I. What is Christian Spirituality?
Christian spirituality is to become love as God is love. This can be called deification. We find in the Bible that God is love, that we are created in the image and likeness of God, and that we are asked to become perfect as the heavenly father is perfect.
St. John, the Apostle, wrote in the epistle as follows: "God is love. In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent His Son to be the expiation for our sins. Behold! If God so loved us, we also ought to love one another" [1 John 4:8-11] "By this we know that he (Jesus Christ) laid down his life for us and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren. But if anyone has the world's goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God's love abide in him? [1 John 3:16,17]
God loves the sinners also. Our Lord says that we must love the sinners like Him. "But O say to you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He makes the sun rise on the just and the unjust - You therefore must be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect." [St. Matthew 5:44-48]
It is in the image and likeness of God that God created man "So God created man in His own image, in the image of God, He created him, male and female He created them." [Genesis 1:27] Hence all men and women have the potentiality to grow to perfection in love.
II. The power that urges us to love
It is God's love that urges us to love. St. Paul says, "For the love of God controls us, because we are convinced that one has died for us all, that those who live might love no longer for themselves, but for him, who for their sake, died and was raised." [2 Corinth 5:14-15]
III. The depth of God's love
We find God's love in creating the world for us, in creating us in His own image and likeness, in saving us from sin and giving us the promise of heaven. Let us see the blessing of God.
The atmosphere containing oxygen: This was created by God. Without breathing this air we cannot survive.
Water: Water was also created by God. Without water we cannot live.
Food: God gives us food through plants and animals created by Him. Without food we cannot live.
Autonomous nervous system: This is also created by God. We know how essential is this nervous system for our existence.
Human brain: God created human brain which has the capacity to make scientific inventions which make the world so pleasant and worth-living.
The sense of good and bad and the capacity to renounce the bad and choose the good are given by God.
Redemption from sin and the promise of heaven. God is saving us from sin and has given the promise of heaven through His incarnation and sacrifice on the cross.
God prevents sufferings and brings good out of the sufferings, which are not prevented. For example our Lord was benefited through His sufferings. 'Although He was a Son, He learned obedience from the things which He suffered.' [Hebrews 5:8]
There is no limit to our indebtedness to God for his manifold blessings to the whole mankind including sinners. See what prophet Jeremiah says as the word of God. 'I will make an everlasting covenant with them that I will not turn away from them, to do them good; and I will put the fear of Me in their hearts so that they will not turn away from Me. I will rejoice over them to do them good and will faithfully plant them in this land with all My heart and with all My soul.' [Jeremiah 32:40,41] We have to continue to mediate on the love of God so that we may be filled all the more with thankfulness. See what the psalmist says in the fullness of thankfulness. 'What shall I render to the Lord for all His benefits toward me?' [Psalms 116:12]
IV. Our obligation to mankind
There is no limit to our indebtedness to mankind for all the blessings we receive from mankind. Hence it is our duty to do everything in love for them. St. Paul says, 'Let all that you do be done in love.' [1.Corinth 16:14]
V. We cannot separate our love for God and our love for His children.
Whatever good we do to people, will be counted as done to God. In the last judgment God will say this truth, And the King shall answer and say to them: Truly I say to you, as you did to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me. [Matthew 25:40]
God wants us to love His children, when we love Him. There is a saying, 'Love me, love my child." The resurrected Lord asked St. Peter thrice whether he loved Him. Peter answered that he loved Him. Then our Lord asked him to feed His lambs and sheep. [St. John 21:15-17] This means that we should love all people irrespective of caste and creed.
VI. The ways to grow in real love
Remembering the infinite mercies and blessings of God and visualizing people as God's beloved children, we have to do good to them. Along with offering thank-offerings to the Church we have to help the poor.
We must see people as fellow-beings and identify ourselves with them. See how the Good Samaritan identified himself with the injured man on the road and helped him, risking the possible attack of the robbers.
We must get inspiration from our Lord's example and the example of the saints. There is a story of a man who bought a car with modern equipments. It was a rare and costly one. Knowing that the car fascinated his younger brother and that he desired to have it, the elder brother gave it as a free gift. It is only rarely that such costly and rare things may be given as free gifts. A boy who heard this said, 'Can I be like that elder brother?' What about us? Are we inspired by the good example of our Lord and the saints?
VII. What are we to do to grow in love?
Helping the needy.
Identifying ourselves with the needy wholeheartedly, we have to help them as far as possible. Whatever we have are the free gifts of God given to us, in our unworthiness, for the welfare of the whole mankind. Hence it is wrong to spend money lavishly for our unbridled comforts and enjoyments. We should be satisfied with the minimum comforts and we should spend the maximum for the needs of others. Setting apart tithes for charity is the minimum God expects from us. Since all human beings are God's children and since all that we have are God's gifts, we should help people irrespective of caste and creed. We shall not exclude sinners and enemies. If there is real love, we will forego even offer our lives also if needed.
Forgiving those who hurt us.
If there is real love, we will identify ourselves with those who hurt us and forgive them, whole-heartedly. We will forgive as we wish to be forgiven. Our Lord identified Himself with those who crucified Him and prayed for them saying, 'Father forgive them, for they do not know what they do' [St. Luke 23:34] In a similar way, we have to identify ourselves with the sinners and enemies, also and pray for them in sympathy. Our Lord has taught us to pray as follows, 'Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors." [St. Matthew 6:12]
We must obey the elders. The first sin in heaven was the rebellion of a group of angels against God. The sin in the Garden of Eden was disobedience. The obedience of St. Mary is seen in her words, "Behold I am the slave of the Lord, let it be to me, according to your word.' [St. Luke 1:38] St. Paul speaks of the obedience of our Lord, 'And being found in human form, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.' [Philippi 2:8] We have to submit to one another which means that we hve to ubmit to those under us also. St. Paul says, ‘Be subject to one another, out of reverence for Christ' [Ephesians 5:21]
Respecting everyone as better than ourselves.
We must respect others as if to Christ. St. Paul says, And whatsoever you do, do it heartily, as to the Lord, and not unto men.' [Colossian 3:23] He also says, 'In humility count others as better than yourselves.' [Philippi 2:3] Humility should lead us to respect and respect should lead us to love. 'The deepest craving in man is the craving for appreciation." Should we not then give primary importance in our lives to respecting others? Should we not respect others as we wish to be respected?
Practicing self-control or self-improved discipline.
Self-control should lead us to holiness and holiness to love. We are God's children, and all that we have, are God's free gifts. It is God who sustains us and saves us from sin. This God is asking us to be holy as He is holy. God says, 'You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy. [Leviticus 19:2] Should we not obey Him?
Purity in food and drink is also expected from us. St. Paul says, 'So whether therefore you eat, or drink, or whatsoever you do, do all to the glory of God.' [1.Corinth 10:31] 'And be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess; but be filled with the Spirit.' [Ephesians 5:18] Wasting money and ruining health through liquor, drugs, smoking, etc. are forbidden. Eating and drinking for our health and pleasure is permitted and encouraged. It is to be remembered that for the spiritual purification and strengthening, fasting is necessary.
Self-control in sex is also necessary. According to the call of God, we can have married life or celibate life, for the glory of God. Sex before marriage and outside marriage are forbidden. Our Lord says, 'Everyone who looks at a woman with lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.' [Matthew 5:28]
VII. The need for hard work
St. Paul speaks of an uncontrollable power of evil, working in us. 'Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death?' [Romans 7:24] Depending on God's grace we have to pray unceasingly and do deeds to love strengthened by our Lord. We are to be strengthened by the Holy Spirit also. Our Lord says, 'If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children: how much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask him?' [Luke 11:13] Our Lord says,
'He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him.' [John 6:56] 'He who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit. [John 15:5]
Since God has given us freedom of will, we have to work hard without break to the very end depending on God's grace. God will never force us to do anything. Solomon the wise says, 'Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might; for there is no activity or planning or knowledge or wisdom in Sheol where you are going.' [Eccl 9:10] The commandment of God is to love Him and our neighbor whole-heartedly. 'And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with your entire mind, and with all your strength. You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' [Mark 12:3031] Our Lord also said, 'If anyone come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple.' (Luke 14:26-27)
We have to remind ourselves of God's blessings and work hard. There is a saying, 'Doctor furnishes the conditions, God heals.' Mere intellectual understanding of Christian spirituality is not enough to experience it. 'A thorn of experience is more than a thousand sermons.'