Christian Life: The Outworking of Christ’s Life Within Us

christian-life-the-outworking-of-christs-life-within-us-article

Christ Ascends the Mountain to Pray by James Tissot

The Christian community of faith is born of the grace of God. Grace expresses what God does for us. Just as when we hear of the wisdom of God in the Bible, we think of how God’s action makes us wise, so when we hear of God’s justice we should think of that act by which he makes us just. God’s justice, like his goodness and compassion, is not God’s reaction to our behavior, but his initiative, quite irrespective of our behavior. God is free to do what he wills, and his freedom takes the form of acting so as to transform us. It is a mistake to think that “justification” means a change in God’s attitude without an effect in us. On the contrary, what changes is that we become the locus of God’s free activity. Unprovoked, unconditioned, and unconstrained by any other agent, God steps into the void and chaos of created existence and establishes himself there as God

The mystery of the cross tells of the place where the wretchedness of the created world, and the total failure of human resource, or human virtue, is most fully exhibited. Where else could we see God’s absolute freedom to be God, irrespective of any external conditions? And where but in our own emptiness and dereliction could we find what it is to trust, without reserve, in God’s freedom exercised for our sake?  What gives us the ground to stand before God is God. The Christian community of faith believes that God has, in Christ, taken his stand in the human world, and answered for, taken responsibility for, every human being, quite apart from any achievement or aspiration on our part.

Christians believe the God whose historical biblical revelation inspired the biblical authors. They do not believe in the Bible independently of the God who inspired it.  Such a belief would be bibliolatry: making an idol of the Book

Christian life is essentially the outworking of Christ’s life within us, expressing the Spirit of Christ poured into our hearts (Rom. 5:5).  The incarnate Lord was not merciful, generous, and forgiving to win approval from heaven, since heaven was already his environment. His good works are the expression of who he is.

Our ability to discern the divine authority of Jesus Christ is, itself, the gift of God. The First Vatican Council taught that saving faith is impossible without the light and inspiration of the Holy Spirit that make assenting to, and believing the truth, a free and meritorious act of which the word suavitas (delight, pleasantness) may be used. St. Augustine spoke of the need of “inner eyes”; St. Thomas said that the principle cause of faith is the inner impulse of the Holy Spirit; Pierre Rousselot wrote of “the eyes of faith,” and Bernard Lonergan of faith as “the eyes of love.”  The ocular metaphor for the communion of Christian faith and love with God originates in the Gospel of John:  “Who sees me, sees the Father” (14:9).

The effectiveness of Christian witness is caused by the tri-dimensional, tri-personal unity of mutual love (of the Trinity) between the Father and the Son, among believers themselves, and ultimately, in that between all the believers and the Father and Son, into whose unity of mutual love they are absorbed. The unity of Christians in mutual love reveals the mutual love of the Father and Son as effectively present in the lives of believers whom their love unifies: “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (Jn  13:35). The love of God poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit authors the new life of Christian conversion within the community of faith.

All of this means that nothing can take the place of conversion—intellectual, moral, and religious. The converted are likely to discern correctly who may and should be trusted, and to trust them; the unconverted are likely to trust the untrustworthy, and not to trust the trustworthy. Unfortunately, it is also the case that people who occupy posts that only the trustworthy ought to occupy sometimes are not themselves trustworthy because they are not converted— intellectually, morally, religiously—and when that happens, a grave crisis can ensue. There is really no substitute for conversion, and that is the work of the Holy Spirit.

Affirming that we achieve authenticity in self-transcendence, Bernard Lonergan makes conversion a central theme in his Method in Theology. We are called to the realization of self-transcendence in terms of intellectual, moral, and religious conversion. Religious conversion, for Lonergan, is most vital, central, common, and foundational. Without it, a sustained and perduring moral conversion is a de facto impossibility. Similarly, without religious and moral conversion, a fully developed intellectual conversion that enables us to arrive at a critically grounded natural knowledge of the existence of God is for all practical purposes an impossible achievement.

Lonergan distinguishes between moral and religious conversion because he believes in the need to distinguish between nature and grace. We are, for Lonergan, by nature intelligent and morally oriented. We are not, however, by nature participants in the divine nature, or in the inner life of God, but only by the free gift of God’s love, flooding our hearts through the Spirit, that is given us (2 Pet 1:4; Rom 5:5).

