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God and My Work / Part 4

A series on the role of laity in the Church
by Fr Luis Garza LC | Source:

New Age

Although not a result of 1968, since it had already started to appear before then, there is no doubt that this social crisis of the 1960s was a particularly apt breeding ground for the development of the "New Age" movement. A foundational belief of this pseudo-religious movement is that everyone can have his own truth, as long as each one lives in his own world without harming or intruding into the lives of others. A very complete vision of this phenomenon is found in the Pontifical Council for Culture's document "Jesus Christ, Bearer of the Water of Life: A Christian Reflection on New Age."

   Thus, New Age takes the error of relativism even further and affirms that not only can each one have his own truth, but that all religions are actually equal. It claims that there is not just one way to salvation and that each person can follow the religious path of his own culture or country and be saved. Logically then, Christ is not the only savior, and salvation is not found exclusively in the Catholic Church. In this way, the missionary spirit is rendered unnecessary and superfluous, because in the end, everyone should just live his own tradition as his conscience dictates. Clearly, this way of thinking and living is very widespread in the culture of today. It even has subtle manifestations in many sectors of the Church. It can be found where there is talk about not trying to force religion on anyone, and where there are efforts to find the "seeds of the Word" in various cultures and traditions-the saving presence of Christ-to the point of ignoring the richness of the sacraments and seeking to offer them to men. It is tacitly assumed that the Catholic Church's missionary effort throughout the ages was all motivated by lust for power, and always violently.

   While recognizing the mistakes, sins, and limitations of anything in which men are involved, I think that these kinds of concepts overlook the broad humanizing mission of the Church throughout the centuries.

   The New Age clashes head-on with one of the fundamental tenets of Catholicism, which is that we find salvation only in Christ. It is true that Christ, by his mercy, can act in men's consciences when they have had no means of knowing him, and when they live out their own tradition in good faith. However, we do not do any good to our brothers and sisters if we do not offer them the great richness we have in Christ, and if we do not share God's invitation with them so that they can freely choose to follow Christ.

   To give a clear Catholic response to these ideas, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith published the document Dominus Iesus on August 6, 2000, on the uniqueness and salvific universality of Jesus Christ and of the Church. It reaffirmed the idea that salvation is found only in Christ and described the role of the Church as the Mystical Body of Christ and therefore as the path that everyone, either directly or indirectly, must follow to reach salvation.

   The declaration says in paragraph 20: "Above all else, it must be firmly believed that ‘the Church, a pilgrim now on earth, is necessary for salvation: the one Christ is the mediator and the way of salvation; he is present to us in his body which is the Church. He himself explicitly asserted the necessity of faith and baptism (cf. Mk 16:16; Jn 3:5), and thereby affirmed at the same time the necessity of the Church which men enter through baptism as through a door.' This doctrine must not be set against the universal salvific will of God (cf. 1 Tim 2:4); ‘it is necessary to keep these two truths together, namely, the real possibility of salvation in Christ for all mankind and the necessity of the Church for this salvation.' … For those who are not formally and visibly members of the Church, ‘salvation in Christ is accessible by virtue of a grace which, while having a mysterious relationship to the Church, does not make them formally part of the Church, but enlightens them in a way which is accommodated to their spiritual and material situation. This grace comes from Christ; it is the result of his sacrifice and is communicated by the Holy Spirit'; it has a relationship with the Church, which ‘according to the plan of the Father, has her origin in the mission of the Son and the Holy Spirit.'"

   On the other hand, New Age allows the person to hold on to elements of his religious tradition that feel right to him. In this way, a kind of supra-religion is created, in which feeling holds sway. In reality, this practice empties religion of its content and reduces it to a vague spirituality that merely seeks to satisfy the thirst for transcendence that every human being has inside. The sad thing is that by proceeding in this way, the thirst for the eternal and the infinite is not actually satisfied, because a religion made to fit one's own desires and which denies our capacity for a relationship with a personal God is simply an exercise of personal control and stress relief.

   It is no wonder that Eastern religions, especially those from India, are so popular in the Western world. It is well known that Buddhism is not real a religion in the sense of a relationship with a transcendent person or being. Rather, it and these other Eastern religions are a mere ascetic exercises to achieve virtue. These traditions fit in with New Age which assimilates many of them and proposes them as a basic substratum.

   It is evident that this fallout from 1968 has greatly limited and continues to limit our capacity to bring God to the workplace, especially since New Age proposes to get rid of God altogether. Besides, it would be senseless to express one's own religion at work if one thinks that there is no such thing as religious truth, and that symbols and celebrations have no lasting relevance. On this account, personal belief has no true value. Lastly, as mentioned above, the widespread influence of the New Age in our world hides a certain complex about belonging to the Christian or Catholic faith, which is perceived by Christians themselves as violent, corrupt, and power-hungry.

   The assumptions of New Age are highly dangerous for Christianity, of course, but also for modern societies and states. Charles Péguy said that man either believes or he ends up being superstitious. I wonder if the recent growth of witchcraft, satanism, animism, etc., in the most rational and technologically advanced epoch of history is due precisely to the absence of belief in a personal God. Superstition (that is, the lack of religious truths) makes us irrational and leads us to give an absolute value to our mental fabrications. Ideologies are capable of annihilating the reasoning capacity of entire human groups. From there, it takes only a few steps to fall into destructive sects, divinizing race or progress, and proceeding to eliminate millions of human beings under the influence of these ideas, like the Nazis and Communists did just decades ago. History is a teacher of life, and those who remain ignorant of it are condemned to repeat it. Certainly, this is not a desirable perspective.


