Catholic Culture Resources
Catholic Culture Resources

The Father William Most Collection

He Emptied Himself

[Published electronically for use in classes taught by Fr. Most and for private theological study.]

What would you choose if you had the power before birth to choose in detail every circumstance of your life? Only one human being has ever been able to do that. Of course, it was Our Lord Jesus Christ, who as God could and did arrange His entire earthly life in advance.

We might think He would have chosen to be born in a palace suited to Divine Majesty, a palace equipped with every imaginable luxury. He might have chosen not to suffer at all, even not to die--after a brief stay here He could have ascended in glory forever. Even that would have been an infinite redemption --any act of the Godman is infinite in merit.

We know what He actually chose - no palace, no painfree life. Instead as St. Paul told the Philippians: "Though having the form of God, He did not consider equality with God as something to cling to. Rather, He emptied Himself, taking the form of a slave. He became obedient to death, even to death on the cross"

Why did He choose this? Out of love of us, and love of all objective goodness. God always ties both together if we do not hinder Him by sin.

When we speak of His holiness, we mean that He not only acts according to what moral goodness calls for, but if anyone fails against that goodness, He wants it righted.. This means, as it were, rebalancing the scales, so that the sinner gives up property if he has stolen, or gives up a pleasure of weight similar to what he took improperly. Since the imbalance from even one mortal sin is infinite, only the Godman could rebalance for that. However, we, His members, are that only "if we suffer with Him, so we may also be glorified with him" (Rom.8.17). Much is needed. Further, if one member of Christ is deficient, then St. Paul wrote in Col 1.24 that he makes up in his own body for that which is lacking to the afflictions of Christ Now of course Christ our Head lacked no suffering. But the whole Christ, the mystical Christ, needs very much. Especially today, when the tide of sin has risen to proportions previously unheard of ,the need is endless.

Can we make up for others when our own debts are so great? Definitely yes. Our Father's goodness has devised a way: If I offer suffering for my own sins, but also ask that it count for others, then, that act of charity gives Him a second reaon for giving -and that pleases Him, for He is always seeking reasons to give. (In His love of goodness, as we said, He wants to keep the two things together: doing good to us, and promoting objective goodness, in one and the same act.

We have just touched on one reason for His choice of such a life. The second is that it is not only good for us to live that way, for our eternal happiness, but it even greatly promotes our happiness here in this life.

Hence He said: Happy are the poor in spirit. The same insight appears in the Book of Wisdom 4.12: "For the magic spell of little things hides what is good, and restless desire darkens the innocent mind." Yes, the attraction of little things -- all things of this world - makes it hard to see the true goods ,goods not only of eternity, but of now. St. Augustine put it well : "You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and restless are our hearts until they rest in Thee." Just this one more thing, we are apt to feel, and we can be happy ever after . But it is chasing the ever-receding rainbow. and in so doing, failing to take time to savor what we already have.

In Matthew 6.21 Jesus Himself explained the deeper reason for this fact,: saying "Where your treasure is, thee is your heart also." In the narrow sense, the treasure would be a box of coins a man might bury under the floor of his house. Then he would of course like to think of it , it would be as it were a magnet, pulling his thoughts and heart to itself. But it is at once clear that one can put his treasure not only in a box of coins, but in any created thing: - it could be large meals, gourmet meals, sex, travel, study, even the study of Scripture. All of these are lower than God Himself. In proportion as they are lower and we give ourselves to them, they make it so much less easy for thoughts and heart to rise up to God.

But there is a second factor: How strongly does a person let these things get ahold of him. In some, they merely lead him to imperfections which are less than venial sins. But it is possible to go further, into occasional venial sin, or habitual venial sin. Still further, a person may let himself be pulled even to occasional mortal sin, or, much worse, to habitual mortal sin. It is evident, the farther one is pulled, the harder it is to think of God and divine things..

A modern comparison will make the same situation even clearer. We think of a galvanometer, that is, just a compass needle on its pivot, with a coil of wire around it. If we send in a current, the needle should swing the right direction and the right amount; it is measuring the current..

Now this meter is a man's mind. The current in the coil is the movement of grace, by which God wants to lead and enable it to do a particular good thing here and now. But suppose there are other pulls acting on the needle, from outside, such as a 33,000 volt power line or a mass of magnetic steel. The outside force -- if one lets himself be pulled that far by creatures -- could overpower the current in the coil. For grace is gentle, in that it respects our freedom. But the outside pulls, if we let them, will drown out the divine voice. and take away freedom, in various degrees.

Of course, as we can see ,there are degrees in this situation. If the outside pulls are so strong that the man cannot register at all the first movement of grace - then he is blind or hardened. For if grace cannot do in him the first task it has to do, it will not, even cannot do anymore Then, being without grace, the man is eternally lost, for no one can be saved without grace.

Is there any last, outside hope for such a one? Thanks to the mercy of God, there is. Clearly it would take an extraordinary grace, one that could cut through or even forestall his resistance.

But we said such a grace is extraordinary. Why? It is possible to resist an ordinary grace since, once grace has shown us something as good, and made us favorably disposed, it is our decision whether or not to block it.

We could not positively decide to accept it, for in Phil 2.3 St. Paul writes: "It is God who works [produces] in you, both the will and the doing" This does not mean we cannot in any way affect the outcome. No, for 2 Cor 6.1 tells us: "We urge you not to receive the grace of God in vain". So with ordinary graces, God lets us in some way decide whether the grace comes in vain, by our resistance. But the transcendent power of God can even work above and beyond all this, can - without completely taking away our freedom - forestall or even cancel out resistance. But, if He does this, the first decision on the outcome is no longer ours, it is His, deciding whether or not to use His transcendent power.

But now we ask: Why does not God always so move us that we cannot reject? The answer is in what we have just said - such a mode of moving is not ordinary but extraordinary, comparable to a miracle.

It is such because as we said, it reduces, while not taking away, our freedom. Now in creating our race, God made the decision to give free will - had He made a race just the same, but without freewill, it would not be the human race, but something else.. If He habitually reduced our freedom, someone could say: Why did you make such laws and then go and constantly bend them?

To act regularly thus would be self contradiction.

But by way of exception He can act in the extraordinary mode. He can do this whenever there is an extraordinary reason -- namely, when some other human puts as it were an extraordinary weight of prayer and penance into the one pan of the scales.. Then He gladly does send the miraculous grace, as He did to St. Augustine in view of the prayers and penances of his mother. Otherwise, Augustine would now be in hell forever.

We saw a while back that St. Paul (Col 1.24) was happy to fill up what is lacking in the afflictions of the whole Christ.

St. Paul urged the Philippians: "Rejoice always!" For the generosity of God will richly reward, even in this life, those who make it possible for such blind souls to be saved. For God really wills all men to be saved. Those who do this work experience even in this life a joy that man can take from them. At times we might compare such a one to a 25,000 ft. mountain - all the lower slopes may be in distress - yet the peak sticks through the black clouds into endless sunshine.

To return to our topic: Those who are detached, or better, who give up the things of earth are richly rewarded even in this life, and are made exquisitely sensitive to the slightest movement of divine grace within them. And if they add to this extraordinary prayer and penance to rescue the blind, they will have on the fine point of the soul an inviolable peace.

No wonder ,then , that Jesus chose such a life for Himself.



To Most Collection home page