This week I want to discuss the imitation of Christ. Not the book written by Thomas á Kempis, despite it being a wonderful work with superb insight into the spiritual life. I want to look at the imitation of Christ from a slightly different perspective.
How should a Christian imitate Christ?
I would bet most of you first thought of Christ’s passion as our lesson for imitation. If that was your answer you are in good company. Thomas Aquinas said of the passion,
“It is a remedy, for, in the face of all the evils which we incur on account of our sins, we have found relief through the passion of Christ. Yet, it is no less an example, for the passion of Christ completely suffices to fashion our lives. Whoever wishes to live perfectly should do nothing but disdain what Christ disdained on the cross and desire what he desired, for the cross exemplifies every virtue. “ (Excerpt from ‘The Cross exemplifies every virtue, Saint Thomas Aquinas, emphasis added)
Some of you may have answered that to imitate Christ we ought to look at the public life of Jesus and his ministry to the poor and the outcast, his discipleship of the Apostles and teaching ministry. These are all wonderful ways to imitate Christ as well, but still not what I'm getting at.
What about imitating Jesus as the Son of God, the eternal word, the second person of the Trinity? This may seem daunting, even presumptuous at first, but I believe we can learn much from this reflection and should imitate Jesus as the Son of God. Let us first take a look at the Trinity.
Jesus is the logos, the eternal Word, born of the Father before all ages, begotten, not made, consubstantial with the Father. Jesus is the Word, and what is a word but first a thought? We generate a word when we first think of it, it is generated by us but then it exists outside of us as a word, an idea. In the same way Jesus was the eternal thought of the Father, with no beginning or end, but the thought of the Father like our words exists outside of the thinker. Unlike our words however, the Word - the thought - of the Father was eternal, perfect, and all encompassing. Our words describe relatively simple ideas, but the Word of God describes the beginning and the end, the fullness of everything, and God’s Word is so eternally complete, that it is the second person of the Trinity, Jesus. That is how we can say that God the Father is the source of Jesus the son, yet Jesus is still eternal with the Father outside of time and space, begotten not made. The Father has eternally loved the Son and the Son eternally loves the Father, the love between them is perfect and generative, eternally and fully encompassing so that the love of the Father and the Son begets the Holy Spirit. Therefore we can profess that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son, and with the Father and the Son is adored and glorified.
I know that was a lot of theology packed into a paragraph and I hope I didn’t lose you. I presented that quick description of the theology of the Trinity so that I could focus on one aspect of it. I want to focus on the love between the Father and the Son.
The Father loves the Son, giving himself entirely and completely to the Son. The Son receives all of that love without asking "why?" without seeking a reason, he simply receives the love. The Son then loves the Father entirely and completely and the Father receives the love of the Son. The Father does not love the son so that the Son will return his love, and the Son does not love the Father to earn the love of the Father, they simply love and exist in each other’s love. The love of the Father and the Son is not an economic contract.
Jesus exists in and accepts fully the love of God the Father and this is the lesson I am trying to learn from Jesus and how I desire to imitate him. I want to imitate Jesus by sitting in silence before God and allowing the love of God to penetrate and transform me. I have to believe that whenever I approach God in the eucharist or in silent prayer, and I rest in God's presence he will transform me. I may not know how, but God is working in the order of Grace and my heart and soul are transformed by union with him whether I tangibly or intellectually perceive it or not.
Accepting God's love has always been a struggle for me. I have always sought to deserve the love of God and I have always tried to explain my reasons for loving. Love has always existed in some semblance as an economic contract to me. I conjecture that this is not an uncommon experience for us humans. However, when it comes to receiving and giving love I believe the ladies have a leg up on us guys and I have good company in Archbishop Fulton Sheen who expressed this thought saying,
“The difference between the love of a man and the love of a woman is that a man will always give reasons for loving, but a woman gives no reasons for loving.” (Fulton Sheen, Life Is Worth Living)
Props to the ladies! The beautiful reality is that women are often more receptive to love and more free in their love of others than men are by nature. Yet, I still would guess that the thought and desire to earn the love of God is one we all, men and women, have had at some point in time.
I propose our only remedy to this fear of inadequacy before the love of God is to look to Jesus the Son and imitate Him. I encourage you to imitate Jesus and approach the Father as his child, casting yourself into the ocean of His love and listen to him say, “Be still, and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10).