The editorial of the month

Rev. Peter John Cameron, O.P

by Rev. Peter John Cameron, O.P

This month when we celebrate the glory of the communion of saints, we do well to reflect on the apostolic exhortation of Pope Francis entitled Gaudete et Exsultate (On the Call to Holiness in Today’s World). “My modest goal,” states the Holy Father, “is to re-propose the call to holiness in a practical way for our own time, with all its risks, challenges, and opportunities” (2).

We are made to depend

We flinch when we hear the word “dependence.” It can conjure up feelings of ineptitude, inferiority. We shun it like a virus to “get over.”

But Pope Francis wisely warns: “The lack of a heartfelt and prayerful acknowledgment of our limitations prevents grace from working more effectively within us.” For our limitations play a crucial role in divine providence: they make it impossible for us to take complacency in ourselves. The bid to be totally autonomous goes right back to the fiasco of Original Sin. “The essence of all the evil in the universe,” notes Dominican Father Gerald Vann, “is the attempt of the creature to repudiate its dependence and become a god.” Cardinal Ratzinger refers to this as philautia: the slavery of self-conceit and self-containment. He explains that sin appears when a person refuses to recognize their own limits and tries to be completely self-sufficient. In this way, sin itself can be summed up as a rejection of relationality, because sin wants to make the human being God. Which prompts the papal preacher, Capuchin Father Raniero Cantalamessa, to claim that the basic sin is asébeia—the refusal to glorify and thank God. The prime example of this is the Pharisee of the parable who goes to the Temple but prays to himself (Lk 18:11). The human being faces one fundamental choice: “either a person conceives of themself as free from the whole universe and dependent only on God, or free from God and therefore the slave of every circumstance” (L. Giussani).

The beauty of depending

If the rejection of relationality is the essence of all sin, then holiness consists in its opposite. Holiness is dependence. Pope Francis counsels us: “God is the Father who gave us life and loves us greatly. Once we accept him, and stop trying to live our lives without him, the anguish of loneliness will disappear.” Jesus instructs us to pray by saying Our Father so as to countermand our rejection of relationality. “‘Father’ is purely a concept of relationship,” writes Cardinal Ratzinger. The Lord’s Prayer teaches me that dependence on God is what makes me myself.

The more we pray the Our Father, the more we become convinced of what Cardinal Ratzinger assures us: Man comes in the profoundest sense to himself not through what he does but through what he accepts. He must wait for the gift of love, and love can only be received as a gift. And one cannot become wholly man in any other way than by being loved, by letting oneself be loved. For his “salvation” man is meant to rely on receiving. If he declines to let himself be presented with the gift, then he destroys himself. Activity that makes itself into an absolute, that aims at achieving humanity by its own efforts alone, is in contradiction with man’s being.

Depending means belonging

And this is where the communion of saints comes in. Pope Francis underscores that “we are never completely ourselves unless we belong to a people. That is why no one is saved alone, as an isolated individual.” To be human is to be part of a belonging. “To be myself I need someone else. Alone, we cannot be ourselves. The human being cannot realize himself unless he accepts the love of Another” (L. Giussani).

No wonder that, as Father Cantalamessa observes, “the basic sin of egoism cannot be removed through observance of the law but only through reestablishing the state of friendship that existed at the beginning between God and man, and which the serpent, out of envy, persuaded man to destroy.”

God reveals a truly breathtaking truth to Saint Catherine of Siena: “I have given many gifts and graces with such diversity that I have not given everything to one single person, so that you may be constrained to practice charity towards one another. I have willed that one should need another.” We listen with new ears, then, when at the Last Supper Jesus implores us repeatedly to remain in him…when he begs us to believe that apart from him we can do nothing… when he calls us friends. We listen as Jesus leaves his very self to us in the form of bread and wine so that the memorial of the Eucharist will never cease to remind us that we depend on Jesus even more than we depend on food for survival.