Christian Life: The Outworking of Christ’s Life Within Us | Fr. John Navone, SJ | Homiletic & Pastoral Review
The Christian community of faith is born of the grace of God. Grace expresses what God does for us. Just as when we hear of the wisdom of God in the Bible, we think of how God’s action makes us wise, so when we hear of God’s justice we should think of that act by which he makes us just. God’s justice, like his goodness and compassion, is not God’s reaction to our behavior, but his initiative, quite irrespective of our behavior. God is free to do what he wills, and his freedom takes the form of acting so as to transform us. It is a mistake to think that “justification” means a change in God’s attitude without an effect in us. On the contrary, what changes is that we become the locus of God’s free activity. Unprovoked, unconditioned, and unconstrained by any other agent, God steps into the void and chaos of created existence and establishes himself there as God
The mystery of the cross tells of the place where the wretchedness of the created world, and the total failure of human resource, or human virtue, is most fully exhibited. Where else could we see God’s absolute freedom to be God, irrespective of any external conditions? And where but in our own emptiness and dereliction could we find what it is to trust, without reserve, in God’s freedom exercised for our sake? What gives us the ground to stand before God is God. The Christian community of faith believes that God has, in Christ, taken his stand in the human world, and answered for, taken responsibility for, every human being, quite apart from any achievement or aspiration on our part.
Christians believe the God whose historical biblical revelation inspired the biblical authors. They do not believe in the Bible independently of the God who inspired it. Such a belief would be bibliolatry: making an idol of the Book
Christian life is essentially the outworking of Christ’s life within us, expressing the Spirit of Christ poured into our hearts (Rom. 5:5). The incarnate Lord was not merciful, generous, and forgiving to win approval from heaven, since heaven was already his environment. His good works are the expression of who he is.
Our ability to discern the divine authority of Jesus Christ is, itself, the gift of God. The First Vatican Council taught that saving faith is impossible without the light and inspiration of the Holy Spirit that make assenting to, and believing the truth, a free and meritorious act of which the word suavitas (delight, pleasantness) may be used. St. Augustine spoke of the need of “inner eyes”; St. Thomas said that the principle cause of faith is the inner impulse of the Holy Spirit; Pierre Rousselot wrote of “the eyes of faith,” and Bernard Lonergan of faith as “the eyes of love.” The ocular metaphor for the communion of Christian faith and love with God originates in the Gospel of John: “Who sees me, sees the Father” (14:9).
The effectiveness of Christian witness is caused by the tri-dimensional, tri-personal unity of mutual love (of the Trinity) between the Father and the Son, among believers themselves, and ultimately, in that between all the believers and the Father and Son, into whose unity of mutual love they are absorbed. The unity of Christians in mutual love reveals the mutual love of the Father and Son as effectively present in the lives of believers whom their love unifies: “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (Jn 13:35). The love of God poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit authors the new life of Christian conversion within the community of faith.
All of this means that nothing can take the place of conversion—intellectual, moral, and religious. The converted are likely to discern correctly who may and should be trusted, and to trust them; the unconverted are likely to trust the untrustworthy, and not to trust the trustworthy. Unfortunately, it is also the case that people who occupy posts that only the trustworthy ought to occupy sometimes are not themselves trustworthy because they are not converted— intellectually, morally, religiously—and when that happens, a grave crisis can ensue. There is really no substitute for conversion, and that is the work of the Holy Spirit.
Affirming that we achieve authenticity in self-transcendence, Bernard Lonergan makes conversion a central theme in his Method in Theology. We are called to the realization of self-transcendence in terms of intellectual, moral, and religious conversion. Religious conversion, for Lonergan, is most vital, central, common, and foundational. Without it, a sustained and perduring moral conversion is a de facto impossibility. Similarly, without religious and moral conversion, a fully developed intellectual conversion that enables us to arrive at a critically grounded natural knowledge of the existence of God is for all practical purposes an impossible achievement.
Lonergan distinguishes between moral and religious conversion because he believes in the need to distinguish between nature and grace.