Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
May 11, 2009
Our new life in Christ
Archbishop Richard Smith
I knew where he was so I took them by the hand and led them to their father. I’ll never forget how the look of fear and anxiety on their faces vanished when they were reunited with their daddy. He would take care of them and they were able once again to live freely as children.
God our Father created human beings in his image and likeness, created them, in other words, for a relationship of covenant love with himself. Through the original sin of our first parents, repeated through history in the personal sins and hurts of the human race, we wandered away from our Father and were unable, on our own, to find the way back.
The “way back” to the Father has been given to the world in Jesus Christ. At the beginning of the Gospel of John, that evangelist tells us: “No one has ever seen God; it is the only Son who is nearest to the Father’s heart, who has made him known” (John 1.18).
Jesus is the Son who dwells in the heart of the Father; he shares with the Father an infinite communion of love. From the heart of the Father he has come to us, to enable us to be one with him in that very same communion of love.
He who called God his Father, his “Abba” (a word unique to Jesus that conveys a sense of both profound intimacy and filial respect and love), wants us to call his Father our Father.
Jesus, the only Son of God, wants us to be united with him so that, through our union with the one Son of God, we might all be sons and daughters of our heavenly Father. This is what we mean by adoption in Christ as children of our heavenly Father.
This takes place in our lives through the gift of the Holy Spirit bestowed in the sacraments of the Church, first of all in Baptism. Of this Holy Spirit, St. Paul says many things. Two fundamental teachings are given in his letters to the Galatians and to the Romans.
In Galatians we read that the Holy Spirit given to us is the Spirit of the Son crying out “Abba, Father” (cf. Galatians 4.4-7). The very same Holy Spirit that rested upon Jesus throughout his earthly life is given to us, fashioning a wondrous union between Christ and the believer. In the power of the Spirit, we are able, through, with and in Christ, to call upon God as Father.
Furthermore, this union with Christ in the Spirit reunites us to the Father. In Romans Paul tells us that the Holy Spirit is the gift of the love of God. “The love of God,” he says, “has been poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit that has been given to us” (Romans 5.5).
The Holy Spirit is the love which the Father bestows upon the Son and the Son bestows in return upon the Father. Through the gift of this Holy Spirit we are given the gift of communion in this Trinitarian love.
Our new life in Christ is the life of children who, because of their adoption in Christ and the Spirit, live freely and joyfully in the knowledge that they are loved, protected and guided by their heavenly Father.
The life of the Christian is founded upon and flows from the unshakeable conviction that God loves us (cf. 1 John 4:16; Deus Caritas Est, 1). This love provides the context for understanding all aspects of the Christian life. This leads me to the second question.
What does this mean for our daily living?
Concretely, the truth of God’s love means:
First, that our life is one of faith. By faith I mean the complete surrender of one’s life to the person and message of Jesus Christ. The love of God, who did not refuse even his own Son for our sake, demands no less. As Archbishop Chaput taught us, the Christian life is one of total self-gift to God through the faithful following of Jesus Christ.
Second, because we are convinced of the love of God and respond with the whole of our lives, we willingly embrace change. Life in Christ brings about a significant, sometimes radical change in our lives. It involves a letting go of the old manner of living, characterized by self-reliance and self-direction, by sin and selfishness, and an embracing of a new way of life, distinguished by a peaceful and joyful reliance on the grace of God.
Third, because God has called us to a completely new life in Christ, and to abide always in the love of the Lord (cf. John 15.9), we want to remain vigilant that nothing of our old way of life will return, and we strive continually to give ourselves fully. The abiding effect of original sin is our tendency to self-reliance and self-promotion. We need to be wary of this, so that we do not live a half-life, as the archbishop said.
Fourth, God’s love draws us into communion with all who have been touched and transformed by the love of Christ. We call this communion the Church. Through Baptism we first receive the love of God in the gift of the Holy Spirit. This very same sacrament also initiates us into the Church.
Our new life in Christ, made possible by the working of the Holy Spirit, begins and unfolds within the embrace of the Church. For this reason, we love the Church, we trust the Church, and seek always to know and follow her teachings.
Finally, our new life in Christ is one of deep joy. Indeed, this is Christ’s will for us (cf. John 15.11). In Christ, God calls us to joy. Mary Rose spoke of the significant calls that she has received, and each of us is called to discern the particular summons God issues to each of us.
The fundamental call shared by all is the vocation to happiness, or, as the Catechism of the Catholic Church puts it, to beatitude. Another word for this is joy. This call is followed and its fruits are enjoyed when we embrace the commandments of Christ and live them faithfully.
The moral life is our response to the love of God revealed in Christ and poured out in the Spirit. We answer the love of God by living lives of holiness. This is nurtured by regular prayer, participation in the sacramental life of the Church, meditation upon the Word of God, the practice of charity, and embracing our mission to proclaim the Gospel and witness to it in the daily events of our lives.
And now for the third question: what are the indications that we are living our new life in Christ authentically?
To answer this we need only turn to the teaching of St. Paul regarding the fruits of the Spirit in our lives. We know the new life in Christ has taken hold of us when we experience “charity, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, generosity, gentleness, faithfulness, modesty, self-control, chastity” (cf. CCC, 1832).
Conversely, the need for conversion, for a deeper shedding of the old way of life to embrace the new, is manifest, St. Paul tells us, in “immorality, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, hatreds, rivalry, jealousy, outbursts of fury, acts of selfishness, dissensions, factions, occasions of envy, drinking bouts, orgies, and the like” (Galatians 5.19-21).
To the degree that these practices and attitudes are present in one’s life, the new life of Christ has not yet been fully embraced.
Mary Rose spoke about the happiness and the joy she feels from the new life in Christ. This same joy is the will of Christ for each of us. By God’s grace, may we embrace our new life fully, confident that God has made us his children and loves us more than we can imagine in Christ his Son.
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