One of St Paul’s most eloquent passages is today’s first reading from the third chapter of the Epistle to the Ephesians:
Brothers and sisters:
I kneel before the Father,
from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named,
that he may grant you in accord with the riches of his glory
to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in the inner self,
and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith;
that you, rooted and grounded in love,
may have strength to comprehend with all the holy ones
what is the breadth and length and height and depth,
and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge,
so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.
Now to him who is able to accomplish far more than all we ask or imagine,
by the power at work within us,
to him be glory in the Church and in Christ Jesus
to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.
This mystical and metaphysical prayer of St Paul’s is amazing in it’s beauty and depth. Here is the prospect of divinization delivered. Your destiny is to be “filled with the fullness of God.” It’s what we call ‘theosis’. As St Irenaeus said, “God became man so that men could become gods.” What God has in store for each of the baptized is therefore “far more than we can ask or imagine.” If you could see yourself as God intended you to be you would fall on your face in awesome wonder.
This takes place as the power of God within us eventually, step by painful step and year by difficult year, we come to ‘comprehend’ or ‘fully understand and embrace’ the breadth and length and height and depth of the love of God. Notice that we do this ‘with all the holy ones’ i.e. the saints.
This holiness that is our destiny is to know and live in and become part is to be filled with the ‘fullness of God. This is what interests me. Holiness is described as ‘fullness’ or ‘wholeness’. The Blessed Virgin is described as ‘full of grace.’ Sin, on the other hand, is described as ‘falling short of the glory of God.’ We think of sin as the naughty, selfish and shameful things we do. No. These are just the symptoms of not being full. They are to our condition what hunger pangs and stealing bread are to hunger. The hunger was first. It produced the hunger pangs and influenced our choice to steal bread. So it is with sin. Sin is the outworking of the lack of God’s glory in our lives. Sin is the symptom. I am not a sinner because I sin. I sin because I’m a sinner.
It is this lack of something good which exercises me. I want to address the problem at the root. I want to be filled with the fullness of God at the foundation level. Then everything else will take care of itself.
The lack of this fullness is foolishness. Foolishness is worldly wisdom. It is thinking that I can do things without God and make myself better on my own. Maybe through a combination of will power, positive thinking, religious exercises and striving very hard to be a nicer person. That’s foolishness. Even if you do change yourself in that way you will only be changing the outside. Might as well have a face lift, a new hairdo or botox for all the good it will do you. We need inner transformation. We need to be “strengthened by his power through his Spirit in the inner self.”
The main problem with Christianity today is that it has forgotten these astounding ambitions promised in the New Testament. Christians of all sorts–and Catholics especially–have turned Christianity into a bland exercise in trying to be nice people. We’ve turned the faith into some sort of dull middle class club that meets on Sundays to sing awful, sentimental songs before we discuss how we’re going to make the world a better place. Hasn’t anybody figured out that you don’t need religion to do all that? If that’s all religion is, then to hell with it. (h/t to Flannery) Making religion into a milquetoast milestone once a week is foolishness in the extreme. The next generation will ask quite rightly. “Why bother to go to church?” Excellent question. The world does trendy music, uplifting self help sermons and do gooder activities much better and without all the getting up early on Sunday morning stuff.
Real Christianity is about a radical transformation from the ground level up. The real thing is strong wine–not water. The real thing is the greatest adventure. The real thing requires enormous courage and unbelievable stamina. The real thing requires a total, extreme makeover.
I wonder how many of us are really ready for that.