The Dominican friar, Blessed Humbert of Romans O.P. once said "First the bow is bent in study, then the arrow is released in preaching..." These are the sermons of fr. Lawrence Lew O.P., a Friar Preacher (Dominican), interspersed with art and some of his photographs.
“Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Mt 5:48). This phrase seems extremely challenging and virtually impossible because it has often been interpreted moralistically. But I think, in the first place, it actually reveals something radical in Christian doctrine; it says something previously unimaginable and unheard of concerning what Christ has done to and for humanity: That because of Christ’s incarnation, by which God has become Man, now Man can become God. As St Paul put it: “for your sake he became poor although he was rich, so that by his poverty you might become rich” (2 Cor 8:9).
Because the Greek word teleoi, typically translated as ‘perfect’ also means ‘fully grown’ or, more literally, ‘developed to one’s proper end’, as richly as possible. God our Father, who is Being and pure Act, is already all in all; he can have no further potential to be developed. This is why we say God’s perfect. But we, who by nature are changeable and full of potential, are called to learn, grow, mature, develop, and become what we’re called to be. Through Christ, we are children of God the Father, and as children, we rightly need to learn and grow. And when we’re grown, when we’ve learnt, we become like God.
So, Jesus Christ reveals in his own person – for he is both God and Man – and in his teaching that we human beings now have the potential to become like God if we live in the grace of Christ, the sanctifying grace of divine Sonship. Before the coming of Christ, and without him, there is no such potential at all. There is just the wisdom of the Law. But Christ’s incarnation has renewed creation, transformed human nature, and thus, also renewed the Law. Therefore, Jesus says repeatedly in this part of the Sermon on the Mount: “You have heard that it was said… But I say to you…” (cf Mt 5:43f).
This is Jesus, God’s incarnate Word and Wisdom, speaking with divine authority and freedom to renew creation and the Law. And the same Spirit who hovered over the waters at the dawn of creation is now hovering over us, God’s new creation. God’s Spirit comes to teach us, to enable us to grow and develop to our fullest potential according to Christ’s new law of freedom. He comes to transform us through grace so that we become free as our heavenly Father is free. As St Paul put it: “for freedom Christ has set us free” (Gal 5:1).
Viktor Frankl had been deported to Auschwitz and Dachau by the Nazis, but he reflects: “We who lived in concentration camps can remember the men who walked through the huts comforting others, giving away their last piece of bread. They may have been few in number, but they offer sufficient proof that everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances”. Is this not the freedom to love, to choose good in the midst of evil? And is this not a participation in God’s freedom, he whose love freely shines on all people?
For freedom does not mean liberality to do indiscriminately whatever one feels like, buffeted by our emotions and cravings, or just reacting to good and harm done to us. Rather, freedom means being able to love as freely and indiscriminately as God does. It is this divine freedom that Christ gives us human beings, and it is this same freedom that his Spirit teaches us to exercise. Thus, we shall become like our heavenly Father: perfectly free to love.
The scene in today’s Gospel is rather extraordinary, even bizarre: a woman washing the feet of a rabbi reclining at the dinner table with her tears, kissing and wiping his feet with her unbound hair, and anointing his feet with costly ointment. But this extravagant spectacle is a response to God’s even more extraordinary and bizarre actions.
For the scandal of Christianity, its strangeness, is that we believe in a God who loves Mankind so much that God would abase himself for humanity’s sake. We say that God, who is entirely self-sufficient and needs nothing, freely chooses to save Mankind; he has a Father’s care and concern for our well-being. And we proclaim that God does the unimaginable and becomes Man; the Immortal who knows no change endures both change and suffering, even death. Why? Because as St Paul says: Christ “loved me and gave himself for me” (Gal 2:20). Jesus Christ, and all he does in his life, death, and resurrection, is one extravagant spectacle of God’s love for you and me. And I wonder sometimes if we’ve just become so accustomed to it that we take it for granted.
