One of the many aspects of actively receiving the sacraments of the Church is that your spiritual vision is opened. This is not an automatic or magical process. This depends on growth and spiritual growth. But continuing to bind oneself to the Church via the sacraments is the only place to start for spiritual growth and development and with spiritual growth comes a greater sense of spiritual awareness. I have found this true of myself as well. Of course, my baptism did not automatically “heal” me but my baptism placed me in a safer place spiritually there is no doubt about that. It knit me to the Church–to the Triune substance. To death and resurrection with Christ (Rom. 6:3-4).
I have always had difficulty trusting God and probably will always have difficulty but there is a developing sense of growth and I am trusting him in a way which I could not have possibly imagined prior. Part of this growth is deeply rooted in the life of the Church and Trinitarian life for that matter. Jesus is God the Son who became incarnated for our sake and suffered for our sake. Some say he paid the penalty for our sins and for a while I used to believe that as well but I’m not certain as to how the sacraments can actually fit in to the life of the Church with such an understanding of the atonement. True, Jesus rescued us from our sins and released us from the tyranny of sin’s oppression on us but this was to enable a new life.
John 3:3-5 – “Jesus answered him, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.” Nicodemus said to him, “How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born?” Jesus answered, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit.” (NRSVCE)
Some understand the kingdom of Heaven here in this text as referring to an immediate afterlife. I do not think Jesus is talking about an afterlife here in this text but rather a now to experience. This now being the life of the Church as he tells his disciples “the kingdom of God is among you” (Luke 17:21). The body of Christ is that of a heavenly substance and not merely a physical substance. The Church is the divine body of Christ (1 Cor. 12:12, 27). The Church is further more the bride of Christ (Eph. 5:22-31). Bridal imagery and bodily imagery is applied to the Church and the Church is both of these things. Christ is wed to his body, his bride, which is us. Which is me.
I am the bride of Christ and Christ clothes me and knits me to himself. But at the same time, I am not the bride of Christ on my own. Neither am I simply a “part” of the bride of Christ. “It becomes evident that belief is not the result of lonely meditation in which the ‘I’, freed from all ties and reflecting alone on the truth, thinks something out for itself;…it is the result of a dialogue, the expression of a hearing, receiving, and answering that guides man through the exchanges of ‘I’ and ‘You’ to the ‘We’ of those who all believe the same way.” (Ratzinger, Introduction to Christianity, 3rd ed., 90).
In the baptismal rite of the Anglican Church in America, we say
Minister. Dost thou believe all the Articles of the Christian Faith, as contained in the Apostles’ Creed?
Answer. I do.
Minister. Wilt thou be baptized in this Faith?
Answer. That is my desire.
Minister. Wilt thou then obediently keep God’s holy will and commandments, and walk in the same all the days of thy life?
Answer. I will, by God’s help.
What does this come to mean though in light of the ‘I’ guiding us from ‘I’ and ‘Thou’ to the ‘We’? This means in actuality that while we have said “I believe” we are not asserting this belief is of our own but rather is a surrendering of our own beliefs and our own pride and our own self to become a “we” with the Church. We unite ourselves in will with the will of God and the will of the Church. Hence, we have in the Trinity a simultaneous “we” and a simultaneous “I”. The members of the Trinity speak as an “I” in a dialogue transposing from an “I-Thou” to a “We” emphasizing their core unity in substance that is beyond human comprehension. Christ fashions us to himself in our baptism and by doing so forms the Church into a unity of that of the Trinity (John 17:11). In this last prayer of Jesus’s to the Father before his death on the cross he prays that his followers may be one in the same way that his Father and he are one. One in substance, one in essence, one body, one flesh. The members of the Trinity maintain their own being but are so closely united that they are one God and each member is fully the one God without either member being each other. They are all three God by identity and not by qualities because they all possess the qualities of deity. Jesus fashions the Church though likewise into the same kind of unity–the same unity. Such that one member of the Church is likewise fully the bride of Christ but not another member and yet both members are the bride of Christ and there is only one bride of Christ. We are an I-Thou in relation with each other as a Church that has transgressed the boundaries of an I-Thou into becoming one substance with each other. The Church as a whole is the bride of Christ and yet each individual member is also the bride of Christ wholly. There is no way to explain this mystery and the only way to fully understand it is to grow into the essence of the Trinitarian life of the Church and to be raised up in the resurrection such that one understands much more of it then.
I have only been given a tiny glimpse of it but this arises from a greater sense of spiritual awareness that I could not have possibly imagined myself having two years ago. The Church is the “We” my I is being crafted into and through binding myself to the Church, I have inherited as a gift from the Church the essence of the body of Christ tying me to my Saviour in spite of my occasional flops.