The Door

FATHER ANTONINUS WALL, O.P.

With the coming of the Holy Spirit the followers of Christ found themselves moved substantially farther on the road of interior transformation.



CHAPTER ELEVEN

The Door

  • Spiritual growth and the inner stirrings of natural man
  • The meaning of death
  • The celebration of our true relationship with God


They had advanced on the journey to their face to face encounter with God. They now lived each day acutely aware of the reflections of God's presence mirrored in the whole of creation surrounding them. They were sensitive to the reflections of divine love that they daily experienced in others outside them. They saw the love of Christ that filled the hearts of their fellow Christians in Christ's Mystical Body.

Their most intimate experience of God's presence, however, came to them from within. Christ, the mirror of the divine, shone within them. They now consciously identified – in the stirring of love, peace, and joy in their hearts – the presence of Christ. They lived each day surrounded by these reflections of God's loving presence both in their outer world and in their inner world. But the end of their journey, the face-to- face vision of God, still lay in the future.

They experienced within also, the continued presence of the "old man" in them born of Adam. As Saint Paul confesses, "For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do." [1]

Those inner stirrings of the natural man were always present. The movements of self-love, pride, lust of the flesh, and the will to power continued. All these inner conditions reminded them that Christ within had not yet come to full growth. They understood that it would only be when they had been totally transformed within, when the "old man" born of Adam had been completely purified by Christ's presence, that the journey would end. Then, and only then, would the face-to-face experience of the Father take place. With Saint Paul they recognized that this total transformation into Christ would not take place as long as they continued to exist in this world.

When would this transformation reach completion? What further changes would have to take place in them? How would the final barrier that kept them from the direct experience of divine love be eliminated? When would the barrier to the experience that their whole being now cried out for be taken away? The answer from Christ was clear and simple. It radiated down from the cross. They would have to pass out of this world to come to the direct, pure experience of divine love. Physically, they would have to die. Physical death is the door to the face-to-face encounter with God.

What is the connection between physical death and the beatific vision? How can dying contribute to the mystical, affective union with God? Is there some kind of magic at work in physical death that effects this union with God? Is this the real meaning of the cross? If so, why did Jesus not teach his followers to commit suicide? Why not gain union with the Father through a graceful and ritualistic self-destruction?

Our previous discussion gives an inkling of the answer to this question. We saw how Jesus teaches that God is love: perfect, pure, infinite love. We also learned that the requirement for experiencing love in others is to have love in one's own heart. Without such love, the individual person remains blind, deaf, and insensitive to the love in others and the lovableness of others.

Since God is perfect love, it requires perfect love in the heart to experience God. Anything less than perfect love constitutes a barrier to the experience of God. Given this truth, it follows that perfect love in the heart is the door to the face-to-face encounter with of God. Furthermore, it follows that there must be an essential link between perfect love and physical death.

Christ teaches us that love involves a giving, a surrender of the self to the beloved. Perfect love, therefore, requires a total, free, conscious, joyful surrender of self to the beloved. There is only one way in this world that humans can surrender totally. A voluntary embrace of physical death for the good of the beloved is the only means to such a total surrender. Jesus states this simply: "Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends." [2]

By voluntarily dying for us on the cross, Jesus exercised perfect love. His death on the cross is both the symbol and the reality of perfect love. His voluntary surrender of life on the cross in obedience to his Father and for our benefit expresses his perfect love for his Father and for us humans.

In the garden of Gethsemane Jesus prays, "My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me." [3] The Father's response to the Son's request is the Father's way of saying, "Love me with perfect love, and love my children with the same perfect love." Jesus responds with "not as I will, but as thou wilt." [4] In this way he says "yes" to the Father and "yes" to us.


Catholic faith sees the perfect love initiated by Christ on the cross as other than a momentary phenomenon. It sees that love as an unending, eternal act, transcending space and time. It affirms in the human love of Christ the presence of divine love. On the cross the Father's love enters into and possesses the human heart of Jesus. Jesus' heart is filled with a love that is more divine than human. The Father's love expands in Jesus' heart and through it emerges into this world in a radically new way.

Our association with Christ's death on the cross, and with the perfection of love exercised there, is the key that opens the door to God. Catholics understand the Mass as our association with Christ's death. It is more than a mere memorial of an event that took place on Calvary two thousand years ago and is now over and complete. Rather, it is that very same act of love that was initiated on the cross, and which continues in its effectiveness into eternity.