Because God’s sacrificial love in Jesus Christ for every human person, for us sinners, is extraordinary, even bizarre and strange… But also wonderful; so amazing that some people today, made sceptical and cynical by life, may even find it literally incredible! Many of us may have just forgotten how breathtakingly unexpected the Gospel is. But in a world that’s burdened by debt and crushing austerity measures, Jesus’ parable resonates with the experience of many today, and reminds us of just how extraordinary the Christian message is.
We know that financial institutions are relentless in their pursuit for what they’re owed. Economic justice and the Law are no respecters of persons and circumstance, lacking in compassion or human consideration, and our capitalist system requires us to work constantly to evade being crushed by debt, poverty, and our liabilities. This is how the sinner is under the Law – he owes a huge, un-payable debt, the burden of sin, to God. And, in justice, we should pay it all, to the last penny. The Pharisees, who work hard to avoid the debt of sin by keeping the Law, thus look at sinners (like the woman in today’s Gospel) just as some in our society might regard ‘welfare scroungers’ – with contempt.
Now, what Jesus does is to declare God’s mercy and forgiveness for all people, regardless of who they are, or what they’ve done. So, because of Jesus Christ, all debts are entirely cancelled, and all the worry, strife, and heartache that go with debt and poverty. We can see, then, why the woman reacted with such effusive gratitude towards Christ. But Jesus does still more because of love: he gives to anyone who comes to him all that she could ever want, and more than she could ever imagine – he gives the grace of salvation.
All we need is to have faith in him, to believe in Jesus and trust his Word; to go to him. What this does is to completely level the market so that not only are there no debtors at all, but there is now also no distinction between those who are unemployed and those who work hard; between the poor and the rich. It sounds somewhat bizarre in our capitalist system, but that is precisely what St Paul is getting at when he says that “a man is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ” (Gal 2:16). He’s saying that God’s grace is freely given to all through faith in Christ, and this grace is never earned nor merited. On this basis, we are all equal and have equal opportunity. Equal opportunity for what, though? To acquire Christ-like charity so as to invest in eternal life. And it is this end result – eternal life – that is really extraordinary.
When St Paul went to Athens he noticed an altar to an unknown god (Acts 17:23). And when it comes to the Holy Trinity, it might seem to many people that we’re also gathered around the altar of an unknown God today. For isn’t it all a bit of a contradiction? Three in one, and one in three? And what does it mean anyway? And yet, the fact that we can speak of God as Trinity, and pray to the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit means that our God is not unknown to us. For Jesus said: “I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you” (Jn 15:15b), and he has given us his Spirit to “guide [the Church] into all the truth” (Jn 16:13).
So, what we have been given by Christ is a privileged insight into the intimate life of God. Until Jesus revealed this to us, our human intellect could only deduce that there is a God, for as today’s psalm implies, the wonder and order of creation, of all existence, testifies to the being of God the Creator. So, our human reason, if we’re open-minded enough, can just about understand that God is, and Greek philosophy also reasoned that, ultimately, the Creator God had to be uncreated and also simple, that is, one. But all this is reasoned from created things, deduced from the effects of God as the Cause of all that is. But essentially, God, as he is, is still unknown.
But what Jesus does is to reveal to us, his friends, something of the unknown, hidden inner life of the one God. And so, he makes known to all through the Church that God is Trinity. This is something that we could never have known without divine revelation – that God is eternally Father and Son held in the mutual love of the Holy Spirit. But, we might ask, what does this mean? How can we understand this? The fact is that we shall never rationally comprehend God’s being. God who is infinite, immeasurable, and limitless is simply beyond our finite, measured, and limited intellects, and none of our images, especially since they’re drawn from created things, can capture the uncreated God. Moreover, to speak of the Trinity is to speak of the inner, unseen life of God which is beyond our investigative reach. We can’t even delve into the inner life of another person, and can barely understand ourselves and our own actions, let alone God’s. So, the Holy Trinity is a mystery, indeed the central Mystery of our faith.
