Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Propers for the Feast of the Most Precious Blood

For Catholics, our faith lives are centered around the Eucharist, the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ.  Yet we often hear more about the body, and not as much about the Blood of Christ.  In the Feast of the Precious Blood, the Church wants us to think more about this.  Some will find this confusing, considering that we recently celebrated the Feast of Corpus Christi, which typically includes the talk about the Blood of Christ.

I believe this "separation" occurs for a reason.  For any true sacrifice to be so, the blood is seperated from the body.  Likewise with our feasts.  The Church, in her wisdom, gives the faithful ample time to reflect upon both aspects of the sacrifice of the Cross, today we focus on the blood.

You have redeemed us, O Lord, with Thy Blood, out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation, and have made us for our God a kingdom.  Ps. 88:2. The mercies of the Lord I will sing forever; my mouth shall proclaim Your truth through all generations. (Introit)
If there is one thought we should meditate on for this feast, it is that Christ had to be sacrificed for our redemption.  We frequently talk about the coming of Christ in His Incarnation and Nativity, but not as much talk is done today about the His sacrifice of Himself.  If He simply came to this Earth and died a natural death, he would be no different than various other religious leaders, perhaps worthy to listen to, but certainly not to follow.  Our redemption required not only a death, but a sacrificial death.

When we contemplate deeper the purpose of a crucifixion, we can see why this Introit is so powerful.  The Romans were the undisputed masters of crucifixion in the ancient world.  Yet they only did it to a select few people.  Roman citizens were forbidden from being crucified.  (Cicero viewed it near blasphemous for a Roman to even speak the word because it was so horrific.)  The primary point of a crucifixion was not to execute.  The primary purpose was to humiliate the condemned.  The condemned was of low social stature.  In some cases, he could be alive for over a day to the cross.   The secondary point of crucifixion was to terrorize the people witnessing it.  You were reminded never to do the same, lest you wind up naked and hanging from a cross to die slowly, watching everyone make sport of you.

We know that the Roman soldiers symbolized us during the Crucifixion of Our Lord.  Therefore, we looked to humiliate our Lord and God.  Yet it is through that humiliation that we are redeemed.  Rather than give us what we rightly deserve for our part in His death, we are shown pardon.  Rather than being cast into eternal imprisonment, we are made citizens of the Heavenly Kingdom.  This is the reason we sing of God's mercy forever.

Brethren: But Christ, being come an high Priest of the good things to come, by a greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hand, that is, not of this creation: Neither by the blood of goats or of calves, but by his own blood, entered once into the Holies, having obtained eternal redemption. For if the blood of goats and of oxen, and the ashes of an heifer, being sprinkled, sanctify such as are defiled, to the cleansing of the flesh: How much more shall the blood of Christ, who by the Holy Ghost offered himself unspotted unto God, cleanse our conscience from dead works, to serve the living God? And therefore he is the mediator of the new testament: that by means of his death for the redemption of those transgressions which were under the former testament, they that are called may receive the promise of eternal inheritance, in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Epistle, Hebrews 9:11-15)
If we are reminded of the cruelness of this manner of death in the Introit, in the Epistle we are reminded of the fact that Christ did this willingly.  The sacrifice of Christ would have no efficacy if it was done against His will.  While other religions have martyrs, no religion has her central figure a man who was born to that sacrifice.  The blood of Christ is so powerful because it is freely offered.  This is why the sacrifices of the Old Covenant could never truly take away sin.  The victim was never freely offered.  Indeed, as a beast, it lacked such freedom.  Yet in giving up something essential to their life, there was still a sanctification the believer received in the offering of sacrifice.

With Christ, everything is different.  If we knew who He truly was, we would not want to send him to a Cross.  Indeed, the Apostles attempt to prevent it.  Christ continually asserted that what was happening was of His own choosing.  If He willed it, the entire thing would've stopped.  It is this ultimately selfless act that provides life for others.  Far from just sanctifying the flesh, this willing sacrifice transforms all of creation, and most importantly, transforms our hearts when we come into contact with that blood.

At that time, Jesus therefore, when he had taken the vinegar, said: "It is consummated." And bowing his head, he gave up the ghost. Then the Jews (because it was the parasceve), that the bodies might not remain upon the cross on the sabbath day (for that was a great sabbath day), besought Pilate that their legs might be broken: and that they might be taken away. The soldiers therefore came: and they broke the legs of the first, and of the other that was crucified with him.
But after they were come to Jesus, when they saw that he was already dead, they did not break his legs. But one of the soldiers with a spear opened his side: and immediately there came out blood and water. And he that saw it hath given testimony: and his testimony is true. And he knoweth that he saith true: that you also may believe.
One wonders why the Roman soldier spearing our Lord is the last event mentioned in the Crucifixion.  I believe pondering the nature a little bit more of the Crucifixion will allow us to understand this.

Contrary to popular belief, not everyone who was crucified was nailed to the cross.  We know from earlier that crucifixion was something done to humiliate one of low social stature in Roman society.  Yet if nails were used, this indicated a special revulsion towards the condemned.  (Josephus recounts of Roman soldiers nailing Jews to crosses in an almost blind rage during the Siege of Jerusalem, while various other Roman records indicate rope was frequently used.)

When the Romans used nails, they were out to send a message.  In their eyes, a supposed "King of the Jews" would directly challenge their authority, for this would be a leader not of their choosing.  They had no problem with kings in Judea.  Indeed, Herod Antipas was that King.  If the Romans despised anything, it was someone else attempting to challenge their sphere of influence.  Rebels were dealt with swiftly and with the utmost cruelty.  We know that Caesar cut a path of massacre and near genocide throughout all of Gaul for the tribesmen daring to oppose Roman hegemony.  This sets the stage for Christ's death in the eyes of the Romans.  One could say the spear was the final insult.  It was obvious Christ was already dead, yet the Romans insulted Him further by in essence desecrating His body.

Yet in once again a true testament of God's mercy, healing occurs through this act of insult.  Our Catholic Tradition tells us the man who performed this insult is known as Longinus.  He could be viewed as the first to truly receive the blessings of Divine Mercy.  When he insulted Our lord with the lance, God instead cleansed him with the blood of Christ.  Further tradition states that he was immediately converted to Christ at this moment, even helping to cleanse the body of Our Lord in great sorrow, and even becoming a Saint.  I think this Gospel puts the words of the Hebrew epistle in perspective.  The blood of Christ transformed a man who just an instant before had reviled and insulted Christ into a great saint.

We have been admitted to Your sacred banquet, O Lord, and have joyously refreshed ourselves with the waters from the fountain of our Saviour. May His Blood spring up within us as a saving water for eternal life; who lives and rules with You . . .  (Postcommunion)

As He did to Saint Longinus, so He wishes to do to us! When we insult and revile God with our sins, God instead offers mercy.  When we jam the lance of our defiance towards God, He offers us a pardon which we cannot merit.  While the prince of this world encourages us to do this and then attempts to trap us in guilt and despair once we realize what we have done, God instead forgives this supreme offense, if we say, as that centurion "Truly this was the son of God."

Monday, June 28, 2010

Propers for the Feast of Sts. Peter and Paul

Today we take time to commemorate the two pillars of the Roman Rite.  We celebrate with one feast, the Princeps of the Church, and her greatest Evangelist.  I of course, speak of Sts. Peter and Paul.  In the Extraordinary Form, we have preserved that venerable devotion we give to them each Mass, in numerous instances beseeching their intercession.

