The Mirror of Christ Within


Jesus made two promises to his followers.


The Mirror of Christ Within

  • Christ comes to bring us more abundant life
  • God in his love for us shares His divine life with us fully as possible
  • Sanctifying grace enables us to respond to God
  • Christ as an inner presence

First, he promised them that he would never leave them. He also promised that his presence would place them into a new, deeper contact with the Father.

At the Last Supper, however, he seemed to contradict these promises. First he informed his followers, to their consternation, that shortly he would leave them to return to the Father. He then informed them of the strange reason for this departure. He said, "Nevertheless I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Counselor will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you." [1] His presence is depicted as a barrier, an obstacle, to the coming of the Holy Spirit. [2] How is one to reconcile these seemingly contradictory promises?

Before dealing with these puzzling questions, let us briefly review what we have seen so far about the journey to God. First, we saw that this journey is not a spatial one because God is omnipresent. Rather, it is a journey of interior change, of coming alive to Godís presence. It involves an awakening to Godís presence where it has always been, around us and within us.

Christ does not come to bring us to God, or to bring God to us. If God were not already present to us, we would not exist. Christ comes to effect internal changes in us that awaken us gradually to God's presence. Christ comes to enter into and come alive in us. Through his living presence in us, we experience the Father's presence in and through him.

We also saw that no one in this life comes face to face with God. As Saint Paul tells us, we can only see reflections of Him obscurely as in a mirror.

We then identified three mirrors reflecting the divine presence. These three mirrors act to produce change within us. First, there is the mirror of nature when seen through the eyes of Jesus. Secondly, in the human nature of Christ experienced outside us, we find a still more wonderful reflection of the divine.

The third stage is sometimes referred to as the Pentecost Event. With the coming of the Holy Spirit, Christ comes alive in us, providing a mirror of the divine within.

To understand this third stage of the journey to God, we must grasp better what is meant by saying that Christ seeks to come fully alive in us. Repeatedly in Christ's teaching, we come upon this notion of Christ coming alive in his followers, bringing God alive in them.

The references to this new life through Christ are many. The life-giving presence of Jesus is given in "I am the vine and you are the branches [3] and "I came that they may have life" [4] and "If you knew the gift of God...he would have given you living water." [5] In particular, Jesus admonishes us, "unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you." [6]

The divine life is described in the Gospels with "The kingdom of heaven is like a grain of mustard seed which a man took and sowed in his field." [7] We see also "Other seeds fell on good soil and brought forth grain." [8] The analogy of the seed reminds us that the divine life is given to us in a form which must be cared for and brought to maturity.

Clearly we need the presence of the Holy Spirit. Jesus says, "unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God." [9]

Most of Jesus' miracles relate to his life-giving power. Sin is presented as the absence of life. The absence of the fullness of life in the leper, the mute, the man who is blind, the paralytic, and the corpse are offered as symbols of sin. Jesus' power to restore health and life supports his claim to be able to impart divine life.

Saint Thomas identifies Christ's intention to bring himself alive in his followers as the essence of love. He teaches that love seeks the union of the beloved with the lover. [10]

We love insofar as we seek to bring alive in our beloved the best of what is alive in us. True lovers seek to share the best of what is alive in them: their thoughts, affections, emotions, memories, dreams, and their very being. The intent of love is the transformation of the beloved into the image and likeness of the lover. This is true of human love, which is a pale reflection of divine love. It is also true of divine love.

Saint Thomas teaches that the Father, in his love for us, seeks to share with us as fully as our human nature allows, his own divine life. This is the purpose of the Incarnation.

Saint Thomas puts it beautifully in speaking of the Incarnation: "God became man in order that man might become like God." [11] Many believe that our human desire to be like God is the essence of sin. But Catholic theology does not see that desire as sinful.

The hunger to share in God's life is planted in us by God with our very nature. Sin does not consist in the desire to be like God. It is rooted in our efforts to satisfy our God hunger in something other than God. It involves seeking a god likeness in ourselves or the created order.

