In my last post two weeks ago, we continued exploring what transformation by the Gospel should actually look like. The choice, when it comes down to it, is between clinging to the life we were born with – finite, biological, self-centered life – and embracing a new life that is supernatural, divine, and self-giving – Love Himself. So, given how different these two lives are, it’s no wonder that it’s a long journey of transformation.
But given that, what exactly is the nature of this transformative process? And why does it seem that many Christians still have such a long way to go? I’d like to conclude this three-part series by exploring these points further.
In his book, Remade for Happiness, Archbishop Fulton Sheen wrote very lucidly:
“How can you contact this Divine Life that Christ merited for you? In somewhat the same way that everything in nature receives a higher life than that which it naturally possesses: (a) by something higher coming down to that which is lower and (b) by the lower surrendering its imperfect nature in order to be incorporated into something higher. […] The higher comes down to the lower; the Divine descends into the human. Such was the Incarnation: God came down to man. On the other hand, man must die to his sinful nature, his old Adam, his heritage of the Fall, and this he can do only by sacrifice and by taking up ‘his cross daily’ and following Him. ‘Unless the grain of wheat falling into the ground die, itself remaineth alone. But if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit. He that loveth his life shall lose it; and he that hateth his life in this world, keepeth it unto life eternal.’ (Jn 12:24, 25).”
The good news is, God is always the one Who initiates the process. He is the one that comes down to us; we don’t need to be transformed on our own motivation or our own strength.
However, the difficulty is that, unlike the natural processes Sheen first alludes to, this supernatural process requires us to consent to God’s coming down into us at every step. We’re not plants, taken up into the higher life of an animal by simply being eaten, and losing our selves in the process. By some miracle of Love, God has chosen to treat us as His adopted children. And in order that we need not lose ourselves in the process, He has chosen to respect our free will.
This two-sided truth is best summed up, I find, in a curious passage from St. Paul’s letter to the Philippians: “[W]ork out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for God is at work in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” (Phil 2:12-13) If we were ever tempted to think that this process was going to be passive, this verse immediately sets us straight. Consenting to God’s will is by no means as simple as just saying “yes” to a great voice from above. It means actively obeying Him, following Him in all that we do. It means aligning our choices with His choices. Thankfully, He has also promised us the grace and strength to carry them through – but we must first respond, taking that step into the unknown, and first trust that He will do it in us. It’s not going to happen any other way.
Clearly, the transformation God has called us to will not be easy. It’s no wonder so many of us have so far to go. But because of this, the end result of our transformation will be nothing less than becoming, in the greatest, truest, and most permanent sense, ourselves. Nature can’t even get anywhere close.
Fulton J. Sheen, Remade for Happiness, (San Francisco, CA: Ignatius Press, 2014), p.90-92
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