Redemption

(This reflection was written seven years ago.)

Three weeks ago tonight I arrived home from my pilgrimage to the Holy Land. The experience has settled in my mind; I have been able to process its effects. The most important one: Redemption.

We hear this word so many times. It is so central, so often repeated a belief in our Christian faith that it can lose its impact. I think I never really understood it – in my bones, in the core of my being.

To be present at the Calvary site, to bend down to kiss that spot, to feel myself able to say only two words: Unworthy woman. To be allowed to come close not just geographically, but spiritually close to the reality of Christ’s redemptive love. I now feel I know what it means to be redeemed. I understand fully that my and everyone’s sin has been totally removed: Christ has atoned. We are no longer separated from God, “cast out” of his presence. Christ has truly set us free.

This truth, this conviction is stunning to realize. How we, with all our misdeeds both great and petty, can be lifted up, can be lifted out of the mud that so often seems our natural element – what a great mystery this is!

I am floating so effortlessly in this pure air where it seems that nothing ever again can pull me down. (Would that it were so! I understand St. Peter on Mount Tabor: “Lord, it is good for us to be here!”) But even when this euphoria evaporates, I think I must remember the solid ground of this truth: Christ loves me, loves us, has done everything to ensure that we will be with him always.

Redemption. Nothing can separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus. (Romans 8:39) How simple it all is.

Dali Cross

 

“You are gods . . .”

“And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.”
John 1:14a

“The Son of God became human so that we might become God.”
St. Athanasius: On the Incarnation.

“The only-begotten Son of God, wanting to make us sharers in his divinity, assumed our nature, so that he, made human, might make us gods.”
(St. Thomas Aquinas, Opusc., 57:1-4)

The feast of the Incarnation coincides with Palm Sunday this year. Because it’s such an important feast, I’ve chosen to explore and celebrate it in this post.

Even as a very young person, the Incarnation struck me as a most alluring miracle. Back then, I didn’t know about the astonishing comments from Saints Athanasius and Thomas Aquinas, quoted above. Somehow, for many of us, the truth that Christ first existed as God and then became man, existing in time in a specific place, living and dying as a human being in every way – somehow this half of the truth is much more acceptable than the second half. After all, God can do all things, so becoming a human being is certainly not out of reach. That half of St. Athanasius’ statement is credible.

But the rest of the statement – so that we might become God – may sound as blasphemous to our ears as it was to the unbelieving Jews in the Gospel of John, recently read at a Lenten Mass. (Ch. 10:31-41) In this passage, the danger surrounding Jesus has come to a head as the incredulous crowd takes up rocks to stone him. Jesus says:

“I have shown you many good works from my Father. For which of these are you trying to stone me?” The Jews answered him, “We are not stoning you for a good work but for blasphemy. You, a man, are making yourself God.”

Jesus answered them, “Is it not written in your law, ‘I said, “You are gods”’? If it calls them gods to whom the word of God came, and scripture cannot be set aside, can you say that the one whom the Father has consecrated and sent into the world blasphemes because I said, ‘I am the Son of God’”?

An indisputable line of reasoning which Jesus’ enemies refuse to accept.

Jesus repeatedly referred to God as his Father, to being sent by God, and to being obedient to everything he hears from God. Furthermore, in many passages from the Gospels, he frequently refers to God as our Father. Every time we repeat the Lord’s Prayer, we refer to God as Father. Are we too blasphemous?

We commonly believe that certain qualities that apply to Christ cannot possibly refer to us. Especially divinity. And this is where we come to the second half of Athanasius’ outrageous statement.

I think it’s safe to say that part of Christ’s mission on earth was to teach us how to live as children of God.

In his Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5, 6, 7) Jesus teaches us how to imitate God the Father, how to take on godlike habits and attitudes. He points out the basic teachings of the law, but then calls his followers to go beyond them. Difficult as those commands are (and have been for millennia already), Jesus calls us to an even higher standard. But it’s impossible for us to go higher on our own until we have received the teaching and example of Christ, along with his strength through the Holy Spirit, i.e. grace.

You have heard that it was said to your ancestors, “You shall not kill”; and whoever kills will be liable to judgment. But I say to you, whoever is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment, and whoever says to his brother, “Raqa,” will be answerable to the Sanhedrin. . . So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect. 

The message and teachings of Christ call us to go beyond what is humanly good in order to achieve what is supernaturally holy – in other words, to become God-like. The second Vatican Council confirmed that we are ALL called to this holiness, which is the same as what Athanasius and Thomas meant by saying we are all called to be gods. The God we are called to imitate, and whose children we are, is the God who has total and infinite love for all humanity – the just as well as the unjust.