More specifically, we are capable of rising to various levels of self-fulfillment, or self-transcendence. We are capable by nature of achieving cognitive self-transcendence in going beyond what is merely imagined, what simply appears to be so, to what in fact is the case. To know what really and truly is so is to get beyond the human subject, to transcend the subject that is the integrating cognitive and affective center of human consciousness, and to reach what would be the case even if the particular subject in question happened not to exist.  We are similarly capable by nature of achieving moral self-transcendence in moving beyond being dominated by desire and fear, pleasure and pain, mere self-satisfaction and self-interest, into a state of commitment to true value. Moral conversion is a state of self-transcendence in which  we become motivated primarily by values rather than satisfactions. We move beyond merely personal tastes and interests to become principles of beneficence and benevolence, and capable of genuine loving and responsibility.  We are not, however, capable of achieving total self-transcendence, or religious conversion. Rather, we receive this type of ultimate self-transcendence as gift. It is an other-worldly state of being in love with God that occurs within this world, but goes beyond it, in which all values are placed in the light and the shadow of transcendent value (God): in the shadow, for God is supreme and incomparable; in the light, for God is originating and all-encompassing goodness. Religious conversion is a state  of an unconditioned being in love, since no finite object or person can be the subject of such unqualified love. Only to God can we truly say, ”Without you, I cannot live, love, or exist.” This type of statement to another human being, if truly meant, is idolatrous. God alone can be the object of a love that is without reserve, or unconditioned in every respect.

For Lonergan, conversion is foundational for community. Conversion maybe intensely personal, and utterly intimate, but it is not so private as to be solitary. It can happen to many, and they can form a community to sustain one another in working out the implications, and fulfilling the promise of their new life.

We Are All on God’s Guest List
In the “The Brothers Grimm” (First Things, June/July 2010), Theodore Dalyrymple reviews the most famous pair of brothers in English-language journalism, Christopher and Peter Hitchens. The former is a vociferous and voluble atheist, the latter a reconvert to Anglican Christianity. The former has written Hitch-22, the latter, The Rage Against God: How Atheism Led Me to Faith. The two memoirs are very different. Peter’s displays a concern with his brother’s opinions that is not reciprocated. In fact, Christopher is almost the occasion of Peter’s book.

The relationship of these dissident brothers captures something of the spirit of our co-authored dialogue with our atheist siblings. However sharply we may feel and reason about our dialectical differences, we belong to the one and only human family. We dwell on the same planet earth, sharing the same Origin, Ground, and Destiny. And from the standpoint of Christian faith, the God who is Love does not love us more for being theist, or less for being atheist. The God whom Thomas Aquinas names Ipsa Felicitas, “Happiness Itself,” is no less available to those who deny an existence of the One in whom we live and move and have our being.

The story of Joseph and Pharaoh offers a template for interpreting the dynamic relationship between theists and atheists. The friendship of Joseph and Pharaoh, the man of God and the man of the world, is encompassed by the same question-raising and question-answering Mystery. Pharaoh, the man of the world has questions about his dreams, hopes, and aspirations that he raises for his friend, the man of faith. The same God that raises the questions in the one, and answers them through the other, is acting to benefit the lives of both those inside and outside the community of faith. Without the friendship (communion, community, communication) of the outsider or secular world, represented by Pharaoh, the family of Joseph, the people of faith, would have starved to death. Likewise, without the friendship of Joseph, the man of faith, the secular world would be at a loss to discern the true meaning of its dreams, hopes, and aspirations. The God of all operates for the good of all. If the God of Abraham blesses him to be a blessing to all the nations, the story of Joseph and Pharaoh implies that the same God also blesses all the nations to be a blessing to the children of Abraham. The reciprocally respectful dialogue of theists and atheists, of faith and secular culture, bears witness to the question-raising and question-answering Mystery that is operative and enlightening in every human life. Paradoxically and providentially, atheists can only help to sharpen our vision of faith.

Jesus’ Good Samaritan parable also tells us that God’s blessings often come from where we least expect them. Both the priest and the scribe, who did nothing for the welfare of the victim, represented the religious insiders from whom Jesus’ hearers expect salvation. Jesus shocks them with the revelation that God’s salvation is not the monopoly of insiders; that it can and does often come from the outsiders in every epoch. The parable tells of a God in whose mind and heart there are no outsiders. In terms of Jesus’ banquet parables, everyone is on God’s guest-list.

