Put on the Lord Jesus Christ!

On the morning of Wednesday, 31 August, in St Peter's Square, thousands of visitors and pilgrims attended the Holy Father's general audience. After the Liturgy of the Word, the Pope gave a homily based on St Paul's Letter to the Romans, chapter 13, verses 11 to 14.

1. "Put on the Lord Jesus Christ" (Rom 13 :14): these words, dear brothers and sisters, give us the complete definition of the ethos of the Redemption. Man, reborn of water and the Spirit, renewed and re-created, has received the vocation and the duty to "put on the Lord Jesus Christ", that is, by ever greater conformity to Christ: in his thoughts, in his decisions, in his daily actions.

The profound reason of this duty-being of man redeemed is that the redemptive act has really changed the being of the human person, and action is the fulfillment of being. The redemptive act has inserted the human person into Christ making him a sharer in the divine sonship of the Word: we are sons in the Only Begotten Son of the Father. "Since", as St Thomas writes, repeating the constant tradition of the Church, "Christ received in his humanity the supreme fullness of grace, being the Only Begotten of the Father, from him grace flows to the others so that the Son of God made man makes men the sons of God" (Compendium Theologiae, Chapter 214). This profound unity between Christ and the one who is justified requires the latter to "put on the Lord Jesus" and "to have the same mind which was in Christ Jesus" (cf. Phil 2:5). The actions of the Christian must not contradict his being.

God's law written in our hearts

2. In this way our humanity attains the fullness of its truth. In fact, we have been created to become sons in the Son (cf. Eph 1:5), predestined to be conformed to the image of the Son (cf. Rom 8:29). Christ is the whole truth of man (cf. Gaudium et Spes, n. 22) and, consequently, Christ is the law of man's life (cf. 1 Cor 9:21).

This relationship between man redeemed and Christ should not be thought of as if Christ were merely a "model", placed before and outside of us, to be copied. The Holy Spirit has been given to us to move us from within to act in Christ and as Christ. The law of Christ is written in our hearts by means of the Spirit.

St Paul tells us (1 Cor 2:11) that "no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God".  The Holy Spirit, the third Person of the Most Holy Trinity, is interior to God, he knows from within, so to say, the plans of the Father, his secrets, and therefore he can reveal them to us. Again the Apostle assures us (ibid., 12): "Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit which is from God, that we might understand the gifts bestowed on us by God". Interior to God and dwelling in the heart of the redeemed, the Spirit operates so that we may understand "all that the Father has given us" and may be able to consent to this gift.

What is the gift of the Father? Oh, everything in the Christian life is a gift. The Only Begotten Son of the Father (cf. Jn 3:16), in whom we have been created, is a gift. The Holy Spirit is a gift: Donum Dei altissimi (cf. Lk 11:15). The Spirit impels us to realize our being in its most intimate truth by transforming ourselves in the image of Christ. Before being conceived under the heart of our mother, each one of us was conceived, that is, thought of and willed in the heart of God. The Spirit knows God's plan for our life.  He guides our existence so that it may realize in time our ideal being, such as it was thought of from eternity.

3. "The night is far gone, the day is at hand" (Rom 13:12): this is the time during which we are called to put on the Lord Jesus Christ. It is the time between the ending of the night and the beginning of the day. Indeed, if it is true that each one of us has already been redeemed, it is equally true that the Redemption is not yet complete in us: this will happen only when we enter the full day of eternal life.

The necessary and immediate consequence of this existential situation of the believer is that he must put on Christ by fighting against evil, through mortification and self-denial. "If any man would come after me", the Lord tells us, "let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me" (Mt 16:24, and parallel passages).

The ethos of redemption is also an ethos characterized by a strong ascetical tension: it is an ethos of struggle and of battle against everything that prevents the Christian from "putting on the Lord Jesus Christ". "Do you not know" the Apostle tells us, "that in a race all the runners compete, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable one" (1 Cor 9:24, 25).

Only through this spiritual struggle can the "form of Christ" penetrate all the strata of the redeemed human person and safeguard his freedom to adhere to the good. The believer's freedom, indeed, is always in danger of destroying itself, of separating itself from the full truth of Christ in order to direct itself to a self-fulfilment not in conformity with its transcendent destiny. By means of ascetism the bond of freedom with truth is confirmed and re-established with an ever greater firmness.

L'Osservatore Romano September 5, 1983
Reprinted with permission