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Function Follows Form

Deacon Keith Fournier
© Third Millennium, LLC
Catholic Online


"Have among yourselves the same attitude that is also yours in Christ Jesus, Who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God something to be grasped. Rather, he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness; and found human in appearance, he humbled himself, becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross. Because of this, God greatly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, of those in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father."(St. Paul to the Philippians, Chapter Two)


We live in a "functional" age. One of its bad fruits has been the tendency to reduce human beings to human doings. It is an empty age, an age of Nihilism, where the perceived "value" of a person is often gauged by what they "do", rendering them producers rather than persons. Sadly, these errors have permeated every level of our existence together.

For example, it encourages a wrong view of human work, the approach Pope John Paul II rightly labeled "economism." To evaluate someone's "worth" by how much money they "produce" is a symptom of the disease spread by the practical materialism of our age; a philosophy that views only material "things" as important. The bad fruit of this error and the frantic pace of existence that it often promotes, robs so many people from finding the primacy of love, drinking in the beauty of art, and receiving the gifts of contemplation, creativity and leisure, all of which are integral to being fully human.

How refreshing, it seems to me, that our new Pope, Benedict XVI, one of the great theologians and writers of our age, assumes the burden of the Chair of Peter at a critical time in the history of the Church - and the world into which she is sent on a rescue mission- and then proceeds to take a vacation, for prayer, contemplation, writing and re-creation. What a sign of contradiction this must seem to some. However, it is profound and prophetic.

How often have we heard the expression "Form follows function?" So often I submit, that upon first glance, you may have thought that was the title of this piece. It is not. In fact, the very phrase belies the problem I am attempting to address. We have elevated function over form, doing over being, and, in so doing, we have lost sight of an existential truth; who we are is always prior to - and meant to in-form - what we do. What we do will only fulfill us as human persons if it advances our becoming who we were created to be - and who we choose to become - as we co-operate with God's continued work of creation and re-creation in Jesus Christ through the life of grace.

The oft-repeated paragraph 22 from "Joy and Hope", (Gaudium et Spes) the Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, promulgated by the Second Vatican Council, was known to be one of the late Pope John Paul II's favorites. Some maintain he actually wrote it as a young cardinal in attendance at the Council. The paragraph gives us an insight into his Christian humanism. It also permeates his writings and is a key to understanding his deep seated hope, supernatural optimism and inspiring faith:

"In reality, it is only in the mystery of the word made flesh that the mystery of man truly becomes clear. For Adam, was a type of him who was to come, Christ the lord, Christ the new Adam, in the very revelation of the mystery of the Father and of His love, fully reveals man to himself and brings to light his most high calling."

It is of this Jesus Christ that the Apostle Paul writes in the passage with which I began this reflection. God Incarnate emptied Himself. In the Greek, the word "kenosis" is used. It means that He poured Himself out like a drink offering, out of love and for love, taking the "form" of a servant. In His Sacred Humanity, Jesus Christ thereby shows us that function follows form - and not the other way around. The God who is Love, out of love for us, loved completely and fully. He gave Himself completely for us. We are now called to give ourselves to Him and, in Him, for others. He does what he is. So it should be with each one of us.

We have been created in the Image of God. We are called into the fullness of communion with the Father in and through Jesus Christ, by the working of the Holy Spirit. God became like us- in all things but sin - so that we could become like Him. To embrace this is to learn to live and love differently, to discover the "mystery of man". Through our Baptism into Jesus Christ we are now capacitated to live and to love as Jesus lived and loved, in His sacred humanity. That is our truest identity and our vocation. Only in following this path of surrendered, "kenotic" love will we find true human fulfillment and flourishing. We are human beings, human persons, not human doings.

Function follows form.

This insight has implications for how we view every aspect of our life. For example, it should transform how married couples understand and live the vocation of Marriage in Christ. St Paul writes to the Christians in Ephesus of the "great mystery" that is Christian marriage. He tells them-and us - that He is speaking of "Christ and His Church" (Eph. 5: 32). God thought first of Christ's nuptials with the Church, and then fashioned marriage to be a sacramental sign of that eternal union. Thus, marriage is a sign, a sacrament, and a path to holiness and service. It is a classroom where the spouses learn to truly love and live for the other.

Function follows form.

The purpose and nature of human work is also clarified in light of this insight. Our first parents worked in the garden before the fall. Work is not a punishment. Jesus was always busy doing His Fathers work. For Christians, with the eyes to see and ears to hear, work can become a real participation in the continuing creative and redemptive work of the Lord, ennobling the worker by sanctifying and transforming them and the world around them. That is, when, by faith, it is joined to the work of the Lord. Its capacity to also help the worker to earn remuneration in order to assist them in obtaining the goods of the earth becomes a fruit and not a goal.

Function follows form.

Our Christian service to- and relationship with - the world, when viewed within the greater vocation of our call to carry forward the redemptive mission of Jesus Christ, comes into view as well in light of this insight. An early Christian manuscript called the "Letter to Diognetus" was a favorite of the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council. It reflects a vision of a Christians place in the world and in human culture in these inspiring words: "As the soul is to the body, so are Christians to the world". The early fathers of the unified Christian Church taught that Christians actually held the world together by their existence and their love. Their call was to infuse the world with the very presence of God. So it still is for us.

Function follows form

The implications of this insight can be applied to every aspect of our life together. If the Church is a communion, a very participation in the Trinitarian communion, then, what the Church does, and how the Church worships should always flow from who the Church is. The same is true of its smallest cell, the domestic church of the Christian family.

Perhaps, if we begin to follow the admonition of the Apostle Paul and cultivate "the same attitude that is also yours in Christ Jesus" we will begin to live differently in our daily lives. For the Christian, form does not follow function, but rather function must follow form. Our Baptism invites us to help all men and women become who they were created to be and come to understand the implications of their very humanity by helping them to be set free from the bondage of this age through redemption in Jesus Christ and incorporation into His Body, the Church, where they will find the fullness of life.

There, at home in the Lord, they will experience that "Christ the lord, Christ the new Adam, in the very revelation of the mystery of the Father and of His love, fully reveals man to himself and brings to light his most high calling."

Function follows form.


Deacon Keith Fournier is a married Deacon of the Diocese of Richmond, Virginia. He is a graduate of the Franciscan University of Steubenville, the John Paul II Institute of the Lateran University and the University Of Pittsburgh School Of Law. His eighth book, "The Prayer of Mary: Living the Surrendered Life" will be available in August in bookstores. He is the Senior Editor of Catholic Online and a Contributing Editor for Traditional Catholic Reflections and Reports.


Third Millennium, LLC VA, US
Deacon Keith Fournier - Deacon, 757 546-9580



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