In my last post, two weeks ago, I had begun discussing the question – how is the Gospel actually supposed to be transformative? How are we supposed to be different from what we would have been without it?
In a nutshell, the difference is tantamount to receiving new life – divine life, the life of God Himself, the life of Love. And, yes, this does entail a dramatic transformation. Without receiving this new life from the Gospel, the only life we can possibly have is a natural, biological life, naturally self-centered and competitive.
But wait. If this new life is Love – well, can’t everyone love? Don’t we see all sorts of people, from all backgrounds and all religions, demonstrate that they are, in fact, able to love?
Do we really need this new life in order to love?
The problem with the question being raised here is that it assumes granting people the capacity to love to be the Gospel’s central purpose. Christ Himself debunks that one. He both acknowledges what people are naturally capable of, and commands what is naturally impossible:
“For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? […] Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matt 4:46-48)
To assume that the Gospel’s central purpose was to give people a capacity to love is, in C. S. Lewis’ words, to act “as if Christianity was something nasty people needed and nice ones could afford to do without; as if niceness was all that God demanded. But this would be a fatal mistake.” (1)
What it comes down to, again, is that essential difference between the two kinds of life, the natural life, and the divine life. According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church –
“The way of Christ ‘leads to life’; a contrary way ‘leads to destruction.’ […] ‘There are two ways, the one of life, the other of death; but between these two, there is a great difference.’ ” (CCC 1696)
Starkly put, the natural life that we start out with is the way that “leads to destruction”. Nature inevitably decays. Though many people may naturally be nice, generous people, “because that niceness […] was merely part of nature, it will all go to pieces in the end. Nature herself will all pass away.” (2) But the way that “leads to life,” the divine life, is eternal. It outlasts nature. It also rises above it, is capable of more than nature could even conceive of. And, amazingly, we can begin living that heavenly, eternal life even as we live in our natural world.
However, as Jesus said, we must “count the cost.” (Lk 14:28) Living that divine life, here and now, means to surrender our natural lives, utterly, completely. We must choose, over and over again, to let God pour into our hearts that divine life of Love. And we must choose it over our own natural inclinations and over our own natural will – no matter how well-intentioned we may think we’re capable of being on our own. God is Love – and He will not rest until He has shaped us perfectly in that image of His perfect love. We must trust Him, and allow Him to do it. As Fulton Sheen writes in his book, Remade for Happiness:
“To be a Christian means to discard self as the supreme determinant of actions; it means to put on the mind of Christ so as to be governed by Christ’s truths; to surrender your will to His Will, and to do all things that are pleasing to Him, not to you; to control your emotional attitudes. In other words, your life instead of being self-determined is Christ-determined.” (3)
So – it is a real transformation. It takes a long, hard journey. But the difference – well, the difference means eternal life.
- S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, The Complete C. S. Lewis Signature Classics, (New York, NY: HarperOne, 2007), p. 166.
- Mere Christianity, p.168
- Fulton J. Sheen, Remade for Happiness, (San Francisco, CA: Ignatius Press, 2014), p.107
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