Christianity Is Not Moralism

 
Many Catholics are satisfied with mediocrity. They know that they’re morally imperfect, yet make no effort to change their ways. They fulfill their Easter obligation and call it a day.
 
This is a far cry from what Jesus called Christians to in the gospels. When Christ encountered the woman caught in adultery, after saving her life by pointing out that no one present had any authority to stone her, he told her to “go and sin no more.” The woman, we can be almost certain, did as she was told to the best of her ability. In another encounter with a sinner, Christ says that the one who has been forgiven much, loves much. And He told us how to love Him: We are to keep His commandments.
 
You can see where this is going.
 
Those who make no effort to keep the commandments do not love Christ. If they do not love Christ, then they have not been forgiven their sins. And if they have not been forgiven, their eternal salvation is at stake. Christ offers salvation as a free gift, but gifts must be received.
 
At the same time, Pope Benedict XVI has emphasized the point that Christianity is not simple moralism:
 
Christianity is not an intellectual system, a packet of dogmas, a moralism. Christianity is rather an encounter, a love story; it is an event.
 
And again:
 
Being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction.
 
The entire history of salvation from Genesis through Revelation is about a marriage. Christ refers to Himself repeatedly in the gospels as a Bridegroom. This was not a new idea; the Jewish people would know in the Hebrew Scriptures that God was the Bridegroom and that the nation of Israel was His bride. This is the love story to which Pope Benedict refers.
 
St. Francis Xavier wrote a poem called “O Deus Ego Amo Te,” which was translated exquisitely by his brother Jesuit, Gerard Manley Hopkins:
 
O GOD, I love thee, I love thee-
Not out of hope of heaven for me
Nor fearing not to love and be
In the everlasting burning.
Thou, thou, my Jesus, after me
Didst reach thine arms out dying,
For my sake sufferedst nails, and lance,
Mocked and marred countenance,
Sorrows passing number,
Sweat and care and cumber,
Yea and death, and this for me,
And thou couldst see me sinning:
Then I, why should not I love thee,
Jesu, so much in love with me?
Not for heaven’s sake;
not to be out of hell by loving thee;
Not for any gains I see;
But just the way that thou didst me
I do love and I will love thee:
What must I love thee, Lord, for then?
For being my king and God. Amen.
 
This is why we avoid sin — not because there are rules that must be obeyed, but because we love Christ, Who has loved us first. This love consists in prayer, avoiding sin, evangelization, and acts of charity to our neighbor.
 
To those who make no effort, Christ has another message:
 
I know your works; I know that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either cold or hot. So, because you are lukewarm, neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth. For you say, “I am rich and affluent and have no need of anything,” and yet do not realize that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked. I advise you to buy from me gold refined by fire so that you may be rich, and white garments to put on so that your shameful nakedness may not be exposed, and buy ointment to smear on your eyes so that you may see (Rev 3:15-18).
 
This is a beautiful promise of what God offers to us. It’s a wonder that so many want nothing to do with it.
 

By

Daniel Molinaro is a graduate student at Boston College.

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