March 14, 2015
Saturday of the 3rd week of Lent
Jesus Changes Our Recognition Of “Oneness”
“For it is love that I desire, not sacrifice,
and knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.”
What gives us our sense of identity with others (from idem, “the same”)? What gives me my individual identity as a person? How can I be “one and the same” in myself, and “one and the same” with others at the same time? Do I lose my identity when I become “one” with others?
This isn’t a superficial question. “Oneness” is one of the four “transcendentals” that all beings have in common, God as well as creatures. Everything that exists as a recognizable being has being, oneness, truth, and goodness.
But “oneness” causes a problem, because God, who is the source (and therefore the model) of all being, is both supremely One, and also Three Persons. The Three Persons are “One in Being,” but distinct from each other as Persons. They are distinct by their relationships. A relationship makes a difference without adding anything. No Person of the Trinity, Father, Son or Spirit, has more or less of anything than the others, but they differ by their relationships, a word practically interchangeable with interactions.
Since to be God is to be a Person in relationship, we can argue that for human beings made in the image of God, being a “person” has something to do with being in relationship. In fact, we might say that for humans, being authentically a “person” has everything to do with being in relationship. One of the first things God said about his human creatures was, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper as his partner” (Genesis 2:18). So it is literally “essential” for us to enter into relationship with others. Human beings do not make complete sense in isolation. Our nature calls for relationships. Our “oneness” or unity as human beings calls for “community,” a “common unity,” with others.
We form relationships by interacting. The Persons of the Trinity are related to each other as Father, Son (Word), and Spirit according to the way they interact with each other. The Father who “generates” the Son (a word we use to avoid being precise) is—in some way that is not strictly causal—the source of the Trinity’s Being and Goodness; the Son or “Word” is in some way the expression of the Trinity’s Truth (the “reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint [charakter, representation, expression] of God’s very being [hupostasis, substance],” Hebrews 1:2); and the Holy Spirit is in some way the realization of the Trinity’s Oneness in love: the Three Persons are one “in the unity of the Holy Spirit.” But these are differences in relationship, not in being. Both the Son and the Spirit are “one in being” with the Father. So, even though this is a mystery we cannot understand, we can ask what it says about us.
It says that, although in ourselves we are “whole and entire” as beings, we cannot be fully persons unless we enter into relationship with others. Our identity (idem, “same”) depends on identifying with others in the “common (koinos) sameness” and diversity of a community (koinonia: “fellowship,” “sharing”).
We ask how we, as “contemplatives,” see or recognize our identity with other Christians.
The Gospel says that:
The Pharisee… spoke this prayer to himself, ‘O God, I thank you that I am not like the rest of humanity— greedy, dishonest, adulterous—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week, and I pay tithes on my whole income.’
The Pharisee saw himself as a good Jew, a loyal member of the community, because he kept the rules and observed the practices of his “religion.” And undoubtedly he was strictly orthodox in his profession of doctrines. But Jesus blamed him. What was missing?
The Pharisee was not conscious of the need to be in the kind of relationship with others that God wants. He was glad he was “not like the rest of humanity,” not “one” with them, but different, set apart by his good behavior. And even his good behavior was not a way of interacting personally with God; he did “what” was right, without making it a conscious response to the “who” of God. Jesus blamed the Pharisees because they kept God’s laws without connecting them to God’s mind and heart. They did not cultivate personal relationship with God as a "Who." When they accused his disciples of breaking the law of Sabbath observance, he said, “If you had known what this means, ‘I desire mercy and not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the guiltless” (Matthew 11:7).
When God says, “It is mercy I desire, [Hosea says “steadfast love”] and not sacrifice,” he is talking about relationship. To have “mercy” (in Spanish piedad, from the Latin pietas) means “to come to the aid of another out of a sense of relationship.” It is motivated by “compassion,” which means “co-suffering,” to “suffer with” another out of a sense of oneness. We can’t have “compassion” or “mercy” and say, “O God, I thank you that I am not like the rest of humanity.”
Jesus changes the understanding we have of being united with others by “religion.” We do not find our religious identity through professing doctrines and keeping rules, although these are a necessary part of authentic religion. We know ourselves as “Christians” by the relationship, the kind of personal interaction we have wth God and other people. Pope Francis says in The Joy of the Gospel that in sharing the Good News with others:
128… The first step is personal dialogue, when the other person speaks and shares his or her joys, hopes and concerns for loved ones, or so many other heartfelt needs. Only afterwards is it possible to bring up God’s word, perhaps by reading a Bible verse or relating a story, but always keeping in mind the fundamental message: the personal love of God who became man, who gave himself up for us, who is living and who offers us his salvation and his friendship.
Do I choose to let Jesus change my recognition of “oneness” with others?
Pray: “O God, be merciful to me a sinner, and make me merciful to others.”
Practice: In everything you do, be conscious of interacting personally with God and others.
Discuss: What gives you your sense of identity as a “Catholic” or other kind of Christian?