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Everyday Incarnation

In previous articles, we focused on peak encounters with Christ through living a life of holiness, formation and evangelization and through experiencing Christ’s ongoing Incarnation in the Mass. However, the significance of Christ’s ongoing Incarnation does not stop at peak encounters. It is rooted in the fact that Christ is present in every part of our lives. The divine presence is in the human. The ordinary has been made extraordinary. Only we don’t realize it!

The Greek novelist, Nikos Kazantakis, puts it this way: “Wherever you find husband and wife, that’s where you find God; wherever children and petty cares and cooking and arguments and reconciliation are, there is where God is too.” Being with and eating with one’s family is not just a good human experience, but it is a religious experience. Fr. Rolheiser in The Holy Longing states: “To be involved in the normal flow of life, giving and receiving, as flawed and painful as this might be at times within any relationship, is to have the life of God flow through us.”

Everyday Redemption. The same mindset that mistakenly sees the Incarnation as a single event in history also mistakenly sees redemption as a single event in history. Redemption takes place every day of our lives. God is redemptively present in our day-to-day struggle against our human condition. Only if we are deeply conscious of the sinful dimension that affects every aspect of our human condition, can we live in awareness of God calling us out of our pathologies to live more fully. It is as if we are in denial of our human condition, and by denying our human condition, we deny God’s redemptive presence and action in our lives. We deny ourselves the joy of God dancing us into our full humanity. Everyday Incarnation is everyday redemption.

Everyday Dialogues. We become more fully human beings through dialogue with others─being addressed and responding to others. Due to our fallen nature, we can only grow through many conversions. In Man Becoming, Gregory Baum says that our conversations with others, even our enemies, will reveal to us who we are. They judge us, they summon us to grow, they demand a reply. They leave two choices: either we choose to be deaf and thus harden in our opposition to life or we open ourselves to the truth about ourselves. The key point: the same Word in Scripture that summons, judges, reveals, and provokes decisions is the same Word in human dialogue. Christ’s ongoing Incarnation, ongoing redemption takes place in our everyday dialogues with others.

Everyday Relationships. Further, we become more fully human beings through our relationships with others. It is the care and love offered us by others that create in us the strength to listen to the word that calls us to conversion. Just as we discern the Word of God in our everyday conversations, so we are able to detect a gift-dimension in our everyday relationships. Our friends’ gifts of love and caring of us transcend what they themselves possess. We receive much more than they give. If we were to express our gratitude to them, they would be embarrassed. For they know that they have not really given us what we have received from them. We are all too wounded to give one another the freedom to break out of our sinfulness. The freedom to become human is God’s gift to us. Christ’s ongoing Incarnation empowers us through our relationships with others.

We are redeemed through our everyday experiences or it does not happen. Our so-called secular life is the holy terrain of Christ’s Spirit. Ironically enough, we are highly conscious that our everyday life is the battleground with our woundedness, but we are highly unaware that our everyday life is the place where Christ’s Spirit encounters us through our everyday dialogues and everyday relationships.

Living Paschal Mystery

Central to understanding Christ is to understand the Paschal mystery. However, we tend to think of it only as Jesus’ passion and death. Actually, the Paschal mystery is Jesus’ passion, death, resurrection and Pentecost. What were historical events became ongoing process and is at the heart of Incarnational spirituality.

No longer limited by time or geography, the Risen Christ has created through His ongoing Incarnation in us real-time, on-line continuity with Jesus’ earthly Incarnation. Especially with His passion, death, resurrection and gifting us with His Spirit. When we enter deeply into this Paschal mystery, we experience Christ on two levels.

First, we are connected more intensely with Jesus in His passion and death. When we prayerfully meditate on Jesus’ passion and death, not as something outside of us but as something inside of us, we are not just creating concepts and images of the suffering and dying Christ in our minds. We are unleashing a dynamic process. We are unleashing the indwelling of the Risen Christ, Who gifts us with His Spirit Who pours the love of God into our hearts. Through this process, we identify more closely with the sufferings of Jesus such as those in the Garden of Gethsemane and His death on the cross.

