Saturday, April 5, 2014

Knowing God in the Biblical Sense of the Word

The business of this life should not preoccupy us with its anxiety and pride, so that we no longer strive with all the love of our heart to be like our Redeemer, and to follow his example. Everything that he did or suffered was for our salvation: he wanted his body to share the goodness of its head.

First of all, in taking our human nature while remaining God, so that the Word became man, he left no member of the human race, the unbeliever excepted, without a share in his mercy. Who does not share a common nature with Christ if he has welcomed Christ, who took our nature, and is reborn in the Spirit through whom Christ was conceived?

Again, who cannot recognize in Christ his own infirmities? Who would not recognize that Christ’s eating and sleeping, his sadness and his shedding of tears of love are marks of the nature of a slave?

It was this nature of a slave that had to be healed of its ancient wounds and cleansed of the defilement of sin. For that reason the only-begotten Son of God became also the son of man. He was to have both the reality of a human nature and the fullness of the godhead.

The body that lay lifeless in the tomb is ours. The body that rose again on the third day is ours. The body that ascended above all the heights of heaven to the right hand of the Father’s glory is ours. If then we walk in the way of his commandments, and are not ashamed to acknowledge the price he paid for our salvation in a lowly body, we too are to rise to share his glory. The promise he made will be fulfilled in the sight of all: Whoever acknowledges me before men, I too will acknowledge him before my Father who is in heaven.
Saint Leo the Great, pope

Reflection – ‘The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing.’ This was one of the little nuggets of wisdom I heard last week at St. Therese Institute. Keep your priorities straight and your vision clear, your sights set on the goal to which you are heading.

This is what this grand sermon of St. Leo the Great is all about, really. All of the contemplation of the redemption of Christ, his total embrace of our humanity and his total offer to us of his divinity—all of this is ‘the main thing.’ And to keep the main thing the main thing, is a matter of not being preoccupied with ‘the business of this life with its anxiety and pride’.

I’m off again today, once again leaving MH to hit the road, this time driving to the city of Orangeville, north-west of Toronto, to do a parish mission. The theme of the mission, requested by the pastor (an old seminary friend of mine) is metanoia, the great act of conversion that we are all called to do continually. Without spoiling the retreat for the people who might be reading this blog from that parish (hi there, you-know-who-you-are!), this little bit of patristic homiletics is exactly what it’s all about.

Before we can talk about conversion, repentance, turning away from sin and all those cheery topics, we have to talk about the beauty, the goodness, the mercy, and the great and wonderful plan of God. 
Conversion is ‘conversion towards’ before it is ‘conversion from’. It is never strictly a negative affair—oh, I shouldn’t be doing that, oh my beliefs are all wrong, oh my life is horrible.

Any of that may be true, and we may even come into truth, goodness, and beauty through apprehending the ugly, evil, false state we may find ourselves in at one point or another.

But for a conversion to be lasting, real, and deep, we cannot simply be reacting against bad stuff. We have to at some point gain some knowledge, some insight, into the beauty of God. And this is the whole action of Christ in the world—to make known the beauty and goodness of God, so that we have the courage to put aside our sins and idolatries and follow the living God to the end.

And to make it known to us, not only as abstract head knowledge or some external apprehension of the senses, either a good catechism lesson or a beautiful icon. But to make it known to us from the inside out, known ‘in the biblical sense of the word’, as the old saying goes. And this is the whole gift of the Spirit, the interpenetration of God’s life into our life and ours into God’s, by his gracious love.

It’s all so very beautiful, and so fundamentally simple. But we have to keep the main thing the main thing, remember who we are, who God is, and what our life is about. There are so many distractions and follies that engage us. Remember the main: ‘If then we walk in the way of his commandments, and are not ashamed to acknowledge the price he paid for our salvation in a lowly body, we too are to rise to share his glory.’

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