A commitment to lead a Christian life is a commitment to lead a life which is sometimes difficult and demanding. Moreover, until we start to live that life, we can find it a fearsome thing — we find intimacy with God more than we can bear.
I raised those points in my last article in discussing the existence of unbelief. But they raise a further question — what leads one to overcome that fear and to make an act of faith?
Earlier, I discussed aspects of my own conversion and how St. Augustine spoke of a restlessness in the human heart which can only be stilled when it rests in God.
This is the central paradox of the Christian life — that faith in God calls us to self-denial, but that self-denial leads to fullness of life. We find happiness not by seeking happiness, but by losing ourselves in the service of a power greater than ourselves. This loss of self is the path to a fuller self.
Again, only by seeing how small we are in comparison to the greatness of God can we be raised to a fuller human dignity. This dignity is something much greater than anything of which we can dream. By humbling ourselves before God, we are made into children of God, sharers in the very divinity of God.
This is a staggering truth, one which few Christians have come to fully accept. Yet, it is attested to by the fathers and doctors of the church. St. Augustine, for example, says, "Let us rejoice and give thanks; we have not only become Christians, but Christ himself. . . . Stand in awe and rejoice, we have become Christ" (quoted in Pope John Paul II, Christifideles Laici, 17).
Moral theologian Germain Grisez sees this notion of our becoming one with Christ through baptism as the root of all Christian living. "The idea of our divinization is so astonishing and so different from anything we ordinarily think, that we tend to cast about for ways to weaken its force by giving it an attenuated meaning. . . . Not to believe the reality expressed here, or to interpret it in merely sentimental or metaphorical terms, misses the very heart of Christian revelation" (Fulfillment in Christ, p. 283).
However, our divinity is not something independent of the Trinity. It comes through Christ — Christians are God's adopted children. There are not 1.5 billion independent gods on earth, each a power unto him or herself.
In fact, the opposite is true. The Jews expected a powerful Messiah who would rule over the earth. They could not comprehend a Messiah who would be born in an animals' feeding trough and who would die an inglorious death on the cross. But Christ came in total humility, as the servant of the Father.
Our Christian call is to live as Christ lived, to be Christ in a world which often knows no humility. Christ "did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself taking the form of a slave" (Philippians 2:6-7).
We respond to God's call in order to fulfill our own dignity. We yearn to be one with God even if that means forsaking all that is held in esteem by the world. Evidence of that yearning is seen in all the great religions. They all testify that the world is not enough, that we become most human by renouncing the myriad pleasures of the flesh.
Some religions see such renunciation as a way of drawing closer to God. But only Christianity understands the full dignity of the human person redeemed by God who became flesh.
It is a profoundly loving God who would dare to share his divinity with us. As this truth becomes clear to us, we are drawn to love God in return. God calls us not merely to some theoretical knowledge about him or to follow a set of moral maxims. He calls us to a passionate embrace. One's whole being is swept up and transformed by this embrace.
Throughout the ages, as people have grown aware of God's love for them, they have gladly cast away all their earthly attachments to follow him. God is the hound of heaven who pursues us with reckless abandon until we are his. At that point, we in return begin to pursue him recklessly, leaving behind our social relationships, our wealth and even our freedom.
But this pursuit is not a futile chase after a God who is beyond all knowing. It is a relationship with a person, Jesus Christ, who is the mediator and fullness of all revelation.
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