As members of the Roman Rite, this feast is of great importance.  Our Catholic tradition teaches us that the two primary men in the founding and establishing of the Church of Rome were Peter and Paul.  Peter started the Church, and Paul strengthened her.  Furthermore, as St. Irenaeus teaches us:

But inasmuch as it would be very tedious in a book like this to rehearse the lines of succession in every church, we will put to confusion all those who, either from waywardness or conceit or blindness or obstinacy combine together against the truth, by pointing to the tradition, derived from the Apostles, of that great and illustrious Church founded and organized at Rome by the two glorious Apostles, Peter and Paul, and to the faith declared to mankind and handed down to our own time through its bishops in their succession. For with this Church, because of its more powerful leadership, every church, that is to say, the faithful from everywhere, must needs agree, and in it the tradition that springs from the Apostles has been continuously preserved by men from everywhere....
Through their double martyrdom, it is said that their very blood consecrated this Church to be something special.  The Romans thought they had struck a victory in killing the two greatest men of the Early Church.  Instead, their very blood transformed that small Christian community into the very center of Christianity which exists to this very day.  We learn in today's liturgy of the greatness of these two men, and by extension of our beloved Church of Rome.

Now I know for certain that the Lord has sent His angel and rescued me from all that the Jewish people were expecting.  Ps. 138:1-2. O Lord, You have proved me and You know me; You know when I sit and when I stand.  (Introit)
 We read the extended version of this story in the Epistle.  We learn that Herod, seeking favor with the Jews, imprisoned St. Peter.  Yet during this imprisonment, God miraculously freed St. Peter.  He had a special mission for this great saint, and no man would interfere with it.  If anything, just as with St. Paul, mans interference would lead to even more opportunities to spread the Gospel.  Likewise for us, men will seek to interfere with our living of the Catholic life.

When one reflects on everything in the world today, we should certainly be able to identify with the trials and tribulations of these two saints.  The evil one sets up stumbling blocks at every corner.  While we may not be physically imprisoned, the evil one seeks to keep us enslaved to sin.  The people of this world always look to mock the Catholic Church, since this will always receive the favor of those opposed to her.  It has been said that Anti-Catholicism is "the last acceptable prejudice" in the words of Dr. Phillip Jenkins.  There was really no reason for Herod to imprison the Apostles.  They were not involved in a political agenda against him.  Yet he saw that he could gain favor by imprisoning him.

Like Sts. Peter and Paul, God will also provide us with the same deliverance He gave them.  It might not be with an earthquake or a loud booming voice, but there is deliverance nonetheless.  For those who trust in His mercy, we can know for sure that God will send His angel to defend His Church.

At that time, Jesus came into the quarters of Cesarea Philippi: and he asked his disciples, saying: "Whom do men say that the Son of man is?" But they said: "Some John the Baptist, and other some Elias, and others Jeremias, or one of the prophets." Jesus saith to them:"But whom do you say that I am?" Simon Peter answered and said: "Thou art Christ, the Son of the living God." And Jesus answering said to him: "Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-Jona: because flesh and blood hath not revealed it to thee, but my Father who is in heaven. And I say to thee: That thou art Peter; and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.And I will give to thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven. And whatsoever thou shalt bind upon earth, it shall be bound also in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth, it shall be loosed also in heaven."  (Gospel, Matthew 16:13-19)
We see here in the Gospel why God will send us His deliverance.  God acts for the protection of His chosen people.  He certainly does not act for St. Peter or St. Paul due to anything they themselves have done.  In this very passage, Peter sets himself up as an adversary to Christ, trying to prevent Him from going to the Cross.  He later denies Christ three times.  St. Paul was the Churches biggest persecutor.   Yet God still acted to save these men.  He did so not for their own sake, but for His.  They were given a mission, and He would see to it they were able to complete it.

We also see in the confession of Peter the very source of the entire Christian faith.  Promised such protection, we may indeed proclaim with Peter the identity of Christ.  When Christ asked who the people said He was, notice they got it wrong.  The world always looks for the Messiah, yet on their own terms.  It is only through Peter and the Apostles with him that the truth of Christ is given to the world.  This truth had St. Paul as its champion.  May we through their glorious intercession likewise proclaim to God and the world "Thou art the Christ, the Son of the Living God."

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Propers for the Fifth Sunday After Pentecost

Today we talk about the importance of hope.  We learn through the liturgies readings today why we have that hope, and the responsibilities that come with that hope.  Hope is something that is all the buzz today.  Hope elected a president, and everyone is told to remain hopeful in today's troubling times.  Yet hopeful in what?  Once we have that hope, what are we to do with it?  I believe the words of today's liturgies provide us that guidance.

Hear, O Lord, my voice with which I have cried to Thee, be Thou my helper, forsake me not, do not Thou despise me, O God, my Savior.  The Lord is my light and my salvation, whom shall I fear? (Introit)
The world frequently sees the spirit of Christian hope as something archaic at best, pointless at worst.  To them, the hope of the Christian is simply a hope that would be called by scholars and theologians eschatological, that is, focused on the end.  We have hope that God has given better than this world. This is certainly true, and a necessary requirement of our Christian lives.

Yet if we limit our hope to a mere desire of the end times, our hope is not mature.  "Our Hope is in the name of the LORD, who hath created the heavens and earth."  This is prayed at every mass before the Confetior.  If God has created everything, then everything is also subject to its creator.  For those who trust in God, then it follows we can invoke His name in our defense and help.  That is our hope in the everyday lives of our faith.  When we call upon the Lord, He will answer us in doing what we need done.

We also hope that the Lord will give us what He has promised, here now on earth.  The collect states that these gifts "pass all understanding" and "exceed all that we can desire."  While this speaks of a heavenly desire, we cannot forget the reality of this desire today.  When one experiences the liberation from sin, one finds it is possible to live a life they never thought possible before.  When the chains of lust are broken from souls, they see themselves and each other in an entirely new light.  When sinners and outcasts wished Christ to heal them, they had confidence in hope that He could do what they asked to change their lives irrevocably.  They could not fathom what life was like being healed, but they certainly knew it would be better.  As we work our way towards the readings today, we see a shift.  While we talked about the reasons for our hope, the Scriptures today tell us how to conduct ourselves worthily of this hope.

I Peter 3:8-15
Dearly beloved: Be ye all of one mind, having compassion one of another, being lovers of the brotherhood, merciful, modest, humble: Not rendering evil for evil, nor railing for railing, but contrariwise, blessing: for unto this are you called, that you may inherit a blessing. For he that will love life and see good days, let him refrain his tongue from evil, and his lips that they speak no guile. Let him decline from evil and do good: Let him seek after peace and pursue it: Because the eyes of the Lord are upon the just, and his ears unto their prayers but the countenance of the Lord upon them that do evil things. And who is he that can hurt you, if you be zealous of good? But if also you suffer any thing for justice' sake, blessed are ye. And be not afraid of their fear: and be not troubled. But sanctify the Lord Christ in your hearts, being ready always to satisfy every one that asketh you a reason of that hope which is in you.
The final verse here has been used many times as the verse that contains the discipline of apologetics in a nutshell:  to give a reason for the hope that is within us.   Every last one of us is called to be an apologist of Jesus Christ.  This is not optional.  Yet this defense of our hope is more than mere words.  Sometimes, words are very important.  Yet always important are our actions.  Now that we have been freed from the slavery of sin, we must conduct ourselves accordingly.

