In our prayer group this past week, we had an opportunity to read Chapter 22, The Life in Christ, from Thomas Merton’s New Seeds of Contemplation. It was a chapter rich with concepts as we discussed the mystery of Christ living in us. There were some basic points that I gathered from the beginning of the chapter:
Taking a trip with the Bible
As I contemplated Jesus living with me, being in me, I was taken to Chapter 17 (BibleGateway) in the Gospel of John. Jesus is participating with the apostles in the last supper and has just explained to them that he must depart so the Holy Spirit can come to them (Chapter 16). As we head into the next chapter, it’s almost as if Jesus takes a deep breath and exhales, and then finds himself in gratitude and does his Highly Priestly prayer. Here, I get to see how Jesus prays for me that we may be one with God the Father and God the Son:
20 “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, 21 that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me, and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22 I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one— 23 I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.
24 “Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world.
25 “Righteous Father, though the world does not know you, I know you, and they know that you have sent me. 26 I have made you known to them, and will continue to make you known in order that the love you have for me may be in them and that I myself may be in them.”
Reflecting with Thomas Merton and Jesus
We become a new person, mystically and spiritually as one identity, who is at once Christ and me. This union is the work of the Holy Spirit of Love. Christ himself becomes the source and principle of divine life in me.
The challenges of life can make it hard to understand this mystical union. When I contrast pain and pleasure, hope and fear, joy and sorrow, living in my body and dying a bodily death, it’s easy to lose faith.
It can be the hardest thing in life to rise above what seems to be external to me: work, friends, politics, the environment, financial security, war, poverty, among other challenges in life. Not that they are not important to deal with as we try to live as a community, but they are external to my interior life.
For me to live in the joy of God, I must let my soul accommodate to God’s will. As Thomas Merton says, “souls are like wax waiting for a seal. By themselves, they have no special identity. Their destiny is to be softened and prepared in this life, by God’s will, to receive, at their death, the seal of their own degree of likeliness to God in Christ.”
In addition to Merton, other saints (St. John of the Cross, Teresa of Avila) talk about a fire of purification so that our souls and will line up with God’s will. There is a heat associated with this fire and it is easy to run away from it. We don’t like it, sometimes if feels too hot. It may seem like this is a major sacrifice and the easy way out is to continue to enjoy life on the surface. But on the surface, we experience that contrast of pain and pleasure, hope and fear, joy and sorrow.
Interestingly enough, this sacrifice is commonly viewed as a hardship, a moral act, a work of virtue. These thoughts and feelings come because we commonly feel the heat and fire of purification. But it is Christ coming to me and dwelling in me as a mystical union that is the actual sacrifice, not the pain that I may endure during this process. As Merton states, this sacred sacrifice “effects a divine and religious transformation in the worshiper, thus consecrating and uniting him more closely to God.” If pain and discomfort is felt in this process, it is an incidental occurrence in proportion to our weakness and fallen nature along with its corresponding will power as in comes into conflict with God’s will.
When I receive the body of Christ, I experience this mystical union so that Christ and I become one identity. In this mystical union, I experience the mystery of the Cross and with it, the redemptive death and resurrection of Jesus. This gives me hope and helps me look forward to my redemptive death and resurrection. And when I attend mass, I do so in communion with my friends and relatives, who together as one body in Christ, we experience this mystical sacramental union in Christian charity and with the love of the Holy Spirit.
This mystical union transforms me, it changes my substance of who I am. With this change, I move closer to the person God meant for me to be, fulfilling God’s promise that I can be God’s son imparting love, charity, and mercy to those around me. By being their brother, I can help people become who they are meant to be, sharing God’s love in this process as God loves you as a son and daughter.