13th Sunday of Ordinary Time
Are you unaware that we who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were indeed buried with him through baptism into death, So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. [Romans 6]
How different the Gospels strike us if we but read them in the light of St. Paul’s description of the Christian as a person who has in a very real sense died, and is now living in Christ. If we can be considered dead men walking, it is not because we are mortal beings destined to die, but because we have already died in Christ. Indeed faithful Christians are the most living of living men, because having already died in Christ by their Baptism, Thety now possess, or better, are possessed by wholly new and transcendent life in Christ that is truly an eternal life. It is His Life naturally and our Lifeby adoption, a Life we share with Him.
All this runs completely counter to what many if not most people tend to think about themselves and their “life” today. For modern secularized folks, man’s life is understood in materialistic terms, perhaps as a kind of life-force, some form of biological energy that makes them alive, a life force that we humans share with plants and other animals. When that force or energy runs out, living things simply die, and that’s the end of their story. To stay alive is a desperate and ultimately futile exercise. We are like organic rechargeable batteries that inevitably decline until we can’t hold a charge anymore. Modern science is hell bent on figuring our how to solve that problem so we can live forever. But eh bottom line is that an increasing number of people in are decaying western civilization can’t envision a life that is higher than biological life and one that never ends because it can’t “run out.”
For all of our scientific and technological “progress,” modern secularized wise men, especially the educated elites, are not nearly as wise as many great philosophers and religious thinkers of ancient societies. These great thinkers would never have reduced “life” to the merely biological, because they knew that the chemical/biological elements of reality cannot really explain human reality as a whole, for they understood that man’s “life” or living activity cannot be reduced to a merely biological force or process. Human life always remained for them a profound mystery, something that was ultimately explainable only at the very source of being itself, and they had to let it go at that.
But the simplest believing Christian knows way more than that. After all, God has biblically revealed Himself to be pure “Life” and the original creator and source not only of all “things” in the universe, but the source of their very act of existing itself, which we call “life” when it comes to man and other such dynamic beings. In our basic catechisms we learn that God’s Life is the source of all other forms of lower life, That God produces that life in living things and also sustains that life, even if there are other created elements that cooperate in sustaining life. Thus life at every level of being is a great gift, and it never is autonomous, for it always depends upon others, and above all on its ultimate source, the God who is Life itself, and Love.
Of course, we also learned that there is a hierarchy of “life” in living things. There is biological life in all living creatures in this world, but there is also a higher form of life in all creatures that have a rational soul, a kind of natural, spiritual life that survives even after death. The great ancients intuited this immortal life and contemplated and spoke about it. And then there is the highest form of life, which is found only in baptized creatures, and that is the Life of Grace that is nothing else than a real participation in the very Life that is proper to God. Indeed, God is pure existing,for do not Jesus say I am the life.
St Paul speaks about natural life, biological life, and the highest for of life, Grace, when he echoes the revelation of the Book of Wisdom, which teaches that death was not caused by God, but by man, and that this cause of death is man’s sin. Sin, every form of sin, is antithetical to life, every form of life because it is a rebellion against Life, against God who is the very source of Life. Sin causes death, and Original Sin was the cause of every kind of death, including biological death, but above all, in the case of man, the death of that highest form of Life that God created for the soul of man, the Life we call “Sanctifying Grace.” Man, by Original Sin, lost not only his preternatural immortality and became subject to biological death, but man also lost this original gift of supreme Life, and only God could restore it.
Thus Paul says that Christ’s death was a perfect sacrifice offered to God to overcome the sin of Man which caused not only the death of the body, but even more importantly caused and still can cause the death of God’s Life of Grace in the soul. Christ’s resurrection, on the other hand, began the restoration and renewal of man, which begins in us with the restoration of Life (with the capitol “L”) in the soul, the Life that can now be shared with Christ. In Baptism we receive that ultimate form of Life which we can share forever, as long as we remain dead to sin.
So we learn in our basic catechesis that each of us has to “die” in a very real and two-fold sense, if we to share this new Life in Christ. First, we have to die with and in Christ on the Cross. We do this by sharing in his saving death sacramentally, beginning in Baptism, and then we do so again in the other sacraments Christ gave us. So when we die to sin, that is, when our sins are forgiven, it is not simply by a legalistic decree from God declaring us forgiven, but we truly die in Christ, sacramentally, and then pass through His death and receive the reward of His death, which is nothing less than the death – forgiveness – of all one’s sins, and we become truly innocent. Only His death actually destroys sin, and this destruction of sin is the absolutely necessary precondition for His Life to take hold in one’s soul, that is, to be given now as one’s own Life, even while it remains simultaneously His Life.
This is what we Christians mean by our participation in God’s Life, that we actually come to possess Christ’s Life in our own souls, even while that same Life always remains in its source, the living Lord, in His body and soul. From the first moment of that new Life in us, we become new creatures, possessed of that highest possible form of life, Christ’s divine Life in us. And for the presence of this Life of Christ in us to remain always we must continue, paradoxically, to die in rather profound ways, that is, to die to our sins and our sinful inclinations. For sin alone can make us forfeit this new Life.
To summarize, then, Life for Paul, and also for us, is now Life in Christ, Life from Christ, Life for Christ. As Paul says elsewhere, we are no longer our own, and in truth, we really never were simply our own. Even our natural life comes to us from God and always depends upon God. But this new Life is something radically greater than our natural spiritual and biological life, for it is truly God’s own Life in us, and that gift always requires that we die spiritually to all that is not compatible with God, and place God and His Life (in us) above every created good as well.
Only from this elevated perspective of what truly has happened to each of us in our Baptism, happened in and through Christ, can we ever even begin to understand and accept other teachings in the Gospels like the things we heard today: for instance
“He who loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and he who loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.” Indeed, not even family can be preferred to this Gift which comes only in Christ.
Or “he who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me.” No one can have Christ’s Life who does not share His Cross and share it daily by dying to himself.
And again, “He who finds his life will lose it, and he who loses his life for my sake will find it.” The life we lose is but the old life of sin, which is really death, and the Life we find is the new Life in Christ which is infinitely greater, immortal, the very Life of God.
And lastly, “So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.” These are Paul’s words that summarize the Christian’s Life, and are the foundation of the Christ’s way of Life in this world. And once I carefully consider the matter and become aware of the Gift I have received, keeping the commandments is no longer simply a moral issue, but a loving response to the Gift I have received, the necessary way of accepting, holding on to and being grateful for the greatness of the Love that stands behind that Gift. It is truly the way of Love.