November 28, 2020

Christ in the Mirror of the Soul

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In Part 1 RC took “umbrage” with my contention that God loves her just the way she truly is.

In Part 2, I addressed in more detail what the nature of love is and how we were created to be one with God and one with one another in the Unity of the Trinity.

In this third part I wish to reflect on the question of how we can understand the presence of Christ within us.

The Church Fathers were fond of saying of Christ that “God became man so that man could become like God.” How do we human persons “partake” of the Divine nature so as to become like God? As we have shared in our first two blogs, we become like God through a union of love with Jesus Christ.

Christ’s love for you and me is the foundation of a personal relationship we come to share over time with Him that grows by faithful correspondence to grace. What is the nature of this relationship? It is a personal, mutual knowledge born from love. We grow “to know Him as we are known” (1 Cor 13:12). To be known by God is to be loved by Him and to ‘know’ Him is to love Him.

Recall what Jesus will say someday to some of his followers, hopefully not you and I. They will have done supposed great things “in His Name”… yet He will say to them,  “Depart from me for I never knew you!” In what sense did those supposed followers not “know” Him?

In Semitic thought ‘knowledge’, ‘love’ and ‘conjugality’ are essentially related. For example, in Genesis 4:1 we read that Adam “knew” Eve and she bore him Cain. The Hebrews, our forefathers in our Christian Faith, understood that there is an interpersonal ‘knowledge’ born of love. And because “God is love” (1Jn 4:8), there is a ‘knowledge’ of God born of love that is not purely intellectual. In other words, those disciples never truly knew Jesus.

This brings us to our point: to know Jesus is to love Him, and to love Him is to share with Him His eternal life. Allow me to explain further RC.

Because Christ Jesus, the 2nd Person of the Trinity became flesh, His human nature, now glorious from the Resurrection, is capable of communicating His divine life, his divine attributes. This truth is the basis of our Catholic Sacramental theology, i.e. the Holy Eucharist, marriage, etc.. The Sacraments bring us into a communion with Him, with His divine life; a life that is transforming. They make us like Him.

This all means that our ‘personal knowledge’ of Christ is a communion with Him, His glorious human nature and all its virtue.

The Saints were fond of saying that we enter Christ’s divinity through His humanity.

This is all possible because Christ, the 2nd Person of the Holy Trinity, became incarnate and took our human nature upon Himself. St. Thomas Aquinas wrote: “The full participation of the Divinity… is bestowed upon us by Christ’s humanity, for Augustine says in a sermon: ‘God was made man, that man might be made God.’  As St. Thomas confirms, our “participation in the Divinity” is a sharing in the divine attributes of Christ’s Glorified human nature. In being one with  Christ in love, His glorious human nature becomes part of our human nature… in part now, fully in heaven.

Now we share in Christ’s divine nature (1Pet 1:4) by means of our mysterious yet certain personal knowledge of Him. This knowledge is mysterious in the following ways. First, because it is a knowledge from above that Christ is born ‘within me.’ Second, being personal it is both ‘knowing’ and ‘being known’ by Christ. We are coming to “know Him as we are known.” Lastly, it is a knowing (sharing in) Christ’s union of love with His Father. And this is another key: in loving the Son, the Father loves Christ in me. To be one with Christ in love is to partake of the communion He shares with the Father, in one Divine nature.

Now we have come full circle. Christ in me is the “new man” that St. Paul speaks of. This “new man” is like a seed that is planted within our hearts in baptism, and grows through a life lived in a union of love. And this ‘new birth’ into Trinitarian love is what Jesus gave to the disciples: His Glory. He prayed to the Father: “I have given them the Glory You gave Me, so that they may be one as We are one—I in them and You in Me” (Jn 17:22-23). The Glory of the Father that Jesus gave His disciples made them “fully alive,” united to Him. And united together we are one mystical body in Christ. Yes, we are “fully alive” in Christ, in this ‘union’ of love wherein Christ Jesus makes us partakers of His divine nature and sharers in the Glory of His Father.

“…the light of the knowledge of the glory of God, in the face of Christ Jesus.” (2 Cor 4:6)

The loving union between the soul and Christ gives us a certain and uniquely personal ‘knowledge’ of Christ. In this union He is the object of our love as we are ‘His beloved.’ As I emphasized in the first part of this blog (here) being ‘beloved’ is to be loved uniquely and particularly “as if you were the only one.” In part 2  (here). I noted how it is the nature of our human spirit to ‘go out of itself’ and unite with others in love. In transcending itself to unite with the divine object in love, our created spirit knows itself more fully as beloved of Christ. In this, part 3, I want to conclude by showing how the revelation of Christ ‘in me is a  mysterious reflection in our soul of His Presence, His face, as reflected in the “mirror”  of our souls. This is possible through Grace because we were created in God’s image. In Christ we are “images of His Image.”

