The Word Among Us

November 2007 Issue

It Is in Giving That We Receive

Participating in the Divine Exchange

For God, who said, "Let light shine out of darkness," has shone in our hearts to bring to light the knowledge of the glory of God on the face of Jesus Christ. (2 Corinthians 4:6)

We have been looking at the astounding truth that God designed us with the capability of knowing him personally and intimately. Of course, this capability is not a part of our physical makeup. It won’t show up on an X-ray or MRI scan. Still, even if we can’t find it this way, we can experience it at work whenever we feel God’s love and peace in our hearts. We can experience it whenever we encounter his mercy and forgiveness.

Some saints have called this capability "the heart," others have called it "the spirit," and still others, the "apex of the soul." St. Paul tells us that it is a treasure that we hold in "earthen vessels" (2 Corinthians 4:7). We can have proof that we can relate to God whenever we, who are mere earthen vessels, experience God’s own power working in and through us. Somehow, we sense that this power comes from him, not us.

Kites use wind to fly; wireless devices use radio waves to send signals. But the wonder of a kite flying in the wind and the marvel of wireless communication point beyond the kite and the computer. They point to the power of the wind and the power of the radio waves. In a similar way, the heart that is filled with God’s revelation points not to the wonder of the heart but to the all-holy, all-encompassing God who is filling that heart. So in this article, let’s look into the "divine exchange" that occurs whenever our human hearts receive revelation from the perfect, uncreated God.

What Is the Divine Exchange? "Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, then I will enter his house and dine with him, and he with me. 
(Revelation 3:20)

In this passage from Revelation, Jesus shows how deeply he wants to enter into our lives. As we open our mouths to receive him in the Eucharist, we can also open the door to our hearts and let him in. His desire to be united with us can convince us to ask, because we know we will receive. It can urge us to seek, for we know we will find. And it encourages us to knock, so that the door can be opened. We really can experience Jesus as our living Bread, our strength, our wisdom, our understanding, our patience, and our peace and joy.

This passage from Revelation is also at the heart of the divine exchange. It tells us that God is willing to pour out grace and blessings in exchange for our efforts to honor, serve, and draw closer to him. Why would he reward such small steps on our part with such powerful outpourings of grace on his part? Because like any human parent, our heavenly Father wants to give his children everything we need so that we can develop into mature adults. Put simply, God is generous with us because he loves us.

Jesus has opened heaven for us "by his own glory and power." And he has done this because he wants us to "come to share in the divine nature" (2 Peter 1:3-4). Because of Jesus’ death and resurrection, the living water of the Holy Spirit can flow into our hearts. Because of God’s deep love for us, the living Bread that we receive in Communion becomes a part of us—or we should say that we become a part of the living bread. Through the grace of the divine exchange, we experience the healing power of the Sacrament of Reconciliation as we allow Jesus to wash our feet and make us clean (John 13:1-11).

Revelation and the Law. I want you to know, brothers, that the gospel preached by me is not of human origin. For I did not receive it from a human being, nor was I taught it, but it came through a revelation of Jesus Christ. (Galatians 1:11-12)

Paul wrote these words as he attempted to defend himself against charges that he wasn’t an authentic apostle and that the gospel he preached was not valid. Rather than back down, Paul pressed his case. "After beginning with the Spirit, are you now ending with the flesh?" he asked (Galatians 3:3). He knew that the believers in Galatia had come to know Christ through the Spirit’s work of revelation, just as he had. He was concerned, however, that they were now distancing themselves from that revelation and relying only on what their limited, human minds could accept.

Paul saw that the central question for the Galatians was whether or not they would continue to look to the Spirit to help them understand and live out their Christian lives. And this is the very same question we all face today. We have been given so much by the Spirit; will we now try to live out our faith independent of the Spirit? Will we think it’s enough if we just do our best to obey the Ten Commandments and show up every Sunday for Mass? Or will we try to develop an inner relationship with Jesus—and through that relationship find all the spiritual power we need to obey God and do his will?

In a sense, the commandments are like a safety net under a trapeze artist. Just as the net protects trapeze artists, so does the law protect us from committing sins that could harm us and those around us. But a trapeze artist is not concerned only with staying in the air. He is concerned with the art of his craft. He is concerned with giving his audience a thrilling show, and with surpassing himself in skill and excellence every time he performs. Similarly, our Christian lives were not meant to be reduced to staying within the boundaries of the commandments. God wants us to soar with him, perfecting our relationship with him more and more each day. He wants us to become artful witnesses to those around us—living examples of the joy, freedom, and peace of the Christian life.

The Divine Exchange in Practice. This divine exchange can become most effective as we learn how to become alert to the movements of the Spirit in our hearts. Let’s look at the way we can pray the rosary as an example. With each decade, we recite ten Hail Marys—all very formal and set to a familiar rhythm. But as we are saying these prayers with our lips, we can also be meditating on a particular mystery with our minds. And here is where the divine exchange can take place. As we meditate, we can ask the Spirit to give us the mind of Christ. We can ask him to fill us with wisdom, peace, and love—even as our mouths are reciting the prayers and our minds are contemplating the mystery for that decade.

How will we know when this divine exchange is happening? It won’t necessarily be a dramatic flash of light. Rather, we will begin to sense God’s love touching our hearts. We will find ourselves loving the Lord even more. We will find ourselves praising God more because his truths and his promises have come to life for us. And we will find our lives changing: We will want more of God in our lives. We will begin to think and act more like Jesus. We will discover the ability to be more loving toward others and more ready to serve those in need.

Brothers and sisters, we have the opportunity to exchange gifts with Jesus every day of our lives. Every day, he invites us to give him our time, while he gives us the gifts of his grace and power. We can give him praise, while he gives us wisdom, endurance, and faith. We give him obedience, and he gives us the assurance of his love and mercy.

We are just earthen vessels. We are prone to weakness, distraction, and doubt. We also face the alluring influences of the world. But we are no different from the apostles and the saints in any of this. Like us, they too were tempted to reduce the life that God wanted them to live. But they discovered God’s wisdom. They discovered that it wasn’t about them but about Christ, who lived in them. And just like the apostles and saints, we too have Jesus living in us, longing to lift us up from perishable to imperishable, from natural to spiritual (1 Corinthians 15:53-55). Every day we will face the temptation to live a "good enough" life with no reliance on the Spirit’s power or revelation. That’s why it is vital to remind ourselves every day that the same Jesus who spoke to Peter, Paul, and all the other saints wants to speak to us. He really does want to reveal his good news to us.

Jesus is eager to give us his grace and his wisdom in exchange for our small efforts of prayer and obedience. Remember: He is the source and the goal of our lives. He has glorious plans for us. The more we participate in God’s offer of a divine exchange, the more we will come to know our true calling. Revelation and grace will convince us that living in touch with the Lord is the best thing we could ever do. May God bless you.