But to say that the Holy Trinity is a Mystery is not to say that we shouldn’t think about God. That would be to return us to an unknown God, a kind of agnosticism. Rather, the infinite mysterious depths of God’s being is an invitation for us to think, to pray and contemplate, to study and ponder what God has revealed about himself to us. And the central action in which we do this as a Church is this: the Eucharist. For it is here in the Eucharist, God’s own gift of himself to us, that the Holy Trinity is at work, revealing himself to us. Thus the famous icon by Rublev of the Holy Trinity has the three angels seated around the Altar and the Eucharistic chalice.
So, although we gather here today around the Altar of a mysterious Triune God, this is by no means the altar of an unknown God. For ours is a God who is known and knowable, and he discloses himself to us, gives us his very self, through sacred Liturgy.
God the Holy Trinity is essentially relational, and the relationship of Jesus Christ to God the Father is, from all eternity, that of Son; a relationship of child-hood. Hence, as the noted 20th-century theologian Von Balthasar put it, Jesus is “the archetypal Child who has his abode in the Father’s bosom”. So, we can understand Jesus’ teaching that “whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it” (Mk 10:15) from a Christological point of view; from the perspective of who Jesus is.
Jesus has always dwelt in God, and even as Man, the Son remains one with his Father, eternally dwelling in God. We might say, then, that the Son is always the Child who lives in God’s kingdom, or more properly understood, God’s reign, God’s presence and being; the Son eternally shares divine life with his Father.
Therefore, for us to enter the kingdom of God means that we, too, will live in God and dwell in the Father’s bosom. And we do this by becoming like a child, indeed like Christ, the “archetypal Child”, and so we participate in the eternal relationship of Jesus to the Father. In Christ, the Christian becomes a child, becomes Son to the Father. And what characterizes this filial relationship, as is evident in the life of Jesus Christ, is obedience and trust. Hence, when today’s saint, the Venerable Bede comments on this passage of the Gospel, he says that it is the openness and trust of a little child that is praised and blessed by Christ in today’s Gospel, and this kind of openness to truth and trust in God’s Word is what is required of us, if we’re to have faith that leads us to God’s kingdom.
However, what binds Father and Son together in this filial relationship of obedience and trust is mutual love. Christ obeys and trusts his Father because he loves him, and he, as Son, knows the Father’s love for him. So, for us to enter the kingdom of God, to become like the Christ Child is to be caught up in the mutual love of Father and Son. This means that we need to be caught up in the Holy Spirit, inflamed with divine charity so that we can become, like Christ, true children of the Father, daughters and sons in the Son. We are Child by adoption and not by nature as Christ is, but nevertheless, truly children of God, and so, heir to all that Christ is, including the kingdom.
Hence St Paul says: “You have received the spirit of sonship. When we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’ it is the Spirit himself bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ” (Rom 8:15b-17a).
Was it not fitting, then, that as Saint Bede died in 26 May 735, he prayed the ‘Glory be’ that expressed both a love and trust in God like the Christ Child’s, and also his faith in the Holy Trinity? For through his holy death, he was now passing over from the reign of this world into the kingdom of God to share in the glory of the Trinitarian life, to participate in the filial relationship of the Son to the Father, united for ever in the love of the Spirit.
So, let us pray with Saint Bede: “Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.”
One of the characteristics of friendship is that friends share important aspects of their life with one another and reveal things about themselves to one another. So, Jesus has said that he calls us his friends because he makes known to us all that he has heard from his Father (Jn 15:15). And that is what he is doing in today’s Gospel, showing us friendship by revealing to us the beautiful intimacy of the life of the Holy Trinity, and leading us to see what friendship with God entails.
The verses I want to concentrate on are these, the final words in Jesus’ long Last Supper discourse and prayer. He says: “I made known to them your name, and I will make it known, that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them” (Jn 17:26). Here, Jesus is speaking of the person of the Holy Spirit, who is Love itself, the perfect love of the Father and the Son. It is the Holy Spirit who is the mutual bond of love between the Father and the Son, so that, as St Thomas says: “The Father and the Son love each other through the Holy Spirit”. Thus, the Holy Trinity is a communion of love; “God is love”, as St John says (1 Jn 4:8).
