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Retreat - The Essentials of the Religious Life
Doctrinal Formation: Who is Jesus Christ?
December 31, 1983 Homily
by Fr. John A. Hardon, S.J.
Against the background of our last conference on the need of a lifetime formation in the religious life, I wish now to offer three meditations on three successive areas of crucial need for the formation of religious in our day. I say crucial because in my judgment, the single greatest necessity among religious men and women in modern times is sound education in Catholic doctrine.
Doctrine as we know is simply the Church's teaching of God's revelation. It is the fulfillment of Christ's promise that He would send His Spirit of Truth Who would teach us to understand the Gospel preached by the Master. Provided the religious have received sound Catholic doctrine and continue receiving it all through life, their consecration to a life of the counsels is secure. But remove this doctrine or weaken it, or tamper with its authenticity and disintegration in religious institutes follows as surely as night follows day. This is law of survival that what the human heart loves depends on what the human mind first knows. If our mind has the truth, we can love to our hearts content, but it better be the truth and not some spurious counterpart masking as the truth.
There are in my estimation three basic doctrinal truths that religious must learn and be formed and trained to practice all through life if the Holy Father's "hope for the future of religious life" is to be realized. These doctrines are three answers to three questions: Who is Jesus Christ, what is the Catholic Church and what is religious life?
Who is Jesus Christ?
We shall take as our framework for prayerfulexamination the Nicene Creed that we recite or sing in celebrating the Eucharist Liturgy. The Nicene Creed:
"We believe in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father, God from God, Light from Light, True God from True God, begotten not made one in being with the Father, through Him all things were made for us men and for our salvation He came down from Heaven, by the power of the Holy Spirit He was born of the Virgin Mary and became man, for our sake He was crucified under Pontius Pilate, He suffered, died and was buried. On the third day He arose again in fulfillment of the Scriptures; he ascended into Heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father. He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead and His Kingdom will have no end"
Locked up in these words of the Nicene Creed are all the essentials of our faith in Jesus Christ and they are a comprehensive answer to the question we are asking, Who is Jesus Christ? For the sake of convenience, let me subdivide an immense subject into smaller parts and reflect briefly with you on each part as we go along.
Six points on our meditation - Who is Jesus Christ:
Jesus Christ is True God
When we say that Jesus Christ is true God we mean that literally. When Christ told the Jews the Father and I are One; He meant to be taken literally. When Peter told Jesus "You are Christ the Son of the living God", be is to be taken literally. When Thomas on the eighth day after the resurrection knelt and worshipped before Christ and addressed Him "My Lord andMy God", he is to be taken literally; and when St. Paul tells us that in Christ dwells the fullness of the Godhead, he is to be under stood literally. The implications of these astounding truths for the religious life are enormous.
Because we believe that Jesus is true God, we adore Him as our God. For us therefore the first Commandment of the Decalogue can read "I, Jesus Christ, am the Lord your God, you shall not have other gods besides Me". Because we believe that Jesus Christ is true God, we are to love Him with our whole heart, with our whole soul and with all our mind. Because we believe that Jesus Christ is true God, we are to obey Him as our God; He has a right to command us and a right to teach us, and a right to reward and punish us, why not? He is our Creator and we are only His creatures. because we believe that Jesus Christ is true God, we believe that all the virtues He practiced on earth were really the divine attributes lived out in visible form so that in following the example of Christ the man, we are becoming more and more like the all-holy God.
He Became Man and Died for Our Salvation
God's only begotten Son, Who is God from God did not have to become a human being, He did so because He loves us. Love wants to become like the one it loves, so God became a little child. Love wants to be near the one it loves, so God became a human being to be near us as a human being, in Palestine in visible form and now in the Eucharist invisibly as our constant companion and friend. Having become man, He did not have to suffer and die on the cross; He chose to do so again because He loves us.
What should be our response as religious? A corresponding, grateful love of whom? Of Jesus. How in return? He became poor for love of us, if we love Him we want to be poor like Him; He lived a chaste life out of love for us, if we love Him we undertake a life of chastity for Him; He submitted Himself to obedience to which He was not obliged as God, so we freely submit ourselves to a life of obedience out of love for Him; He labored and suffered and was opposed, and humiliated and became tired and finally died because He loves us. Do we love? That's the only question, if we do, it's a hypostasis, if we do, we want to work and suffer and accept opposition and humiliation and fatigue, and if need be death in grateful, grateful love for Him.
