Archive for the ‘Spirituality’ Category

As is common with all systematic theologies—a particular truth is treated like a horse then ridden until the poor beast can’t go another plodding step, and then shot in the head.

What is true is that if we’re left totally to our own devices we’ll never come close to what God desires for us.  We’ll continue to operate in our fallen, egoistic way (“The World and all that is of it”; might makes right; I can figure out on my own what’s right and wrong [Tree of Knowledge thing]; if I just get the right formula and try harder I can make things work out for me, etc.) That is the broad road that leads to perpetual destruction.  However, because God is loving toward us his creatures he took the initiative to rescue us by seeking the lowest level–in becoming one of us and identifying with our predicament.  God doesn’t love us by beating the bejubus out of himself (the Son), rather he loves us so much that he’ll allow us to have our way with him by venting our anger and frustration and allowing us to kill that which we fear the most—our (mis)perception of a god who is opposed to us.  “I love you so much that I’d rather you killed me than that I should harm you.”  When we come to a place of trusting God we do so because we have had some experience of his trustworthy-ness.  We have begun to realize that this God really does have our best interest at heart.  He is so beautiful that even if he slays me—for whatever reason I cannot understand—I continue to trust that he always has in mind for me what is truly good and right.  Systematic theology always breaks down at this point because there is no reasonable explanation for this trust.  This kind of trust can only be experienced relationally.  Love cannot be weighed or decanted—only experienced, enjoyed, and possibly rejected out of distrust–which is the essence of fear.

When we cease from our fearful provision for ourselves (aka—Sin) then we have entered into “the mind of Christ”.  (Phil. 2:1-13)

(I guess I’ve made a good start at writing systematic theology….)


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If morality is simply following a written or commonly accepted code, then that is more like religion or conformity. In this sense morality makes life somewhat easier by keeping people’s actions within certain boundaries—societal “guardrails”. It’s a useful way of protecting ourselves from the aggressions of others.

I think the Pope Emeritus expressed the meaning of Christian spirituality well;

“Being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction.”

When we really do “encounter” The Person, then our entire perspective about what it is to live will be changed. That Person will affect us dramatically. Paul referred to this as “fruit of the Spirit”. That Spiritual fruit transcends “morality” and moral living. Personally, I think that perhaps the “bedrock” change is that my mystical encounter with Christ has allowed me to be more open and present with other people. I’m really beginning to understand that we’re all brothers, not just theoretically, but experientially. I’m beginning to understand and be able to practice (haltingly); “love one another just as I have loved you.”


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The entirety of creation is “recapitulated” in Christ;


3 Blessed is the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realms in Christ. 4 For he chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world that we may be holy and unblemished in his sight in love. 5 He did this by predestining us to adoption as his sons through Jesus Christ, according to the pleasure of his will – 6 to the praise of the glory of his grace that he has freely bestowed on us in his dearly loved Son. 7 In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace 8 that he lavished on us in all wisdom and insight. 9 He did this when he revealed to us the secret of his will, according to his good pleasure that he set forth in Christ, 10 toward the administration of the fullness of the times, to head up all things in Christ – the things in heaven and the things on earth. 11 In Christ we too have been claimed as God’s own possession, since we were predestined according to the one purpose of him who accomplishes all things according to the counsel of his will 12 so that we, who were the first to set our hope on Christ, would be to the praise of his glory. 13 And when you heard the word of truth (the gospel of your salvation) – when you believed in Christ – you were marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit, 14 who is the down payment of our inheritance, until the redemption of God’s own possession, to the praise of his glory.

Jesus didn’t leave it to our “choosing” when it comes to summing all things into Him;

“When I am lifted up I will draw all people unto myself.”

Paul understood what Jesus meant by that and it is why he was able to write in Romans 8;

“There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”

—-and there’s just nobody who isn’t in the Word by whom all things are made.



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 “This is the doctrine of vocation. God works through people, in their ordinary stations of life to which He has called them, to care for His creation. In this way, He cares for everyone–Christian and non-Christian–whom He has given life. Luther puts it even more strongly: Vocations are “masks of God.” On the surface, we see an ordinary human face–our mother, the doctor, the teacher, the waitress, our pastor–but, beneath the appearances, God is ministering to us through them. God is hidden in human vocations.”

Gene Edward Veith

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Thomas Merton

I.  Love as a creative force-and its corruptions

   Man has lost Dante’s vision of that “love which moves the sun and the other stars,” and in so doing he has lost the power to find meaning in his world. Not that he has not been able to understand the physical world better. The dis­appearance of the simple medieval cosmogony upon which Dante built his structure of hell, purgatory, and heaven, has enabled man to break out of the limitations imposed upon his science by that ancient conception. And now he is pre­pared to fly out into those depths of space which terrified Pascal-and which continue to terrify anyone who is still human. Yet, though man has acquired the power to do al­most anything, he has at the same time lost the ability to orient his life toward a spiritual goal by the things that he does. He has lost all conviction that he knows where he is going and what he is doing, unless he can manage to plunge into some collective delusion which promises happiness (sometime in the future) to those who will have learned to use the implements he has now discovered.

 Man’s unhappiness seems to have grown in proportion to his power over the exterior world. And anyone who claims to have a glib explanation of this fact had better take care that he too is not the victim of a delusion. For after all, this should not necessarily be so. God made man the ruler of the earth, and all science worthy of the name participates in some way in the wisdom and providence of the Creator. But the trouble is that unless the works of man’s wisdom, knowledge and power participate in the merciful love of God, they are without real value for the world and for man. They do nothing to make man happy and they do not mani­fest in the world the glory of God.

