CHAPTER SEVEN

SEEKING CHRIST THROUGH HUMILITY AND OBEDIENCE

In order to avoid missing a clear view of the wood through making too close an examination of the trees that are found in it, we did not pursue our study of the results of our incorporation in Christ to the extent of examining them in detail, but broke off our discussion with the statement that it was a life lived through Christ, with Christ, and in Christ. One question, however, must be faced, and it is this. If God be the source and strength of our supernatural life and its first mover and its last end—if the divine Omnipotence that can do all things, and the divine Goodness that will do all things necessary for God’s glory, are so intimately at work in our souls—why is it that we are not all saints? Why is it on the contrary, that—even in the best of us—there is much of the pagan left? One possible answer to that question could be drawn from our discussion of fraternal charity in the last chapter, and indeed St. John’s words could be quoted to show that lack of love for our neighbor interferes with God’s action in our souls. But that is a symptom rather than the disease. The real trouble lies deeper; to get to the roots of it, let us go back to the beginning of wrong-doing.

We have seen that the first sin was that of the angels, and that it was a sin of pride, manifesting itself through disobedience. We have seen that the original sin on earth was that of our first parents, and that it also was a sin of pride manifesting itself by disobedience. We have seen, too, that when the new Adam and the new Eve, Jesus and Mary, set about their work of restoring the ruin caused by these sins, the way they followed was the way of humility manifesting itself by obedience in direct opposition to the source of the evils they were combating. And since they were models for us, their personal example lends cogency to the lesson of the original fall. The pride and disobedience of Adam and Eve still have their roots in us, and they are the chief obstacles to God’s work of re-establishing all things in Christ.

When we asked ourselves the question: “How did Christ redeem us?” we found that the answer was: by making us part of Himself. We found, too, that the completeness of our incorporation in Him and of our identification with Himself depended upon the continual exercise of choice on the part of our own free will. Now whatever is the root cause of our tendency to refuse to abandon and deny ourselves and to put on Christ, is also the source of our failure to live fully the life of Christ. But even this self-love would not be an obstacle to God’s all-powerful grace unless there were some reason why God should not use His power to move our hearts. Unfortunately, there is one such obstacle which is our pride. If we examine the nature of pride, we shall see why it prevents God’s grace from working in our souls.

Pride is an inordinate desire of one’s own excellence; that is its classical definition, but perhaps, for our purpose, it will help better to take Tanquerey’s definition: “Pride is an inordinate love of self, which causes us to consider ourselves explicitly or implicitly, as our first beginning and our last end.”[36] Pride, then, makes us attribute the good that we find in ourselves to our own efforts, or, if we see that it does come from God, to attribute it to our own merits; it leads us to exaggerate the good we possess or have done, to imagine that we are what we are not, and to despise others in order all the more to exalt ourselves. Pride goes even further: It makes us consider our own selves as our last end; the proud man lives “his own life,” for his own sake. But in the Mystical Body of Christ, the supernatural life of each member with all his virtues and all his works come from God, are operated by God’s power, and are directed towards God for the sake of God. By pride we consider our good to have come from ourselves, to be done by ourselves, to be directed towards ourselves, for the sake of ourselves. The opposition is manifest.

But there is an even more fundamental opposition. God’s primary motive in all His works—in creation, in redemption, and in every single act—must not be less than Himself. That is a law of His Being; He cannot cease to be God—to be supreme; He cannot subordinate Himself, in His divine nature, to a creature, without self-contradiction. It is true that His goodness has led Him to seek His glory by making us happy—by His mercy, in fact. But the glory of His mercy is His own. “I am the Lord, this is my name: I will not give my glory to another” (Is 13:8). Pride, which makes us appropriate the glory of all the good we have or do, is directly opposed to this law of God’s action and therefore puts a limit to it. God cannot pour out His gifts to the proud without self-contradiction as long as they are obstinate in their attitude. As God Himself tells us by the pen of St. James: “God resisteth the proud and giveth grace to the humble” (Jas 4:6).

But most people are conscious of the effort involved in the doing of good, and feel conscious that many things—their good habits, and the results of their work—are the fruit of their own labors; they feel then that there is something unreasonable in the request that they should refer all these things to God as to their source and their end. Let us, however, examine the facts of the case; let us see how the creature really stands in relation to his Creator. In the first place we owe our existence to the free choice of God; He created us and He need not have done so, nor had He anything to gain by doing so. Having been created, we still need God’s further intervention to keep us in existence, for our existence depends upon the continual exercise of God’s power of conservation. We are like the sound of a man’s voice; if he stops talking, the sound ceases to exist. If God stopped thinking about us, we would cease to exist. But our dependence does not end there. Even in the natural order, we cannot think a single thought or perform a single action—even the purely reflex physical actions of breathing or digestion—which does not owe its origin to Him and which is not dependent upon His cooperation for its performance. It is true that having created us, it would be somewhat unreasonable for Him to deny us the further cooperation necessary for our existence, but—quite apart from our abuse of His gifts—He does not owe them to us; any “debt” there is in the matter is to Himself. And one could continue the catalogue of God’s freely given gifts even in the natural order indefinitely, by considering the arrangements He has made for our fundamental needs of air, food, light and warmth, vesture, knowledge, and for innumerable others. The details of God’s design for the support of our life are still beyond the telling of science.

All that would be true and striking even if we were perfect men and were perfectly subordinate to Him. But we are rebels, and despite that, He still continues to cooperate with us. Still more than that, He has even deigned to raise us to a new and superhuman order, in which we share His own nature and are to share His own happiness. And in that new order, a similar wealth and generosity of cooperation on His part are necessary; and in this case, He does not even owe it to Himself—it is quite gratuitous. In this new order there must be a new creation by grace, an endless series of the helps and impulses we call actual grace; there must be all those manifold arrangements that are necessary for the support and development of the supernatural life in our soul. All these must come from Him.

But His generosity becomes all the more wonderful when we remember that men had rejected this gift by sin, and that in order to restore it to them, God Himself became man, and suffered and died for those who sinned against Him, even for those who put Him to death! We do not realize that we owe the grace for every single act and also every single good thing in our spiritual life to God; that all had to be earned for us by the merits of our Lord and obtained for us by the intervention of our Lady, at a cost to themselves in suffering that is beyond all telling. Even the very act of our will in which we would glory comes from God; “it is God who worketh in you both to will and to accomplish” (Phil 2:13). Even when a man commits sin, the only thing that is his own in the act is the failure of his will to conform itself to God’s will; all that is positive in the action depends upon the First Cause of all being and action.

It is only when God withdraws His help and leaves the proud man to his own devices that it becomes evident what a man is worth without God. God sometimes does withdraw His usual help in order to make a man humble enough to allow His grace to sanctify him. Otherwise his pride would avert God’s mercy. We have God’s word for it that we have nothing that we have not received.[37] Even when we “merit” anything, God is the first principle of our action, and His rewards are only earned, first of all, because of a free promise made by God that He would reward such actions—for we have no claim against God except that which He Himself gives us—and secondly, because of Christ’s merits, upon which all our own are dependent.

There is a special deformity in pride when we consider it in a member of Christ’s Mystical Body. Pride makes a man live by himself for himself; but as a member of Christ, a man must live by Christ and for Christ. The proud man, then, opposes the life of the Mystical Body of Christ; he is like a cancer in that Body, and in fact, we can properly designate him as anti-Christ. For other sins evade God, so to speak, but pride opposes Him.

The first manifestation of this attitude of opposition to God is in the refusal to obey Him, and this is the other evil wrought by pride. The first is, as we have shown, that because of God’s nature as supreme being, our pride makes Him cease to cooperate with us; this other effect is to make us cease to cooperate with God. The full gravity of this effect—we are not now considering so much as an offence against God, as an offense against ourselves—becomes evident when we consider the Mystical Body of Christ. Obedience is obviously the law of its life. Every single act, even the slightest, done contrary to the will of God, cannot be shared by Christ, it is not part of the life of His Body, and therefore it has no real value. To partake in the life of the Body fully, the members must be subject to the Head—the ruling principle. The peculiar circumstances of the human soul in its membership of Christ must always be kept in mind. Incorporation into Christ does not take away one’s own personality; one has free will and retains full domain over one’s own actions—one can determine what one’s actions are to be. Deliberate refusal to conform to the will of God in a grave matter means mortal sin, and a consequent severing of the vital circulation that makes the soul a living member of Christ. Such disobedience is fatal. Even if the matter is not grave, the action, though not its agent, is severed from that vital circulation and the way is paved for complete severance of the agent by more serious falls in the future.

Such refusals to submit to the will of God can be traced to some form of self-love and self-seeking. We can generally distinguish two types of such self-love, corresponding to man’s two-fold dual composition of body and soul; pride corresponding to the latter and sensuality to the former. These two sources, however, are not quite distinct; and it is significant that St. Gregory and St. Thomas speak of pride as the origin of all the other capital sins. Indeed, sins of the flesh do often have their beginning in pride, for even if some direct form of self-exaltation may not always be their motive, yet pride can make a man heedless of the dangerous occasions of such sins, and it will prevent him from seeking God’s help in prayer or in the sacraments; in short, it will make him blind to his own weakness and lead him to refuse to admit it. Very often, too, pride is such an obstacle to God’s plan that He deliberately withdraws His grace and leaves a man to his own weakness, in such a way that the shame of the consequent sins of the flesh may lead him to humility. Finally, one cannot forget that the animal passions in man were chained and subject to the easy control of his reason until he refused to submit his higher powers to God by the sin of pride. It was then that he discovered that his own house was also in rebellion.

In fact, we have God’s word for it that He “resisteth the proud, and giveth grace to the humble” (Jas 4:6). The humble man, then, can easily find the grace to overcome his weakness; the proud man cannot. As we have already pointed out, pride opposes God, the other sins rather run away from Him. God can give a humble grace to overcome his passions without having to deny His own glory. In fact man’s weakness and misery are a continual prayer and appeal to God’s mercy, especially where a man admits and accepts the humiliation of his position. Such men in their sins do not so much reject God; they are rather carried away from Him by the revolt of their lower passions; the government, so to speak, does not deny God’s authority, but is not able to assert its own authority; whereas, in the case of the proud man, it is the government which rejects God, and very often, the more perfect is such a man’s control over himself, so much the worse is his sin of pride. But for practical purposes of avoiding sin, it is well to recognize a two-fold source of disobedience and to plan our spiritual life accordingly.

Both sources, however, are merely different forms of self-love and self-seeking. Both represent an attempt or a decision to live one’s own life instead of that of Christ. We have seen how fatal is such an error. Ever since the elevation of the human being to the supernatural, our own life—however excellent—is of no avail. Our only hope of salvation is “in Christ”; all that is done outside of Him “profiteth nothing.” In fact, all such deeds and such things come to an end in the grave; and they may have to be expiated either here on earth, or else in the cleansing fires hereafter; they may even be the cause of our eternal damnation. Only what is done in Christ will rise glorious and immortal from our tomb.

Now, perhaps, we are in a position to realize what our Lord had in mind when He insisted in repeated declarations: “He that will save his life, shall lose it; and he that shall lose his life for my sake, shall find it” (Mt 16:25). And if we have any doubt as to what He meant by “losing our life,” let us note that these words were uttered in explanation of another significant assertion: “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me” (Mt 16:24). The taking up of one’s cross will be treated in connection with the perfection of our union with our Lord. Here, it is the importance of putting off our own selves and putting on Christ that is to be emphasized. All such self-denial and the acceptance of Christ, and the opposite, our own self-assertion and the rejection of Christ, depend upon our will; and that is why willful disobedience to the will of God is the death blow to the life of Christ in us. But if we use our own will to accept the will of God and to conform our heart to His, then we do our part to let Christ live in us and to find our life in Him.

If then the question be asked, how can one put on Christ and find salvation and holiness, the answer can be reduced to one word, and that word is humility. In practice it includes two things: an attitude of mind, and the expression of that attitude in action. The attitude is humility of soul, and its practical expression is the search for God by obedience to His will. And let us note that the two are really the same thing. But, one may ask, what about all the other commandments and virtues and practices of the spiritual life? Surely faith, hope, and charity are essential. Despite many such possible objections we still insist on the same statement: Humility is the one thing necessary. By that we do not mean to deny the need of all the other riches of God’s grace; on the contrary, it is because they are so essential that we insist that humility is the one essential.

The paradox disappears if we remember that God resists the proud and gives grace to the humble. Our sufficiency is from God, and if we are humble, God will do the rest. That is not a mere sentimental opinion. It is based upon a very definite law of God’s own being; on a principle which the scholastics formulated in the words: ‘‘Bonum est diffusivum sui.” Goodness will always tend to pour itself out. Goodness is expansive, it must give itself. It is dynamic: It is always avid to share itself and communicate itself. And God is supreme goodness itself. Therefore, if there are no obstacles to His action, God will communicate Himself to us without limit until we are full of His grace.[38] The goodness of God is like the atmosphere; it penetrates every nook and cranny that is left open to it. It is like the ocean that overwhelms everything and fills all things that are not already filled by themselves. And be it always remembered that the goodness of God is dynamic—it leads to action; it not only fills the soul but it makes the soul love and makes it manifest its love in deeds.