So, Jesus says that the Holy Spirit, the love with which the Father loves the Son, comes to dwell in us. And this happens when Jesus has made known the Father’s name to us. For this is what the Son has come to do: to reveal to us, his friends, that God is Abba, Father, and to teach us how to live as God’s sons and daughters. Through Christ, then, and through faith in his Word, we are able to have the same relationship of divine Sonship that he has with the Father.
This faith, this knowledge of the Truth, comes from Christ for he is Truth. And faith precedes love because we cannot love who we do not know – which is why it is important to read the Scriptures, to engage in theology and learn about God and the Faith. Because as we come to know the Father; as we profess the Truth that Christ and his Church teaches us; and we become converted to the mind of Christ, so that we think and see as he does; then the Spirit comes to us too. The Spirit comes as Love itself to hold us in a mutual bond of love with the Father, and to empower us to love the Father as the Son does, that is, through him. Hence, St Paul says: “Because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba! Father!’” (Gal 4:6).
The result of this coming of the Son and the Holy Spirit to dwell in us is that we know and love the Father, and so, we are united with the one God, dwelling in the communion of love that is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. And this is what we mean by the life of grace, which is given in Baptism, and for you and me to be in a state of grace, which is only lost through mortal sin. But Confession restores this grace to us if we’ve lost it, so that we have communion and friendship with the Holy Trinity once more.
This life of grace is, quite literally, heaven on earth, and eternity right now; it is our humanity being sanctified and made divine so that God doesn’t just call us his friends. He calls you “my beloved son”.
One word recurs in our readings today: glory, from the Latin gloria. But what, really, do we mean by glory? Usually, I think this word evokes light, brilliance, and splendour. And these are related to the Greek word for glory, which is doxa. But if we look at the Scriptural origins of glory from the Hebrew word kabod we find something rather unexpected. Glory, coming from kabod is related to weight. So, in contrast with our association of glory with soaring flights of angels, light, and uplift, glory, coming from the Hebrew kabod, denotes a quality of being heavy with weight, wealth or nobility, or with exceptional goodness. Glory, in this sense, implies the wealth and power of the king, his riches and worth, because of what he has done. Or we can think of an Olympian or a soldier who has achieved glory in athletics or combat, and is weighed down with medals; their weightiness proclaim what he has achieved, they glorify him.
If we translate this idea to God, then kabod, glory, signifies the wonderful work that God has done in creating all that is, and it tells of what Christ has achieved in dying, rising again and ascending into heaven. For God’s greatest work, his heaviest impact, his glory is seen in the salvation of sinful humanity; in our being brought from the death of sin to the fullness and abundance of new life in the risen Lord Jesus. Thus St Irenaeus said that “the glory of God is Man fully alive”. The glory of God is you and me, being re-born through grace as sons and daughters of God, sharing in the divine life of Christ, being one with him in the communion of love that is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (cf Jn 17:26).
This tremendous work of God’s grace that lifts up a sinner to become a saint, beckoning Mankind to “Come” and enjoy freedom and life in the Trinity (cf Apoc 22:17), brings about the glory of God. And the effect of God’s grace is glorious, and this is probably why the word ‘glory’ has come to connote light, brilliance and uplift, because the effect of what God has done for us, what his grace causes, is to raise sinful Man up to share in God’s light and divine life.
However, the idea of God’s glory, kabod, is still related to weightiness because each saint is like a shining medal glorifying God, signifying who he is – our Creator and Redeemer – and what he has done – united the saint to God’s self through grace. For each and every saint, beginning with St Stephen, the first martyr of the Church, witnesses to the triumph of God’s grace. Stephen’s life and death testifies to what God has done for weak, frightened and sinful humanity through Jesus Christ, which is to re-make each human person in Christ’s image, strengthened with his virtues. Thus, Stephen’s death, which completes and seals his life’s work, is deliberately portrayed by St Luke as mirroring Jesus’ death: both innocently condemned, executed outside the city, and died forgiving their killers.
