the salvation in Christ, why then have we got this book that I’m holding in my hand in this very moment? I am talking about the English version of the Catechism of the Catholic Church. It has 2865 paragraphs spread over 691 pages. It weighs 1.1 kilograms. It’s quite a brick! And this doesn’t convince me at all that the Church believes that I’ve got all I need for my faith within myself. Can’t we just be like certain charismatic, evangelical groups? They stick with the Bible and that’s it. The rest that they need, they get through common worship and inner prayer. Why do we need all this extra teaching?

To approach this dilemma, let’s start with a reflection on the nature of Revelation. The historical Jesus fulfilled his mission two thousand years ago. By his sacrifice, he opened the way to salvation, giving humanity access to eternal life and intimate friendship with God. Still, we are left with a tension. On one hand, we have become one with Christ through our baptism and through our faith. On the other hand, we still need to walk the way of perfection. That way may sometimes seem awfully long. We carry Christ in our hearts, and at the same time, we are longing for Him. We live in what we may call an eschatological tension between Christ within us here and now, and yet not fully there.

We are called to follow a way of faith that in medieval times often was called Imitatio Christi, the imitation of Christ. We are called to become perfect human beings just as Jesus is perfect. In Christ, we are called to know God perfectly. Therefore, as we become one with Christ through baptism and faith, we also begin a journey towards Christ. The pilgrims of earlier times were aware of this double dimension. They knew that no person would start out on a journey to a holy shrine without already carrying Christ within themselves. Paul puts this in his own way as he states about himself: ‘forgetting all that lies behind me, and straining forward to what lies in front, I am racing towards the finishing-point to win the prize of God's heavenly call in Christ Jesus’ (Philippians 3:13-14).

We are able to begin a journey towards Christ because we are already with Him. This voyage goes through all dimensions of the human existence. It goes through the joyful, worshipping fellowship of the disciples. But it also goes through our fears and all the threatening and deadly areas of our lives, areas we might try to avoid. And ultimately, it goes towards the Christ exalted on the cross. It is not an easy road to walk, and we would never be able to walk it if we weren’t nourished by Christ himself through his word and through the Eucharist, and strengthen by the Holy Spirit.

We asked in the introductory question, why do we need the Catechism if we already carry Christ in our hearts? Well, we may answer this with another question: Why do we need the Eucharist if we’re already baptised? Both questions lead us to a matter of growth. The Christian life is a way towards holiness in which we progressively conform ourselves to our Lord. On this way, we seek to deepen our faith in all its dimensions; spiritually, intellectually, in true humanity and in charity. We may conclude then, that faith demands of us a commitment, according to each person’s capacity, in all areas of our lives. In this ongoing formation, our catechism fulfils an important need. The catechism itself explains for us in its own prologue its role and function:

‘Catechesis is an education in the faith of children, young people and adults which includes especially the teaching of Christian doctrine imparted, generally speaking, in an organic and systematic way, with a view to initiating the hearers into the fullness of Christian life’ (§8)

Let us then use such catechesis for our education of faith, and so grow ever deepen in knowledge of God and his law which is already written in our hearts.

Bror Haavar Simon Nilsen OP


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