Before offering some ideas of how to infuse the world of work with religion, it seems necessary to clarify some points on the value of work. The problem can be posed as follows: if work (and human activity in general) are worth nothing for the Kingdom of God, if they have no supernatural importance, wouldn't bringing God into work be something extrinsic, like giving a good purpose to something that does not have it in itself? If, on the other hand, work does have supernatural value, do we win grace with our work? And if so, with what kinds of work? And does this take the place of our Christian commitment to spread the Gospel and lead a holy life?

   But we can also ask about the presence of Christians in the workplace. Is the work of a baptized person the same as the work of an unbaptized person? In any case, is the duty of being leaven in the world limited to abiding by ethical standards?

   This question provoked a very rich theological discussion after the Second Vatican Council. There had been a lot of investigation and writing on what was called the "theology of hope." Many Protestant writers like Jürgen Moltmann wanted to explain what hope meant for our lives. As often happens with Protestants, they started their studies with assumptions derived from Kant. So they distinguished between what can be empirically demonstrated as real and knowable from what cannot be empirically demonstrated and, according to them, therefore cannot be known. God's promise, as fulfilled in the resurrection of Christ, cannot be confirmed as a reality like material facts or events in the world can. Therefore, they say, the resurrection can only serve as an example to guide us, not as a reality that truly impacts our life. Man, they conclude, assumes that his personal story will not end in failure, but he is not certain of it, and this truth does not have any substantial impact on his life.

   In the end, the fact of salvation in Christ for these authors does not really touch their lives. It does not redeem history. Man's fulfillment lies in a purely human progress; it lies in his personal history. So that is where he should work to achieve his goals and desires. This is a completely mistaken idea, because without Christ, there is nothing worthwhile in history, nothing that defines it at its core. Without Christ, what man builds can have no transcendence whatsoever. In a certain way, this is the Marxist trap of offering man the mirage of a false fulfillment in human history and progress.

   Some Catholic authors reflected on this "theology of hope". They wrote many books and articles at the beginning of the 1970s on the "theology of progress." These works offered one of the bases for the "theology of liberation." Many of these theologians were able to avoid the trap of Marxism. Others, sadly enough, were not.

   Their objective was to try to find the value of human work. What is progress? Is it something fatal that leads man to abandon his eternal destiny? Must developed societies necessarily distance themselves from God?

   In Fyodor Dostoyevsky's The Brothers Karamazov, the Grand Inquisitor explains that Christ's tempter makes him see that freedom, free thought and science, have cast humanity into darkness, and that it would have been better if Christ had accepted what the devil had proposed. That way, humanity would have followed him without questioning, and would not have entered blindly on the path of progress. In the Grand Inquisitor's opinion, it was a great error to give men the chance to make progress by themselves.

   This is directly opposed to Revelation. When Yahweh ordered man to dominate the world, it was never assumed that the world was a reality outside of God's creative and salvific action. If it were, all of man's progress and action would only be limited to having a good time here on earth and getting through the time between conception and death with as little suffering as possible. In truth, the Church would not have much to say about the things that are most important in the lives of men.

   Now I want to explain why this is not the case. The human person is conceived in the world, and he lives out his personal story in the world. In fact, the world finds its highest purpose in man.

   It is man who gives meaning to the creation of things, as Psalm 8 says so well:

When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers,

the moon and the stars, which you have ordained;

What is man, that you are mindful of him?

and the son of man, that you care for him?

For you have made him a little lower than the angels,

and have crowned him with glory and honor.

You have given him dominion over the works of your hands;

you have put all things under his feet.

   We can hypothetically think of man outside of the world because he was made for his own sake. But this is only a hypothesis. In reality, man cannot live without the world, since it is the place where he is fulfilled as a man. It is in the world that his corporal being acquires meaning. It is also in relation to the world that he acquires self-knowledge and discovers his inalienable dignity and understands that he is essentially different from both inanimate and other animate beings.

   We also know from Revelation that the mystery of Christ's incarnation, death, and resurrection gave value to all creation and re-established the harmony it had before original sin in its relation to its Creator to the point that awaits the final moment of all things being restored in Christ (cf. Gaudium et Spes 45). But the mystery of Christ also has another meaning that we cannot overlook. Christ's death tells us that in order for creation to be redeemed, there must be a break, a radical separation, so that with the resurrection, it will be restored under a new form. The coming of Christ gave meaning to man's history by projecting it toward eternity. Through him, we know that there is redemption, and that at the end of it we all can look forward to a life with him.

   Vatican II
summarized all these ideas in one of those immortal paragraphs of Lumen Gentium: "The Church, to which we are all called in Christ Jesus, and in which we acquire sanctity through the grace of God, will attain its full perfection only in the glory of heaven, when there will come the time of the restoration of all things (cf. Acts 3:21). At that time the human race as well as the entire world, which is intimately related to man and attains to its end through him, will be perfectly reestablished in Christ (cf. Eph. 1:10; Col. 1:20; 2 Pet. 3:10-13)" (paragraph 48).

   Hope is a reality, not just an example, as the Protestant authors thought. And we do not go through life without knowing where it is leading us. We know the purpose of our life because Christ already entered into the world at a precise moment in time. For this reason, our efforts in life have meaning, and they have meaning in a particular way because we no longer have a history that is self-sufficient or detached from creation and other human beings. Our work and everything we do should be under the sign of charity, since this is the way that Christ taught us to relate to our brothers and to everything around us. In this way we can truly build the civilization of justice and Christian love, on which Pope Paul VI insisted so often.

   We can conclude that man's progress, and therefore, human work, has transcendent value. However, we should not confuse progress with the Kingdom of Christ. The Kingdom of Christ is built with grace, and God is the one who builds it in souls of men and women. However, human progress is not outside the action of grace if Christian charity animates it and gives it form. The world, then, is not a parallel reality that is somehow outside God's action. Rather, it is the field where man can exercise his Christian mission of being leaven in the dough.

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