The world has enough of people who claim freedom from sin, and yet still live in sin.  Have we not seen this time and time again?  I am sure each of us knows one who claims the mantle of Christ boldly, yet there is no evidence of that conduct.  What good is hope in Christ Jesus if it cannot actually change the individual?  In the political landscape today, there were those who placed great hope in our President to accomplish this or that.  He was hailed as "sort of God", one reporter even going so far as to say he was "the word made flesh."  Ask them now, and many of them are despondent.  This is not to comment on the substance of his agenda.  I am simply wishing to point out that a hope that cannot lead to true change is a worthless hope.  Even the sinner understands, deep down, there is evil in this world.  They hope for liberation from it, yet they do not know what to hope in.  Only through a proper Christian example can they see the evidence for true hope.

When the Christian acts the way St. Peter exhorts us to, we tell the world "we are proof that liberation from the slavery of evil is not only possible, but a reality."  Our actions prove that the snares of this world do not enthrall us.  We truly cast off the old self in this true hope.  Only when exhibiting these virtues can we take the counsel of St. Peter and "be not afraid of their fear:  and be not troubled."  This confidence is the strongest of all apologetical tools.  The confidence of the martyrs astounded Rome, and their inspiration led many to Christ.  We find in the Gospel another way in which our hope is manifested.

Matt. 5:20-24
At that time, Jesus said to His disciples: "Unless your justice abound more than that of the scribes and Pharisees, you shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven. You have heard that it was said to them of old: 'Thou shalt not kill.' And whosoever shall kill, shall be in danger of the judgment. But I say to you, that whosoever is angry with his brother, shall be in danger of the judgment. And whosoever shall say to his brother, 'Raca,' shall be in danger of the council. And whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire. If therefore thou offer thy gift at the altar, and there thou remember that thy brother hath anything against thee; Leave there thy offering before the altar, and go first to be reconciled to thy brother, and then coming thou shalt offer thy gift."

Christ continues the words from the epistle by telling us unless our dikaiosune, our righteousness, exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, we will not enter heaven.  I think at times there is a common misconception about the scribes and Pharisees.  We typically think of them as outwardly righteous, and in reality corrupted by pride.  While that is certainly true for some, the Pharisees on the whole were known for their zeal, their piety, and their moral righteousness.  St. Paul was a Pharisee, as was the great Jew Gamaliel.  One could even say that Christ, in teaching the resurrection of the body, found far more in common with the Pharisaic school.  Yet as Christians, we are called to be even greater than that.  

In this passage Christ elevates us beyond the law.  It is not enough to not kill our brother.  Instead, Christ tells us to not even have opposition between us and our brother.  So much so, that if we have a serious dispute between a brother, we should not even be participating in the sacrifice, which us Catholics understand as the Eucharist.  The Church draws so much of her strength from the unity which Christ provides, being that the Church is Christ's body.

This unity in the body is a strong source of hope for the world.  The sinner believes he is truly alone.  For those in serious sin, many times they believe they have offended God so much, they cannot turn even to Him, much less a brother.  To see the brotherhood acting in accord and harmony is appealing.  When we act as one with our brother, we not only promote peace, we make a statement to those feeling they are alone.  We tell them that in Christ, you find the you are not alone.  While Christianity doesn't make it any easier (indeed, Christ calls us to a standard unheard of within the world), they learn that through the assistance and ministry of the Church, they truly can live up to the calling Christ challenges us with.  For if we are truly alone, if we are not united, there is no hope for overcoming even the slightest of wrongs, to say nothing of grave evil at work within society.  Yet we know for certain that our hope is not in vain.

Let us pray to the Lord always that we may possess this hope, and that this hope strengthens not only the Church, but the entire world.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Reflections for the Nativity of John The Baptist

When we think of the Holy Family, we tend to think in terms of "Jesus, Mary and Joseph."  A pious tradition gives blessings towards friends in those three names.  While that family is indeed holy above all, I believe this feast reminds us that the family indeed was more than just those three.  In a certain sense, we are also included.

We celebrate the feast of the Birth of St. John The Baptist, the greatest prophet of the Old Covenant.  We celebrate the one of whom St. Gregory the Great wrote in song "John the bridegroom's friend became, the herald of Messiah's name."  One thing we may forget is that in a certain sense, John was also of the Holy Family.  He was the cousin (although perhaps distant) of Jesus.  His mother Elizabeth, that saintly woman of the visitation, was Mary's cousin.  As the herald of his cousin's triumphant arrival, St. John the Baptist calls upon us to look upon his kin, to prepare ourselves to indeed be joined into their family.  He calls us towards a deep union with his relatives.  This is the reason we celebrate his birth.  While salvation history changed at the Incarnation, salvation history also changed when the harbinger of the Kingdom appears on this world.

The very timing of this feast is also important.  We celebrate this feast 6 months before we celebrate the birth of Our Lord at Christmas.    While the secular world speaks of "Christmas in July", perhaps we Christians should start preparing for Christmas in a special way at this moment.  For just as John the Baptizer told God's people of their coming redeemer over 2,000 years ago, so John today tells us to prepare anew for His coming.  Just as he announced Christ, so are we called to do the same between now and Christmas.  The Introit hints at this mission:

The Lord has called me by name from my mother's womb, and He has made my mouth as a sharp sword. Under the shadow of His hand He has protected me, and has made me a chosen arrow.
As with many prophecies of the Old Testament, we could apply this on several levels.  The Epistle for today provides the context, and this is undoubtedly one of Messianic origin.  Yet one could also say that John to was called from the womb, and was given this mission.  Finally, we are given that mission, to announce to today's unbelieving world of the salvation of Christ Jesus.

This may seem like a daunting task.  Yet we should take great confidence in the beginning of this reading.  We are told that "The Lord has called me by name from my mother's womb."  The Gradual today tells the same story of the Prophet Jeremiah.  Before the foundation of the world (as St. Paul tells us in Ephesians) God calls each of us by name.  He knows us better than we could know ourselves, and knows we are capable of the mission He provides for us.  Just as the Jews of John's day were awaiting eagerly the coming of the promised Messiah, so the world today awaits salvation.  The Jews of his day did not perceive the type of Messiah to come.  Likewise, many in this world today seek salvation in things that cannot save.  God desires us, sinful beings we are, to present the truth of the Gospel, giving the world the truth.  For us, this is not optional.  This was our calling from the womb.  When we celebrate this feast today, we remind ourselves of our own calling, our own duty.

Today's Offertory tells us "the just man will flourish."    When we accept that calling and all that it entails, we will flourish.  We will find courage to speak the truth as our blessed ancestor John did.  Yet even in that justice, we call the world to something higher.  John was one of the most righteous and just men of his day, yet he proclaimed "one is coming who is greater than I."  When Christ revealed Himself, John stated "He must increase, I must decrease."  Ironically enough, this is our calling.  We flourish with justice when we accept God's calling, but ultimately we decrease.  We speak of a coming of one greater than ourselves.  The Jews of his time traveled out into the wilderness to see a man they viewed incredibly righteous.  Instead, they were told that the one coming would shatter all their expectations of what righteousness was.  We are to do the same!  Our holiness will draw the attention of a sinful world.  Yet once that attention is drawn, we cannot grasp it for ourselves.  We must point that attention to whom it properly belongs.  That is the job of a true herald.  The herald speaks with a loud voice so the people will pay attention, yet not for the herald's sake.  Instead, the herald draws the attention towards the King.

