One of the most difficult experiences that all Christians face is when we encounter sin within the Church. Many of us have fallen in love with orthodoxy and the beauty offered through the sacraments only to discover that many times leaders and fellow believers lack the fervor, the tenderness, and the warmth of authentic Christian love. This leads some to leave the Church altogether, but for those who remain faithful, there are even worse temptations.
When we experience the ravages of sin in our communities, one of the worse temptations is for us to become hard of heart. On the surface we may appear pious and faithful, but within we suffer from bitterness and anger. Maybe this rancor gets funneled into what appears to be righteous causes. We allow hatred to rule how we approach those with whom we disagree. The people outside of our limited views are treated with scorn and contempt. In this, though we call ourselves Christians, the truth is that we are far from the Lord.
The first step in addressing this temptation is what Adrienne Von Speyr calls a “confessional attitude.” She explains that Christ’s position before the Father is one of unlimited openness and receptivity. Thus, we are called to this posture because we are called to imitate Christ. Our transformation in Christ is not merely a kind of external conformity to rules and regulations, but rather an inner renewal in which we become “partakers of the Divine nature” (2 Peter 1:4). In this way, our confessional attitude is not merely a kind of superficial listing of sins, but rather is an open disposition in which we acknowledge everything that we are experiencing in complete surrender.
What we learn in such a posture is our complete helplessness before the ravages of sin. The reality is that we cannot make our feelings of hurt, pain, and anger go away by wishful thinking or well considered explanations. Although we can take concrete steps towards reconciliation and we can practice forgiveness, we have to recognize that we cannot force our interior life to fit our nice ideals of peace and holiness by an act of the will. We have to learn that interior peace is not something we manufacture, but something we receive.
There are many ways to describe this attitude before God, but I want to focus on three lines of the Beatitudes from Matthew’s Gospel.
1) Blessed are the poor in spirit. This teaches us that to receive the grace of interior peace we must learn to rely completely on God. This means that our habit and our first reaction must be to turn towards God and thus rely on him completely. We can nurture poverty of spirit by the regular practice of prayer.
2) Blessed are those who mourn. We have to let ourselves grieve the ravages of sin in the world, and recognize that only Christ satisfies the heart. We must recognize that to be bothered by sin is not a sign of weakness, but truly an attitude we are called to embrace.
3) Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness. Having acknowledged our pain and sorrow, we must let our dissatisfaction with the world be a source of motivation. We may recognize that the world is a fallen place, but this does not lead us to try and escape. Rather, we must embrace our mission, which is to bring Christ to others.
So as we look our participation in our parishes and our communities, let us ask the Lord for his grace that we might learn to put on the mind of Christ which is expressed in the Beatitudes. Let us seek holiness with zeal and joy that we might be conduits of Christ’s unconditional love.