People often think, "Oh! Become like Jesus? Too difficult!" Many find it an unattractive or undesirable proposition, because they remember that Jesus had to suffer so much and to carry the Cross. But Jesus was still the happiest man on earth! Similarly joy is the characteristic of the saints who imitated Jesus Christ and got transformed into him. A saying puts it well, "A sad saint is a sorry saint!" Remember Mother Teresa, who is acknowledged as a modern saint, was always cheerful and full of hope, inspite of the many hardships she had to endure while being Christ to others.
So the first thing we must understand is that transformation into Christ is not a frightening or sad prospect. It is something wonderful, and we must want it with all our hearts. And the whole objective and scope of discernment is transformation into Christ! But there's the hitch. We don't want it with all our hearts. When asked, "Have you opened your doors to the Redeemer?" the answer is a resounding "Yes!" But it could be that, for many of us, the doors have been opened only slightly. We haven't opened the doors wide to the Redeemer. In other words, our hearts are not longing to be transformed into Christ. If the vast majority of Christians in today's world were really bent on becoming like Christ, the world would be converted by now. We must ask the Holy Spirit, then, for a burning desire, an ardent thirst, to be like Jesus.
The next thing is to look at this project from God's point of view. I believe every Catholic and Christian should know two scriptural texts by heart. The Jews used to tie verses from the Bible on their foreheads, arms, door-posts. Without resorting to these means, I wish every Christian would have the following texts imprinted on their hearts and in their minds! The first is Romans 8:29:
"God has predestined us to be conformed to the image of his Son, so that Jesus can be the eldest among many brothers and sisters".
"Among many brothers and sisters" means, among those who look like him, who manifest his character. This is what God looks for in you and me. He wants us to be transformed into his Son Jesus. The second text is 2 Corinthians 3:18:
"Now the Lord is the Spirit... and we all, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being changed into his likeness from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit!"
This is a very comforting text, assuring us that the Spirit is already at work, transforming us into Christ. Note, however, that this demands a qualitative leap into the spiritual dimension, from the merely natural one! Jesus assured Nicodemus, who was a very good Jew from the natural point of view, that he had to be "born again", or better, "born from above". And one can only do this "by water and the Spirit". It is for this reason that Jesus had to die on the Cross and rise again. John 7:37-39 tells us that the Spirit was not yet given, because Jesus was not yet glorified. But John 19:34 then tells us that from the pierced side of Christ on the Cross flowed blood and water, the symbols of the new life in the Spirit given through the waters of Baptism and the blood of the Eucharist. And for 2000 years now, from the heart of Jesus has been flowing this gift of the Holy Spirit, transforming millions of people into sons and daughters of the Father, into "new creations", into people who have "become like Jesus"!
Let us also look at this again from just the human point of view. What does it mean to grow into the "perfect" human being? Who is a mature person, a person of character, somebody with an integrated, happy personality? And if we were to look for a model, who would it be?
I think the answer lies in the virtues (or gifts) of contemplation, compassion, and courage. A "perfect" human being, an integrated, mature, happy personality, is one who has received these gifts from the Lord and Giver of Life, and learnt to express them habitually in the varied circumstances of daily life. There can be several models, the Buddha, Mahatma Gandhi, (etc), but I believe that standing head and shoulders above them all is Jesus Christ.
He is the human person, par excellence. His life was one of contemplation, of deep compassion, and of tremendous courage. And those who genuinely accepted him as the Way, the Truth and the Life, as Saviour, Teacher, and Lord, and as Brother, Friend, and Companion, have in turn become like him, and can say, "become imitators of me, as I am of Christ" (Phil.3:17). Among them are the saints, and also modern disciples (like Mother Teresa, etc.).
I would like to suggest, then, that the grace of the new Millennium for interested Christians is the renewed invitation to be "transformed by the Spirit into Christ", to "share in his divinity as he shared in our humanity", to become mature and "perfect" human beings by "becoming more like Jesus". The Vatican Council reminds us that "saints are those who cling to, and develop, the free gift of sanctification they have received from God" (LG 40). In other words, we are already holy, from the moment we received the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of holiness, at baptism. Our role now is to cooperate with the Spirit (the role of discernment is here!) and to develop the three most important graces by which we will become more like Jesus in the coming days, the graces of contemplation, compassion, and courage.