May the intercession of John the Baptizer always provide a path to Christ.  May our imitation of his life lead us to proclaim Christ to this world.  May his humility teach us to always place Christ above everything else.  Indeed, May He increase, may we decrease.  Amen.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Propers for the Fourth Sunday After Pentecost

It is alleged by the skeptic that we follow some spirit in the sky blindly, with no reason for following him outside of simple faith.  I believe today's liturgy strongly counters this concept, and we would do well to listen.  Instead, we see today a God who provides in all things for those who trust in Him.

The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the protector of my life; of whom shall I be afraid? Mine enemies that have troubled me have themselves been weakened and have fallen.Ps. 26:3. If armies in camp should stand together against me, my heart shall not fear

Our Introit starts today with a prayer of boldness and confidence.  With God on our side, we should not fear.  While a simple sounding statement, there is profound depth to it.  We know that God is with us because of the light he provides for His people.  That light is no ordinary light, but the light that shines true upon our souls.  We understand not only ourselves, but our friends, relatives, even human nature as a whole with far greater clarity when God provides that light.  He is also our salvation in all things.  The Jews of the Exodus faced overwhelming odds, first against the Egyptians than against the various nations they conquered.  Constantly we hear the refrains from Moses, Joshua, and various Biblical figures to stand courageously, for God fights with us.  If we truly trust God is fighting with us, then God will surely win us the victory we require.  The man whom trusts in God will certainly triumph over his enemies, either in this life or in the final judgment, where he stands triumphant before God who says "Well done, good and faithful servant!"

Grant, we beseech Thee, O Lord, that the world may be regulated in its course by Thy governance for our peace, and that Thy Church may with tranquil devotion rejoice.(Collect)

In addition to salvation, we find that God provides regulation.  With all the news of regulation in the political sphere, we sometimes lose the purpose of true and just regulation.  True and just regulation exists as a safeguard for people.  They are prevented from doing certain things because of the ruin these things will inflict.  With God, He provides His regulation for the ultimate good of our peace.  When we follow the precepts of God, even with enemies surrounding us, we can have the inner peace and confidence God desires.  This is the confidence that had Tertullian boldly dare Caesar to continue making martyrs out of Christians, for in doing so, he was setting up his own downfall and the day Christianity would conquer Rome.  This is the confidence of the Church militant which worships the Father in spirit and truth.

Brethren: I reckon that the sufferings of this time are not worthy to be compared with the glory to come that shall be revealed in us. For the expectation of the creature waiteth for the revelation of the sons of God. For the creature was made subject to vanity: not willingly, but by reason of him that made it subject, in hope. Because the creature also itself shall be delivered from the servitude of corruption, into the liberty of the glory of the children of God. For we know that every creature groaneth and travaileth in pain, even till now. And not only it, but ourselves also, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit: even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting for the adoption of the sons of God, the redemption of our body. (Epistle Romans 8 18-23)

The Epistle today provides us a reason for having this confidence.  That reason is our own bodies, indeed all of creation.  Despite the power of sin, her victory is not total.  Within every human being, within all creation their remains a spark.  That spark calls us to the order of the world as God initially planned it.  Even those for whom sin masters their lives they know there is something more.  As Christians, we know that eventually, that order will be restored perfectly.  As a result, we are to desire this above all things.  We are to desire the time when God restores that order to a creation without sin.  We desire to be liberated from the feelings of lust, vanity, envy, all those grievous sins.   We long for the day when the beauty of creation even in her limited state is given the fullness of God's power in the New Jerusalem.  As human beings, we most importantly await the day when our bodies are fully redeemed, free from all want and unholy desire, put forth for their original purpose of eternal union with God.  Great as it is, we receive only a small amount of this glory in our own turning to Christ through baptism and the sacraments.  As much as you think they help your soul, God has far greater gifts in store when He no longer needs the sacraments.  Part of this flicker is revealed in today's Gospel, which says:

At that time, when the multitudes pressed upon Jesus to hear the word of God, he stood by the lake of Genesareth, And saw two ships standing by the lake: but the fishermen were gone out of them and were washing their nets. And going into one of the ships that was Simon's, he desired him to draw back a little from the land. And sitting, he taught the multitudes out of the ship. Now when he had ceased to speak, he said to Simon: "Launch out into the deep and let down your nets for a draught."   And Simon answering said to him: "Master, we have laboured all the night and have taken nothing: but at thy word I will let down the net." And when they had done this, they enclosed a very great multitude of fishes: and their net broke. And they beckoned to their partners that were in the other ship, that they should come and help them. And they came and filled both the ships, so that they were almost sinking.  Which when Simon Peter saw, he fell down at Jesus' knees, saying: "Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord." For he was wholly astonished, and all that were with him, at the draught of the fishes which they had taken. And so were also James and John, the sons of Zebedee, who were Simon's partners. And Jesus saith to Simon: "Fear not: from henceforth thou shalt catch men." And having brought their ships to land, leaving all things, they followed him. (Luke 5:1-11)

Here we see one of the many miracles that Christ performs in the Gospels.  Like all miracles, they provided a temporal benefit, but pointed to a far greater reality for the one who has faith.  We know from this reading that the Apostles were hard at work in their lots in life, but little fruit was born from their efforts.  Many times we feel the same.  We struggle against our disordered desires and sins, only to accomplish nothing.  Sometimes, we slide even further.  Christ instead asks us to try something He thinks will work.  Yet in order to do this, we must venture "into the deep", away from our comfort zones and everything that is not firmly within Him.  We place ourselves at real risk during this time, to vulnerability, danger, even despair.  What if Peter had cast out far into the deep and caught nothing?  We know of course that the bounty was far greater than they could have ever expected.  When we have the faith of Peter "at thy word I will" God accomplishes great things.

Yet at times God's glory can be a frightening thing.  He is capable of things we can barely fathom.  When they occur, we realize our complete inadequacy compared to God.  This is why Peter says "Depart from me, for I am a sinful man."  Sometimes in our lives God delivers us from something, only we have no clue what to do.  Instead of relief from deliverance, we have great fear.  Bad as those sins may have been, they provided a certain comfort and stability that Christ has ripped away from us.  Like an addict that goes through withdrawal, so our bodies go through withdrawal from sin, and this troubles us greatly.

It is at this point Christ states in a very blunt manner "Fear not, from now on you shall catch men."  Great as the first miracle was, Christ promises something even greater.  When we are delivered from our sins, God reminds us that He will reveal something greater.  That is, God will reveal to us how we are to truly live in the freedom of God's mercy.  While sin will still effect us, we are no longer enslaved by it, so we must learn how to live a life worthy of that freedom.  That freedom comes from "God's regulation" as discussed in the Collect.  Providing us assistance along the way are the sacraments, which the Postcommunion reminds us of:

May the Mysteries which we have received, we beseech Thee, O Lord, purify us, and fulfill their purpose by defending us.
Part of God's great regulation provides us with remedies should we be in trouble.  The very purpose of those remedies are to defend us.  When we miss the comforts of a life in sin, we feel drawn back to them.  At this point we should turn with greater vigor to the sacraments.  No doubt Peter and the Apostles felt the call of their former lives after giving up everything to follow Him.  To counter this remedy, they sought to be even closer to our Lord, to learn in an even deeper fashion how to live properly in the freedom salvation provides.  The sacraments keep the faithful soul focused on a right living, attaching ones self deeper and deeper to the Rock that is Christ.  In this great paradox, only through God's regulation can we find true liberty.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Why the Incarnation Matters: Introduction

Catholic scholar George Weigel once said about John Paul II’s Theology of the Body that it would “change our understanding in every aspect of the Creed.” With all due respect to the eminent doctor, I believe his focus is misplaced. Important as Theology of the Body may be to many Catholics, there is something far more revolutionary in our midst. A proper understanding of this will indeed transform everything you know about the Catholic faith. Without it, you understand nothing. Without it, Theology of the Body means nothing. I speak of the Incarnation.

