Saturday, March 15, 2014

The Two Movements of the Christian Life

Read Timothy 1:8-10

“For God has saved us, and given us a holy vocation.” Thus does Saint Paul present Christian life.

First, we are saved. That is to say we discover God’s love for us. Such a discovery sets us free from fear, liberates us from all those needs that lead us to choose evil. In salvation, we discover life not as a trial to be endured but as a gift to be opened.

Then, we are sent. That is to say we discover God’s mission for us, our vocation. God invites us to collaborate in the realisation of his loving plan for humanity. It is not enough that we should be the passive subjects of his love, God wants us to be active players, involved with God in bringing about the Kingdom of justice, peace and joy.

We must not forget this: vocation flows out of salvations, not vice versa. We are not saved because we follow Christ; rather, we follow Christ because we are saved. For example, I do not attend Mass on Sundays “so that” God will love me; rather, I attend Mass on Sundays “because” God loves me. In this slight change of perspective lies all the beauty of Christian life. All of its challenge, too.

In the Catholic, Orthodox and Anglican churches, we find three sacraments of initiation : baptism, confirmation and Eucharist.

Baptism is the sacrament of salvation. It is the sacred ritual through which we are plunged into the death of Christ in order to live with him forever. We become brothers and sisters of Jesus, children of the one Father. Our hearts are opened to his love.

Confirmation is the sacrament of vocation. It is the sacred ritual through which we are anointed by the Spirit, sent with Christ to bring the Good News to others by what we do, by what we say, by what we are.

The Eucharist – Mass – continually takes up these two movements: we taste God’s love and then are sent to share that love in the world. That is why we say the Eucharist is the source and summit of the Church’s life and mission.

One must breathe to stay alive. Breathing means not only taking air into our lungs, but also blowing that air back out into space. Both movements are essential. It is the same with Christian life: we must welcome God’s love in our hearts and then send it back into the world.

Every seven days, Sunday Mass gives us the time to breathe deeply and to rediscover that, indeed, “God has saved us” and “has given us a holy vocation.”

Saturday, March 8, 2014

A Cosmic Struggle

Read Romans 5 : 12-19

This first Sunday of Lent presents us with one of the central texts in all of Paul’s writings. In this passage of his letter to the Romans, Paul describes the cosmic battle between good and evil, Jesus representing the forces of good and Adam, those of evil.

It reminds me a bit of Star Wars, that famous series of films where the universe is represented as being sustained by a “force” which itself is composed of a luminous aspect and a “dark side.” Luke Skywalker, the hero of these films, must avoid giving in to the dark side of this “force” the way his father did. He must choose between these two aspects of the “force.”

This can be compared to the Christian understanding of God. Like the “force” in the movie, the God of Jesus-Christ sustains the universe with power. The cosmos is born out of the almighty will of God. But there are at least two major differences between the “force” of these fictitious films and the reality of God. First, God is not an impersonal “force,” but a loving strength, a compassionate presence. The “force” doesn’t care. God does. And – what is equally important to remember – there is no “dark side” to God. As Paul teaches us, God is nothing but light, mercy, love. It is in turning away from God, in rejecting his loving power, that we plunge ourselves into darkness and death.

This is what Adam did, according to the story that opens the Bible. By turning away from God, he plunged himself into darkness with all his descendants. He inaugurated a cycle of violence that, since that beginning, has characterized human history, a history in which we are all involved from the moment of our births. Adam’s refusal of God encompasses and represents all the refusals that will follow, including our own.

Yet, in the face of these refusals, the inexhaustible love and mercy of the One who holds the whole world in his hands endures. God sent his Son to reverse the cycle of violence inaugurated by Adam. This violence, this evil that weaves its dark veil over human history, cannot stand before the luminous presence of Christ. As Saint Paul says, “there is no comparison between the free gift of God and the fault.” Indeed, the gift of God overtakes the fault, forgives it, erases it, overcomes its deathly effect.

It remains for us to choose with whom we shall stand : with Adam, our proud, rebellious, sinful grand-father? Or with Jesus, our obedient, faithful, loving big brother? Unlike Luke Skywalker, we are not abandoned to ourselves in making this choice. God himself reaches out to us, giving us his Spirit, the power we need to choose life. During these fourty days, let us open our hearts to the Spirit, let us choose to live with Christ. This is my prayer for us all as we start Lent.