East and West In Christ

Friday, April 06, 2007

Reconcile them both in one body to God through the cross

Andrew gave us a question for Lent: “Am I living the life?” That question always leads me to the Rule, especially Section I because that section gives me an operational definition of what we are about as Christians and members of the Brothers and Sisters of Charity: We should be troubled about nothing but the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ; all that matters is that we be created anew. Thus, if I am living the life then I am focused on the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ and I am being created anew.

I have always treasured this section of the Rule because I knew it carried the essence of our community. For a long time, though, I have made the mistake of missing the simple fact that it is not my cross that is the center of our Rule but the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. I have lived as though I must somehow I have to make myself “perfect” so that I am acceptable and worthy (according to some crazy definition I picked up along the way).
Of course, I had it backwards:

In the New Testament the situation is almost completely reversed. It is not manwho goes to God with a compensatory gift, but God who comes to man, in order to give to him. He restores disturbed right on the initiative of his own power to love, by making unjust man just again, the dead living again, through his own creative mercy. His righteousness is grace; it is active righteousness, which sets crooked man right, that is, bends him straight, makes him correct. Here we stand before the twist that Christianity put into the history of religion. The New Testament does not say that men conciliate God, as we really ought to expect, since, after all, it is they who have failed, not God. It says, on the contrary, that “God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself” (2 Cor 5:19). This is truly something new, something unheard of—the starting point of Christian existence and the center of New Testament theology of the Cross: God does not wait until the guilty comes to be reconciled; he goes to meet them and reconciles them. Here we can see the true direction of the Incarnation, the Cross. (in Introduction To Christianity, Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger)



God does not need me to do anything—he has come to meet me and reconcile me and to give “me” to me. In fact, I am unable to do what is necessary (see Pelagianism). Instead, I am dependent upon the Holy Spirit living and working in me through the mystery of baptism. The most and the least I can do is to will what the Holy Spirit would do in me and through me. I’m often tempted to believe that since I’m one in Christ that I can relax and let God take over (see Monophysitism). However, God does not absorb me into Him—I am not identical with God. Instead, he leaves me a separate person so that I can enjoy the advaita of relationship within the Trinity.

Sometimes I like to think I can simply let God drive the bus and I’ll look out the windows and take notes (see Monothelitism). No, “living the life” means actively cooperating with the Holy Spirit as he leads the way, sort of like running a three-legged race to Heaven. Except that I’m blindfolded and don’t hear too well.

My cross is to receive the charity of His Cross in the sacramental realityof space and time that is me—in my body, in the physical world as I stumble and fall, because His Incarnation and His Cross are inseparable. My intellect may have caught a glimmer of the meaning of the gift of His reconciliation; however, Jesus is incarnate in me (see John 14:20), and creation groans in me as I allow Him to incarnate more and more of that sacramental reality through me (see Romans 8:19) as I receive the gift of His Cross.

So “living the life” is the painful process of receiving more and more of the pneuma that makes me fully human. I imagine it’s much like recovering from frostbite, with the pain of coming back to life like the sharp ice crystals expanding inside my tissues as I warm up, before they melt finally to life-giving water. God expands in me and I hurt as I recover from the consequences of my sin. I don’t need to look for pain and suffering—I’ve already got plenty.

“Living the life” means accepting this painful process of recovering from my subhumanity and grieving the consequences of my attempting to make “me” acceptable to the sacramental presence of God in the people around me. It means using techniques of asceticism and mortification to stop the addictions that I use to avoid the pain that accompanies the isolation of my sin yet which keep me isolated. It means rejecting the illusions and mirages (see “entertainment industry”) that I have sought to convert into my own little creation (see “Hell”) and accepting the pleasures of the sacramental presence of Christ in the people and things of His Creation. It means practicing Heaven and receving the sacramental presence of the gift of the Cross through the Wedding Feast of the Lamb. It means the daily acknowledgement of God being in charge of absolutely everything and the daily gratitude that He is.

As I “live the life” I receive more and more of the Gift that is the sacramental reality of me. And, as I receive, so I can give. I can give up more and more of the things I used to value because I have something much more valuable. And I have peace. At least, some days—the good days. Some days all I see is my sins and their consequences. Those are days I am so grateful for community members, who remind me of what is important and how to “live the life”.