From the Mar/Apr 2003 Issue of Lay Witness Magazine
Just as our stomachs were made for food, so our minds were made for truth and our hearts for authentic happiness. That is why Jesus Christ is a teacher like no other. He speaks to us with the fullness of truth. When He speaks to us, He possesses an intimate knowledge of the one to whom He speaks. Because He created us, He knows us better than we know ourselves. He does not merely give us something that satisfies us, He is what truly satisfies. He is the way, the truth, and the life.
Our university campuses are the front lines in the battle for the hearts and minds of the next generation. Our future leaders are being fed a constant intellectual diet of political correctness and relativism. In other words, our culture doesn’t believe in objective truth. Many educators teach our young that the role of education is to make them free from the oppression of other people’s opinions and control, especially challenges to their freedom that come from oppressive tradition. Many courses on Women’s Studies, which are now almost part of the core curriculum, stress that the most oppressive form of tradition is passed on through structures of historic male domination. In other words, the greatest enemy of the students’ freedom is the Church.
Attacking this mindset head-on is like trying to storm the gates of Mordor in The Lord of the Rings. The enemy seems to have won; the prospects of victory seem lost. But, here is the splendor of Jesus Christ. He meets the individual person, one at a time, as a person with their own set of hopes and dreams and their own suffering and needs. His first move is to simply let truth loose. Truth is like a lion, it needs more to be awakened than protected.
The idea of objective truth—that some things are true whether one happens to accept them or not—is both terrifying and fascinating: It’s terrifying because you might be wrong about some very important things; it’s fascinating because it makes it possible to be right about the most important things.
Our relativistic world treats truth like ice cream. If you happen to prefer vanilla, and I mint chocolate chip, I would be offended by your saying I’m “wrong” or “bad.” But, not all truth is about preferences. Christians don’t simply prefer Jesus Christ. We have heard His claims and believe Him to be telling us the truth. If Jesus isn’t God, then Christians are wrong. And if Jesus is God, then non-Christians are wrong; not necessarily bad or evil, but
wrong and broken. The truth about Jesus isn’t isolated from reality; He embraces all of reality. If Jesus is God and if He is the one and only Savior of the world, then everything turns on this fact. As we like to tell the college students, “If He isn’t Lord of all, He isn’t Lord at all.” Once objective truth is introduced to a culture immersed in relativism, there’s a whirlwind of excitement, like delivering food to starving people. Now we can begin to
experience why we were given minds in the first place. Jesus’ teachings don’t simply contain truth; they are the truth.
The Power to Live a New Life
Jesus is a teacher like no other. He possesses the fullness of truth, but this alone is not what makes Him the greatest of teachers. For if the fullness of truth was all that we needed, then our greatest problem would be ignorance. Our crisis is not merely intellectual; it’s moral. Our greatest foe is sin; ignorance is simply one of the awful effects of sin. So what we need is more than mere education—we’re in desperate need of liberation, and this is precisely what Jesus the teacher offers.
The Catechism highlights this essential point. It begins by telling us the truth about who God is and what He has accomplished for us (The Creed). Then, Jesus transforms us into new creations and gives us the ability to overcome sin (the sacraments). Only after the sacraments does the Catechism address morality. In this section, the Catechism teaches how Jesus shares His very life and power through the Church. For the Catholic, morality is the life of a believer who has been converted and transformed by Jesus. That’s why this section begins with the following quote from Pope St. Leo the Great:
Christian, recognize your dignity and, now that you share in God’s own nature, do not return to your former base condition by sinning . . . you have been rescued from the power of darkness and brought into the light of the kingdom of God (Catechism, no. 1691).
Jesus teaches us by liberating us from sin, which is the original cause of our ignorance in the first place. Now we have true freedom, and we are free to embrace the truth. This is essential because Jesus does not simply teach us facts about life. He teaches us a way of life, to live life—and live it to the full!
The Truth That Makes Us Free
Jesus speaks a universal language because He speaks to our hearts. Whatever our race, creed, gender, or ideology, each of us, in the depths of our hearts, is searching for authentic happiness. St. Augustine wrote: “We all want to live happily; in the whole human race there is no one who does not assent to this proposition, even before it is fully articulated” (Catechism, no. 1718). We’re not the only ones who know that we are searching for happiness. God knows this because He created us and placed the desire within our hearts. The devil too, knows that we seek happiness, and therein lies the rub. The devil is a liar. He hates us and wants to see our relationship with God destroyed.
The devil is very powerful. He possesses angelic strength. But there are limits to his power. He is unable to create anything. He can only pervert and destroy what God has made. He knows that God loves us and so he seeks to ensnare us in his lies and destroy us. He uses our desire for happiness as bait to capture us and enslave us. He promises happiness, but what he delivers leaves us brokenhearted. The reason for this is that there are two types of happiness. Or, more accurately, there is the authentic happiness offered by Our Lord, which may be better translated as blessedness, and there is a cheap counterfeit peddled by the devil.
The demonic counterfeit is embodied in slogans such as, “If it feels good, do it,” and a desire for instant gratification. These things promise us happiness but deliver only fleeting pleasure and then emptiness and brokenness. This can be seen in the sexual revolution. We all desire happiness and where better to find it than in love? Unfortunately, we are often mistaken about what real “love” means. The modern culture tells us that we can “make
love,” and it holds up icons such as movie stars and musicians who seem to have it all.
In working with college students I have seen the devastation of this lie. The breakup of a physical relationship ends with deep emotional wounds and the defense that this must not have been the right person. So another physically intimate liaison begins and when it ends, the cycle repeats itself with the justification that this too must not have been the right person. After numerous failures the horrifying realization comes that maybe the problem isn’t the other person, but that maybe I’m not the right person—not lovable, not loved. Combine this with the risk of serious diseases and the reality of unwanted pregnancies and you have the fruits of our modern culture: broken families, broken lives, broken hearts, and broken bodies. All because we buy the lie that sexual “freedom” leads to happiness.
To the darkness of this lie, the truth of Jesus Christ shines forth into our hearts and minds. There is a way to satisfy our God-given desire for happiness. Indeed, God’s response will overwhelm us and show that our desires were themselves a mere hint of what He has prepared for us. Jesus offers us reality, not some cheap counterfeit. He holds back nothing, letting us know that blessedness will require sacrifice. Discipleship comes with a cross. But far from the stoic misrepresentation that our culture gives it, Christianity—more specifically, Catholicism—is a celebration of God’s love and mercy. Jesus does not stand at a distance and say “tough it out.” He walks with us as we suffer and He remains with us when we rejoice. Jesus gives us His truth and gives us His life through the sacraments in order to lead us through this broken and yet still wonderful world to a world that will overwhelm us with its beauty and goodness. If we desire happiness, then we should want to sit at the feet of this Master, for He alone teaches us how to overcome the world.
If you would like a helpful tool to become a student of Christ the Teacher, I will be happy to send you a free copy of Bible and Catechism Reading Plan. You can email me at CMartin@focusonline.org or write to FOCUS, P.O. Box 1210 Greeley, CO 80631, and ask for the Reading Plan.
Curtis Martin is a former president of CUF and the founder of The Fellowship of Catholic University Students (FOCUS). Visit their website at www.FOCUSonline.org. He resides in Greeley, CO, with his wife Michaelann and their six children.
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