The Indwelling Spirit
The Christian community’s self-comprehension and understanding of its past is a divine gift in fulfillment of Christ’s promise to send his Holy Spirit who would remind it of everything that he had revealed to it (Jn 14:26). The indwelling Spirit, the enabling power of God’s self-giving (Acts 1:4; 2:38; 10:45) to the community of Christian faith, multiplies within it an abundance of gifts (charismata) and “things of the Spirit” (pneumatka) that build up the Christian community (1 Cor 12) and enable it to carry out its mission. Taught by the Spirit (Jn 15:26), Christians are called to be its active agents for communicating the fellowship of the Holy Spirit (2 Cor 13:14; Phil 2:1). The gift of the Spirit permits the Incarnate Word to have a lasting, free, and heart-felt effect on all to whom he is joined.

The crucified and risen Christ promised to be with his community of faith to the end of time (Mt 28:20). His promise is fulfilled at Pentecost when his Spirit is given to remain with his community of faith forever as a first installment of what is to come (2 Cor 1:22). The gift of the Spirit grounds the confidence of the Christian community in the goodness of their salvation as the first fruit of the good things to come in the whole of salvation that still awaits them (Rom 8:23). As the self-gift of God, it is always offered, but never imposed. It is effective only when it is welcomed.

The Holy Spirit abides within believers, as the response to Jesus’ request that the Father provide the Paraclete, or Advocate, for his disciples (Jn 14:26; 16:7) as the guide to truth (Jn 16:13), empowering us in our weakness (Rom 8:26) to know and share the truth with others.

The indwelling Spirit comforts believers by “testifying with our spirit that we are God’s children” (Rom 8:16). As our perfect advocate before God, the Spirit intercedes, or speaks for us, “in accordance with God’s will” (Rom 8:26). The Holy Spirit’s role as the Paraclete, or Advocate, of the believer combines the work of a friend who frankly tells us what is wrong (it can mean prosecuting counsel, defending counsel or friend), but only so that, once it comes to light, it can be put right. It is part of the Advocate’s comfort and encouragement to dispel illusion with love.

Because God is Spirit, those who worship God worship him in spirit and truth (Jn 4:24); for only that which is born of the Spirit (Jn 3:6) enjoys a connatural knowledge of, and communion with, the God who is Spirit. Recognition of our native language, in a welter of foreign languages, is an analogous experience: we recognize it because it is already within us. Through the gift of the indwelling Spirit, the community of Christian faith enjoys a connatural knowledge, or recognition, of what is authentically of the Spirit, or not of the Spirit, in its daily quest within to discern the grace and call of God for responsible decision and action. The indwelling Spirit of the triune God brings the community of Christian faith the peace (Jn 14:27, love (Jn 15:9-10), and joy of God (15:11) in its daily quest to live according to the truth of things. The indwelling of the triune God in the body of Christ, and the temple of his Spirit is the question-raising and question-answering Mystery, the pull of its future. There is no authentic development and growth in the Christian community of faith apart from the Holy Spirit of the Triune God.

All Things Were Made Meaningful
The biblical story of the fall affirms the blessed state of original goodness from which the first humans deviated. In the context of the good creation of the good Creator, the story of the fall attempts to answer the question of evil. Are there two creator gods, one of goodness and another of evil? On the other hand, is the one and only God the source of both good and evil?

The biblical story of the fall affirms the absolute goodness of the one and only God, the good Creator of a good creation, a cosmos out of chaos, meaningfulness out of meaninglessness. The good God of the first creation story reappears in the Prologue to John’s Gospel about the new creation in Jesus Christ. John Macquarrie’s paraphrase of the Prologue brings out the relationship of the original and new creation:

Fundamental to everything is meaning. Meaning is closely connected with what men call “God,” and, indeed, meaning and God are the same. To say that God was in the beginning is to say that there was meaning in the beginning. All things were made meaningful, and there was nothing that was made meaningless. Life was the drive towards meaning, and life emerged into the light of humanity, the bearer of meaning. And meaning shines out through the threat of absurdity, for absurdity has not destroyed it. Every man has a share in the true meaning of things. This follows from the fact that this meaning has been embodied in the world from the beginning, and has given the world its shape. Yet, the world has not recognized the meaning. Even man, the bearer of meaning, has rejected it. But those who have received it and believed in it have been enabled to become the children of God. And this has happened not in the course of natural evolution or through human striving, but through an act of God. For the meaning has been incarnated in a human existent, in whom was grace and truth; and we have seen in him the final meaning or glory towards which everything moves—the glory of man and the glory of God (Jn 1:1-5, 9-14).