Even saying that phrase will draw blank stares from a lot of Catholics. For those who know what it means, I submit many do not understand its true importance. When we speak of the Incarnation, we speak of the very moment our Lord was conceived within the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary. This moment was the decisive moment in human history. When we speak of “game changers”, this was the game-changer par excellence. All of salvation history pointed to this moment. All history since has been influenced by it. Without the Incarnation, our faith is impossible.

So why do we hear so little about the Incarnation in our everyday faith lives? Part of it is an imprecision in our language. When Mass is attended every Sunday in English, we hear the phrase “By the power of the Holy Spirit, he was born of the Virgin Mary, and became man.” In the Latin, even in the ordinary form, we sing the following at the Creed:

Et Incarnatus Est,
De Spirtu Sancto
Ex Maria Virgine
Et Homo Factus Est
This phrase explains that Christ was “Incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the Virgin Mary, and became man.” While this might translate roughly into English, the central Creed of our faith makes explicit reference to the Incarnation. So important is this, at the very pronouncement of these words, one either bows or genuflects. In the Extraordinary Form, Catholics listen to the prologue of the Gospel of St. John, which recalls the Incarnation, again genuflecting at “and the word was made flesh.”

It should go without saying, “born of” is not the same thing as “Incarnate.” “Born of” can describe a natural birth. I was born of my mother Marie, a result of her union with my father Francis. Yet we are not talking about just this when we speak of the Incarnation.

The Incarnation involved several miraculous events. First, this occurred through a virginal conception. Mary conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit, though knowing no man. Naturally understanding, this is impossible. Second, God took upon human flesh; maintaining both full humanity and divinity together. How can Jesus be completely man yet also completely God? The Greeks knew of demi-gods, humans having a spark of that divinity, but of course “lower on the totem pole” of Olympus. The Romans deified some of their leaders after the death as perfect examples of Roman virtue, but the idea of a living God was something alien to them, even in the honorific titles they gave to Augustus (which roughly translates as "The Exalted one"). The very idea of God entering the womb of a virgin, possessing the fullness of humanity and godhead, was unheard of. As one can see, these two events combined into one change human history, and I submit they are absolutely necessary.

Yet if one thinks for a moment, certainly God could have chosen to manifest himself any way he wanted to. Yet think deeper, and one will realize that the Incarnation was really the only way possible. Allow that to sink into your very being before we continue. The Incarnation was the only way God could become man to secure our redemption. Any other way would’ve caused a change in our very existence, and of God’s. Since God cannot change (His very existence is outside of time), the Incarnation happened for a reason. I will attempt to explain those reasons as we continue. Furthermore, these reasons have profound implications for every article of the faith, and we would do well to explore them.

Monday, June 14, 2010

The Case Against Sola Scriptura, Part IV: The Biblical Record

Having laid out some foundational issues surrounding the Protestant doctrine of Sola Scriptura and a very brief outline of how Catholics approach this issue, I would now like to consider the Biblical evidence that Protestants raise towards a defense of the teaching.  It is my position that for all the claims of the Protestant, the idea of sola scriptura is alien to the biblical record which we shall examine.

No discussion on this manner would be complete without analyzing the primary argument Protestants put forth for sola scriptura, that being how they understand Paul's Second Letter to St. Timothy, Chapter 3:15-17

And because from your infancy you have known the holy scriptures which can instruct you to salvation  by the faith which is in Christ Jesus.  All scripture, inspired of God, is profitable to teach, to reprove, to correct, to instruct in justice:  That the man of God may be perfect, furnished to every good work.
To the Protestant, sola scriptura is self-evident in this passage.  The Scriptures instruct us in salvation, and are isnpired by God.  Not just inspired, but theopneustos.  The Scriptures are filled with the very breath of God.  As a result, they are able to equip the man of God with everything he needs on matters of salvation.  Since nothing else in the Scriptures is theopneustos, we follow only the Scriptures, not some man-made Church, or so the argument goes.

Many Catholics will approach this with various styles.  They will talk about the exegesis behind the phrase "profitable", the extent of the Scriptures that Timothy was reading and would have known to be Scripture, that Paul is writing only to the "man of God", the priest, etc.  All of these things are interesting discussions, but wholly irrelevant I feel.  We can leave the exegesis of the word "profitable" to Greek scholars.  Catholics firmly uphold the glories of Scripture.  Leo XIII was quite clear when extolling her benefits.  I will quote this great Pope at length because his message needs to be understood:

Let all, therefore, especially the novices of the ecclesiastical army, understand how deeply the sacred Books should be esteemed, and with what eagerness and reverence they should approach this great arsenal of heavenly arms. For those whose duty it is to handle Catholic doctrine before the learned or the unlearned will nowhere find more ample matter or more abundant exhortation, whether on the subject of God, the supreme Good and the all-perfect Being, or of the works which display His Glory and His love. Nowhere is there anything more full or more express on the subject of the Savior of the world than is to be found in the whole range of the Bible. As St. Jerome says, "To be ignorant of the Scripture is not to know Christ." In its pages His Image stands out, living and breathing; diffusing everywhere around consolation in trouble, encouragement to virtue and attraction to the love of God. And as to the Church, her institutions, her nature, her office, and her gifts, we find in Holy Scripture so many references and so many ready and convincing arguments, that as St. Jerome again most truly says: "A man who is well grounded in the testimonies of the Scripture is the bulwark of the Church.''  And if we come to morality and discipline, an apostolic man finds in the sacred writings abundant and excellent assistance; most holy precepts, gentle and strong exhortation, splendid examples of every virtue, and finally the promise of eternal reward and the threat of eternal punishment, uttered in terms of solemn import, in God's name and in God's own words.
In short, we can grant the Protestant 99% of what he says when it comes to this verse.  However, when he maintains that this verse teaches that the Scriptures are the sole infallible rule of faith for Christians today, it is here we must part ways.

We start with the concept of the scriptures being the rule today.  Rightly does the Protestant understand that since Scripture was being written, Sola Scritpura could not possibly be what was understood.  This in and of itself disqualifies the verse from being used.  Ironically, it by nature excludes the entire Bible! 

We also must point out that the very context of this passage disqualifies the idea that Paul was teaching the Sacred Scriptures as the sole infallible rule of faith:

But you have fully known  my doctrine, manner of life, purpose, faith, longsuffering, love, patience,  persecutions, afflictions: such as came upon me at Antioch, at Iconium and at Lystra: what persecutions I endured, and out of them all the Lord delivered me.  And all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution.  But evil men and seducers shall grow worse and worse: erring, and driving into error, but continue in those things which you have learned and which have been committed to you.  Knowing of whom you have learned them. (2 Tim 3:10-14)
When St. Paul wrote this letter, he was about to die.  (2 Tim 4:6-10)   By this point, St. Paul is not interested in giving lengthy doctrinal treatises.  He is concerned with ensuring his teachings are put into good practice.  He knows there will be those who come after him, who will do their best at deceiving the faithful.  It was for this reason he named the youthful Timothy as elder of the Church of Ephesus.  He wishes Timothy to carry out his work within that Church?  How did he do this?  By citing a few Scriptural passages, and saying "do this?"  That is not all he did.  Rather, he laid his hands upon Timothy.  (2 Tim 1:6.)  The very laying of these hands imparted the grace to Timothy to do the job.  Even further, he charges Timothy to do likewise to other men, giving them that same grace.  (2 Tim 2:2).  This is what sets the stage for the third chapter.

