In an encounter such as this, where I have been asked to share with you a reflection on the fountain of Christian spirituality, it is of utmost importance, in the first place, to define the main terms in the title. In other words, it is important to define what we understand as ”spirituality” and what is specifically “Christian”, in the life of a believer in Christ.
The term “spirituality” refers –in every state, situation, life style or belief-- to a reflexive “taking of consciousness” about the most intimate and typical area of the human being who does it, of the deepest and most profound personal identity, and of the reason for its existence in the world. In such an exercise –done using various methods, through the history of humanity, and especially in the great religions of the world—human beings, in their introspection, end up opening themselves up to the world around, to others, and to the divine. They receive answers that respond to great questions about their origin, mission and the final destiny of their own being and existence, and that of others. Therefore, let’s say for now, that from this series of personal and/or communitarian understanding are born and fed all the philosophical and theological systems.
In the case of the Christian religion, this journey to the deepest part of man and his circumstances is done through, what we call, “prayer.” And prayer, understood as a realization of consciousness by the human being who --open to the world and to the “Transcendent”-- ends up realizing and recognizing himself as a creature, a finite being, dependent from/of a loving and all-invading creative presence we call “God,” who embraces everything, and fills everything. This understanding generates, (within whoever realizes it) a particular “life style.” In other words, this conscious realization of Christian prayer that would seem, at first look, something simply known and intellectual, becomes later –after prayer— a daily practice in life, with its own and defined characteristic. It is validated or invalidated by the results.
If we say that, in the Christian life, coming to consciousness or “spirituality” is done through prayer, then the teaching to his disciples of “The Lord’s Prayer” by Jesus himself, a fact well known by all and present in the Gospels of Matthew (6.9-13) and Luke (11.2-4), is evidently what helps the most when we mean to reflect and answer the matter of identity, needed and due to the specifically “Christian” in the life of men and women believers in Christ.
For now it is enough to notice that The Lord’s Prayer in Matthew appears in the middle of a Gospel discourse known as the “Sermon on the Mount.” The biblical exegetes and hermeneutist say that it gathers and contains the highest degree of the “exact words of the Lord,” just as they were pronounced by Jesus in the precise moment. Therefore, it is the section of the Gospels less “contaminated” by the still present veterotestamentary mentality of the Gospel writers (newly converted Jews), or by the “theological intentionality”, the plan of the Gospel writer or by the Christian community who transmitted to us the biblical text.
The Lord’s Prayer in Luke, on the other hand, answers the request that one of his disciples makes of Jesus, when he saw Jesus pray (as so many other times): “Lord, teach us to pray. . . “. The request can also be understood as: “Lord, show us your secret, the secret of your intimacy, of your ‘spirituality’; which is the most intimate formula of your life and relationship with God, with the world and with other people . . . Lord, teach us to become deeply aware, and from that awareness will come the understanding of your relationship with the God, the experience of everyday life, your works and your words . . .”. Following this interpretation “The Lord’s Prayer” is then, a condensed synthesis of Jesus true being, of his interior essence, of his “spirituality”, of all the Gospel, of the gospels, of the complete New Testament and, because of it “The Lord’s Prayer” becomes the norm of spirituality for those who know they are disciples of Christ.
Therefore, I mean here to speak about the spirituality of Christians from the perspective of Jesus’ spirituality. I aim to speak about “Christian spirituality” by reflecting on the spirituality of Jesus of Nazareth, which is implicit and made into an elemental synthesis, but fundamental, in “The Lord’s Prayer.” If we accept that like all human texts, “The Lord’s Prayer” is susceptible to different ways of looking at it, and different ways of focusing on it (depending on the context from which the reading is done), I would like here, --as a special contribution and emphasis in this Pauline Year, (recently called for by Pope Benedict XVI)-- to refer to the reading, that of Jesus and of his Gospel, was assumed, lived, suffered, reflected, preached and systemized by the Apostle of Tarsus and that today can be sensed, imagined, and savored in his “Theology,” which is clearly shown in his writings.
Never before in history, had any man referred to God in this manner, or related in this fashion with the Creator. “Abba” (Padre) is a Hebrew term that implies full confidence, full dependency and complete tenderness. Besides, to call God “Father” was a profanity in the biblical mentality of that moment, starting a new image of God; but especially, a new type of relationship, tie and “religion” with God. It meant to treat, live, reveal and announce an image of God, with features and treatment of “Father,” different and --in some cases-- contradicting the image of God as described in the Old Testament. This was the greatest gift of Jesus to the world; his best and greatest “Good News” to the world. The God of the Old Testament revealed in Jesus is “Father”; and all that is new means a break with the past.
