Let's talk about your need for holy leisure, interior freedom, poetic education, creative expression and cultural engagement. Authentic, joyful, humorous...many talks to choose from...custom crafted presentations...workshops, retreats, group facilitation...let me help you!
A fine Christian woman once told me I’d know whether my heart was clean by what came out of me when I was hit by surprise. If that cup was full of pure, clean water, then ‘salt water’ wouldn’t spill out when it was jostled.
So, I was pretty excited to realize, after stubbing my toe badly and hopping around on one foot for a while, that I hadn’t cut loose with a ‘blue streak’ of, shall we say, ‘French’! I thought I’d arrived.
At that time, we were among Christians who taught that sanctification – confirmed, Holy-Spirit-filled-holiness – was a second blessing you got after the initial born-again experience. They all had it – could remember the dates even – and I clearly had not asked rightly, or didn’t want it badly enough, or was refusing to receive it. Whatever the cause, it was generally understood that I was definitely not holy yet, and the day couldn’t come too soon for the poor ladies in Sunday School and missions committee meetings, who had to put up with me.
I ran in with my pure, clean toe story, and we all rejoiced! But, it was not to be. Within days, I had to admit that sanctification had once again eluded me. I simply begged the Holy Spirit to get it over with and get me holy, once and for all! Why He saw fit to delay, I could not explain to any of the ‘saints’ around me.
Finally, a merciful God sent a Nazarene pastor for a revival meeting who, when consulted privately about my dilemma, admitted that most pastors actually realized, now, that sanctification is a loooooong process and not the work of a moment. Sigh….relief, but the reality that this was going to be a long, uphill climb.
Still, I think of her advice whenever a jostling spills some salt water, and ask God to fill my cup, once again, with pure, clean living water. My life is full of all the proof I need that the Holy Spirit has come, has blessed, is close, prays for me when I don’t know what to pray, and is working in me constantly ‘to will and to do’ according to God’s own purposes.
The fact that I am not now a fully perfect (heck, sometimes I’m not even ‘fully functioning’!) person does not negate this reality, or cause me alarm. There is no condemnation in Christ Jesus!
Remember the scene in The Hobbit in which we see the vast pile of treasure guarded by Smaug, the dragon? That’s me in St. Paul’s letter to the Ephesians – I’ve barreled in and now am wading knee-deep and slowly through a blow-your-mind pile of treasure! (Links to previous posts in this series:
So far, blessings galore, and Liturgy as sort of an Iron Man suit, making me supernaturally able to do wonders. To wit: keep standing in the very Presence of God, transmit His glory without exploding, touch the Ark of His Person without dying on the spot. Try it without suit – no superpowers!
So here we are, Jesus and me, having this love fest – blessing flowing to me, praise flowing to Him, me growing holier, me forgiven constantly, me rolling in the riches of His grace, me living the abundant life. But there’s more. God’s got a plan, and He has made it known to the Church, presumably because He intends for it to be accomplished through us.
For he has made known to us in all wisdom and insight the mystery of his will, according to his purpose which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. In him, according to the purpose of him who accomplishes all things according to the counsel of his will, we who first hoped in Christ have been destined and appointed to live for the praise of his glory. In him you also, who have heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and have believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory. (Eph 1:9-14)
I count fifteen references to this section of Ephesians in the Catechism (CCC), so we’ll be taking it slow-and-serious-like.
Whenever I hear “God’s got a plan for your life,” I remember how glibly we evangelicals told people that, and how much I struggled to figure out how to put that plan into practice. “I’ll do anything, Lord. Just tell me The Plan.” He never quite did.
What we meant was to reassure non-Christians that God valued their lives, could help them accomplish worthwhile things, cared about them in a way they might not have cared about themselves. All good. But, in practice, I wanted marching orders, a plan of campaign, a job description, even a Mission Impossible. What is the actual plan by which I am to take my next step?!?!?! It’s one thing to know there’s a plan, but it can be a nightmare trying to figure out what it is. If generals did battle this way, the soldiers would pack up and go home in frustration.
Let’s see what answers the Church could have given that struggling new Christian to shore up her understanding. I’ll take the references in order, and see what we come up with.
The Plan is that I receive His life, and become like His Son. (257) Creation and human history are to be fulfilled through Christ…in me…in the Church. (668) The Holy Spirit has something to do with it, (693, 698) holding ‘our inheritance’ for us until we possess it [Christ-likeness] (706) The Plan is “to unite all things in Christ” through the Church (772) and that (the renewal and transformation of humanity and the world) will be fully realized at the end of time as the new heavens and new earth. (1043) God wants this Plan accomplished “for the salvation of the world and for the glory of His name” (1066) “The Holy Spirit’s transforming power in the liturgy hastens the coming of the kingdom,” giving us life, hope, and the guarantee of ‘our inheritance’. (1107, 1274)
This guarantee, or seal, of the Spirit – His presence in our hearts – assures us we belong to Christ. (1296) Christ sets the example for us of adhering “in His human heart to the mystery of the will [The Plan] of the Father.” (2603) “Uniting all things in Christ” is the same thing as “recapitulating all things in Christ” (and we’d want to study Christ’s priestly prayer in John 17 for more on this) – the reconciliation, or re-uniting of “God and the world; the Word and the flesh; eternal life and time; the love that hands itself over and the sin that betrays it; the disciples present and those who will believe in Him by their word; humiliation and glory.” (2748) (In Christ, The Plan is completely fulfilled (CCC 2749), in us it is being fulfilled, and in the Church’s perfect union with Christ as His Bride, it will one day be utterly fulfilled.)
When we pray, “hallowed be Thy name,” we are drawn “into his plan” and “immersed in the innermost mystery of his Godhead and the drama of the salvation of our humanity.” (2807) His work “is realized for us and in us only if his name is hallowed by us and in us.” (2808) His desire? His will? His Plan? “To gather up all things” in Christ. When we pray “Thy will be done,” we are asking “for this loving plan to be fully realized on earth as it is already in heaven.” (2823)
Whew! It was hard not to get sidetracked as each one of those references led to so much more (much of it connects with Ephesians chapters to come!), but I wanted to power through all of them to get a clear description of The Plan. What stands out for me is the gathering in, the re-collecting of all being – sort of a scavenger hunt, where we go out collecting bits and pieces, bring them to Christ, and He puts them all back together in some way that makes sense of it all, and pleases God.
Well, if He can collect all the broken pieces of me, and put me back together, whole and beautiful, I’m betting on Him to accomplish The Plan whether or not I fully grasp the mystery! Oh, and it’s Christ who does the accomplishing. If I’ll just live for the praise of His glory, He’s got the whole Plan in His hands.
This description of The Plan makes it sound less like a fill-in-the-blank test (God wants me to ____) and more like a huge adventure (Here, grab my hand and jump on the moving train!!). I’m excited about going on to re-read all of my favorite book of the Bible through Catholic eyes.
Next: End of Ephesians Chapter One – Christ to the Third Power