The Mass places us in the path of that uninterrupted love which erupts out of the human heart of Christ on the cross. Christ's love is a living stream that continues to flow into this world, daily renewing the extraordinary intervention of divine love into our human condition.

Christ invited his Mother to be with him at the foot of the cross, uniting her sufferings with his. She shared with him the privilege of giving birth to a new presence of divine love in this world. So Christ, through the Sacrifice of the Mass, invites all his followers to join with him in keeping his Father's love alive in this world. [5]

It is through this cooperation with Christ on the cross that Christ nourishes his growing presence in his followers. In this way alone, one can advance toward that perfection of love necessary for the immediate experience of God. Jesus says, "If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me." [6]

Christ on the cross teaches us that sacrifice is the language of love. The measure of true love is the willingness to sacrifice for the beloved. God's willingness to allow his Son to take on our human nature and to sacrifice that human nature on the cross is the revelation of the unlimited love of God for man. Only a God of infinite love makes sense of both the Incarnation – the Word made flesh – and the sacrifice of Calvary. To deny the possibility of the Incarnation and the crucifixion is to deny that God is omnipotent, and that God's love for humans is infinite.

The following example is a rather crude illustration of the statement that sacrifice is the language of love. It also illuminates the connection in this world between perfect love and physical death.

Let us assume that you have a friend whom you think you love dearly. As far as you can judge, this friend's happiness is genuinely important to you. You somewhat idealize your relation to your friend by telling your friend sincerely that anything you have is his. You truly believe in your friendship. Is this perfect love? Perhaps. Perhaps not.

One day your friend comes to you in dire need. Unless he obtains quickly one thousand dollars, he will suffer painful consequences. You know that he is, indeed, speaking the truth. Now you truly love your friend and want his happiness. On the other hand, there is also a very real attachment in you to your thousand dollars. Which is greater, your love for your friend, or your love for your thousand dollars? A choice cannot be avoided. No idealization of your affection for your friend can stand this test of reality. Sacrifice is the language of love, the test of love, and the measure of love.

This was the painful lesson learned in the courtyard by Peter about his relation to Jesus. He had to choose between love of self and love of Jesus. Until faced with that choice, Peter was able to idealize his relation with Jesus, and unconsciously falsify its reality. At sunrise before the cock crowed, Peter denied Jesus.

Let us suppose that, in the example, the happiness of your friend is indeed more precious to you than your love for one thousand dollars. You do love your thousand dollars, but you love your friend more. So, you graciously give your friend the thousand dollars he badly needs. Inside, of course, you experience pain at the sacrifice. Outside, you may smile and pretend that you are delighted to be of help.

Have you expressed and proven perfect love for your friend? No, you have offered concrete evidence that, indeed, you do love him more than you love your thousand dollars.

A month later your friend returns with greater needs. His situation has worsened in spite of your help. Now he needs five thousand dollars or the consequences will be disastrous. Now, you love your friend and you want him to find happiness. But your love for five thousand dollars is five times more intense than your love for the one thousand dollars. Once again, crisis ensues. Only, this time you and your friend discover painfully that, although you love him more than you love one thousand dollars, you do not love him as much as you love your five thousand dollars.

Again we learn that sacrifice is the language and measure of love. In our present human situation, the choices we concretely make between opposing loves reveal and measure the intensity of our loves. To say to someone "I love you, but I am not willing to sacrifice my pleasures and comforts for you" is to reveal that your so-called love for that person is a sham.


In passing, it might be observed that persons with many friends are the ones wise enough to demand no more of their friendships than the relations are able to bear. Persons with few friends are invariably those who demand more of their friendships than the relations will tolerate.

All of this means that when a person is prepared to surrender not merely five thousand dollars for a friend, but everything he has, including his very life, we are speaking of perfect love. So, we come back to the words of Jesus: "Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends." [7] Human nature is simply incapable of a greater act of love than that of sacrificing one's life for a loved one.

It takes such perfect love to experience directly the perfect love that is God. Until a person actually makes that sacrifice, it remains unclear whether or not his love is perfect. This is the meaning of the cross. This is the meaning of the death of Christ as the Way to union with God. Christ tells us that there is no other way, no door other than perfect love. Such perfect love in humans is exercised in the voluntary surrender of one's life for a friend.

The joyful surrender of life involved in perfect love does not mean that such a surrender is without pain. On the contrary, the more one loves life, and therefore the more painful it is to surrender it, the greater is the expression of love in this voluntary self- sacrifice. No one loved his human life more than Jesus. In the sacrifice of his life, then, he suffered more than any human ever could.

