At the annual spiritual exercises of the Catholic fraternity to which I belong, we spent the weekend oscillating between questions and Christ.
Not, I must quickly add, the sophomoric, pseudo-theological questions of our era's anti-theists who witlessly insist that corrosive doubt can paradoxically fill the existential void in their lives. Nor, for that matter, the sincere questions of the serious faithful who labour under the misconception that a finite amount of Scriptural textual explication is the key to unlocking the eternal Word.
Rather, we were asked to reflect on Christ as question; more precisely the question that has Him as its only, irreducible answer.
In the words of Father Julian Carron, who led our exercises: "There will be no faithfulness unless there is the question to which Christ is the answer. We can repeat Christ's name over and over for the rest of our lives, but the experience we will have is not Christ."
Christ's irreducibility is indisputable, of course, because of his relation to the Father. The Father created all things. Christ is always with Him and so extends to us, historically and immediately—now!—the freedom to fully become what we have been created to be.
As Father Carron said, "I discover Christ is the answer to what I am." Or in Saint Paul's words: "It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me."
Here we have the reason, I think, that Christianity is at once such a joyful and such a terribly difficult faith. It brings us the peace of Christ but also the onerous demand not just to behave like Him but to "be" Him within the human, all too human, limits of our lives. And "be" here does not mean what it means in the Buddhist tradition of just letting be whatever is at the present moment. No, it means actively, implacably, perpetually enfolding Him within our spiritual and even physical selves through the act of Communion that he gave us as a gift, and which constantly reminds us how sorrowfully we fail.
Each of us knows how sorrowfully he or she fails individually. What we too often fail to grasp collectively as Christians, it seems to me, is that we cannot come blinking out into the light of the wreckage of our culture, our politics, our humanity and either presume to be above it all in Christ's name or, alternatively, repeat His name over and over in front of it like a magic healing spell.
To do either is an attempt to reduce Christ to an escape hatch from, or a bulwark against, the powers that confront and beset us. Each is an attempt to reduce Christianity to ethics, liturgy, text, devotions, nostalgia. All of those things can be good in themselves. But precisely because they are reductions, they must never become for us the fullness of Christ, irreducible.
My sense, unfortunately, is that is exactly what I do far too frequently in responding to the wreckage around me. I have a sneaking feeling I'm not alone. And it's a natural response for political Christians. Our faith is foremost in our lives, after all. More, we are the remnant defenders of Christendom so our way of thinking, our language, our logic, automatically draws from the tradition of Christ and confuses the result with Christ.
The question arising is not even so much how to stop doing that as it is how to start being more consistent in making Christ the answer to what I am. At the end of the spiritual exercises for our fraternity, Father Carron had a concrete suggestion: Start over, every day, until it is not I who live, but Christ who lives in me.