Final Chapter: True Surrender of Self (Chapter 18)
The final chapter of Transformation in Christ by Dietrich Von Hildebrand begins by informing us “at the beginning and at the end of the road we travel in the process of our transformation in Christ.”
Dietrich starts off with defining this act as an “eminently personal act.” While this personal act may be within the vessel of a larger community and shared with over 1 billion people wide, it is still an individual decision to take this leap. There is surrender with consent. That consent is always ours to give or not give ensuring an element of freedom and responsibility that surpasses many people’s sense of a direct and true self-surrender to Christ:
“We must really push our skiff from off the shore; burn the boats behind us.”
Dietrich goes on to quote Plato: “….all great things are somehow done in a state of madness.” The dual tension of desiring to soar with the calling of God while wanting security and safety within our comfort zone by maintaining a sense of human security. The latter we have “established for ourselves and on which we have built an ordinary life.”
Who among us cannot identify with seeking order in our profession, financial safety and security, good health, longevity, good social standing and reputation, and a web of family and social supports that we desire to maintain? These things or values are inherently good things. It is often how we define our lives and each other.
Transformation in Christ re-orders these values with love of God and love of others transcending all of our prized possessions. We become truly in the possession of God.
This possession by God, however, has a hand brake. Remember consent above? We can at anytime reject God with our free will. In these cases we have as individuals caved in for some other good that pleases us now or perhaps removes pain we see as unnecessary. We will own our individual responsibility at the “end of times” and perhaps count on God’s mercy and the redemptive power of Jesus Christ. In these instances we are perhaps aware of our shortcomings.
A greater danger lies in giving ourselves over to passion of religious belief (or other causes) without a hand brake. The dangers of being “swept off our feet” by a charismatic person, caught up in a river of religious rapture that creates a certain mass psychosis, or unchecked nationalism that allows us to demonize other nations and their people and justify the ends above the means.
Many an individual gives up their sense of personal responsibility when cloaked in the dress of a higher cause and comforted by the charismatic leader, the masses of fellow believers, or both. This is not an active Surrender of Self to God – but the opposite. It is a negation of self-will, self-responsibility, and your God-given freedom to sanction or not sanction both your actions and the actions of entities that represent you by decree.
Seeking transformation in Christ by total True Surrender of Self is to impose on ourselves that every action and thought has an additional mirror of scrutiny. We will be able to look at our actions and thoughts through the eyes of Christ – requiring each thought to be “imprinted with the Christ Stamped” as worthy of actualizing our thoughts into action. The accuracy of our perceptions will always be suspect. We are merely seeking, searching, and striving to live a holy life in God’s possession:
“We can never bring about of our own volition this state of being possessed by and lost in what is greater than ourselves.”
The complexity of seeking transformation in Christ is as stated in earlier chapters dialectically complex and simple at the same time. One must start somewhere:
“The index to our transformation in Christ consists in the measure of our participation in his love for God and for men.”
Do you have a spiritual index of your personal standing with God and with your fellow-man? That question will probably stump most of us. We will probably have some vague notions of our general state of being but fall way shy of the detailed self-assessment that we may have akin to our financial indexes or retirement accounts!
Before you start creating a spiritual index of all your virtues and good deeds, perhaps a word on intention will suffice. Transformation in Christ calls us to “help the divine life unfold within us.” If we truly surrender to Christ and pursue christian values and attitudes (think Sermon on the Mount), God will loosen “the fetters of our trivial system of petty self-protection and invite us to an act of ultimate audacity and freedom.”
If days were miles, my humble journey of 19,778 days traveling this earth represents the latest leg of our spiritual journey after Jesus Christ’s death. It is quantifiable. The journey represents about 3% of the total journey of time since Christ’s Death (723,711 days).
Imagine a finite relay of Christian migrants traveling in a secular world. We are but the latest leg carrying what is essentially an apostolic message. The journey for our spiritual brothers of Judaism is quite longer as they reject Jesus Christ being the promised messiah. The length of our journey infinitely expands if we include our B.C. years and the rich of the old testament. In Catholicism we call this apostolic succession.
Apocalyptic and Apostolic Faith:
Judaism and Christianity share a belief in the “end of times” culminating in a final end to Humanity as we know it. It can get theologically confusing as the Jewish tradition is waiting for the first messiah and Catholics have accepted Jesus Christ as fullfilling the prophecies of the old testament as being the messiah and we are already in the end of times awaiting the second coming or “final judgement.”[i] Read Revelation and the Epistles of John for biblical references. Muslim tradition as well have an apocalyptic vision of an end of times and some are trying to hasten his coming.[ii] I raise this as a key barrier to living a life truly “transformed” in Jesus Christ.
Christians can become lost in the eschatological existential nature of the end of times:
- romanticizing the rich writing of revelation,
- postponing taking care of the immediacy of living a spiritual life today,
- falling into prophesying the immediate and pending end of times to others,
- and battling with other religions on their version of prophecy.
Spiritually having a road map of our Apocalyptic biblical liturgy informs our journey and if heeded, prepares us for the end of the journey. However, an extreme focus on an event that is beyond our horizon is probably not our best use of our apostolic faith if we have not thoroughly grounded ourselves in what it is to be an apostle.
There is no better way to share the faith than to live our lives transformed in Christ. Living in the now as apostles of Christ by living the faith and being conscious of spiritual virtues competing with everyday secular life. Utilizing a threatening end all prophecy of an event we are theologically unprepared to interpret and have been in a state of perpetual waiting for centuries has been proven ineffective. There is an immediacy of need now for apostolic living. The evidence is all around us. Our faith is in constant conflict with accepted secular norms and human desires. We will not conquer either by threatening apocalyptic visions or by legislating our will on others. We can neither be quiet nor assume the authority to be God.
An audacious and bold life filled with great joy and great suffering is at our fingertips that rises above a life dictated by autonomous habits and passive acceptance of secular and other norms that have evolved and that are beneath our understanding of being divinely acceptable.
The easiest steps of transformation lay within our hearts to ensure our personal indexes are clean. Our actions and motives are pure. The difficult chaos is untangling the weeds of insincere religiosity, institutionalized injustice, extreme nationalism, and other misaligned values that drive our country.
I share 3% of the journey with over 1 billion Catholics worldwide. We share this journey with the Holy Trinity. A proper Christian Attitude and informed conscious can prepare us to be ready to receive God’s graces and presence. The elements of a deep-seated Christian Attitude were covered in this 500 page book by a Catholic convert who denounced Hitler and Nazi Germany at the risk of his own life.
“We have envisioned the countenance of “the new man who is renewed unto the knowledge, according to the image of him that created him.”
Dietrich advises that if we pursue this course we will succeed on the great ascent towards God. Reading this book took 153 days of reading, deconstructing, validating, and reconstructing the content. The reading has expanded the depth of my understanding of suffering, redemption, and surrender. It has also raised the alarm bells of many pitfalls of humanity (and me) that are present as we strive for spiritual perfection.
These pitfalls will trip us up along our journey. We will face great evils as well. Chaos will reign and life and death will continue to present us with incomprehensible human misery. Only in God will we find refuge.
The beach yesterday, pictured in the background of the book below, has cold June tides. The summer months have not yet warmed the waters for casual swimming. In my middle age I generally ease my way in to cold waters. Yesterday, after finishing this book, I threw myself in to the ocean’s grasp in one fluid motion.
It felt audacious and bold!