Jesus said to them, "You belong to what is below,
I belong to what is above.
You belong to this world,
but I do not belong to this world." (John 8:23)
Outside the chapel of a nearby Catholic High School for girls was a hallway poster that caught my attention. It was a photograph of slender young woman looking into the mirror with a question written underneath: "When did you begin to hate your body?"
The Gospel passage today can give the wrong impression, incorrectly suggesting that if we love God we must despise the material world. It can dupe us into dismissing our bodies and the world of matter as insufficient or inferior to a higher realm of spirit. It can mislead us to think the world of God is in opposition to the world of majestic mountains, fertile fields, rambling rivers, temperate forests, brown bears and human beings.
Often Christians do not understand that matter matters. We forget that the church has a longstanding protest against the perennial heresy of Gnosticism, the belief that the material world is inherently evil. Gnostics are stuck in a dualism which pits the world of spirit against the world of matter. Historically, Gnosticism had to be refuted in order to reach an orthodox understanding of the incarnation: Jesus is fully God and fully human. "The Word became flesh" (John 1:14).
The incarnation shows us that matter is not all there is. But it also confirms that matter matters. Jesus clearly takes on our molecular structure and enmeshes himself in this physical world. Yet he points to another kind of existence, telling his disciples, "I have food to eat that you know nothing about" (John 4:32).
The food to which Jesus refers is a new level of consciousness that feeds his material body and human psyche. The Pharisees could not go where Jesus is going because their consciousness was stuck at a lower level. They were caught in the "sin" of separation, trapped in the illusion of what Thomas Merton calls "a dream of separateness, of spurious self-isolation in a special world, the world of renunciation and supposed holiness."
In the northern hemisphere, Lent unfolds at a time when daylight is increasing. It is an opportunity for Christians to cultivate the inner light of a new consciousness. Resurrection does not mean that we escape or flee this world, but that we learn to embrace and live in this world of matter enlightened by an Inner Spirit of wisdom and love.
Submitted by Fr. Joe Mitchell, CP – executive director of the Passionist Earth & Spirit Center in Louisville, KY.
Lent 4.5 is a 7-week faith formation program of conversion to help Christians understand that matter matters. This year over 13,000 people in more than 50 churches and schools are participating in this program developed by the Passionist Earth & Spirit Center. It is designed to teach Christian communities how to use the traditional Lenten disciplines of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving to protect God’s creation, bring forth a just society, and nurture a fulfilling spiritual life. It offers practical opportunities for people of faith to apply the values of Gospel simplicity to their everyday lives and take responsibility for the material world. For more information, go to www.lent45.org.