The work of God’s grace that re-fashions us in Christ’s image is weighty, heavy business; the work of our sanctification and our salvation is impressive, world-impacting, life-changing. As such, it’s also glorious. And kabod does carry this notion of being heavy with goodness. In this sense, we might speak of the weight of our vocation as Christians. For we’re called to be holy, we’re made for glory, and this will involve a certain expectation of what we’re called to do. This gives a certain weightiness to the moral choices we make, and heavy sacrifices will be necessary. For love demands sacrifice, as the life of Christ and of St Stephen shows us, but it is only through love that we become like Christ, that we are united and become one with God who is love.
St Stephen is described as being “full of grace and power”, as speaking with a “wisdom” that could not be bettered, and he also “did great wonders and signs”. St Luke, in his Gospel, says similar things about Jesus, whose surpassing wisdom was evident in the Temple when, as a boy, he taught the scribes; who also performed miracles – wonders and signs – with power throughout his ministry. And, interestingly, the identical Greek phrase that St Luke uses to describe Stephen, pleres charitos, “full of grace”, is also used by St John to describe Christ, the Word become flesh who is “full of grace and truth” (Jn 1:14). And tomorrow, we will hear that Stephen died forgiving his killers, and commended his spirit to God at his death. Hence, St Stephen is portrayed as being very much like Jesus Christ, even identical to him in many respects.
But if Stephen is like Christ, this is because St Luke wants us to understand that Stephen is the model Christian. Thus he is truly another Christ. And he is only able to be like Christ, to do great things, and to preach truth compellingly because he is “full of grace and power”, that is, full of the Holy Spirit. For it is the Spirit of God who is grace, power and wisdom, and it is the Spirit of God who does wonders, miracles, and signs through men and women. So, what is true of Stephen is also true for us as Christians. For, at our baptism and each time we make a good confession, we also become, like Stephen, pleres charitos, full of grace. We have each been given God’s Spirit so that we can become like Christ; be another Christ, truly participating in Jesus’ grace and truth.
However, we might well ask, as the people in today’s Gospel did: “What must we do, to be doing the works of God” (Jn 6:28) as Stephen does? How do we tap into the power that has been given to us, the power of divine charity? Jesus answers: “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent” (Jn 6:29). So, if we want to see God’s power at work in our lives, we need to believe.
Because God does not work against our will but with us; his grace builds upon and perfects our human nature. So, belief, faith, is not purely a work of God. Rather, belief involves both God and Man; it a human act, a free choice and decision, made in co-operation with God’s grace (cf CCC §§153-155). As St Thomas says, more precisely: “believing is [a human] act of the intellect assenting to the divine truth by command of the will moved by God through grace”. There is a fine balance here of grace and nature. For although we can do nothing at all without the grace of faith, which is a gift of the Holy Spirit, it is also true that even after the gift is given, we must be open to God’s grace and not resist it. As our Collect for today says, we must “[put] off our old self with all its ways”, and, so, freely choose to “live as Christ did”. It is thus that we co-operate with grace; this is what it means to believe in Christ.
So, conscious of the many times we fail in this, and aware that without God’s grace to help us we can do nothing, let us pray these words from St Mark’s Gospel: “[Lord] I believe; help my unbelief” (Mk 9:24b).
On the first day of Christmas, the 25th of December, we celebrated Jesus’ birthday, and since then, throughout Christmastide, which lasts until today, the Church’s Liturgy has been meditating upon, and slowly disclosing to all, who it is that was born in Bethlehem and what his birth means for Mankind? In the Middle Ages this wonderment was dramatized – Before the Mass of Christmas day, clerics dressed as midwives asked: “Whom do you seek in the crib, shepherds, tell us?” And the shepherds replied: “The Saviour, Christ, the Lord, the baby wrapped in swaddling clothes, as the angel said”. And so, on the first day of Christmas, our true love, that is, God, gave to us, a baby; the Saviour, Christ, the Lord.
