Written by Br. Matthew Augustine, OP
What is a normal Christian life? This question occurred to me recently during a discussion with some friends. We often take 'normal' to be synonymous with 'typical' or 'routine'. Given this understanding of the word and judging by the many statistical studies which have been done regarding the religious practices and beliefs of self-identified Christians, we would have to conclude that a normal Christian life is pretty hard to distinguish from the life of a normal unbeliever, albeit with some differences regarding matters of belief and disbelief. However, if statistics are to be believed, in other factors such as rate of divorce, spousal abuse, work ethic, the propensity to cheat on tests and staying chaste before marriage, we really don't distinguish ourselves that much, if at all, from the non-baptized. The thorny theological problems which these kind of considerations provoked prompted Fr. Paul Quay SJ to write his magnificent work The Mystery Hidden for Ages in God. The main theme of the book is the idea of recapitulation, which says that
each Christian is to
(a) relive in Christ, during the first portion of his life, all that God led His people through from the fall of Adam to Christ’s death and resurrection, and,
(b) thereafter, live as a son of God in Christ in the full freedom of the Holy Spirit, so as to glorify the Father in the Church by making Him known to all men through the Spirit’s power. (pg. 7)
That is, recapitulation happens as each individual Christian lives out the biblical narrative from Genesis to God's disclosure of the "mystery hidden for ages in God" which is the message of the Gospel: Christ's life, death and resurrection and the saving power of these events in the life of believers. All Christians relive the terrible effects of Original Sin described in Genesis. They feel the sting of sin; the pain of separation from the God for whom they were created. They understand the hatred and disordered passions which drive them to spurn God's ways and hate their neighbor. They understand the difficulty of following God, like Moses and the Israelites before them, through the barren desert on the way to a distant promised land. They understand their own propensity toward idolatry. Rather than being a shining light to the nations around them, many Christians, like the ancient Israelites before them, can easily outdo the pagans in the land with regard to their infidelity and abominable actions. Like we read in the Prophets, Christians can spurn and kill God's messengers and despise God's challenging message. We too have to spend time in exile in Babylon.
However, Christians also, if they stay faithful and strive to progress in the Christian life, have a growing awareness of Christ's mysterious presence within them. Like the Apostles in Acts, they inexplicably find themselves doing what Christ did: they find themselves loving their enemies, laying down their lives for others, preaching the Kingdom of God and doing and witnessing miraculous deeds of power.
Fr. Quay's book goes into great detail, using the Fathers of the Church as his guide, as to how this reliving of Scripture takes place. I would recommend the book to all who can find it (its a bit hard to come by). With regard to the question posed at the beginning of this post, I think the message of Fr. Quay's book is that the story of every Christian, the normal Christian experience, with 'normal' here defined as 'the norm' or 'what ought to be the case', is laid out for us with great clarity in the Scriptures. We are to read there not some irrelevant stories which happened to people centuries before us, but our own life story: the story of our alienation from and return to God. This is what Pope Benedict was getting at when he said, in his recent book Jesus of Nazareth, that the saints are the true exegetes or interpreters of scripture. They relive the story. They are the normal Christians.