A crown of thorns is pictured during Lent at Jesus the Good Shepherd Church in Dunkirk, Md., April 7, 2022. CNS photo/Bob Roller, Reuters

A Lenten walk in the fullness of Christ’s Way

By  Peter Copeland & Brendan Steven, Catholic Register Special
  • February 22, 2023

When Christ calls Himself the Way, the Truth and the Life, it raises the question: What does it mean to follow that Way, share that Truth, live that Life?

Knowing who offers it, clearly this Way must have implications for everything. Everything is subject to it.

Lent is a time when we reflect upon the greatest demonstration of love there has ever been, seen in God’s condescension to humankind in the person of Jesus Christ, His death on a cross and subsequent resurrection. God so loved the world that He gave His only Son to show us that we can relate to Him, for in the person of Christ — true God and true Man — we see that we are made in God’s image. 

The life of Jesus is a mirror for us — He shows us the beauty and greatness of what we can be, and by contrast, the extent of our depravity and wayward sinfulness. 

Lent is a time when we seek to grow closer to God, by doing as He did: renouncing the ways of the world, only to take up all of life in a new and fresh way, marked by self-sacrificial love. 

Yet, the Way of Christ is enigmatic, revealed to us in parables, and easily distorted and pigeonholed, i.e., made to serve our own interests and visions. What is His Way?

In its simplest formulation, the Way is truth, beauty and goodness found in Christ’s sayings and actions, and in those He sent out after Him: the 12 Apostles, the Church that Christ founded and the wisdom of her Tradition — all sourced from and a continuation of the Saviour Himself. 

In our Catholic tradition, Christ’s Way for how we should live together in local and political community bears fruit in Catholic social teaching, the Catholic Church’s vision for the fulfilment of human dignity and the common good in communal life, answering the question, “How do we live well together?” 

As Dorothy Day writes, “We cannot love God unless we love each other, and to love we must know each other… We have all known the long loneliness and we have learned that the only solution is love and that love comes with community.”

Today, many Christians echo some part of Christ’s proposals. You have heard, variously, that Christ’s Way is that of relentless philanthropy and activism, or of the deepest commitment to an interior life which pours outwards in service to others. That it is the way of peace and yet of vigorous evangelization. That it is rooted in purity of heart, mind and body, and that it is a radical or revolutionary call to stand up to false authority and overturn injustice. That it is about reverencing the heavenly Father, your earthly father and mother, and tradition alike. 

These bright shards of the whole truth reflect the sometimes-challenging complexity of Christ’s Way. His Way defies the simplest summaries. His actions and speech synthesize gentleness and truth-telling, exhortation and invitation. 

As Robert Royal writes, “Christ commands and threatens as much as He invites and persuades in the New Testament — the words of the founder of Christianity Himself are both demanding and consoling, not merely one or the other, as has long been recognized… The impulse to raise one side of each pair over the other has led, in a very tangible sense, not only to a lack of fidelity to the Scriptures but to a narrowing and dispersal of the accumulated wisdom of Catholicity into all-too-familiar modern culture clashed between ‘liberals’ and ‘conservatives.’ ” 

Against all the temptations to take a piece of the truth, reify it and make up our own system of thinking and acting, we must look to the whole of the person of Christ and the entirety of the Way He proposes, through His life, His Apostles and the tradition of His Church. 

We must look to the example of Christ in His entirety—and not simply Christ when He most comforts our ideologies.

(Peter Copeland is a writer and policy advisor, and thinker for organizations such as Catholic Conscience and the St Monica’s Institute. Brendan Steven is a former executive director of Catholic Conscience.)

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