Some years after the historical experience of Jesus of Nazareth, which his disciples and many others who personally knew him, saw him and listened to him testified about, Paul of Tarsus said that the life of Christians was characterized by “being able to call God, as Jesus did, Abba Father”: “Now that we are his children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts. And his Spirit tells us that God is our Father. You are no longer his slaves. You are God’s children…! (Ga 4.6ff)
Life as Children!
Therefore, we are “children of God”! To the treatment and revelation of having God as our “Father” belongs the recognition of our “divine” affiliation. Jesus calls God “Father” because he recognizes himself as his “Son;” and he is accepted, throughout the New Testament, as “the Son”: “This is my own dear Son…” (Mt 3.17), “The only one who truly knows the Father is the Son.” (Mt 11.27)
Jesus teaches us to relate to God as “Father,” and with this relationship goes a daily life-style of “children,” similar to the life-style of “the Son”: “He has always known who his chosen ones would be. He had decided to let them become like his own Son” (Ro 8.29). A life of “children” characterized by humble obedience, unconditional trust in the power and compassion of the Father, gratitude towards the Father and the joyful hope in the power and the love of the “kind heavenly Father”: “I am going to the one who is my Father…, as well as your Father” (Jn 20.17), “Your Father in heaven knows that you need all these.” (Mt 6.32), “Even the hairs on your head are counted” (Mt 10.30).
Moreover, we could say here, that “the Beatitudes” describe the profile and program of the life of one who has “poor spirit”: a son, a disciple, one that has recognized in his life God as the Father; and –being gentle, merciful, clean of heart and hungry and thirsty for justice,-- becomes someone persecuted, working for peace, following the example of Jesus himself.
All this means that Jesus, at the same time that he reveals God as “Father”, reveals and elevates man to the dignity and life condition of “son” of God.
Paul –as Jesus himself—understands the new condition and life as a son. And according to Paul, the “son” --the “new man”, the resurrected man, the man in Christ –differs greatly from the previous life as “slave.” Before Christ: “Servants don’t know what their master is doing, and so I don’t speak to you as my servants.” (Jn 15.15) “. . . and would share in the glorious freedom of his children.” (Ro 8.21), “My friends, we are children of the free woman and not of the slave.” (Ga 5.31) “Then their own people don’t have to pay.” (Mt 17.26) “The Holy Spirit will give you life that comes from Christ Jesus and will set you free from sin and death.” (Ro.8.2)
Christian spirituality, therefore, defines and accompanies in man a specific lifestyle: the lifestyle of the “children of God.” This is the same lifestyle taught and lived by the Son (with caps): Jesus of Nazareth.
Christian spirituality is, as stated up to this point, an itinerary, a following, a discipleship that makes us children –similar to the Son—so that by Him, with Him, and in Him we reach the Father who forms us “in his image” (Gen 1.26), “If you have seen me, you have seen the Father.” (Jn 14.9) “Do as God does. After all, you are his dear children.” (Ef 5.1) “You will be acting like your Father in heaven.” (Mt 5.45)
It is this process, of making us similar to the Son, which Theology calls the process of “Christification” (sons in the Son) until it is possible to say as Paul said: “I have died, but Christ lives in me” (Gal 2.20).
When we make possible this life in the “there but not quite” of our daily, personal and community history —at the same time— the process of ”Trinitization” occurs. All of humanity goes, enters, and reaches the Father, through the Son, in the Spirit and all the Cosmos, “all creation is still groaning and is in pain, like a woman about to give birth” (Ro 8.22); and this will happen, until “God means everything to everyone” (1 Co 15.28).
Christian spirituality, described in the most direct way, is an itinerary, a lifestyle that consists of making us similar to the Father: compassionate and merciful as He, who “makes de sun rise on both good and bad people. And sends rain for the ones who do right and for the ones who do wrong” (Mt 5.45) making us similar to the Son. This is our first vocation, our first calling, our most important historical aim: “to be the children of God” (Jn 1.12).
And if those of us who say “The Lord’s Prayer” say “Our”, it means that we are all children of the same Father, and, therefore “brothers and sisters.” To the recognition of God as “Father” corresponds the recognition of us as his “children” and, therefore, “brothers and sisters” among ourselves.
