Saturday, September 27, 2008

The Imitation of Christ

(26th Sunday in Ordinary Time, A)

In the second reading today, we hear the beautiful first part of the second chapter of Paul’s letter to the Philippians. Here Paul records a hymn to the Incarnation of God in Jesus Christ. In Christ, God “empties himself” in the perfect act of sublime humility. We heard this same hymn two weeks ago on the feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, but today we get the fuller passage that includes Paul’s set up and interpretation of what the humility of the Incarnation of the Son of God can mean for us.

 We’re used to the idea that Jesus reveals God. In his humble birth, his preaching, his miracles, and most of all in his sorrowful Passion and glorious Resurrection, Jesus reveals to us the personality of the unseen and mysterious Source and Ground of all being we call God the Father. Most of the faith and practice of our religion is based on this, and rightly so.

 But it’s also good for us to look at the other side of the Revelation of God in Jesus Christ. For Jesus Christ—truly God and truly human—reveals not only God the Father but our humanity as well. The life and death of Jesus shows us God’s idea of what our human life is meant to be about; it’s as if you were to ask God, ‘How should I live? How can I be happy and be a better person?’ By way of an answer the Eternal Word of God borrows our humanity from our Blessed Mother and becomes one of us, in order to show us how to be human.

This is why it is so important for us as Christians to pay attention to the person of Jesus Christ as he comes to us in the Gospels. By noticing how he relates to and treats people, he models for us the way to be happy and peace in our relationships with each other. By meditating on his suffering, death, and Resurrection we learn how to let go of ourselves and come to true freedom and happiness.

The classic spiritual strategy of the imitatio Christi, the ‘imitation of Christ’ is so powerful because to model ourselves on Jesus is to make ourselves over according to God’s will and desire for true and perfect humanity. This is what Paul recommends to us in the second reading when he invites us to “participation in the Spirit” by being of “the same mind…united in heart, thinking one thing.” The word which we translate “participation” in Paul’s Greek is koinonia, the word the New Testament uses frequently for communion. It’s the same as the greeting of the priest at the beginning of Mass, “the fellowship—the communicatio—of the Holy Spirit be with you.”

The Holy Communion we celebrate and receive here at Mass is meant to make us into what we receive. By this fellowship with Christ, by our communion in his Body and Blood, our humanity, our lives, are taken up into his divine humanity. This will empower us to become like Christ, indeed to become alteri Christi, “other Christs” in the classic spiritual language. Here at Mass we celebrate God’s revelation—in Christ—of what it means to be a human being, to be called to that perfect humility that lets go of self in order to take the form of servants to one another. In the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, the communion of God with us in Christ, we are invited to do just as he did: to let our bodies become the Body of Christ and to let our hearts become homes for his Precious Blood. Then we find the true humanity of giving ourselves away for the sake of each other.

No comments: