Contemplata aliis Tradere

A meagre contribution to the mission and work of the Order of Preachers: my reflections, thoughts, ideas and the occasional rant on matters mainly theological, philosophical and ecclesiastical, drawn primarily from my reading and experience of life and the world. Striving to be always Catholic, firmly Christian and essentially Dominican, flavoured with dashes of Von Balthasar.

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Location: Oxford, United Kingdom

A son of the English Province of the Order of Friars Preachers (Dominicans); born in Malaysia but have lived in the USA, Singapore, the UK & the Philippines for varying durations. A pilgrim and way-farer, a searcher for Truth on the journey of Life... "Wherever the Catholic sun doth shine, There’s always laughter and good red wine. At least I’ve always found it so. Benedicamus Domino!" - Hilaire Belloc

Sunday, July 24, 2005

The Value of the Gospel

The notion of value is essentially one of perception. If something is perceived of and regarded as valuable, then it becomes so, it attains a certain value attributed to it. Real estate is but mud and soil, pearls are but solidified oyster saliva, gold but a shiny metal and money is but printed paper. These have no intrinsic value apart from what we attribute to it; how we perceive it. In all these cases, usefulness or beauty denotes their worth.

Today's Sunday Liturgy invites us to meditate upon the value of the Word of God and the Kingdom which unlike land, pearls, gold and silver has an intrinsic value. As such, it surpasses all these material things (cf Ps 119). The value of God's precepts and his Word is found in Truth. Thus, God's Word is inherently worthy of our attention because it is true. At the centre of this claim to Truth is He who is "the Way, the Truth and the Life", Jesus Christ (cf Jn 14:6). Jesus is the "pearl of great price" and the "treasure in the field" whom we should give up all in exchange for. If the Gospel were not true, it would have no real value at all - beautiful stories perhaps, edifying morality tales maybe, interesting myths mayhaps, but not true and hence not real. The force of the Gospel as a witness to the true deeds of the Incarnate Word has always lain in its veracity. Hence, any ideology or theological system which weakens this fundamental fact or implicitly denies the truth of Christian revelation leeches the power of the Gospel and diminishes its value in the eyes of humankind.

Recent attempts to grapple with world religions in relation to Christianity have focused on the role of Christ as Saviour. It is fundamental that Christ alone is the One who saves, redeems and unites humanity. As such, He is unique; none other may approximate His role in the economy of salvation. However, it is noteworthy that "the salvific action of Jesus Christ, with and through his Spirit, extends beyond the visible boundaries of the Church to all humanity. Speaking of the paschal mystery, in which Christ even now associates the believer to himself in a living manner in the Spirit and gives him the hope of resurrection, the Council states: 'All this holds true not only for Christians but also for all men of good will in whose hearts grace is active invisibly. For since Christ died for all, and since all men are in fact called to one and the same destiny, which is divine, we must hold that the Holy Spirit offers to all the possibility of being made partners, in a way known to God, in the paschal mystery' " (Dominus Iesus, 12)

I am drawn to this because it seems to me that relativism and a certain indifference to the value and uniqueness of Christ as Saviour of all has emasculated the Church of her preaching and missionary impetus. Because some no longer perceive the intrinsic value of Christ, they no longer see any need to make Him known to others.

This dynamic may be observed in the free-market economy or the stock markets. When a commodity is no longer perceived as valuable or profitable, its value (price) falls, weakening the attraction of the commodity itself as an object of value. No one buys a stock that is seen to be in free-fall, or invests in a corporation that is losing value dramatically - not unless it is perceived to be still of use and can be made profitable again. Such mercenary talk of profit, sales and value is evident in the Gospel, where the person who seeks the Kingdom is seen as a merchant (cf Mt 13:46). Hence, the question of Christ rings out: "What does it profit a man, if he should gain the whole world and lose his soul?" (Mk 8:36).

On a purely mercenary level, this implies that profitability is to be found in the Gospel, in upholding the Word and observing the commandments of God. In like manner, Pascal wagers on the existence of God, for one has nothing to lose in living the virtuous life but all to lose by rejecting God.