 Man’s greatest dignity, his most essential and peculiar power, the most intimate secret of his humanity is his ca­pacity to love. This power in the depths of man’s soul stamps him in the image and likeness of God. Unlike other creatures in the world around us, we have access to the in­most sanctuary of our own being. We can enter into our­selves as into temples of freedom and of light. We can open the eyes of our heart and stand face to face with God our Father. We can speak to Him and hear Him answer. He tells us not merely that we are called to be men and to rule our earth, but that we have an even more exalted vocation than this. We are His sons. We are called to be godlike beings, and, more than that, we are in some sense called to be “gods.” “Is it not written in the law, I said you are gods-­and they are gods to whom the words of God are spoken?” (John 10:34-35; Ps. 81:6).

   This vocation to be sons of God means that we must learn to love as God Himself loves. For God is love, and it is by loving as He loves that we become perfect as our heavenly Father is perfect (Matt. 5:48). Hence, while being called to govern and cultivate the world that God has given us, we are called at the same time to love everything and everyone in it. Nor is this love a matter of mere sentimental complacency. It has a dynamic spiritual meaning, for by this love we are called to redeem and transform the world in that same power which raised up Christ from the dead (Eph. 1:17-23). That power is the infinite love of the Father for His Son.

Love then is not only our own salvation and the key to the meaning of our own existence, but it is also the key to the meaning of the entire creation of God. It is true, after all, that our whole life is a participation in that cosmic liturgy of “the love which moves the sun and the other stars.”

But what is love and how do we come to love as sons of God? Surely love is everywhere; man cannot live without it. If everybody loves, or tries to love, why is it that we are not made happy and redeemed by all this constant effort? The answer is that all that seems to be love is not so in reality.

The reality of love is judged, then, by its power to help man get beyond himself, to renew himself in transcending his present limitations. Though the function of natural love is to perpetuate man in time, the function of spiritual love is much greater still-to give man possession of eternity. This it does not merely by “saving man’s soul” as an indi­vidual, but by establishing in time the eternal kingdom of God. The function of love is to build this spiritual kingdom of unity and peace, and to make man not only the exploiter of creation but truly its spiritual head and king.

    A love that merely enables man to “enjoy himself,” to re­main at peace in a life of inert comfort and to bring into being replicas of himself is not to be regarded as true love. It does not represent a renewal, a progress, a step forward in building the kingdom of God.

True love leads a man to fulfillment, not by drawing things to himself but by forcing him to transcend himself and to become something greater than himself. True spiritual love takes the isolated individual, exacts from him labor, sacrifice, and the gift of himself. It demands that he “lose his life” in order to find it again on a higher level-in Christ.

All true love is a death and a resurrection in Christ. It has one imperious demand: that all individual members of Christ give themselves completely to one another and to the Church, lose themselves in the will of Christ and in the good of other men, in order to die to their own will and their own interests and “rise again” as other Christs. A love that does not tend to this transformation does not fulfill the exacting require­ments of true spiritual love, and consequently lacks the power to develop and perpetuate man in his spirituality.

All true love is therefore closely associated with three fundamentally human strivings: with creative work, with sacrifice, and with contemplation. Where these three are present there is reliable evidence of spiritual life, at least in some inchoate form. There is reliable evidence of love. And the most important of the three is sacrifice.

Man’s essential mystery is his vocation to be the son of God; but one of the deepest aspects of this mystery is pre­cisely the fact that the fundamental temptation, the one to which Adam owes his fall, is the temptation to be “like unto God.”

    There is a singular necessity for man to be tried in that which is deepest and most essential about himself. And if we understand the meaning of this testing, we will under stand the vital importance of love in the life of man. In the story of the fall of Adam, we see the tempter apparently sug­gesting that man attain to what he already possessed. Eritis sicut dii. But man was already “like unto God.” For in the very act of creation God had said: “Let us make man to our image and likeness” (Gen. 1:26). Satan offered man what he already had, but he offered it with the appearance of something that he did not have. That is to say, he offered man the divine likeness as if it were something more than God had already given him, as if it were something that could be his apart from a gift of God, apart from the will of God, or even against the will of God.

Satan offered man the power to be like God without loving Him. And in this consisted what we call the “fall” and “original sin”: that man elected to be “like unto a god” and indeed a god of his own, without loving God his Father and without seeking participation, by love, in the life and power and wisdom of God who is Love.

God wished man His son to be truly divine, to share in His own wisdom, power, providence, justice and kingship. And all this depended on one thing: the love by which alone man could participate in the divine life of his Father. Satan offered man a pseudo-divine life in a wisdom, knowl­edge, prudence, power, justice and kingship which had some reality in them, indeed, but which were only shadows and caricatures of the reality which is contained in and depends on God who is Love.

    Love, then, is the bond between man and the deepest reality of his life. Without it man is isolated, alienated from himself, alienated from other men, separated from God, from truth, wisdom and strength. By love man enters into contact first with his own deepest self, then with his brother, who is his other self, and finally with the wisdom and power of God, the ultimate Reality. But love comes to man in the first place from God. Love is the gift which seals man’s being with its fullness and its perfection. Love first makes man fully human, then gives him his divine stature, making him a son and a minister of God.

So necessary is love in the life of man that he cannot be altogether without it. But a love that does not seek reality only frustrates man in his inmost being, and this love that does not act as a bond between a man and reality is called sin. All sin is simply a perversion of that love which is the deepest necessity of man’s being: a misdirection of love, a gravitation toward something that does not exist, a bond with unreality.

The difference between real and unreal love is not to be sought in the intensity of the love, or in its subjective sincer­ity, or in its articulateness. These three are very valuable qualities when they exist in a love that is real. But they are very dangerous when they are associated with a love that is fictitious. In neither case are they any sure indication of the nature of the love to which they belong, though it is true that one might expect man to feel an intense, sincere and articulate love only for a real object and not for an unreal one.

The trouble is that love is something quite other than the mere disposition of a subject confronted with an object. In fact, when love is a mere subject-object relationship, it is not real love at all. And therefore it matters little to inquire whether the object of one’s love is real or not, since if our love is only our impulsion towards an “object” or a “thing,” it is not yet fully love.

    The reality of love is determined by the relationship itself which it establishes. Love is only possible between persons as persons. That is to say, if I love you, I must love you as a person and not as a thing. And in that case my relationship to you is not merely the relationship of a subject to an ob­ject, but it is analogous to my relationship to myself. It is, so to speak, a relationship of a subject to a subject. This strange-sounding expression is only another way of saying some­thing very familiar: I must know how to love you as myself.     

     There might be a temptation, under the influence of modern philosophies, to misunderstand this subjective qual­ity in love. It by no means signifies that one questions the real existence of the person loved, or that one doubts the reality of the relationship established with him by love. Such an illusion would indeed make Christian love impos­sible, or at best only a matter of fantasy. On the contrary, the subjectivity essential to love does not detract from ob­jective reality but adds to it. Love brings us into a relation­ship with an objectively existing reality, but because it is love it is able to bridge the gap between subject and object and commune in the subjectivity of the one loved. Only love can effect this kind of union and give this kind of knowl-edge-by-identity with the beloved-and the concrete interiority and mystery of this knowledge of the beloved is not adequately described by the scholastic term “connaturality.”

When we love another “as an object,” we refuse, or fail, to pass over into the realm of his own spiritual reality, his personal identity. Our contact with him is inhibited by re­moteness and by a kind of censorship which excludes his per­sonality and uniqueness from our consideration. We are not interested in him as “himself but only as another specimen of the human race.

     To love another as an object is to love him as “a thing,” as a commodity which can be used, exploited, enjoyed and then cast off. But to love another as a person we must be­gin by granting him his own autonomy and identity as a person. We have to love him for what he is in himself, and not for what he is to us. We have to love him for his own good, not for the good we get out of him. And this is impossi­ble unless we are capable of a love which “transforms” us, so to speak, into the other person, making us able to see things as he sees them, love what he loves, experience the deeper realities of his own life as if they were our own. Without sacrifice, such a transformation is utterly impossible. But unless we are capable of this kind of transformation “into the other” while remaining ourselves, we are not yet capable of a fully human existence. Yet this capacity is the key to our divine sonship also. For it is above all in our relationship with God that love, considered as a subject-object relation­ship, is utterly out of the question.

It is true that we have to deal with God most of the time as if He were “an object,” that is to say, confronting Him in concepts which present Him objectively to us. Yet, as every­one knows, we only really come to know God when we find Him “by love” hidden “within ourselves”-that is to say, “by connaturality.” Yet, paradoxically, we cannot find God “within ourselves” unless we go “out of ourselves” by sacri­fice. Only a sacrificial love which enables us to let go of ourselves completely and empty ourselves of our own will can enable us to find Christ in the place formerly occupied by our own selfhood. And in this sacrifice we cease, in a cer­tain manner, to be the subject of an act of knowing and become the one we know by love.

    When man acts according to the temptation of Satan to be “like unto God,” he places himself as the unique subject in the midst of a world of objects He alone is a “person,” he alone feels, enjoys, thinks, wills, desires, commands. The manifestation* of apparent thought, feeling, and desire on the part of others are of little or no concern to him, except insofar as they represent response to his own acts. He never “becomes” the other. On the contrary, the people around him are only objective manifestations of what goes on sub­jectively in himself. Hence his relationship with them is, if you like, a relationship with another self, yes, but only in the sense of an added self, a supplementary self, not in the sense of a different self. The selves of others are nothing except insofar as they are replicas of himself. And when this is carried to its logical extreme (as it is, for example, by the to­talitarian dictator), then society at large is made over into the image of the leader. The individuals in such a society cease to have any purpose except that of reflecting and con­firming the leader’s megalomaniac idea of  himself.

 Man cannot live without love, and if the love is not genuine, then he must have some substitute-a corruption of real love. These corruptions are innumerable. Some of them are so obviously corrupt that they present no problem to the thinker. The only problem is that of avoiding them in actual behavior. Those which present a problem do so be­cause they can seem, and claim to be, genuine love. These false forms of love base their claim on appeal to an ideal, and their falsity consists precisely in the fact that they tend to sacrifice persons to concepts. And since modem thought has deliberately renounced any effort to distinguish between what exists only in the mind and what exists outside the mind (dismissing the question as irrelevant), love has be­come more and more mental and abstract. It has become, in fact, a flight from reality and from that interpersonal rela­tionship which constitutes its very essence.

    This flight from the personal to the purely mental level occurs in various ways, two of which can be taken as most typical of our time and of our society. One is what we might call a romantic or liberal approach to love; the other, a legalist or authoritarian approach.

What we call the romantic approach is that love of the good which sacrifices the persons and the values that are pres­ent and actual, to other values which are always out of reach. Here a shiftless individualism dignifies itself as the quest for an elusive ideal, whether in politics or art or religion or merely in one’s relations with other men. Such love is appar­ently obsessed with “perfection.” It passes from one object to another, examining it superficially, playing with it, tempt­ing it, being tempted by it, and then letting go of it because it is not “the right object.” Such love is therefore always dis­carding the real and actual in order to go on to something else, because the real and actual are never quite right, never good enough to be worthy of love.

Such love is really only an escape from love, because it re­fuses the obligation of entering into a real relationship which would render love at the same time possible and obligatory. Because it hates the idea of obligation, it cannot fully face even the possibility of such a relationship. Its ro­manticism is a justification of flight. It claims that it will only begin to love when it has found a worthy object- whether it be a person who can “really be loved,” or an ideal that can really be believed in, or an experience of God that is definitive and binding.

    In its liberal aspect, this love justifies itself by claiming to dispense everyone else from responsibility to love. It issues a general permission for all to practice the same irresponsibil­ity under the guise of freedom. Romantic liberalism thus de­clares an open season on “perfect objects,” and proceeds comfortably to neglect persons and realities which are present and actual, and which, in all their imperfection, still offer the challenge and the opportunity of genuine love.

One who attempts this romantic and liberal fight may en­tirely avoid commitment to any object, cause, or person; or he may, on the other hand, associate himself with other men in dedication to some social or private purpose. But when he does this his idealism tends to become either an excuse for inertia or a source of repeated demands upon his associates. Such demands are implicit accusations of their unworthiness, and invitations to become more worthy under threat of being rejected. The unworthy object is treated with long-suffering attempts at forgiveness and understanding; but each heroic effort in this direction makes the object more and more of an object. And such, indeed, is the purpose of “love” in this context.

One discovers, on investigation, that this liberal idealism is in fact a way of defending oneself against real involve­ment in an interpersonal relationship and of keeping other persons subdued and humiliated in the status of objects.

Communal life in this event becomes a shelter which, by providing an all-embracing cover of idealistic vagueness, enables us to take refuge from the present “thou” in the comforting generalizations of the less menacing “they.”

The authoritarian and legalist corruption of love is also a refusal to love on the ground that the object is not worthy. But here, instead of undertaking a vast exploration in quest of the worthy object (which can never be found), the pres­ence of the unworthy object becomes the excuse for a tyran­nical campaign for worthiness, a campaign to which there is practically no end.

    The legalist is perfectly convinced that he is right. In fact, he alone is right. Serene in his own subjectivity, he claims to make everyone else conform to his idea of what is right, obey his idea of the law, and carry out his policies. But since what is loved is the law or the state or the party or the policy, persons are treated as objects that exist in order to have the law enforced upon them, or to serve the state, or to carry out the policy.

Here the objectification of personality and of all spiritual values is carried to the extreme. Here is no longer any ro­mantic compromise with personality as an ideal. Here what matters is the law and the state-or the dialectical process in history. To these the person must always be sacrificed, and there is no question of ever considering him as a person at all except hypothetically. Men are treated as objects who might be capable of being considered as persons if the law should ever come to be perfectly enforced, or if the state should come to be all powerful, or if society should come to be perfectly socialized.

The romantic and liberal error seeks the perfect person, the perfect cause, the perfect idea, the perfect experience. The authoritarian error seeks the perfect society, the perfect enforcement of its own law, in expectation of that perfect situation which will permit objects to turn into persons. Until then, love is a matter of enforcing the law, or stepping up production, and the kindest thing to all concerned is to exterminate everyone who stands in the way of the policy of the moment.

     Two things are especially to be noticed when this authori­tarian temper is pushed to its logical extreme and becomes totalitarian. Under a totalitarian regime, it is frankly con­sidered more efficient to discount all individual and personal values and to reduce everyone to a condition of extreme objectivization. Whereas the romantic and liberal attitude is that personality should be reverenced at least in theory and as an ideal, here personality is regarded frankly as a danger, and its potentialities for free initiative are brutally discouraged. Not only is man treated as an object in himself, but he is reduced to servitude to material and economic processes, not for his own good but for the sake of “the state” or the “revolution.”

This objectivization is justified, implicitly or explicitly, by doctrines which hold either that most races of men are in fact sub-human, or that man has not yet attained his human stature because of economic alienation. In either event, the question of right, of human dignity and other spiritual val­ues of man is altogether denied any consideration.

For a Nazi to treat a Jew as a man, for a Communist to treat a counter-revolutionary as a human being would not only be a weakness but an unpardonable betrayal of the cause. This is all the more cogent when we realize that at any time, any faithful member of the party is liable without reason and without warning to be designated as a counter­revolutionary and thus forced outside the human pale, as something execrable beyond the power of word or thought. All this in order to pay homage to the collective myth. Such is the dignity and greatness of man when he has become “like unto a god.”

In these two corruptions of love, error reaches out to af­fect everything this love attempts to accomplish. For a ro­mantic, “sacrifice” is, in fact, a word which justifies the re­jection of the other person as an “imperfect object” in order to pursue the search of an abstract ideal. “Contemplation” becomes a subjective day-dream concerned only with fan­tasies and abstractions and protected by the stern exclusion of all real claims upon our heart.

For an authoritarian, “sacrifice,” “contemplation” and “work” all alike are expressed in ruthless enforcement of the law above all. Everyone, oneself as well as others, must be offered up on the altar of present policy. No other value counts, nothing else is worthy of a moment’s concern.

We have seen how these two false forms of love operate in man’s secular life. We shall consider, in detail, how they work in the life of the Christian.

II .  Love as a religious force-and its corruptions

    When Christ founded His Church and gave to men His “new commandment” that we should love one another as He has loved us, He made it clear that the Church could never be a mere aggregation of objects, or a collectivity made up of depersonalized individuals.

In all His dealings with men on earth, the Lord acted and spoke in such a way that He appealed always to the deepest and most inviolate recesses of each person. Even those who met Him in the most casual contacts, who cried out to Him from the roadside, asking His help, would be brought before Him and addressed directly, without hedging: “What dost thou ask? Canst thou believe?” Even a woman who se­cretly touched the hem of His garment when a thick crowd pressed against Him on all sides was called to speak to Him face to face. She had appealed to Him secretly, perhaps with an intention that had something in it half magical, re­garding Him perhaps as a holy thing, a holy force, rather than as a person. But the power that He had felt go out from Him was the power of His love, the power that had been appealed to in His Person, and that demanded to be recognized in a dialogue of “Thou and I.”

    The Church is, in fact, the united Body of all those who have entered into this dialogue with Christ, those who have been called by their name, or better still, by a new name which no one knows but He who gave it and he who has received it. It is the Body not only of those who know Christ, who have heard of Him, or who have thought about Him: it is the Body of those who know Him in all His mys­tical dimensions (Eph. 3:18) and who, in union with one another and “all the saints,” know the charity of Christ which surpasses all understanding. It is the Body of those who are “filled unto all the fullness of God” (Eph. 3:19). For the Church is the pleroma of Christ, the “fullness of Him who is filled all in all” (Eph. 2:23).

This mysterious expression of St. Paul points to the “sac­rament” of the Church as the continuation of Christ’s in­carnation on earth, as a society which is more than any so­cial organization, a spiritual and supernatural unity whose members form one mystical Person, Christ the Lord.

Christ dwells in each one of His members just as truly as He dwells in the whole Church, and that is why He is said to be “all in all.” Each one is, in a certain sense, Christ, in­sofar as Christ lives in him. And yet the whole Church is one Christ.

    Each member of the Church, however, “is Christ” only insofar as he is able to transcend his own individual limita­tions and rise above himself to attain to the level of the Christ-life which belongs to the entire Church. This mys­tery of plurality in unity is a mystery of love. For “in Christ” we who are distinct individuals, with distinct characters, backgrounds, races, countries, and even living in different ages of the world, are all brought together and raised above our limited selves in a unity of mystical love which makes us “One”-“One Body and one Spirit. . . . One Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all who is above all and through all and in us all” (Eph. 4:4 – 6). “For by Christ we have access both in one Spirit to the Father” (ibid., 2:18). “That they all may be one as Thou Father in Me and I in Thee, that they may be one in Us” (John 17:21).

Those who are one with Christ are also one with one an­other. But the New Testament shows us how intransigent the Apostles were in demanding, without compromise, that this unity be maintained on the highest and most personal level. It is of course possible for a human being who is not in the fullest sense a person to be a living and holy member of the Church-as in the case of children who have not yet attained the age of reason. But it is by no means the ideal of the Church that her members should remain at this mental and spiritual level all their lives. On the contrary, St. Paul teaches that spiritual immaturity is equivalent to living on the level of “carnal” men, which is a level of dissension and division.

The unity of the Mystical Body depends on its members attaining to maturity in Christ, that is to say, achieving the full stature of spiritual manhood, of personality and respon­sibility and of freedom, in Christ Jesus (see I Cor. 1 and 2, Eph. 3:13 ff., etc). Failure to attain to this maturity means inability to “receive the Spirit of Christ” or to “judge the things of the Spirit.” Consequently it means failure to rise above the limitations of individuals or small groups, and inability to meet others on a transcendent plane where all are one in Christ while retaining their individual differences.


    One who is not mature, not fully a person “in Christ,” cannot understand the real nature of the mystery of Christ as a union of many in one, because he is not yet able to live on the level of Christ’s love. Such love is foolishness to him, though he may imagine he understands it. It remains a closed book because he is still not fully a person and he is still not able to enter deeply into that dialogue of love in which he finds himself identified with his brother in the unanimity and love, the “we” which forms the Church, the Mystical Body of Christ.

Those of us today who seek to be Christians, and who have not yet risen to the level of full maturity in Christ, tend unfortunately to take one or other of the corrupt forms of love described above for the action of the Spirit of God and the love of Christ. It is this failure to attain to full maturity in love which keeps divisions alive in the world.

There is a “romantic” tendency in some Christians-a tendency which seeks Christ not in love of those flesh-and-blood brothers with whom we live and work, but in some as yet unrealized ideal of “brotherhood.” It is always a roman­tic evasion to turn from the love of people to the love of love itself: to love mankind more than individual men, to love “brotherhood” and “unity” more than one’s brothers, neighbors, and associates.

This corruption of love can be romantic also in its love of God. It is no longer Christ Himself that is loved and sought, but perhaps an objectivized “experience” of Christ, a degree of prayer, a mystical state. What is loved then ceases to be Christ, but the subjective reactions which are aroused in me by the supposed presence of Christ in thought or love or prayer.

The romantic tendency leads to a substitution of aestheticism, or false mysticism, or quietism, for genuine faith and love, and what it seeks in the Church is not so much reality as a protection against responsibility. Failing to establish a true dialogue with our brother in Christ, this fallacy thwarts all efforts at real unity and cooperation among Christians.

    It is not necessary to point out that the danger of substi tuting legalism for Christian love also exists. This danger is perhaps even more actual than that of the romantic error, and tends to become increasingly so in a totalitarian age. Fortunately, the tenible excesses of totalitarian authoritari-anism are there to stimulate in us a healthy reaction and a return to the liberty of the sons of God.

The Church must have her structure of law and discipline, like any other visible society of men on earth. In heaven there will be no Law for the elect but God Himself, who is Charity. In heaven, obedience will be entirely swallowed up in love. On earth, unfortunately, not all are able to live without a Law, though as St. Paul says, there should in real­ity be no need of a Law for the saints. Not all are able to rise to that level of love which, in all things, is a fulfilment of the Law and therefore needs no Law (Gal. 5:13-23).

It is therefore not “legalism” to insist that we must all ful­fil the duties of our state and of our proper vocations with all fidelity and in a spirit of humble obedience. There exists in the Church a juridical authority, a hierarchy of ministers through whom the Holy Spirit manifests the will of God in an easily recognizable way. To reject this authority and still claim to love God and the unity of His Church would be a manifest illusion. It has not infrequently happened in the past that some who have believed themselves inspired by charity have in fact rejected obedience and thus done much to dismember the unity of the Body of Christ.

    Nothing could be more tragic than a pseudo-mystical en­thusiasm which mistakes strong emotion for the voice of God, and on the basis of such emotion claims a “spiritual” authority to break away from communion with the rest of the faithful and to despise legitimate authority. This is not that strong sacrificial love of God which rises above individual interests and cements divergent groups in a tran­scendent unity. Such errors savor of the romanticism we have discussed above.

Legalism, on the other hand, is another weak form of love which in the end produces dissension, destroys communion, and for all its talk about unity, tends by its narrowness and rigidity to create divisions among men. For legalism, refus­ing to see truth in anybody else’s viewpoint, and rejecting human values a priori in favor of the abstract letter of the law, is utterly incapable of “rising above” its own limitations and meeting another on a superior level. Hence the legalis­tic Christian (like the legalistic Jew who caused so much trouble to St. Paul), instead of broadening his view to com­prehend the views of another, insists on bringing everyone else into the stifling confines of his own narrowness.

Legalism is not synonymous with conservatism or tradi­tionalism. It can equally well be found in those social-minded Christians who, by their contact with Communism in the movement for social justice, have unwittingly con­tracted a spirit of totalitarian narrowness and intolerance. The temptation to legalism arises precisely when the appar­ent holiness of a cause and even its manifest Tightness blinds us to the holiness of individuals and persons. We tend to forget that charity comes first and is the only Christian “cause” that has the right to precedence over every other.

Legalism in practice makes law and discipline more im­portant than love itself. For the legalist, law is more worthy of love than the persons for whose benefit the law was insti­tuted. Discipline is more important than the good of souls to whom discipline is given, not as an end in itself but as a means to their growth in Christ.

    The authoritarian Christian does not love his brother so much as he loves the cause or the policy which he wants his brother to follow. For him, love of the brother consists, not in helping his brother to grow and mature in love as an individual person loved by Christ, but in making him “toe the line” and fulfil exterior obligations, without any regard for the interior need of his soul for love, understanding and communion. All too often, for the legalist, love of his brother means punishing his brother, in order to force him to become “what he ought to be.” Then, when this is achieved, perhaps the brother can be loved. But until then he is not really “worthy of love.”

This is in reality a fatal perversion of the Christian spirit. Such “love” is the enemy of the Cross of Christ because it flatly contradicts the teaching and the mercy of Christ. It treats man as if he were made for the sabbath. It loves con­cepts and despises persons. It is the kind of love that says corban (see Mark 7:9-13) and makes void the command­ment of God “in order to keep the traditions of men” (ibid.).

The reason why this legalism is a danger is precisely be­cause it can easily be a perversion of true obedience as well as a perversion of love. Authoritarianism has a way of be­coming so obsessed with the concept of obedience that it ends by disobeying the will of God and of the Church in all that is most dear to the Heart of Christ. It is the obedi­ence of the son who says, “Yes, I go” and afterwards does not go to carry out the command of his father. The obses­sion with law and obedience as concepts and abstractions ends by reducing the love of God, and of God’s will, to a purely arbitrary fiction.

    “Obedience” and “discipline” alone cannot guarantee the unity of the Body of Christ. A living organism cannot be held together by merely mechanical and exterior means. It must be unified by its own interior life-principle. The life of the Church is divine Love itself, the Holy Spirit. Obedience and discipline are necessary to prevent us from separating ourselves, unconsciously, from the guidance of the Invisible Spirit. But merely bringing people to submit to authority by external compulsion is not sufficient to unite them in a vital union of love with Christ in His Church. Obedience with­out love produces only dead works, external conformity, not interior communion.

Doubtless there are very few Christians who, in actual fact, carry this legalism to a dangerous or scandalous ex­treme. But there remains a taint of legalism in the spiritual­ity of a great many modern Christians, especially among religious. It is so easy to satisfy oneself with external con­formity to precepts instead of living the full and integral life of charity which religious rules are intended to promote.

Here the danger is not one of a malicious and definitive perversion of the Christian spirit, but rather of spiritual im­maturity. But the danger of this immaturity must neverthe­less not be despised, for, as we have said, it frustrates the spontaneous and fruitful growth of charity in individuals, in religious communities and in the Church herself.

A sincere and invincible ignorance may often be the cause of a great deal of this immaturity: the ignorance of those who lead their Christian lives according to superficial for­mulas that are poorly understood.

For a great many religious of the present day, ‘love” and “obedience” are so perfectly equated with one another that they become identical. Love is obedience and obedience is love. In practice, this means that love is cancelled out and all that remains is obedience-plus a “pure intention” which by juridical magic transforms it into “love.”

    The identification of obedience with love proceeds from a superficial understanding of such dicta as: “Love is a union of wills,” “Love seeks to do the will of the beloved.” These sayings are all very true. But they become untrue when in practice our love becomes the love of an abstract “will,” of a juridical decree, rather than the love of a Person-and of the persons in whom He dwells by His Spirit!

A distinction will be useful here. To say that love (whether it be the love of men or the love of God) is a union of wills, does not mean that a mere external con­formity of wills is love. The conformity of two wills brought into line with each other through the medium of an ex­ternal regulation may perhaps clear the way for love, but it is not yet love. Love is not a mere mathematical equation or abstract syllogism. Even with the best and most sincere of in­tentions, exterior conformity with a regulation cannot be made, by itself, to constitute a union of wills in love. Why? Because unless “union of wills” means something concrete, a union of hearts, a union of spirits, a communion between persons, it is not a real enough union to constitute love.

