Let us pray. St. Benedict advised that “always we begin again”. After this break from reading and posting, may Your Spirit, O God, draw us back to You with renewed desire as we begin once more the sharing of this teaching. Amen.
I do not know if others are still reading, have finished or set the book aside. However, I know that I do not want to leave either the book or the discussion of it unfinished. I was led to this book for a reason and will therefore strive to be obedient to its call. Although my break was a little longer than I intended, I realized that I could not write about the current topic until I was ready. It means too much to me.
Fr. Matta begins quite simply by reminding us that the Lord Jesus prayed for us, “that they also might be one in us” (John 17:21). And human nature has been changed by the incarnation, death and resurrection – we have been made “partakers in the divine nature” (2 Peter 1:4). He introduces us to the Church Fathers’ notion of “deification” with St. Athanasius’ often quoted words, “For the Son of God became man that we may become God.”
- When I first encountered these words of St. Athanasius, they sounded almost like blasphemy to me. And yet so very inviting. Could it be so? How do you find yourself reacting – whether you are reading them for the first or the hundredth time?
- I realize that source of my discomfort may have been based on the wording – somehow the sin of Adam doesn’t sound so terribly different from deification. How does wanting to be God differ from wanting to be in union with Him?
As Fr. Matta continues, he is careful to clarify that this deification “does not mean the change of the human nature into a divine one. Rather, it means qualifying human nature for life with God in a communion of love.” This can only occur when the barrier of sin no longer separates us from God, something only perfectly fulfilled at the resurrection of the dead. However, a foretaste of this communion is available to us now.
- What has been given to us that we might experience this foretaste of union, independent of our own efforts?
- What is the role of our effort? Has not Christ already accomplished all that is needed?
- In addition to acts of love, Fr. Matta emphasizes obedience, “struggles” and acts of humility as central to our movement toward union. Why are these so important – and so hard for us?
We are told by our author that union with God is more than an acceptable aim for our spiritual lives: “Union with God is not a subsidiary issue in faith or doctrine. It is the basis of all faith and doctrine.” And he continues to describe it in even more fundamental terms: “So the mystery of union between mankind and Christ is the ultimate aim of the incarnation, the crucifixion, the resurrection – nay, of creation in full.”
- This is something very deep to ponder – even if we have pondered it many times before. If I have ever wondered what the purpose of life is (in general or my own), here is the answer…
Fr. Matta quotes St. Macarius extensively, “This is also what God, the lover of mankind, does to the person who comes to him and ardently desires him…Impelled by love, he himself, by the goodness which is inherent in him and is all his own, enters with that person ‘into one spirit’.” In the sayings of the Fathers section (p. 110), Fr. Matta tells us that, “St. Macarius described this spiritual union with God as the holy matrimony of the soul and God: the soul as the bride and Christ as the heavenly Bridegroom. But this is not merely a simile. It is a real sacrament which takes place between the devout soul and God, making them one spirit.”
- In the Roman Catholic tradition, the notion of being a “bride of Christ” is generally reserved for the consecrated religious (monastics). But St. Macarius writes of this “matrimony” being offered to every soul – indeed, what every soul is made for. Does your soul leap for joy at hearing this news? Or is there reticence – or even resistance?
- Our feelings may be more mixed than we would like to admit – particularly if we return to what it is that we must do for union to be possible.
We are given many passages from the Fathers to reflect on in this section. Once we complete this section, we begin Part 2 of the book. You are most welcome to cite from these many rich passages anything that touched your spirit before moving on. I may add further comment myself.
Many blessings. It is good to be back.