The goal of every Christian is to reach the stage of enlightenment. Enlightenment opens the soul to the awareness of the God-life everywhere, to the holiness of life, to the connectedness of the universe, to the realization of the Oneness of creation. It is a consciousness that makes morality and maturity possible, but it alone is neither maturity nor morality. Union with God is not the perfection of oneself, nor a badge of excellence. Union with God is a realization of the living presence of God everywhere, in me, around me, above me, below me. “Before me and behind me, to me right and to my left,” as the Irish mystics have said.
Union with God is not a static state which, once achieved, crystallizes the soul into one arrested, unending moment of illumination suspended over life. On the contrary, life is life. It does not freeze at any time, under any conditions. Life goes on whatever our consciousness of God, and we with it. We go on struggling with life. We go on growing into our awareness. We go on struggling to be worthy of the awareness in which we now walk. And we fail often.
Life is simply not about perfection, because perfection is not something that life offers. Our bodies do not develop into some ultimate state and then become fixed into some eternal form. Scientists tell us that all the protein molecules in our bodies change every six months. Every six months we are made new again, not superficially different perhaps, but new. Nor do our souls reach a static state. Every day we make our souls new again. Everyday we rethink old decisions and make new ones. We grapple and struggle and distort and repent over and over again. Every day of our lives we grow a little more into God or a little more into self.
Contemplation and prayer has something to do with the way in which we chose to grow. It is possible to give ourselves over totally to the satisfaction of the self. We can crave and hoard and accumulate and demand respect from the rest of the world until our lungs ache from screaming inside and our hearts echo our own hollowness. We can cling to the worship of self forever if we chose. We can spend our whole selves on ourselves, selfish and small as the topic may be. Our culture not only supports a concentration on the self alone, it encourages it. Getting it all and keeping it forever is the banner under which many march to the cemetery. But there is another choice
We can choose to grow beyond the self that is the shrine to the idols of the day. We can struggle to put down the notions that choke our souls in the name of pseudo-superiority: notions that women are invisible and that men are superior, that foreigners are out steal our jobs, that nature and all it offers is for our satisfaction alone, that people with different life choices are evil and destined to burn in hell.
To be in enlightened we must live in sync with the mind of God, in tune with the rest of the human race and in touch with the weakness our own souls, those places where the love of God breaks in to fill up what we ourselves do not have. Growth is not simply about avoiding sin, whatever we know sin to be as we move from stage to stage in life. Sin, in fact, may be the very thing that brings us to enlightenment.
When I am most angry, I know best my need for peace. When I am most arrogant, I realize how puny my bravado. When I am most unyielding, I know how isolated is my strength. Growth, real growth, is about discovering that God stands by, waiting to consume us. If and when we ourselves can ever cease to consume every moment, every person, every event and every experience for ourselves, God can prevail in us.
To be enlightened it is necessary to set out every morning to grow into more than I was when I began the day by growing into the consciousness of the silent God so great within me.Peace and Blessings!
†Bishop Gerry Clements, OSB