Imagine a bottle filled with some unknown liquid. Someone is pouring white sand into the bottle and the liquid is seeping out
Many people understand Christianity as a moral system. People conform their lives to a standard and that qualifies them to go to Heaven. Of course, in this model, if we do not so change our lives then we are cast out of the kingdom of God into the eternal fires of Hell for all eternity. George Carlin explaining this model added: “Because God loves you.”
People who live a life in contrast to Christian morality hate everything we represent including Jesus Himself. One reason is they believe that this system represents what we truly believe and they consider it completely misguided. The truth is that it misrepresents what we actually believe and it is misguided. Some however do teach this as what it means to be a Catholic.
Key to Catholicism: Relationship with Christ
The truth is: It’s our relationship with Jesus Christ. That’s where it starts and the more we come to know Christ the more we conform our lives to him as opposed to trying to conform our life to him first.
This changes the dynamic completely. It brings us back to the sand and the bottle model. If we do not teach the relationship first, we can teach nothing else. It is a prayer relationship where we deepen our faith in Christ every day by knowing him more through our prayer. Our prayer changes us.
I write often here I am so frustrated with those who learn a faith that is condemning them. Of course, Jesus said he did not come to condemn. This does not mean that he did not call people from sin. How does one turn from sin? By first turning to Christ. If you want to turn from sin without turning to Christ first you will soon discover it does not work. Especially, if you do not understand sin. This is why I like the bottle image.
You have a bottle filled with a liquid. That is just the way it is. The liquid is slowly displaced by the sand. The bottle’s eternal appearances remain the same, especially if it is not opaque. Internally, it is being transformed completely by allowing the sand to come in and completely displace what is inside.
We are not gods but human beings
We are not gods but human beings who do not have it all figured out. We seek to understand but our ability to comprehend the universe is limited by our biological ability and our reality. When we misunderstand, we think we have it all figured out. It is kind of like when I grew up in Boston and figured that once you have seen Boston you have seen the world. If you know any true Bostonians, you will understand exactly what I am saying.
When I joined the Navy, I started to see other parts of the world including the Northwest Pacific which is in the Far East. I saw things I never imagined I would encounter from flying fish to one of the world’s most poisonous snakes that just circled our ship off the coast of Okinawa inviting us to jump in if we want. We did not.
I saw the poverty in the Philippines, the rich hotels of Waikiki beach. Myself and other sailors played a little basketball with townspeople in Mazatlán, Mexico far from the resort hotels there.
I even attempted hang-gliding on the Baja Peninsula at another time. I suffered severe indigestion the next day as my laughing roommate kept asking me if I wanted some chili con carne. These and so many more experiences taught me there is so much I did not know.
Catholicism is truly like it is to allow one to be transformed from the inside out not to conform but to be recreated by God. That is a far greater understanding than simply conforming our lives to a moral system.
We allow ourselves to be re-created
We first encounter Christ by asking for his grace in our lives. We permit him to lead us down a path of re-creation. The sand represents the wisdom of God that increases within us and leads us to understand our world differently. The more we see our world from his new perspective the more we change our way of being. This is far more than a moral code. It is as St Paul teaches us a renewal of our mind. (cf Romans 12:2)
I get irritated by those seeking to change people’s morality when Christ calls us to allow him to deepen our wisdom and self-understanding of our being first. We are not supposed to be good, we must be holy. Holiness comes from a profound well of wisdom that becomes the source and vision of our role in the universe, it does not come from just doing good things. Sin, in this image, is a practice that closes off the top of the bottle and prevents that re-creation from happening. This is why conversion is so important. It is not about meeting a standard so that one can get into Heaven, it is about allowing ourselves to be transformed into St. Paul also teaches new creations (2 Corinthians 5:17).
The bottle image is a reminder of God’s grace coming into our lives and transforming us It deepens our understanding of what leads us to be that which God created us to be by transforming us every day in wisdom and grace.