At this point we come to Paul's charge to remember what has been learned and which have been committed to you.  From this text, we see that Timothy is given a sacred obligation from Paul.  Paul gave him the Gospel, and Timothy is to protect sound doctrine in its fullness.  The focus is not just on the Scriptures, but on the entirety of the message of God.  Timothy had the entirety of Paul's teachings to safeguard.  They came through the Scriptures, and through his oral testimony.  Both had to be safeguarded completely, hence the need for grace which came upon the imposition of hands.  To see to it that this occurs, Paul cites his own example and testimony, which is to always be with Timothy, and his future successors.  Here we see the Catholic teaching of Apostolic succession, as well as that lived Tradition of the Church.  Far from giving only one rule of faith, we see that he places his teaching, in the oral lived experience alongside the written, without distinction.

The only way one can read Sola Scriptura into this text is through anachronism.  One builds up a set of inferences and presuppositions, and wrestles the meaning into the text.  If we are to be Christians firmly dedicated to the Word of God, we cannot allow this.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Propers for the Third Sunday After Pentecost

Continuing the lessons from the feast of the Sacred Heart, today's liturgy teaches and emphasizes the absolutely necessity and trust in that Sacred Heart.  A popular image of the Sacred Heart also has the phrase "Jesus, I trust in you" written below it.  This at first, sounds incredibly cliche.  Of course we should trust in God!  Yet what does that mean?  Why should we trust in God?  I believe the prayers of today's liturgy shed great insight upon having a holy trust in God's will.  We start with the Introit.

Look upon me, O Lord, and have pity on me, for I am alone and desolate. See my poverty and my pain, and pardon all my sins, O my God.
Ps. 24:1-2. I have lifted up my soul to You, O Lord, in You I place my trust, O my God. Let me not be put to shame. 
  What is one the scariest human emotions? While a man can endure great suffering, even hurt, it is loneliness that eats away at his very being.  Why is this?  As human beings, we are created as a social animal.  We are called to communion with others, as John Paul II used to constantly stress.  As Leo XIII tells us, humans are called towards society in all that they do.   Focusing only on the individual self is contrary to human nature.  When we experience that loneliness, we are experiencing something that we are not meant to have, and it obviously hurts our souls deeply.

While we are called for communion with others, most importantly, we are called to communion with God.  One thinks of the famous statement in the Baltimore Catechism that God created you so that you may know him, love him, and serve him.  When God created our first parents, he made them so that they could walk beside Him forever.  Unfortunately, sin drastically changed that landscape.  Through original sin, we become in a very real way separated from God.  The reality of this situation changes everything about human existence.  Even if we live a life of almost complete holiness, there is still that distance from God caused by sin.  If anything, we become all the more aware of that absence, as Blessed Teresa of Calcutta showed in her private diary.

Knowing this reality, the Psalmist begs God for pardon.  Though we cannot live that communion in the fullest this side of the grave, we can still desire a deeper union with God, and God's grace and mercy supply that union.  All we must do is lift our hearts and our souls to the Father and implore his clemency.

O God, You are the protector of all who trust in You, and without You nothing is strong, nothing is holy. Be even more merciful towards us, and rule and guide us that we may use the good things of this life in such a way as not to lose the blessings of eternal life. Through our Lord . . . (Collect)
 We are reminded constantly in our Catholic faith to use the time we have on this earth for virtue. Not only is this the right thing to do in society, but we must always be mindful not to spurn the grace God has given us.  If we wish to grow in holiness and union with God, we cannot accomplish this by constantly throwing the gifts He gives us away.  If a friend constantly rejected your gifts, would you have a closer union with them?  Would you not grow apart?  So it is with our sins and God.  A continual mindset of habitual sin leads to the loss of that unity, and then we are right back where the Psalmist started.  Instead, we seek God's guidance in how to use the gifts He gives us.  Who better to know the usage of a gift than the one who gives it?

Beloved: Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you. Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world. And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. To him be the dominion forever and ever. Amen.  (Epistle, 1 Peter 5:6-11)
If there is one thing that loneliness does, it causes us to abandon all reason.  We may not even be lonely, yet if we feel we are, very little can change that fact.  We run the risk of sinking into despair.  The devil loves this.  He will seek those destitute souls out as if they were a beacon to him.  When he finds those souls, he increases their sense of desperation and loneliness.  I see this in a friend I have known for sometime, who has struggled being promiscuous.   She does not necessarily like sleeping with one man after another.  Sometimes she forces herself to get drunk to undertake it.  Yet the temporary euphoria of sex gives her a release from the loneliness she perceives.  We find it in the alcoholic, who no longer drinks out of a sense of enjoyment.  He drinks to dull out everything around him.  He would rather destroy his life then feel alone.  Lest we think we are better, we must remember that the devil especially seeks us out.  To break someone who has no knowledge of the truth, that does nothing for the evil one's pride.  Yet to break one schooled in virtue, that is an undertaking worthy of his time!

Our first Pope gives us practical tools to fight against these feelings.  The first is humility, which leads to repentance.  That humility causes us to face those feelings of loneliness, and to remember that we cannot obtain constant bliss in this life.  Only through Christ is such humility and awareness possible.  Second, we must remember the sufferings of the brethren around the world.  While we may be alone in a physical aspect, we are united in spirit with all those suffering around the world in the faith.  We take comfort in that there are millions of souls in the very same situation as we are, yet they continue to fight.  Indeed, we form a "band of brothers" in our suffering, and we are called to provide support for one another in that instance.  A unity in suffering is one of the most powerful repellents of the machinations of the evil one.

Finally, we look to our eternal end.  This suffering is only temporary!  No matter how lonely we feel, this will not be forever!  Christ one day will call you to Himself, state "Well done, good and faithful servant!"  At this point, we will experience a unity that is impossible to describe in mere human emotions.  To have a chance at something so great, we should be spurred to endure this isolation of communion with patience and holy endurance.  Important as this message is, the message of the Gospel gives us something even greater.

At that time, the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear him. And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, "This man receives sinners and eats with them." So he told them this parable: "What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it? And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, 'Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.' Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.   Or what woman, having ten silver coins, if she loses one coin, does not light a lamp and sweep the house and seek diligently until she finds it? And when she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, 'Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.' Just so, I tell you, there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents."
We do not have a God who puts "everything on us", as if we are to just endure those hardships, with no chance of improvement.  The beauty of Jesus Christ is He seeks you out.  He called you before the foundation of the world!  His only mission, His very existence, is to seek you out.  He frequently intervenes in the lives of those farthest from Him, even if we do not perceive it.  We may not have the luck (or misfortune) of St. Paul, who was blinded by a very grandiose appearance of our Lord.  Many times, we are like Elijah in the cave, who finds and discovers God in the stillness of the air.  We are truly not alone!    He underwent the worst of torments and sufferings, even death on a cross, to find us and bring us home.  When we go to Mass every Sunday, we can throw off the loneliness of the world, and find him in the Blessed Sacrament.  When we read the words of Holy Scripture, He touches our souls and gives us the truly heavenly wisdom, which gives us the strength to endure.