St. Paul describes this revelation of Christ’s person as a transformative gazing or beholding of the face of Christ within the soul. He writes to the Corinthians: “we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit” (2 Cor 3:18). And just a few verses further, “For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God, in the face of Christ Jesus.” (2 Cor 4:6). The Greek word translated as “face” in almost all Bible versions is prosopon, which is also the Greek word for “person.” This is the point. In our union of prayerful love the Holy Spirit, united to the created spirit of our soul, acts as a mystical “mirror” revealing the loving face (person) of ChristThis begins spiritually not as a vision but rather a delicate and subtle awareness of His presence within.

There is a mystery to this mystical revelation of Christ. It is mysterious because it pertains to the realm of the heart, to the realm of that which is interpersonal and not merely intellectual or imaginitive. Furthermore, it conforms to the truth of Divine Revelation… a divine reality. Allow me to try to explain what this “awareness” is.

We ‘see’ with our hearts in a way we do not see with our eyes. It is in this way that love yields endearing knowledge of another. On a natural level, we understand that which is beautiful or good in another not merely by observing their appearance, but by inwardly sensing their lovableness, which is further enriched in sharing their love. Correspondingly,  it is by grace that we know Christ and “see” His supernatural or glorious beauty, His divine goodness. This only deepens through the love He shares with us.

“…it pleased God… to reveal His Son in me…” (Gal 1:16)

St. Elizabeth of the Trinity describes well this knowledge of the love of Christ. Writing in her “Last Retreat” to her sister Guite, she depicts her attention to the love of God (whether Father, Son or Holy Spirit) as a simple “gaze.” She writes, “The soul, by the simplicity of the gaze which it fixes on its divine object, finds itself set apart from all that surrounds it, set apart also and above all from itself. Then it is resplendent with this ‘knowledge of the glory of God,’ of which the Apostle speaks, because it permits the divine Being to be reflected in it, “and all His attributes are communicated to it.”

This “gaze” of mutual love is not neccesarily an ecstasy but rather a heightened awareness of God’s presence and love within the pure of heart. They “see” God within themselves (Matt 5:8). God is the consuming object of their will in a union of love. The Saint describes the fruit of this union as a sharing in Christ’s personal “attributes.” She “sees” Christ’s beauty, His goodness, His truth reflected within herself! Christ’s virtues become her virtues.

All the divine attributes of Christ are communicated through this loving gaze. She sees them as her own. This points to one meaning of that enigmatic Johannine phrase, “we shall be like Him, because we shall see Him as He is (1 Jn 3:2).

This point is made even clearer in what St Clare of Assisi writes to her Sister Agnes, “He (Christ) is the brightness of eternal glory, the splendour of eternal light, the mirror without spot. Look into that mirror daily, O queen and spouse of Jesus Christ, and ever study therein your countenance

Christ does reveal Himself to the soul as its ‘alter self.’ This is surely a great mystery. I believe that this is the truth of the revelation of the “new man” of St Paul, which we all are “in Christ.” He is our true identity that is unique to each one of us. He is our true self-image as baptized sons and daughters of the Father. This revelation is the source of true self-love and authentic self-image.

St. Bonaventure also expresses this in his treatise The Soul’s Journey into God. Entering into ourselves by grace the Saint writes “you will be able to see God through yourself as through an image, which is to see (Him) through a mirror in mystery.” It is as in a mirror that “…the light of truth, as from a candelabrum, glows upon the face of our spirit, in which the image of the most blessed Trinity shines in splendor. He concludes, “Enter into yourself, then, and see that your soul loves itself most fervently.” The soul is loving itself mysteriously in Christ’s own love!

In conclusion, returning again to St. Paul, this revelation of Christ in our souls is our beholding of “the glory of the Lord – as in a mirror” (2 Cor 3:18). It is a “beholding” that enables us to partake in the attributes Christ’s glorified human nature (2 Peter 1:4); His very holiness. “He beholds us” as objects of His love as we behold Him. His look confers upon us the power to love in ourselves and in others ‘what He loves in us.’ It is then that we come to truly “know” and love ourselves and others as we are “known” and loved by God.

I believe that this is what St. Paul meant in stating that we share in the “knowledge of the glory of God.” It is the fulfillment of Jesus’ prayer in the garden of Gethsemane (Jn 17:22, 26) when He prayed, “The glory that you have given me I have given them… that the love wherewith thou hast loved me may be in them, and I in them.”

RC, we have to believe that the Father has heard this prayer and is answering it for you and me… now and forever. 

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Fr. Michael Hinken SOLT is a priest of

the Society of Our Lady of the Most Holy Trinity.

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