What does it mean to be a Christian?  What is the fundamental and specific characteristic of a Christian?  Some would respond to those questions by citing the great commandments of charity: love of God and love of neighbor.  Those commandments are of supreme importance, but they are not specifically Christian. Every major religion includes reverence for the Supreme Being and some form of the golden rule. What is specific to Christianity is the belief that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and Savior of   the world.

That faith is fundamental in establishing one as a Christian.  Of course, that act of faith must be such that it leads one to strive to fulfill the great commandments of charity as described in the gospel.

Striving to fulfill the commandments of charity is not easy.  To love one’s neighbor when that person is, humanly speaking, unlovable is a great challenge. To love God i.e. to choose God’s will when it in conflict with our desires, is something we can do only with the help of God’s grace.  With baptism we have been given the grace of becoming Christians and sharing in divine life.  But what has been received by grace must be preserved by faithfulness.

The goal for the Christian is personal intimacy with Jesus Christ, to become less and less self-centered and more and more Christ centered.  That process involves suffering. It is going to be painful.  But as Meister Eckhart wrote: “Suffering is the swiftest beast to carry us to perfection.” The Chinese Tao Te Ching described the process as a hollowing out.  The Christian speaks of dying to self and being born again.

It is good to remember God does not expect the Christian always to be right.  What God asks is that a person always be honest, always true to the best understanding of his will that s/he can attain. To put it a bit differently: essential for the Christian is always to remain open to God’s grace, to the ways of God coming into one’s life.  Even omni-potence cannot give if there is no capacity to receive.

Cardinal Newman described the Christian’s state this way: “ever about to fall, yet by God’s mercy, never falling; ever dying, yet always alive; full of infirmities, yet free from transgressions; and, as time goes on, more and more free from those infirmities also,  as tending to that perfect righteousness which is the fulfilling of the law.”