BEHOLD I STAND AT THE DOOR AT KNOCK
By Slawomir C. Biela
CARDINAL CAHAL B. DALY
Archbishop Emeritus of Armagh
Primate Emeritus of All Ireland
2nd April 2007
Slawomir Biela has already published a number of books intended to help Christians to respond more generously and more effectively to their Christian vocation to holiness of life. His approach is biblical throughout. He selects passages of Holy Scripture and invites us to discover, with him, new depths of meaning in these passages and to apply them to our own lives and our relationship with God. Among the passages so explored in this book are the words of Jesus about the whitewashed tomb, which outwardly appears beautiful but inside is full of decayed human flesh and “every kind of filth”. Jesus applies this to the Scribes and Pharisees who appear on the outside to be models of moral and spiritual perfection, but inside are full of “hypocrisy and evil doing”. Biela invites his readers to look beyond the pious externals and the religious routines of our own lives and honestly identify the sins and hypocrisies which fester there, but remain unnoticed until the light of God’s holiness reveals them.
Biela brings another biblical text to bear on the whitewashed tomb: this is the text from the Book of Revelation to which the title of his book refers: “Behold I stand at the gate and knock. If anyone opens the door to me I shall come in …” Opening the door to admit the Lord lets light – the light of Christ – in to the dark tomb and reveals the hidden sinfulness which lurks there, but which we have carefully concealed from ourselves by keeping away from the light, by avoiding nearness to God. The closer we come to God, the nearer we allow God to come to us, the more conscious we become of our own unworthiness, our own sinfulness.
The root of all our sinfulness is our own pride, and the essence of our pride is that we do not admit our need of God. To stand before God with empty hands is the beginning of our salvation. There are many echoes of St. Thérèse of Lisieux in the writings of Slawomir Biela. Her “little way” of humility, her search for the total truth about one’s self before God, and her total childlike trust in God’s merciful love, all these are central to Biela’s spirituality.
The pride which lurks in the dark, closed tomb of our lives is the great enemy of holiness. Biela points to the little-known fact that the waters of the Dead Sea have not always “dead”: more than six-and-a-half tons of life-giving water flow into the Dead Sea every day. But this “living water” is polluted by the accumulation of salt already present in the Dead Sea, and it too becomes the enemy of all life. Somewhat similarly, we ourselves are “deluged” by God’s life-giving grace, but the pride accumulating in our hearts obstructs the work of that grace in our lives. Biela asks us never to forget that “at every moment somewhere in the world the Eucharist is being celebrated, … the entire world is constantly being immersed in the Divine Sacrifice and flooded with an infinite number of graces”. God’s merciful forgiveness, God’s revitalising grace, are constantly available to us, if only we will humbly admit our desperate need of God.
Biela returns again and again to the place of Mary, Mother of Jesus, in our spiritual journey. She is the servant of Jesus as Jesus is the Servant of the Lord. She is the model of humility, seeing in the great things that happened to her and through her only reasons to glorify the Lord and to exult in Him who worked these marvels for her. It is not accidental that Biela’s writings are in part an expression of the spirituality of the “Families of Nazareth Movement”, which, originating in Poland, has now become a world-wide Spiritual Movement.
Biela’s writings are characterised by two complimentary insights: insight into the meaning of Holy Scripture and insight into human nature and its capacity for self-love and for self-deception. Both these insights converge in his fourth chapter on “The pond of pride of human regard”. He invokes the mythological figure of Narcissus: almost dead with thirst, in a parched land, Narcissus stoops down over a pond to drink. Instead, he becomes totally absorbed with the reflection of his own face on the surface of the water, so mesmerised by the sight of himself that he forgets to drink and eventually dies of thirst. In a similar way, we fall in love with our own talent, our success, our reputation, even our reputation for holiness, that our piety becomes less a worship of the living God and more a worship of our own pious Ego. Conversion from the “Gospel according to Narcissus” to the Gospel of Jesus Christ, marks the beginning of our conversion; and the completion of our conversion is “to reach the bottom of our own nothingness so that God may become Everything”.
And so we rejoin St. Paul’s hope and prayer for all of his children in faith: namely “that God may be all in us all”. May this book by Slawomir Biela, and all his other writings, help many readers to open wide the door of their hearts and their lives to the One who stands there and knocks.