The following excerpt is from a manuscript I am writing, entitled THRIVING IN THE PRESENCE OF PURE ENERGY: A Lay Cistercian reflects on invisible reality, the Mystery of Faith and Eucharistic Adoration. In my writings, I write about Christ as the Way, the Truth, and the Life. As part of the truth, I write about how we can know something is true from Christ and not just the whims of our spiritual fantasy, or as I like to call it, cotton candy Christianity (tastes good but no nourishment). You can look this up at http://www.newadvent.org
HOLINESS IN THE MIDST OF ORIGINAL SIN (HOLY)
The second of these ancient marks that identify the truth is an invisible one. Christ is the head of the Church and we are the members. Because of our head, we are holy. Remember, our head does not have the nature of being merely human, but also has a divine nature, human and divine natures. The holiness of God enables the Church to be Holy, not any of its members.
The question associated with the sign of contradiction for the second mark of the authentic truth is how the Body of Christ can be Holy, while its members are suffering from the effects of original sin and need the Sacrament of Reconciliation on a regular basis to make all things new?
Critics of the Church point out that there have been many Popes who were sinners. No doubt about it. They write that there were times when the focus was not on obedience to Christ but obedience to the Church hierarchy. No doubt about it. On the other hand, Christ, the head of the Church, which is his living body on earth, in heaven and in purgatory, continues to try to have in them the mind of Christ Jesus (Phil. 2:5) We indeed are sinners and in constant need of God’s mercy to help us with our unbelief, as St. Thoms Aquinas says. There are those who reject the Catholic Church because they see its members sin. The Body of Christ is made up of sinners like me who try to transform themselves from self to God. Some succeed while others do not. I try to have in me the mind of Christ Jesus each day but fall short many times. With God’s grace (energy) I hope I get up and try again…and again….and again. Each person will be judged according to their deeds.
On the Feast of the Solemnity of Christ the King in November, there was wonderful reading about judgment and living out the commands of Christ. Read John 25
31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. 32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, 33 and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. 34 Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; 35 for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36 I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ 37 Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? 38 And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? 39 And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ 40 And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family,[g] you did it to me.’ 41 Then he will say to those at his left hand, ‘You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; 42 for I was hungry, and you gave me no food, I was thirsty, and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger, and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ 44 Then they also will answer, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?’ 45 Then he will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ 46 And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”(NRSVCE)
We are holy when we do the things Christ told us to do, to be his disciples. The mystery of faith is how these two opposites can function. The answer is, they cannot live in the secular world (physical and mental universe) but are possible in the Kingdom of Heaven (physical, mental and spiritual universes).
The takeaway from this mark of the Church is twofold: First, any of us, all of us need to have a penitential spirit of reform within us. The Cistercian and Carthusian movements in the eleventh century were reforms of the Rule of St. Benedict. They did not rewrite it or discount is effectiveness to move from self to God, but they did wish to have a stricter and more primitive interpretation of the Rule. That is different from blowing up the dam because you do not like it. Secondly, all of us are holy only because God is holy. In, with, and through Jesus Christ, Son of God, Savior, (Ithcus) we can approach the Father. No one approaches the Father unless he or she is Holy (holy here means redeemed by the blood of the Lamb of God). How fortunate we are that God is so merciful to a church on earth full of sinful people who sometimes veer off the beaten path and stray. The Good Shepherd is there to go after those who are lost and hopeless. If we are indeed holy, as you just read in the Scripture passage above, you will feel a responsibility to first seek mercy and forgiveness for yourself, then for others around you.
Have you ever thought that the reason Jesus puts so much emphasis on mercy, has forgiveness as a center of the Lord’s Prayer, and founded the Church to become the conduit for mercy and forgiveness, is that He realized that we who try to follow the teachings of the Master are NOT holy but live in a world with the effects of original sin..We have a constant need to make all things new. The gift of Baptism takes away the one original sin but not its effects and welcomes us as adopted sons and daughters of the Father. The gift of Reconciliation takes away the sins we commit in our daily living out the Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy, and when we fail to love God with all our hearts, our minds, and our strength and our neighbor as ourselves. In my life, that means a constant call to holiness and repentance and a reparation for my sins. As one who aspires to be a Lay Cistercian, I must be a penitential person every day of my life, recognizing that the struggle between holiness and sin is going on even as I write this. This is the daily call to move from self to God that the Cistercian disciplines and practices help me to achieve in my own small way. With St. Paul, I can say,
“…Not that I have become perfect yet; I have not yet won, but I am still running, trying to capture the prize for which Christ Jesus captured me. I can assure you, my brothers; I am far from thinking that I have already. All I can say is, I forget the past and I strain ahead for what is still to come. I am racing to the finish for the prize to which God sals us upward to receive in Christ Jesus. We who are called ‘perfect’ must think in this way. (Philippians 3:12-15)
Praise to God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, now and forever, the God who is, who was, and is to come at the end of the Ages. Amen and Amen. (Cistercian doxology)