CHAPTER SIX

MEMBERSHIP OF CHRIST

The partnership with God of which we have been treating can be regarded from two points of view; we can look at it as personal union with God living in the soul; or we can regard it as the grafting or the incorporation of the soul into the Mystical Body of Christ. Let us return now to this second point of view, and examine the individual Christian’s membership of this Body, and we see that three things which characterize a healthy member of the human body find their counterpart also in the membership of Christ. To be a true member of the human body, the organ or constituent in question must be animated by the life of the organism; it must be subject to its vivifying principle; and it must exercise its activity, not merely for its own benefit, but for the benefit of the whole organism and its other members. A leaden bullet in a human body is not a member, for it is not animated by the soul, nor does it act for the benefit of the surrounding tissue and organs. Certain growths in the human body, which in popular parlance may be called cancer, live indeed, but they live for themselves and are not properly subject to the vital principle of the organism; in fact they are a menace to the life of the body.

So it is in the Mystical Body of Christ. To be a living member the Christian must be in the state of grace—he must be vivified by the Holy Spirit who is the soul of that body; he must be subject to that vivifying Spirit, which means that he must love God and do His will; and He must act for the good of his fellow members, which means he must love his neighbor. Examine for a moment the dialogue in St. Luke’s Gospel (Lk 10:25–28) where the lawyer asks our Lord: “Master, what must I do to possess eternal life?” our Lord replied by asking him to quote the law, and received the answer: “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God, with thy whole heart, and with thy whole soul, and with all thy strength and with all thy mind; and thy neighbor as thyself.” Our Lord approved of the answer saying: “Thou hast answered right; this do and thou shalt live.” Could there be any more explicit declaration of the law of the life and membership of the Mystical Body of Christ?

Love of God, therefore, is the essential principle of the spiritual life; without it everything else is useless. But man is a rational being; one cannot love the unknown. So knowledge must precede love. And if that love is going to mean a complete abandonment of one’s own self, a losing of one’s own life, to find a new self, a new life—to find one’s all, in fact, in membership of Christ, it is still more urgent to have a sure and certain knowledge of Christ and His love. But in this world, the only way one can know God supernaturally is by faith. Reason can give us a certain, but natural, knowledge of His existence and of some of His attributes; but faith alone can tell us of the wonders of His love and His plans for us. Faith alone can put us in vital contact with Him, for when we believe in God, we share His knowledge, we lean on Him, and draw our strength from Him.

But we must be clear about the sense in which we use the words “faith” and “believing,” for there is much misunderstanding, and one finds many wrong notions of their true nature. The verb to believe is frequently used in ordinary speech to indicate an opinion, a conjecture, and implies uncertainty; in religious discussions, it sometimes refers to a form of forcing one’s own assent without proper foundation, in a way that almost amounts to a sort of self-hypnotism. Both of these notions are quite wrong if applied to Catholic faith. There is nothing uncertain and there is nothing unreasonable about Catholic faith. The proper meaning of belief is to accept truth on the testimony of another. Since in ordinary cases our informant may be in error or may mislead us, there may be room for uncertainty. But in supernatural faith, we accept truth on the testimony of God Himself, so that it leads to absolute certainty. There is no doubt about it, even though there may be difficulty. The point about faith is this; that when one sees truth, one accepts it because of its intrinsic evidence which compels the intellect; but when one believes truth, that intrinsic evidence is lacking, so that the intellect is free to refuse its assent, and an act of the will is necessary to elicit it. But in the present circumstances, this action is not unreasonable.

The Church insists that reason authorizes faith, and so far from asking us to deny our reason, She teaches that faith insists on being founded on reason. Once, however, the reasonableness of believing our authority is established, that authority may ask us to go beyond our reason, but never to go against it. We may not see how there are Three Persons in One God, but we cannot deny that it is reasonable to accept God’s word that there are. “Faith,” as Prat points out, “is not a pure intuition, a mystical tendency towards an object more suspected than known; it presupposes preaching; it is the yielding of the mind to divine testimony. Faith is opposed to sight, both as regards the object known and the manner of knowing; one is immediate and intuitive, the other takes place through an intermediate agent. Nevertheless, faith is not blind: it is ready to give a reason for itself and aspires always to more clearness.”[23] All this, of course, is not to deny that, in the order of time, many born in the Catholic religion first believe; and it is only on enquiry afterwards that the rational basis of the act of faith is found.

