What is Christian Transformation?

It seems that today many people are attempting to better themselves.  They are obsessed with losing weight, exercising, healthy eating, optimizing time, increasing productivity, getting a better social life, experiencing more cultures, and cultivating a more satisfying sex life.  This is but one facet of a typical American project which is reinventing the self.  Some hit television programs are all about “make-overs,” remodeling, or even surgically altering one’s appearance.  People, it seems, want to change themselves.  This suggests a lack of personal satisfaction.  A Christian mystic might comment that Twenty-First Century Americans are unhappy with themselves because they do not know who they are.  They are ignorant of their true identity.  The same Christian mystic might then propose a solution: follow Christ in the Spirit to ultimate oneness with the Father.  In other words, the Christian mystic would recommend the path of Christian transformation.

In the second reading from the Letter to the Romans, St. Paul urges us, “Do not conform yourselves to this age but be transformed by the renewal of your mind.”  He is concerned with transformation.  Being a follower of Jesus changes us.  But how?  What is a specific program we can follow to be transformed?  Into what are we changed?   What does the journey of transformation look like?  What is the goal?  For the next eight Sundays, we will explore these questions about Christian transformation.

A woman who suffered from an addiction to alcohol said she experienced a great transformation in Christ.  When she was growing up, both she and her sister were sexually abused by her father.  Anger, fear, and trauma all flooded her soul.  Her mother didn’t seem to want to change the situation, but only told her to stay away from her father.  Then again, her father abused her mother, too.  Still, at one point, her mom decided to escape her husband with her daughters in tow.   Though they still feared him, he was out of their lives.  He came back in when the woman had her first baby, a little girl.  She saw how he looked at her daughter and ended their relationship immediately.  Only when her father was on his deathbed did the woman tell her father that she forgave him.  How is this possible?  She reports that she forgave him a long time ago because she encountered the infinite mercy of God.

The Christian life is a life of transformation.  We change.  We shed the ego and realize oneness with God.  This happens along the lines of the paschal mystery, which is the norm and paradigm of Christian transformation.  The goal of Christian transformation is the new life of resurrection: divine oneness.  The how of Christian transformation, in short, is any practice that allows God to lead us through death to resurrection.  The mystics often describe stages of prayer, stages of spiritual maturity, or stages of spiritual consciousness.  They want us to stay on the path, to keep going to God.  So, they outline the path in the hope that it can help us remain committed to seeking God.  The whole point of Christianity is to enjoy Jesus’ own relationship with God the Father through the Holy Spirit.  This relationship changes us, like any of our other relationships tend to do.

Christian transformation is about becoming God.  It is a process of divinization.  But, this is also a process of humanization, of becoming fully human—free from all that limits human freedom.  It happens through our gradual participation in the paschal mystery of Christ’s dying and rising.  It is the path of holiness and sainthood, the way of contemplation and divinization.  The goal, simply put, is God.  We get to God, or, better, realize we’ve always already had God by following Jesus.  We follow Jesus concretely by taking up a spiritual practice, and as we practice daily, we discover there are different season, stages, and states to the spiritual life.  We also rely on God as we experience the blocks and pitfalls of the journey.

In the end, transformation is not something we engineer on our own.  All we can do is let go and consent.  The woman who forgave her father in the story above was able to do so because she met the God of forgiveness and mercy.  This God came to her, opened her heart, and helped her heal.  All she could do was let go of the hurt and allow God to work on her spirit.  All we can do is the same, namely, let go, surrender, and consent to God right here and right now.