On Union With God

Monday, November 24, 2003



In my article Real Presence: Some Progressive Reflections, I alluded to a debate with some conservative Catholics who rejected a statement I made that by receiveing the transubstantiated bread, we ourselves are transubstatiated.

My purpose in saying this, was to point to the urgency conservatives, and all Catholics, should feel regarding being charitable to the poor, the marginalized, gays, feminist and so forth. That article became very technical in exploring real presence and transignification vis-a-vis transubstantiation.

There is a also a contemplative and mystic tradition in Catholicism that speaks of divine union, and when we examine this in light of sacramental theology and Scripture, a rich understanding of our union with God emerges.

More recently, I have argued in many of my articles and postings that if women cannot act in persona Christi, they should not be baptized, because baptism conforms us to Christ. I have argued that the bridal imagery in the New Testament between Christ and his Church points to a deeper metaphor of the Body of Christ. Since marriage is a sign of two opposites becoming "one flesh", the wedding imagery applied to the Church is a sign of God and sinner becoming one. Far from sharpening the distinctions between people, the marriage metaphor used in the New Testament obliterates distinctions between male and female (Gal 3:28).

There is only one God, and by becoming one with God, we do not become separate gods. We are not made into millions of separate gods, as Mormons believe. Furthermore, in our individual union with God, we do not lose ourselves. We are not absorbed in the divine, as taught in Eastern philosophy. Rather, as light passes through a window, such that the window is unseen, so too, divine life passes through us when we are fully sanctified in Christ. In sharing his communicable attributes with us, God elevates our nature with her own real presence within us!

Just as three person relate to one another eternally in the one being known as God, we are invited into the Trinitarian life through personal relationships. Our union transcends mere metaphor, and is made real by the sanctifying power of God.

God became human that the human might be divinized.

God is the initiator of our union with God. We do not earn divine union, and there is no work on our part that enables us to ascend to divine union. Divine life within us is a free gift: grace! Our union with God was historically actualized when God emptied herself to join the human condition in the incarnation. Through the incarnation, God effectively says to us to stop seeking him in the heavens or in our navels. She stands next to us in our neigbor. Yet, the condition for the possibility of God dwelling in our neigbor is also our own union with the divine.

The CCC has this to say on our union with God in Christ:
790 Believers who respond to God's word and become members of Christ's Body, become intimately united with him: "In that body the life of Christ is communicated to those who believe, and who, through the sacraments, are united in a hidden and real way to Christ in his Passion and glorification." This is especially true of Baptism, which unites us to Christ's death and Resurrection, and the Eucharist, by which "really sharing in the body of the Lord, . . . we are taken up into communion with him and with one another."
This seems to pretty clearly affirm what I have just said. I bolded the pertinent line. There is this little gem in the CCC as well:
797 "What the soul is to the human body, the Holy Spirit is to the Body of Christ, which is the Church." "To this Spirit of Christ, as an invisible principle, is to be ascribed the fact that all the parts of the body are joined one with the other and with their exalted head; for the whole Spirit of Christ is in the head, the whole Spirit is in the body, and the whole Spirit is in each of the members."244 The Holy Spirit makes the Church "the temple of the living God"
Our union with God is just as real and deep as the hypostatic union experienced in Jesus Christ! This is why we join him in the sacrament of baptism. The CCC has this to say about baptismal grace:
1997 Grace is a participation in the life of God. It introduces us into the intimacy of Trinitarian life: by Baptism the Christian participates in the grace of Christ, the Head of his Body. As an "adopted son" he can henceforth call God "Father," in union with the only Son. He receives the life of the Spirit who breathes charity into him and who forms the Church.
1999 The grace of Christ is the gratuitous gift that God makes to us of his own life, infused by the Holy Spirit into our soul to heal it of sin and to sanctify it. It is the sanctifying or deifying grace received in Baptism. It is in us the source of the work of sanctification:
Therefore if any one is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has passed away, behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself. (Here, Par 1999 of the CCC quotes 2 Cor 5: 17-18.)
We see in this passage that God's very life is infused in the soul, and deifies the human person. This is a critical difference between the Catholic view of justification and the Protestant view. As Catholics, we believe that the sacraments are outward signs of God acting within the soul. Protestants believe that grace is merely God's favor covering the soul, but Catholics believe that God pours her very life into the soul to intrinsically bring about a transformation - a real, or substantial change in the person being saved!

