Interiorization

My grandmother died reciting the last lines from the Apostles’ Creed over and over again – “I believe… in the Forgiveness of sins, the Resurrection of the Body and the Life Everlasting.”  I am deeply comforted by the memory of this.  She took her leave of this world reflexively saying out loud until her very last breath what it was that she was holding onto so tightly in her heart.  A lifelong Presbyterian, the words of the Creed were something that she said every Sunday morning as part of the worship service. They were part of the script; expected; words to be repeated in that place and at that time.  But on her deathbed they became something else.  They gave voice to her deepest convictions and highest aspirations.  Her repetition of the last lines of the Creed as she died was my grandmother’s way of saying, “this is where I’ve stood, and this is what I’m counting on.”  This is “interiorization.”

 I learned this word “interiorization” from the current Pope.                                            

 In an interview from 1997, then Cardinal Ratizinger, now Pope Benedict XVI quoted the theologian Karl Rahner’s famous prediction that “the Christian of tomorrow will be a mystic, or he will not be at all,” and then he observed that “Rahner is correct in that Christianity will be doomed to suffocation if we don’t learn something of interiorization in which faith sinks personally into the depth of one’s own life and in that depth sustains and illuminates.  Mere action and mere intellectual construction are not enough.  

 And where Pope Benedict thinks that the Christian faith most effectively sinks personally into the depths of ones life where it can sustain and illuminate is in the church’s life of public worship.  This is certainly where my grandmother first learned and then consistently recited the Creed.  In his exhortation “Sacramentum Caritatis,” Pope Benedict XVI reminded the church that the call from Vatican II for liturgical reform was a call for the “active and conscious participation” of all the faithful, and that involves a process of “interiorization.” He said that, as far as liturgy goes, we all need “an education toward inwardness.”

 The Second Vatican Council rightly emphasized the active, full and fruitful participation of the entire People of God in the eucharistic celebration (155). Certainly, the renewal carried out in these past decades has made considerable progress towards fulfilling the wishes of the Council Fathers. Yet we must not overlook the fact that some misunderstanding has occasionally arisen concerning the precise meaning of this participation. It should be made clear that the word “participation” does not refer to mere external activity during the celebration. In fact, the active participation called for by the Council must be understood in more substantial terms, on the basis of a greater awareness of the mystery being celebrated and its relationship to daily life. The conciliar Constitution Sacrosanctum Concilium encouraged the faithful to take part in the eucharistic liturgy not “as strangers or silent spectators,” but as participants “in the sacred action, conscious of what they are doing, actively and devoutly” (156). This exhortation has lost none of its force.

…The Church’s great liturgical tradition teaches us that fruitful participation in the liturgy requires that one be personally conformed to the mystery being celebrated, offering one’s life to God in unity with the sacrifice of Christ for the salvation of the whole world. For this reason, the Synod of Bishops asked that the faithful be helped to make their interior dispositions correspond to their gestures and words. Otherwise, however carefully planned and executed our liturgies may be, they would risk falling into certain ritualism.

 This is on my mind this week because last Sunday concluded our August Forum at Northway.  Every year we ask all of our adults to come together in one large teaching setting in the fellowship hall where together we can think and talk together about the life and faith of the church, our church. 

 This year we thought and talked about the vision that we have as a community of faith for what it is that we are supposed to be doing, and how we think it’s supposed to be happening.  For years now we’ve said that Northway intends to be a “Jesus Creed” church – a community of faith that helps people love God with all of their hearts, minds, souls and strength, and who love their neighbors as themselves.  We say that what we want to let loose in the world as a church every week are these “Jesus Creed” people where they are called to be salt and light.  We are very clear and quite emphatic that it’s in the world where God needs His “Jesus Creed’ people to be.  That’s where the difference they can make is needed.  And so we’ve tried to help our people understand that the worship services, the Bible-centered small groups, all of the Christian Education classes, interpersonal relationships and service projects and commitments that make up our life together are not ends in themselves.   What happens at 7202 W. Northwest Highway is all about what’s going on when nobody is at 7202 W. Northwest Highway.  It is our conviction that our life of worship, our Bible-centered small groups, our service commitments and opportunities and our teaching of the Faith are the catalysts that trigger the kind of spiritual growth that our people need so that they can “overflow” where they live and work as “Jesus Creed” people. 

 But, and this is a big “but,” this catalytic process of personal spiritual transformation through the church’s ministries of “discover,” “worship,” “connect,” and “serve” doesn’t just happen because you happen to show up at Northway some Sunday morning.  I often heard it said in the circles that I ran in when I was a young Christian that “going to church doesn’t ‘make’ you a Christian anymore than going to a garage ‘makes’ you a car,” or – taking a slightly different slant on the saying – “going to church doesn’t ‘make’ you a Christian anymore than going to McDonalds makes you a hamburger.”  You see, just showing up doesn’t guarantee the outcome.  There has to be more than just a commitment to show; there’s got to be a desire to grow.  And this requires “interiorization.”

 Now, I happen to believe that this work of interiorization is primarily the responsibility of the Holy Spirit.  Jesus promised that the Holy Spirit would do an inward work on people’s hearts when His Disciples gave their outward witness to Him (John 16:7-11).  I believe that there is a Divine/human synergy between the internal witness of the Spirit and the external verbal witness of Christians (John 15:26-27).  But I don’t believe that this combination of witnesses is irresistible or inevitable.  In other words, if you show up at Northway you are going to be provided with a roadmap to spiritual growth that leads to the “Jesus Creed” destination, and you are going to be encouraged to make the trip.  Everything that happens at 7202 W. Northwest Highway is designed to serve this end.  But just because you happen to show up and hang out for a while at 7202 W.  Northwest Highway doesn’t mean that you are making the trip. 

 You can still attend worship at Northway and think that having a good worship service is the whole point, or that just becoming part of one of our Bible-centered small group is, or that just learning more about what you believe in one of our classes is, or that just getting involved in an occasional service project that we promote is.  Anything and everything that Northway does can be taken as an end in itself no matter what we say or how loudly we say it.  And so, perhaps the biggest challenge we face is “interiorization” – getting people to see that all of the things that we are doing outwardly as a church to help them discover, worship, connect and serve is so that their relationship with God in Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit can sink deep into their hearts where it can sustain and illuminate their lives in the world where it overflows. 

 My grandmother died reciting the last lines from the Apostles’ Creed over and over again.  At some point her external participation in the life of the church became the great internal fact of her existence — the last thing standing in her final unraveling.  She “overflowed” to the very end.  I want that for me.  I want that for you.  We’ve got to figure “interiorization” out.   DBS+

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