Having now finished our long series on “names for the spiritual life,” including how the sacraments can serve as models for the spiritual life, today we begin a series on another approach to spiritual theology, the seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit.
A first way of posing the question could be in terms of the Imitation of Christ. Christ came into the world to show us the way to the Father, and to conform us to himself as he walks that way. To be a Christian is in some way to come to the Father through conformity with Christ. But what does that conformity look like?
Obviously it does not mean exact physical imitation of Christ. One needn’t grow a beard (if indeed he had a beard) or use the same beard oil as Jesus. One needn’t live in Palestine in the first century. Nor need one literally be nailed to a cross. How then are we to be “like” Christ?
It becomes a question of his internal qualities. These will express themselves outwardly, to be sure, but while outward circumstances differ, the heart of Jesus remains the same. The question “What would Jesus do?” must really become “what would Jesus do in this situation, if he were me,” which really gets to the deeper question of “what does it mean to share the heart of Jesus?”
At the end of the of the Rosary we pray, “Grant that while meditating upon these mysteries of the most Holy Rosary of the Blessed Virgin Mary we may both imitate what they contain and obtain what they promise.” Ah, but what do they contain, and what do they promise?
It is nice in the rosary to notice that they contain both Jesus and Mary. Mary is the first to imitate Jesus, and the rosary shows how she shares his heart while playing a different role. Jesus “makes her heart like unto his own” (as the Litany of the Sacred Heart says), but that doesn’t mean she does exactly what he does. The mystery of the two hearts shows that our conformity with the heart of Jesus will express itself in a unique way in each life.
To pray “grant . . . what they promise” also reminds us that Jesus promises to give us his heart. “Imitation of Christ” is a good term, but imprecise both because we imitate his heart, not his every action, and because we come to be like him more by his gift than by our effort.
Scripture contains some excellent resources for teaching us what this imitation of Jesus looks like. Perhaps this summer we will look at the Beatitudes. Jesus is poor in spirit, he mourns, he is meek, he hungers and thirsts for justice, is merciful and pure of heart, and makes peace. Mary, in her way, is the same, and so too will we be blessed if we are the same.
But the tradition has found an even more profound insight into the heart of Jesus. The prophet Isaiah tells us:
There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse,
and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit.
And the Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him,
the Spirit of wisdom and understanding,
the Spirit of counsel and might,
the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord.
And his delight shall be in the fear of the Lord.
He shall not judge by what his eyes see,
or decide disputes by what his ears hear,
but with righteousness he shall judge the poor,
and decide with equity for the meek of the earth;
and he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth,
and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked
There are two key reasons this passage is a favorite of the Tradition’s. First is because it directly speaks of the heart (or spirit) of Jesus. It tells us what he is like, in his interior.
Second, because it speaks of the Spirit. The New Testament tells us that we have received the “Spirit” of sonship (see esp. Rom. 8). The Holy Spirit is Jesus’s relationship with the Father, and it is that Spirit that he gives to us. We heard in last Sunday’s readings that “whoever does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him.” Here we have described what that spirit looks like.
In the next weeks we will consider what the Spirit of Jesus – and so our life in the Spirit, or life in Christ – looks like.