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The Christian Life

An address by Fr John Slater

04 August 2002 11:00 | Fr John Slater

Over the past two months we have traced the structure of Christian faith from the creation to the Church. There is a certain Trinitarian shape to this. Father, Son and Spirit co-operate together in all divine activity, but creation is the work of the Father, accomplished through the Word and the Spirit; our redemption is willed by the Father but accomplished by the Son in the power for the Spirit; and the Holy Spirit is now poured out upon the Church to make Jesus Christ present among us so that we live to the glory of the Father.

And this is my theme today - living to the glory of the Father as disciples of Jesus Christ who are incorporated into his body, the Church, by the power of the Holy Spirit. For this is where the story brings us at the last. God has made us to be united to himself. We are made in his image; it is the human vocation to reflect the glory of God in the way we live. If the human story is one of frequent failure, selfishness and cruelty, we have never lost the potential with which we were first created to be like God and to be united to him. In our alienation, God came to us in the person of his Son, the Divine Word made flesh. Through the Holy Spirit who dwells in our hearts, we are restored to that unity with the Father for which we were made. We call this redemption, something made possible because the alienation of humanity from God has been bridged by God himself becoming human in Jesus Christ, and because we are ourselves made one with Christ through faith and through the Church's sacraments.

Put like that, there is a logic that says Christians should live in a completely transformed way - lives of holiness and goodness. Of course we should, and yet we know all too well that we are often quite undistinguishable from non-Christians. We try to be good and yet constantly stumble back into the old ways of self-centredness. We know what God has done for us, but what has he been able to do within us?

I want to suggest four ways in which Christians are different. The first is a difference of awareness. We know, and others do not, that the one true God revealed his nature and his will most completely when the divine Word was made flesh in the womb of the Virgin Mary. Jesus Christ is the human face of God - what some theologians like to call God's body language. In Jesus we hear what God wants to say to us.

Secondly, Christians have more than information about God; we have real knowledge of God. The humanity which God has embraced in Jesus Christ makes it possible for us to enter into a real relationship with God. In Hebrew thought, knowledge is much more about relationship than it is about accumulating mere facts. It may be interesting to know things about God, but what matters is to know him and to be united to him.

Thirdly, a consequence of all that God accomplished for us in the past - our creation and our redemption in Christ - is that the Holy Spirit is available to us in the present. Knowledge of things that happened long ago is confirmed by experience of God's power at work in us today. The fruit of the Spirit, St Paul tells us, is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.

And finally, Christians, I believe, recognise their responsibility to respond to God's creative and saving work. Our response is quite simple - to love God with heart and soul and mind and strength, and to love our neighbour as ourselves. That, of course, is easy to say. It sounds deceptively simple but requires working out day by day in every human situation in which we find ourselves.

We can express our love for God in many ways - in prayer and meditation, in sharing the Eucharist and study of the scriptures. But the best way of all is by fulfilling the second commandment that we love others. This, of course, is the conclusion of St John's Gospel where Jesus says at the Last Supper, I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. In the Church's reflection this has been taken just one stage further to the wonderful phrase, Where charity and love are, there is God.

So we reach the conclusion of our all too short survey of the Christian faith. But what a marvellous conclusion it is, echoed in St Paul's great Hymn to Love: these three abide, faith and hope and love. But the greatest of them all is love.
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