On Christmas day, we marvelled at this gift, the Word made flesh. And the Liturgy focussed on the wonder of Jesus Christ being born in time and space, born with a mortal human nature like ours, born of a woman. The Liturgy lingered over this beautiful human relationship of Mother and Child on the feast of Mary, Mother of God. But it never forgot the significance of Christ’s birth for humanity, that through him, our true love gave to us the gift of divine life. So, one of the antiphons for that feast says: “O wonderful exchange! The Creator of human nature took on a human body and was born of the Virgin. He became man without having a human father and has bestowed on us his divine nature”.
But every child, rightly, naturally, has a father and a mother. So, on the feast of the Holy Family, our perspective widens from looking at just the Mother and Child to consider, who, really, is this Child’s father. The Gospel stresses that it’s not St Joseph. Because although in the Gospel of St Luke, Mary says “your father [i.e., Joseph] and I have been looking for you” (Lk 2:48), the boy Jesus points quite clearly to God as his Father. Hence, in Spain the name José is typically nick-named Pepe, which comes from ‘padre putativo’: the ‘putative father’, or, we might say, foster-father. For that is who St Joseph is to Jesus. So, on the feast of the Holy Family, the Child Jesus claims God as his Father. But, so far, it’s just a one-sided claim.
Nevertheless, beginning with the Epiphany when wise men arrived from the East to worship the Christ Child, the Liturgy presents a series of signs that back up Jesus’ claim to divinity. Hence the past week has seen one Gospel account after another pointing to Old Testament manifestations of God in the work of Christ – he heals, walks on water, and feeds the hungry in the wilderness. And this series of epiphanies culminates today with the Baptism of Christ. We have, in fact, a theophany – a revelation to Mankind of God’s own self. For Jesus’ claim of divine Sonship is confirmed by the Father’s voice from heaven and by the descent of the Holy Spirit: “This is my beloved Son”. And so, Father, Son and Spirit – God the Most Holy Trinity – is revealed to us all.
Whereas at the beginning of Christmastide we marked the birth of Christ, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, in time and space as true Man, so now, at the end of Christmastide, we celebrate the revelation that Jesus Christ is also true God. Thus, he is eternally Son, eternally begotten in love of the Father, and of the same divine ‘substance’ as God his Father. And it is because Jesus Christ is true God and true Man that he can share his divinity with us. Hence, during the Mass when I prepare the chalice and mix a little water with the wine, this prayer is given to the priest to say: “May we come to share in the divinity of Christ who humbled himself to share in our humanity”.
But how do we come to share in Christ’s divinity? How does that wonderful exchange of God becoming Man so that Man can become God take place? It takes place in a way suited to our human nature, through visible material tangible signs. Notice that the Holy Spirit takes bodily form, “as a dove”. So, too, in the sacraments, God can be said to take bodily form, and he is present and active, objectively giving us his grace, through the visible material tangible signs of water, oil, bread, wine.
In the surprising event of the Incarnation, and in the unexpectedness of the All-Powerful God becoming a helpless baby at Christmas, something is revealed about God. That ours is a God who does extraordinary things through the ordinary; the divine working alongside the human. And also that ours is a God who comes to us, who seeks his beloved people because he has seen our need of him, of Jesus, whose name means ‘God saves’. For that is why he is born and calls us to follow him: for the sake of our salvation.
Nathaniel, it seems, understands this in a moment of infused grace, of divine insight, when Jesus says he saw him under a fig tree. For, as St Augustine explains, the fig tree stands for Adam’s sin, since our first parents hid themselves with fig leaves after they’d sinned. Hence, Christ “saw the whole human race under the fig tree”, which is to say that God saw, he understood our plight and had compassion on us in our sinful condition. Hence he comes to us in the person of Jesus Christ who is God’s mercy and love incarnate. And he comes to lift us up from under the fig tree, from under the shadow of sin. This is what Nathaniel recognizes – that here is the God of mercy and compassion coming to save him. And he realizes, too, that God comes in ordinary and unexpected ways, “from Nazareth”.
