Choosing a life of faith and virtue

Father John A. Kiley

Early in his celebrated Spiritual Exercises St. Ignatius Loyola stresses the profound necessity of Christian believers making a choice. The founder of the Society of Jesus envisioned a clear choice between good and evil, between Christ and Satan. He envisioned two standards, two banners, which the sincere believer had the option to follow the one and reject the other. The one banner was “of Christ, our Commander-in-chief and Lord.” The other banner was “of Lucifer, mortal enemy of our human nature.” St. Ignatius was in wise company when he portrayed the life of the believer as a choice between God and sin, life and death, good and evil. Moses told the Jewish migrants on the shores of the Jordan, “This day I call the heavens and the earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live.” Choose life or choose death; choose a blessing or choose a curse, Moses pleaded. Choose a life of faith and virtue; or choose a life of disbelief and vice.

Wisely, the Biblical authors who arranged the 150 psalms of the Old Testament took pride in placing Psalm 1 near a psalm that emphasizes a critical choice as fundamental to any authentic religious life. The psalm praises the believer “whose delight is in the law of the Lord, and who meditates on his law day and night.” And conversely, the psalm excoriates “the wicked! They are like chaff that the wind blows away. The brief psalm concludes rejoicing that “the Lord watches over the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked leads to destruction.” Choices have to be made: the righteous vs. the wicked; life vs. death; God vs. Satan.

On Easter day, the Church’s liturgy again presents believers with the necessity of making a choice. St. Paul writes to the Colossians: “If then you were raised with Christ, seek what is above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Think of what is above, not of what is on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ your life appears, then you too will appear with him in glory.” Seek what is above, St. Paul writes. Seek the spiritual, the religious, the lofty and the virtuous. Have no regard for the worldly, the secular, the fleshly and the mundane. The resurrection of Jesus Christ declares solemnly the reality of another world, the truth of heaven, the triumph of the Divine. Easter is God’s invitation to embrace hopefully all that is good and to relish victoriously all those things that are “above.” Christ rose from the grave victorious over all that is ignoble, mean and sinful and abounding with all that is noble, good, and holy.

St. Paul’s instruction to seek the things that are “above” perhaps resonated more easily with Christianity’s many previous generations in which life was short and burdensome and often brutal. The prospect of heaven certainly did offer much consolation to generations plagued with wars and disease and famine. The comforts, the legitimate comforts, of the modern era have certainly lessened society’s need to seek fulfillment in another world. Life can be very comfortable in the 21st century and the material world, the secular world, for all its deceits and dishonesties, has attained astounding progress in science, medicine, communication and longevity.

The Scripture’s invitation to “seek the things that are above” certainly never intended that mankind should neglect the development of God’s creation here below. And certainly Christ’s resurrection from the tomb in both body and soul confirms that. Christ’s flesh as well as his spirit was renewed, revivified, refreshed. Earthly life took on new meaning, not less meaning, as a result of Christ’s triumph over death and decay. Mankind’s choice was no longer between the spiritual and the material, between the heavenly and the earthly. Mankind’s new option was to permeate the material world with the spirit of the Risen Christ. By embracing Christ raised in both body and soul, Christians were freed from a false evaluation of the things of this world. The corporeal resurrection of Jesus truly renewed the face of the earth just as much as it guaranteed eternal fulfillment in heaven.

The modern world has been undeniably blessed by God with astounding material advancements. But the contemporary world must also regret the drug culture, the pornography, the sexual revolution, death dealing diagnoses, the exploitation of races, the misuse of firearms and, above all, abortion. The bodily resurrection of Christ demands the renewal of God’s material creation, not its neglect and not its abuse.