Today’s reading (Rom 5:12-16ab) is prefaced by a very important statement from Paul:
I urge you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God, your spiritual worship. Do not conform yourselves to this age but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and pleasing and perfect. Our transformation is based on Paul’s mystical insight—“we, though many, are one Body in Christ.” Everyone, no exceptions.
The purpose of contemplative living is transformation in Christ. Jesus’ purpose was to do the will of the One who sent Him. This is our purpose. We are not to be conformed to this age where violence and its progeny rage against the Prince of Peace. We are to be counter-cultural.
We are to live as Christ lived—in opposition to oppression and exploitation. In order to put on the mind of Jesus we have to be transformed.
Everything we are and have is gift, even the stuff lurking deep down in the false self—it is for our transformation. The contemplative accepts what is. The “what is” is often not pleasant. It may be memories of rejection and abuse in childhood. But that too is gift. It is gift when we realize that we are powerless (always a great first step in any spiritual program) to do anything about the “what is.” Then we are free to stand naked in our utter poverty before God and let the Divine Physician go to work. We do not transform ourselves. God is the transformer. We just show up, place our bodies on the altar, sit in silence, and let go of the “what is” when it surfaces. We “rejoice in hope, endure in affliction, persevere in prayer.” We show up. We come to bless those who have rejected us and abused us. We allow ourselves to be vulnerable.
We can let go in contemplative practice because our peace—our wholeness, our health, our well being, our shalom— is Jesus the Christ. We are like weaned children on our mother’s lap—totally dependent, totally trusting— as we succor divine comfort, as our wounds are healed, as we are transformed. We are still and quieted. We are in place to hear the word of God with the ears of our heart, as St. Benedict would say.
How blessed we are!!!! What a wonderful God lives in us, dwells in the very depths of our being and is transforming us into the imago Dei. The love of God transforms us. God is merciful and compassionate. We keep satisfying the needs of the false self with our acquisition of “farms, oxen and new brides” (Lk 15:14-24). We are being called to the banquet of life and we opt to fill our needs with possessions and activities. Our false self programs for happiness keep us from the banquet to which we have been invited.
“Blessed is the one who will dine in the Kin-dom of God.” We are being invited to a banquet where the choicest meats and finest wines will be served. What do we do? We opt instead for a Bud Light and a Ball Park Frank!
Touring Bushmill’s distillery in Ireland, we were told that the Irish have a phrase which refers to the whiskey as uisce bethad, “the water of life.” It can also be the water of death. Jesus invites us to come to THE water where we can drink the true water of life freely, without cost. There is no death in this water. Jesus is the water of LIFE! Incidentally, he is the water of life before death. He is now.
Note that the invitation is inclusive—there are no outsiders. “Go out to the highways and hedgerows
and make people come in that my home may be filled.” There are no longer Jews and Greeks, men and women, gays and straights. Invite everyone! The invitees are all human beings created in the image of God. The invitation is to all who are pilgrims on the highways and byways. The invitation is to come home—to come home to God, return to Paradise, and dine at the banquet of life. If we let go of our petty programs for happiness and come to the banquet, we will be transformed.
The Eucharist, which Merton sees as foundational to Christian living, enables us to find our true selves because “the intimate presence of Christ in our souls” burns away “the false self, the old man.” “I live, now not I, but Christ lives within me” came to be Merton’s experience of Eucharist and Incarnation.
“Come, everything is now ready.” What are we waiting for? Come to the table of plenty.