The chief obstacle to such an expansion and outpouring of God’s grace is pride. Pride tends to usurp God’s glory; it is a disposition that leads us to label and brand as our own all the things wrought in us by God’s goodness; it actually tends to deny the supremacy of God. As long as such a disposition lasts in a soul, God cannot give His grace to that soul. His goodness is limited by its attitude. For pride brings the very law of God’s being into operation to prevent His mercy from acting. Humility, on the contrary, not only removes the obstacle, but invites God’s help. As long as a man is humble, God can pour His healing grace into his soul and so remove all the other obstacles to divine union; the humble man will not rob God of the glory due to His merciful goodness. In fact, there is an eternal significance in the choice of words with which our Lord opened His first sermon: “Blessed are the poor in spirit—for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Mt 5:3). Here is “poverty of spirit” set down by divine truth as the title to the kingdom of heaven. And poverty of spirit means far more than absence of love of riches; it is in fact that self-abnegation which, while it may reveal itself by material poverty, is really humility of heart, and so St. Augustine understands it. Let no one then be surprised that St. Benedict, writing for men seeking perfection, and St. Thomas, the Doctor of the whole Church, lay down humility as the first virtue for the acquisition of the kingdom of heaven, for it removes the obstacles to God’s action and to God’s mercy. We have God’s word for it.

Let us be clear though what we mean by humility. It does not mean that we are to deny the good that is in us. Quite the contrary—for humility is truth. If a man who knows six languages denies his knowledge, he is not telling the truth. But if he ascribes his ability to learn languages and all his other talents to himself or to his merits, he is also far from the truth. The most wonderful person that God ever created was His Mother, and she knew it. She even knew she was humble. In her great poem of praise to God—the Magnificat—she tells us that it was her humility that attracted God’s attention and grace. But she ascribes all that she sees within herself to the mercy of God. “He that is mighty hath done great things to me . . . All nations shall call me blessed” (Lk 1:49, 48).

What then is humility? Our Lady’s Magnificat gives us the clue. Humility is a supernatural virtue by which we lovingly recognize our true value in God’s eyes and are disposed to render Him due recognition for all the good we find in ourselves. It and its shadow, meekness, are the only virtues that our Lord pointed out in Himself for our imitation. “Learn of me because I am meek and humble of heart” (Mt 11:29). His own humility is best seen in His life of obedience. We know, too, that He always insisted on giving all the credit to His Father for all the works He performed. But His humility went further; He seems to have laid His own “personality” completely, in the sense that He allowed the Holy Ghost to take complete charge of His life and was subject to Him in everything. When we remember that our Lord’s human nature was the most wonderful nature God had created, we may realize how great was this humble emptying of Himself.

The development of this humility of heart in us is a matter for the practical part of this book. But having shown how this attitude of mind leads to the free inpouring of God’s grace and power into our soul, let us examine the similar effect of the expression of humility by submission to the will of God.

First let us notice that there is hardly anything else which is so characteristic and insistent in our Lord’s preaching and practice as this submission. When asked by the disciples for instruction on prayer, our Lord gave them a model prayer, which however, contains no other appeal for their sanctification than: “Thy will be done on earth as it is in Heaven.” And He tells them: “He that doth the will of my Father who is in heaven, he shall enter into the kingdom of heaven” (Mt 7:21). “If anyone love me, he will keep my word and my Father will love him, and we will come to him, and will make our abode with him” (Jn 14:23). The whole tenor of His doctrine insists on the close connection between true love of God expressed by doing the will of God and the consequent entering into life and abiding union with Him. St. John had learned the lesson so well that he writes: “He that keepeth his word, in him in very deed the charity of God is perfected; and by this we know that we are in him” (1 Jn 2:5). “He that keepeth his commandments, abideth in him, and lie in him. And in this we know that he abideth in us, by the Spirit which he hath given us” (1Jn 3:24).