1. Contemplation: Jesus of Nazareth was a contemplative, which means he habitually and constantly gazed at his Father with love, admiration, and gratitude, while simultaneously experiencing his Father looking at him with love and delight. Jesus shares this grace with many disciples whom the Spirit has made his co-heirs. St.John Vianney once questioned a woodcutter who used to sit before the Blessed Sacrament for hours at a time, "What are you doing, just sitting like this for so long?" The answer was, "I just look at Him, and He looks at me!" This is the essence of contemplation, and it spills over to the whole of one's existence in the grace of prayerfulness.
I received this gift at my baptism in the Spirit in 1972. Although I had asked many times for this gift as a Jesuit, God surprised me with it after my time of brokenness and my infilling with the Spirit. And for the last 28 years, this gift has brought me strength and joy in good times and in bad, enabling me to become aware of God always looking upon me with delight "as a son first, a sinner second", not because of my merits or worthiness but because Jesus has made me forever his brother and co-heir. It has enabled me in turn to intuitively look at God with love, admiration and gratitude. This grace of infused contemplation is available to every Christian. (Each disciple must learn to take the title, "co-heir", more seriously!) Ask for it in this 21st century and new Millennium, receive it, and use it, as millions of laity are doing already in this "age of the Holy Spirit".
2. Compassion: If you want to know one word which summarises all the nine fruit of the Spirit (Gal.5:22), it is "compassion", that is, the ability to feel with others in their joys and sorrows and to relate with them in a Christlike way. It is because of one's ongoing experience of Love, joy, peace, goodness, gentleness, kindness, etc., that one can empathise with others. Likewise, the fruit of patience, self-control, forbearance, are very necessary when I have to relate with certain people who bug me! As Mother Teresa used to say, "Christ comes to us also in the ugly disguise of the poor, the unwanted, the irritating!" In every circumstance, the Holy Spirit wants to make us compassionate, in the image of Christ, if only we would ardently desire and seek this gift. And one effective way is through channelling the power of God's word for our inner healing.
Red Indian folklore has it that within each person there are two dogs fighting for supremacy, a good and a bad dog. When a wise chieftain was asked, "Which one's winning?" his answer was, "I suppose the one I feed more!" How true! The hurts of the past can make one bitter, sad, fearful, etc., but the Scriptures can heal "the hurt dog" within us and feed the "good" one so that our behaviour is consistently compassionate and loving. A practical exercise is this: Read from anywhere in the New Testament for about 2 or 3 minutes just before you go to bed at night, so that you feed your subconscious (which is active the whole night while you sleep) with the dynamic and powerful Word. Jn.8:31, Heb.4:12 and 2Tm.3:17 teach us that God's word sets us free interiorly, separates and heals our negative memories, and equips us for every good work.
Before you start reading, make this prayer of faith: "Lord, you promised your word would set me free. I now take your word for the healing of this anger/fear/bad habit" (or whatever is your problem). Then read 2 or 3 paragraphs with devotion and concentration. After closing the Bible, again make a prayer of expectant, claiming faith, according to Mk.11:24: "Thank you Lord, I know your word has entered into me and is setting me free!" Then go to sleep. As you do this for several days, you will find with joy that you have indeed been healed of that negative emotion, and that the fruit of the Spirit, and compassion, are increasing in you, and authenticating your gift of contemplation. For to be truly contemplative means also to be compassionate.
3. Courage: To cling to the gift of holiness which we have received, and to develop it, we must daily manifest courage in following Jesus. The world is in need of prophets, people of courage, who will step out and take action against evil in the world. Even to ask forgiveness of a family member (wife, husband, sibling) or neighbour, requires moral courage. And it becomes prophetic because God uses it to touch others, and this creates a ripple effect. In short, courage means taking initiatives of love. Whether in works of mercy (offering service to the needy) or in practical efforts against the sway of evil and injustice in the city, nation, or parish, such initiatives are necessary if we wish to be salt and light to the world and leaven in the dough. The Spirit will bless us with creativity in this matter, for as the saying goes, "Love, like bread, must be baked fresh every day!" The Holy Spirit will make this possible in our own cases.
Authentic contemplation must lead to compassion, and both must motivate and empower us to lead courageous lives as people who have been transformed into Christ by the Spirit.