Francis of Assisi shining like the sun (Eremo delle Carceri, Assisi)
Back, today, to the question of becoming Christ-like. Here’s another excerpt from The Sacred Gaze:
‘And all of us, with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another’ [2 Corinthians 3:18]… But to be transformed into the image of Christ means not only being transfigured. The more we become like Christ, the more we incarnate the love of God in the world, because that’s what he did. ‘Shining like the sun’ means radiating light and warmth to a world that needs them to survive. The idea that the goal of contemplation is to generate a private spiritual buzz is not just a mistake; it’s a heresy. Look it up under ‘quietism.’ Even the most strictly enclosed monks and nuns serve the world be interceding for it in prayer. It’s not a stretch to say that our action is a test of the genuineness of our contemplation: ‘By their fruits you shall know them.’ If our gazing at Christ doesn’t cause us to turn a compassionate gaze at the world, and motivate us to compassionate action, then we need to check on whether it’s really Christ we’ve been gazing at. If we know nothing else about Jesus, we can be certain at least of this: staying aloof from the needs of the world is not his style.
My husband is fond of saying that although in one sense teaching and research are, in the life of an academic, a zero-sum game, at a deeper level they feed each other. We teach the questions we pursue in our research, and we find our research being shaped by questions that come up in the classroom. I think the relationship between prayer and action is analogous to this: they feed each other. This is clear in the gospel accounts of Christ’s life, and if we’re to become saints (i.e., Christ-like), it’ll be true for us, too. Back, briefly, to The Sacred Gaze:
Catherine of Siena pointed out that contemplation and action are how we live out the commandments to love God and neighbor. As such, both are necessary, and each reinforces the other: ‘On two feet you must walk My way; on two wings you must fly to heaven.’ To pit contemplation against action is like trying to choose between inhaling and exhaling. Life requires both.