Hope in God and Do Good

Reflection on the Basilica Hymn for the Second Sunday of Repentance


A great deal of modern thought is concerned with looking behind opinion and belief, the things that are “assumed” by most people, and examining these assumptions critically. This is a noble endeavor if its goal is to discover the truth, but its scope should not be simply opinions and beliefs; this is ultimately stale and inhuman. Looking critically at assumptions, questioning already-held beliefs, should first of all be an intensely personal mission; we should question first ourselves, not only our ignorant opinions. The question we should ask first is not “how do I know?” but “what am I?” This is a more logical starting-place and the road it begins is more intellectually secure.

If this is the most primordial question, then the most commonly held opinion is in answer to it. Socrates found frustration in this, because his opponents made an assumption that he did not: his opponents believed they knew, and that they were good and just. The opponents answered the question “who am I?” by saying “I am a good person” “I am a wise person” or “I am a just person.” It generally took Socrates minutes to destroy this assumption, to show his opponents they did not know what they thought they knew.

The Christian Faith is the sharpest, most critically refined mode of thought because rather than assuming a falsehood, it answers this first question correctly. If the question is “what am I?” the Christian’s answer is “I am a creature of God and his image, but a sinner.” This delicate answer instills caution in every further question, because it assumes that we are weak and need to proceed very carefully, because of how easily we can fall.

The Hallway and the Door

There are many ways to err, but only one Truth; there are many paths in this life, but only One which leads to salvation. In the terminology of the Gospel, Jesus Christ is himself both the Truth and the Way to get there. But it is so easy to fall into the temptation to try other paths which perhaps seem easier or more pleasant. The way that is Christ is challenging; it is an exercise and a sacrifice; it requires becoming a new creation, throwing off our old selves and allowing God to make us alive in a different way through his Son. This can be intimidating and scary, and in our weakness and attachment to our old selves we can reject this path and continue on our own path, leading to our isolation from Christ and ultimately our destruction.

We must realize who we are before we begin to walk; we must realize how miserable and empty we are alone, if we are ever going to become something new. We must acknowledge that the path of our own selfishness is one that is full of traps and unseen potholes, a dark and ugly road that leads to nothingness, the nothingness out of which we were created. Knowing this, knowing who we really are, will turn us toward the true Path, and we will trust in him rather than in ourselves.

Our choice is now, not later. This is the time to turn to the Lord, to put our selfishness and arrogance aside. This is the time to see ourselves weak and wounded, and turn and be healed. This is the time to obey the commands of the Lord and make ourselves known to the Bridegroom, lest he tell us he does not know us:

You stand at the doorway of the end of this life, my miserable soul! Though here you have opportunity to beg for forgiveness, there tears will not profit nor repentance aid, when the Bridegroom enters, and all his guests enter with him, when the door is shut and the veil drawn [closed]. Who, therefore, is my hope aside from you, O Lord? O Lover of mankind, O God, forgive me!