There may be some reaction to saying such things from some more very conservative Catholics and Evangelical Protestants. We know that Scripture speaks repeatedly of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit and the promise that the Spirit will be with the Church until the end of time. Yet, there are those who believe I am being careless with metaphors.

I point to the Eucharist as the ultimate sign to Catholics that I am right, and that it is more than a metaphor. Union with God is the ultimate reality of the Church! We become what we receive in the Eucharist.

The bread and wine during the Mass are transubstantiated into the Body of Christ, and we cannot receive the substance of Christ without being substantially changed ourselves. On the Eucharist as a sign and cause of our becoming one body in Christ, the CCC says the following:
1374 "In the most blessed sacrament of the Eucharist "the body and blood, together with the soul and divinity, of our Lord Jesus Christ and, therefore, the whole Christ is truly, really, and substantially contained."
I placed "the whole Christ" in bold because this term refers to the whole Church. For evidence of this, look at the following quote in the CCC:
795 Christ and his Church thus together make up the "whole Christ" (Christus totus). The Church is one with Christ. The saints are acutely aware of this unity
When we receive the Eucharist, we receive the Risen One and each other!

There is a further corollary in the writings of some of some of the most popular mystic saints. Was Saint John of the Cross careless in his articulation of his speculations on Divine union in contemplative prayer?

Describing how the soul is hidden in the dark night from Satan, Saint John says the following:
The reason for this is that, as His Majesty dwells substantially in the soul, where neither angel nor devil can attain to an understanding of what comes to pass, they cannot know the intimate and secret communications which take place there between the soul and God.
The great Saint goes on to say:
These communications, since the Lord Himself works them, are wholly Divine and sovereign, for they are substantial touches of Divine union between the soul and God; in one of which the soul receives a greater blessing than in all the rest, since this is the loftiest degree of prayer in existence.
Remember that John of the Cross was familiar with the writings of Aquinas, and even quotes the Summa in this same work, and he was ordained and studied after the Council of Trent, and most certainly understood how the term "substance" was used in theology.

Both of these sentences are extracted from The Dark Night of the Soul Translated and edited by E. Allen Peers, a Doubleday Image Book, New York, New York, 1959, both quotes on p. 188 paragraph 11 of Book II, Chapter XXIII commentary on the line "In Darkness and in Concealment". This translation does have an Impramatur and Nihil Obstat.

I do not have a copy of the Spanish, but I would be surprised if the Spanish does not indicate "substance" in the same sense used at Trent.

If His Majesty dwells substantially in the soul making progress in the spiritual life, and we receive the substance of Christ in the transubstantiated host in the "source and summit" of our spiritual lives, is it perhaps proper to suggest that we are ourselves are transubstantiated when we receive the transubstantiated host ?

On a real union of humanity with the divine, the CCC says the following:
460 The Word became flesh to make us "partakers of the divine nature": "For this is why the Word became man, and the Son of God became the Son of man: so that man, by entering into communion with the Word and thus receiving divine sonship, might become a son of God." "For the Son of God became man so that we might become God." "The only-begotten Son of God, wanting to make us sharers in his divinity, assumed our nature, so that he, made man, might make men gods."
The first sentence of paragraph 460 of the CCC quotes 2 Pet 1:4 and clearly states that we are made partakers of the divine nature. We are made "sharers in divinity" that we might be made like gods!

The Church has never taught that real presence in the Eucharist is isolated to the local presence of the physical host. There are other modes of Christ's real presence. Christ's real presence in the Church in many ways other than Eucharistic elements are emphasized the following paragraph of the CCC:
1373 "Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised from the dead, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us," is present in many ways to his Church: in his word, in his Church's prayer, "where two or three are gathered in my name," in the poor, the sick, and the imprisoned, in the sacraments of which he is the author, in the sacrifice of the Mass, and in the person of the minister. But "he is present . . . most especially in the Eucharistic species."
Certainly the Eucharist is the most august gift of God's very self to we who percieve the real presence with the eyes of faith. I consider the Eucharist to be the center of my worship, and the center of my very life. Yet, Eucharistic worship points beyond itself to the real presence in all who gather to receive God's self offering. In the Eucharist, God offers himself to us, and we offer ourselves to God and we all become one body. The Eucharist causes union with the divine, and through this union with God, we are united one to another!