There is an irony that in our consumerist world, we place such value on passing trends and fads. Electronic gadgetry, fashion, jewellery etc are all transient, the marketer's racket. Mobile phones which entice us and are seemingly so valuable this week are superceded in months. Even real estate and gold, oil and bonds fail in value. All these things which capitalism values so much, as if they had some kind of intrinsic value are in fact figments of our collective imagination; valueless apart from what we dream up for them and what we are fooled into believing. And we are so thoroughly deluded that we'd do anything to possess these objects of materialist desire, be it the latest iPod or notebook computer or car. In contrast, the Gospel has a perennial, everlasting value, an endless worth which is inherent, Truth that is "more precious than thousands of gold and silver pieces" (Ps 119:72). It is a value that is predestined to be ours in Christ for all time (cf Rom 8:28-30).

The tragedy is that this value is not perceived by the masses who are seduced by passing fancies, who actually do the opposite of the psalmist, valuing gold and silver above the Gospel; who give all to attain material splendours and ignore God's Word. All too often, I feel people lapse from the Faith because they have never realised the true value of what they give up; they perceive the Faith as being of little attraction or usefulness in their lives. It is not 'relevant', they say! Why? The First Reading illuminates the situation: He who has not divine wisdom fails to recognise the value of God and His ways. But the person who implores such wisdom from God not only receives "wisdom and understanding" (cf 1 Kgs 3:12), but like Solomon, may well receive also the blessings of riches. So, we actually have to desire to understand God's teachings, as mediated by Scripture and Sacred Tradition, and ask for the Spirit of understanding.

Some people may fear that all this talk of objective Truth may lead to religious conflict and fundamentalism. I can only stress that the Gospel precludes all fundamentalism, violence and rhetoric, calling above all for a witness to Christ precisely through love, hope and faith, the examples of the Cross and the Eucharist. It is Christian joy and love that will attract others to the Faith; this speaks for itself.

As such, today's Liturgy calls on us to re-discover, by the light of the Holy Spirit, the value of the Gospel and to re-dedicate our lives to seeking God's will and to doing it, giving all we possess, all we otherwise value to gain this. And this happens primarily when we believe that God's Word, Jesus Christ, is the Truth, the Way and the Life. So long as we harbour latent relativistic notions, we are unlikely to commit all to Christ, investing our all in Him. We seek divine wisdom to open the eyes of our minds and hearts so as to perceive the Gospel with spiritual eyes and to see its true beauty, value and worth, which surpasses all else. And when we have seen these for ourselves, we have to become merchants for God, 'selling' the Gospel and its values to all people, advertising the lasting joy of life in Christ to all and drawing them to Him, by the gentle persuasion of the Spirit of love and unity in Christ.

The photo above shows St Dominic de Guzman, Founder of the Order of Preachers and God's 'merchant'. The statue is at Caleruega, the Philippines.


Blogger Moniales said...

That's such a great photo of the statue of Pater Dominice at Calaruega. Isn't it such a beautiful place? It remains one of the highlights of my visit to PI in 2000. The people are great, the food is good, the nuns are wonderful, the friars are fabulous but the TRAFFIC!!!! How do ya'll stand it?

6:51 pm  
Blogger Br Lawrence, O.P. said...

Oh yes, I love Caleruega. We shall be celebrating St Dominic's day there this year - all those wonderful nuns and fabulous friars of this Province will gather for a feast! I look forward to that so much!

As for the traffic in Manila... we cope by turning the car into a mini-fiesta venue: singing, laughing, waiting with patience - all things the Filipinos do best!! :0)

1:13 pm  
Blogger berenike said...

Dear Paul,

Re your comment and the English Province: enjoy it, and remember to be careful what you sit on in that white habit. And before you give up all worldy goods, invest in a copy of "Lux in Tenebris - The Traditional Catholic Doctrine of the Descent into Hell, and the Theological Opinion of Hans Urs von Balthasar", a doctorate defended at the Angelicum this year by Alyssa Pitstick. If you can't get it, and I am feeling very nice, I might even lend you my copy. Once I have read it.

1:45 pm  

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