Saturday, July 27, 2013

A Truly "Radical" Faith

The word "radical" is so over-used in modern Christianity that I suspect the word has lost its ability to convey a sense that something is extreme or shocking.  Liberal and emergent Christians like to talk about "radical inclusion" or "radical welcome." Evangelicals talk about "radical discipleship."  Lutherans talk about "radical grace."  Sometimes I wonder whether the word "radical" has been used to the point that the word has become a cliche, and therefore isn't very "radical" anymore.

So, with that in mind, I usually hesitate to use the "r" word when writing or talking about Jesus, the Church, or Christianity in general.

But, I recently came across a new use of the "r" word when I reached the final few chapters of "The Call of Silent Love" - a book by Carthusian monks who live a life of solitude (if you click on the "Carthusian Spirituality" label at the bottom of this post, you will be linked to my earlier posts about the Carthusians).  If anyone has the right to use the word "radical" in connection with their faith, it is the Carthusians.

The Carthusians use the word "radical" to explain the life-changing effect that God's grace has on our lives (I've highlighted the "r" word when it us used):

"The Christian, through union with Christ in baptism and sanctifying grace, participates in the life of Christ.  We receive within ourselves a new life-principle, the Holy Spirit, new faculties for knowing with God's knowledge and loving with God's love.  The light of faith opens on to the mystery of the human being and God. The unfolding of this life at once assumes and surpasses natural human life; in this we see our deepest desire fulfilled although it is hidden and cannot be realized by natural powers alone.

There is both continuity and radical disjunction.  In the deepest reality of the human face is traced the image of God, thanks to an increasingly profound conformity with Christ, effected interiorly by the Spirit (2 Corinthians 3:18). Up to this point the self had struggled for self-affirmation in all the riches of its personality.  The Gospel demands that we lose our life to gain it, so that it may be 'no longer I but Christ who lives in me.'  The center around which our being is organized is henceforth no longer our self but Christ.

At every level there is radical transcendence. Let us go through the list from top to bottom. The great strength of affirmation and aggression that is found in us reaches paradoxical fulfillment in self-abnegation, obedience, gentleness, humility, and forbearance.  The lust for possessions ends in the freedom of voluntary poverty, the thirst for knowledge in silence before the mystery, the desire for communion of love in the purity of the total gift of self to the Other." (pp. 167-68, 170)

"Radical transcendence" - that's a use of the "r" word I think I can accept.  Let's just hope I don't over-use it. 

1 comment:

  1. A good reflection on what it means to be a true Christian. "Radical" to me means "to the root" -- total commitment.

    I would only add that I think we always must be mindful of our Lutheran "roots." The life of a Religious (monk or nun) is a great sign to the Church -- but it is of no more value than the life of an ordinary Christian living in the "world" working as an accountant or a housewife. Yes, St Francis gave up everything in a literal response to Christ's command to the rich young man, but we are not all called to be Franciscans or Carthusians. We are all called to give up everything in a spiritual sense -- total commitment to Christ.

    Luther was 100% correct in his doctrine of the Priesthood of All Believers, and this has been a great gift to the reform of the Church. If people would take the time to read the writings of St Josemaria Escriva, the founder of Opus Dei, instead of profiling Opus Dei as bad, they would see that St Escriva was saying exactly what Luther said.