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SERVE THE LORD WITH GLADNESS | Saints exemplify Christ’s dwelling in us

God seeks to be present in us in new ways

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

There have been some great lineups in sports history. This week, the Church gives us a great lineup of saints: St. Catherine of Siena (April 29), St. Pius V (April 30), St. Joseph the Worker (May 1), St. Athanasius (May 2) and Sts. Philip and James (May 3).

Those saints matter because the Gospel readings this week focus on the truth of “indwelling.”

Jesus is giving His farewell discourse in the Gospel of John. First, He speaks of the indwelling of the Father and the Son: “Believe me, that I am in the Father and the Father is in me” (John 14:11). Then, He speaks of the Father and the Son together dwelling in us: “Whoever loves me will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our dwelling with him” (John 14:23). Finally, He speaks of our dwelling in Him and His dwelling in us: “I am the vine, you are the branches. Whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit” (John 15:5).

By the way, it’s interesting that “I am the vine” is the seventh of the “I am” statements in the Gospel of John. That means this statement — with its theme of indwelling — serves as a kind of capstone statement about Jesus’ identity and our relation with Him.

St. Thomas Aquinas had something important to say about this theme. He noted that God is already present everywhere. But that raises a question: How can He “come to dwell” somewhere if He’s already there? St. Thomas answered that God doesn’t come to be present where He wasn’t before, but that God comes to be present in a new way. So, for example, in baptism, the Holy Spirit comes to dwell in a new way in the baptized. In the Eucharist, Christ comes to dwell in a new way in those who receive.

In this sense, Mary is the exemplar of all Christians. God was already present in her in one sense. But, in the Incarnation, God came to dwell in her in a new and deeper way. That’s the pattern for every one of us: God wants to dwell in us spiritually as He came to dwell in Mary physically. As we enter the month of May — the month of Mary — it’s worth thinking about how we say “yes” to that indwelling.

Blessed Isaac of Stella has a beautiful reflection on this theme, too, and the Church gives us that reflection in the Office of Readings this week. Without getting into all the complexities of his thought (which is rich, and worth reading!), suffice it to say that he presents the indwelling of Christ and us in terms of the relationship between head and body: Christ is united with us, and we with Him, as deeply as the head and body are united. The body without the head — us without Christ dwelling in us — is like the branches without the vine: “apart from me, you can do nothing.”

And that, in the end, is why the great lineup of saints this week matters. They’re a living testimony to what happens when we let Christ dwell in us, and we dwell in Him: We can become saints on earth and ultimately citizens of heaven.

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