The Hunger of the Human Heart: Communion with God
By Deacon Keith Fournier
© Third Millennium, LLC
"Whoever loves me will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our dwelling with him" Jesus, St. John's Gospel 14:23
"Jesus, in whom the fullness of God dwells, has become our home by making his home in us he allows us to make our home in him. By entering into the intimacy of our innermost self he offers us the opportunity to enter into his own intimacy with God. By choosing us as his preferred dwelling place, he invites us to choose him as our preferred dwelling place. This is the mystery of the incarnation. Here we come to see what discipline in the spiritual life means. It means a gradual process of coming home to where we belong and listening there to the voice which desires our attention. Home is the place where that first love dwells and speaks gently to us. Prayer is the most concrete way to make our home in God..." --- Henri Nouwen
"MY LORD GOD, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think that I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road though I may know nothing about it. Therefore will I trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone..." --- Thomas Merton
Some contemporary books on prayer, spirituality and faith attempt to reduce the "spiritual" life to a formula that will make us feel better or perhaps help us to "achieve" something. In even attempting to do so (it can never be done), they fail to satisfy the hunger of the heart and miss the inner truth of the call to communion with the living God. They also fail to open up the true beauty of the spiritual vocation, the call to live our lives in God.
Prayer is the doorway, the threshold into a relationship of intimacy with the God of the whole universe who not only created the world -and all who dwell within it - but who fashioned men and women for communion with Him. In and through His Son, Jesus Christ, we are invited be re-created, made new, re-fashioned and redeemed. This is now made possible through the Redemption, the great "kenosis" or Self- emptying of Jesus Christ. The God who creates and re-creates us out of love, desires to come and make His home within those make a place for Him. That "making a place" and the dialogue that it entails, that communion with God in Jesus, becomes as well a communion with one another and the entirety of creation. This all unfolds, is cultivated and grows, through prayer.
The Christian revelation answers the existential questions that plague every human heart. It presents the path back to a full communion with God through our response to His invitation of surrendered love. This path is paved by the exercise of our freedom. We are called to empty ourselves and be filled with His presence. He is the God who comes to us. Our lives, lived now in God, through Christ, are to proceed through prayer. Prayer opens up the classroom of communion where we can learn and discern the truth about whose we are - and who we can become. In prayer, we can begin to understand the reason that this communion, for which we were created, seems to be so elusive at times; why we feel so lost, in an apparent struggle with our own disordered appetites and at odds with the beauty and order of the very creation within which we dwell. That is because prayer opens us up to revelation. True theological insight must be apprehended through communion. That is why the true theologians are mystics.
It is the Christian revelation that helps to explain the seemingly aimless plight of humanity, which is wandering, like Cain, in the land of Nod, East of Eden. It tells us that the communion with God was fractured by something that western Christians call "sin". Christians of the East, Catholic and Orthodox, speak of the same reality, but often in different language. They focus us on the separation from God and fragmenting of the human that is its sad result, in order to lead us to a renewed communion. At its core, sin is a choice against God's invitation to this communion of love. "Mortal sin is a radical possibility of human freedom, as is love itself", explains the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC Par. 1861).
The right exercise of our freedom is the doorway to a lifetime of response to the continual invitations to communion. God invites, we respond. It is faith that orients and makes possible this exercise of freedom. It also opens up the dynamic life of grace or participation "in the divine nature"; it is the beginning of abandonment to God's Divine Life and becomes the path to finding and fulfilling our own fully human vocation. This communion, in the first instance and always, is initiated by God. It is a gift of Love, for love and is only properly accepted through a free response of love. Love never coerces.
As for our response, it is to flow freely from a heart beating in surrendered love to God. The God who is Love hungers for the communion of sons and daughters, not the slavish response of those coerced in any way. We hunger for communion with His very Trinitarian life. He made us this way. Nothing else will satisfy that deep hunger. The early Church father Origen reminds us " Every spiritual being is, by nature, a temple of God, created to receive into itself the glory of God." We are the "image" of God, called into His very inner life through His Son Jesus Christ and now invited through surrendered love and abandonment to the life of faith, to "achieve" His likeness.
