Monday, December 01, 2008

Reflection for Vespers of Monday of the First Week of Advent

But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we also await a savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. He will change our lowly body to conform with his glorified body by the power that enables him also to bring all things into subjection to himself. (Phil 3:20-21)
In this passage from his Letter to the Philippians, Saint Paul tells us that Christ will conform our lowly bodies to His glorious body at the second coming. This is a great source of hope for us because it reminds us of our bodily resurrection from the dead and that it will be Christ who will bring about the glorification of our lowly bodies in conformity with His glorified and risen humanity.

However, Christ also comes to us everyday. St. Bernard in this Wednesday’s office of readings tells us that, besides a second coming of Christ at the end of the world, there is a third coming of Christ, a kind of everyday coming, if you will, of our savior in our lives. Citing the gospel of John, Bernard reminds us of the words of Christ who said “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him.” Christ then comes to us everyday. In the light of this third coming, St.Paul’s words take on new meaning. Christ’s everyday coming is also redemptive and, if properly received, conforms us to Him. What a greater source of hope this is for us religious to know that our spiritual growth is not completely up to us. If, in hearing the call of Advent repentance, we see that our efforts alone have failed to produce fruit in our spiritual life, we can take comfort in the fact that it is the Lord who, having called us, will carrying out his plan for our perfection even today.

Elsewhere in his letter, St. Paul tells us the part we are to play in being conformed to Christ. He exhorts the Philippians to have the same humble attitude as Christ, and not to boast in the flesh, that is, in things such as heritage or the practice of religious rites. Speaking of his own journey in Christ, he tells us that all the things he used to boast about he has come to consider trash after meeting Christ. It is almost as though Paul’s encounter with Christ on the road to Damascus showed him that the unmerited gift of Christ’s love to all people is the only thing he could use to judge himself and others. As he came to understand that Christ’s love was equally given to all, the righteous and the unrighteous on the basis of faith, Paul began to understand that he could not see himself as better than others simply because he was faithful to the religious practices of the law or because he was a Jew and a part of the chosen people. In fact, because of the greatness of Christ’s love, he could not hold himself as better than others for any reason whatsoever. In this way, Paul learned to die to himself and to all that he used to hold dear so as to become a new creation in Christ. This is the way we can have an active role in being conformed to Christ. By placing our faith in God’s unfathomable love, we too begin the process of realizing that the things we used to boast about, the things we used to think give us worth over and above others, are indeed rubbish. Placing our faith in the immensity of God’s love, the competition to receive more than the others gradually ceases because there is enough of God’s love for all of us. Likewise, the competition to be considered better than the others begins to fade away, because in receiving God’s love, we recognize that it is a gift not based on our merits or on how good we are but on God’s generosity. Only in knowing Christ and his gift of love, as Saint Paul sought to, and in dying to ourselves, can we then live in unity and peace. Only in receiving Christ’s charity in an intimate relationship with Him, can we become charitable to others. By placing our faith in Christ’s great love, we are humbled by His generosity, we begin to hope for all things from Him, and we yearn to put the very same love He showed us into practice. This, in short, is how we cooperate with Christ in his work of conforming us to Him.

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