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If anyone ever says:

You are a Christian. Please tell me in the simplest way you can what this Christianity is all about. What does it come to in practice?

say a prayer to your angel that you will not mislead on this one. Which is only too easy to do. We all do it without meaning to but we do. How, you might ask, do we mislead people? It is only too easy:

To be a Christian is to try to be nice to everyone. And yes, along with that to be honest and do a good job. As the phrase goes, "walk the straight and narrow." And well, that's about it. Have a nice day.

To which the other person might say:

I know lots of people who are nice and honest and they are not Christians and according to themselves never will be. I am looking for something that will raise me up and give me hope. Our child died two months ago. My wife has cancer. Surely there must be more to Christianity than "have a nice day."

Oh indeed... indeed. So back to that question again: what is this "something deeper"? What is Christianity at its inmost core for the man who says "I have nothing to live for. I am filled with despair." What is "life in Christ" for him - for all of us? We have to do some hard thinking-into all that we say that we believe. But where and how do we begin? The wild irony here is that we do not begin at the beginning but at the end: at what Christianity should bring us all to; to what the Lord called "eternal life" but which most of us call "heaven." We begin our thinking-into Christianity there.

Suppose you could be lifted up out of this world into that Community of persons of glory that heaven is and when you came back to this earth again you were asked to describe what you saw. You might say this:

They were all - each and every one of them - all glorious with Light from within but in such a way that everyone there was radiant with this Light in his or her unique way. They all reflected the one Light of Jesus Christ their Lord in what seemed to me to be an infinite number of ways, almost as if they were all cast into His Mould - but they each came out of it different. And yet, they bore a beautiful resemblance to Him - they were all imprinted into His image. But everyone uniquely.

What does this have to do with that question: What does it mean to be a Christian .... ultimately?

Think of your life as the portion of time the Lord has given to you in trust to begin this stamping-into His Image that will be your glory forever. Bring into focus in your mind that this is what you are here for: to be cast into the Mould of the Passion, Death and Resurrection of the Lord so as to become at last all glorious within. And more: this is how you become, finally, the unique person the Lord created you to become, through His grace, at last. This stamping-into becoming one more eikon of Jesus Christ is what fills our lives. It takes hold through things that happen to us, that, as we imagine, come about by circumstance and chance. But no, there is a mysterious Purpose there. Everything is programmed (as we might say) to transform us interiorly and to make us unique in the world to come.

Hold all that in your mind for a few moments.

Now we are ready for this ultimate answer: to be a Christian is to be engrafted on to Jesus Christ our Lord so deeply, so intimately that we live in Him, He lives in us, and as a consequence we shall know all that He went through at awful close range in our own lives in some way.

We read the newspapers or we watch television; we read about people or we see them on our television screen going through some terrible thing that has smashed into their lives. We feel a twinge of sympathy. But then, of course, we have to get on with our own life's newspaper goes into the garbage can; there will be another paper tomorrow and another paper with more and different news the day after that; they all project someone - or many - going through things we hope never happen to ourselves. We are faced with this shattering question: Why do terrible things happen to innocent people?

We are at the heart of all that Christianity means: the Lord draws those He loves into the same Passion that He went through so that as they share His agony they may be so deeply purged of evil they become ready to live within the same Resurrection glory that He is in, and that all in heaven are in with Him. This is the chasm that separates us from the unbeliever, even the unbeliever of good will: the Lord prepares us to live forever in glory by drawing us into the events and stages of that Passion He went through on that Friday the Church calls "Good".

Stretch your imagination. Try to enter into the agony of someone you read about in the paper or that you see on television. A family is living what seems to be a normal suburban life. They are pious and devout; the parents are raising their six children by their own Faith lived ardently and deeply for all to see. One day their world explodes. Their father is accused of heinous crimes. Not only of selling secrets he was entrusted with that bear on the very survival of the country but, in addition, (so the charges against him go and they may be totally false) he was the cause of having people in another country taken out and shot. And (so the charges against him go on) even after he knew what happened to them he continued to do what he had been doing for a long time and for which he was paid large sums of money. These were the charges against him. Even if they turn out to be false - that is possible - think of those close to him, his wife and children; enter into their inner world. What they are going through. We are here face-to-face with this Ultimate Axiom of our Faith: THE ENDLESS PASSION OF OUR LORD JESUS CHRIST THAT FILLS THE WORLD.

This is the heart of all that Christianity is - this is the inner world of the mystics - even of ourselves, ordinary believers as we are: to know the Passion of Our Lord at awful close range in our own lives in some way. Judas Judas for what a purpose you have come. Do you betray the Son of Man with a kiss?

The Passion of Jesus Christ our Lord is not something past - it is still going on. The stages and events of all He went through are His audio-visual demonstration of what He brings His friends into so that they may be cleansed to the depths of their being and come at last to glory. Everything in our Faith points beyond Good Friday to the glory of Easter, in the Lord first of all, and, therefore, in ourselves. We have been engrafted on to Him as "cells" in His second - His mystical Body the Church - and so closely we live in Him, He lives in us. Easter is the heart of our Faith. Our share in the Passion of the Lord that came before, is necessary. We must know His Passion in our lives in small pinpricks but yet, really. This is how the Lord lifts up out of murkiness and obscurity the struggle to believe, so that we may begin to see, by a new light in our souls, that heaven is our destiny and our home. Through our experience of His Passion we begin to move - slowly - into the interior realm that all in heaven reflect, but only as we are cleansed of the evil that clings to us as we know something of the Lord's Passion becoming real in our lives - even in small ways. The light that all in heaven are in, begins to break through the gloom we are in. We begin to see, not just believe but - somehow - see all that the Lord tells us:

What does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and suffer the loss of his soul? Or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?

These are words and lines we have heard many times. They remain on the surface of our minds - holy words to which we give pious assent. Yes, of course, we believe - but right now we have so many things to do and catch up with. The Lord intervenes. We see Herod who mocked him - and Pilate who said "I find no cause in him. I will scourge him therefore... " And the other characters in that drama enter our lives as well. This is how Christianity becomes real and how the Lord makes us ready for our glory in the world to come: the same Resurrection-glory that He is in and all in heaven with him. They all carry His wounds. The great mystics of the Church enter into the Lord's Passion in a way that we ordinary believers do not come to. Our share in the Passion of the Lord that leads to our Easter comes in small pin-pricks compared to what the great ones of the Kingdom have to pass through: 0 my God I offer you up this day all my thoughts, words, deeds and actions, all my pains and sufferings …

Pray for the grace to believe that the Easter of glory is our destiny, for this is Christianity...ultimately. We must be purged and cleansed. We must know by experience what the 14 Stations of the Cross mean in our own lives:


Fr. McHugh writes from Torrance, California. His last contribution to Christian Order was "The Deep Recesses of the Heart", March 2001