Two Trees

Since a tree [in the Garden of Eden] had brought about the downfall of humankind, it was upon a tree [the cross] that humankind crossed over to the realm of life. We give glory to you, Lord, who raised up your cross to span the jaws of death like a bridge by which souls might pass from the region of the dead to the land of the living.

—Ephrem of Edessa, Sermon on our Lord

How Do We Know if God is Living in Us?

The Apostle John writes ” If we love one another God dwells in us and his love is brought to perfection in us.” Begin to love; you will be perfected. Have you begun to love? God has begun to dwell in you. As John continues “In this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us his Spirit.” How do we know that “he has given us of his Spirit”? Ask your heart; if it is filled with love, you have received the Spirit of God.

—Augustine, Commentary on the Epistle of John, 8.12

Eternal Life Defined

Jesus did not overcome the insuperable obstacle presented by the divinity and enter the human sphere simply to be our saviour. Had that been all, his work would have remained unfinished, his mission of love unfulfilled. He broke through the wall surrounding the invisible, and came down into the visible world to bear witness to ‘the things that are above,’ to reveal to us ‘the secrets of his Father’s house’, to give us in concrete form what he called eternal life. What exactly is it, this famous ‘eternal life’? He himself defined it in the Gospel: ‘And eternal life is this: to know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent’ (jn 17:3). So eternal life is, first and foremost, knowledge. It is a matter of knowing the Father, knowing Jesus. But it is not a question of any external, historical, analogical knowledge which we could more or less imagine, possess perhaps, even now; it is rather a question of real, supernatural knowledge which, although it is still surrounded here by the darkness of faith, is already the same as the knowledge we will have when the veil is torn aside and we see God face to face. It is a question of knowing God as he is, not as he may appear to us or as we may imagine him. This is the heart of the mystery I have tried to describe as the beyond, and which is the key to the secret of intimacy with God and the substance of contemplative prayer. In giving us ‘eternal life’ Jesus gives us that knowledge of the Father which is already our first experience of living, here on earth, the divine life; which is a vital participation, here and now, in the family of God; and which means that while we remain sons of man, we are at the same time sons of God. Jesus is the Image of the Father, the centre of the universe and of history. Jesus is our salvation, the radiance of the God we cannot see, the unquenchable fire of love, the one for whom the angels sigh, the Holy one of God, the true adorer, the eternal High Priest, the Lord of the Ages, the glory of God. Jesus is also our brother, and as such he takes his place beside us, to teach us the path we must follow to reach the invisible. And to make sure that we understand, he translates into visible terms the invisible things he has seenas man he acts as God would act; he introduces the ways of the family of God on to the earth and into the family of man.

—Carlo Carretto, In Search of the Beyond

From the Morning Scriptures

I have become its servant by the commission God gave me to present to you the word of God in its fullness—the mystery that has been kept hidden for ages and generations, but is now disclosed to the Lord’s people.  To them God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. We proclaim him, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone fully mature in Christ. To this end I strenuously contend with all the energy Christ so powerfully works in me. I want you to know how hard I am contending for you and for those at Laodicea, and for all who have not met me personally. My goal is that they may be encouraged in heart and united in love, so that they may have the full riches of complete understanding, in order that they may know the mystery of God, namely, Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. I tell you this so that no one may deceive you by fine-sounding arguments. For though I am absent from you in body, I am present with you in spirit and delight to see how disciplined you are and how firm your faith in Christ is. So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.

—Colossians 1:25-2:7 (TNIV)

If you ever wondered what it means to be “in Christ,” just read this passage from Paul. Marvel at how he lives his life entirely for Christ. Paul does not kid himself and think that by his own merits he accomplishes all that he does. Instead he gives credit where it is due. He has “Christ in him, the hope of glory.”

Having Christ in him gives Paul hope for a future, one that will not be marred by suffering or incompleteness. This hope, along with Christ’s presence in him, allows Paul to transcend all that besets him in this life. It gives his current work meaning and purpose. It strengthens him and keeps him going. It allows Paul to use his God-given gifts to their fullest.

Here we see a magnificent union of God and man, the kind of relationship with God we were created to have, in which God lives in humans and allows us to fulfill our God-given call. There is power to love and serve and in so loving and serving there is a joy that nothing in this life can take away. Paul knew the secret and reminds us that we too can have the Power of Christ living in us. Do you have Christ in you, the hope of glory?

What Unites the Church to Christ

I said that water and blood symbolized baptism and the holy eucharist. From these two sacraments the Church is born: from baptism, “the cleansing water that gives rebirth and renewal through the Holy Spirit,” and from the holy eucharist. Since the symbols of baptism and the eucharist flowed from [Christ’s] side, it was from his side that Christ fashioned the Church, as he had fashioned Eve from the side of Adam. As God took a rib from Adam’s side to fashion a woman, so Christ has given us blood and water from his side to fashion the Church. God took the rib when Adam was in a deep sleep, and in the same way Christ gave us the blood and the water after his own death. Do you understand , then, how Christ has united his bride to himself and what food he gives us all to eat?

