Summary: In the Christian life, with suffering, God gives us wordless and imageless insights that strengthen and confirm faith.
Thursday of 32nd Week in Course
To get a clearer understanding of today’s Gospel, we have to take it in context. First, Jesus is addressing the Pharisees, who wanted to know when the kingdom of God would come. Remember that this sect–really a kind of political party as well–wanted political power. They wanted God to somehow kick out the Romans and the fawning Sadducees so they could run things as they saw them, and restore the Biblical Law as the rule of society. But Jesus knew that every human attempt to make things better by politics had failed, and would continue to fail. The kingdom of God was established not as an external rule, but as an internal change. That kind of change of heart would only be possible by following and imitating Jesus. But first Jesus must suffer and die and rise again so that we could be incorporated into His Mystical Body, and be like Him in his faithfulness and power and suffering and resurrection.
As one commentator has put it, “the presence of the Kingdom of God in each soul is something one perceives through the affections and inspirations communicated by the Holy Spirit.” (Navarre Bible, St. Luke at 150) St. Therese of Liseaux taught from her own experience that “the Doctor of Doctors teaches us without the sound of words.” And He teaches us and touches us often when we are not at formal prayer, but when we are doing something that enables us to be open to his voice. I remember at least twenty years ago that happened shortly before I accepted my diaconal vocation–I was mowing the lawn and without a word, Christ made everything clear in less than an instant. No vision, no voice from heaven, but clarity: everything the Church has taught us became obvious. A little like lightning flashes lighting up the sky from east to west all at once. Therese again: “I have never heard him speak, and yet I know he is within my soul.” It is an inspiration that we come to know as a foundational truth–if we ever give it up, we understand that nothing will ever make sense again. That, I believe, is true Wisdom, a great gift of God that comes with years of walking in faith.
The popes continue their teaching on faith in Christ: We come to see the difference, then, which faith makes for us. Those who believe are transformed by the love to which they have opened their hearts in faith. By their openness to this offer of primordial love, their lives are enlarged and expanded. “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me” (Gal 2:20). “May Christ dwell in your hearts through faith” (Eph 3:17). The self-awarenessof the believer now expands because of the presence of another; it now lives in this other and thus, in love, life takes on a whole new breadth. Here we see the Holy Spirit at work. The Christian can see with the eyes of Jesus and share in his mind, his filial disposition, because he or she shares in his love, which is the Spirit. In the love of Jesus, we receive in a certain way his vision. Without being conformed to him in love, without the presence of the Spirit, it is impossible to confess him as Lord (cf. 1 Cor 12:3).
And –let me add–without the Church, it is impossible to experience and show the full meaning of our confession.
In this way, the life of the believer becomes an ecclesial existence, a life lived in the Church. When Saint Paul tells the Christians of Rome that all who believe in Christ make up one body, he urges them not to boast of this; rather, each must think of himself “according to the measure of faith that God has assigned” (Rom 12:3). Those who believe come to see themselves in the light of the faith which they profess: Christ is the mirror in which they find their own image fully realized. And just as Christ gathers to himself all those who believe and makes them his body, so the Christian comes to see himself as a member of this body, in an essential relationship with all other believers. The image of a body does not imply that the believer is simply one part of an anonymous whole, a mere cog in great machine; rather, it brings out the vital union of Christ with believers, and of believers among themselves (cf. Rom 12:4-5) Christians are “one” (cf. Gal 3:28), yet in a way which does not make them lose their individuality; in service to others, they come into their own in the highest degree. This explains why, apart from this body, outside this unity of the Church in Christ, outside this Church which — in the words of Romano Guardini — “is the bearer within history of the plenary gaze of Christ on the world”16 — faith loses its “measure”; it no longer finds its equilibrium, the space needed to sustain itself. Faith is necessarily ecclesial; it is professed from within the body of Christ as a concrete communion of believers. It is against this ecclesial backdrop that faith opens the individual Christian towards all others.