A communion between persons implies interiority and depth. It involves the whole being of each person-the mind, the heart, the feelings, the deepest aspiration of the spirit itself. Such union manifestly excludes revolt, and de­liberate mutual rejection. But it also presupposes individual differences-it safeguards the autonomy and character of each as an inviolate and solitary person. It even respects the inevitable ambivalences found in the purest of friendships. And when we observe the real nature of such communion, we see that it can really never be brought about merely by discipline and submission to authority.

    The realm of obedience and of regulation, however great its value, however crucial its importance, is something so entirely different that it does little to effect this personal com­munion one way or the other. It merely removes external obstacles to this communion. But the communion itself im­plies much more than mere submission or agreement to some practical imperative. Communion means mutual un­derstanding, mutual acceptance, not only in exterior acts to be carried out, but in regard to the inviolate interiority and subjectivity of those who commune with one another. Love not only accepts what the beloved desires, but, above all, it pays the homage of its deepest interior assent to what he is. From this everything else follows, for, as we know, the Chris­tian is Christ.

Hence, as the Gospel teaches us (Matt. 25:31-46), a Christian loves not simply by carrying out commands issued by Christ, in heaven, in regard to this “object” which hap­pens to be a fellow Christian. The Christian loves his brother because the brother “is Christ.” He seeks the mind of the Church because the Church “is Christ.” He unites himself in the worship of the Church because it is the wor­ship which Christ offers to His Father. His whole life is lived in the climate of warmth and energy and love and fruitful-ness which prevades the whole Church and every member of the Church, because the Church is a Body filled with its own life-filled with the Spirit of Christ.

    A good example of the true climate of Christian obedi­ence, a climate most favorable to the growth of love, is found in the Rule of St. Benedict. Benedict of Nursia is not only a lawgiver. More important still is the fact that he is a loving Father. The Rule opens with a characteristically Christian invitation to a dialogue of love between persons, and it is this dialogue which, on every page, elevates Bene­dictine obedience to the level of charity. Love is the motive for monastic obedience, not love as an abstract and lifeless “intention,” but love flourishing in a warm and concrete contact of persons who know, who un­derstand, and who revere one another.      

    Here obedience is not for the sake of the law but for the sake of Christ. It is not just “supernaturalized” in the sense of being mentally “of­fered up.” It is totally transfigured by a faith which sees that Christ lives and acts in the personal relationship, the mutual respect and love, which form the bond between the spiritual father and his spiritual son. Each, in fact, reveres Christ in the other. Each realizes that what matters is not the exact carrying out of an abstract and formal decree that has no concern for individual cases, but that the important thing is this relationship, which is a union in the Holy Spirit. It is for the sake of this sabbath of monastic peace that the Rule is written. And the sabbath itself exists for the men who keep the Rule.

Christ came not to destroy the Law. But neither did He come merely to enforce it. He came to fulfil the Law. Everyone knows that this “fulfilment” by Christ means more than that He simply carried out the Law in a way that would not have been possible for everyone else. That, of course, is part of the meaning. Christ satisfied all the exigen­cies of the Law by “blotting out the handwriting of the de­cree (the Law) which was contrary to us. And He hath taken the same out of the way, fastening it to the Cross” (Col. 2:14). But more than that, He Himself, in His very Person, is the fulfilment of the Law. That is to say, Christ in us, Christ in His Church, dwelling in the world in the unity of charity that makes men one in Him: this is the ful­filment of the Law.


     The community of the primitive Church after Pentecost, in which all the believers were of one heart and of one soul -this was Christ on earth, and the fulfilment of the Law.  To attempt to satisfy the exigencies of the Law by a quan­tity of ritual acts and multiple observances, to abide by the countless regulations and decrees of the Torah, this was a futile and hopeless task, rendered all the more ridiculous by the fact that Christ had already “emptied” all these things of their content by dying on the Cross and rising from the dead. Indeed, to return to all these practices was to return to servitude under the “elements of this world,” and St. Paul rightly became angry with his “senseless Galatians” who had been “bewitched so that they should not obey the truth” (Gal. 3:1).

Obsession with the works of the Law is, then, disobedi­ence to the truth, and a practical contempt for the Cross of Christ (ibid.). Obviously the Christian has to be rich in good works, must bring forth fruit. But how does he bring forth fruit? By “remaining in Christ and in the love of Christ” (John 15:1-8). The community of the Church and the life of the Church is then Christ in the world, and the acts of that community are the acts of Christ.

    The Christian who no longer has to worry about servitude to the works of the Law need have but one concern: to re­main in the community of the faithful, to remain in that love and warmth and spiritual light which pervade the holy society of the Church, to unite himself in simplicity with the holy yet ordinary lives of his brethren, their faith, their worship and their love-this is all. For to live thus, united with the brethren by love, is to live in Christ who has ful­filled the Law. “They were persevering in the doctrine of the apostles and in the communication of the breaking of bread and in prayers . . . and all that were believers were together and had all things in common. Their possessions and goods they sold and divided them to all according as every one had need. And continuing daily with one accord in the temple and breaking bread from house to house, they took their meat with gladness and simplicity of heart, praising God and having favor with all the people” (Acts 2:42-47).

Christ commanded His disciples to love one another, and this commandment summed up all of His will and con­tained everything else necessary for salvation.

This was not, however, intended to be another com­mandment of the same kind as the Decalogue-something difficult to be done, a duty to be performed in order to satisfy the demands of God. This is an entirely different kind of commandment. It is like the commandment by which God says, “Let there be light,” or says to man, “Stand up, live, be My son.” It is not a demand for this or that work, it is a word of life, a creative word, making man into a new being, making his society into a new creation.

