For the early Christians, the spiritual journey to which the faithful had committed themselves, was not directed to entering into exotic transcendental experiences, but to entering into Jesus Christ, who was alive and present to all of them every day of their lives. They were quite adamant that his sublime moral teaching, that they all aspired to imitate, could only be put into practice if they allowed him to enter into them, make his home in them, and make his love present through them, to the world that they had been called to serve.
Many years ago there used to be a panel programme on the radio called the ‘Brains Trust’. The star of the programme was an agnostic, Cyril Edwin Joad, a Professor of moral philosophy. On one occasion he was joined by an Anglican Archbishop who began to wax eloquently about the moral teaching of the New Testament. “Whether you are a believer or not,” he said, “You must accept that Jesus Christ has given us the most wonderful moral teaching ever taught. If only we lived by that we’d all be the better for it and the world would be a better place.” Professor Joad’s answer was immediate. “Poppycock, rubbish,” he said, “Jesus Christ has given the world a moral teaching that no-one can possibly live by. If anyone tries to live by it, as you suggest, they will not only fail, but their repeated failure will lead to utter disillusionment and despair. Go back and re-read the Gospel, and you’ll see precisely what I mean.”
He then began to quote from the Gospel. “The gospels say, do they not, that we should be perfect as God is perfect, that we should not only love each other as we love ourselves, but as Jesus, the supposed son of God, loves us; that we should love not only our enemies, but forgive them seventy times seven; that we should further love those who would persecute and even put us to death. These moral precepts would inevitably direct anyone so misguided as to take them seriously, to disaster. They would lead to spiritual and psychological suicide unless the practitioner threw in the towel, as so many do, and settled for being just a nominal Christian. The trouble with you Christians is, you fill your schools, colleges, seminaries and your universities, with teachers who propound a moral code that they have failed to live by themselves, and which their students will also fail to live by too. Inevitably they teach a way of life that’s nothing but a recipe for disaster, but they simply don’t see it. That’s why so many of them end up guilt-ridden hypocrites.”
Who do you think is right, the bishop or the agnostic? I side with the agnostic and so do the Gospels. The bishop would have seen this if he had only read them as well as the professor. However, even the professor hadn’t read them thoroughly, or he would have seen that the gospels says many times over and in many different ways – ‘For men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible’ (Matthew 19:26).
The first Christians saw and understood quite clearly that the new commandments, the standards and the virtues that you find in the Gospel, cannot be acquired by human endeavour alone. Only Jesus Christ has ever practised them to perfection, and we are only able to practise them to the degree, to the extent, to which we allow him to enter into us through love, and through that same love enable us to do what is quite impossible without him. If politics is the art of the possible, Christianity is the art of the impossible, thanks to Jesus Christ the risen Lord. A Christian then, is before all else, a person who is totally committed to entering into a deep personal relationship with Jesus and to deepening that relationship on every day of their lives. Only in this way will they be able to enter into the mystery of God’s love, and so embody all that he said and did, so that others will be inspired to do likewise.
St Teresa of Avila insists that there is only one way to do this, and that is to pray, and she insists – ‘If anyone points in another direction then they are deceiving you’. That’s why the primary object all my blogs is to detail, as far as space allows, ‘how to pray the Christian way’ by learning from our early Christian forbears, who did this better than anyone else. For, through prayer at set times each day, they came to practice what St Paul called the prayer without ceasing, so that through every moment of every day they were able to give praise and glory to God through all and everything that they said and did.
But, so that there is no misunderstanding, let me quote from Cardinal Basil Hume, because there has been too much misunderstanding about making your work your prayer, or ‘becoming mystics in the market place’ and other such similar fine sounding phrases. He said many times over: – “To say your work is your prayer or your life is your prayer is not only meaningless, but quite misleading. It is undoubtedly the ideal, but such an ideal will never be realised, without giving daily time to personal prayer”. It was for this reason that I wrote a little book that is simple and easy for everyone to understand called simply :- ‘How to Pray’ and it is for this reason that in the months ahead my blogs will continue to emphasise this truth and give ever more practical information on how to do the ‘one thing necessary’( Luke 10:42).