In the Scriptures, faith is not often used in the isolated sense of a mere intellectual assent to truth; “there is nearly always added to it a sentiment of security, confidence, abandonment, obedience, and filial love; the adhesion of the mind produces a thrill of the heart.”[24] In St. Paul’s writings some such complex meaning of the word is common; in particular when he uses the phrase to believe in God, it means not only to “believe in His existence, but, variously, to rest upon Him as on an immovable support, to take refuge in Him, as in a sure place of shelter, to tend towards Him, as to one’s supreme end.”[25] This usage is only a reflection of the fact that a living faith always tends to action of some sort. For our purpose, therefore, it can be better examined in connection with its manifestations. Here we shall insist merely upon its supernatural character, which, therefore, presupposes some supernatural power in the soul. This is the infused theological virtue of faith, which is the foundation of the whole of the spiritual life and which is given to us in baptism.

One might perhaps liken the Christian soul to a pilot “flying blind,” taking his course and all orders by wireless. He must be equipped with a properly tuned receiving set and must have faith in the existence and in the instructions of his mentors. The Christian soul is in a similar position. He needs a supernatural equipment to receive and follow the directions of God with certainty and confidence. His need is far greater than that of the pilot, for the Christian has even to believe in the existence of the airplane in which he is travelling! As St. Paul says: “Faith is substance of things to be hoped for, the evidence of things that appear not” (Heb 11:1).

The supernatural virtue of hope is also given to us with that of faith, in baptism. Here again one meets many wrong notions of the true meaning of the word in its religious significance. The classical significance—as “an expectation, more or less vain or well-founded, of an event fortunate or unfortunate”—does not apply to Christian hope. “There is nothing vain or uncertain about hope in God, because our hope like our faith is based on God’s goodness and God’s omnipotence.”[26] In referring to the testimony that the Holy Ghost gives of our son-ship resulting from our incorporation in Christ, and our consequent right of inheritance, St. Paul tells us: “We are saved by hope; but hope that is seen is not hope” (Rom 8:24). It is true that we do not yet possess or even see the joy and glory that await us in heaven. But we have a right to them, and no one can disinherit us without our consent.

The point is so important that it is worth examining the theology of hope. Hope is a theological virtue; its object is God. We hope for God—for possession of Him, and for the means to obtain it. We also hope in God, because it is upon His infinite power that we rely to bring us to Himself, and because it is upon His goodness and mercy that we count to move Him to do so, and not upon our own merits. Let us quote the theologian Billuart, commenting on St. Thomas.[27] He is discussing “the motive and reason why we hope or expect with certain confidence eternal happiness and the means to attain it.” He proceeds: “That motive is the help of the divine omnipotence. For we cannot hope with a sure confidence for happiness except from Him whom we know to be able and to be willing to give it; but God as omnipotent, can give it, and as ‘helping’—that is, as offering us help—is willing to give it.” And he continues: “The ultimate analysis of our hope goes back to the divine omnipotence: for, to one who asks why do you hope for beatitude, the adequate answer is because God can and will give it, just as to one who asks why do you believe in the Unity and Trinity of God, the adequate answer is because God who is true, has revealed it.”

St. Thomas sums up the theology of Christian hope in his usual laconic style. “Hope,” he says, “reaches out to God, relying upon His help to acquire the good hoped for.” And he points out that we hope for the infinite good which is God Himself, and that we rely on the infinite power—which alone is capable of leading to infinite good, and this power is God Himself.[28] When he comes to the question of the certitude which attaches to our hope while in this life, he considers the objection that hope comes through grace and merits, and we cannot be certain of these in this life. His answer is illuminating. “Hope,” he writes, “is not based upon grace already possessed, but upon the divine omnipotence and mercy, by which even he who has not got grace, can obtain it that so he may reach eternal life. Anyone who believes in God can be certain of the omnipotence of God and of His mercy.”[29]

The ultimate authority on earth is the infallible Church, and her teaching may be found in the definitions of the Council of Trent, where we read: “All should place a most firm hope in the help of God. For just as God has begun the good work, so He will perfect it, working in men both to will and to accomplish, unless they fail to cooperate with His grace.”[30] Even those who are not in the state of grace need not lose their hope, for the Council condemns those who say that one who falls after baptism is not able by the grace of Christ to rise again. But for one in grace and therefore in vital contact with the Mystical Body of Christ, there is another reason for hope that may seem unbelievable. In discussing the effects of baptism, St. Thomas lays down the principle:

