Sunday, March 23, 2008

On "Worthiness"

There is an apparent conflict (or at least a tension) within Catholic and Christian life that has its beginnings in Scripture. When am I worthy? Or am I never worthy? Is anybody ever worthy? If not, why are not all people saved or damned equally? Worthiness is an uncomfortable issue because, on the one hand, the Scriptures promise that Christ overturns the world's standards of worthiness, and grace powerfully overcomes the objective unworthiness of all. And yet standards of worthiness (both objective and subjective) still obtain and have real consequences for individuals on their path to salvation.

There are some easy answers that I am not quite satisfied with yet. Perhaps one may say that Christ did not come to eliminate all standards of worthiness, but only corrupt ones--such as when he compares "weightier matters of justice and the law" to the "tithes of mint and cummin"--the camel and the gnat, as it were. And so Christ effectively substitutes meaningless and empty systems by which human beings stratify themselves for the only one that matters: love, and its public corollary, justice.

But this explanation does not satisfy the Gospel. Both radically egalitarian and hierarchical at once, the Christian must always remember his misery at being born in sin, his dignity as a child of God, his suitability to the demands set upon him by vocation and circumstance, and above all the state of his constant battle to accept grace in the face of disordered appetites. And so, the question of worthiness is different according to the scope, the sphere, the stakes, and where it all fits into God's mercy. If I address this issue again, the main question I hope to address is: which "worthinesses" are the most important, the most ultimate, the most determining for how worthiness plays itself out in human life.

No comments: