Saturday, September 24, 2022

Following Jesus Christ Changes the Way We See Reality

For Christians, baptism is the beginning of a new life; it is the event in our own history when Jesus Christ first “takes hold” of us in a decisive encounter with each of us as persons. Baptism unites us concretely with the death and resurrection of Christ, frees us from original sin and previous personal sins, and makes us children of the Father and heirs to the kingdom. 

Nevertheless, even after this great, foundational gift of new life in the Spirit, we Christians are still... kind of a mess. It’s all too easy to get “stuck” in this mess, and - even if we don’t abandon our faith and Christian identity - just muddle along, giving little attention to our baptismal vocation, keeping it buried beneath the multitude of distractions that pull us in every direction: our self-image, social status, work, money, ambitions, or whatever else we perceive to be our more immediate preoccupations and more urgent concerns.

Yet the God who gives himself to us in Jesus Christ wants us to “invite him in” to every aspect of our lives. He wants to change our lives.

We must remember Jesus, who is present in our lives now: remember him, stay with him, and open our hearts to the grace that comes to us through our relationship with him, our crucified and risen Lord who wants so much to be with each one of us. He has embraced our entire life on the cross, so that our whole humanity might be healed and transformed. The work of becoming conformed to his total self-giving death-and-resurrection continues throughout our lives, as we "take up our cross" (that life-giving cross) and follow him. Our life of discipleship will face many obstacles, and endure many burdens and hardships, but we must persevere in hope, with confidence that God is good, and that he carries us through it all in his love.

We certainly can't become obsessed with our own ideas and schemes of what is entailed in the "project" of making ourselves perfectGod knows all the particular and inexpressibly peculiar ways we need to be healed and changed. He is our Father, who loves us far more dearly and intimately than we love ourselves. He has given so much, given totally - he has given us his Eternal Son - and he loves us immensely. He wants us to “open up” our freedom and let ourselves be loved by him. 

Our path of growth is through cooperation with the grace of the Holy Spirit, through prayer, spiritual guidance, and the powerful grace of the sacraments - especially frequent encounters with Jesus who heals and strengthens us through Confession and gives us himself, substantially, in the Eucharist. We also have companions on this journey: brothers and sisters we are called to love and encourage, and from whom we also receive love and solidarity, and experience the mercy of the embrace of Christ through sharing the needs and challenges, the sorrows and joys of our lives

Together, we will find the Holy Spirit stirring us to a greater compassion, a courage, a greater awareness of our own need to see the face of Jesus and love him in the poor and marginalized, the suffering and burdened, the lost, forgotten, violated, discouraged, lonely people who are everywhere in this poor world. They hunger for love, for food, for shelter, for a sense of purpose, for respect as human persons, for understanding, for education, for so many human things, but in all these things they hunger for God. In Christ, we share that hunger. The Holy Spirit engenders and fosters the compassion that sends us forth (in countless different ways) as missionaries of mercy, “workers of mercy” who give and receive mercy in ways beyond anything we would have imagined in our own thoughts.

Living our Christian vocation slowly changes the way we see reality; it is a life given to us that empowers us to recognize the presence of our loving God in every circumstance. We change more profoundly when we begin to recognize, concretely, that the gift of God in Jesus Christ is the heart of all reality, the meaning and value of everything. In recognizing him, we begin to want him and to love him more than our foibles and insecurities and our anxious attachment to ourselves and our own limited perspective.

In Christ we discover the reality of belonging to God, participating in his infinite life even now as we journey toward our fulfillment as adopted sons and daughters of the Father and heirs to his Kingdom of unending love. We also become more aware of the preciousness of every moment of life, more filled with passion for living vividly and joyfully all that is good, with a greater desire to seek the truth of all things, more patience and peace even in enduring the deepest wounds of sorrow and pains of suffering - which we know serve God’s mysterious purposes by giving us a share in Jesus's sufferings, but which do not thereby cease to be deep and painful and difficult.

In being Christians, we do not cease to be human. On the contrary, in following Jesus Christ we become more truly and fully human.