Friday, March 28, 2008

Mystagogy Gamma

"For freedom Christ has set us free." This means freedom from the ultimate dominance of the 'powers and principalities' of the cosmos. Heady stuff. No wonder not many people dwell on this on an everyday basis.

I suggested yesterday that we often avoid dwelling on these apparently arcane passages of Scripture because when things go wrong, it is easier to blame the 'powers and principalities' ("I can't help it!") than to admit that we have been granted freedom and that we often use our freedom to choose the wrong thing. On the other hand, when by grace we recognize the path to freedom offered us in Jesus Christ, we should be honest about this tendency to 'pass the buck'. This implies that a first step to clarifying our experience is repentance: the decision to act according the God's law and to own up to our failure to do so. We 'admit (borrowing from AA now)...the exact nature of our wrongs,' with the intention 'to have God remove all these defects of character' by training in virtue. Cassian insists that spiritual knowledge is only available to those who have worked to acquire the virtues (who have attained 'practical knowledge'). The Old Testament attests to the same, though with different imagery and terminology. Enoch pleased God, he 'walked with God', that is, he followed God's commandments, and therefore, he was 'translated' directly to heaven to be with God. Similarly, there was no meeker man on earth than Moses, who was deemed worthy to see God as God is, and to speak to him 'mouth to mouth' as friends do. What an amazing gift, to have intimate knowledge as 'friends of God', and this is offered to us, if we are willing to repent and seek God.

This is why catechism stresses not only learning, but a change of life. We must consciously renounce the 'glamor of evil', the wiles and snares of the devil, the countless little pacts we have made with indifference and hatred. We must make the effort to bring our actions into line with the path of holiness. Only at that point will the mysteries begin to shine in our understanding. If we are seekers of mystical knowledge (and there are many such out there today), and if we find prayer boring, Scripture irrelevant or Church teaching on spirituality foreign to our experience, a first step is a humble admission that we need God's help, both in terms of learning where our behavior needs improvement, and in terms of God revealing himself to us.

If I may close this post with another comparison drawn from real we not find that young men who fall in love for the first time often do so with little or no real knowledge of the woman behind the face or image that has so smitten them? Is it not the case that such young men will collect pictures of the beloved, will go out of their way to bump into them, will even begin to imagine that the object of their affection is ready to reciprocate this interest--all this while the young man has never had a serious conversation at even a superficial level with this young woman. If asked to name her favorite color, favorite band, TV show, movie or food, or if asked about her family, the young man could not pull this information from his imagination, the place where the relationship exists at that moment. No, that won't do...he will have to speak to her! When he tries, he discovers that in fact he is offensive to her in some way, perhaps because she feels him staring at her all the time! So if he really thinks that she is worth it, he will first have to change his behavior so that he can ask her about what she is really like. More problematic is the fact that he will probably have to abandon his preconceived ideas about what she is like in order not to offend her further once they do start talking. In other words, because of his imaginary relationship, he does not come to the real relationship with a clean slate. Some change of heart will have to accompany his effort to know this attractive young woman.

This is a bit of a stretch, perhaps, but I believe that we often block ourselves from knowing God because preconceived imagined ideas about Him make the real God of Jesus Christ appear strange and perhaps even threatening. We need to convince ourselves that knowing the real God is the best thing for us, and that if this requires us to mature in our understanding of God and in our behavior, the benefits of this will make themselves known.

Now in making the analogy to our relationship with God, we should be aware that God wants us to change our behavior not out of discomfort with our behavior, that is, not for His own sake, but for ours. The sinful behavior that blocks our relationship with God also blocks our truthful understanding of ourselves and makes us unfree. Those who are not free are never able to enter fully into a relationship, because they are not able to give of themselves freely. In this sense, we are 'not at our own disposal'. We are less than we should be.

How can we be sure that repenting will be a change for the better? If we find ourselves wavering at this point, we have various proofs of God's goodness: the resurrection of Christ, the example of the saints, hopefully the overall witness of the Church herself.

I will end here with a challenge for those of us who are already persuaded that God's Law and conformity to Jesus Christ really do make us free to act out of love and not out of fear: do our lives provide convincing witness to these convictions?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

In addition to having preconceived ideas about God, I think we also have preconceived ideas about what the spiritual life is like. The recent reaction to the revelations about the dark night of the soul that Mother Teresa experienced shows that some people don't realize that darkness is not a sign that someone is not holy or has lost their faith; but rather, it is a very normal part of the spirital life.


This blog is published with ecclesiastical approval.

If I, who seem to be your right hand and am called Presbyter and seem to
preach the Word of God, If I do something against the discipline of the Church
and the Rule of the Gospel so that I become a scandal to you, The Church, then
may the whole Church, in unanimous resolve, cut me, its right hand, off, and
throw me away.

Origen of Alexandria
Locations of visitors to this page