Thursday, December 22, 2005

Cahiers Peguy on "Entreaty: Beyond the Antithesis of Grace/Work"

Fred K. of Cahiers Peguy reflects on Fr. Cantalamessa's recent homily. Fr. Cantalamessa, the preacher of the Papal Household, preached on how we all experience a greater communion with Christ through our reception of his Grace, and through living out of that received Grace in service, or "works". He describes this as the goal of the Christian life:
The mystical union with Christ, through participation in his Spirit (the living "in Christ," or "in the Spirit"), is for him the final goal of Christian life; justification by faith is only the beginning and a means to achieve it.[7] This invites us to overcome the contingent polemical interpretations of the Pauline message, centered on the theme of faith-works, so as to find again, underneath them, the genuine thought of the Apostle. What is important for him to affirm before everything else is not that we be justified by faith, but rather that we be justified by faith in Christ; it is not so much that we be justified by grace, as much as that we be justified by the grace of Christ.

Christ is the heart of the message, even before grace and faith. After having presented, in the preceding two and a half chapters of the Letter to the Romans, all of humanity in its universal state of sin and perdition ("all sinned and are deprived of the glory of God"), the Apostle has the incredible courage to proclaim that this situation has changed radically for all, Jews and Greeks, "in virtue of the redemption in Christ Jesus," "through the obedience of one man" ([cf.] Romans 3:24; 5:19).
Fred K. responds:
Although this homily dramatically proposes the Christian faith, I wish it had said just a little bit more. I wish it had stressed the urgency for us to beg for this grace, this salvation, this union with Christ.

As Hans Urs von Balthasar has observed, “’Thy will be done’ does not mean that we offer to God what we are able to do ourselves, but rather that we offer him our willingness to let what He does take over our lives and move us anywhere at will” (First Glance at Adrienne von Speyr, 31).

Between grace and work is entreaty. Grace is a gift, but it is not a neutral one; grace, instead, is the answer to the deepest needs of the heart. The secret of the beatitudes is hungering and thirsting for grace and pleading for God to give what he already has accomplished. Even good works, then, become concrete gestures of asking Christ to make us holy, to draw us closer to Himself.
Without Grace, it is impossible for us to achieve union with Christ, however noble and worthy our works may be. Stoics contributed many excellent works to the world; they did not come into union with the Son of God through them alone. Likewise, without works, we fail to fully receive the Grace that he pours into our hearts, and we quickly let slip from our grasp whatever Grace we had received.

We pray for Christ's presence in our lives; we yearn for the grace of his companionship with us. Then we witness his presence in our lives by showering our neighbors in the charity that comes from him. Our works reflect the union that Christ has initiated with us, and that we have longed to receive. Our works, therefore, should never contribute to the everlasting inflation of our egos. The world offers us flattery enough for that. Rather, our works represent our gratitude to God for his coming into our lives. Christ's presence through Grace satisfies the deepest longing of our very selves. Our works become our lived "thank you" to our savior, for whose coming we rejoice forever!