Yet most importantly for today's prayers, we can find Jesus in the sacrament of Penance.  A priest is truly a great priest if he offers this sacrament as often as possible, for even the smallest of sins.  God awaits you through the ministry of the priest.  When one is burdened by sin, do they not feel a great joy once that sin is forgiven?  Even our Protestant brethren, who lack this sacrament, speak of the truly life-changing moment when they are freed from their sins by repentance.  Yet while they have that joy of the momentary freedom from their sin, it is through the sacraments and the grace they supply that one is restored to God.  We confess our sins before heaven and earth in the confessional.  We recognize the just punishment of them, but still throw ourselves at the feed of the merciful judge, begging his clemency.  Yet God gives us one better.  Not only does he bestow that clemency, but He calls us even closer to him upon it.  Would not most men, even after forgiveness, be apprehensive to return to the state of closeness and unity with a brother who truly wrongs them?  God proves His ways are not our ways in this and many other things.  Yet we must repent.  If that is the lesson of today, let it be this.  

Priests, please offer the sacrament as often as possible.  My brethren, seek out the sacrament and communion with our Master as often as possible, and as deeply as possible.  If we feel loneliness, seek out Jesus in the sacraments.  He will transform that loneliness through love.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Propers for the Feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus

Friday we celebrate the Feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. We celebrate the supremacy of God's mercy within that Sacred Heart. It was this love and mercy that led Christ to take on human form in the Incarnation. This mercy caused him to live a life of perfect obedience and humility, giving us the truth and fulfillment of the law. This mercy and love for us led Him to die on a cross for our sins. Most importantly, this mercy is why he still to this day intercedes for us before the Father, and prepares a room for us in our true home, Heaven. We see this in the Introit when the Psalmist proclaims:

The thoughts of His heart stand through all generations, to deliver their souls from death, and keep them alive in spite of famine.
Ps. 32:1. Rejoice in the Lord, you just; praise befits the upright.
I am reminded in this passage of two things.  First, the utter timelessness of God.  His message was not for a specific people in a specific time, as the gods of the pagans.  His message truly exists for all ages.  The truth of God stands forever.  His Church, the guardian and protector of His truth, stands forever as well.  

If we are reminded of the timelessness of God, we must also be mindful of the fact that in a way to us, God operates continually within our concept of time.  A great mystery.  God, being God, is outside of time.  Time is a created concept.  Yet our God is not the god of the deists, who created the world, then took a break from humanity.  He delivers us constantly from tribulation.  Why?  Does God have anything to prove?  He does it solely because He chooses to.  He does it because of his great love for us.  As Leo XIII, that Pope of such special devotion to the Sacred Heart said:

Christ reigns not only by natural right as the Son of God, but also by a right that He has acquired. For He it was who snatched us "from the power of darkness" (Colossians i., 13), and "gave Himself for the redemption of all" (I Timothy ii., 6). Therefore not only Catholics, and those who have duly received Christian baptism, but also all men, individually and collectively, have become to Him "a purchased people" (I Peter ii., 9). St. Augustine's words are therefore to the point when he says: "You ask what price He paid? See what He gave and you will understand how much He paid. The price was the blood of Christ. What could cost so much but the whole world, and all its people? The great price He paid was paid for all"
We receive here a second reason.  Jesus Christ pours forth mercy from His sacred Heart....... because He knows no other way.  We are His people.  His very mission on earth was the salvation of the world.  His very purpose in Heaven is to see to it that salvation is made present to everyone.  He knows no other way.  

Whenever this feast is celebrated, we cannot only think of God's mercy.  We must think of why that mercy is required.  We read in the Collect:

O God, through Your mercy we possess the treasures of Your love in the Sacred Heart of Your Son, the same Sacred Heart which we wounded by our sins. May our honor, devotion, and love make reparation to Him for our faults.
When we think of the mercy of God, we are inevitably drawn to our sins.  Our sins are the reason for this mercy.  For our sins, Christ's Sacred Heart was pierced by a spear.  By our sins, we nailed Christ to the cross.  Though we have been forgiven through baptism and the sacraments, should we leave it at that?  Should we not wish to do everything we can to show our sorrow and repentance?  It is here we come to the concept of reparation, something that has certainly fallen into disuse during these troubling times.  

We think of the love of Jesus, and we leave it at that.  We are taught not to be aware of our sins, of our need of grace and redemption.  We are taught to ignore the offenses, blasphemies and sacrileges of the world, to "let them do their thing."  When we did the Eucharistic procession for the feast of Corpus Christi last Sunday (if you were blessed enough to have one), this was equally an act of reparation as it was devotion.  If it were devotion, we would've done so privately within our churches or our homes.  It was reparation in that we publicly professed our faith in Christ, boldly proceeding through the streets of a sinful world, imploring His mercy.  When we were looked at as fools, we embraced being a fool for Christ, that through our "foolishness", God would be implored towards mercy.  That is the essence of reparation.  We submit to something that might not be comfortable.  We may even be mocked for it.  Yet we do it, begging the same mercy God has shown us be shown to all.  We also do such, in appreciation for that mercy.  The athlete suffers injury for the love of his sport.  We have something far greater than a mere sport.  The soldier risks his life for love of country.  We have something far greater than a country.  Should we not be willing to give more in appreciation and awe of the Sacred Heart?

EPISTLE Eph. 3:8-12, 14-19
Brethren: To me, though I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, and to bring to light for everyone what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things, so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. This was according to the eternal purpose that he has realized in Christ Jesus our Lord, in whom we have boldness and access with confidence through our faith in him.  For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith--that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.

 Note well what is said.  St. Paul, the least of men, and the greatest of sinners, was given something by God.  Though he was utterly undeserving, God gave him the grace to be a light to the entire world.  This was accomplished by the mercy of the Sacred Heart.  Paul was one of Christ's largest enemies.  Yet Christ still approached him, giving him the truth.  Could a mere human love do this?  Could a mere human heart endure such?  I doubt it.  That same love he offers to all of us.  Even if we have fallen away.  Even if we have committed the worst of sins, Christ still offers his mercy in the Sacred Heart.  Leo XIII tells us:

This world-wide and solemn testimony of allegiance and piety is especially appropriate to Jesus Christ, who is the Head and Supreme Lord of the race. His empire extends not only over Catholic nations and those who, having been duly washed in the waters of holy baptism, belong of right to the Church, although erroneous opinions keep them astray, or dissent from her teaching cuts them off from her care; it comprises also all those who are deprived of the Christian faith, so that the whole human race is most truly under the power of Jesus Christ.

With good reason does the Gradual state that God "shows even the erring the way." 

The Gospel gives us the account of the Roman soldier placing a spear into the side of Christ.  At that very moment, blood and water flowed forth from His side.  Tradition tells us at that very moment, this man became a believer in Christ.  He was cleansed from His sins.  St. John quotes the prophet that at this point "they shall look upon him whom they have pierced."  While the prophet speaks this matter of fact, think of how difficult this is.  When we wrong someone and we apologize, it is not a moment we love doing.  Sometimes we wrong someone so profusely, we are afraid to face them for that very reason.  To face them and admit failure is almost unbearable.

Yet we are called to do the same with Christ.  He knows we will sin.  He knows how hard it is for us to be firmly convicted of our sins, and to look upon Him.  When we look upon the mangled body upon the cross, we are reminded that we did this to Him.  "Against you and you alone I have sinned" King David sings.  We realize that through our sins, an innocent man lies dead.  We recognize at that point, we are guilty of murder, the murder of God!  At that point, we can do one of two things.  We can act in defiance and attempt to obscure the fact we are responsible.  Or we can beg mercy of the one we murdered.

