January 10, 2015
Saturday after Epiphany Sunday
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Jesus Is A Conscious Gift
“No one can receive anything except what has been given from heaven.”
How do we get the mystical experience of “eternal life”—the experience of being in union with Jesus?
The first thing to know is that we don’t “get” it; we receive it.
That is the difference between the religion John the Baptizer preached—a religion of “repentance for the forgiveness of sins” that called for observance of God’s law—and the religion he promised Jesus would give through Baptism “with the Holy Spirit and fire” (Matthew 3:11; Luke 3:3). It is the difference between the religion we may have been most conscious of growing up—with some significant exceptions—and the authentic experience of Christianity.
For us growing up, religion may have been predominately law observance. And the laws we were taught to observe were the Old Law of the Ten Commandments, which, except for the first three, were rules that just called for good human behavior. The obedience we gave to them, however, may have been an authentic experience of faith in God.
The most significant exceptions that made our experience truly mystical were the Mass and the sacraments. Even as children, we probably understood, or at least sensed, that at Mass, and when we received a sacrament, an action was taking place that was more than our human act of addressing God. Without knowing the name, yes, we were having a “mystical experience”—a two-sided communication, a conscious interaction—with the mystery of God himself.
We may have said our prayers with awareness that we knew God was listening—something we couldn’t have been sure of unless God was telling us. Just being taught that by our parents would not have been enough to explain the deep certitude with which we took God’s listening for granted.
The truth is, had we been sufficiently introspective, we might have recognized that whenever we said, “Our Father…” what we were actually aware of, without adverting to it, was that we truly knew God as Father. Not because we had read it in a catechism. Not because we heard it from a teacher. The real explanation was that God had “sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba! Father!’… bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God” (Galatians 4:6; Romans 8:16).
We had mystical experiences whenever we did something we couldn’t or wouldn't have done without the gift of divine faith. Or hope. Or love.
John gave the key: “No one can receive anything except what has been given from heaven.” What we can do on our own, by our human powers, is not an experience of grace received from God, not a mystical experience.
John could not give the mystical experience of divine life. He insisted on that: “You yourselves can testify that I said that I am not the Christ, but that I was sent before him… I baptize you with water for repentance, but one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire… He must increase; I must decrease” (Matthew 3:11; John 3:27).
In the same way, the religion we grew up with, which focused primarily on law observance, must decrease. The religion of mystical experience must increase. The difference between them, and it makes all the difference in the world, is awareness.
For an experience to be mystical, it has to be an experience; that is, something conscious. When we act unconsciously by faith, hope or love, that is a mystical exercise of divine life, but not a mystical experience. So we need to cultivate deliberately an ongoing awareness of the faith, the hope, the love that underlie, motivate and find expression in our acts.
Then we will know Jesus as a conscious gift.
And we will experience eternal life—here and hereafter.
“Jesus, do this with me, in me and through me.”
In everything you do, ask how it expresses divine faith, hope or love.
How does your faith make what you do different?