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What is your favorite line/passage/phrase from your favorite written work?

March 13, 2007

I know we have asked you in the past what is your favorite book or work that has influenced you the most in your spirituality or academic theology/philosophy. But let’s narrow it down.

Many times we talk about those books that “changed our lives forever.” What book or any other written work has brought your heart rate up or almost brought you to tears that you just needed to put it down and had to stop reading for a few minutes? And from that work, which specific passage or line has stuck with you for years or even changed the course of your life, your spirituality, your faith, or your worldview? If you can, share with us that specific section that changed you forever and why it did so.

My pick is very difficult as I know yours will be. The Bible and so many great works by saints and theologians that have changed me throughout the years. But I have to say that two specific papal encyclicals did the most to me: Rerum Novarum (Leo XIII) and Quadragesimo Anno (Pius XI), because they addressed many points I was struggling with in my life at the time: work, materialism, and financial commitment to others. And as I have shared in previous posts, it was not until I read those two encyclicals and proceeded to read the words of John Paul II in Sollicitudo Rei Socialis that would change it all for me:

“This then is not a feeling of vague compassion or shallow distress at the misfortunes of so many people, both near and far. On the contrary, it is a firm and persevering determination to commit oneself to the common good; that is to say to the good of all and of each individual, because we are all really responsible for all.” (Sollicitudo Rei Socialis, 38)

The key words in this paragraph for me were: “persevering determination,” and “responsible for all.” I was overwhelmed by the challenge posed to us: that it is not sufficient to just feel compassion towards other people and what they go through. Instead, we are called to commit ourselves to the good of all. All my life I struggled with the question: “who is all?” “Where do I set the limit?” “How much money is too much to give?” And the answer was right there in front of me, and a very firm one for that matter. And it is that short line, “we are all really responsible for all,” that changed my faith, my spirituality, my worldview in every way possible and perhaps my second reversion to the faith took place then. I read this as part of a class presentation I was assigned to do in a Catholic Social Doctrine class I was taking at the time. It was so powerful to me that I had to put it down. I had to go outside. I had to go to the Blessed Sacrament and just cry and thank God for putting all the words of the great popes in my hands. Now the same God I saw in the Sacrament was present in all those around me, especially in the unprotected, and that because of that, I had a responsibility to every single one of them. To me this was a radical concept that I was yearning for many years and that now I read as part of the doctrinal corpus of my beloved Church.

The internal struggle that I always had, since I was very young, in trying to reconcile my views of the world and my concern for the most vulnerable with my faith in Jesus Christ and as a member of the Catholic Church had finally come to an end. Because now I knew what the Church taught and understood my relationship, and more importantly, my responsibility to every single individual who is a member of the Mystical Body of Christ in a completely new way. To me that was such a powerful concept: a Church that has no boundaries and is concerned with all, a constant love that never ceases even in the midst of difficulties. This was never clear to me until I read John Paul II’s words.

However, that internal struggle did not come to an end. I did find a wonderful answer in the Church that I love and that I hope to serve even more, but how is one to turn those words into action? How do we really acknowledge every member of the body of Christ as our responsibility? I personally hold that it is in this effort that lays the greatest challenge of a Christian.

That is mine. What is yours?

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