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  • Writer's pictureDr. Anthony Lilles

Beauty Ever Ancient Ever New

In my last post, I promised to speak more about the Divine Economy. The Divine Economy concerns all of God's dealing with creation. It is distinguished from the inner-life of God, a reality inaccessible to us but revealed through the Divine Economy. Knowing the divine economy is the only way we have insight into the communion of love which is the inner life of the Trinity. Another way of saying this is we can only know God through the humanity of Christ. Christ alone, the Image of the Invisible God, can reveal God. The Divine Economy is most fully realized in the humanity of the Lord Jesus. The Divine Economy reveals the Trinity -- but the Trinity is so much more. Those who say "yes" to the Gift of God offered in this economy of salvation find themselves drawn to this mystery, caught up into it. Anyone who does not see this will never understand why the ancient Christians so fiercely debated the dogmas about Christ and the Trinity. They were trying to protect and hand on the mystery they had received, that they knew in their hearts. The ancient Christians, and Christians of the East to this day, consider contemplation of the inner-life of God "theology". This sort of theology (mystical theology or experiential theology) is completely different from what is deemed academic theology today. It is more a matter of the very core of one's person - a prayer of the heart - offered in the deepest sanctuary of man. Those who want to experience the Holy Trinity are exhorted by the great saints to enter into the silence of prayer and search for the Lord in the depths of one own self. The reason this kind of theology is possible in this way is because the Trinity dwells in this deepest center of who we are. The Trinity is present: more fully present to us than we are to ourselves. This mystery is what Jesus establishes and reveals to us through the Gift of the Holy Spirit - the Gift that moves the Divine Economy from something we speak about to a reality we live. In fact, the English word "economy" comes from a Greek term meaning "the management of one's household." God the Father manages his household in such a way that our hearts find their home in Him and He in us. Along these lines, Elisabeth of the Trinity, a 19th Century Carmelite who loved to spend time searching for the Lord in her heart, asserted that our true home is in the bosom of the Trinity. She explained to her married sister that we are not present to God as slaves but as sons - participants in the eternal Sonship of Christ Jesus. The human heart is where God makes his home and His Heart is the only place where the our hearts can be at home. The divine economy has two dimensions: the visible and socially historic, and the invisible and personally spiritual. By this I mean that God has created a visible and invisible cosmos - things that are seen and others that are not. His economy extends to both these realms. In the visible universe we see the work of creation and all of salvation history. The prophets, the priests and kings were all the instruments of his great faithfulness to us. The promises they revealed were fulfilled in the most wonderful and unimaginable way when the Father sent his only begotten Son. Jesus, the visible image of the invisible God, the Word made Flesh, the author and perfector of our faith: through his life, death and resurrection He perfectly revealed the eternal plan of the Father. A fully historical, completely concrete, scandalously particular man, He was rejected and put to death because the Holy Spirit revealed through Christ's miracles and teachings that Jesus himself was God. By his ascension into heaven and the sending of the Holy Spirit into the Church, those who have faith in Jesus and are baptized become actual members of his glorified Body - revelators of the love of the Father to the world. In all these visible works, the Lord has manifested himself and become present to us in ever new and more surprising ways. You might say He is a wild and untamed God: no system can contain Him or anticipate the splendors of His love He continues to manifest through his saints. This should be developed so much more - but I simply list it now to give a small taste of what God has made visibly manifest. Just a note about the incomprehensible transcendent love of God: Some think they have figured God out with their own limited rationality. C.S. Lewis struggled with a form of this on his path to Christianity. The religions of the East seem to answer the deficiencies of the moralizing God taught to him in his youth. But even in his conflicting attractions to atheism and pantheism, it was as if he wanted to define what God can and cannot do - what He can and cannot be. What he discovered was that the only god limited rationality can arrive at is a static, stale and dry passionless idea. It was compelling for him that everything was absorbed in this one thing. But in this effort, as intellectually satisfying as it was, something did not fully resonate. In the back of his mind there was a huanting suscipicion that there might be something more. In fact, to see God as a thing, even an absorbing thing, to believe that all things are this one thing is to lose the point altogether. God is not a thing among other things nor even the only thing. Whatever we think we mean by thing - God is totally other: incomprehensible in his power, his knowledge, his essence. But to those who receive the Holy Spirit, the splendor of his glory is manifest to their faith - his ineffable love and inscrutable plan is revealed in their hearts. Thankfully, God does not limit his being or activity to some idealized spectrum of human ideas. This was one of the things that C.S. Lewis would have discovered when he read G.K. Chesterton's Orthodoxy. While for now I do not have time to compare Lewis's Surprised by Joy with Chesterton's Orthodoxy - they make a great comparison. For our purposes, it will have to suffice to say that God is physical, concrete, particular, historical in his great love for us because He loves all that He has made, especially the irreplaceable uniqueness of each person He has willed into being. He yearns with a friendship love for us and this yearning has moved him to become like us in all things but sin - and this has opened up for us the possibility of being like Him in all things when we renounce sin and cling to him. In this is fulfilled Jesus Christ's great desire, the prayer He prayed the night before He died: that we might be one in Him as He is in the Father. This is the communion He thirsts for with each of us and all of us together. The human person was created in the very image and likeness of God because the ultimate end of all of this is the perfect unity of creatures with the Holy Trinity. (See the Catechism of the Catholic Church, #260.) Yet he not only works in the concrete particularity that characterizes our day to day existence in the real world. He also works invisibly. St. Thomas Aquinas speaks of the spiritual missions of the Son and the Spirit. Here we come to the main theme: God is Beauty ever ancient and ever new. He is before all that is - the 3,000 to 5,000 year old Bristlecone symbolizes this. Biblically, we were scarcely out of the Garden when this tree is thought to have sprouted on the earth - yet after all these millennia its fir is soft and full of life. And unlike a Pullman novel or the picture of the dead Bristlecone at the top of this article: He is never old, never exhausted, never spent. Christian life coming from God is similar: this life is more ancient than creation itself because it is the very life of God. And, at the same time, it is ever fresh, new and childlike. Inexhaustible and unimaginable - it is the Lord's greatest surprise. Christianity is not a religion of old gurus on mountains who have grown cynical toward life-- it is the faith of the children of God who have only now begun to live. In our next post we will consider the progression or new creation that God's new life ignites in us. We will see that He constantly gives himself to us in new ways to deepen our friendship and to equip us with everything we need for the great work with which He desires to entrust us. (Photos by Fr. John Gracey, Pastor of Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Bishop, CA)

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