Second, in encountering the Paschal mystery we are connected more intimately to the Risen Christ as we live our own lives with their many passions, deaths, resurrections and transformations by the Spirit. In his book, Intimacy with God, Cistercian Father Thomas Keating explains the connection in this way.

As Christians, we believe that Jesus in His passion and death has taken upon Himself all of our pains, anxieties, fears, self-hatred, discouragement and all our accumulation of wounds that we bring from our childhood and our childish ways of trying to survive. That is our true cross. That is what Jesus asks us to accept and share with Him. When we enter deeply into our experiences of the Paschal mystery, we are entering into something that has already happened, namely our union with Jesus as He carried our crosses. Jesus’ cry of abandonment on the cross is our cry of a desperate alienation from God, taken up into His, and transformed into Resurrection and gift of the Spirit.

Again, we unleash a dynamic process as we identify our many passions and deaths with those of Jesus. Gradually we place our faith in the Indwelling of the Risen Christ and place our hope in Jesus’ victory, entrusting our wounded lives to Him. Gradually, the Spirit strengthens our faith through the gifts of wisdom and gradually enlightens us with self-understanding, enabling us to fathom our compulsions and weaknesses. Gradually we experience being healed of our emotional wounds and the wounds we have inflicted on our conscience. All of which leads us to greater love of Christ.

However, the impact of our entering deeply into the Paschal mystery does not stop at our own self-healing. As the love of the Spirit is poured forth in our hearts, we bond with others in the Body of Christ and act as channels of the Spirit’s healing of the world. Fr. Keating writes: “We will not know the results of our participation in Christ’s redemptive work in this life. One thing is certain: by bonding with the crucified One we bond with everyone else, past, present, and to come.”

In our spiritual journey we will invariably encounter many deaths—the death of our youth, the death of our wholeness, the death of our dreams, the death of our honeymoons. They can be Paschal deaths, deaths that are real but do not end possibilities if we take them to the crucified One and set in motion the process of identifying with Jesus and allowing the Spirit to empower us to live our new lives. If we allow them, our Paschal deaths will open up Paschal resurrections and achieve greater intimacy for us with Christ.

Incarnating Jesus

In some mysterious way, the Risen Christ has gathered us all into His ongoing Incarnation, the Body of Christ. This continuity with Christ’s earthly Incarnation opens up new ways to achieve contact and intimacy with Christ. In His earthly life, Christ incarnated the infinite life and compassion of God in a unique way. When we give concrete expression in our lives to the virtues and qualities which He incarnated, we enter into real intimacy with Him.

When we live the Cursillo Tripod of Holiness, Formation and Evangelization, are we not incarnating Christ? After all, the Tripod is the process model for growing in the spiritual life.  Being a fully human person, Christ Himself had to grow through this process as He grew in wisdom, age and grace. At one level, we can say that living the Tripod is in fact imitating the life of Christ. But more significantly, we can say that living the Tripod is our way to intimacy with Christ. For Incarnational Spirituality teaches us that when we live the unique characteristics of Jesus, we incarnate Jesus as a member of the Body of Christ: we bring to birth the Christ within us.

Holiness. Before Christ ever asked the apostles, “Whom do people say that I am,” He had to first ask Himself that question. Like all human beings, He had to experience Self-discovery. He had to face the struggle between God-centeredness and self-centeredness. When Christ went off alone into the mountains for private prayer, He must have prayed: “Where is the Spirit leading Me?” He too had to grow in dependency on the Spirit. He too had to grow in compassion for others. He too had to grow in courage.

Christ put a special stamp on the way He grew in His relationship to God. The result: the spiritual growth process is not just a method; it is not just imitating Christ. When we give concrete expression to our pursuit of holiness, we achieve intimacy with Christ.

