09 May 2017

To be known as a Christian

We hear today that the followers of the Way, that is, of Jesus Christ, were first called Christians in the city of Antioch (cf. Acts 11:26). Regrettably, we do not give too much thought in our daily lives as to what it means to be named after Christ, but Saint Gregory of Nyssa, in his work On Perfection, did:
Our good Master, Jesus Christ, bestowed on us a partnership in his revered name, so that we get our name from no other person connected with us, and if one happens to be rich and well-born or of lowly origin and poor, or if one has some distinction from his business or position, all such conditions are of no avail because the one authoritative name for those believing in him is that of Christian.
Because of our own weakness brought about through our sinful humanity, we still have a long way to go in embracing this fundamental and equal dignity given in Baptism, in our conformation to Christ.

Gregory continues his reflection noting that since this grace "was ordained for us from above" we must "understand the greatness of the gift so that we can worthily thank the God who has given it to us" and we must "show through our life that we ourselves are what the power of this great name requires us to be." Neither of these are possible unless "we recognize the true significance of the name of Christ." To do so, he says, we should to turn Saint Paul, who, "most of all, knew what Christ is."

Saint Gregory next lists many of the titles attributed to Jesus in the Scriptures, most of which are used by Saint Paul but some of which also come from the Gospels:
the 'power of God and the wisdom of God.' And he called him 'peace,' and 'light inaccessible' in whom God dwells, and 'sanctification and redemption,' and 'great high priest,' and 'passover,' and 'a propitiation of souls,' 'the brightness of glory and image of substance, and 'maker of the world,' and 'spiritual food,' and 'spiritual drink and spiritual rock,' 'water,' 'foundation' of faith, and 'cornerstone,' and 'image of the invisible God,' and 'great God,' and 'head of the body of the church,' and 'the firstborn of every creature,' 'firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep,' 'firstborn from the dead,' 'firstborn among many brothers,' and 'mediator between God and humanity,' and 'only begotten Son, and 'crowned with glory and honor,' and 'lord of glory,' and 'beginning of being,' speaking thus of him who is the beginning, 'king of justice and king of peace,' and 'ineffable king of all, having the power of the kingdom,' and many other such things that are not easily enumerated.
According to Saint Gregory's thought, "all the force of the other titles depends on that of royalty" because "it is the kingship itself that declares what the title of Christ means."

In all of this, the consequence for those who are "sharers of the greatest and most divine and the first of names, those honored by the name of Christ being called Christians," is that "it is necessary that there be seen in us also all of the connotations of this name, so that the title be not a misnomer in our case but that our life be a testimony of it." This is why he says, "Being something does not result from being called something."

To live up to such profound and glorious titles is no easy task. This is why the Pope emeritus, Benedict XVI, beautifully said, "Being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice of a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction" (Deus caritas est, 1). Let each of us, then, so strive to lives our lives in complete conformity with Christ that we can say, with Saint Paul, "It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me" (Galatians 2:20).

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