God in his love of humanity desires to see humans elevated to a likeness to his divine nature. In the Incarnation, wherein the Word of God assumes our human nature, we find the clearest revelation of this intent of divine love.

God's love for us is infinite. The only limit to this sharing of his life with us comes from our human choices or from limitations inherent in human nature's capacity to be elevated to the divine. The goal of divine love is that all humans might repeat the words of Saint Paul: "It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me." [12]

Catholic theology explains the love dynamic as the transformation of human nature into the likeness of God. It identifies the most radical change effected in human nature as taking place in the deepest part of the soul. This change is called sanctifying grace.

Sanctifying grace is defined as the formal participation in the very life of God as God. Its presence and development is the key to understanding the journey of the soul to the face-to-face, loving union with God.

Sanctifying grace cannot be directly experienced by the person receiving it. It cannot be perceived by the senses. Its presence, however, can be indirectly recognized by the dynamic changes that accompany it in the soul. These alterations occur in the various faculties or powers of the soul: the intellect, will, emotions, memory, and imagination. These changes are called supernatural virtues.

The three most important changes are the theological virtues. These virtues dispose the faculties of intellect and will to relate directly to God. They have God as the object of their activity. They are identified as Faith in the intellect and as Hope and Charity in the will.

Through Faith, Christ enters into and comes alive in our minds. Faith equips us with the power to assent with certitude to the divine mysteries of revelation.

Hope and Charity in the heart or will introduce a new response to God to bring us to loving union with him. Most important, they engender in us a loving hunger and attraction for God. They allow an actual participation in the very love that unites Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in the Trinity.

Sanctifying grace in the soul and the theological virtues in the intellect and will alter the powers of the soul in other ways. They prepare the soul to relate to the whole of created reality in a way that furthers its advance to the face-to-face union with God. These other dynamic dispositions are the supernatural moral virtues. They equip us to make choices in harmony with the hunger for God engendered in us through sanctifying grace.

Admittedly, this is a dry, abstract reflection on the classic Catholic theology of grace and the virtues. It serves, however, to put us into contact with the speculative fruit of centuries of meditation on the words of Christ and his mission.

Normally the transforming effects of God's love take place gently and gradually in the soul. Most persons undergoing them are not conscious of the changes taking place. As already mentioned, we do not experience sanctifying grace directly.

Although the normal transaformation of the soul is gradual, sometimes the changes may be sudden and violent. On occasion they are so violent as to leave one painfully aware of their explosive character.

We saw an example already in Saint Paul and his spiritual awakening on the road to Damascus. His encounter with Christ was accompanied by violent internal changes that left him blind and paralyzed for days. This is why he can describe himself as having been born violently and out of due time. [13]

Paul's conversion, however, seems to be an exception. In most cases, the inner transformations of grace are so gentle, gradual, and subtle that they escape our awareness.

Our minds tend to focus more on external reality than on what is going on in our inner world. Only when contact with outer reality painfully breaks down does a focus on our inner life come to the foreground of our consciousness. Jesus' disciples also came to concentrate on the inner life only through painful events in their outer world.

From their very first contact with him, Jesus' followers, without knowing it, became profoundly changed persons. As they followed him from place to place, listening to his words, observing his actions, their inner transformation continued.

In his interaction with the disciples, Jesus planted seeds of the divine life in their heads, hearts, emotions, memories, and imaginations. During this time, Christ was coming alive in his disciples, but they were not conscious of the changes. From the first encounter, Jesus in his love for them began to transform them into his image and likeness.

On occasion, they certainly recognized signs of changes going on within. They must have been surprised at times to find themselves acting in ways quite different from their past behavior. They made decisions that they would never have made before meeting Jesus. They did things quite differently. We can imagine that family members and friends must have pointed out the changes to them.

