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Who is Really on Trial in Our Life?

August 1, 2017

Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI possesses a keen ability to summarize the ideas and problems of our times both cogently and succinctly. Consider the following assessment of our age that he made during a 2015 interview:

For the man of today…. things are, in a certain sense, inverted, or rather, man no longer believes he needs justification before God, but rather he is of the opinion that God is obliged to justify himself because of all the horrible things in the world and in the face of the misery of being human, all of which ultimately depend on Him (Benedict XVI, Interview with Jacques Servais, L’Osservatore Romano, English edition, March 2016).

This is quite a profound diagnosis of the hubris of our times. This hubris is apparent among both unbelievers and believers. While Benedict sets the problem in the context of the mystery of evil and suffering, my own experience is that the problem is wider than that. Many people don’t merely demand an accounting from God for the existence of evil, they also demand justification from Him for any teaching of His Scripture or the Church that does not accord with their views. The premise is that the teachings of Scripture and the Church must conform to modern notions or else stand convicted of being out-of-touch, useless, irrelevant, or even intolerant, harsh, and hurtful.

All of this is completely backwards. For any Catholic, it is the world and its views that should be on trial. God should not need to justify His teachings or render an account to us, rather it is the world that should be required to explain how its views do not contradict God.

Jesus said that when the Holy Spirit comes to us, He will convict the world in regard to sin (Jn 16:8). Therefore, every Catholic should have the world on trial, not God. We should demand that the world justify its views and square them with God’s teachings. Anything that does not agree with what God teaches is to be rejected by us, convicted of being erroneous and set aside in favor of God’s law and teaching.

St. Paul says, Test everything; hold fast what is good. Abstain from every form of evil (1 Thess 5:21-22). In other words, square everything with the measure of God’s Word and reject anything that is contrary to it while retaining what is good.

Is this what most Catholics do? Sadly, many do just the opposite. The Word of God and the teachings of the Church are put on trial and convicted if they do not conform to worldly thinking, to what is currently popular. If one talks about a text that speaks a truth contrary to modern notions, there is a wide range of reactions: raised eyebrows; objections; scoffing; accusations of insensitivity, intolerance, or hate; demands for retractions and apologies.

This begs the question, “Who is on trial here, God or the world?” Yes, Benedict’s observation about our times stands true. Whereas we once sought grace to be justified before God, many now demand that God justify Himself to us.

In our hubris, we’ve turned the tables on God. It’s time to turn them back in humility. St. Paul reminds us who the true judge is to whom we must render an account:

It matters little to me that I should be judged by you or by any human court. In fact, I do not even judge myself. For though I am not aware of anything against myself, I am not thereby acquitted. It is the Lord who judges me (1 Cor 4:5-6).

Make sure you’re on the right side of the judge’s bench.

This portion of Mozart’s Requiem says (translated),

Wondrous sound the trumpet flingeth
Through earth’s sepulchers it ringeth
All before the throne it bringeth

When the judge his seat attaineth
And each hidden deed arraigneth
Nothing unavenged remaineth.

Filed in: Moral Life • Tags: ,

Comments (12)

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  1. Robertlifelongcatholic says:

    They should have used more woodwinds in the orchestra.

  2. Nick says:

    “He will convict the world in regard to sin (Jn 16:8).”

    No, “in regard to sin and righteousness and condemnation: sin, because they do not believe in me; righteousness, because I am going to the Father and you will no longer see me; condemnation, because the ruler of this world has been condemned.”

    Which the Church reads this way:

    “Catechism 388 With the progress of Revelation, the reality of sin is also illuminated. Although to some extent the People of God in the Old Testament had tried to understand the pathos of the human condition in the light of the history of the fall narrated in Genesis, they could not grasp this story’s ultimate meaning, which is revealed only in the light of the death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ. We must know Christ as the source of grace in order to know Adam as the source of sin. The Spirit-Paraclete, sent by the risen Christ, came to “convict the world concerning sin”,by revealing him who is its Redeemer.”

    The Spirit came to convict the world concerning sin by revealing Him Who is its Redeemer. So the Spirit convicts the world of sin by revealing Christ, the New Adam and Source of Grace Who absolves us of our sins in Baptism, Confession, and Communion. Only by knowing Christ can we know ourselves as the source of sin in Adam, and know our justification by and in Jesus, and only by the Spirit can we know Jesus. So let us not attack non-Catholics, but have hope in the Lord.

    • Richard Connell says:

      No non-Catholics were attacked in the article on which you comment and so your last sentence is difficult to understand.

      • Nick says:

        My last sentence is about a common misinterpretation of “test everything” that I tend to see in certain Catholic cults or sects. They think it’s about testing the patience of or attacking non-Catholics. I can understand that thought from a self-righteous or supremacist point of view, but not from the Church’s point of view.

      • Msgr. Charles Pope says:

        That’s my puzzlement too.

    • Msgr. Charles Pope says:

      weird, I don’t follow your remark at all. Perhaps you object because I did not quote the whole verse. But the catechism makes the point I am making. I say nothing about non-Catholics in the article, in fact my real concern is Catholic who have things 180 degrees out of phase, allowing worldly views to overrule those of scripture and tradition. I just don’t think you really read the article.

  3. Jimi says:

    I remember as a kid asking about the “errors of Russia” and my folks saying the disease had already spread, and when I saw the defector Bezmenov explain the ‘four stages’ of ideological subversion it made sense. Nobody could find contentment since envy had been sown.. ‘equality’ becomes the goal. Then ‘equality’ justifies itself (against God), so instead of repentance, a hardness comes. Then, even if ‘equality’ seems to have come, it’s like the spirit of revenge remains for them. But Jesus tells us what to do when they put us on trial. Don’t argue with them on their terms nor defend yourself, but let the Spirit speak.

  4. Don says:

    Romans 9:20 Douay-Rheims 1899 American Edition (DRA)

    O man, who art thou that repliest against God? Shall the thing formed say to him that formed it: Why hast thou made me thus?

  5. Alle says:

    Amen Msgr. Pope:
    “God should not need to justify His teachings or render an account to us, rather it is the world that should be required to explain how its views do not contradict God…”

    God did warn us of the ‘spiritual dyslexia’ that would expand over time, where right would be viewed as wrong and wrong right… Perhaps this will help HIM easily distinguish the wheat from the weeds?

    Thank you for supporting our spiritual pondering!
    Alle

  6. Lynne says:

    Thank you, Msgr Pope for the profound insights and for citing part of the Dies Irae, the sequence for Masses for the Dead in the Extraordinary Form.