To have a good mystery we need ourselves and we need something bigger outside of ourselves that we are connected to…it is often through mystery that we arrive at a deeper knowledge of ourselves by how we explore the outside situation – the bigger reality – suffering or love or dark chocolate, but we first have to recognize that it’s there. God is ultimate mystery.
He is certainly outside ourselves…there’s plenty of stories in our faith of God visiting His people unaware. Take for example…how the Archangel Raphael visits the family of Tobit looking just like a man and then leads Tobias, the son of Tobit on a quest for his fortune and love. Christ Himself is not recognized at first by the two disciples on the way to Emmaus. Several well known saints such as Martin of Tours and Christopher have stories where they helped someone in need and it was later revealed to them that they were in the presence of Jesus, Himself.
Father Robert Benson, about 100 years ago wrote about the Friendship of Christ – it’s called “The Friendship of Christ.” Pretty early he describes how Christ wants to be our friend and that He comes to us in the Eucharist (to lead us into mystery). While this is not a really new idea for us as Catholics, Benson has to first describe how Jesus also comes to us in our conscience – but how this is not enough. Think about it: everyone throughout all time has been born with the Law of God written in their hearts — this is their conscience, but that was not enough to live the Law. If Christ didn’t speak through the voice of every person’s conscience – He could not claim to be the Savior of the World — in fact Benson says, “It was partly to convince men of the true nature of sins against conscience” for men had not understood the full gravity of what they had done against God – it was partly for this reason that Christ became man “and suffered the death of the Cross.” Christ in the conscience is good, but it is not enough for a real relationship. Can you imagine a couple wanting to get married for example, but they never communicated except through text message. Imagine them at the altar and they text their vows. It would be strange. How would you really even know that it the vows were properly exchanged? Couldn’t the bride be playing Angry Birds with another girl’s phone while that other girl was texting the “I do” with their phone? If you can’t see someone’s screen, how do you even know it’s really them and not someone else’s thumbs typing. Similarly, our own thoughts can become mistaken for the still small voice of conscience…
Is Christ less present to us than the disciples? They had Him in their consciences and they had Him in the words of the prophets and they had Him in person. The God who came down to us, Jesus Christ is nothing if not accessible. I mean if there’s one thing that Jesus wants, it is to be with us. Does He not make Himself available in other ways? Consider that “sense of something different” that people have remarked upon for ages as pervading Catholic Churches. Could there be anything more natural to this “Christ who dwells in the heart, that that He Who is so simple interiorly, Who lies patiently within the chamber of the soul, should lie also in the realm without, desiring us to acknowledge Him not only in ourselves, but outside ourselves; not only in our interior consciousness, but also, in a sense, in that very realm of space and time which so often seems to obscure His Presence in the world?” In other words, we should not be surprised that Christ would appear in the Eucharist that He might continue to be accessible to us outside ourselves.
But there are other ways we can find Christ. We can find Him in the universal Church. Some might complain that they do not need anyone to interpret Scripture for them – that all anyone needs is the inner voice of God to find their way. Benson remarks how, it is when people are left to their own devices that the most division occurs. Today we have untold numbers of people all reading roughly the same Bible, and yet coming up with thousands of variations. It was to Peter that Jesus said He would with with until the end of the world – for Peter was the foundation of the Church. Peter (and each pope following after) then is the one trustworthy mouthpiece when there are disputes about faith and morals, and obedience to him shows love for the Body of Christ, the Church of whom Christ is head. At the time of Christ there were many who did not recognize God’s authority in the Bodily form of Jesus. His Mystical Body is no different – there are many who do ignore Jesus here, and yet He comes to us through this Church.
There was an elegant passage about Christ in His priests and Christ in His saints….but the one that really got me was Christ in the Sinner. Simple enough: to follow that certain virtues and graces of Christ can be understood through Christ disguising Himself in the humanity of the priest or the holiness of the saint; but it is easy to miss Christ in the Sinner. It is the character of the sinner it would seem that He cannot take on. Christ’s friendship with sinners is detailed by Scripture and He was found at fault for this very crime of slumming with the godless. Yet this was the job description of the God-man so to speak – as what is highest is shown able to condescend to such depths. He would not only talk with them, but eat with them – but He did not leave them there in sin. His message remains now what it was then: “Go and sin no more.”
However, if we remember our catechesis we know that when anyone sins in a serious way, they are telling the Trinity in a sense to leave – and so it happens. So, Christ is not in the sinner by grace, but He is still there in the heart not as a king on a throne, but according to St. Paul He is crucified and suffering for them. This person is not in Hell, but the voice of their conscience is stifled. Light came into the soul, but the soul preferred darkness to light. Listen: our understanding and realization that Christ is in the sinner is vital to our ability to help him. We have to hope in the possibility of Christ and His resurrection within the Sinner. We must do as Christ and love the Sinner in all his unloveliness. We must forgive him his trespasses as we hope that God forgives us. Fr. Benson comments that it is easy enough to stir us to love Christ in the Eucharist or in the Church or in a priest, but much harder to recognize Jesus in the Sinner. It is much easier either to ignore their sin completely – or to make snide comments about them.
If we examine the crucifix and the Sinner with the eyes of the Pharisee there is something repellant about both. Yet Christ is in both – so they should be desirable to us. They both reveal how the rebellion of man against God emboldens Jesus to suffer, and we ought to thirst for the restoration of God’s Image in the Sinner if we are to be a friend to Christ who loves the Sinner and wants to show us the way. Our devotion is useless to Christ if we ignore Him where He suffers most. Finally, Benson states that if we are able to have pity on Christ in the Sinner we are able…to pity Christ in ourselves.
Jesus did not leave us alone. He is present in the Tabernacle waiting for us, He is present in the Saints praying for us, He is present in the Sinners (including us), and He is present in the priest from whose lips He absolves us in the sacrament of confession if we but go to Him with love – for He calls through our consciences in that still small voice.