Yet their primary focus remained on what was going on in the world outside them, and not on their inner world. Their attention remained fixed with fascination on Jesus and on his activities in that outer world.

After two years or more of discipleship, the inner changes had become substantial. It was then time for Jesus to move them along to the next stage in their journey.

Several times during his public ministry, we read that Jesus' enemies sought to seize and kill him. Each time they failed because his time had not yet come. Jesus did not allow his enemies to overcome him until the inner transformation of his disciples had reached the degree of maturity that would allow them to survive the trauma of his crucifixion.

The opening of the third stage of the disciples' journey begins at the Last Supper. To their consternation, Jesus tells them that he will leave them before long. Shortly after, Jesus is seized by soldiers in the garden, placed on trial, tortured, and then crucified. It is then that his disciples flee in fear. Their whole world has collapsed around them. During the hours following the seizure and crucifixion of Jesus, the disciples suddenly become painfully aware of their inner world. They feel a fear and hopelessness within, the like of which they had never experienced.

Until that time, they had concentrated on Jesus outside of them: his preaching and teaching, drawing huge crowds, walking on water, performing miracles – all these events filled them with faith in him. His seemingly invincible behavior gave them courage, joy, and enthusiastic expectations of the future.

His external presence brought alive the best in them: noble desires and great dreams. His fame and success also awakened false expectations in them. They argued among themselves as to who would be first when he took over his kingdom.

The Journey to God

by Father Antoninus Wall, O.P.

After his arrest, they witnessed a very different Jesus outside of them. A defeated, beaten, brutalized, helpless Jesus. Finally, they saw Christ dead, nailed to the tree of the cross. All the noble dreams in their inner world died with his death.

It was a total collapse of the best within them. Christ died as surely within them as he died physically on the cross. This death state within continued for three days following his burial. When they looked within themselves or at each other, they found no reflections of the divine shining forth. They experienced only memories of cowardice and despair. When they looked at Peter, weeping his bitter tears, they found even less of a mirror of the divine in his pathetic rejection of Jesus.

Three days later, when the resurrected Christ stood in their midst, his living, external presence once again brought alive within them wonder, joy, renewed hope, and confidence. Their faith was stronger than ever. Christ outside them, mirroring God's presence, brought Christ alive within them again.

During the subsequent forty days, Christ frequently reappeared to them. He continued to grow in them through his presence outside, keeping alive in them joy and new expectations.

At the end of forty days, the resurrected Christ, in the presence of his followers, withdrew his external presence and ascended into heaven. This time there was no violence or trauma in his departure. They now knew that they were still under his loving protection. He had not abandoned them.

Their joy in his triumph over death and over his enemies was still with them during the following days. In that period they prepared themselves for the next stage of their journey, the coming of the Holy Spirit.

What happened on that first Pentecost? Scripture informs us that they had gathered in the upper room. Suddenly the room filled with winds and tongues of fire descended upon them with the coming of the Holy Spirit. This is a description of what happened outside them, but not what happened within.

Did they undergo an inner experience of coming alive unlike anything they had known previously? I would argue that what they experienced within was something quite familiar. The stirrings of strong faith, courage, wisdom, joy, and love were the same inner movements that they had often experienced before, when Christ was present outside of them. These were the virtues that came alive in them when they could see, hear, and touch Jesus. These were the feelings produced by his triumphant external presence.

Yet now he was no longer standing there outside of them. Notwithstanding, they experienced his transforming presence in an incredibly heightened way within.

Then the realization came to them. He was still with them. He had not left them. He had only changed the mode of his presence. His presence now was an inner one. He had come to full life within them. Then they could say as Saint Paul said, "It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me." [14]

With this coming alive in the Holy Spirit, they entered into the third stage of the journey. They experienced within themselves the fullness of Christ's presence. The mature Christ within, through the gift of the Holy Spirit, was shining forth glorious emanations of divine life.

With their rebirth in Christ, these men, who a short time before had abandoned Christ, opened the door of the upper room and issued forth joyfully. The same Peter who had denied with an oath even knowing him becomes the fearless leader.

