Chapter 3, Union with God, pp. 103-115

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.

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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.”

  1. 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?
  2. 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.

  1. What has been given to us that we might experience this foretaste of union, independent of our own efforts?
  2. What is the role of our effort? Has not Christ already accomplished all that is needed?
  3. 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.”

  1. 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.”

  1. 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?
  2. 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.

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5 thoughts on “Chapter 3, Union with God, pp. 103-115

  1. “always we begin again” – I’m hanging on to this, Mary; it helps me connect holiness with human-ness. (I almost wrote “human mess.”)

    Regarding St. Macarius and matrimony of the soul, it is so hard for me to relate to that concept. Was it used in scripture, do you know? Not just the Song of Songs, but in other places? I simply cannot remember.

    Do you know whether it is a widespread element in traditional Christian theology? I cannot grasp why one’s relationship with God would be described in sexual terms. Marriage is not all about sex, I know, but it is very often (always, I think ,in biblical contexts) about producing children. Not that sexual expression is devoid of personal intimacy, mutual support, and a kind of transcendent love; these of course are very important in marriage–most important, if children and family are to be considered in a balanced, healthy way.

    But for others who are not (called to be) married, the use of that image might be confusing at best, and a put down at worst; e.g., this hypothetical: “I chose not to be married–or, I lost my spouse–and so now I am supposed to be married to God.?”

    And what about persons who are already married? Now they have two marriages?

    But the hardest of all is the situation of men. God is a father, and we are supposed to think of him in terms of marriage? I will try to understand, if this is an agreed upon concept in traditional Christianity, but if it’s meant more for monks (I can’t help but think of homosexual issues here), I’m not sure that I can “relate,” or should, as I said at the beginning.

    Note: this is not a criticism of your blog post, Mary, even though i indulged in a bit of mild sarcasm. It’s really a genuine and long-standing question for me.– how best to describe our relationship with God.

  2. P.S. About homosexuality: I don’t believe that God disapproves. Or approves. I dont know how to explain that. I just think the use of marriage as a descriptor is confusing for men.

  3. Thanks, Al, for posting some honest and probing questions. I started responding and it was getting long – so I have begun an article instead of writing it all here. God willing, I will post it at apricelessthing.com when finished – which may take another day or two (or even three?) Will see what God allows…

  4. Here is a link to the article: https://apricelessthing.com/2016/06/04/the-wedding-feast/

    Al – here are just a couple more comments, not included there:

    God is not a male – God encompasses all gender and more. Although Jesus came as a male, to be fully human, He had to take on gender. But I believe that our widely held belief that He was celibate has significance here. Had he taken a wife, He might be perceived as less “universal”, His identity as “male” becoming more prominent than His identity as “the Way, the Truth and the Life” for all people. Hence, union with God or Jesus (whether using the term “matrimony” or not) need not, indeed should not, have any sexual implication.

    Also, the writings referred to here describe becoming “one spirit” with God – not “one flesh”, again distinguishing it from our human notion of marriage. But see the article for much more detail.

    God help me for all I have written. I did not write all of this to persuade you of anything but rather as a learning experience for myself. I’m sure there is no requirement that you think of it this way if it bothers you. We all have our own needs in how we meditate and pray – God understands them all and welcomes us as we are.

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