He Rose from the Dead
As Christ had predicted, He laid down His Own life and He took it up again by His Own free Will. He, therefore; allowed Himself to be crucified as a human being and then on the third day by His Divine power He raised Himself glorious from the grave.
What should this mean to us as religious? Everything. Because the Jesus in Whom we believe rose by His Own Divine power from the dead, our faith is solid and confirmed. We have no doubt that the One Whom we love is Love become incarnate and the One that we claim to is our Eternal Spouse. Because He raised Himself from the grave, we know He is alive and alert to our needs and asking to give ourselves to Him with all our hearts; and that He is awaiting us in the Heaven to which He went to prepare a place for us; because He is risen, we believe He is on earth in the Blessed Sacrament, the risen glorified Redeemer Who still has the wounds in His hands and feet and open side but these wounds are now brilliant with dazzling light and the source of our deep consolation. That is why in the Anima Christi which we confidently pray, "within Thy wounds hide me". This is no figure of speech, we can rest glorified in the wounds of the risen Savior because He was dead but He is now alive.
He is in Heaven
Mysteriously this Jesus Christ is now seated at the right hand of His Heavenly Father where He's the object of adoration and love and intense happiness of the Angels and Saints on high. It is from Heaven that He looks down on us and through the intercession of His Mother, Mary, gives us the grace He merited on the cross and that we beg from Him through Her and we pray poor, banished children of Eve surely in this valley of tears. It is to Christ in Heaven that we look forward anticipating the day we too shall be numbered among the heavenly elect.
What should this mean to us religious? Again, everything. As the Church keeps telling us our main purpose in the religious life is to witness to the world around us to the existence of another and better world that awaits us. A world where Christ the risen Lord is the object of eternal beatitude. Our first duty then as religious on which all other duties depend is to keep this vision always before the eyes of our minds. People in every age and pathetically in our age are immersed in what they call the good things of life; the color and taste and movement and sound, the pleasure and the passion and the power and the pursuit of earthly joys.
What is our responsibility? To tell the world its wrong; but we'll never convince the world unless we live on earth, of course we have to, but have our gaze like St. Stephen the first Martyr fixed on Heaven; like Stephen we are always to live looking upward where we see the glory of God and Jesus standing at God's right hand. How the world of speed and size and money need our witness to faith in a Heaven where Christ with His Angels and Saints is waiting to receive us.
He Will Come Again
Our faith tells us that Christ will come twice again. Once when He calls us at death from time into eternity and once again on the last day of the world. On both levels we religious need to encourage ourselves with trust in God's mercy and in the love of Jesus Christ. It is inconceivable that the Christ Who called us to follow Him will be anything but a merciful judge when we come to die and on the last day when the present world will pass away. The last thing we religious should do is worry. We of all people should be absolutely confident that having given us so many blessings in this life Christ has only further and still greater blessings in the future. As religious we remember that God's justice is a double edged sword; yes, it punishes the wicked, but it also and with emphasis rewards the good, admitting our weakness and failures we are not afraid of God's justice against our sins because we trust in the Mercy of God. The Mercy of God has a name; His name is Jesus.
Rather we look forward to the reward that Christ has in store for us with all the struggle and pain we've endured and all the temptations we have overcome and all the "extras" we have done out of love for Christ; He will reward in His justice all right but far, far beyond our wildest dreams.
His Kingdom Will Never End
It was the Angel of the Annunciation who told Mary that the Son of the Most High Whom She would conceive would rule forever and His kingdom, the Angel prophesied, will be without end. In a world where everything is constantly changing and everything living including ourselves comes to an end, we need, how we need, to hold onto this article of our faith but the kingdom of Christ is an everlasting kingdom and that we, dear God even we, are destined to be part of this eternal reign with Him.
For us religious this should be the crowning object of our hope and the constant support as we go through life on the way to our final, unending end. In practice this means that with the Apostles we keep reminding ourselves that we do not have here a lasting dwelling place that our true home is still to come; that through all the changes in this world we are meriting a changeless life with Christ and our Lady and the angels and the saints in immortality.
Lord Jesus, we believe that You are our God; we believe that You became man out of love for us and that You want us to love You with Your grace as generous as You have loved us. We know that love is mainly shown in deeds. Give us the strength to do Your Will as religious always and then do with us what You Will. Amen.
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