Father Andrew DickinsonColumnist
“A man can be damned alone but he can only be saved with others.”
This quote, of Slavic origins and attributed to Saint John Climacus, caught my attention this summer while on retreat. In many ways it is a steep challenge to our culture of isolation and individualism. The Christian life is undeniably linked to this communal aspect and it is worth thinking about as we begin a new year.
“A man can be damned alone.” We might think of damnation, isolation or loss as something imposed on us by others. On the contrary, when the Catechism of the Catholic Church talks about Hell, it speaks of the “state of definitive self-exclusion from communion with God and the blessed.” (CCC 1033). Clearly, the individual chooses this “self-exclusion” and we could say that many of us choose a self-made aloneness on a daily basis. On a campus as large as SDSU and with as much technology available for communication, how many of us suffer alone and apart from the multitude with whom we live?
As I preach at Sunday Mass or as I walk through our campus, I can see those hearts that are suffering alone. They bear their pain or guilt as a private burden, certain that no one else understands or cares about their plight. We hear a similar story in that extreme anguish of suicide- “No one cares.” Sin affects our spirit in a similar way; we feel that we alone are left to bear the burden, isolating a part of our heart from God and others.
“He can only be saved with others.” Salvation often appears as an individual question but is intimately tied to others. Saint Paul makes this point in Romans 10:14, “But how can they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how can they believe in him of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone to preach?” Whether it is the hand that wrote the Scriptures, the voice that proclaims them, or the friend that invites us to Church, we are only saved with others.
Do we have friends who will help us find faith, hope and love in the midst of the challenges of life? Do we have friend who want our happiness, our virtue, and our salvation? The truth is that if we go to Church and don’t reach out for friends there, we probably won’t be long in Church and we probably won’t be long in our Christian life. The truth is that if we run a Church and don’t reach out to create friends, we won’t long have a Church.
Jesus Christ chose a human life, a human voice with which to effect our salvation. Jesus Christ continues to choose those human means to announce the Good News ever anew- as a living Gospel for all to hear. Your desires for joy and Christian living will flower in a home of kindred spirits, men and women striving for excellence for their selves and for you.
Father Andrew Dickinson can be contacted at [email protected]