Christian spirituality, therefore, asks and preaches a fraternal relationship with all . . . Moreover, in the relation/religion with others we find the “Christian” measure of the relation/religion with God: “So if you are about to place your gift on the altar and remember that someone is angry with you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. Make peace with that person, then come back and offer your gift to God.” (Mt 5.23, 24) Therefore, “have pity on others, just as your Father has pity on you.” (Lk 6.36) Because, “the way you treat others will be the way you will be treated.” (Mk 4.24)
An not only that: but Christians should understand that the authenticity of their spirituality, of their discipleship, and of all their lives consists in having as a permanent program in life and in everything, to do the Father’s will, which revealed in his Son consists in loving each other. “But I am giving you a new command. You must love each other, just as I have loved you. If you love each other, everyone will know that you are my disciples.” (Jn 13.34, 35) Because “our love for each other proves that we have gone from death to life. But if you don’t love each other, you are still under the power of death.” (1 Jn 3.14) “God is love, and anyone who doesn’t love others has never known him.” (1 Jn 4.8)
The “love” commandment is lived through works and special dedication to those who need the help most: the weak, the dispossessed, the sinners, the poor and the made poor; the marginalized and rejected of the world, the excluded by society and blocked out from their opportunities: “My Father, . . . I am grateful that you hid all this from wise and educated people and showed it to ordinary people” (Mt 11.25), “Whenever you did it for any of my people, no matter how unimportant they seemed, you did it for me” (Mt 25.40), because, “God chose the foolish things of this world to put the wise to shame. He chose the weak things of this world to put the powerful to shame. What the world thinks is worthless, useless, and nothing at all is what God has used to destroy what the world considers important” (1 Co 1.27 ff), “God drags strong rulers from their thrones and puts humble people in places of power.” (Lk 1.51).
“Son and Brother of all”: this was Jesus; and is what any man or woman who calls himself/herself “a Christian” has to be and do every day and in every state and circumstance in life. This is a new vision of God, of man and of the world. Because when man thinks he can make God disappear from the historical scene, or live with his back towards God –when he cannot recognize himself as a “child” of God—he becomes arrogant, capable of the greatest atrocities, and lives in competence and enmity with all.
Christian spirituality, therefore, allows for human cohabitation through the “fraternity” manifested in forgiveness, truth, freedom, solidarity, justice, peace, and abundant life.
Therefore, in the words “Our Father” --the first two words of the “Lord’s Prayer”-- all hate, violence, vengeance, division, all kinds of evil, and death (in thousands of manifestations) are overcome; and life, “life in all its fullness” (Jn 10.10) prevails because God “isn’t the God of the dead, but of the living” (Mt 22.32).
Christian spirituality is, therefore, a practice of God’s children who testify when, with works, they love all other brothers. James, possessing the same conscience of the first Christians (among whom Paul stands out), says it in a clear manner: “If you know someone who doesn’t have any clothes or food, you shouldn’t just say, ‘I hope all goes well for you. I hope you will be warm and have plenty to eat.’ What good is it to say this, unless you do something to help? Faith that doesn’t lead us to do good deeds is all alone and dead!” (Jas 2.15-17)
The balance of the “Lord’s Prayer” is a beautiful rosary of phrases which repeat the first two words. In other words, they put emphasis in the fundamental teachings confirmed in the life and Good News of Jesus for all men and women that come to this world: God is the good “Father.” We are his “children” and, therefore, “brothers” among ourselves; called to live in the “love” manifested in “works, especially with the “little ones”, as God himself loves”. Yes, this is the synthesis of the life of Jesus of Nazareth, of his Gospel, and of all his ministry, his words and his works: Jesus lived as “Son” of God and “Brother” of all.
Since then, the spirituality and the life of his disciples can be lived in a family-like relationship with God and a fraternal relationship with people.
Who Art in Heaven…
Christian life consists in bringing closer the “beyond” to the “here and now” in everyday life. It consists in constructing the eternal life in the “beyond” through the “here and now” of our present story. It consists in constructing “a new heaven and a new earth” (Is 66.22). And God is in heaven. In other words, in the place where his will and his sovereignty is formed: where humans love each other as bothers and sisters while recognizing that all are sons and daughters of the same Father God.