Formation. When Jesus returned to Nazareth to preach in the local synagogue, He deliberately chose the scripture that announced the signs of the Messiah’s coming. He knew His scriptures. It is not hard to imagine that Jesus spent much time studying the Old Testament in an effort to discover His identity and mission.

Again, Jesus lived a life of spiritual formation in a unique way. When we spend time studying scripture, performing spiritual reading, or attending retreats or lectures to form ourselves in the spiritual life, we engage in Christ’s unique activities. All these activities become so many opportunities for real intimacy with the Risen Jesus.

Evangelization. When we make a friend, be a friend, bring a friend to Christ, or when we create Christian communities that are charismatic, growth and evangelizing communities within our environments, what are we doing? Are we just following a methodology to transform society? No! Are we just imitating Christ’s life on earth? No!

In reality, what we are doing is to enter into contact with the Risen Christ. Why? Because Christ made His evangelizing so unique that He owns all evangelizing activities. When we evangelize, we enter more deeply into the life of the Risen Christ. We vibrate in real time with the living Risen Christ when we manifest in our small, but unique way, the infinite richness of God’s life and compassion in the way that He did.

We can experience deeper union with Christ in our moments of seeking holiness, in our moments of working at spiritual formation, in our moments of evangelizing. At such times, we are being asked to bring out in ourselves the Christ Who put a special stamp on the way He did Holiness, Formation and Evangelization. At such times, we should pray that the Spirit will empower us to incarnate through our actions Christ in the process of becoming Himself and thereby experience union with Him.

Living Ongoing Incarnation

We are faced with the enormity of living with our new understanding of Christ’s ongoing Incarnation. This is a life vision change of Christ capable of transforming our lives. How do we make it impact our lives?

First, we need to analyze our intentionality toward Christ. Has any change in our attitude toward Christ occurred?  Second, we need to set a goal that is in keeping with our desired intentionality toward Christ. Third, we need to develop an action plan to accomplish our goal. Intentionality, goal, action─a dynamic model for changing our lives.

Intentionality. Rollo May’s book, Love and Will, introduces the concept of intentionality by describing a scene of a house in the woods. He has a number of people come into view of the house. The reality of the house is always the same, but each person’s perception is different, depending on what each brings psychologically to the scene. For example, a real estate agent sees the house one way, an artist sees it very differently. Intentionality is the combination of our mind, heart and will that impacts our vision of reality. So there are two factors in the concept of intentionality, our perception of reality and how we respond to it.

Let us put Christ in the place of the house in the woods. What is our intentionality toward Christ? A wide range of perceptions and responses to Christ’s ongoing Incarnation are possible. From near zero on the scale, to notional, to real, to joyous insight.   Many may still see Christ as both human and divine, a man of radical love, but still as an historical figure. Their response to Christ may still be just great admiration.

However, Incarnational spirituality reveals the Risen Christ: He is not dead but alive, and in some mysterious way alive in us. Further, the Spirit is busy at work penetrating us with Christ’s presence and power. Our relationship to Christ has been entirely trans-formed. We cannot escape Christ. He is present in every part of our lives: eating and drinking, work and play. Has our intentionality toward Christ changed dramatically?

Goal. How do we incorporate this deep spiritual insight into our lives? That is where the second factor of our dynamic process for change must be considered. To help actualize our desired intentionality, we need a goal. Simply, what should we strive for with this new revelation of Christ?

To give birth to the Christ within us. To incarnate Christ in our own unique way. To to be attentive to the Spirit’s inspirations. We still have to study the mind, heart and will of Christ so as to guide the way we live our lives. But it is not slavish imitation. It is not imitating someone outside ourselves. It is attempting to bring out the Christ within us through the thoughts and actions of our unique personalities.

