Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
The words of St. Gregory of Nazianzus can guide us into our celebration of the feasts of All Saints and All Souls on Nov. 1: “What is this new mystery surrounding me? I am both small and great, both lowly and exalted, mortal and immortal, earthly and heavenly.” Truly, we live in that tension!
The readings for the week unpack the meaning of his statement by noting three things:
1) Who we are — we are already God’s beloved children;
2) What we can become — we can be perfectly conformed to Jesus, receiving His divine life within us;
3) What it takes to get there — it requires a process of transformation and purification.
As 1 John 3:3 says: “Everyone who has this hope [of immortality] based on Him [Jesus] makes himself pure, as He is pure.” And as St. Paul says: “He will change our lowly body to conform with His glorified body.” (Philippians 3:21)
In what ways can we be transformed from what we are into all that God wants us to be?
A thought from paragraph 78 of the Vatican II document “Gaudium et Spes” — which we read in the Office of Readings this week — offers one possibility. It says: “The human will is weak and wounded by sin; the search for peace, therefore, demands from each individual constant control of the passions.”
We all have passions that we need to master! But which passions most need work differs from one person to another. For one, it’s lust. For another, it’s anger. For others, it’s gluttony, envy or pride.
There’s a roadmap for transformation. What if we were to take the month of November, identify one passion we need to master and start working on it? Psychologists say it takes 90 days to establish a new habit, so it will probably take us more than a month to master it! But that could be a great way to begin our transformation.
St. Paul, reflecting on his own transformation, says: “Whatever gains I had, these I have come to consider a loss because of Christ.” It’s not that the previous things weren’t good in their own way. But: 1) they just didn’t compare to the good of knowing Christ, and 2) they actually prevented him from coming to know Christ!
This offers us another avenue into our own transformation. What do we have that distracts us from knowing and loving Christ? For example, Psalm 122 says: “Let us go rejoicing to the house of the Lord.” Many of us know that feeling when someone offers us their St. Louis Blues tickets. We say, in effect: “Let us go rejoicing to the house of the Blues!” But how many of us have that same feeling about going to Mass on Sunday or on All Saints’ Day?
It’s not that Blues tickets are bad! But if we think of Blues tickets with more rejoicing than we think of the Eucharist, then something in us needs purification.
We don’t have to be ashamed to admit that most of us have things like that in our lives. Instead of trying to hide those things, let’s look at them with clarity and say: “That’s where I need transformation. Jesus, help me to become more like You there.” If we can do that, we’ll be one step closer to the holiness God wants for us, and hopefully closer to wanting it for ourselves.