—John Chrysostom, Catechesis 3

Power to Love

What does the Holy Spirit bestow on us? Listen to the apostle: “The love of God has been poured out in our hearts.” He continues, “We have this treasure in earthen vessels.” Why in earthen vessels? “That the dominant power of loving may be seen as God’s.” Thus, in order for you to love God, let God dwell in you; let him prompt you to love him, kindle you, enlighten you, rouse you.

—Augustine, Sermon 128.4

A Description of Early Christian Worship

On Sunday we have a common assembly of all our members, whether they live in the city [Rome] or in the outlying districts. The recollections of the apostles or the writings of the prophets are read, as long as there is time. When the reader has finished, the president of the assembly speaks to us, urging everyone to imitate the examples of virtue we have heard in the readings. Then we all stand up together and pray. On the conclusion of our prayer, bread and wine and water are brought forward. The president offers prayers and gives thanks as well as possible, and the people give their assent by saying: “Amen.” The eucharist is distributed, everyone present communicates [takes communion], and the deacons take it to those who are absent. The wealthy, if they wish, may make a contribution, and they themselves decide the amount. The collection is placed in the custody of the president, who uses it to help the orphans and widows and all who for any reason are in distress. We hold our common assembly on Sunday because it is the first day of the week, the day on which God put darkness and chaos to flight and created the world , and because on that same day our savior Jesus Christ rose from the dead.

—Justin Martyr (ca. mid-second century), First Apology

The Anatomy of a Relationship With Christ (3)

Jesus became a sacrament for me, the cause of my salvation, he brought my time in hell to an end, and put a stop to my inner disintegration. He washed me patiently in the waters of baptism, he filled me with the exhilarating joy of the Holy Spirit in confirmation, he nourished me with the bread of his word. Above all, he forgave me, he forgot everything, he did not even wish me to remember my past myself.

—Carlo Carretto, In Search of the Beyond

Yesterday we saw in Carretto’s writing, why it is important for us to come to Christ’s Table on a regular basis. Today, Carretto continues with this theme, reminding us that it is Christ alone who can heal and restore us. Notice the emphasis on sacraments of baptism and the Eucharist. Note too the acknowledgment of the indwelling Presence of the Holy Spirit. This is how we begin to be healed. This is what it means to partake in the means of grace through which Christ heals us. It is certainly not the only way Jesus can heal us, but these means of grace are common to all believers and have a proven track record.

From the Morning Scriptures

The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross. Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation—if you continue in your faith, established and firm, and do not move from the hope held out in the gospel. This is the gospel that you heard and that has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven, and of which I, Paul, have become a servant.

—Colossians 1:15-23 (TNIV)

Here we have a well developed description of Jesus as being fully human and fully divine several years before the first gospels were written and not even 30 years after Jesus’ crucifixion. Notice how it echoes the Prologue in John’s Gospel (John 1:1-18). Note too the Resurrection hope that is contained in this passage. Paul tells us that Jesus is the firstborn among the dead and that through his blood we have our hope of joining him in his resurrected state. Here again the themes of faith, hope, and (by implication) love are dominant in Paul’s writings.

Moreover, this is why Paul calls his message Good News. God has rescued us from sin, darkness, alienation, and separation from him. This is why we have a glorious hope in Christ. It is not because we are somehow superior or “better people” than unbelievers. In fact, it is just the opposite. Christians have hope because we believe God’s message to us that he has acted decisively on our behalf in the death and resurrection of Jesus. We know that if left to our own devices we have no hope at all. And because we love others, we want them to have life too.

What thoughts and feelings are evoked in you as you read this? How you answer will provide you with good insight into the state of both your faith and your relationship with Jesus.

Augustine Describes a Part of His Conversion Process

Lady Continence, to receive and embrace me, stretched out her pious hands [which were] filled with numerous good examples for me to follow. There were large numbers of boys and girls, and a multitude of all ages. In every one of them was Continence herself, in no sense barren but “the fruitful mother of children,” the joys born of you, Lord, her husband. And she smiled on me with a smile of encouragement as if to say: “Are you incapable of doing what these men and women have done? Do you think them capable of achieving this by their own resources and not by the Lord their God? Why are you relying on yourself, only to find yourself unreliable? Cast yourself upon him, do not be afraid. He will not withdraw himself so that you fall. Make the leap without anxiety, he will catch you and heal you.”

—Augustine, Confessions, 8.11.27

In a very poignant way, Augustine reminds us here why the Christian life, from the very beginning to the very end, is never to be lived alone.