The community of Christian faith believes that the same Creator, in the new creation in Jesus Christ, continues to give meaning to the meaningless, hope to the hopeless, love to the loveless, light to the blind, hearing to the deaf, life to the lifeless, loveliness to the unlovely, joy to the joyless. In his Letter to the Galatians (5:22f.), Paul writes of the fruits of the Holy Spirit, evidence of the new creation: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. In his Letter to the Colossian (3:12-15), Paul reaffirms the constants of the new life, or creation, in the crucified and risen Christ: compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience, love, and peace.

For the community of Christian faith, the fruits of the Holy Spirit are evidence of Christ’s transforming presence, an effective witness for non-believers rendering the proclamation of the Good News plausible. The social character of Christian witness is unmistakable; for these are qualities/values which contribute to others in their quest for happiness. They are the qualities of the Servant of Yahweh’s selfless service of others, challenging them to believe that Christ is risen and actively present in the lives of those who believe in him—the new creation. The goodness of the new creation evidences for the community of Christian faith the goodness of the original creation, and its Creator. The same Spirit of the triune God creates, and recreates, our state of being in relation to God.

Transfiguring the Disfigured: Meaning for the Meaningless
The idea of propitiation is not prominent in the Bible, and as a religious term which expresses the pagan idea of placating the divinity, is not appropriate to the religion of Israel. The idea of propitiation is not found in the New Testament: that the anger of God was placated by the sacrifice of Jesus. God did not need to be placated. Because God “did not destine us to wrath but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ (1 Thes5:9), and “so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life, for God did not send his Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through him” (Jn 3:16-17; Rom 8:22), and was in Christ reconciling the world to himself” (2 Cor 5:19).

Redemption is God’s work of love to restore humankind to its vocation of union and communion with God (2 Cor 3:18; 2 Pt 1:4). It is God’s means of dealing with sin and its consequences, and of elevating creation to the blessing that was prepared before the fall into sin (Rom 9:23). God’s intrinsically perfect work of redemption is still moving towards its consummation when the whole of creation will be healed, restored, and transfigured (Rom 1:16; 8:23; 13:11; Eph 4:30).

In John’s theological reflection (1 Jn 4:7-9), we are told that love leads to life because such a life is sharing in the life of God who is Love Itself, and to share his life is to have been touched by the Eternal in time: “This is eternal life, to know you, the one true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent” (Jn 17:3). To know Jesus of Nazareth in the paschal mystery, in his dying in a loving self-giving in faith and hope, is to know something of God’s life. To share in such a life is to share in a life and love that is eternal. In his farewell discourse, Jesus affirms “I am the way and the truth and the life (Jn 14:6), that is, the life he lives and offers to others is the true way that is life, and leads to the fullness of life with God. Jesus could also say to Martha, who knew that her brother would rise on the last day, the he was the resurrection and the life (Jn 11:25), that his life and death revealed the meaning of life and resurrection.

On the eve of his death, Jesus tells his disciples that he loves them just as his Father loves him (Jn 15:9). He assures them that, remaining in his love, his joy will be theirs (Jn 15:11); that no one can have greater love than to lay down his life for his friends (Jn 15:13). Contrary to the atheists holding that Jesus is the victim of a cruel Father who demands the suffering and death of Jesus in retribution for the sins of humankind, the Jesus of John’s Gospel eagerly desires to give his life for his friends. In seeing the death of Jesus as his giving his life for others, the Christian community of faith sees the perfect human image of the Father, Love Itself.

Before the ultimate mystery of good and evil, and of life and death, Jesus lived with the loving trust and conviction that his gracious and merciful Father would have the last word. The Father affirms his life and mission from the start when, at the baptism of Jesus, the Spirit descends upon him: “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I delight” (Mk 1:9-11; Mt 3:13-17; Lk 3:21-22). The marvelous reality of the Father’s love is the key to grasping the story of the crucified and risen Lord as the Good News for all humankind. Through the gift of his Spirit, we recognize the same voice of the loving Father affirming the meaning and value of our lives as participants in the life and mission of the Beloved Son and Spirit.

The Triumph of Love Over Death
The accusation of the atheists, Dawkins and Hitchens, that the Father was sadistic because he did not save Jesus from torture and crucifixion, expresses a view of the Father that clashes with that of Jesus, who tells his disciples on the eve of his crucifixion and death that “I have loved you just as the Father has loved me (Jn 15:9). These atheists do not see the loving Father that Jesus sees because to see Jesus with the eye of faith, that is to see his loving Father (Jn 14:9). The community of Christian faith sees the Father with the eye of Jesus’ love for his Father.