By baptism we are incorporated into the Passion and Death of Christ as St. Paul says: “If we be dead with Christ, we believe that we shall live also together with Christ” (Rom 6:8). From which it is clear, that the Passion of Christ is communicated to the baptized as a remedy, as if he himself had suffered and died.[31]

And in dealing with the objection that guilt is only remitted by expiation, he repeats the principle that the baptized, inasmuch as he is a member of Christ, communicates in the expiation of His Passion as if he himself had undergone it.[32] The member of Christ, then, can call the infinite merits of Christ his own, and offer them to God for all his needs; and that special title to them acquired in baptism endures as long as he is not in mortal sin. What limit then is there to his hope?

We shall return again to this question in regard to the confidence that must characterize the life of a Catholic. But we insist here, that the foundation of Christian hope is not one’s own merits, but the infinite merits of Christ; not one’s own goodness and justice, but the infinite goodness and mercy of God. The radical power of hoping thus in God is given to us by the infused virtue of hope at baptism and is only lost by a deliberate sin of despair.

The two virtues of faith and hope are closely connected and manifest themselves in many ways in the spiritual life, where we can examine them further. There is, however, a still more important theological virtue given to us in baptism, and that is the virtue of charity. Here again we have to start by removing the misunderstandings that the common use of words involves. Charity nowadays generally means a sort of humanitarian compassion for the poor and generally denotes alms-giving. This meaning, of course, is not altogether wrong, but it is only a shadow of the reality. The charity we speak of is that virtue by which we love God above all things for His own sake, and by which we love our neighbor for God. It is in fact the essential virtue of a living member of the Mystical Body of Christ. We have seen that the very nature of membership of a natural body demanded that the organ or member should live for the benefit of the whole organism. Now in the Mystical Body that is no less true; membership of Christ demands that we live for Him and not for ourselves. It is true that in His goodness He has made it well worth our while to do so, but true love seeks not its own benefit but the good of the beloved. This supernatural love of God for His own sake is altogether above the powers of our nature, and we need a special virtue infused by God to enable us to love Him as He should be loved.

But only God can love God as He should be loved, and therefore the power of loving which He gives us is a certain created participation of His own love for Himself. God’s Love for Himself is God the Holy Spirit, and the Holy Spirit comes into our hearts to pour forth charity there. But there is a delicacy about God’s work in our soul that must be noted. He wants our love, but He wants more than our natural love. Our love for Him must be supernatural, yet it must be ours. The Love He has for Himself, although worthy of Himself, cannot be our love for Him, for then we would have to be God—which is impossible—and then, too, He would not have that special tribute that comes through our own personal love from our heart. He never forces our free will, but He has designed this most wonderful partnership in which we are associated with the Holy Spirit so that we can give Him the love of our hearts, but still give Him a love, that can be truly called divine, for it is given to us by the Divine Spirit. In fact, St. Thomas does not hesitate to say that: “Charity produces an infinite effect, when it joins the soul to God and makes it holy. This shows the infinity of the divine power, which is the source of charity”;[33] and elsewhere he says charity is given to us “by the infusion of the Holy Spirit, who is the Love of the Father and the Son, and of whom created charity itself is a participation in us.”[34]

Let us note here the special nature of these three fundamental virtues of the Christian life. They represent a power to perform an action which directly tends to God, and this power itself can be rightly described as a participation of God’s own power. This threefold power is the first effect of our incorporation in Christ and consequent divinization of our souls by grace. While each of them represents a capacity to act “divinely”—in a created way of course—and implies a corresponding operation on the part of God, yet this action depends also upon our own free will—so that we are truly authors of these acts and cannot lose these powers except by our own deliberate choice.

They represent the essential acts of the spiritual life. In fact without them there is no spiritual life. They give us a clear illustration of the fact that the Christian life is a vital partnership between God and the human soul, and they show us one result of the vivifying influence of the Holy Spirit who acts as the “soul” in the Mystical Body of Christ. The value of the acts produced in this manner must not be measured by human standards. They refer directly to God, and of themselves need not produce any visible effect. We are tempted to measure the value of our acts by the “good” they do—good for souls, good for men, good for the poor or the sick, or some such good. The error of that standard is best seen by reading St. Paul.