In the garden of Gethsemane, Jesus sweated blood because of the Father's request. He begged the Father, as no man ever pleaded with God, to do it differently: "My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me . . ." [8] The second part of his plea, unlike the first, however, had no condition attached: "nevertheless, not as I will, but as thou wilt." [9]

Jesus suffered intensely on every level of his being, physically, emotionally, intellectually, and spiritually. On the deepest level, however, he experienced profound peace and intense joy. His joy was present, not in spite of the pain, but coming out of the pain.

The Journey to God

by Father Antoninus Wall, O.P.

Jesus knew the source of the pain. It came from the infinite love of the Father embracing his finite human nature, forcing through the limitations of that human nature a new presence of divine love in the world. Again, we are reminded that the kingdom of heaven is like a woman giving birth to a child. [10] The pain and joy experienced by Jesus on the cross was the pain of giving birth to God's new presence in the world. If pain is inevitable in giving birth to another human being, imagine the pain in giving birth to God.

Saint Thomas' analysis of the dynamics of love provides further insight into the connection between perfect love and physical death. He points out that love involves a conscious attraction to the beloved. Such an attraction requires knowledge, acceptance, and celebration of the beloved. [11]

I cannot love someone whom I do not know. For my love to be deep, my knowledge of the beloved must be deep and true. Otherwise, I love someone who exists only in my mind. But love requires more than knowledge. Knowledge may lead to love, but it also can lead to hatred. In order to love, I must accept the beloved. I must want the beloved to be the person that he or she is.

Parental love wants even more. It wants the child to mature and become everything the child is able to become. Parental love involves radical acceptance.

Love involves more than acceptance. It involves celebration of the beloved. To say to someone and mean it, "I thank God each day that you are who you are," is to celebrate that person. I know of no more loving words.

Still, love entails more than knowledge, acceptance, and celebration of the beloved. Love involves the surrender of one's self to the beloved. Such a surrender requires that we know who we are, accept who we are, and celebrate who we are.

Since love is a conscious surrender of oneself to the beloved, how can I give myself to anyone if I do not knowwhoIam? HowcanIgivemyselfifIam confused about the meaning of my existence? Furthermore, if I cannot accept myself, if I am filled with self-hatred, how can I give myself to someone else? Our culture leaves many confused about the meaning of human existence, and filled with self- hatred. It robs persons of the capacity to love.

The above elements are operative not only in our love of other humans, but they are equally controlling in our love of God. I cannot love God unless I know who he is. I certainly cannot love God unless I accept the reality that he, indeed, is God. I cannot love him unless I celebrate him. This is what we call adoration. To say to God, and mean it, "Thank God that you are God," is to adore.

Christ came to reveal to us Who the Father is, and to teach us to accept him and celebrate him. He also came to reveal to us who we are, that we are children of God, made in his image and likeness, and created by him to share fully in his divine life.

In this teaching we collide with the connection between perfect love of God and physical death. To know, accept, and celebrate God in perfect love, I must know, accept and celebrate myself as a creature, a being who is nothing apart from God. I must celebrate the truth that my life is a gift. That it comes from the Father. That it belongs to the Father. That he can ask it back from me anytime, anyplace, and under any circumstances that he chooses.

It is only in dying that I come to the naked truth about myself. I am nothing apart from God. In the experience of my mortality, I come face to face with myself as creature. Only by accepting myself as a creature can I accept God as my creator. Where I am closest to my nothingness, I find myself closest to God.

If I sweat blood, if I beg the Father to allow me to continue to exist, but say with Christ, "Not my will but your will," if I give my life back to God as freely as he gave it to me, then I will finally have accepted God in perfect love. In the next instant, having passed through the door, I will find myself lovingly contemplating God face to face. Or will I?

Endnotes

[1]  Rom. 7:19.

[2]  John 15:13.

[3]  Matt. 26:39.

[4] Matt. 26:39.

[5] Cf. CCC 2182: "Together they [the faithful] testify to God's holiness and their hope of salvation. They strengthen one another under the guidance of the Holy Spirit."

[6] Matt. 16:24.

[7] John 15:13.

[8] Matt. 26:39.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Cf. John 16:21.

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


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

 

 


ACKNOWLEDGEMENT

Father Antoninus Wall, O.P. "The Door." Chapter 11 in The Journey to God (Antioch, CA: Solas Press, 1999): 103-114.

Reprinted by permission of Father Antoninus Wall and Solas Press.

THE AUTHOR

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 antwall@hotmail.com

Copyright © 2010 Solas Press




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