That Jesus dies with a prayer on his lips in all the Synoptic accounts of his death expresses his life-long loving communion with his Father. His final prayer: “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?” (Mk 15:34) expresses both the cost, and the incomparable benefits, of total self-abandonment to God. Nothing in all creation, not even death itself, separates the Son of God, the Beloved, from his Father. His final prayer brings to completion his prayer at Gethsemane: “Not my will, but thine be done” (14:36). In the apocalyptic language of Psalm 21 (22), Jesus expresses an entire life and death based on the absolute trustworthiness of his loving Father, and utter confidence in the coming of his kingdom.

For Mark, the cross is the chief locus of revelation. There, Jesus gives himself totally to the Father in freedom and love. The Father is the Supreme Good of all. Thus, the cross is where Jesus Christ fulfills his service for all humankind. It is the place where he is recognized as the Beloved, the Son of God; and it is in a similar way that his disciples will be known. That the first Christian confession of faith should come from a gentile, the Roman centurion (Mk 15:39), symbolizes the efficacy and universal scope of the servant who gives his life for all. He represents all who make the same confession of Christian faith in Jesus Christ through the gift and power of his Spirit.

In Luke’s Gospel, Jesus’ final words are “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit” (23:46), taken from Psalm 31 (30):5. Luke has added the word “Father,” which most characterizes all the prayers of Jesus. Luke portrays Jesus as praying with his people. The customary prayer before a night’s sleep is said before Jesus’ sleep of death. Luke suggests that the death (sleep) of Jesus brings to completion the meaning of the historical Jewish Passover, no less than the historical Last Supper of Jesus with his disciples. In the language of John’s Gospel, “It is consummated” (19:30).

Jesus dies with words of filial trust. Luke sees in the death of Jesus the way every Christian should live and die. He emphasizes Jesus’ complete commitment to his Father in freedom and love. Stephen, at his death, commits himself to Jesus in similar words: “Lord Jesus receive my spirit” (Acts 7:59).

By making Psalm 31 (30) the last word of Jesus, Luke emphasizes that Jesus dies as he lived, in the presence of his loving Father, whom he has made immediately and directly accessible to all. Through the exodus and ascension of Jesus, we have direct access to our loving Father.

Significantly, the “I thirst” of John’s dying Jesus reminds us that all the Evangelists portray Jesus dying with a psalm on his lips. The Evangelists employ the traditional prayers of Israel to interpret the ultimate meaning of Jesus’ life and death. They implicitly interpret Jesus’ entire life and death as the prayer of Israel, of the people of God. In the light of the crucified and risen Christ, and his gift of the Holy Spirit, they know that God has heard and answered Israel’s prayer for the salvation of all humankind.

Knowing the importance of a dying man’s words, the Evangelist selects them from the particular psalm which best expresses the deepest meaning of his entire narrative about Jesus’ living and dying in God’s love. Psalms 21 (22) (Mark and Matthew), 30 (31) (Luke), 41 (42) and 62 (63 (John)—all epitomize the Evangelist’s theological interpretation of Jesus within the context of his gospel narrative. Each gospel interprets the psalm, and the psalm, in turn, epitomizes the meaning of the particular narrative. One illuminates the other.

Note
God cannot exist in any place or at any time, though God is present, as sustaining ITS existence, to anything in any place, and the proposition that God exists will be true at any time that it is uttered or conceived. Thus eternity, which properly belongs to God alone, does not mean interminable duration. There is no sequence in God’s life.  God does not do or know one thing after another, though the objects of his doing and knowing may succeed each other in time.

Fr. John Navone, SJ About Fr. John Navone, SJ

Fr. John Navone is an emeritus professor of theology at the “Gregrorian” in Rome, the Pontifical Gregorian University, where he taught from 1967–2010. He is now at Gonzaga University in Spokane, Washington. Pope Francis acknowledged the impact of Fr. Navone’s “theology of failure” on his thought in his interview with S. Rubin and E.F. Ambrogetti, Il Nuovo Papa Si Racconta, Milano, Salani Editore, p. 65. Articles published March 29th in both Italy’s Corriere della Sera and Il Foglio also made note of it. Pope Francis had read the book in the Italian translation, La teologia del fallimento, Paoline, 1978). Navone is the author of more than twenty-five books; his most recent is Atheism Today: A Christian Response (2012).

Comments

  1. First John 2:2 tells us that Jesus “is the propitiation for our sins”. Matthew 20:28 says, “He came to give His life as a ransom for many.”

    As a convert to Catholic faith, I think I understand that Jesus willingly bore the cross out of love. Still I have difficulty that LOVE was the only reason He layed down His life. Clearly Scripture states that Jesus ransomed many and IS the propitiation for our sins.