And if heaven is the cause of our greatest anxiety and search while we are on this Earth, then Christians – the same as Paul-- understand that their greatest wish and eternal happiness coincides with the salvation offered by Jesus Christ to all people of goodwill. Saint Agustin said: ”God created us for himself, and our hearts are unsettled until we rest in Him.”
Salvation/Happiness consists in the act of living as children of God and in his love with our brothers and sisters. This is heaven on earth. This life saves us, is eternal life, is the full and happy life which begins now and is open to the eternal beyond in God. That is why Paul can say: “Nothing is as wonderful as knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. I have given up everything else and count it all as garbage. All I want is Christ . . .” (Phil 3.8)
Therefore, Christian spirituality consists in being happy while living a life that follows Christ, the Son of God and brother of all. Christian spirituality defies us to live on earth as we will in heaven. Therefore. . . “Why are you . . . standing here looking up into the sky? (Ac 1.11)
Hallowed Be Thy Name…
And we honor “thy name” when we live as children of God, brothers and sisters of each other. We honor it when we begin to construct heaven on earth. Only in that manner can the holiness of the only “Holy One,” who is God of Love, ask that our holiness be lived in love: love for God and his children –our brothers and sisters.
Christian spirituality is a path of sanctification: we sanctify the name of God when we do the same for our world of relationships.
Thy Kingdom Come…
May you be the Sovereign of our personal and community histories! May we be constructing the world in accordance to your wisdom, and according to the criteria and values of the Gospel of your Son Jesus Christ. And God reigns and is Sovereign in the world when we are capable of loving each other, and recognizing that we are siblings, children of the same Father.
When we understand the fact that we are created beings, and when that fact places us in relationship with the Creator God, who has the face of a good and merciful Father --as revealed by Jesus of Nazareth-- then we understand our Christian spirituality. This consciousness allows us to develop our divinity, the good and true of our humanity, “an image of God.”
Our Christian spirituality is conscious of our existence --open to the divine, to the Transcendent-- in need of the compassionate love of the Father; and at the same time, of the need God has of man, of each one of us, in the construction of His Kingdom in History.
Thy Will Be Done…
May we do what you want and not our whim and interests, which usually are egotistical and petty. God’s will is that we love each other. For all disciples, throughout history, the Gospel asks us to “do” more than what we “say;” to live in accordance with what we believe; and to practice what we preach. Therefore, the Kingdom of God is built by the execution of his will, manifested in works and results. “Not everyone who calls me their Lord . . . Only the ones who obey my father” (Mt 7.21), “Go and learn what the Scriptures mean when they say, ‘Instead of offering sacrifices to me, I want you to be merciful to others” (Mt 9.13), because “Anyone who obeys my Father in heaven is my brother or sister or mother” (Mt 12.50) and “You can tell what they are by what they do.” (Mt 7.16).
We can say with all certainty that the life program of Jesus consisted in always “doing” God’s will –from his infancy until the supreme moment of his passion and death on the cross: “Didn’t you know that I would be in my Father’s house (doing my Father’s work)?” (Lk 2.49) “Father . . . do what you want and not what I want.” (Mt 26.39). In the same way, the disciple who listens to the Good News and does the Father’s will, putting God’s will in the first place, he builds upon the rock. ( Cf Lk 6.48)
Christian spirituality lies in building God’s sovereignty in our personal and social world, and doing God’s will as revealed in Jesus Christ: “that we love one another.”
Give Us “Our” Bread . . .
As we get to this point, it is fitting to note that the “Lord’s Prayer” is written in plural, because as already established, the Christian life is authentic when it is lived in relation with others; and in the same way that we don’t say “My Father”, we don’t say “my bread.”
We use a plural form to ask God to give us, so we can split his gift, we can share it, we can apportion it . . . If we can give the bread, and even our own lives --because there are those who have more and can do more, and those have less and can receive— there is the possibility of constructing fraternity, to do the Father’s will, sanctify his name, and construct his kingdom.
We try to deceive God when we ask for bread (and everything that feels like bread: a roof, a family, an education; health, family relationships; all kinds of opportunities for humanization in society) all in the plural and then, once we receive it, we handle it in singular, selfishly keeping it to ourselves, creating inequity, injustice, violence and death.
