“I am the way, the truth and the life”. Christ’s remarkable self-identification in chapter 14 of the gospel of John is a challenge to our self-understanding as Christians. Further on in this same passage of the gospel we hear Christ affirming this ontological and existential reality. (ontological here means to do with the inner nature of reality, and existential means to do with our lives and choices and relationships). Our Lord makes this daring statement – that He is the living image of God the Father, and that the Father lives in Him and He lives in the Father – fully aware of the implications of this radical co-identification with the creator God of the universe. If we reflect on it for a moment, we are blown away by what it means. This is not merely an existential statement that remains at the level of a personal relationship with God, or about the spiritual and moral freedom that admits of the possibility and reality of such an intimate relationship, but goes much deeper. Jesus is in fact identifying His being with the being of God. His statement about being the way, the truth and the life and then saying, “to have seen me is to have seen the father,” followed immediately by affirming that there is a mutual co-indwelling between them, raises Jesus self-identification to an ontological statement of truth about the very essence and nature of His being. Consequently, all that He is and says and does, are the very words and actions of God. These are not abstract theological statements, but important truths of our faith that affect us at the deepest level of who we are. In this continuing dialogue with the apostles, Jesus confirms that His actions are the actions of the loving Father, and that these words and actions have as their purpose an intimate love relationship between us and God; a relationship made possible by and in Jesus Christ.
Ultimately, these words are deeply personal revelations of love and invitations to relationship that by their very utterance and by their confirmation in the death and resurrection of Christ bring about that which they signify and mean. This is what is really at the heart of the Christian message – this central kerygmatic understanding and proclamation of the total mystery of Jesus Christ. (the kerygma is the proclamation of the saving birth, life, teaching, suffering, death and resurrection of Jesus). It is always new and its mysterious depths are always spiritually fruitful. The mystery of the whole Christ as given in scripture, the fathers, the tradition and the mystics are rich resources for meditation and prayer in our desire to grow into a Christ-centred spiritual life.
In Colossians 3 1-4, St. Paul powerfully describe the implications of these truths. These few short sentences give us a profoundly Christ-centred vision that encompasses our whole lives, because they contain truths that affirm our fundamental (1)Christian reality, that direct us toward a continuing (2)moral imperative for our lives, (3)indicate where our true identity lies – the very truth of who we are, give us (4)sound advice for our spiritual and psychological well-being, invite us ever deeper into (5)a mystical union with Christ in this life, and not only (6)confirm our hope in our own resurrection, but also (7)describe the nature of our eternal life with Christ.
“Since you have been brought back to true life with Christ, you must look for the things that are in heaven, where Christ is, sitting at God’s right hand. Let your thoughts be on heavenly things, not on the things that are on the earth, because you have died, and now the life you have is hidden with Christ in God. And when Christ is revealed – and he is your life – you too will be revealed in all your glory with him.”
The key word in this beautiful passage is the word “with”. With Christ, united to Him and bonded to Him; a complete oneness with Him wherein we live in Him and He lives in us, we experience a gradual transformation of both our inner nature and how we live in our daily lives. Take some time to reflect prayerfully on these words from Colossians.
As Christians we are already ontologically united to Christ in our baptism, we are existentially united to him in His mystical body, the Church, we are spiritually united to Him by our daily listening to the Gospel, and we are most personally and intimately united to Him in the eucharistic sacrifice and in our receiving His body and blood. Flowing from this, and as an intensification and a personal integration of these realities, we are called to unite ourselves to Him in prayer – prayer which entails above all a prayerful reading of the scriptures, reflection on the mysteries of His teaching and the values intrinsically linked to these teachings, meditating on his life, death and resurrection, engaging in heartfelt union with him in interior conversation, and seeking quiet communion with him in our hearts in silent prayer. If we do not have these as foundations for our spiritual lives, and if our prayer lives do not begin here, flow from here and find their fulfilment here, then we will soon begin to clutter up our spiritual lives with all sorts of observances and prayers that are peripheral to our tradition, and that while appealing to our more superficial religiosity, do very little to genuinely nourish our spirits. If our prayer and our lives are not grounded in the gospels, rooted in Christ nourished at the Eucharist, and invigorated by prayer, then we will eventually find that our faith remains skin deep and does not bring about a genuine transformation in our inner lives, nor does it affect the way we live in our day-to-day lives.
It is vital that we rediscover the Gospels, the proclamation of the whole Christ. The Gospel is the foundational source of our prayer lives, as it was for so many of the saints and mystics throughout the ages. Our fundamental religious stance, our spiritual vision and our primary existential attitude in our daily life should be anchored in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. In the gospels we discover that Jesus Christ is the answer to the deepest questions we have about our self and the meaning of our life. A radical Christ-centred vision of life and all reality gradually emerges within us and we begin to realise that it is only in the light of the mystery of the Word made flesh that the mystery of our own being and destiny truly becomes clear. Finally, at the more immediate and practical level of our day-to-day lives, we will discover that if our prayer is not centred on Christ and the profound meaning and direction He gives to our lives, we very quickly succumb to our inner darkness. We become critical and resentful and judgmental. Loneliness and despair creep in and the joy and light of the risen Christ seeps away. But if we re-centre our lives on Christ, we joyfully discover that He unfailingly offers us everything: Himself, life in abundance, infinite mercy, all that is true and good and beautiful; and even when we ignore or doubt this loving encounter, He keeps coming towards us with open arms, offering grace for our lives, a grace which brings light, warmth, and life. These are the gifts of a deep interior life, a life lived in trusting communion with Christ. These gifts bear fruit in compassionate love for all, because they are the life and person of the Risen Christ shining in us and through us. And this, because He has truly become our way, our truth and our life!