Wednesday, January 11, 2012

I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change

In a higher world it is otherwise, but here below to live is to change, and to be perfect is to have changed often.

John Henry Newman, An Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine (1845)

What is true for ideas is surely true for people. Whatever is essential, absolute, and eternal in human creatures subsists under a beautiful but fragile and fallible existence. God gives us a share in being-itself by making us exist. We are "given" beings. God's gift is our being-in-existence. This giving of God's is not once-for-all-time. Everything that lives and moves and continues in existential being must change or die. God sustains what is essential in us by changing us in space and time. God loves me by changing me. One can imagine the tender, even affectionate, but ironic voice of our Creator: "I love you, you're perfect, now change."

In a little while I will be having my formation conference, during which the formation directors will suggest areas of attention in my personal, social, and spiritual development. They will ask me to name the pieces of personhood that I would like most to develop, drawing on the recommendations of the mid-year evaluation.

The emphasis is on development. It's not like I am already the person I ought to be, and all I need to do is bring to the fore those positive qualities of character I have been neglecting to manifest while suppressing behaviors contrary to the way I already know I ought to be and do. No -- not only do I not know the way fully, but also I do not know myself well enough. Not only this, but who I am, good as I am, does not have the means sufficient within or without to become greater than who I am. To be lifted up and out of my limited self, I must look to something or someone greater to lift me up and out. This requires that I look up and look out toward what is greater.

This speaks of turning. Indeed, what is being called for is a return to conscious and conscientious conversion, whereby the Spirit of God that dwells in me and around me is permitted to show me the way and also to build up and show forth the soul I am to become on the way. There is a dialectic here. To take on a new way of doing things, I must consent to becoming a new being. To become a new creation, I must surrender in trust to a new way of living. My work in religious life is to discover my being by accepting a perpetual change of the way I live, a change whose only permanence is its perpetuity.

Truly, God says to the saints, "I love you. You're perfect. Now change."

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