To the lesson of His preaching our Lord added the example of His own practice. We know that His first act on becoming man was to consecrate Himself to the doing of the will of His Father: “Behold I come to do thy will” (Heb 10:9). (Let us here draw attention to St. Paul’s comment immediately following his quotation of those words: “In which will, we are sanctified by the oblation of the body of Jesus Christ once” (Heb 10:10).) We know that His hidden life was one long act of obedience, for “He was subject to them.” Of His public life He Himself tells us: “I do nothing of myself, but as the Father hath taught me, these things I speak; and he that sent me hath not left me alone, for I always do the things that please him” (Jn 8:28–29). “I came down from heaven not to do my own will, but the will of him that sent me” (Jn 6:38). And He lets us see that He had a human will of His own, which He conformed to the will of God, for in the Agony in the Garden, we hear Him pray: “My Father, if it be possible, let this chalice pass from me. Nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt” (Mt 26:39). There is, however, no need to multiply texts. St. Paul sums up the whole “mind” of our Lord thus: “Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: Who being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being made in the likeness of men and in habit found as a man. He humbled himself, becoming obedient unto death, even to the death of the cross. For which cause God also hath exalted him, and hath given him a name which is above all names” (Phil 2:5–9). So that He who knew that He was God and could claim divine rights without injustice or “robbery,” could find no better way of living on earth than “emptying Himself” and humbling Himself, becoming obedient to the extent of willingly losing His life on the cross according to the will of the Father.

The consequence is of capital importance. “For which cause God also hath exalted Him” (Phil 2:9). In this is the whole secret of God’s providence; the more we conform ourselves to His will, even though we lose our own “life” in doing so, the higher will He exalt us. The point is well worth a closer examination. Our whole fear of leaving our own will to do the will of God is based upon the desire of living “our own life” and the consequent dread of losing it by trusting ourselves to God’s will. Now it is essential to remember that “God’s plan is of a piece,” as Juliana of Norwich puts it. We can distinguish an almost infinite number of “plans” in God’s mind, but we must always remember that God has really only one will, and that there is complete unity in His plan, for all the plans which we distinguish are only different aspects of the one plan that He has at heart. St. Paul tells us what His plan is insofar as it concerns us: “This is the will of God, your sanctification” (1 Thes 4:3). And there is perfect harmony and cooperation between that part of His plan and every other part. St. Paul again reminds us “To them that love God, all things work together unto good” (Rom 8:28). At first sight, that appears difficult to understand. We see in the events around us the effects of the many wills of our fellow men—indeed the effects of their sins. Surely their sins are not part of God’s will! We see the number of apparently chance happenings that can have such a great effect upon men’s lives; we examine the careers of great men and realize to what an extent they were indebted to circumstances, to that mysterious thing men call luck, and we wonder whether St. Paul really means to include all things such as these in his assertions.

Yet that is certainly his intention, for the two texts we have quoted really come to the same thing. For the truth is that nothing happens here by chance; all that takes place contrary to our will, all that is done even in direct defiance of God’s commandments—in short, everything that happens, issues from or depends upon the will of God, upon the Providence of God, upon the order He has chosen, upon the consent which He gives, and the laws which He establishes.[39] Even the sins of men must at least happen with what we call the “permission” of God. Having willed to make creatures endowed with free will, He foresaw their abuse of that free will, yet He consented to let it occur.

But even that abuse of free will does not fall outside His providence. His plan has provided for every such detail. What has really happened is that the sinner has put himself outside God’s plan for him; but the whole plan is still intact. So that as far as each one of us is concerned, we have only to consider two wills—our own will and God’s will. His will covers all events outside those covered by our own, even our past acts. Our position in His plan at any moment depends upon our will at that moment. If we reject His will, then we put ourselves outside His plan for us; if we conform our will to His, then all things work together for our good. For, as we have said, “God’s plan is of a piece”—He wills our happiness, and His plan is to lead us to happiness through Christ. His plan, in fact, is to re-establish all things fully in Christ, and every single detail that He wills cooperates to that end. The one exception is the case of the unrepentant sinner, whose sin puts him outside that plan insofar as it provides for his happiness, but who falls immediately into another plan in which God’s justice rules. But the sins of others need not interfere with our trust in God’s providence. We cannot improve on God’s plan for our happiness. God loves us better than we love ourselves, and He has a better knowledge of our needs and of our heart than we have ourselves, and He has the will and the power to satisfy all the longings of our heart, if we only trust Him. We need never be afraid to abandon ourselves to God’s will, for God’s will is God Himself—and God is infinite goodness.

He is also a loving Father, and being a Father, He begets a Son—and the whole of His will is replete with His fatherliness and breathes the life of His Son into every soul that does the will of the Father who is in heaven. We must never forget this—God never ceases to be our Father, and He never ceases to be the Father of Christ. And the will of God represents God’s plan to bring forth men in Christ, and to bring forth Christ in men.

For that reason we can be sure that by doing the will of God we are bringing forth Christ in our own soul and entering into a still closer union with His Mystical Body. Indeed the very phrase in the Scripture that speaks of entering into life by keeping the commandments is pregnant with meaning. For that is the way we make ourselves perfect members of the Body of Christ and find our life in Him. There is here, however a still deeper mystery. There is a sense in which we can truly say that Christ has lived our life for us.

