About a week ago during Mass I was reminded of the way a priest had described the Mass along time ago. He said that Mass is essentially a family gathering. We start with the liturgy of the Word, which includes the public confession of our sins and our need for redemption. It is followed by telling the stories of our faith, much in the same way that a family will gather to recollect the past and tell stories that give their present lives meaning.
For Christians, these stories center on the ongoing Spiritual odyssey depicted in the Old and the New Testaments. This is the liturgy of the Word. In the Mass, these stories are followed by the liturgy of the Eucharist, which is the transubstantiation of the bread and the wine into the body and blood of Christ. This becomes our spiritual meal; again this is reflective of a family gathering in which the group is united to share a common meal.
In this frame of mind, as I listened to the scripture reading I had a sudden encounter with who Jesus actually was and is – from a uniquely Christian perspective. One starts with the concept put forth at the beginning of the Book of Genesis, which states that in the beginning was the Word or “logos.” This suggests that the universe is actually an intelligent affair, rather than some object that is developing by randomness and chance.
If the universe is actually an intelligent affair, essentially a product of a divine intelligence, then the birth of Christ was (according to the Christian understanding of things) the incarnation of this divine wisdom. Christ was, as stated in the Gospel of John, the Word made flesh. The challenge for contemporary men and women is this: when the Word became flesh, what economy of values did He uphold? How do we measure our lives in comparison to this? How do we partake in this mission?
Think for a moment about what it means for the Wisdom behind the universe to become flesh; to be born homeless, to a unwed mother; to be forced into exile, a refugee the first years of his life; to walk amongst us and to associate with disreputable persons and unpopular minorities; to be betrayed by one of his inner-circle of followers; to be tortured, tried, publically humiliated and sentenced to capital punishment; ultimately to be publically executed. What can we learn through the life of the Wisdom of the universe when He became a man? What can we learn from his teachings about what is really important during the brief span of our mortal lives?
By His words and His example, we are taught that we should devote our lives to love for humanity and to bear witness to Truth. We should seek first the “Kingdom of Heaven;” we should make our highest priority the pursuit of the sublime in our earthly lives. We must live in communion with that which transcends our temporal existence. This means taking on the life of Christ, including His passion for humanity and for life and His selflessness to the point of a painful death on the Cross.
Even though we do not wish to endure the suffering that greets those who live by a different economy of values than are prevalent all around us, we must say with Christ, “Not my will, but Thy will be done.”
To live in the sublime is to live with passion; not physical passion but the passion of the spirit. Such spiritual passion is otherwise known as “agape,” or “love.” It stands in contrast to physical passion, which is known as “Eros.” When the Word became flesh, He placed it as the highest priority that we seek the “Kingdom of Heaven” and that we live with unconditional – even ontological – love. When asked what the greatest commandment was, Christ answered, “Love the Lord your God with all of your heart, all of soul, and all of your mind, (and) Love your neighbor as yourself.”
We are called to place the love of God above all idols of money, popularity, power, and material things. We are challenged to love our neighbor – whom we can see – if we are to be true to what we profess is our love of God, whom we cannot see. We are challenged to live in the ongoing pursuit of the sublime, and to make this the basis of our thoughts, words and actions.
When we live with consciousness of the sublime, this means that we do not judge the meaning and quality of our lives by short-term measures, outward appearances, or transitory standards. In the end triumph awaits us, but it is a triumph that defies all human calculation and reasoning. This is where faith and hope come in, completing the three points of the economy of salvation: faith, hope, and love.