WE COME this morning to observe, listen, and learn from Him who lived the one, perfect, human life how men should live. Life is observed in its crises, heard in the utterances spoken in times of testing, and taught by example. We are to think of our dear Lord as the Master of the art of living. That art can be communicated: merely to behold it is a transforming experience; to study it is to translate its terms to the mind in such wise as to make its principles our own.
Life as He saw and lived it is essentially Atonement. Never more than today do we need the inculcation as well of the desire as of the technique whereby reconciliation may be effectively wrought. Into the chaos of society since the War, our national, economic, political, and social upheavals, the mood of uncertainty and the sense of insecurity have brought divisiveness. Diversity of aims and discordant panaceas, clash of opinions and conflict of ideas, subversions of the hitherto accepted and revolutionary experiments--these characterize our time. He who came that we might have life and have it more abundantly (St. John 10: 10) died on the Cross that there should be harmony between man and God, man and man, and man and Nature. His life constitutes the terms of the vocation of every Christian. "God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto Himself" (II Corinthians 5: 19), and Christ is in the Christian, the member of His Mystical Body, still carrying on the same work. We are to address ourselves, in contemplating the Artist of Life, to seven problems of the work of Atonement which press us grievously today. There is, first, the problem of evil as shown in sin. How does one deal with unrepentance? With repentance? There is, next, the question which is often so puzzling to the Christian: what privilege attaches to intimacy with God? More fundamental, in our dark hours of distress and dereliction, Does God really care, or--is He really there, after all? The believer today is also confronted with his own acute personal problems: should he ignore his body and the physical world, as irrelevant to the life of the Spirit? But it is chiefly in the matter of the difficulties of his spiritual life that he is perplexed. The New Psychology has come in to upset many previously accepted assumptions--why are there so many frustrated, futile, and incomplete lives? What, finally, of one's self: how is the Christian to view the ideal of self-realization and satisfaction in the light of the Catholic faith?
These basic problems are not theoretical. They touch every one of us and impinge with clamorous insistence on our consciousness. We hear, for example, that there is really no such thing as "sin"; that "forgiveness" is otiose and irrelevant, where its operation is not frankly demoralizing. Hedonism or the Neo-Stoicism appeal in various ways to many people, outside the touch of the Church and the sphere of her influence, who possess genuine spiritual yearnings and seek ideals. Fulfilment and self-realization, the stultification of personality, the relation between those nearer spiritual Reality and those afar off--all these questionings are in the air we breathe, the atmosphere of our thinking, feeling, and acting.
We come to study the Art of Atonement from the Master. If there be not in Jesus that appeal to universal human experience, an example which when perceived deftly appeals as self-evident and inevitably true, then Catholicism is wrong in saying that He, the Son of God, became the Son of Man. That He was man is beyond dispute. But that in seeing Him as man we can be content with that description of Him violates the verdict of the experience of those who knew Him best, from the first generation of His followers until those of us who today come to learn of Him the art of the atoning life.