Let us remember that our Lord is the mediator between God and man, the head of creation and the universal priest. He, so to speak, received the will of God for all men, or if you prefer, the “wills” of God for each man.[40] As man He certainly adores all these wills, and as our Savior and the Savior of God’s plan, He actually accomplishes all these wills in as far as in Him lies. We have already hinted at the fundamental relationship that exists between the Son of God, who is God’s “Idea” of Himself, and us creatures, each of whom is in some way or other an imitation of some part of that “Idea,” realized outside God. Christ, as God the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity, contains, so to speak, the original model according to which we were made and according to which our life should be lived. To what extent He can realize that for us and instead of us is a point which is not easy to determine, but remembering those famous texts of St. Paul referring to our life and death and to crucifixion and resurrection in Christ, it is hard to deny the possibility of some such accomplishment of God’s will for us by and in Christ. The one thing He certainly can not do without our cooperation in some way is to make what He has done ours. Our consent and acceptance of God’s will is necessary for that.

In any case, as we have already insisted, one must overlook the interval of time and space between us and Christ and see His life as lived in partnership with our own. Now, our share of the partnership consists in doing or accepting His will; if we do that, He does the rest. This then is the importance of obedience to the will of God, that when perfect, such obedience identifies us with Christ. Note the qualification—when perfect; for the will of God applies to our motives and our interior acts as well as to our external achievements; in fact, it is rather with the love that directs our action, than with the acts themselves that His will is concerned. When we do His will for love of Him, we are united to all His members, past, present, and even future. We have a share in every single good work that is going on in the Church or has ever been performed in it, and our share depends not so much on our external actions as upon the love with which we embrace His will. St. Thérèse of Lisieux quotes with approval the doctrine of Tauler who said that if he loved the good done by St. Paul more than St. Paul himself did, it belonged more to him than to St. Paul. That doctrine applies to us when the motives of our love of the good done come from the love of God. It quite often happens that the real supernatural merit for many a good sermon belongs far more to some humble soul who may be doing the will of God in her own kitchen, and is thus the real source of supernatural energy, than to the eloquence and learning of the preacher.

And it is not merely to the other members of the Church that we are thus united; as we saw, doing the will of God identifies us with Christ Himself. Christ is not merely one man among millions, however outstanding. Christ is all in all. There is only one true adoration and service of God on earth, and that is Christ’s; there is only one true life on earth, and that is Christ’s; there is only one vital good being done on earth, and that is the work of Christ. Our only hope of serving God, or of praying to God, or of living for God, is to enter into that life and work of Christ—or as St. Paul says—“to put on Christ.” And we do that by doing the will of God for the love of God.

By the way of summing up the notions we have been trying to indicate in the latter part of this chapter, let us take some of the comparisons which our Lord used and develop them to suit our purpose. First we must warn the reader that in doing so, we do not intend to lessen in any way the reality implied by the vivid figure used by St. Paul when he speaks of the Mystical Body of Christ. But the mystery is so extraordinary that no one comparison can give any adequate idea of it.

Our Lord compared Himself to a vine of which we were the branches; He also spoke of the seed which, being cast into the ground, had to die to itself in order to germinate and grow to fruit-bearing maturity. Let us think of Christ as a seed cast into the barren soil which we can consider to be the whole universe. The seed dies of itself and becomes a plant sending out roots in all directions. Each of these tiny roots embraces the particles of the soil, chooses out what is in harmony with its needs, absorbs and makes it part of itself. And so in the course of time all the good that is in the soil is transformed into the living tissue of the plant. Is not this the parable of the mustard tree, altered perhaps, but none the less true? For indeed the world was barren of supernatural life, until Christ’s death sowed the seed of His life in it. And it is by His life that we are made truly alive. He is not only the vine, He is the only vine; and there is no other life that really matters except that which is found in Him.

And His Father is the good husbandman. He cares for the vine. He has control of all things, and He arranges all things for its growth. But He respects the free will of the souls who are to be the food of Christ. The roots of the little plant pick out what suits them in the surrounding soil, and leave the rest. We are the soil in which Christ grows; His roots will only pick out from us what is in accordance with His Father’s will (did He not say that was His meat?), and therefore it depends upon us to decide whether by doing the will of God we are to be absorbed by Christ and are to enter into life—or to be left by Him in the exterior darkness of our own will.

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