Restored to Likeness of God in Love

We are created in love by God in His image and likeness, but through sin and brokenness, the love of God grows cold within us, and our “likeness” to God becomes less and less. Only God can help us, only He can heal us; and so He has given us His only Son, Jesus Christ as the perfect model for us of transformation in love through sacrifice and suffering. Only God, the Divine Physician, can transform the evil of suffering into healing, and restoring our souls to a likeness to God in love.

Crucifixion – Diego Velàzquez, 1632

St. John of the Cross wrote that “love effects likeness between the lover and the loved.” (Ascent Book 1) But what if the thing that is loved is not God, but an idol? Idols are those disordered desires, and things, that take the place of God in our hearts. King David wrote: “Let all who set their hearts on idols become like them.” It is a frightening prospect to become “like” idols. The good news is that “God sustains every soul and dwells in it substantially, even though it may be that of the greatest sinner in the world.” (St. John of the Cross)

We also know that God does not will the eternal death of the sinner, but that the sinner may be converted and live. (Ezekiel 18:32) God desires the restoration of His likeness in us. So, in cooperation with God, we must first get rid of all that that is not God, who is all light and love. Light and darkness have nothing in common. St. John of the Cross writes that the souls union with and transformation in God occurs when everything that is “unlike and unconfirmed to God’s Will” is “cast out” so that it “may revive the likeness of God.”

Ridolfo Ghirlandaio, 1483 – 1561 The Procession to Calvary ca. 1505, detail

Lent is an opportunity for us to participate in God’s work of transformation by removing all that has distorted His Image and Likeness within. First, to root out the idols, we have the grace of the sacrament of Reconciliation. We may also participate by offering to God, through Jesus Christ, the suffering that inevitably comes into every person’s life. Then, to offer willingly, in love, those voluntary sacrifices of prayer, fasting and almsgiving — acts of love — that are necessary to overcome, or cast out, the disordered appetites that have lead us to sin, resulting in the disfiguring of God’s likeness. It is work– at times very hard work. But by denying ourselves, taking up our cross and following Christ, the transformation of the soul in God through love can be brought about. “…for love is to labor to divest and deprive oneself, for God, of all that is not God. When this is done the soul will be illumined by and transformed in God” (St. John of the Cross).

Since casting out all that is not God can be heavy lifting, it is helpful to keep our eyes on the goal, in Faith, Hope and Love, so we may “share in the joy of the Resurrection,” and one day, God-willing, to be counted worthy of seeing God face to face.

Here is a little Lenten encouragement from a beautiful letter about what it means to be “a coheir with Christ” by St. Ambrose, Bishop:

“A coheir of Christ is one who glorified along with Christ. The one who is glorified along with Him is one who, by suffering for Him, suffers along with Him.

To encourage us in suffering Paul adds that all our sufferings are small in comparison with the wonderful reward that will be revealed in us; our labors do not deserve the blessings that are to come. We shall be restored to the likeness of God, and counted worthy of seeing Him face to face.

He enhances the greatness of the revelation that is to come by adding that creation also looks forward to this revealing of the sons of God. Creation, he says, is at present condemned to frustration, not of its own choice, but it lives in hope. It’s hope is in Christ, as it awaits the grace of his ministry; or it hopes that it will share in the glorious freedom of the sons of God and be freed from its bondage to corruption, so that there will be one freedom, shared by creation and by the sons of God when their glory will be revealed.

At present, however, while this revealing is delayed, all creation groans as it looks forward to the glory of adoption and redemption; it is already in labor with that spirit of salvation, and is anxious to be freed from its subjection to frustration.

The meaning is clear: those who have the first fruits of the Spirit are groaning in expectation of the sons. This adoption of sons is that of the whole body of creation, when it will be as it were a son of God and see the divine goodness face to face. The adoption of the sons is present in the Church of the Lord when the Spirit cries out: Abba, Father, as you read in the letter to the Galatians. But it will be perfect when all who are worthy of seeing the face of God rise in incorruption, in honor and glory. Then our humanity will know that it has been truly redeemed. So Paul glories in saying: We are saved by hope. Hope saves, just as faith does, for of faith it is said: Your faith has saved you.

~St. Ambrose, Bishop

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