As instruments of Christ's transforming presence within, they begin to preach the good news of the resurrected Christ to an astonished audience. They continue Christ's mission on earth. They proclaim his message without compromise. They heal the sick, forgive sinners, care for the poor and abandoned, and tirelessly minister to the physical and spiritual needs of others. They attack the hypocrisy of the Scribes and Pharisees.

They provide to all the same experience of God's presence that they had encountered in Christ. With this, the Mystical Body of Christ, the Church is born into the world.

The mirror of the living Christ within them did not render unnecessary or meaningless their encounter with the other reflections of God's presence. The mirror of nature and the mirror of Christ's presence in others, which the disciples had known, were still necessary. They continued to see, with even greater clarity, reflections of God's presence in the lilies of the field, in the birds of the air, and in little children.

They also came to an entirely new consciousness of Christ's presence in each other. They now saw each other as children of God, made in his image and likeness, and destined for the face-to-face encounter with God.

They were conscious of Christ's presence in others, such as Mary and the other disciples. In particular, this rebirth of Christ within them heightened their appreciation of the love of Christ that bound them together as a community.

While they experienced different aspects of Christ's presence within different persons, they were acutely aware that it was only in the community as a whole that they encountered the fullness of Christ's presence. So they prized each person for the way in which he or she added to their experience of Christ.


[1]  John 16:7.

[2]  The Catechism of the Catholic Church says, "The seven gifts of the Holy Spirit are wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety, and fear of the Lord. They belong in their fullness to Christ . . . They make the faithful docile in readily obeying divine inspirations." CCC 1831.

[3]  John 15:5.

[4]  John 10:10.

[5]  John 4:10.

[6]  John 6:53.

[7]  Matt. 13:31.

[8]  Matt. 13:8.

[9]  John 3:5.

[10]  Cf. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Contra Gentiles, Book 1, Chap 91.

[11]  Cf. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae, Third Part, Q 28

[12]  Gal. 2:20.

[13]  Cf. 1 Cor. 15:8.

[14]  Gal. 2:20.

The Journey to God

Chapter 1 - The Journey
Chapter 2 - The Presence
Chapter 3 - The Awakening
Chapter 4 - The Way of Love
Chapter 5 - The Three Stages of Awakening
Chapter 6 - The Mirror of Nature
Chapter 7 - The Mirror of Christ Outside
Chapter 8 - The Catholic Way
Chapter 9 - The Mirror of Christ Within
Chapter 10 - The Coming of the Holy Spirit
Chapter 11 - The Door
Chapter 12 - The End of the Journey
Chapter 13 - The Face to Face Encounter




Father Antoninus Wall, O.P. "The Mirror of Christ Within." Chapter 9 in The Journey to God (Antioch, CA: Solas Press, 1999): 73-85.

Reprinted by permission of Father Antoninus Wall and Solas Press.


Father Antoninus Wall, O.P., a native of San Francisco, is the son of Irish-born parents, and the brother of the late Fr. Kevin Wall, O.P. Fr. Wall attended St. Ignatius prep in the Bay City and St. Mary's College of California. Entering the Dominican Order, he pursued his sacred studies at St. Albert's College in Oakland and the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas in Rome. He was ordained in Rome in 1950.

Fr. Wall has had a career rich in pastoral and academic experiences. He has served as associate pastor in Seattle and as Professor of Theology at Immaculate Heart and Dominican College. He negotiated the entry of the Dominicans into the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley and served two terms there as President of the Dominican School. He currently resides at St. Albert's Priory in Oakland, California. Father Wall is the author of The Journey to God. Father Wall may be reached by phone at 510-596-1800 or by email at

Copyright © 2010 Solas Press

Subscribe to CERC's Weekly E-Letter



Not all articles published on CERC are the objects of official Church teaching, but these are supplied to provide supplementary information.