Christ is really and substantially present as we gather together in his name. Some further quotations from the CCC on the effects of the Eucharist in making this substantial reality happen in each of us are provided here as well:
1324 The Eucharist is "the source and summit of the Christian life." "The other sacraments, and indeed all ecclesiastical ministries and works of the apostolate, are bound up with the Eucharist and are oriented toward it. For in the blessed Eucharist is contained the whole spiritual good of the Church, namely Christ himself, our Pasch."
1325 "The Eucharist is the efficacious sign and sublime cause of that communion in the divine life and that unity of the People of God by which the Church is kept in being. It is the culmination both of God's action sanctifying the world in Christ and of the worship men offer to Christ and through him to the Father in the Holy Spirit."
1326 Finally, by the Eucharistic celebration we already unite ourselves with the heavenly liturgy and anticipate eternal life, when God will be all in all.
1327 In brief, the Eucharist is the sum and summary of our faith: "Our way of thinking is attuned to the Eucharist, and the Eucharist in turn confirms our way of thinking."
1329 The Lord's Supper, because of its connection with the supper which the Lord took with his disciples on the eve of his Passion and because it anticipates the wedding feast of the Lamb in the heavenly Jerusalem. Breaking of Bread, because Jesus used this rite, part of a Jewish meat when as master of the table he blessed and distributed the bread, above all at the Last Supper. It is by this action that his disciples will recognize him after his Resurrection, and it is this expression that the first Christians will use to designate their Eucharistic assemblies; by doing so they signified that all who eat the one broken bread, Christ, enter into communion with him and form but one body in him.
1368 The Eucharist is also the sacrifice of the Church. The Church which is the Body of Christ participates in the offering of her Head. With him, she herself is offered whole and entire. She unites herself to his intercession with the Father for all men. In the Eucharist the sacrifice of Christ becomes also the sacrifice of the members of his Body. The lives of the faithful, their praise, sufferings, prayer, and work, are united with those of Christ and with his total offering, and so acquire a new value. Christ's sacrifice present on the altar makes it possible for all generations of Christians to be united with his offering.
In the catacombs the Church is often represented as a woman in prayer, arms outstretched in the praying position. Like Christ who stretched out his arms on the cross, through him, with him, and in him, she offers herself and intercedes for all men.
We are all united to one another when we participate in the Eucharist. Thus, the reverence we show to the elements of the Eucharist points to the reverence we should show one another! Saint Augustine once asked his congregation hwo those who could receive the Eucharist so reverently in their hands could then turn and drop their siblings, who were also the Body of Christ! The unity of the Church in the real and substantial presence of Christ continues to be emphasized in the CCC in the following passage:
1369 The whole Church is united with the offering and intercession of Christ. Since he has the ministry of Peter in the Church, the Pope is associated with every celebration of the Eucharist, wherein he is named as the sign and servant of the unity of the universal Church. The bishop of the place is always responsible for the Eucharist, even when a priest presides; the bishop's name is mentioned to signify his presidency over the particular Church, in the midst of his presbyterium and with the assistance of deacons. The community intercedes also for all ministers who, for it and with it, offer the Eucharistic sacrifice.
Though the Holy Father lives in Rome, he is present at each and every Mass where I participate. So are the bishops, the clergy, and all the people of God. If we had a God's eye view of reality, there are not millions of Masses throughout the world and throughout history. There is one Mass eternally offered that includes the last supper and every Mass ever said throughout all time. While each Mass may offer particular graces to the believer in concrete hitorical existence, the Mass is a single event stretched out over the whole earth and throughout all time until the second coming. The CCC continues to emphasize our union with each other and the divine through the Eucharist in this passage:
1391 Holy Communion augments our union with Christ. The principal fruit of receiving the Eucharist in Holy Communion is an intimate union with Christ Jesus. Indeed, the Lord said: "He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him." Life in Christ has its foundation in the Eucharistic banquet: "As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so he who eats me will live because of me."
Can the teaching authority of the Church be any more clear that our union with Christ is not mere metaphor, but a mystical reality that is real, substantial, and significant? Probing further, the CCC says the following:
1396 The unity of the Mystical Body: the Eucharist makes the Church. Those who receive the Eucharist are united more closely to Christ. Through it Christ unites them to all the faithful in one body - the Church. Communion renews, strengthens, and deepens this incorporation into the Church, already achieved by Baptism. In Baptism we have been called to form but one body. The Eucharist fulfills this call: "The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread:"
If you are the body and members of Christ, then it is your sacrament that is placed on the table of the Lord; it is your sacrament that you receive. To that which you are you respond "Amen" ("yes, it is true!" ) and by responding to it you assent to it. For you hear the words, "the Body of Christ" and respond "Amen." Be then a member of the Body of Christ that your Amen may be true. (Quoted from Sermo 272 of Saint Augustine PL 38, 1247 in CCC Par 1396)
Lest anyone think the Church has simply departed form our original tradition of faith and embraced some New Age fantasy, I also wish to point out the Scriptural roots of this teaching.

