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June 1977

For me to live is Christ (Phil. 1:21)

All living things including mankind have a basic instinct to preserve life. Man fights for survival when left to die, fears pain and suffering and often works to make his life more interesting by doing something different. Advertisers play on these feelings and make their wealth out of us; and self preservation with self-assertion are behind the evils of division and war among men.

Living is something all religions have been concerned with as well. St. Paul put it succinctly when he said that "for me to live is Christ". It may seem that such a statement has little meaning, yet when some of us were trying to put it into practice we found it presented a great challenge, because it meant we had to 'be' Christ.

Being Christ affects us in two ways as individuals and together as a community or family of his followers. In both the same outlook is necessary' the turning away from that instinct of self assertion and self-centred preservation to a life which is both within and outside of the self. This provides the challenge.

There is no room for both Christ and the 'me' in my life and so living Christ means an emptying of myself, or being absolutely open at any given moment in order to be alive with him. Every aspect of life is involved, not simply 'religious' moments such as when praying or when feeling sorry for sin (which is also a self-emptying process). To live we need food, clothes, sleep, time off, etc., and all these aspects of life can be an expression of our life in Christ. Our self-emptying becomes a unifying thread throughout the day and leads to becoming filled with him.

Emptiness of self is by no means something that leads to gloom or despondency, nor is it a void in our spirit which causes anxiety. Wrongly understood it may feel like those things, especially if we consider that we must make the effort to lift ourselves up to God to merit our reward as isolated individuals. Rather it should be a stillness of spirit which becomes aware of his presence as we find a peaceful relation with all that is around us, especially with our neighbours. In fact this presence is most easily recognised when we begin to love, empty of self, because that is a sharing in divine love which is what living Christ means in practical terms, and is quite different to human love.

Nor is it a lonely journey that we make to God, but together with others. When a group of people who have been touched by God to respond to his grace in them, then a rare and beautiful flowering of life may occur. That death to the self is then something pursued with others, and so mutual love flowers which Jesus said should be the sign of the Christian (John 13:35) and he will be present among them because they will be united in his name. (Mt 18:20).

Pain and suffering leave us with an emptiness and feeling of inadequacy; but those experiences are really a preparation for God who makes us see that we cannot rely on ourselves but only on him. If we grasp such opportunities, then we will give him space to live within us, and there will be no reason why any man, woman or child should not be able to experience a constant union with Christ which should be normal for Christian life, not something for the professionally religious. This life grows when we are with others who are living in the same way, and many things will begin to make sense which we might have found difficult, such as attendance at religious ceremonies or our problems with others to whom we cannot find a civil word to say. Jesus became perfectly empty of himself and still, in the doing of God's will when he was on the cross, the moment he loved most intensely. If we willingly accept our cross and our necessary self emptying, becoming still in our spirit to do what God wants, then we will most completely share in his spirit, be him, and live the real life.

Jonathan Cotton OSB.

 

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