But Jesus’ commandment for his disciples of every age continues in force: “You give them something to eat . . . picked up twelve large baskets leftover” (Mk 6.37 ff), Your received without paying, now give without being paid” (Mt 10.8). Therefore, as long as one man goes hungry or suffers any type of need, the Gospel continues to challenge us. This is how Paul understood it, as did the first Christians: (Ref. the testimony of the first Christian communities in Acts 2.42ff; 4.32ff; and 1 Co 11.17 ff).
Christian spirituality is to be lived “in the plural” because it demands of us the building of a fraternal world. And so, Christians live with the certainty that more than bread, what is lacking is love.
So that every day we remember, confidently, that we have a Father who loves us; and that we are his children. Because when we store and monopolize—and in doing it, distort the will of God and his saving plan—we run the risk of forgetting God as Father and the rest as brothers. (Cf Lk 12.20)
As We Forgive …
We are children of God and Brothers/Sisters to each other --but different and diverse. God’s creation work is not boring nor monotonous, but multi-color, with a diversity that does not threaten but makes possible mutual enrichment. Because of that, in being “Christian,” forgiveness is a possibility and a unique condition of human co-existence. Forgiveness is the clearest manifestation of evangelical love and peace; peace that grows out of forgiveness; “peace” understood as a state of “abundant life” -- product of a thousand blessings of God to man: “I give you peace, the kind of peace that only I can give. It isn’t like the peace that this world can give.” (Jn 14.27, also Jn 20.22) “Don’t you think you should show pity to someone else, as I did to you?” (Mt 18.33)
Again, in “Christian”, the measure of our relation/religion with God is done according to our relationship with others. And so, God’s forgiveness of us (man) is directly related with our own capacity to forgive others, and to coexist with each other as brothers/sisters: “Forgive others, and God will forgive you.” (Lk 6.37) “If you forgive others for the wrongs they do to you, your Father in heaven will forgive you. But if you don’t forgive others, your Father will not forgive your sins.” (Mt. 6.14, 15)
Christian spirituality is a path of forgiveness that facilitate all points in “Lord’s Prayer”; because it is only through forgiveness that we sanctify the name of God, that we do his will, that we construct his kingdom, and that we are capable of sharing the daily bread.
Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil…
Christian spirituality does not ignore the experience of evil. Instead, it recognizes it, accepts it, “embodies” it, and assumes it to be able to save it, redeem it, transform it, illuminate it, and sanctify it. Because the light has meaning, gives all its service, shining in the middle of darkness (Cf. Mt 5.14 ff).
Christians live their spirituality in the middle of temptation and evil, and understand that there is no greater experience of evil in the world than the temptation of not recognizing God as the Father and, therefore, not recognizing ourselves as his children. As a consequence, neither do we recognize our brothers and sisters around us. This moral conflict was described masterfully by Paul when, from his own experience, exclaims: “In fact, I don’t understand why I act the way I do. I don’t do what I know is right. I do the things I hate.” (Ro 7.15)
But “in everything we have won more than a victory because of Christ who loves us” (Ro 8.37) first. Therefore, “we are like clay jars in which this treasure is stored. The real power comes from God and not from us. We often suffer, but we are never crushed. Even when we don’t know what to do, we never give up. In times of trouble, God is with us, and when we are knocked down, we get up again.”(2 Co 4.7-9)
Christian spirituality as the life of God’s children, --as an everyday experience of the “Lord’s Prayer,”-- consists in conquering temptation and conquering the evil in the world with the love that comes out of recognizing that God loves us as a good Father and asks that his love be lived and manifested in a brotherhood experience: “Defeat evil with good” (Ro12.21) with your confidence always placed in Christ, who tells us “While you are in the world, you will have to suffer. But cheer up! I have defeated the world.” (Jn 16.33)
Finally, let us say that the fountain of Christian spirituality, while we peregrinate through this world, is the life of Christ himself, made life also in us. This, until we can say as Paul of Tarsus said: “Where sin was powerful, God’s kindness was even more powerful” (Ro 5.20); and that is why the Apostle himself exclaims: “I have died, but Christ lives in me.” (Ga 2.20).
This dissertation was inspired by Mizael A. Roa Cardenas: JESÚS Y SU ESPIRITUALIDAD EN EL SERMÓN DEL MONTE (Jesus and His Spirituality in the “Sermon on the Mount”). Notes for the Monograph and Dissertation for his Theology Degree. / PUJ /Bogotá, Colombia, 1986. 112 pages.
All Scripture quotations are taken from the “Good News Bible” in the Today’s English Version, Copyright © American Bible Society, 1995.