The Cross of Christ Transforms. . .
How We See Ourselves
Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither the immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor sexual perverts, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor robbers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God. 1 CORINTHIANS 6:9–11
But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, “God, be merciful to me a sinner!” I tell you, this man went down to his house justified. LUKE 18:13–14
William hit the road when he was twenty; hopping aboard his Harley and setting out on a journey that would take him down many sinful roads. He was living the “high life” of booze, drugs, and promiscuous sex. He worked infrequently; often he would hook up with a rock band and travel throughout the country until the band’s tour ended, making just enough money to support his lifestyle. Yet the wild life took its toll on him, and even Bill’s friends began to worry that he was on a suicidal path. It was when William hit bottom that he began, in his words, to be “haunted by the Holy Spirit.”
The Spirit would suggest a pious thought to him, that he would react to violently, not wanting to hear it. But like a gentle breeze it would come back to him again and again. One night on a bus, a fellow traveler began to converse with William; in many ways the stranger’s life paralleled that of William. Like William, the stranger had also felt haunted by God’s Spirit. He produced a Bible from his knapsack and handed it to William, and told him to open it and read the first verse that caught his eye. With some reluctance, William did what his fellow traveler suggested, and opened the Bible to 1 Corinthians 6:9–10. As he read the verse out loud, he realized that he was among those St. Paul indicated were excluded from the kingdom of God. William closed the Bible and handed it back to the stranger. Then closing his eyes he silently prayed that God would wash him of all his sins and help him to live for God alone from that moment on. When he opened his eyes it was as if the entire world had been transformed. Everything seemed charged with light and energy. William never looked back. Within a year he was working on a reservation in Canada while studying in a Catholic seminary. Eventually he was ordained a priest in the Ukrainian Catholic Church, and he remains faithful to his vocation to this day as a monk in a Canadian monastery. William’s prayer life now centers on the recitation of the Jesus Prayer: “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me, a sinner.” Over and over he prays this prayer on a prayer rope. For him this is no empty exercise but a reminder of how destructive a sinful life is and how glorious the life of grace!
Such Were Some of You
Father William’s conversion was sparked by Paul’s warning to the Corinthians: “Do not be deceived; neither the immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor sexual perverts, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor robbers will inherit the kingdom of God.” To William’s dismay, this passage was a succinct description of the lifestyle of his friends and co-workers, and of the fallen world that he and his friends embraced.
When I taught ethics in a Catholic high school, my students would often argue with me that in order to be a successful person in the world, one had to do many of the very things that Paul lists as barring one from God’s kingdom. They were reflecting the “gospel” that had been preached to them every day by our culture, which has so often wrecked young lives. I suspect that many of us have been sold this bill of goods to one degree or another. We have fallen into sinful behavior in order to be a part of the crowd that we are hanging out with; we have sold our souls far too cheaply. Paul makes it clear that what saves us is being “washed,” “sanctified,” and “justified” by Christ and the Spirit. In other words, dying to ourselves in Baptism, crucifying our flesh with Christ on the cross, and living by the Spirit. The self that dies in Baptism is a false self—the fallen self that seeks glory from others rather than from God. We are never truly happy when this fallen self rules our lives.
We all have been created in the image of God. As long as we live apart from God’s grace, we will never be truly at peace. That is why alcohol and drugs are so much a part of the lives of those 122 The Power of the Cross Perhaps we need to hold up before us the image of sinful lives, the destruction done both to the individuals and to those around them to generate within us the horror that we should have for committing sin in our lives.
Perhaps we need to hold up before us the image of sinful lives, the destruction done both to the individuals and to those around them to generate within us the horror that we should have for committing sin in our lives. If we are to be transformed into the image that God has created us in, we need to respond to his gospel and realize that in doing so we are rejecting the message preached by the world. This presents us with a cross, but a cross that liberates us from what others think we should be and frees us for the purpose for which God has created us.
The Power of the Cross is a book well-suited to daily reading during Lent. The book is available here in pdf version. Daily excerpts will be reprinted in this space during Lent.