When the Church was born on the first Pentecost day it was as poor as Christ when he was born on the first Christmas day. It had nothing but love. But that love was more than enough because it was the love of God, his Holy Spirit which poured out upon it and into it, from the Risen and recently Glorified body of Christ. When this Good News was proclaimed by St Peter and his Apostles, who had just received it, the crowds begged them to tell them how they could receive this love too. For they had already seen for themselves what it did for these men whose mystical transformation they had at first mistaken for drunkenness.
An Irresistible Magnetic Force
The terrible and savage cruelty of Christ’s horrific death on the Cross had determined that there were no more than a hundred and twenty followers who dared to come to witness his Ascension into heaven. However, after Pentecost there were three thousand who, like the Apostles themselves, were baptised into the new Church, the new religion that grew out of the old religion to which they belonged. All who received this new baptism were drawn up into the new mystical body of Christ like an irresistible magnetic force.
When they awoke the following day, the new religion to which they had committed themselves was still poor. It had no physical structure, nor for that matter did it have any spiritual structure. It had no Creed, no systematic theology, no catechism, no apologetics, no liturgy, no worked-out moral theology. It just had a very simple rudimentary mystical theology. They had been reborn into the mystical body of the long awaited Messiah who had come to take them home. That is why they called their new religion ‘The Way’ after the One whom they now came to know and love as, The Way, The Truth, and The Life.
From a simple Mustard Seed
With no physical or spiritual structure on which to depend they continued to avail themselves of the old religion as before. They still performed the old religious practices and prayers as before in their own homes, in the synagogues, and in the temple where they tried to nurture the new-found mystical faith within their Messiah. He had returned as promised to be with them to the end of time. He was continually pouring out onto them the mystical love that would gradually bind them to himself, and then unite them with their common Father, not just in his mystical body but in, with, and through his mystical loving of their now common father. They might have nothing else but they did have the ‘one thing necessary’ from which all else would grow as from a simple single mustard seed.
The Sign of Authentic Love
The love they received in return was not just a single gift from God, but it contained in it all the other gifts that are always the sign of authentic love. They wanted to know the truth, the whole truth, and then to do the truth. They wanted justice and peace and all that was necessary to maintain it. They wanted freedom for the oppressed, food for the starving, clothes for the naked, equality for the down trodden and to cast off more than six hundred rules and regulations that their old religion had insisted were necessary to please God. Soon, not only were doors closed once these new ‘heretics’ were seen in their true colours, but they were cruelly persecuted by their one time co-religionists, like Saul of Tarsus.
The Unacceptable Truths
Modern scripture scholars and biblical theologians have rightly excited their students, like me, by showing how the Old Testament found its fulfilment in the New Testament. However, it is not in seeing how the old finds its fulfilment in the new, but in seeing how the new infinitely transcends the old, that the true mystical dimensions of early Christian spirituality can be re-discovered. These unforeseen mysteries were too much for their erstwhile spiritual brothers and sisters to comprehend.
They still shared the same God and they both believed that he loved them, but Jesus had taught them much more. The God whom they were taught dwelt in light inaccessible, who was so holy and so distant that they could not even write down, never mind utter his name, was not only with them but in them. The God with whom contact would mean instant death, had made his home within them. The God who had only been called Father because he created them, was now to be called Dad (Abba), because he had lovingly breathed into them his own breath of life so that they could be with him and in him to eternity, sharing in the life and love of the Three in One. For the God whom their forebears believed in, did not just love them, but he was, or rather is Love. Just as in all love there are two, so also there are two persons in God. However, the love that unites them together is a person in his own right because he both gives and receives the love that bonds them all together. This person is called the Holy Spirit. So the old Jews were horrified to be told that God is not just One but three in One, and furthermore, their promised Messiah was in fact the second person of this mystical vortex of life and loving which is God, their God, Yahweh.
The One Thing Necessary
Furthermore, he had come to take those who were open to receive him, into the life and infinite loving of the Three in One, to experience the glory that infinite mutual loving had made of them. Gradually, as they were cast off and had to construct their own religion, all these differences would inspire every facet of the new-found faith, from the Creed that summed up that faith, to every detail of their daily prayer that found its natural completion and consummation in the weekly liturgy. On the first morning however, they only new one thing and fortunately it was the ‘one thing necessary’. That ‘one thing necessary’ was that Jesus had entered into them through love. The more they kept turning and opening themselves to receive that love through repentance, then, as St Peter told them, they would be taken up into him and into his loving of his Father, beginning now and ending in eternity.
They only had to do one thing and keep doing that one thing, the one thing necessary, and that was to practise and practise continually what I have called, the ‘asceticism of the heart’. It is here that the prayer is practised which opens our hearts to the heart of God, through the heart and through the mystical loving of Christ for his Father.
In order to develop the prayer that can continually help us to raise our hearts and minds to God as we practise the asceticism of the heart please follow the Podcast on prayer on this web-site entitled The Hermit – Wisdom from the Western Isles