Action. Action is the third member of this dynamic process, but it must be action that is relevant to our desired intentionality and goal. Our intentionality impacts our goal, and our intentionality and goal impact our actions. Working together they can incorporate this new revelation about Christ into our spiritual life. What kind of action is relevant?

The Cursillo Tripod is our process model for growing us in the spiritual life. We have to work at our vision change of Christ through its each element. We have to pray ardently for a deeper grasp of this truth. We have to study its meaning through spiritual reading. We have to act as if we are Christ, attempting to heal, to forgive, to bind others to Christ through love. We have to incarnate Christ in our whole life, in our life as body persons, in our life of the senses, in our everyday lived experiences, in our relationships to others. The place of the divine is in the human. We have a new kind of God Who dwells in the human. Our God was made flesh and continues to dwell among us.

 

Incarnational Spirituality

Like all spiritualities, Incarnational spirituality (Resurrection-centered Spirituality) has three components: a theology of God, a psychology of persons, and a methodology for deepening this human-divine relationship. Whereas the Spirit-centered spirituality focuses on our living with the Spirit as our interior guide, the Incarnational spirituality focuses on our manifesting the Risen Jesus’ presence and power within us through our ACTIONS. We were born to incarnate the Risen Christ in our own unique way!

Real Presence. The false impression is that Jesus was made flesh, walked the earth for some time and ascended physically to heaven─ “a thirty-three year experiment, a one-shot incursion by God into human history” explains Fr. Ronald Rolheiser in The Holy Longing. Rather, the Body of Christ means three things: Jesus, the historical person; the Eucharist, which is also the physical presence of God among us; and the body of believers, which is likewise the Body of Christ in an organic way.

The body of believers is not just a mystical reality, but a physical one; and not something that represents Christ, but something that is Him, states Fr. Rolheiser. The word was made flesh and continues to dwell among us. And in some mysterious way, He has gathered us into His ongoing incarnation as the Body of Christ.

Real Power. The Incarnation is the ongoing process of the Spirit penetrating us with Christ’s presence and powers. Where there is Christ’s presence, there is also His power. Yes, we have powers that we don’t realize that we have. We are the ultimate sacraments. Whatever the sacraments can do, we can do for each other. Baptism is a sign that we can help each other be born again in Christ. Confirmation is the sign that we can confirm others with the Spirit. We can forgive, we can heal, we can bind others to Christ through our love. We can make every meal a Eucharist. We can even unite with our deceased loved ones by living the special way they incarnated Christ during life.

Real Challenge.  The challenge is to take possession of Christ’s powers. We will have to make them our own if we are to act as the Body of Christ. We are so used to looking upon the Church as the keeper of Christ’s powers. Rather, we must look upon the Church sacraments as guides to what human beings need and signs of what we should be doing for one another.  Just the thought of assuming Christ’s powers is intimidating!

It helps to understand the psychology of human action. By action, we mean our willing, choosing and doing by which we become ourselves and determine our history. Further, our actions reflect implicitly our values, our vision of life, our view of reality. Our actions incarnate who we are as persons. Think of our Vision, Values, Action model. Thus, if we have incarnated Christ, our actions will show it.

Admittedly, we have pathological forces within us that hamper our growth. At the same time, there are sources of power at the core of our being that drive us to be more truly ourselves. One source is our eros, our inner fire, our life energy. Another source is our positive heart wishes to love, to be loved, to grow and to share life experiences. Then there is the divine power, the Spirit penetrating us with Christ’s presence and powers. The Spirit taps our raw energy and our positive heart wishes to prompt us to give birth to the Christ that we are already. So we do not imitate Christ as if He were exterior to us, but by BEING the Christ that we are ALREADY in some mysterious way.

We experience a little of whatSt. Paulmeant when he said: “Now, not I, but Christ lives in me.” You experience someone taking over your life and taking you beyond yourself in actions of faith, hope and charity. In those moments you have incarnated Christ in your own unique way.