Daily Meditations

Persons in Communion: From Individual to Person (Part I)

The Body of Christ is not only unity but interchange, by which the ‘movement of love’ of the Trinity is conveyed to humankind. This movement, in which each effaces himself in order to give, is the transition from individual to person, a growing to maturity certainly, but only achieved by means of a succession of death-and-resurrections, in the course of which we are stripped down and recreated. We become unique, escape the repetitive character of sin, only in proportion to our achieving unity. In coming to completion, the personality is shaped by its various tendencies of inclusiveness and discrimination, self-giving and letting be, and by the effects of love and the surrounding creation. No longer do we jealously guard our share of humanity, our own joys, our separateness. We give so that we may bring to life. Giving our life, we receive all lives into ourselves.

But we must beware of wishing to give too quickly, like adolescents, and the militants on the barricades. Such an approach, more than any other, has brought Christianity into disrepute. ‘Not everyone who says, Lord, Lord…’, not everyone who says, Love, love.

The misshapen and superficial are of no use. Before there can be communion there must first be restoration of balance, inner calm, self-control, the ruling of our natural desires. If we are to love our neighbor we must first love God and his spiritual discipline. Christ can give himself for our food, the Bread of Life, only because he is completely one with the Father.

Joined to the Father through Christ, the heart set at rest, the depth of the heart communing with the depth of God, each of us becomes a human-all-humanity; in the end – an end we never reach, because we are speaking of infinite expansion – we no longer have anything, but we are everything. As Simeon the New Theologian said, ‘it is the poor man who loves the human race’.

The individual wishes to possess everything and finds the self empty, turned in on its own nothingness. The person, by the ‘poverty of the spirit’ which is dis-possession, renounces everything and receives everything. Christ says, ‘Whatever you renounce, you will receive a hundredfold’. The libertine is eventually unable to see a woman’s secret beauty, the inaccessible loveliness of the person; or, if he does perceive it, he tries to destroy it by treating her as merely a body: ‘She is just like all the others.’ He multiplies his conquests but can no longer really see a woman’s face, or see her body as a face. A chaste man, however, is aware that true beauty is a miracle. Perhaps he will become the saint described by John Climacus, who sang praise to God for the splendour of a woman’s body.

If we are bent on power and ambition we see only the appearance, see everything in terms of control. But ‘blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.’ They already possess it, for they see all things as existing in their own right. If we are both unified and enlarged, we shall discover our true face without even looking for it. Not the face we protect so jealously, the one fashioned for us by the world, our culture, all our cares and suffering. Nor the striking beauty with which we are sometimes graced when we are young. These are merely the material aspect. The real face emanates from the heart, if the heart is enkindled; it arises from the heart as the new Jerusalem will arise from the heart of the God-made-man and from deified humanity. And as the new Jerusalem will transfigure ‘the glory and honour of the nations’, so the face arising from the heart transfigures the marks of experience, internalizes the beauty of youth.

~Olivier Clement, On Human Being:  A Spiritual Anthropology