Mercy, Incarnation and the presence of Jesus within us
In the eyes of Saint John Eudes, the mystery of the Incarnation is key; to draw closer to the mystery of God through Jesus’ humanity, God who is one of us.
We begin with an important point about the journey of John Eudes: he gradually discovered that mercy could help to ‘explain’ what drives God in all of his works. It is like a ‘cornerstone’ in the life and being of God, and is ultimately the source of the Incarnation.
If we consider how Jesus embodied God’s mercy for us, we discover our own calling: to follow Jesus. Through the mystery of the Incarnation, the Son of God became a human being like us; a Man-God, as John Eudes liked to see him.
When we are baptized, Jesus, the Man-God, makes us one with his Body, called to live as he did. From this moment, a long period of growth begins within each of us “until Christ is formed in you”, as Saint Paul alluded to in his letter to the Galatians (Gal 4, 19). Moved by this statement, John Eudes often speaks of “forming Jesus in us”.
Now, we turn our attention to Jesus who “took shape” in Mary. This can help us to think of the pathway of our Christian lives as a continuation of Jesus’ life; as a formation of Jesus in us. We look at Mary and the mystery of Jesus’ formation in her; the mystery of God’s Incarnation amongst men.
It all began within Mary’s heart: in order for Jesus to take shape in her, her heart had to be open and willing. She allowed herself to be moulded by the Word of God, such as the Psalms. She became part of the people who were ‘poor in spirit’, who relied on the Lord and who awaited their salvation from him. Therefore, at the time of the Annunciation, her heart was awakened and open to receive God.
Upon meeting the angel, she asked what had happened: why she had been named ‘full of grace’? The angel told her not to be afraid. He then told her of God’s plans for her: she would be a mother, she would carry a child who would be the Savior of his people!
How would these plans come to be? Mary sought to understand what was happening to her. Open to God’s plan, she wanted to knowingly and willingly be a part of it. The angel then said that it was not the beginning, nor was it all up to her: the Holy Spirit would come to her, it would surround her, just as it had surrounded God’s People in the desert.
Mary did not shy away from what God expected of her. In her heart, there was space for God, for his callings. She expressed her willingness: “You see before you the Lord's servant, let it happen to me as you have said”. From this moment, the mystery of the Incarnation began to unfold: in her, within her woman’s body, the Son of God took on flesh and became human like us.
Mary allowed the life to grow inside her, as any woman during the months when she awaits the child growing inside her. God’s plan was fulfilled. She felt this new life take shape in both her body and heart, as she continued to repeat without doubt everything the angel had said to her. She shared her joy with Elisabeth, but had to allow the Lord to guide Joseph down the path that would allow him to enter into the design. What a time it was!
Jesus grew within her, in her flesh, and it was a truly unique experience. Then, when Jesus was born, he grew in her in a different way. Twice (after the shepherd’s visit and during the return to Jerusalem, when Jesus was 12 years old), Luke mentions that “As for Mary, she treasured all these things and pondered them in her heart”. She undoubtedly continued with her life during this period of reflection; this rereading of events. She kept them in her heart as a source of powerful love, to turn her energy towards the service of her brothers, as we can imagine in the Cenacle, with the disciples, awaiting the coming of the Holy Spirit. Jesus was able to be fully present in Mary throughout her life. John Eudes uses the following expression: “To continue and to fulfill the life of Jesus”, when he speaks of her.
The Son of God’s Incarnation in Mary created hope for humanity that God would be present in the heart of his people from then on. Jesus, the Son of God made man, is this presence of God within us. A mysterious presence, to recognize in those we meet. We also give him human form through our own bodies, so that through us he continues to be present in our world. This is truly one of the fundamental roles of a Christian life; to allow Jesus to become flesh in us.
In his letter to the Philippians (2, 5), Paul says that he wants to see it alive in us: “Make your own the mind of Christ Jesus”. This goes beyond a purely physical emulation, it refers to thinking, feeling and acting like Jesus; in other words, to continue the life of Jesus. John Eudes goes as far as saying that we should “be other Jesus Christs on earth”! A demanding idea, never fully accomplished, and one which does not depend on our own strength alone.
Paul suggests two ways to carry out this ‘task’ of forming Jesus in us: “so that Christ may live in your hearts through faith, and then, planted in love and built on love” (Eph 3, 17). In other words, following Jesus through faith, trusting him, and rooting ourselves in him through love and building our lives on the base of this love. It is through baptism that the seeds of these two fundamental beliefs may come alive in us. It is then up to us to “water” them so that they may grow!
Of course, this cannot stay only within the head and the heart. It must also become part of our actions, of our daily behavior and of our decisions. Paul invites us to do so in his letter to the Ephesians: “Your mind was to be renewed in spirit; so that you could put on the New Man that has been created on God's principles, in the uprightness and holiness of the truth” (Eph 4, 23-24). He suggests that we should embody our dedication to our faith in Christ in our daily lives and in our interactions with our brothers and sisters. Justice, holiness, truth; these things can only become visible through continuous practice, shown at the centre of our earthly lives by the light of the Holy Scripture. How can we be true in such an encounter, fair in such a complex situation? How do we allow the holiness of God to challenge our daily behavior?
Like Mary, we must keep in our hearts that which God has done for us, his words in the Scripture, the events which tell us about him, how to look beyond appearances, of what is right in front of us. We must discover the signs of his presence in the heart of both that which troubles us and that which we rejoice in.
This requires to us to put Jesus, not ourselves, at the centre of our lives. It is undoubtedly one of the most difficult “tasks”, as that is where we find the heart of our sin. Everything comes back to us; we put ourselves at the centre of everything. We can only change the focus of our lives, which is essential for forming Jesus within us, by giving ourselves to his Spirit. In order for Jesus to take shape in our lives, it is essential to provide the space, to stop being preoccupied by ourselves, to give the Spirit of Jesus a chance to guide us, to inspire us, to shape us in the image of Jesus; the first born of many brothers and sisters (cf Rm 8, 29).
Sr Marie-Françoise Le Brizaut
13th November 2017