From Saint Paul, we see the following passages that refer to Christ life infused in the soul or our unity as the Body of Christ:
Romans 7:4
So, my brothers, you also died to the law through the body of Christ, that you might belong to another, to him who was raised from the dead, in order that we might bear fruit to God.
Romans 8:10
But if Christ is in you, your body is dead because of sin, yet your spirit is alive because of righteousness.
Romans 12:5
so in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.
1 Corinthians 10:16
Is not the cup of thanksgiving for which we give thanks a participation in the blood of Christ? And is not the bread that we break a participation in the body of Christ?
1 Corinthians 12:12
The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ.
1 Corinthians 12:27
Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.
2 Corinthians 11:10
As surely as the truth of Christ is in me, nobody in the regions of Achaia will stop this boasting of mine.
Galatians 2:20
I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.
Ephesians 3:6
This mystery is that through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus.
Ephesians 4:12
to prepare God's people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up.
Ephesians 5:23
For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior.
Ephesians 5:29
After all, no one ever hated his own body, but he feeds and cares for it, just as Christ does the church–
Philippians 1:20
I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death.
Colossians 1:24
Now I rejoice in what was suffered for you, and I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ's afflictions, for the sake of his body, which is the church.
Colossians 3:15
Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful.
1 Thessalonians 5:23
May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.

For Paul - this reality is initiated in a sort of metaphysical way through Baptism, which leads the CCC to say the following:
790 Believers who respond to God's word and become members of Christ's Body, become intimately united with him: "In that body the life of Christ is communicated to those who believe, and who, through the sacraments, are united in a hidden and real way to Christ in his Passion and glorification." This is especially true of Baptism, which unites us to Christ's death and Resurrection, and the Eucharist, by which "really sharing in the body of the Lord, . . . we are taken up into communion with him and with one another."
In other Scripture passages referring to Divine union, the Johanine writings provide much to ponder:
John 17: 20-21
I pray not only for them, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, so that they may all be one, as you, Father, are in me and I in you, that they also may be in us, that the world may believe that you sent me.
Christ is dogmatically declared "consubstantial" with the Father, and he prays that we may be one with the Father in the same manner in which He, Himself, is united to the Father. WOW!
John 15: 5
I am the vine, you are the branches. Whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit, because without me you can do nothing.
1 John 4: 7
Beloved, let us love one another, because love is of God; everyone who loves is begotten by God and knows God.
I believe that this verse provides us the "metaphysics" of union with God for those being saved outside of the institutional Church. God is really and substantially love - not the feelings of infatuation that love may cause, but pure unbounded love that creates the universe from his own existence as self-subsistent BE-ING, "I AM WHO AM" (Ex 3: 14). Those who love others are in some mysterious fashion touched (substantially) by Divine union:
1 John 4: 12
No one has ever seen God. Yet, if we love one another, God remains in us, and his love is brought to perfection in us.
I'm sorry to simply sit here and quote authoritative text in "proof-text" fashion. I wanted to demonstrate that it seems very apparent to me that the Tradition of the Catholic Church is that Christ really, truly, and substantially dwells in each and every baptized human person. Thus, it is total nonsense to say women cannot act in persona Christi.

Furthermore, we Christians ought to treat one another with the same reverence we treat the host at Mass!

When members of the Body of Christ experience pain from other members, are we showing the reverence due to Christ? Is it proper to genuflect and kneel before the host, and completely ignore the cry of Catholics who feel oppressed and burdened? Is it appropriate to argue vehemently against minority viewpoints without trying to listen to see if there might be a grain of truth in what the other is saying? If Christ is really and substantially present in the laity, is it really always a safe assumption to place the opinions of bishops and popes when speaking non-infallibly above the sense of the faithful? If Christ is really and substantially present int he laity, don't the bishops and popes have a moral obligation to listen to them and consult them, even on matters of faith and morals?

I would posit that because Christ is really and substantially present in the entire Church and each and every member, we need to learn to listen to one another with reverence, humility, charity, and a heartfelt desire to understand. To do less is sacrilage.

Peace and blessings!

Readers may contact me at jcecil3@attglobal.net


posted by Jcecil3 3:40 PM

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