Sunday, August 28, 2011

Our Faith - Total Surrender to Christ, expecting all strength and sanctity from his merciful love

More from Chapter 3 of LIFE AND HOLINESS by Thomas Merton (1963):

Too often, people who take the spiritual life seriously may waste all their efforts on the scaffolding, making it more and more solid, permanent and secure, and paying no attention to the building itself. They do so out of a kind of unconscious fear of the real responsibilities of the Christian life, which are solitary and interior. These are difficult to express, even obliquely. They are almost impossible to communicate to anyone else. Hence one can never be sure whether he is right or wrong. One has very little evidence of progress or perfection in this interior sphere while in the exterior, progress can be more easily measured and results can be seen. They can also be shown to others for their approval and admiration.

The most important, the most real, and lasting work of the Christian is accomplished in the depths of his own soul. It cannot be seen by anyone, even by himself. It is known only to God. This work is not so much a matter of fidelity to visible and general standards, as of faith: the interior, anguished, almost desperately solitary act by which we affirm our total subjection to God by grasping his word and his revelation of his will in the inmost depths of our being, as well as in obedience to the authority constituted by him.

The Credo which we triumphantly chant in the liturgy, in union with the whole Church, is real and valid only insofar as it expresses the inner self-commitment of each one to God's will, as manifested exteriorly through the Church and her hierarchy, and interiorly through the inspirations of divine grace. Our faith is then a total surrender to Christ, which places all our hopes in him and in his Church, and expects all strength and sanctity from his merciful love.


From what has so far been said, it should be clear that Christian holiness is not a mere matter of ethical perfection. It includes every virtue, but is evidently more than all virtues together. Sanctity is not constituted only by good works or even by moral heroism, but first of all by ontological union with God in Christ. Indeed, to understand the New Testament teaching on holiness of life we have to understand the meaning of this expression of St. Paul. The moral teaching of the epistles always follows upon and elucidates a doctrinal exposition of the meaning of our life in Christ. St. John, also, made it quite clear that all spiritual fruit in our life comes from union with Christ, integration in his Mystical Body as a branch is united with the vine and integrated in it (John 15.1-11).

This of course does not by any means reduce virtues and good works to insignificance: but these always remain secondary to our new being. According to the scholastic maxim, actio sequitur esse, action is in accordance with the being that acts. As the Lord himself said, you cannot gather figs from thistles. Hence we must first be transformed interiorly into new men, and then act according to the Spirit given to us by God, the Spirit of our new life, the Spirit of Christ. Our ontological holiness is our vital union with the Holy Spirit. Our striving to obey the Holy Spirit constitutes our moral goodness. Hence what matters above all is not this or that observance, this or that set of ethical practices, but our renewal, our new creation in Christ (cf Galatians 6:15).

It is when we are united to Christ by faith that works through charity (Galatians 5:6) that we possess in ourselves the Holy Spirit who is the source of all virtuous action and of all love. The Christian life of virtue is not only a life in which we strive to unite ourselves to God by the practice of virtue. Rather it is also a life in which, drawn to union with God in Christ by the Holy Spirit, we strive to express our love and our new being by acts of virtue. Being united to Christ, we seek with all possible fervour to let him manifest his virtue and his sanctity in our lives. Our efforts should be directed to removing the obstacles of selfishness, disobedience, and all attachment to what is contrary to his love.


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