Christ, the Priest, and Death to Sin | Blessed Columba Marmion | An excerpt from "Christ, The Ideal of the Priest" | Christ, the Priest, and Death to Sin | Blessed Columba Marmion | An excerpt from Christ, The Ideal of the Priest

For the priest, as for every Christian, the Gospel has established clearly the two fundamental conditions for salvation: an act of faith and the reception of baptism: qui crediderit et baptizatus fuerit salvus erit (Mk 16:16).

Having discussed faith, I shall now speak to you of the life of grace which we receive in baptism. This grace is like a seed which needs to grow, and which every Christian must develop constantly during his whole life.

Here is how St. Paul describes the secret, supernatural force of baptism: "For we are buried together with Him, by baptism unto death; that as Christ is risen from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we also may walk in newness of life" (Rom 6:4). These words give us a comprehensive view of the essential elements of our sanctification and the direction we must give to our efforts towards virtue.

God's ways and views are not ours. He has said it Himself "My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor your ways My ways ... as the heavens are exalted above the earth., so are My ways exalted above your ways" (Is 55:8-9). In order to sanctify the world, He has chosen what St. Paul calls the "folly of the cross": stultitia crucis (1 Cor 1:18). Which of us would ever have imagined that for the salvation of men, it would be necessary for God to deliver up His only Son to the opprobrium of Calvary and the death of the Cross? And yet, that which seemed folly to the eyes of men is the plan ordained by the divine wisdom: "But the foolish things of the world hath God chosen that He may confound the wise" (1 Cor 1:27).

The world has been renewed by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and every Christian, in order to achieve his own salvation and sanctification, must be in spiritual communion with the mystery of this death and this life restored. The whole essence of perfection for the follower of the Gospel and for the priest lies in participation in this double mystery.

The soul can only be united to God in proportion to its likeness to Him. In order that God may draw it to Himself and elevate it, He must be able in some way to identify Himself with it; that is why, from the beginning, He had created it to His own image and likeness.

According to the divine plan, man is the link between the pure spirituality of the angels and corporeal matter; he is destined to reflect, more perfectly than material creation, the perfections of God: "Thou hast made him a little less than the angels, Thou hast crowned him with honour and glory" (Ps 8:5). In this canticle the Psalmist contemplates in ecstasy the divine work in its primitive beauty; he chants the glory of God as it is revealed in the universe: "0 Lord, our Lord, how admirable is Thy name in the whole world" (Ps 8:1). This august plan was thwarted by the fault of Adam. Sin destroyed in mankind the splendour of the divine image and rendered man incapable of uniting himself henceforth to God. But, in His infinite goodness, the Lord decided to repair in a wondrous manner the evil of sin: Mirabilius reformasti. And how was this to be accomplished? You know the answer: by the coming of the second Adam, Jesus Christ, Whose merciful grace makes us sons of God, like to His image and fitted for the divine union: Et sicut in Adam omnes moriuntur, ita et in Christo omnes vivificabuntur (1 Cor 15:22).

Baptism is the sacred means established by God to cleanse the soul of original sin and place in it the seed of eternal life. By what secret power does the sacrament effect this prodigy? By the ever active power of the death and resurrection of Christ. This power engenders in the soul a state of death and a state of life derived in their entirety from Jesus Christ. As He Himself entered into His glory only by the immolation of the Cross: Oportuit pati Christum et ita intrari in gloriam suam (Lk 24:26), so every Christian must be spiritually associated with this death in order to receive the divine life.

It is in this way that Christ is the archetype and the source of our sanctification: "For if we have been planted together in the likeness of His death, we shall be also in the likeness of His resurrection" (Rom 6:6).

In what sense are we to understand this spiritual death which the grace of baptism inaugurates in us?

It is, first of all, in the voluntary order; by the infusion of sanctifying grace and charity, baptism orients the soul and its affections towards the possession of God. By original sin man was radically averted from God, his one supernatural end. The gift of charity transforms this fundamental disposition of the soul; it destroys in it the active domination of sin and lays open for it access to the divine life.

It must, however, be noted that it is not sufficient to be in the state of grace to be fully dead to the melancholy capacity to commit sin. Baptismal grace leaves many evil roots alive in us; from them arise what St. Paul calls the "works of the flesh": opera carnis (Gal 5: 19).

Like baptism, the sacrament of penance, although it destroys the actual reign of sin, does not effect in us a complete dying to sin. Attachments, deeply-rooted habits, inclinations which are more or less voluntary, combine with our natural tendencies to keep alive in us the sources of sin.

Death to sin, which begins with the justification of baptism and is maintained by virtue of the sacrament of penance, is only consummated by our personal efforts assisted by grace; these must achieve in the soul a voluntary and ever more active revulsion from everything which constitutes in us an obstacle to the supernatural life.

This idea of the absolute necessity of renouncing everything which is an obstacle to the justice of God in our souls is proclaimed frequently in the Epistles. St. Peter echoes the thought of St. Paul: Ut peccatis mortui justitiae vivanius: "that we might die to sin and live to righteousness" (1 Pet 2:24). These words are merely a commentary on those of the Master: Nisi granum frumenti cadens in terram mortuum fuerit, ipsum solum manet: "unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone" (Jn 12:24). This death is required, not as an end in itself, but as an essential condition of the new life. Thus "the grain of wheat" dies in the ground; this is essential; but by its destruction it gives birth to a new life more beautiful, more perfect and more fruitful.

We must understand clearly the language of St. Paul. To live means to retain the power of acting for oneself. We attribute life to a being when it possesses in itself its own motive power and directs it towards its own perfection, while we attribute death to any being which has lost this power. The Apostle is fond of using this metaphor when he speaks of sin and its reign in our souls. Sin–according to him–"lives" in us when it dominates us to the point of becoming the effective inspiration of our actions: Non ergo regnet peccatum in vestro mortali corpore ut obediatis concupiscentiis eius: "Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal bodies, to make you obey their passions" (Rom 6:12). When sin, therefore, is the inspiration of our activities, its reign is established in us. "We are its slaves," qui facit peccatum, servus est peccati (Jn 8:34), and, as it is impossible to serve two masters at the same time (Mt 6:24), by living for sin we separate ourselves from God; we die to Him.

Now it is precisely the contrary result towards which we must strive: we must "die to sin" in order to "live to God". We achieve this death of our own volition when we oppose and break in ourselves this domination of sin, when we prevent it from being the moving spirit in our actions. By refusing to obey the maxims of the world, the desires of the flesh and the suggestions of the demon, the baptized soul frees itself more and more from sin. In this manner it "dies to sin". This interior liberation, according as it is established in the soul, permits the Christian to submit himself ever more fully to Christ, to His example, to His grace, and to His will. Thenceforth the source of all his actions is Christ, Whose life replaces in him the reign of sin: "So do you also reckon," says the Apostle, "that you are dead to sin but alive unto God, in Christ Jesus Our Lord", Viventes Deo in Christo Jesu (Rom 6: 11).

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Blessed Columba Marmion (1858-1923) was a Benedictine monk who wrote several works that are considered spiritual classics, including Christ: The Life of the Soul.

He was born in Dublin, Ireland, to an Irish father and a French mother. Given the name Joseph Aloysius, he entered the Dublin diocesan seminary in 1874 and completed his theological studies at the College of the Propagation of the Faith in Rome. He was ordained a priest on June 16, 1881. Several years later he entered the Abbey of Maredsous in Belgium.

He would eventually author Christ the Life of the Soul (1917), Christ in His Mysteries (1919) and Christ the Ideal of the Monk (1922).

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