The command to love creates a new world in Christ. To obey that command is not merely to carry out a routine duty; it is to enter into life and to continue in life. To love is not merely righteousness, it is transformation from bright­ness to brightness as by the Spirit of the Lord.

Here, of course, love and obedience are inseparable, not in the sense that obedience is coextensive with love, but in the sense that he who loves fulfills all the commands of the law by loving. To obey is not necessarily to love, but to love is necessarily to obey.

    Why does God desire this love from men? Because by it His mercy and His glory are manifested in the world, through the unity of the faithful in Christ. God desires the unity of the Church in order that “men may see what is the dispensation of the mystery which hath been hidden from eternity in God who created all things. That the mani­fold wisdom of God may be made known to the principali­ties and powers in the heavenly places through the Church” (Eph. 3:9-10).

Love is the key to the meaning of life. It is at the same time transformation in Christ and the discovery of Christ. As we grow in love and in unity with those who are loved by Christ (that is to say, all men), we become more and more capable of apprehending and obscurely grasping something of the tremendous reality of Christ in the world, Christ in ourselves, and Christ in our fellow man.

The transcendent work of Christian love is also at every moment a work of faith: not only faith in dogmas proposed to our obedient minds by holy Church, not only faith in ab­stract propositions, but faith in the present reality of Christ, faith in the living dialogue between our soul and Christ, faith in the Church of Christ as the one great and central reality which gives meaning to the cosmos.

But what does this faith imply? Here again the familiar phrase “seeing Christ in my brother” is subject to a sadly superficial interpretation. How many Christians there are, especially priests and religious, who do not hesitate to assert that this involves a sort of mental sleight-of-hand, by which we deftly do away with our neighbor in all his concreteness, his individuality, his personality with its gifts and limita­tions, and replace him by a vague and abstract presence of Christ

    Are we not able to see that by this pitiful subterfuge we end up by trying to love, not Christ in our brother, but Christ instead of our brother? It is this, in fact, which ex­plains the painful coldness and incapacity for love that are sometimes found in groups of men or women most earnestly “striving for perfection.” It also accounts for so many avoidable failures in the apostolate on the part of those who are so sincere, so zealous, and yet frighten people away from Christ by the frozen rigidity and artificiality of their lives.

Our charity is intended to give glory to God, not by enabling us to multiply meritorious acts on an imaginary “account” recorded for us in a heavenly bank, but by ena­bling us to see Christ and find Him where He is to be found, in our brother and in the Church.

The purpose of charity is not only to unite us to God in secret but also to enable God to show Himself to us openly. For this we have to resolutely put away our attach­ment to natural appearance and our habit of judging accord­ing to the outward face of things. I must learn that my fel­low man, just as he is, whether he is my friend or my enemy, my brother or a stranger from the other side of the world, whether he be wise or foolish, no matter what may be his limitations, “is Christ.” No qualification is needed about whether or not he may be in the state of grace. Jesus in the parable of the sheep and the goats did not stop to qualify, or say: “Whenever you did it to one of these My least brethren, if he was in the state of grace, you did it to Me.” Any pris­oner, any starving man, any sick or dying man, any sinner, any man whatever, is to be regarded as Christ-this is the formal command of the Savior Himself.

This doctrine is far too simple to satisfy many modem Christians, and undoubtedly many will remain very uneasy with it, tormented by the difficulty that perhaps, after all, this particular neighbor is a bad man and is foredoomed to hell, and therefore cannot be Christ. The solution of this difficulty is to unite oneself with the Spirit of Christ, to start thinking and loving as a Christian, and to stop being a hair­splitting pharisee.

Our faith is not supposed to be a kind of radio-electric eye which is meant to assess the state of our neighbor’s con­science. It is the needle by which we draw the thread of charity through our neighbor’s soul and our own soul and sew ourselves together in one Christ. Our faith is given us not to see whether or not our neighbor is Christ, but to rec­ognize Christ in him and to help our love make both him and ourselves more fully Christ.

One of the themes that has constantly recurred through­out this article is that corrupt forms of love wait for the neighbor to “become a worthy object of love” before ac­tually loving him. This is not the way of Christ. Since Christ Himself loved us when we were by no means worthy of love and still loves us with all our unworthiness, our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy. That is not our business and, in fact, it is nobody’s business. What we are asked to do is to love; and this love itself will render both ourselves and our neigh­bor worthy if anything can.

Indeed, that is one of the most significant things about the power of love. There is no way under the sun to make a man worthy of love except by loving him. As soon as he realizes himself loved-if he is not so weak that he can no longer bear to be loved-he will feel himself instantly be­coming worthy of love. He will respond by drawing a mys­terious spiritual value out of his own depths, a new identity called into being by the love that is addressed to him.

   Needless to say, only genuine love can draw forth such a response, and if our love fails to do this, perhaps it is because it is corrupted with unconscious romanticism or legalism and, instead of loving the brother, is only manipulating and exploiting him in order to make him fit in with our own hidden selfishness.

If I allow the Holy Spirit to work in me, if I allow Christ to use my heart in order to love my brother with it, I will soon find that Christ loving in me and through me has brought to light Christ in my brother. And I will find that the love of Christ in my brother, loving me in return, has drawn forth the image and the reality of Christ in my own soul.

This, then, is the mystery of Christ manifesting Himself in the love which no longer regards my brother as an object or as a thing, which no longer treats him merely as a friend or an associate, but sees in him the same Lord who is the life of my own soul. Here we have a communion in a sub­jectivity that transcends every object of knowledge, because it is not just the climate of our own inner being, the peculiar silence of our own narrow self, but is at once the climate of God and the climate of all men. Once we know this, then, we can breathe the sweet air of Christ, a divine air, which is the breath of Christ.

This “air” is God Himself-the Holy Spirit.




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