Saturday, January 24, 2015

Jesus Is An Interior Experience

January 23, 2015
Friday of week 2 in Ordinary Time
Saint Vincent, Deacon, Martyr

Jesus Is An Interior Experience
God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ.

Suppose you met someone who could show you God? Not as a spectacle, but in a way that would let you know God as he is, and enter into a real relationship of personal knowledge and love with the Father, Son and Spirit. Would you cultivate that person?

That is what Jesus does. He is not just a teacher who talks about God. Jesus is able to give us knowledge of God. He can reveal God to us, not just by speaking words outside of us, but by infusing his own knowledge of God—Father, Son and Spirit—into our hearts.

What we call the “gift of faith” is precisely that: a gift. It is the gift of sharing in Christ’s own divine act of knowing himself, his Father and his Spirit. He shares his act of knowing with us by taking us to be his body, sharing his act of living with us, his own divine life, so that we say with Paul: “It is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me” (Galatians 2:20). By the power of that new Life, we see and know and choose and act in a new way, a way that can only be explained by Jesus acting with us, in us and through us.

This is the “new covenant” that God promised to “establish with the house of Israel.” And Jesus is the key to it:

After those days, says the Lord, I will put my laws in their minds,
and I will write them upon their hearts.
I will be their God, and they shall be my people.
And they shall not teach, each one his fellow citizen and kin, saying, “Know the Lord.”
For all shall know me, from least to greatest.

Before Jesus, religion was generally understood as accepting certain truths revealed by God and observing certain laws or rules that followed from them. Praying through praise, thanksgiving and petitions was part of it. Religion was a way of responding to the reality of God governed by things that came from outside of oneself. One gave internal assent to truths one learned from others, and external obedience, based on internal submission, to rules passed down from others. Religion was perceived as interaction between human beings and a God outside of or “above” ourselves.

It would be absurd of course, to assume that, before Jesus and Pentecost, no one ever experienced divine life, mystical communication with God, inspirations from the Holy Spirit, or the love of God poured out in their hearts. Paul testified that “when Gentiles, who do not possess the law, do instinctively what the law requires… they show that what the law requires is written on their hearts.” And God never reduced religion just to external observances: “For a person is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is true circumcision something external and physical. Rather, a person is a Jew who is one inwardly, and real circumcision is a matter of the heart—it is spiritual” (Romans 2:14, 28).

But the gifts of “the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ” were not revealed or identified as they would be later by Jesus, and people did not think of them as the ordinary experience of “religion” or, in Judaism, of faithfulness to the Covenant.

In the new covenant, keeping God’s commandments is not religion, but a preliminary to full relationship with God. “They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me; and those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them” (John 14:21). Christianity begins with Jesus revealing himself in our hearts, together with the Father and the Spirit.

If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you… On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you (John 14:15).

With Jesus, religion becomes less a way of dealing with a God outside of oneself, following guidelines learned from others, and more a way of experiencing God within oneself, and following the yearning and inclinations of one’s heart—conscious, of course, that in this one is surrendering to God. “for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words” (Romans 8:26).

We call God “Father,” not because we were taught that this is the proper way to address God, but because we have “received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’ it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God... And because we are children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” (Romans 8:16; Galatians 4:6).

In our new relationship with God, we still each teach each other, of course, but not as if we were saying, “Know the Lord.” That knowledge is already poured out in our hearts, enlightening our minds. “For all shall know me, from least to greatest.” This is the grace, the gift of Baptism. It is inside of us; we just have to become conscious of it. How do we do that?

The first step is to stop focusing on laws. To keep God’s commandments is love; to make them the focus of our religion is Phariseeism. “You who want to be justified by the law have cut yourselves off from Christ; you have fallen away from grace… For in Christ Jesus… the only thing that counts is faith working through love”; that is, knowing God in our hearts and expressing what we know in actions that reveal Christ’s presence within us (John 14:5; 1John 5:2; Galatians 5:4).

So never do what the letter of the law says without asking what the Spirit in your heart is saying about it. Through the Spirit we hear the voice of Jesus.

The second step is to focus constantly on the “law in our minds, written on our hearts.” We do this by “abiding” in Christ, and letting his words “abide” in us by reading and reflecting on the words he is speaking to us now in Scripture, hearing and discerning the words he is speaking in our hearts (John 15:1). We “obey” (from the Latin ob and audio) by listening. And we listen to what is within us, where the Father, Son and Spirit are dwelling in our hearts. For Christians, obedience is always a response to the voice of God speaking from within us now.

So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away. See, everything has become new! All this is from God… In Christ God was reconciling the world to himself… and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. So we are ambassadors for Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17).

Do I choose to live my religion as an interior experience of Jesus Christ, and to be an “ambassador” of this religion to others? Like the “Twelve whom Jesus named Apostles that they might be with him and he might send them forth”?

We can’t choose one without the other.

Pray: “Lord, let me hear your voice and live!” (John 5:25).

Practice: Frequently, put your hand on your heart in a way nobody will notice, and say, “Jesus.”

Discuss: Do you experience your religion more as responding to something or someone outside of you, or to something or someone inside of you?

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