In the 12th Chapter of the First Epistle to the Corinthians, St. Paul discusses the various ways in which the Holy Spirit was accustomed to manifest His presence in souls miracles, prophecy, the gift of tongues, and other extraordinary phenomena were well known in those days, but they were all the work of the same Holy Spirit. St. Paul insists upon this fundamental unity and in that very connection gives a most explicit description of the unity of the Mystical Body of Christ and portrays the mutual dependence of its members.

The necessary variety of members leads to a variety of operations, and St. Paul enumerates a numbers of different offices that were found in the Church: apostles, prophets, doctors, workers of miracles, those gifted with tongues, those with the power of healing and with other remarkable gifts which were of great service in the building up of the Church. But despite the value and the wonder of these gifts, St. Paul exhorts the Corinthians in an address that is classical:

“Be zealous for better gifts. And I show you a more excellent way.”

He then bursts into a paean of praise for charity, which is the best gift and the most excellent way, and finishes with the assertion:

“And now there remain faith, hope and charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity.” (1 Cor 12:31)

But not only is charity the most excellent, it is also the one essential virtue and way; for he writes:

“If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as a sounding brass and a tinkling cymbal. And if I should have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing! And if I should distribute all my goods to feed the poor and if I should deliver my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profited me nothing.” (1 Cor 13:1–3)

Those are St. Paul’s words; they are also the words of God, who is the author of all the inspired Scripture. There is no evading their meaning; it is quite clear. No matter what we do, unless we do it in the love of God, it profits us nothing. God wants our love, He will be satisfied with nothing else. That is what He principally looks for in our works. The things we do or achieve are not of primary value to God, for He can create them by a mere thought; or with just as much ease He can raise up other free agents to do what we do. But the love of our hearts is something unique, something no one else can give Him. True, He could create other hearts to love Him, but once He has created us and given us free will, the love of our particular heart is something unique and in a way irreplaceable. In any case, it is not for His own sake that He wants our love, but because He desires to make us happy with Him forever, and He can only do that if we are in love with Him.

It might seem that that is something beyond our power or choice. One speaks in human relationship of “falling in love”; it is not, as it were, something deliberate, something that can be done at will. That peculiar acquiring of a new and special interest in another person and the development of a new power to love that person, which raises the whole level of the life of a man or woman and opens the door to the highest form of human happiness, seems to be something fortuitous, an accident, a stroke of luck. Whether that be so or not, there is a very close analogy between the human and the divine, which we intend to stress in this book. But there is one important difference in regard to the love of God. There, instead of speaking of a soul falling in love, it would be nearer the truth if one spoke of love falling into the soul. For God gives us the love with which we are to love Him; more than that, He gives us the gift of wisdom by which we acquire a taste and a relish for God and for His friendship and His ways. Both the love and the wisdom come from God; this will help us to understand the otherwise seemingly harsh treatment of the guest who, in the Gospel parable, came to the wedding-feast, without the ceremonial garment. Unless one realizes that such garments were provided by the host, one will not understand the host’s resentment at the guest’s refusal to avail of his kindness, and one will completely miss the parallel with the man who comes to the service of God without love in his heart. For if there is one gift that is to be had for the asking—and there are many—it is the gift of love for God.

There is only one source of true happiness in this life or in the next, and that is to love and to be loved. Knowledge that does not lead to love is worse than vain and sterile. It is, of course, quite true that love expresses itself in many ways, and it is true that its reality can be questioned if it does not seek expression in some way; but for all that, it is love and love alone that matters. St. Paul and all the saints knew that; our Lady knew that; our Lord knows that, and God Himself knows it and tells it to us in the Scripture. “I have loved thee with an everlasting love” (Jer 31:3). “My son, give me thy heart” (Prv 23:26). “Love is the culmination of the law” (Rom 13:10).

But when we examine the Scriptures, we notice that God does not confine His commandment of love to love for Himself; He insists that we must also love our neighbor, and it soon appears that He speaks as if the two loves were inseparable, and, in fact, one and the same. We read such texts as: “Thou shalt love thy neighbor for God” (Lk 10:28); “All the other commandments are comprised in one word: Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself” (Rom 13:9); and the final exhortation of our Lord to His disciples was “His own commandment” to “love one another as I have loved you” (Jn 15:12). This insistence on fraternal love and its identification with divine love seems surprising at first sight, but its significance becomes obvious if we remember the principles that govern the membership of the Mystical Body.