So, too, God comes to us in real and active works of love, in kindness and generosity to the stranger, in the speaking of truth in charity, in acts of goodness, of reconciliation and forgiveness. Hence St John asks: “If any one has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him?” For it is through little, ordinary but often unnoticed and taken-for-granted good and genuinely human ways of acting, of opening our hearts to another, in seeing one’s need and responding generously that God becomes present. He takes flesh in us, and he acts through love to heal us of sin’s wounds, and restore us to friendship with him and our fellow man.
However, in this ordinary way, God also does extraordinary things. Because the more we love in deed and the truth, in fact, the more we resemble our Father, who is Love; the more we become like Christ as we bear in our own flesh the marks of love. So, through love and our grace-prompted openness to love, God will not only save us from sin, but he will give us something even greater. Jesus promises us that we will “see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of man”. Because by the gift of grace, which is first given to us in baptism, we are not only forgiven of our sins but are promised a share in divine life when we shall see God as he really is (cf 1 Jn 3:2). And this is the supernatural divine end to which our works of love lead us. Because, following Christ who is love incarnate, we are moved by the Spirit to walk along his way of the Cross, of self-sacrificial love, and, so, share in Christ’s glory.
“From his fullness have we all received, grace upon grace” (Jn 1:16). What is this “grace upon grace” we have received from God? The initial grace is the gift of creation: of being, of existence, of all good things in the natural order. For “all things were made through him” (Jn 1:3). And it is good that on this final day of the year we give thanks for all the blessings that come from God, for life, for all that is. But in this Christmastide we have even greater cause for joy and thanksgiving because we have received, through Christ’s birth, “grace upon grace”. And this second grace, as it were, is the gift of salvation, of all things being redeemed and renewed in Christ.
For we have been made a new creation because of the Incarnation, reborn in grace as children of God, and the glory of this new creation in Christ, the so-called super-natural order, surpasses the splendour of the first creation, of the natural order (cf CCC 349). Because the goal of our new life in Christ is one that surpasses anything possible or even imaginable through our human nature alone, namely, to share in the divine life of God. This is what it means to truly be “children of God”, born “not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God” (Jn 1:13). All that is required of us is that we open ourselves to receiving Christ’s grace and believe in him.
If we do this, if we have this grace of conversion, then we walk by a new light along Christ’s Way that leads to God the Father. Our perspective on life, our relationships, and our worldview changes when we live by this light. Indeed, Christ’s light is so brilliant that our previous ways of seeing things, and seeing by any other light (be it philosophy or natural reason) is, by comparison, like peering in the darkness. Jesus alone is “the true light that enlightens every man” (Jn 1:9), every person. So, living by the light of Christ, listening to his Word, and being formed by the teaching of his Body the Church, is the true Enlightenment. In comparison, anything less, anything else, is ‘darkness’, or “anti-Christ”, insofar as one finds oneself walking by another lesser ‘light’, being informed and influenced by other voices instead of the living Word of God. So, we should beware of the many strong influences and loud voices in our world which are forming us mimetically, often without our knowing it; the light by which many walk seems to come from the computer or television screen.
Therefore, as we begin a new year, let us examine ourselves and consider what truly influences and forms us. St Paul said to the Romans: “Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may prove what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect” (12:2). So, in this Year of Faith, let us all pray, as the Holy Father says, for an “authentic and renewed conversion to the Lord”. Let this be our new year, and indeed, life-long resolution. Because it is only with Jesus, and by walking in his light, and through being conformed to Christ’s image and likeness that we will have really received “grace upon grace”, and, thus, find eternal happiness; every good thing that our heart desires.