Most Christians behave, think, and speak as if they are standing right in the middle of the universe with everything and everybody swirling around them. This worldview is as ridiculous as the medieval belief that the earth was the centre of the cosmos. The bottom line is God is the centre of all; man exists as one of a multitude in the Mystical Body of Christ as we love and adore the Creator.
The result of this egocentric worldview is we end up actually stealing God’s job. Even most pious Catholics decide how to act and speak before they ask the Almighty to bless them. Years ago, God challenged my sense of self-importance:
You thought you were building My Kingdom as you frantically served the Church, but you were actually hindering the true work of My Holy Spirit. All I want, all I need is for you to stand at the foot of my Son’s Cross and allow the Flames of His Love to pierce your heart, transforming you into His presence on earth.
I was shocked by this warning from God because I believed I was laying down my life for God, serving Him with my whole heart, mind, and soul. I was humbled by the sudden realization that I had completely missed the whole point of how to live in, with, and through the Holy Spirit. I was suddenly aware that my ideas of how to live as a dedicated Catholic were not in sync with God’s:
For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
nor are your ways my ways—oracle of the LORD.
For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways,
my thoughts higher than your thoughts. (Isaiah 55:8-9)
I am not alone. Most modern, first world Catholics, are so caught up in doing that they forget Christ’s real purpose when he died, rose again, and sent the Holy Spirit.
I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you. In a little while, the world will no longer see me, but you will see me because I live and you will live. On that day you will realize that I am in my Father and you are in me and I in you. (John 14:17-19)
The problem for egocentric humans is that it is not easy to learn how to live in Christ and allow Jesus to fully live in us.
There are many reasons we cannot seem to die to self and enjoy communion with God—psychological reasons, inherited sin, pride, the tendency to control and other self-defeating behaviours. However, I think the biggest barrier to receiving the Love of God is egocentricity; we are centred on ourselves, on our own efforts to perfect ourselves instead of admitting defeat, taking our eyes off our own efforts, and allowing Christ to work out His salvation in our hearts.
God offers His children the means to become free in Him through the Sacraments, Scripture, prayer, and confession, but the biggest key is the humility to realise we cannot purify ourselves. Obviously, God desires our freedom.
Since we are blinded by deep, cyclical attitudes, it takes Divine intervention to humble us and bring us to our knees. We must let go of our old ways of life if we are to be transformed in Christ. Part of this process of renewal is through purgation, which includes a vision of our bondage to sinfulness. Only with the help of grace can we see and destroy sin in order to move from darkness into the Light.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains our justification can only come through the power of the Holy Spirit and the work Christ did on the cross:
The first work of the grace of the Holy Spirit is conversion, effecting justification in accordance with Jesus’ proclamation at the beginning of the Gospel: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” [Matthew 4:17] Moved by grace, man turns toward God and away from sin, thus accepting forgiveness and righteousness from on high. “Justification is not only the remission of sins, but also the sanctification and renewal of the interior man.” [Council of Trent (1547)] (CCC 1989; bold font mine)
We probably agree theoretically to this theology of the spiritual life but most of us have to hit bottom and become desperate before we admit we need help, even from God. Suffering finally forced me to ask for Divine help because I was desperate. For years, even though my adult mind desired freedom, deeper levels in my subconscious were afraid to let go of the familiar, let go of control. What really held me back from surrendering to God was self-love and God demands that He be our first love.
Grace will overcome any obstacle if we are willing to let go and say “yes” to change. I need help from a director to identify self-imposed barriers to receiving the Love of God. God is weaning all of us from our egocentricity with these touches of joy and His Love. It is a wonderful journey into the heart of God. For me, anything less than the real deal would be so disappointing. The worst possible conclusion to my life would be to die and discover I had been simply playing games for my entire time on earth.
The Goal of the Spiritual Life
The grace of self-knowledge opens the door to true humility, which is simply knowing the truth about ourselves in relation to God. This is the goal of the spiritual life: To thoroughly prepare ourselves by cooperating with Grace, to be united with our Beloved. This goal—union with God—is not a fairy tale, not only for the saints of old. As Pope Francis has said, holiness is for all, for all states of life.
Yet once I humbly accepted Christ to save me from myself, I experienced an expansive sense of opening my core self to joy, to blinding light. I am finally at peace with this process of God controlled sanctification. There is no need to strive because the Lord acts first. Often I am called to simply wait patiently till He whispers, and then obey the Word.
You thought you were building My Kingdom with all your frantic activity but you were actually hindering the true work of My Holy Spirit. All I want, all I need is for you to stand at the foot of my Son’s Cross and allow the Flames of His Love to pierce you, transforming you into His presence on earth.
I realise my willingness to wait patiently for God to act first, with inner stillness and peacefulness, is essential. No anxiety or forced activity in prayer. He asks that we just stand in silence, unmoved, in loving adoration. We gaze at Him as His Loving gaze penetrates and touches us at the very ground of our being. Christ will purify us until we can say with Saint Paul, “No longer I that lives but Christ who lives in me.”
When we quit trying to save ourselves and give God permission to save us, then, we have finally understood the Good News of Jesus Christ.