Editor’s note: This article is part 11 of a series, “The Kingdom of Grace.” Part 10 can be found here.
The grace of God at work in our lives is richly abundant, and no one can tell of all its wonders. By pouring into our hearts the grace of the Holy Spirit, God lifts us up to live on his level, floods us with the light of faith, and eternal Life begins in us. By his grace God establishes us as his friends, he causes his own Name to dwell in our hearts, and our hearts share in the one prayer of Jesus Christ to the Father in the Spirit. Through all of it, the Holy Spirit living and dwelling in our hearts is busy about transforming you and me into Jesus Christ himself. The process has begun in our baptism. By the gift of God’s grace, you are Jesus.
Such a statement sounds astonishing to most people when they first hear it. Almost everyone wants to make qualifications and draw distinctions. Some people make moral objections: “but I am such a sinner.” Other people make metaphysical objections: “but I am not equal to God.” Surely there are qualifications and distinctions to be made, but few are those who want to make them simply for the sake of a more perfect understanding of the truth. More often than not, people want to quibble with the claim that you are Jesus in order to escape the extremely radical claims it makes on us. The statement is essentially an announcement of who you are in the depths of your soul by the grace of baptism.
It is important for us to pause with the truth you are Jesus in all of its simplicity and truth. To pause with it is to be like good soil for seeds of the Word, and to hold it in prayer and ponder it for a long time is to be like our Lady pondering the Life growing within her womb. Every day of our lives a thousand opposite messages about our identity are directed against us. Catholic Christians, it is said, are patriarchal, bigoted, misogynistic, homophobic, fundamentalist, totalitarian, hateful, spiteful, judgmental, irrational, deluded, etc.. What is the latest label on the list? Does the list ever end? The truth is, rather, you are Jesus.
Jesus Christ himself says so. “I am the vine, you are the branches” (Jn. 15:5). When we ponder ordinary vines and branches, we see that a vine and its branches are one organism and one life. In fact, a vine and its branches are often so bundled, so entangled, and so continuous that it is practically impossible to determine any one place where the vine ends and the branches begin. The vine and branches are blended in a single life form. So it is with Jesus Christ and us thanks to the gift of grace.
He and we are blended in one form of Life that is proper and original to Jesus Christ himself – a form of Life shared with us in baptism, the sacraments, and the whole life of the Church. Just as all the sap, nutrients, and energy flow from a vine into its branches, so the divine life, energy, and prayer of Jesus Christ flow into us.
In his encyclical letter Mystici Corporis, Pope Pius XII compares our union with the Lord Jesus to two other kinds of unions. On the one hand, he compares our union with the Lord to a “moral body” like a sports team or corporation. In a moral body, different people are joined together simply by a common end or purpose and they work together for it. In a moral body, nothing unites the members except their common purpose and joint action. Now, in our union with the Lord Jesus, we do share a common end. In our union with him, all live and act together for God, for salvation, and for the life of the world. However, there is more to our union with the Lord Jesus than merely a common purpose and joint action. There is a mysterious, interior, reality common to each of us – one and the same divine Life flowing in Jesus Christ and in us by grace.
So, on the other hand, Pius XII compares our union with the Lord Jesus to a “natural or physical body” like a cat, dog, or our own bodies. In a natural body, the parts are united by a common nature and belong to one and the same living body. The eyes of a human, fingers of a human, and organs of a human are all human. In fact, they are all Joe or all Jane. The parts do not exist in their own right as individual cats, dogs, or trees do. The parts of a body do not have their own individual existence or identity. Now, in our union with the Lord Jesus, we share with him a common form of life, namely, the divine Life of Jesus. Scripture even says we are his members or body parts (e.g. Eph. 5:3). As baptized human beings, we are parts of the mystical body of Christ.
But, unlike the parts of natural bodies, in our participation or membership in the mystical body of Christ each of us exists as a whole and retains his or her own distinct personality. You and I are parts of Jesus Christ, but not just parts. You are also your own person. The whole of you is a part of him and permeated by him. In that sense, you are Jesus. But you are Jesus without ceasing to be a distinct person – you.
Our union with the Lord Jesus by grace is not merely a moral union and not merely a body-part union. Denying that it is of either of those two kinds, it might seem at first like our union with the Lord Jesus is something less than either of them. But on the contrary, it is actually something more – much more. Our union with the Lord Jesus is a special kind of union. It is higher and greater than any kind of natural union to be found in the whole world. It is strictly supernatural, and a sheer gift of grace.
Our union with the Lord Jesus is a special kind of union. It is higher and greater than any kind of natural union to be found in the whole world. It is strictly supernatural, and a sheer gift of grace.
Saint Paul learned all of this the hard way. Before his conversion, he devoted himself to breathing threats against Christians, and hunting them down. Every day he was seeing to their arrest, imprisonment, and execution, but on the road to Damascus, he heard the words that changed him forever. “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” (Acts 9:4). The words are worth pondering. Saul never knew Jesus when Jesus walked the earth. Saul never laid hands on him. Saul had only persecuted his followers – the Christians. As far as the risen Lord Jesus was concerned, however, Saul’s attack was on him – on Jesus. For there is no union greater or more radical than the oneness between Jesus Christ and his followers who live by grace.
There is no union greater or more radical than the oneness between Jesus Christ and his followers who live by grace.
In time, after his own christening, Saint Paul came to marvel at the oneness forged by grace between Jesus Christ and us. At the height of his marveling, Saint Paul would exclaim: “it is no longer I who live, but Jesus Christ who lives in me” (Gal. 2:20). In that moment, when he so rejoiced in the truth of our union with Jesus, Saint Paul also revealed the secret to living in the union. “For the life I live now, I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave himself up for me.” Faith in the love of Jesus Christ is the secret to growing in our union with him, and the means to increasingly greater personal identification with him. Only a simple and childlike faith in the Lord Jesus can really receive the truth of one’s identification with him. Only a simple and childlike faith can really accept the saving truth of “Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Col. 1:27).
In the Carmelite monastery of Saint Elizabeth of the Trinity, it was customary for the Sisters to have a profession crucifix with an engraving on the back. On the back of Saint Elizabeth’s, on the upright beam, were engraved the words of Saint Paul in Latin: Vivo enim jam non ego, vivit vero in me Christus – It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. On the crossbeam were engraved the simple words amo Christus – I love Christ. The two statements tell the essential truth of who you are now because of your baptism, and what your deepest calling is.
Baptized into Jesus, you are Jesus. It is who you are. To love Christ is your deepest calling. Our calling now is to grow every day, by ever new graces, to “the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ” (Eph. 3:13). The only way to grow into him is love. Yes, it is possible to throw away the gift of grace. Yes, it is possible to kill the life of Christ in us through mortal sin. Yes, it is even possible for one to walk away and never repent. But “all who cling to the Lord become one spirit with him” (1 Cor. 6:17).
Father James Dominic Brent, O.P. is a Dominican Friar who lives and teaches at the Dominican House of Studies in Washington, DC. Several of his homilies, spiritual conferences, interviews, and radio spots can be found on his personal Soundcloud site. He frequently lectures for the Thomistic Institute and appears on Aquinas 101.
Statue of St. Paul at Night; Deposit Photos.