I have been crucified with Christ; yet I live, no longer I, but Christ lives in me.
Gal. 2: 19-20.
The Academy Awards have been the subject of many conversations this week. I watched them for a while, although I did not stay up long enough to see the awards for best actor and actress in a lead. Although I do not go to many movies, I was fortunate enough to see Jennifer Lawrence’s great performance in “The Silver Linings Playbook” and best supporting actor, Christoph Waltz, in “Django Unchained.” It gave me pause to consider just what it takes to become a great actor. There is a lot more to it than just memorizing lines, just as there is a lot more to being Christian than memorizing the Bible. I had been told once that Charlton Heston used to wear his period costumes off set to stay in character. I don’t know if that’s a fact, but it has the ring of truth. I came across an article in Time, “Daniel Day-Lewis: How the Greatest Living Actor Became Lincoln.”
Winner of yet another Academy Award for his portrayal of Abraham Lincoln, Mr. Day-Lewis is well known for the lengths to which he will go to know the character he portrays. From the article: If Lincoln seems given over to legend, so does Day-Lewis’ totalizing methodology of acting, honed over a quarter-century. It comes with its own boilerplate of mythos and anecdote: How he stayed in character throughout My Left Foot (1989), in which he portrayed the profoundly disabled Irish writer and painter Christy Brown, to the point that cast and crew members fed him at lunch breaks and carried him over equipment between setups. How he lived in the manner of an 18th century American Indian in preparation to play the noble warrior Hawkeye in The Last of the Mohicans (1992), surviving for days on a 3,000-acre (1,200 hectare) expanse of Alabama wilderness. (“If he didn’t shoot it,” Mohicans director Michael Mann says, “he didn’t eat it.”) How he stayed up for three nights straight before a nightmarish interrogation scene as a man wrongly accused of an IRA bombing for In the Name of the Father (1993). How he sharpened knives between takes as the terrifying proto-mobster Bill “The -Butcher” Cutting on the set of Martin Scorsese’s Gangs of New York (2002).
Mr. Lewis spoke of “breathing life” into the character of Lincoln. He spoke about him as if he were a living, breathing person. “The minute you begin to approach him—and there are vast corridors that have been carved that lead you to an understanding of that man’s life, both through the great riches of his own writing and all the contemporary accounts and biographies—he feels immediately and surprisingly accessible. He draws you closer to him.” In short, great actors in a very real sense become the characters they portray.
Remarkable as the gifts of some great actors are, Jesus Christ calls us to an even deeper conversion. Most of us are not actors. That’s OK. He is not calling us to act the part, He is calling us to be the part. He is calling us to become another version of Himself.
Sounds like arrogance beyond conceit, doesn’t it? Yet do you think God was kidding when He said He created us in His image and likeness? Gen. 1:27. Was Saint Paul kidding when he said it was no longer he that lived but Christ who lived in him? Was he kidding when he said we must renew our inmost being and become the “new man”? Eph. 4:22, 24. Was Jesus kidding when He said He was the vine and we were the branches? John 15:5. Was he just being metaphorical when He said whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him? John 6:56. Was He just being metaphorical when He said He was the way the truth and the life? John 14:6. I firmly believe God has a sense of humor, but He is not much of a kidder. When we eat his flesh we are answering the call of total conversion. The living body of Christ literally becomes a part of us. The call of conversion is just not to be like Christ and act like Christ but to be Christ.
Is this really what the Church teaches? Or is this just another bunch of messianic heresy? And the answer is quite clearly yes, this is what the Church teaches. See Section 460 of the Catechism:
The Word became flesh to make us “partakers of the divine nature”: “For this is why the Word became man, and the Son of God became the Son of man: so that man, by entering into communion with the Word and thus receiving divine sonship, might become a son of God.” “For the Son of God became man so that we might become God.” “The only–begotten Son of God, wanting to make us sharers in his divinity, assumed our nature, so that he, made man, might make men gods.”
Those might be some of the most profound words in the entire Catechism. We’re called to be gods? That’s a little overwhelming to say the least. Who, me? Yes, you. You have a glorious nature. If you don’t believe it, then you’re listening too much to the one who dwells in darkness. He hates you. He hates you because he is proud and jealous that you were made in God’s image. The brighter you shine, the harder he will try to tarnish you.
So, does being Jesus mean you have to give away everything and don a robe and sandals to keep in character? Saint Francis of Assisi took the literal approach and was rewarded with the stigmata. But you and I are not Saint Francis. If you have a call to be an architect, can you still be Jesus? Can you still be a truck driver? An accountant? Certainly. Jesus lived one glorious life on earth, but along with being fully man, He was also fully God and limitless. He wants to manifest Himself to us and through us in as many unique ways as there are people. He has given you unique gifts and your own unique mission. Never before has there been anyone like you or ever will be again. Don’t hide your light under a basket.
But what if you fall off your horse? Don’t worry, it’s in the script. Don’t give up, just get back on. Be patient with yourself, because God is patient with you. As psalm 51 says, so long as you have a humble and contrite heart, He will not spurn you. He will forgive us seventy-seven times and more. Conversion is a lifetime process. Keep working and praying. Your Oscar is waiting for you. It’s called the Kingdom of Heaven.