No Longer I: Living In Christ, the Very Image of God

Blogger’s Note: This was my short final paper for the third semester of the Catechetical Institute, “The Moral Life: Fulfillment in Beatitude.”

The third pillar of the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC), Life In Christ, pertains to the moral life, as summarized in the Ten Commandments and perfected in the Beatitudes (CCC 1965 and following). This initial point is not a small one: Many of us grow up with the commandments as the foundation for our moral life and do not mature past that point. I have seen two impacts of this in my own life. The first is a simplistic notion of sin and my own so-called goodness (“Well, I haven’t killed anyone…”). The second is a legalistic approach to practicing Catholicism, as though if I just learn the rules well enough and follow them closely enough, I can get to heaven.

But the further one reads beyond those first stone tablets, the more rules one finds, and it seems impossible to achieve holiness on our own steam. By contrast, in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus gives us a positive (both in the emotional and legal sense) restatement of God’s laws, which both challenge and inspire us to do good instead of simply avoid evil. God’s beatitude—His kingdom, His vision, His joy and His rest (CCC 1720)—gives each of us and the Church as a whole our purpose (CCC 1719), and “confronts us with decisive moral choices”:

It invites us to purify our hearts of bad instincts and to seek the love of God above all else. It teaches us that true happiness is not found in riches or well-being, in human fame or power, or in any human achievement…but in God alone, the source of every good and all love (CCC 1723).

This is important, because the content of the Beatitudes as Jesus presents them is counterintuitive and countercultural. Especially with a legalistic approach, the Commandments address behaviors more than attitudes, the external over the internal, appearance more than conversion. But the Beatitudes demand a change of heart, recalling the prayer to the Sacred Heart: “O Jesus, meek and humble of heart, make my heart like unto thine.” The Catechism then goes one to flesh out the Old Law (the Commandments) in the context of the New Law (the Beatitudes)—encouraging us to peel away the layers of disordered motivation that keep us from loving as God loves.

Two points in particular struck me from this pillar, one leading to the other. The first is a small thing that barely warranted notice or mention in our classes or discussion: Jesus is the image of God in which we are made:

“Christ, … in the very revelation of the mystery of the Father and of his love, makes man fully manifest to himself and brings to light his exalted vocation.” It is in Christ, “the image of the invisible God,” that man has been created “in the image and likeness” of the Creator. It is in Christ, Redeemer and Savior, that the divine image, disfigured in man by the first sin, has been restored to its original beauty and ennobled by the grace of God (CCC 1701).

This struck me as profoundly hopeful, because it begins to reveal how Christ-like we actually are. St. John’s gospel tells us that the Word of God, Jesus, existed in the beginning, and all creation came into being through Him—but we alone are in His image: resounding echoes of that first Word.

In more recent weeks, I have been struck by a second small point: That this pillar of the Catechism is entitled “Life in Christ” (emphasis mine). Not following Christ; not with Christ or beside Christ. In Christ.

At times, I feel as though the distance between who I am and who I am called to be is too great, but knowing I am made in the very image of the One who calls me to Himself helps. At other times, I feel so alone in my struggles that I cry out to the Lord, as though He’s not right there with me. But the distance is mine alone: “[I]ndeed he is not far from any one of us. For ‘In him we live and move and have our being,’ as even some of your poets have said, ‘For we too are his offspring’” (Acts 17:27-28).

We are immersed in Christ at all times— like the Holy Spirit, He is as close as oil on skin. Moreover, both in spirit and in the Eucharist, He is also in us. We are not just immersed, but saturated in the One through whom and in whose image we are created. We are fallen, broken, but so thoroughly Christ-like it seems we cannot fail to remain in Him if we try: “I have been crucified with Christ; yet I live, no longer I, but Christ lives in me” (Galatians 2:19-20). And that is a hopeful thought indeed.

Jesus, help me not to simply follow or walk beside you, for even then the distance is too great. Help me to live always in You, in holy communion and intimacy. Amen.

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