Communion is found at the very heart of the wonderful treasury of the teaching of Eastern Church, Orthodox and Catholic. They preserve beautiful insights into this deeper way of dynamic communion. Gregory of Nyssa writes "An image is not truly an image if it does not possess all the characteristics of its pattern." And in one of His finest homilies he proclaimed "You alone have been made the image of the Reality that transcends all understanding, the likeness of imperishable beauty, the imprint of true divinity, the recipient of beatitude, the seal of the true light. When you turn to Him you become that which He is Himself..."
Through prayer we recover the capacity for this communion of love and plunge ourselves into its embrace. This way of life begins to make us a new creation, a re-creation, in Him. It is a process of Love exchanged for love. In and through this gift we are enabled, empowered, and capacitated to live in communion. The path to peace is through prayer. Through it we become what the spiritual writers have long called "sons (and daughters) in the son" and peacemakers. We cry out with Jesus Christ "Abba Father." No longer alienated, we participate in the life of the Trinity. We are invited to communion, an actual participation in the inner life of God. He dwells in us and we dwell in Him through His Spirit. This is the heart of prayer. It is not about doing or getting but rather about being, receiving, giving, and loving. We will live the way we love and we will love the way we pray.
God has invited. In Jesus Christ we can now reciprocate. Eastern Christians explain the rupture between God and man, sin, from a different perspective of the very same truth. The Incarnation of Jesus Christ is seen as an aspect of this reciprocity, God gives Himself fully to us and we are now invited to give ourselves to Him. In and through our participation in Jesus Christ, we become, in the words of the Apostle Peter "partakers of the divine nature". We participate in the communion of Trinitarian love.
Prayer is the path to this communion. It helps us to repair the breach and heal the wounds occasioned by our sin, our choices against Gods loving invitation. It re-opens the door life through Jesus Christ with the Father, in Jesus Christ with one another, and in the Trinitarian God with the world which He created and is recreating and redeeming in Christ. All of this is made possible through the Holy Spirit who invites us now into to the very inner life of the Trinity. This is prayer.
This relationship of communion begins as we speak our surrender in the "soul", by giving our "Fiat." That "yes" integrates and reorders our entire person, body, soul and spirit. The Hebrew word, which is often translated "soul" in both the Bible and Christian tradition, is nepes. It helps us to unpack the Jewish understanding of the human person, an understanding that is fundamental to both finding the path to communion and truly responding with our whole person to the invitation to an authentic spirituality.
This nepes , infuses our entire person and knows of no separation between body and soul. To the Hebrew mind, which reveals more the heart of the early Christian revelation, it flowed through our blood and could never be separated from our body. It is this "soul", the whole person, which is hungry for God. The whole human person is the image of God. This full integration of spirituality with materiality, body with soul, is both profoundly human and genuinely holy. When the Christian person begins to both comprehend and live this kind of unity in the spiritual life, he or she does not fall prey to the twin approaches that are so often evident in limited contemporary spiritualities. The "soul" integrates the whole person by receiving and engaging our whole being as a gift from God that we are invited to give back to God.
In one of the fragments of early Church writings we read these words of a great Father, Justin:
"Is it the soul, as such, that constitutes the human being? No. That is only the soul. Is it the body, then, that is called human? No. That is only the body. Consequently, since these two components, separately, do not constitute a human being; it must be the unity formed by the conjunction of both that alone deserves the name. It is the whole person, certainly, whom God has called to life and to resurrection, not merely a part. It is the human being, whole and entire, who is called, that is to say, the soul, but also the body. If that is so, how can it be conceded that one should be saved without the other when together they form an indissoluble union? Once the possibility of the flesh knowing a new birth has been admitted, what an unfair discrimination it would be for the soul to be saved without the body."
The hunger of the human heart can only be satiated when we live in God. That is communion. In this life, we begin the journey. In the life to come, we will finally experience the fullness of its beauty.
Deacon Fournier is a Deacon of the Diocese of Richmond, Virginia. He holds degrees from the Franciscan University of Steubenville, the John Paul II Institute of the Lateran University and the University Of Pittsburgh School Of Law. He serves as the Senior Editor of Catholic Online and a Contributing Editor of Traditional Catholic Reflections and Reports. He has also served as a human rights lawyer and public policy activist.
Third Millennium, LLC
http://www.catholic.org VA, US
Deacon Keith Fournier - Deacon, 757 546-9580
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