Excerpt from Response in Christ - Chapter 3
1 If all are not called upon to live out this life of Christian sanctity in exactly the same way, nevertheless all are called to the same essential holiness. Vatican II states: "In the various classes and differing duties of life, one and the same holiness is cultivated by all, who are moved by the Spirit of God, and who obey the voice of the Father, and worship God the Father in spirit and in truth. . . ."2
The Christian Life of Grace
In the pattern of death-resurrection, the Church continues the prophetic, kingly and priestly offices of Christ. She does not do this through a merely extrinsic activity, for her external action is an incarnation of a more fundamental reality, the life of grace, the Christ-life. Each member of the Church is called to develop this Christ-life to the fullest. In other words, each member of the People of God is destined for Christian holiness. Vatican II tells us this: "Thus it is evident to everyone that all the faithful of Christ of whatever rank or status are called to the fullness of the Christian life and to the perfection of charity. . . ."
2. THE GRACED CHRISTIAN
AND VARIOUS RELATIONSHIPS
Our life of grace establishes various relationships between the Christian, God and the rest of creation. The first to be considered is that between the Christian and the persons of the Trinity.
We should first give brief attention to certain theological principles and truths which have a relevance to any discussion involving our relationship to the three divine persons. One of these theological principles is that of appropriation. This is a mode of predication by which the properties and activities common to the three divine persons are especially attributed to one of the persons because of a property peculiar to this particular person. For instance, because of His fatherhood, we refer to God the Father as our Creator, although all three persons equally create. Therefore, we really have no proper relationship to the Father as our Creator, but only one based on appropriation. The process of our sanctification is also an action common to all three persons. But because it is a work of God's love for us, and since the Holy Spirit is the love existing between Father and Son, we appropriate sanctification to the Holy Spirit.
This principle of appropriation preserves the traditional Catholic teaching that all divine activities ad extra (outside of God) are common to the three persons. At the same time it manifests the differences between the divine persons and properties.
Yet many contemporary theologians are not satisfied in appealing only to the principle of appropriation as they strive to explain the relationship between the Christian and each of the divine persons. They maintain that scripture does not always seem to speak in an appropriated sense in describing our union with the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Consequently, while adhering to the above principle concerning God's activity outside Himself, contemporary theologians are discussing the question of proper relationships between ourselves and each person of the Trinity. They do this by appealing to other than efficient causality. For instance, certain theologians, such as Karl Rahner, appeal to a quasi-formal type of causality in explaining the theology of the indwelling of the Trinity in the justified man.
Father has put each of us upon this earth because of His singular love for us
as individuals. There is a countless number of merely possible human persons
existing in the divine knowledge. Why has the Father given existence to me
rather than to these "possibles" who will never exist? The ultimate
answer lies in the mysterious free will of the Father. He has chosen to love
me, to give me existence, to give me a grace-life.
In His love for me the Father has entrusted me with a great purpose. I have a loving service to give to God, to the Church, and to the world—a service which no one else can render. Each of us has been put here to fulfill a mission, to use our lives, not only for ourselves, but to labor through these lives for the glory of the Father and the benefit of men.
We tend to underestimate the value of our lives. Perhaps this is so because our faith is not what it should be. We would be astounded if we could see the potential of our lives as does our heavenly Father. We are great, not because of what we are in ourselves, but because of what our Father has already done for us, and because of what He wants to do for us—if only we allow Him.
Perhaps we would not be constantly tempted to underestimate the worth of our lives if we more often reflected upon some of the great examples of what God can accomplish through the life of one person. There has been a St. Augustine, a St. Dominic, a St. Francis of Assisi, a St. Thomas Aquinas, a St. Elizabeth, a St. Ignatius Loyola, a St. Thomas More, a St. John Vianney and many others. In and through their various vocations they have contributed profoundly to the work of Christ. Coming closer to our own day we have the example of Pope John XXIII and Dr. Thomas Dooley. These two lives, have they not left an indelible imprint upon the world of men? Can one life make a great difference to Church and world? The answer is obvious.
And yet, you might object, the examples just cited are lives of outstanding men and women. After all, how many are destined to walk across the stage of life in such dominant display before the eyes of men? We acknowledge, not very many. But there could well be numberless lives, almost completely hidden to the world, which have also contributed greatly to the cause of Christ. Perhaps, even, these hidden lives have at times given more to Christ and the world than have the lives of the canonized saints. God's ways are not always our ways, nor are His thoughts always our thoughts. Our heavenly Father can make use of the most obscure and insignificant life to accomplish great things.
Each Christian must strive to grow in the realization that the Father calls him to greatness. He accomplishes this purpose by the gradual development of his Christ-life. Whatever our particular purpose or mission in life may be, it will be authentically accomplished in proportion to the development of our grace-life in Christ. For our destiny in Christ includes all else. Our life of grace, in turn, develops around the all-embracive theme of the Father's will. The Father's will for me is what gives unity to my life. If I embrace this will, it holds together all the multitudinous threads of my existence, weaving them into a meaningful pattern—the achievement of my life's purpose.
Consequently, to grow in Christian holiness and to achieve my mission in life are supremely possible for me. Why? Because growth in the realization of my life's task is always commensurate with my Father's will for me here and now. His will for me is always proportionate to my present weakness on the one hand, and, on the other, to my present degree of spiritual maturity. Finally, His will for me always carries with it the necessary graces for accomplishing what He here and now asks.
As I reach out for my Father's will in love day after day, I am thereby dynamically developing my Christ-life, achieving my destiny, making my very important contribution to the evolving redemptive work of Christ.
The Father's will touches everything in my life. It wants to make all contribute to my growing maturity in Christ. Joy and sorrow, success and failure, work and play, ecstatic happiness and deep suffering, all of these are to be related to my Father's will. If I correspond to God's grace, His will as it permeates my total being and existence will unfailingly transform me.
As the Father's will transforms me, it thereby makes my life a success for myself and others. The only true measure of a successful life, despite possible appearances to the contrary, is whether or not it is conformed in love to the Father's will. The degree of success depends upon the degree of conformity. " 'It is not those who say to me, "Lord, Lord", who will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the person who does the will of my Father in heaven. When the day comes many will say to me, "Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, cast out demons in your name, work many miracles in your name?" Then I shall tell them to their faces: I have never known you; away from me, you evil men!' " (Mt 7:21-23).
The above described Christian life is certainly impossible without God's grace. We must be deeply aware that grace is a gratuitous gift which we cannot achieve by our natural efforts. But God offers grace in abundance. Our problem is that we do not respond to grace as we should. We tend to minimize the Father's great designs for us. We are tempted not to take His words at face value, those which tell us of the fathomless love He has for each one of us, and what that love can accomplish in us. To help ourselves maintain the proper perspective in these matters, we should often remind ourselves of these words of St. Paul: "We were still helpless when at his appointed moment Christ died for sinful men. It is not easy to die even for a good man— though of course for someone really worthy, a man might be prepared to die—but what proves that God loves us is that Christ died for us while we were still sinners. Having died to make us righteous, is it likely he would now fail to save us from God's anger?" (Rm 5:6-9).
We have, therefore, an irrevocable and overwhelming testimony of the Father's love for us. Because of this love, the Christian can increasingly assimilate the Father's will in his own response of love. Through this mutual self-giving, God and the Christian are meant to be united in the deepest possible love.
The above passage from St. Paul not only tells us of the Father's great love for us, but it also tells us that this love has come to us through Christ and continues to do so. There is no other way. This is the eternal design of the Father. Our grace-life as well as all creation takes its meaning from Christ: "He has let us know the mystery of his purpose, the hidden plan he so kindly made in Christ from the beginning to act upon when the times had run their course to the end: that he would bring everything together under Christ, as head, everything in the heavens and everything on earth." (Ep 1:9-10).
b) Relationship with Christ
Scripture, then, indicates the necessity
of seeing our grace-life in its relationship with Christ. It is rather amazing
that dogmatic theology in its treatment of grace has traditionally said so
little about Christ. With a bit of sarcasm, Rahner says: "The tractate de
Gratia is commonly entitled de Gratia Christi. Commonly it contains
little else about Christ. And yet we only have a Christian understanding of
grace when it is conceived of not only in the most metaphysical way possible,
as a divinization, but rather as assimilation to Christ. And the existential
transposition of this is the following of Christ. . . ."9
How is this assimilation to Christ which Rahner speaks of initiated? Our life in Christ begins in a formal, ecclesial manner with baptism of water—notice, we are not saying that the grace of Christ cannot be had without baptism of water. As baptism marks us as members of the Church, it also indelibly imprints upon us the image of Christ.
The life of the Christian, consequently, is a development of the image of the Incarnate Word given in baptism. The Christian, as he grows in grace, is being shaped more and more after this image of Christ: "We know that by turning everything to their good God co-operates with all those who love him, with all those that he has called according to his purpose. They are the ones he chose specially long ago and intended to become true images of his Son, so that his Son might be the eldest of many brothers." (Rm 8:28-29).
The Christian requires motivation if he is to allow this Christ-likeness to permeate his existence more and more. The Christian must strive to catch a glimpse of that burning vision of St. Paul. For Paul, Christ was the fiery center of an intense existence: "Life to me, of course, is Christ, but then death would bring me something more; but then again, if living in this body means doing work which is having good results—I do not know what I should choose. I am caught in this dilemma: I want to be gone and be with Christ, which would be very much the better, but for me to stay alive in this body is a more urgent need for your sake." (Ph 1:21-24).
Each Christian, according to the graces God gives him, can model his life after the example of Paul. Each of us also can make Christ the dynamic center of our existence. If we dare to live in this way, Christ will fulfill us; for in Christ we possess everything else. In Him we are deeply related in love to God, man and the whole of creation. To develop as fully as possible the image of Christ implanted through baptism is to exercise the only fully true life. So has the Father willed it.
You will remember that we also spoke of the persons of the Trinity imprinting their image upon us as they communicate the life of sanctifying grace. What is the connection between the image of Christ and the image of the Trinity, both imprinted upon the Christian? The connection between the two lies in the fact that the life of grace, the image of the Trinity, comes to us through Christ and is to be lived according to the pattern established by Christ. Our life of grace is indeed a share in Trinitarian life. But we must live out this Trinitarian life according to the basic manner in which Christ lived out the grace-life in His own human nature. Here we emphasize the fact that Christ as man possessed His own life of sanctifying grace.
Why must our life of grace be modeled on Christ's grace-life? We cannot give others sanctifying grace. But the man Christ, head of the human race, does give men a share in the life of sanctifying grace which He possesses within His human nature. Theologians call this grace to be given to His members the grace of Christ the Head. Our life of grace, consequently, since it is the grace of Christ, has been structured according to the modalities or characteristics implanted by Christ. Christ established this structure as He exercised His own life of grace in His human, historical existence. While not claiming to be exhaustive, we will now examine various characteristics of Christ's life of sanctifying grace. Through such a procedure we thereby understand various characteristics and thrusts of our own life of grace.
First of all, Christ's life of grace was filial. The dynamism of this particular modality always led Christ to a perfect, loving service of His Father. His Father's will was all in all to Him. It was the guiding principle of everything He did, of everything He thought, of everything He spoke. Zeal for His Father's glory consumed Him. He would not rest until the work of the Father which he had been sent to accomplish was fulfilled in every detail. To love the Father's will was Christ's attitude towards life. He would cling to this principle even at the expense of a death of excruciating agony in body and soul. The words which Christ uttered in Gethsemane perfectly sum up His existence as man: " 'My Father,' he said 'if this cup cannot pass by without my drinking it, your will be done!' " (Mt 26:42).
Christ's life of grace was also salvific. His life always had that very obvious dimension of being orientated in love to man's good. All of Christ's life as man, swelling up from the unfathomable depths of the most intense love, was redemptive. Everything He did was gradually accomplishing a change in man's stance before the Father. He was bringing man from a state of enmity to a state of friendship and sonship with the Father. Christ's life, then, was magnificently selfless. Guided by love of His Father's will, He gave Himself completely to men. He gave until there was nothing more to give. This is the poignant beauty of Christ's life.
Christ's grace-life was also social, communal and ecclesial. His redemptive work was directed towards drawing all men together in a deep bond of love as brothers of a common Father. The establishment of His Church would perennially guarantee that there would be a visible source of grace for a growing sense of community among men. At the same time, this Church, the People of God, is intended to give a visible example of how the Lord desires men to be united in mutual bonds of love.
Christ's life of grace tended toward an epiphany. That is, it tended toward sacramentality, toward a manifestation of divine realities in space and time. Christ's grace-life, working through His sacred humanity, used the ordinary events and conditions of human existence and the created things of man's world to reveal the Father and the Father's plan for men.
Christ's life of sanctifying grace was also transfigurative. Christ did not come to suppress, but to elevate. He came to transform—to transfigure—man and his world. Anyone who considers Christianity to be a negative religion does not really understand the work of Christ.
These are some of the chief modalities or dimensions of Christ's life of grace. These modalities, in turn, were concretely expressed through the various mysteries or events of Christ's human life. Central to these mysteries were His death and Resurrection. We will discuss these mysteries of Christ at greater length in the chapter devoted to the liturgy. For it is within the eucharistic liturgy that we encounter the mysteries of Christ in a very special manner.
At this point we again remind the reader of the connection between Christ's life of sanctifying grace and our own. Rahner puts it very succinctly: "And yet every grace has analogously the same structure as its source, viz. the structure of the Word become man. . . ." l0
Consequently, as Christ's life of grace was filial, salvific, social, communal and ecclesial, so must be ours. As Christ's grace-life was sacramental (tending toward manifestation) and transfigurative, so likewise must be ours. Finally, let us remember that the Christian expresses these various dimensions of grace as he relives the mysteries of Christ, especially those of death-resurrection.
We have briefly considered the relationship between the graced-Christian and Christ. As this relationship grows in mutual love, the Christian understands with maturing penetration what it means to be incorporated into Christ Jesus. He becomes more aware of the full implications of St. Paul's words: "I have been crucified with Christ, and I live now not with my own life but with the life of Christ who lives in me." (Ga 2:19).
c) Relationship with the Holy Spirit
After the glorified Christ was
established in power and glory with the Father, He sent the Holy Spirit to
sanctify the world. The task of the Holy Spirit is to imprint the mystery of
Christ ever more deeply upon the whole of creation. The Holy Spirit gradually
is leading man and his universe to a greater Christo-finalization. This
Christo-finalization will reach its completion at the time of Christ's second
coming. Then creation will receive its final transformation. Then the movement
of creation to the Father, in Christ, by the Holy Spirit will be complete.
As this process evolves, the Holy Spirit concentrates His action upon the Church of Christ; for this evolutionary movement of creation in Christ has as its dynamic center the evolution of the Church. The Church progressively evolves by assimilating more perfectly the mystery of Christ. The Holy Spirit guides this process. He is the soul of the Church because He constantly labors to unite the diversified elements of the Church into a more perfect image of Christ.
The Holy Spirit as sanctifier not only guides the entire Church, but He also guides each member of the Church. Here again His task is basically the same. He strives to deepen the image of Christ which has been indelibly imprinted upon the Christian. He labors to Christo-finalize more radically all areas of the Christian's existence. In this regard we notice the biblical distinction of living according to the Spirit rather than according to the flesh. To live according to the flesh does not refer only to sins against chastity. It refers to anything in my life which is not according to the Spirit. Therefore, intellectual pride, something very "spiritual," would be living according to the flesh in the biblical sense.
On the other hand, to live according to the Spirit can include the most intense involvement with material creation or use of the senses. All of this can be profoundly Christian as long as we are following the lead of the Holy Spirit. In this context we again emphasize that everything about the Christian has been elevated by grace, not merely his spiritual nature.
To live fully according to the Spirit demands a growing realization of the manner in which the Holy Spirit leads the Christian to a greater Christ-likeness. This involves discernment of spirits. This concept will be developed at some length in a later chapter.
In summary, the Holy Spirit promotes the process of our becoming sons in the Son. The Christian's response to the Spirit measures his degree of incorporation into the adoptive sonship of the Christ-life. "Everyone moved by the Spirit is a son of God. The spirit you received is not the spirit of slaves bringing fear into your lives again; it is the spirit of sons, and it makes us cry out, 'Abba, Father!' " (Rm 8:14-15).
d) Relationship with Mary
Karl Rahner tells us that devotion to
Mary is one of the great signs of final perseverance.11
By such a statement Rahner emphasizes for us the great role
Mary exercises in the life of the Christian. Really, the emphasis of Rahner is
merely a continuation of the great importance attributed to Mary by the
Fathers, doctors, and saints of the Church throughout the ages.
Mary assumes such a concrete importance in the life of each of us because she is the mother of the Church and the mother of each Christian. She is a mother to all men, but in a special way to the Christian.12
Mary's spiritual motherhood toward us had its beginnings at the time of the Incarnation. As Mary conceived Christ in a physical manner, she at the same time conceived us in a spiritual manner. In her holy womb she bore both Christ, the Head, and us, His members.
The second great stage in Mary's maternal relationship toward us was accomplished upon Calvary. There, in extreme spiritual suffering, she offered Christ to the Father. From the pierced side of Christ the Church was born. Mary, in the extreme anguish of spiritual childbirth, brought us forth to supernatural life. "Seeing his mother and the disciple he loved standing near her, Jesus said to his mother, 'Woman, this is your son'. Then to the disciple he said, 'This is your mother.' " (Jn 19:26).
The third and final phase of Mary's spiritual motherhood is a continuing process. Under God, she gives us our life of grace. In her maternal love she protects and nourishes this life. She intercedes for all the graces necessary for its proper growth. As Mary cooperated with the Holy Spirit in first giving Christ to men, so she continues the same cooperation in regard to each Christian. Through the life of grace Christ is meant to take deeper and deeper possession of each one of us. Mary and the Holy Spirit continually labor to achieve this. Mary's only desire for us is that we grow more and more into the full stature of Christ. Her overwhelming love for us is evident. We manifest our love for her by committing ourselves to her maternal love and care so that she can achieve her desired purpose. That purpose, again, is to form Christ in us.
e) Relationship with Members of the Church
There is but one true
Church of Christ. Yet this one Church has three different states of existence.
There is the pilgrim Church, the Church of this world, composed of members who
have received the grace of Christ and strive for its development. They have
not yet obtained the goal of their efforts, as have the members of the
heavenly Church, who enjoy God in eternal happiness. The Church suffering is
an intermediate state of existence necessary for those who had not achieved
the required purification as members of the pilgrim Church. Although there are
these three phases of the Church's existence, there is a profound union
existing between all the members. All these members possess the same basic
life of grace in Christ, and this common life establishes the most intimate
bonds of love. In our preceding chapter, we discussed the pilgrim Church. Let
us now consider the Church suffering and the heavenly Church.
The members of the Church suffering are those who have departed from this life in an incomplete state of Christian development. Their development is incomplete in the sense that grace has not fully taken possession of them, and, as a result, they are yet closed in upon themselves to a greater or lesser degree. They as yet cannot open themselves out in complete love to the Triune God in the beatific vision. They must undergo a further purification, a purification which could have been achieved upon earth with merit. Now the purification must be achieved with no merit attached. The pain of this purification is mixed with the certain expectation of achieving the vision of God. We can hasten the advent of this vision for this people by the offering of prayers and other good works. Scripture itself refers to our action on behalf of those in purgatory in Chapter 12 of the Second Book of Maccabees beginning with verse 38.
The members of the heavenly Church are those in whom the life of grace has taken full possession and has reached its completion in the life of glory. Faith now is unnecessary, as the light of glory gives the human intellect a new strength and capacity for seeing God face-to-face. While the Christian was a wayfarer, he received the imprint of the indwelling Trinity as he shared in God's own life. Now in heaven that grace-life and possession of God reaches its completion—the absolute completion is not achieved, however, until the resurrection of the body. The divine persons give Themselves to the beatified in a profound union far surpassing that of the indwelling of the Trinity experienced here below.
This life of heaven is still the Christ-life, for just as we possess a share in Trinitarian life here below as mediated by Christ, and exercise this grace-life as structured by Him, so also in heaven is the mediation of Christ present. In the words of Rahner, "One always sees the Father through Jesus. Just as immediately as this, for the directness of the vision of God is not a denial of the mediatorship of Christ as man."13 And not only does the humanity of Christ unite the blessed to God, but also, in some way, to the whole of creation. This is merely a completion of what is begun here below, namely, the union with Christ in His humanity establishing the Christian in a special relationship with God, with other men, and with the whole of creation. We have a glimpse, therefore, of the fullness of life which members of the heavenly Church possess.
The heavenly Church, as St. Thomas says, is the true Church.14 The Church of this earth and the Church of purgatory are, each in its own way, reaching out in loving hope for the heavenly Jerusalem. Vatican II puts it very simply: "The Church, to which we are called in Christ Jesus, and in which we acquire sanctity through the grace of God, will attain her full perfection only in the glory of heaven."15
The members of the heavenly Church can help us in living our life of grace until we too share its fullness with them. Their power of intercession on our behalf is but another ramification of the communal aspect of Christianity. We are meant to help others grow in Christ. We, in turn, are intended by God to receive aid from others—yes, from members of the heavenly Church, as well as from those with whom we dwell here below.
Not only can we be aided by the saints' intercession, but the example of the canonized saints can also be of great value to us. They have concretely proved that full holiness is possible. Such an inspiration is of real worth when we are tempted to think that Christian sanctity in its higher degrees is impossible of attainment. Moreover, the canonized saints, in their diversity, teach us that there are many authentic versions of Christian holiness. They can be innovators in showing us that there are numerous possibilities in assimilating the mystery of Christ, although the basic assimilation remains the same for all Christians of all times. In the opinion of Rahner this is one of the chief roles the canonized saints exert in the life of the Church.16
f) Relationship with Man and His World
Christ-life also establishes a special relationship between himself and all
other men and the world in which both are situated. This is so because of the
basic nature of grace—the fact that it is a share in God's life. The object
of life in God is not only Himself, but also His creation. The Christian,
through his life of grace, shares in this double dimension of God's life. Just
as God not only loves Himself, but also His creation, so also must the
Christian love both God and His creation. The Christian is called in a special
way to further the creative and redemptive work of God.
This aspect of the Christian's grace-life is also mediated by Christ. Christ, through His human enfleshment, has immersed Himself into man's world. Through His humanity he unites all men and all authentic human and temporal values to Himself. Through His redemptive love Christ has elevated the Father's creation to a new level of existence. Christ has initiated a process of gathering up all of creation for the glory of His Father. This process will reach its completion at the parousia. Meanwhile the Christian labors with Christ to further this evolutionary process of creation and redemption. Consequently, in faith, hope and love, the Christian assumes a new responsibility and privilege toward man and his world.
He must take this privilege and responsibility seriously. Men of our era such as Bonhoeffer and Teilhard de Chardin have strikingly placed this responsibility before Christianity. Christianity has to show the contemporary world that it is profoundly interested in all its authentic values and aspirations. Christianity must further demonstrate that the principles of Christ are the only ones which can guarantee the true progress of man's world. The world belongs to Christ and it is impossible for it to develop authentically outside of Christ.
We have traversed a rather wide area in this chapter dealing with the life of Christian grace. Grace, in its inner reality, and in its various relationships and ramifications, is complex to a certain extent. But ultimately it has a profound simplicity and unity. Christ is the one who gathers up and unifies. He is the one who makes grace tangible, concrete and personal to the Christian. Radically, the life of grace is life in God as mediated by Christ. "We can be sure that we are in God only when the one who claims to be living in him is living the same kind of life as Christ lived." (1 Jn 2:5-6).
1Constitution on the Church, No. 40.
2Ibid., No. 41.
3John L. McKenzie, Dictionary of the Bible (Milwaukee: Bruce, 1965), p. 325.
4H. Rondet, The Grace of Christ (Westminster, Maryland: Newman, 1966), p. 37.
end of excerpt from Response in Christ