The purpose, then, of the Incarnation and why God became man, was to redeem us, to show us what divine love is, to model holiness, and to receive through Christ the ability to partake in his divine nature.

At every Mass we repeat God’s invitation to transformation, to holiness. As the priest mingles the sacramental water and wine, he says, “By the mystery of this water and wine, may we come to share in the divinity of Christ, who humbled himself to share in our humanity.”

If this were an impossible ideal, we would not have had so many urgings from Christ to dare follow him into the imitation of God. In doing so, we are divinized; we become God’s children, and become the face of Christ in this, our life on earth.

News: Bad, Fake, Too Much?

Or perhaps . . .?

Our society seems to have fallen in love with news, and news of any kind. National TV = 24/7. Social & Local = Facebook, Twitter et al. We have this compulsion to know everything that’s going on anywhere in the world, and to share every bit of news that we’ve either heard from others or have experienced ourselves. Why is it so important to share every trifling item with an ever-growing audience? Why should I expect anyone to be interested in my trivia?

There are a few reasons why we are so attached to news.

  • ¨ We need the social connection. Our congenital loneliness welcomes companionship and attention, preferably on a constant feed.
  • ¨ We need to be valued, and having a “scoop” puts us in the limelight, if only for a minor event and if only for a moment or two.

Our insatiable appetite for news ensures that we doggedly keep watching or listening for it, even though it almost invariably upsets us. My repeated and basic question is, “How much news do I really need to be a good neighbor, parent, or citizen?”

I’ve been on the planet for a few years and even as a youngster I remember my teachers alerting us to the fact that we couldn’t believe everything we heard (e.g. rumors, gossip), nor should we believe everything in print (this now includes digital alerts). I still remember teachers telling us how to evaluate the trustworthiness of reports: how reliable is the source? Does it come from someone who routinely trashes others? From someone whose vocabulary doesn’t include those three precious words, “I don’t know”? From someone whose chief occupation lies in fluffy entertainment? From a sensationalist? Or from someone who is willing to die for his/her claims?

I can’t pretend to have the answers to how much news others need, only how much do I need. If the constant stream of robberies, murders, overdoses, and especially wars, violence, man-made destruction – if these pull me down to a place of almost constant fear and excessive grief, then maybe I don’t need so much. If these reports result in numbing my sensibilities, that’s a reason to ease up. I can’t afford to de-sensitize myself; I need to maintain the ability to compassionate with others.

If, on the other hand, these events move me to pray and to ponder how the Kingdom of God contrasts with the kingdom of this world, then I need to keep watching and praying, lest I fall into temptation, as Christ urged his apostles in the garden of Gethsemane.

For after all, we have been given news that is life-giving: the Good News that is a how-to for happiness on this earth – in spite of all its injustice, cruelty and woes.

Reading and pondering the Good News teaches me about the three stages of discipleship:

  • ¨ Servant: The Ten Commandments provide the basic fundamental rules about living justly with others. These prepared humanity for the coming of Christ.
  • ¨ Friend: The Beatitudes, introduced by Christ, deepen our level of knowledge to an awareness of the spirit of the law. These transfigure us.
  • ¨ Child and Heir: taking to heart Christ’s final Command to love others as he has loved us is the ultimate consummation of love that transforms us into the very image of God.

I use the phrase “taking to heart” rather than the word obeying. That is simply because, for many, obedience has gotten a bad rap. It can have the connotation of some kind of slavery to a demanding, tyrannical Boss who will punish us if we don’t follow his Rules. On the contrary, as Jesus showed us, the laws of God and the command of Christ lift us to the highest level of freedom which is our soul’s union with God. To take the command of Christ to heart means that we have allowed God to take complete possession of us, not as slave to master but as lover to lover.

Being lifted up to this transformative level is to experience, to a limited degree of course, what Jesus meant by entering the Kingdom of God, by having the Kingdom of God at hand, close to us, accessible. Now this is really Good News!

When Pontius Pilate questioned Jesus, he affirmed: My kingdom is not of this world . . . I came into the world to testify to the truth. In other words, we can’t find the truth in the values of this world.

Pilate scoffed and asked, without waiting for an answer: What is truth?

Happy are we, in the midst of all this bad news, to have been taught the truth of the Good News. We are more than the “people” of God: we are God’s children. As such, our destiny is to be holy as he is holy. We can say with Christ, our impeccable source and model: Take courage, little flock. I have overcome the world!