Many people wonder if life has any purpose. Many others have stopped wondering. For them, life has no meaning. The world in which we live and work is governed by secularism. It’s a flat, two-dimensional world where spiritual and moral values are irrelevant or even taboo. The only thing that matters is matter. John Lennon captured the spirit of the age in his song Imagine: There is no heaven above us or hell below us. It is a world without God; a world without meaning or purpose. When life is over, it’s over for all we are is “dust in the wind.”
As Catholics, however, we believe that life does have meaning and purpose. We believe in the inherent dignity of the human person because each person is made in the image of God. We believe in the immortality of the soul and that we’re meant to live with God forever. The Church teaches that “God, infinitely perfect and blessed in himself, in a plan of sheer goodness freely created man to share in his own blessed life.” [Catechism, no. 1]
And you don’t have to die to go heaven. You can experience God’s ‘own blessed life’ right now. We believe that this happens in the most direct way possible in the Eucharist the “source and summit” of the Christian life. The Mass is the most important thing we do as Catholics for it is there that God becomes one with us and we with him.
We believe that God exists and He is One (Deuteronomy 6:4). God’s chief characteristics are goodness, truth and beauty. But God’s most important attribute is love. Indeed, God is love (1 John 4:8). That’s why everything exists. God made the universe, the stars and planets, the earth and the marvelous diversity of creatures for one reason: to show forth his love.
Love is not static. It is active, dynamic and creative. Just so, God is neither static nor passive. He is active, dynamic and creative, constantly radiating life and love. That is why we believe that God is a Trinity of Persons. The Father endlessly pours himself out in love, and yet without exhausting himself because He is infinite and eternal. The Son receives the Father’s love and returns it by giving himself to the Father in love, yet without depleting himself because he too is infinite and eternal. This eternal exchange of love between the Father and the Son is the Holy Spirit, ‘the Lord and giver of life.,
God is spirit, invisible and immaterial and therefore not directly accessible to us. Through creation, however, God reveals himself so that we can know and love Him. Creation leads us to God by showing forth His beauty and goodness. At the beginning of creation God saw all that he had made and declared it “very good!” (Gen. 1:31) Creation, however, is not God. Rather, it points to God reflecting his glory. As the Bible says, “The heavens declare the glory of God and the firmament proclaims his handiwork!” (Psalm 19:1). The Church Fathers called creation the first sacrament because through it God revealed his love. They also called it a “book.” By ‘reading’ the book of nature we can learn a lot about God.
Man is the apex of creation. He is the only creature made in the image of God. Man is unique, composed of matter and spirit. Like the animals he is physical. He has a body. Like God he is spiritual. He has a rational soul. Like God man has a mind and the ability to think and reason – and a free will. We have the ability to know God and the freedom to love him. Without the freedom of the will to choose there can be no real love. We are meant to be filled with God and participate in the ongoing work of creation. We are meant to make God visible in the world and sanctify it by our actions through works of love. But, more often than not, we don’t. Why?
For all the good that the human race has done, we tend to be a selfish lot. We’re not meant to be that way. In the distant past, the Bible tells us, our first parents turned their backs on God and tried to make themselves the center of the universe. They rejected God and put their trust in Satan, “a liar and the father of lies” (John 8:44) instead. The effects of the fall spread like the plague, infecting everyone and everything, destroying the life of God in us and causing the whole creation to be bent out of shape. The evidence of spiritual death is all around us: war, violence; divorce, abortion; corruption; immorality; pollution; depression; disease, etc.
The fall, however, was not the end. It set off a series of events that led to something greater and more wonderful than creation. It was like we had fallen into a deep well. Trapped in darkness, our only hope was for someone else to pull us out. Someone from the ‘outside’ – Christ. As the ancient Easter hymn proclaims, “Oh happy fault! Oh sin of Adam that gained for us so great a Redeemer!”
Jesus Christ is the Son of God, the second person of the Trinity. We believe that he is fully God and fully human. Christ reveals the innermost life of God—his very heart (John 1:18). In Christ, God stepped onto the stage of human history and became one of us. Because he was fully human, Christ showed us what it means to be human. “Christ fully reveals man to man himself and makes his supreme calling clear.” (Vatican II: Joy and Hope, 22). Everything he said and did expressed God’s love, especially the total gift of himself on the cross. Christ shows us what life is all about.
Christ reveals the true face of God. Through his death Christ destroyed the power of sin and evil. Through his resurrection, he raised human nature to a new level. In his ascension he restored man’s dignity by taking our humanity into heaven itself. In human terms Jesus’ death was a brutal, senseless act. But seen through the eyes of faith his passion was a sign of God’s love. By dying, Jesus poured himself out completely. Through him the divine life, symbolized by the blood and water that came out out of his side, flowed forth.
The full Trinitarian life of God, therefore, is transmitted through Jesus’ body. Because he is God, the outpouring of the divine life is inexhaustible. The divine life, lost at creation, has been restored by Christ and is now available through the sacraments, especially the Eucharist. Through the body of Christ, the Church, we are able to receive this most precious gift and are transformed by it.
“It was from the side of Christ as he slept the sleep of death upon the cross that there came forth the wondrous sacrament of the whole Church.” (Catechism, no. 766)
When people think of the Church they usually think of a human institution: the Pope, the bishops, the rules and regulations, etc. While these are important, they’re not the most important things about the Church. The visible structure of the Church and its hierarchy is the ‘skeleton’ that supports and protects the body so that the interior life, the life of God, can flourish. The divine life begins to flow into us through baptism – the gateway to all the sacraments and how one enters the Church. The life of God in us is strengthened and nourished by the other sacraments, especially the Eucharist.
When Jesus said, “This is my body; this is my blood” he didn’t mean that we should remember him in a nostalgic sort of way, the way we might remember and honor George Washington. He meant for us to receive his very life so that he could become part of us and begin to change us into the kind of people we were meant to be. He lives at a ‘higher pitch’ of existence. In the Eucharist Christ enters us and unites us to himself, elevating us to that same ‘higher pitch’ of existence.
We are meant for God. We are meant to ‘feed’ on Him so that He might live in us,enabling us to “share in his own blessed life” so that we, like St. Paul, can say “It is now no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me” (Gal. 2:20).