Today’s gospel raises a key question all believers face: what is our relationship to the world?
For Christians, the answer boils down to which Christ we purport to follow.
In his landmark book, Christ and Culture, H. Richard Niebuhr identifies five concepts of Christ that have prevailed throughout Christian history—Christ against culture, Christ of culture, Christ above Culture, Christ and culture in paradox, and Christ transforming culture.
Giants of the Catholic tradition such as St. Thomas Aquinas and St. Ignatius Loyola navigated their way through the two extremes—Christ against culture and Christ of culture—by embracing Christ above culture. For them, above does not mean “aloof” or “disengaged.” Rather, it means recognizing all that is good in the world as a gift from God while acknowledging that God’s grace and the mediation of the church are necessary to bring the world to full fruition.
As Jesus prepares to return to the Father, he prays for the disciples. Yet, no matter how great his concern for their well being in the world, he makes clear, “I am not asking you to take them out of the world . . .” Quite the opposite. Jesus prays to the Father, “As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world.”
Like Jesus and the disciples, we do not belong to the world. But we are sent into the world with the mission of knowing and revealing God’s love.
Ignatian spirituality challenges us to ask, How can I better see “God in all things”? How can I be a true “person for others”?
—Jeremy Langford is the director of communications for the Midwest Jesuits and author of Seeds of Faith: Practices to Grow a Healthy Spiritual Life ©2007 Paraclete Press, Brewster, MA.