Tuesday, August 30, 2011

The Sacraments Produce no Fruit where there is no Love.

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

To say that the Christian religion is mystical is to say that it is also sacramental. The sacraments are “mysteries” in which God works, and our spirit works together with him under the impulsion of his divine love. We should not forget that the sacraments are mystical signs of a free spiritual work of divine love in our souls. The visible, external action by which a sacrament is conferred is not something which “causes” God to give grace though it causes us to receive grace. It is a sign that God is freely granting us his grace. The sign is necessary for us, but not for him. It awakens our hearts and our minds to respond to his actions. His grace could equally well be given without any external sign, but in that event most of us would be far less able to profit by the gift, to receive it efficaciously and correspond to it with the love of our hearts. We therefore need these holy signs as causes of grace in ourselves, but we do not, by them, exert a causal pressure on God. Quite the contrary!

If God has willed to communicate to us his ineffable light and share with us his life, he must himself determine the way in which this communication and sharing are to take place. He begins by addressing to man his word. When man hears and receives the word of God, obeys his summons and responds to his call, then he is brought to the font of baptism, or to the cleansing rivers of penance. He is nourished with the Blessed Eucharist in which the Body of the Lord is given to us to be our true spiritual food, the pledge of our eternal salvation and of our marriage with the Logos. Jesus wants us to “come to him” not only by faith, but also in sacramental union: for union with Christ in all the sacraments and particularly in the Blessed Eucharist not only signifies and symbolizes our complete mystical integration in him, but also produces that which it signifies. “He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me and I in him. As the living Father has sent me and as I live because of the father, so he who eats me, he also shall live because of me” (John 6:57-58).

The most sanctifying action a Christian can perform is to receive Christ in the Eucharistic mystery, thus mystically participating in his death and resurrection, and becoming one with him in spirit and in truth. It is through faith and the sacraments of faith that we participate in the life of Christ. The Christian mystery is enacted and fulfilled among us by means of the sacramental worship of the Church. But in order to participate in that worship we must first become members of Christ by baptism.

By baptism, our souls are cleansed of sin and detached from selfish desires, liberated from the servitude of corruption to worship the living God as his sons. It is necessary that a man be baptized, if he is to enter into the mystery of Christ—the Kingdom of God. “Unless a man be born again of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God” (John 3:5)

When we speak of this mystical way to God through the sacraments, we must be careful not to give the impression that sacramental mysticism is a kind of magic. This would be the case if the sacraments produced grace infallibly without any reference to the dispositions and correspondence of the one who receives them. It is true that the power of the sacraments, working ex opere operato, produces a salutary effect even when the worshiper is not able to elicit subjective sentiments of fervent devotion. In other words, the sacramental system is objective in its operation, but grace is not communicated to one who is not properly disposed. The sacraments produce no fruit where there is no love. When a catechumen is baptized by water, he is interiorly cleansed and transformed by the Holy Spirit; but this implies a choice and self-commitment, it implies an acceptance of an obligation, and the determination to lead a Christian life. Baptism is not fruitful unless one means thereby to receive new life in Christ and to give himself forever to Christ. And this means renunciation of sin and dedication to a life of charity. It means living up to the dignity of our new being in Christ. It means living as sons of God.

“As many as received him he gave them power to be made the sons of God, to them that believe in his name, who are born not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God” (John 1:12-13)

“God is light, and in him there is no darkness. If we say we have fellowship with him and walk in darkness, we lie and are not practicing the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he also is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ, his Son, cleanses us from all sin . . . My dear children, these things I write to you in order that you may not sin. But if anyone sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ, the just; and he is a propitiation for our sins, not for ours only but for those of the whole world.

“And by this we can be sure we know him, if we keep his commandments. He who says that he knows him and does not keep his commandments, is a liar and the truth is not in him. But he who keeps his word, in him the love of God is perfected; and by this we know that we are in him. He who says that he abides in him, ought himself to walk just as he walked” (1 John 1:5-7, 2.1-6)

Life in the Spirit

The sanctity of Christian life is based not on love of an abstract law but on love of the living God, a divine person, Jesus Christ, the Incarnate Word of God, who has redeemed us and delivered us from the darkness of sin. And it is based also on the love of our brothers in Christ. Hence our moral life is not legalistic, not a mere matter of fidelity to duty. It is above all a matter of personal gratitude, of love, and of praise. It is a “eucharistic” morality, a code of love based on communal thanksgiving and appreciation of our new life in Christ.

This appreciation implies a deep understanding of the divine mercy which has brought us to share together in the death and resurrection of Christ. It implies a spiritual awareness of the fact that our Christian life is in fact the life of the risen Christ active and fruitful within all of us at every moment. Our morality is then centred on love and on praise, on the desire to see the risen Lord and Saviour fully glorified in our lives and in our community.


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