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How Then Shall We Live?

Sermon on the Mount by Jan Brueghel the Elder, 1598Some of the ideas in the last post’s video seem reminiscent of classical Christian ideas of how believers should live in the world. These Christian ideas are drawn from the whole of scripture and tradition, but the best known source may be Christ’s Sermon on the Mount and other teachings. Jesus admonished his followers to ‘ . . . .in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 7:12).

The primary thing I take away from both the video and these teachings is that everything begins with an attitude and a choice. In 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey talks about two circles–a circle of influence and a circle of concern. He contends that highly effective people focus on their circle of influence, while less effective people focus on their circle of concern.

As an example, rather than worrying about the abstract problem of global hunger, an effective and compassionate person who lives in an inner city might begin planting gardens in unlikely places, as guerrilla gardner Ron Finley did in south central Los Angeles (video below). A grocer or restauranteur could share leftover items with local shelters. An individual could help an out-of-work neighbor in a appropriate way that respects the dignity of the person.

How then, shall we live?

Here are seven principles or attitudes that can guide a doing-what-matters life. Some of them are, quite frankly, much harder to implement than others, but all can be implemented on a personal level. Can you imagine what life would be like in a town in which everyone was guided by these principles?

Life is sacred; every human has dignity and worth

Although many people of faith support the idea that life is sacred, the Catholic Church says it this way: “We believe that every person is precious, that people are more important than things, and that the measure of every institution is whether it threatens or enhances the life and dignity of the human person.” 

We are called to faithful family and community life

Marriage and family are the foundation of a stable society and should be supported. Within our communities, we have a duty to seek the welfare of our families and neighbors.

We have both rights and responsibilities

Every human has a right to life and a right to the most basic things required for human decency. In the same way, each human  is responsible for being insofar as possible, a productive member of society, and for caring for the needs of family and others who are less able.

Work has innate dignity

The fourth of the ten commandments directs people to work six days and rest on the seventh, in accordance with God’s example in the creation process. Both J. R. R. Tolkien and C. S. Lewis believed that because man is made in the image of a Creator, we are sub-creators, and the work we do has innate dignity and worth.

We are to care for the poor and vulnerable

Christ said, “inasmuch as you have done it to the least of these my brethren, you have done it unto me” (Matthew 25:31-46). This does not leave open the option for devaluing people based on their station of life (James 2:1-13). “He that hath mercy on the poor, lendeth to the Lord: and he will repay him.” (Proverbs 19:17)

We are called to be peacemakers

Despite national, racial, ethnic, economic, and ideological differences, we are all part of the human race. Each of us is commanded to love, to be kind, to share, and to do unto others as we would have them do unto us, beginning with those in our homes, families, and neighborhoods, and extending to all whom our lives touch.

Be good stewards of God’s creation

We show our respect for the Creator by our stewardship of His creation. We live our faith through wise and careful management of land and natural resources.

These themes are more deeply explored by the United States Council of Catholic Bishops, but are held in varying degrees throughout Christendom. The most important thing to notice is that each of these principles can be implemented on an individual level, with far-reaching consequences.

As we walk through each day, we are responsible for how we choose to live, and how we relate to our families, friends, neighbors, and strangers. Creating a doing-what-matters life is not simply a matter of opting out of systems that don’t work; it is the process of creating a life that does work. There’s much more to explore in this topic, but that’s probably enough to think about for this post. Enjoy!

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