“I urge you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God, your spiritual worship. Do not conform yourselves to this age but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and pleasing and perfect.” Romans 12:1-2 NAB
Prelude on Hypocrisy:
By creating a blog with a title like “Following Jesus” I recognize that I have practically begged to be identified as a hypocrite. I’ve reflected on it with embarrassment several times.
This isn’t the first time I’ve opened myself to the accusation, either. Beginning with my third grade “holiness streak” best exemplified by trying to read the Bible during recess, my identity has been irretrievably tied up with Christianity. Rather than trying to form a new identity around something else, I’ve (for better or for worse) decided to try to avoid hypocrisy (when I recognize it in myself) by (trying to) modify my actions more than my words. And it (sort of) works. I may have been a hypocrite in third grade, but I was also less likely to cut in line than I was in second grade.
I do sincerely hope that my desire to pursue holiness has more to do with a love and even fear of God than it does with convincing myself that I can meet the self-imposed standards of holiness that are part of the persona that I’ve tried to construct and sell as my identity to the world. In all seriousness, while I think I should try to avoid overly ostentatious displays of religion (a serious temptation for me—who loves both Jesus bumper stickers and imposing cathedrals), I think my focus should be more on trying to live as a Christian than on advertising or downplaying the fact that I really want to be one.
The (My) Problem
All that goes to say that I consistently have to ask myself how I can move from a to b (sinful hypocrisy to holiness). It’s more difficult than asking, “what would Jesus do?” (and yes, I did have the bracelet). Ruts are easy to fall into, and in everything from prayer to studying to life plans to food and exercise I have to ask myself sometimes whether I’m at least opening myself to cooperation with God’s grace in order to become more like Christ. In so many areas, of course, the answer is either “no” or “not enough”. I can get confused or discouraged pretty easily. Often its simply difficult to do what I know is right. I also often have trouble deciding what things are of higher importance or priority, and thus second guess whatever I do and have trouble getting anything done. Surely I know God’s grace is enough, but then what’s the next step? I know we receive holiness through God’s grace, but how do I step into God's grace?
Transformation by the Renewal of my Mind
It can depend, of course, but in my experience the most fool proof way is to attend Mass.
I’m so thankful that God has given us the Mass. In the Mass the center and fullness of all of life and of world history are re-enacted and presented to the faithful. We hear God’s Word as it comes to us through the Law and the Prophets. We begin to sing Psalms in response to God’s Word to us, responding to God’s grace with words given to us by grace. And then we rise singing “Alleluia” for the Gospel reading, the miraculous Incarnation of the second person of the Trinity into the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary and His life, death, and resurrection are remembered and experienced anew.
And the Eucharist.
It seems to me that in this action, the Church finds her origin, her meaning, her life, her fulfillment. The best we have to give to God, the only thing we can give, is His own Son, and as we pour out our thanksgiving, our Eucharistia, to God through Him, God pours His very self out, giving us His Body and Blood. God hides Himself in the appearance of the mundane, and the sheer gratuity of His self-emptying still shocks and scandalizes just about everyone, including myself, who ever stops to ponder it. And while I have to admit I don’t always feel overwhelmed with grace when I walk out of Mass, I know I should never regret going.
I guess the point of this post is to propose that maybe that’s because I know that in the Mass, I have the opportunity to configure myself to the way things should be by configuring myself to Christ in body and soul. I’m learning and being trained the whole time I’m there. I can say: this is what life is. This is how it should be lived. It should be lived in Thanksgiving. It should be entirely poured out for God. It should be lived on my knees.
In Mass, my priorities are presented to me as they should be. All that I have should be offered as a living sacrifice. All things should be “through Him, with Him, and in Him, in the unity of the Holy Spirit” giving glory and honor to God, the almighty Father.
If I’m trained in that enough, and open my heart up to the graces available practically everywhere, but especially in Word and Sacrament, then I do believe that I will begin to live them out more in my everyday life. I can push so deeply into a love of God that I become wound up in Him and He can remain in me, hidden in the mundane of studying and eating and riding my bike to class.
“Go in peace, glorifying the Lord by your life.”