The organs of a human body are mutually dependent and operate for the benefit of each other and thereby for the good of the whole organism. Foreign matter lodged in the organism is distinguished from that in living union with the whole by its failure to interact beneficially with the rest of the system. It is at best a nuisance. If we then do not interact beneficially with the rest of the members of Christ’s body, our title to living membership is immediately compromised. And we cannot distinguish completely between Christ and His members; we cannot love Christ without being willing to love the whole Christ—Head and members. What we do to our fellow members is done to Him—for they are His Body. We have His own word for it: “Amen, Amen, I say to you, as long as you did it to one of these my least brethren—you did it to me” (Mt 25:40). It is Christ whom we serve, or injure, in the person of our neighbor.

But if our fraternal charity is to be Christian, its prime motive must be the love of Christ. That is why theologians do not distinguish essentially a double precept of charity, one for God, and one for our neighbor; they only recognize one, the love of God. And that is why St.John writes:

If any man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar. For he that loveth not his brother whom he seeth, how can he love God, whom he seeth not . . . If we love one another, God abideth in us, and his charity is perfected in us. In this we know that we abide in him and he in us: because he hath given us of his spirit (1Jn 4:12, 13, 20). Let us love one another, for charity. is of God. And every one that loveth, is born of God, and knoweth God. He that loveth not, knoweth not God, for God is charity. (1John 4:7, 8)

Volumes could be written on these texts. One thing is clear: that to abide in God, one must love one’s neighbor; fraternal charity is a necessary manifestation of love of God, which does not exist without it. In the practical part of this book we shall discuss the working of fraternal charity. Let it be noted here that charity does not compel us to like people, but to love them. And love is an act of the will wishing one well. Further what passes for fraternal charity is often not really Christian. Modern civilization is full of a humanitarianism which is not Christian charity, for its motive is not the love of God. It may be a love of man, though it is more often a love of management. Whatever be its motive, unless it be derived from the love of God, “it profiteth nothing.” It is on this point that many Catholics—even many Catholic religious—make a fatal mistake that renders much of their works for their neighbor sterile and unprofitable; for their motives are human. To them can be applied that threefold warning of our Lord: “Amen, I say unto you, they have received their reward” (Mt 6:2). Still we must not be too general in our condemnation, for when a man works according to what he believes to be his duty, God will not fail to have compassion on him, and will give him the grace to rectify his outlook. But for a healthy Christian life, all a man’s work must be done with God, for God, and in God; the love of God is at once its source, its end, and its principal value.

For the whole spiritual life is a love affair with God, and if that expression has associations that are out of place here, it is because of the abuse of it, not because of its proper use. As we shall see, God Himself uses human love to teach us the secrets of divine love. The love of God for us is shown forth in the Life and Passion and Death of our Lord. Our return is the influence of love for God in our own life, and that is especially shown by our fraternal charity. God not only gives us the power to love Him, He also gives us the opportunity of exercising that power. God is completely self-sufficient, and as we can add nothing to Him, our love at times seems hopeless and helpless. But God has so identified Himself with the needs of our neighbor that what we do to others for God’s sake is done to God Himself.

The love of God, then, and the love of our neighbor are one and the same virtue. This virtue is the effect of our incorporation in Christ, but it is also the means of fulfilling the law of our life in Christ. It is God who works in us both to love and to do the works of love. These works are many; and for their performance God has given us other virtues called the moral virtues, which depend upon the four cardinal virtues of prudence, justice, temperance, and fortitude. These we need to regulate all our actions, to be honest with our neighbor, to control our lower appetites, and to overcome our weakness and fear, so that all actions which we perform may belong to the life of the Body of Christ.

In addition to these virtues, and to the seven gifts of the Holy Ghost, our life in Christ needs a continual series of helps called actual graces, by which we are moved to do good, and we are sustained in all our actions. We cannot begin a single good act without the help of God. “Without me, you can do nothing,” said our Lord (Jn 15:5). But God is our Father, and He does not fail His children, and Christ is the Head of His Body and as the Church teaches: ‘He constantly pours forth His grace (virtutem) upon those who have been justified, as the head exercises its influence on the members and the vine on its branches; and this grace ever precedes, accompanies, and follows their good actions.”[35] There is, so to speak, a complete nervous system in the Mystical Body, which controls the actions of all its members, and without that vital initiation and guidance, they are paralyzed. The working of actual grace is of great importance in the spiritual life, but to examine the virtues or the different graces in greater detail here would make the treatment too theoretical, and would put us in danger of losing sight of the main outline of the Christian life, which is lived through Christ, with Christ, and in Christ, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, for the glory of the Eternal God.

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