“What must we do to perform the works of God?” Jesus answered them,
“This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.”
— The Gospel of Saint John, 6:28-29
You can’t get closer to the core of Christianity than that passage in this Sunday’s Gospel reading. Godliness means “that you believe in him whom he has sent” — Jesus Christ — that He is the Son of God, the Savior of the world, the Way, the Truth and the Life. The faithful must embrace His authority, message, and way of life as the path to holiness, happiness, and heaven.
Now this paramount tenet of faith doesn’t mean just mouthing the Creed every Sunday Mass, kneeling and praying before holy images and the Blessed Sacrament, and caring for the least of our brethren. Even the devout may be missing something.
For as mystics and saints have shown in their lives and spirituality, not to mention our Lord Himself, the culmination of believing, worshipping, trusting, loving and serving God is oneness with Him and in Him. Just as the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit are one in the God They manifest in His Three Persons, so are we invited to commune with Him and share His nature.
As the Second Letter of Saint Peter put it, “… you may escape from the corruption that is in the world because of lust, and may become participants of the divine nature.”
Oneness is the game
Christ Himself depicted this ultimate goal of every human being when, at the end of His sojourn on earth, Jesus ascended to His Father in heaven, to be one with God, not just His Spirit, but also His Risen Body.
Thus, the Catechism of the Catholic Church makes clear “the goal of human existence, the ultimate end of human acts: God calls us to his own beatitude [divine joy]. … Beatitude makes us ‘partakers of the divine nature’ and of eternal life.”
Revered 16th Century mystic Saint Teresa of Avila, declared Doctor of the Church for her spiritual writings, spoke of nine grades of prayer. The highest, Spiritual Marriage, “brings about the total absorption of the soul into God,” explains Redemptorist Fr. Dennis Billy in his introduction to The Interior Castle, her great treatise on spirituality.
The Sacrament of Holy Eucharist also offers the faithful the grace to be one with Christ, allowing not just His grace, but His very Body and Blood to enter the communicant. In this coming together of creature and Creator, it is not the former who absorbs the Latter and imparts his nature to Him, but other way around. Man is divinized.
Also in its own union with Jesus as its Head is the Mystical Body of Christ. That’s the compendium of all the faithful: the Church Militant on earth, still at war with sin (that’s us); the Church Triumphant in heaven, victorious over sin (the saints and other holy beings); and the Church Suffering in Purgatory, being purged of sinfulness (souls on the way to heaven).
Oneness is the name of game here, too: the Church isn’t just many people coming together every Sunday, but one community in this life and the next, bound by one Gospel, one grace, and one God embracing and imbuing all. And all Masses celebrated anywhere anytime and in any age form one single worship, praise, penance, thanksgiving, and petition of all beings everywhere.
The way of the world
If all that oneness talk sounds so distantly disembodied and other-worldly, it’s actually something quite mundane and even physical. Indeed, it’s the overarching principle of how everything came to be, at least after the Big Bang.
From the inception of the cosmos, electrons, neutrons, protons, positrons, and other kinds of the tiniest particles combined to form atoms, which then united into molecules of greater and greater complexity. Gases, liquids and solids eventually formed stars, nebulae, planets, moons, asteroids, comets, sun systems, and galaxies.
On earth (and maybe elsewhere across the cosmos), the urge to merge into more and more complex and capable entities created air, sea and land, then molecules able to replicate themselves. The latter gave rise to living organisms, first in single cells, then multiple cells, and after billions of years, flora and fauna with tissues, organs, and eventually sensation, action, and intelligence.
In the age of humanity, combining to form new unions shifted from the physical to the social sphere. Man and woman lived together and formed families, which in turn came together in clans, tribes, villages, cities, states, and empires. There are also religious, commercial, educational, sports, and other kinds of groupings. And today humankind has a global community linked by telecommunications and international travel.
So the idea of man in union with one another and with God is but one more variation in the eons-old coming together of things to form more and more advanced entities. And in all this permutations of unions, the parts or individuals coming together, whether electrons, cells, living creatures, or vast nations, must adjust their own wishes and actions for the common good of whatever new entity is created.
If certain parts defy the rules or ways needed for the unified entity to thrive, then it breaks apart. Plant or animal parts unable or unwilling to function properly, such as cancer cells, cause illness and death.
In the world arena, nations can go against the peace and harmony forged by the international community, leading to animosity, conflict, and war. So the imperative for people to form harmonious unions is really the very principle or tenet for all creation.
And God the Creator is, as Saint John wrote, love — the caring and self-sacrificing regard for others that is the indispensable ingredient in bringing forth and sustaining ever more advanced entities.
Be one with Him, and be filled with His creative power. That is our ultimate end. Amen.