“In contemplation God teaches the soul very quietly and secretly, without its knowing how, without the sound of words” (Chapter 39, The Spiritual Canticle).
In the spirit of St. John of the Cross, this blog reflects on the contemplative experience and the poetic experience, sometimes separately and distinctly, sometimes in common, as mutually enlightening.
I will also post to this blog, from time to time, my own poetry, with a short interpretive note attached.
~ Fr. Bonaventure Sauer, OCD
Tue, Jun 4 2019
|Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay|
If anyone else thinks he can be confident in flesh, all the more can I. Circumcised on the eighth day, of the race of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrew parentage, in observance of the law a Pharisee, in zeal I persecuted the church, in righteousness based on the law I was blameless. [But] whatever gains I had, these I have come to consider a loss because of Christ. More than that, I even consider everything as a loss because of the supreme good of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have accepted the loss of all things and I consider them so much rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having any righteousness of my own based on the law but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God, depending on faith to know him and the power of his resurrection and [the] sharing of his sufferings by being conformed to his death, if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead.
What Jesus first gave us in his preaching, especially in many of his parables, he gave us again—exemplified, accomplished, fulfilled—in the conversion of St. Paul. What was first given in the gentle light of our Lord’s invitation to see and be converted, with Paul is given fully, blindingly, in the light of the Cross and Resurrection.
It is the invitation of God’s Kingdom—(1) the invitation to see our nothingness for what it often truly is, our attempted self-righteousness; and then (2) to be converted to God’s saving love and grace, to God’s righteousness. And this invitation Jesus has accomplished in Paul, fully, radically, blindingly, with the power of his Cross and Resurrection.
The Cross has revealed our human righteousness as being so much self-righteousness—laying bare its deepest root, and exposing it as not so much true righteousness but as a claim to a divine prerogative, even a sacred duty, to despise and curse and cast out, to prosecute and, if need be, execute, those who are deemed our moral, social, political, religious enemies—that is, all the sinners and law-breakers, the evildoers, the blasphemers, all the guilty, all the others.
The Resurrection, in its turn, has revealed God’s righteousness as being, namely, the power of His love and mercy and grace, the power His kingdom, shining out from the eyes of the others, the potential victims of our self-righteousness. On their lips the Resurrection speaks the Lord’s simple plea, the one He made to Paul on the road to Damascus, speaks it as being God’s own plea—“Why, Saul, are you persecuting me?”
And so, Paul was converted from one “breathing murderous threats” and armed with letters authorizing him to seek out and round up and arraign for just punishment these latest enemies of God’s Law and People (see Acts 9:1-2)—converted to one who would later write the church in Philippi: “As to righteousness under the Law, I was blameless … but for the sake of Christ I have suffered the loss of all things… not having any righteousness of my own, but one that comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God.”
Maybe it is in this sense (at last in part) that Paul’s conversion can be canonical and apostolic for us. Paul was not converted from Judaism to Christianity as though from one religion to another. He was converted from his own sense of righteousness to a vision of those who are victims of his righteousness—and then to the invitation of Christ, given in that vision, to share, together with these victims, in God’s own righteousness.
Of course, God’s righteousness is not one of superiority, of purity, of exclusion, of merit, of perfection, all measured out against God’s purported enemies. God’s is a righteousness found in acts and attitudes that lead to forgiveness, healing, reconciliation, communion, a commitment to hope and peace, to a life-giving, unremitting love of all others.
And so, for the Christian, we too must be converted from our own righteousness to this righteousness from God. And, like Paul, perhaps we able to see the offer of that righteousness from God most clearly, most blindingly, when we look into the eyes of the victims of our self-righteousness and hear in them our Lord’s plea—“Why are you persecuting me?”
Written by Fr. Bonaventure Sauer, OCD