In an earlier blog (Repentance-Why Bother?) I looked at reasons for making a fundamental decision to change your life, to 'die to self.' Here I will consider why, that decision having been made, you should make Jesus the focus for your new direction. It might be asked 'why look to anyone else at all?' If you are an intelligent adult possessed with the ability to reason should you not be able to work out your own destiny for yourself?
The difficulty here is that by accepting the need to radically transform your Self you have acknowledged that the problem is not something which is external. The thing which is broken cannot repair itself unaided. Archimedes is reputed to have said "Give me the place to stand, and I shall move the earth." Granted that you necessarily have a share in your own rebirth you still require some kind of partner, catalyst or teacher. Christianity proposes that Jesus is the place you can stand upon in order to move the inert globe of your dead self.
There is a passage in the Gospel according to St John which, I think, is relevant here-
-I am the door. By me, if any man enter in, he shall be saved: and he shall go in, and go out, and shall find pastures.
-The thief cometh not, but for to steal, and to kill, and to destroy. I am come that they may have life, and may have it more abundantly.
-I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd giveth his life for his sheep
This contains three clear propositions.
- Jesus is the gateway through which the new self or kingdom can be entered.
- In Him we will experience life more fully than ever before
- He demonstrates a self-sacrificing love for us of a kind that cannot be exceeded.
That Jesus is the door is a large claim and calls for some significant proofs. It is in the nature of the thing that such proofs can only have a persuasive not a compulsive effect. That is to say, for Jesus to be our gate we require to have a freely entered into relationship of love with Him and love requires the freedom to choose not to love. Since the Christian thesis is that our Lord is both fully human and fully divine you would expect such proofs to exist in both physical and spiritual dimensions. The material basis for believing in Him can be found in the miracles He performed, in His rising from the dead and ascension into heaven and in the subsequent unbroken history of miracles associated with His body the Church. Many people fancy that these things only appeal to the credulous and that we live in a hard-headed age where such phenomena are discounted. We are not however as original as we might think; St John tartly observed "whereas he had done so many miracles before them, they believed not in him." (John 12:37) No amount of demonstrable facts can persuade a person to believe in something which they do not wish to believe.
Nonetheless for many of us the proof can only be an experimental one i.e. we need to try Jesus for ourselves and learn from that if we can go in and out of the sheepfold as promised. He offers salvation which, insofar as it refers to our eternal state, cannot readily be proved in this life. What He says here though is "shall be saved" which combines the notions of a present benefit with those of a future state. The idea is that by entering through the door of Jesus we will be kept safe from the wolves which threaten us. In relation to repentance these wild beasts are our own unchained appetites "the desire of the flesh, the desire of the eyes, the pride in riches" (1 John 2:16) These parts of ourselves should be subordinate to our reason but very often our reason is subdued by our appetites. The proof that Jesus is the door to safety comes when aided by Him our reason (and our compassion and love) win more victories over our lusts than before. The question of just how we can "put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the desires of the flesh." (Romans 13:14) is something I hope to look at in a future blog The Catholic Church-Why Bother?
That life is experienced more abundantly with Jesus than without is also an experimental proposition. To get the full benefit of that, I would argue, you have to be immersed in the life of the Church but you can, by the grace of God, get intimations of it before taking that step. As an experiment I would recommend spending time reading the canonical gospels. Do not approach them as if they were like any other book because they are a unique literary genre. Read slowly, re-read. Open yourselves to what they contain.It is certainly possible to read them analytically and to, as it were, argue with the characters in them. Do not, however, make that the main way you read them. At times just open yourselves to them, suspend analysis and just try to get a feel for the man Jesus, let Him seep into your consciousness, into your bones.
Alongside that there is the way of prayer. There are as many different ways to pray as there are people who want to pray so I won't propose a single model. Experiment for yourself but remember, its not all about you. Listening is an important part of the process. And if what you hear is silence then go with that. When was the last time you silently listened to silence? Its not as easy as you might think. If the thought of being silent and alone worries you ask yourself why? What makes it uncomfortable?
More controversially perhaps I also suggest that the use of images will help you to bring Jesus into your life. Allied with prayer and/or gospel reading just sitting looking at an Icon of Christ or a crucifix (as opposed to a bare cross) can help you. Hold in your mind while you are gazing a few words of Scripture or a short prayer and see what happens. If you make up your mind to try these things every day for, say, six months then you will be in a better position to know whether or not you are living life more abundantly because of Jesus.
The final proposition is that Jesus is worth responding to because He demonstrated towards each one of us the maximum possible love, a total self-sacrifice for us not because we are His friends but because we are His enemies. It is sometimes said that the motif of a dying and rising god is an ancient trope that the Christians just borrowed from surrounding legends. What this misses is the unique selling point of Christianity which is the doctrine of Incarnation. Jesus "though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness" (Philippians 2:6-7)
He was not a god living among men or an avatar of divinity. He was a person at once fully human, the Son of Mary, and fully divine, the Son of God, who chose to live in poverty and obscurity and to die a shameful and agonising death in order to effect a reconciliation between all that is far from God and God Himself. He emptied Himself to become a man and He was emptied, betrayed and abandoned to become a corpse. And all of this He did for your benefit, to help you empty yourself of your jealousies and envies, your anger and greed and to allow you to fill yourself with His riches freely given "I would feed you with the finest of the wheat, and with honey from the rock I would satisfy you.’" (Psalm 81:16) It is a generous offer. What prevents you from accepting it?
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The picture is Saint Andrew and St Thomas by Bernini