There is good news!  If we seek that mercy, it will never be refused us.  The very blood we have spilled becomes our salvation!  The very water we forced to gush from His side washes us.   When we receive the baptism of the Lord, we receive those very waters which flowed from the Heart of Christ.  Rather than being dirty through our sins, the water which flowed from the Heart of Jesus cleanses us completely from that sin.  What was once our greatest moment of sorrow is transformed through God's mercy into our greatest joy.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Liturgy or Catechesis?

When one looks at the problems facing the liturgical reform, a certain argument normally springs up, typically by those who oppose (or even worse demean) anything that resembles a serious effort at reform. They will tell us “the real problem with the liturgical landscape today does not stem from the liturgical reform itself, but from Catechesis.” They are correct, but not in ways they anticipated.

They blame the lack of Eucharistic devotion and piety on a lack of understanding doctrinally the understanding of the Real Presence. To them, the entire crisis in the Church and her liturgy would be wiped away if more people just read the actual Church documents on the manner. In this they are completely naïve. This is not to say that reading official Church teaching is wrong, it is something we should all do. Yet if one needs to go to those documents to gain an acceptable knowledge, there is a problem.

There are those who like to call the approach taken before “modern times” taken by the Catholic Church as divorced from reality. Yet I submit we see a keen appreciation for human nature in their teachings and documents. They did not buy into the false dichotomy present in the minds of many Catholics today of a distinction between liturgy and catechesis. In their minds, liturgy was catechesis. When Pius XI instituted the Feast of Christ the King, he recognized the job the liturgy would do in helping the understanding of the teaching:

That these blessings may be abundant and lasting in Christian society, it is necessary that the kingship of our Savior should be as widely as possible recognized and understood, and to the end nothing would serve better than the institution of a special feast in honor of the Kingship of Christ. For people are instructed in the truths of faith, and brought to appreciate the inner joys of religion far more effectually by the annual celebration of our sacred mysteries than by any official pronouncement of the teaching of the Church. Such pronouncements usually reach only a few and the more learned among the faithful; feasts reach them all; the former speak but once, the latter speak every year -- in fact, forever. The church's teaching affects the mind primarily; her feasts affect both mind and heart, and have a salutary effect upon the whole of man's nature. Man is composed of body and soul, and he needs these external festivities so that the sacred rites, in all their beauty and variety, may stimulate him to drink more deeply of the fountain of God's teaching, that he may make it a part of himself, and use it with profit for his spiritual life. (Quas Primas, 21)

Think of the keen understanding of human nature by this statement. When the Pope notes that the official teachings of the church only reach a few and the intellectual class, he’s not insulting the “ordinary” Catholic. Many Catholics do not have time for rigorous intellectual pursuits. They are too busy raising families and trying to be saints in their own particular way. For others, such intellectual pursuits are not their vocation or gift from God. As effective as John Paul II’s Theology of the Body has been for example, it has probably permeated the lives of about 5% of Catholics. Amongst the youth in the Church, it may be 10%. At most, it will probably never be above 1 in 5. This isn’t to denigrate or say it is wrong to do these catechesis projects. It is just that ultimately, their scope is limited. They are a useful discipline when used in a targeted manner.

The liturgy is not hampered by these inherent limits. While not everyone is a scholar, every Catholic has to worship. The prayers during the liturgy are prayed out loud for our benefit, so we may learn from them. The symbolic actions that occur at the altar are meant to draw our hearts, minds, and souls to God. With everyone in Church, a priest can far more effectively reach his audience, putting the understanding of the official Church teaching in a more localized understanding during his homilies.

Most importantly, we must remember that Catholicism is not a religion of intellectual abstracts. We ultimately do not follow a dogma through which the entire world is interpreted. We follow a person, Jesus Christ, who allows us to see human nature as it really is. This involves more than just the intellect. The problem of many in the Church today is they act as if the faith were a mathematical equation. The liturgy engages the soul a way general audiences, encyclicals and catechisms could never hope to.

The issue is never “liturgy or catechesis.” This is one of the great false choices we have had in our Church nowadays. If we want to truly unleash the ability for Catholics to come to a robust understanding of our faith, we need to start looking at the liturgy in this manner.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Propers for Corpus Christi

            Today we celebrate the feast of Corpus Christi, or in other terms, the Solemnity of the Most Precious Body and Blood of Christ.  While every Sunday is devoted to the Eucharist, we celebrate today a liturgy that is especially so for that Most Blessed Sacrament.  In the Eucharist we find everything we need to live the Christian life.  We find strength, grace, fellowship, unity, and most importantly, the very life of our Lord Jesus Christ within us.  We are reminded of this fact when we hear the Introit:

He fed them with the finest wheat, alleluia! And filled them with honey from the rock, alleluia, alleluia, alleluia!  Ps. 80:2. Sing joyfully to God, our helper, sing aloud to the God of Jacob.
            As was discussed in Trinity Sunday, we must look at our relationship to God as a family, as the Trinity is also in a sense a family.  As a child, what is one of the greatest things a parent provides outside of love?  Quite simply, food.  If a child is not nourished by a parent, they are grossly neglecting their child.  A good parent keeps their child well fed and sustained.
            God proves himself the ultimate parent in the Eucharist.  In the Old Covenant He fed His flock with manna from heaven and water from the rock, making sure their earthly needs were met  during their exodus.  For the New Covenant, God does even more!  He gives us in His own Son the true bread of eternal life.  While manna perished, the Eucharist does not.  Eventually, the nutritional sustenance of manna subsided.  The spiritual nourishment of each and every Eucharist provides enough grace to last us a lifetime, if only we would open ourselves to it!
O God, we possess a lasting memorial of Your Passion in this wondrous Sacrament. Grant that we may so venerate the mysteries of Your Body and Blood that we may always feel within ourselves the effects of Your redemption; who lives and rules with God the Father in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God forever and ever.
            If we look at the Eucharist as simply an esoteric spiritual sustenance, we are doing it wrong.  For in the Eucharist, we have an anamnesis of the Lord’s victory over sin upon the tree.  Anamnesis, a word many are probably not very familiar with.  Put simply, it is the “remembrance” Christ commands at the Last Supper when he says “do this in remembrance of me.”  In this simple sentence, there is much to understand.
            When we hear to “do” we normally do not think much of it.  Yet the word used is quite pregnant with theological meaning.  To “do” in this case is to offer sacrifice in the Old Testament.  When we speak of the “remembering” we are not simply calling to mind a past event, we must make this eminently clear. A popular criticism of Catholicism is that our Mass and our entire religion is a “dead” religion.  Nothing could be further from the truth! The memorial offering of the Old Covenant was a way of making the past present.  Therefore, when our Lord commands “Do this in remembrance of me” he is telling His Priests to offer the very same sacrifice He offers.  While bringing us back to the moment of Calvary 2,000 years ago, we see on the altar that very event every Sunday.  Just as the blood and water cleansed the Roman Centurion, so the Blood of Christ cleanses us from our sins every time we receive the Eucharist!  For as the Hebrew writer wrote:
For if the blood of goats and of oxen, and the ashes of an heifer, being sprinkled, sanctify such as are defiled, to the cleansing of the flesh: How much more shall the blood of Christ, who by the Holy Ghost offered himself unspotted unto God, cleanse our conscience from dead works, to serve the living God?
            While we see here in the Eucharist a great gift, let us also remember the great responsibility that comes with it, as described in the Epistle:
Breathren: For I have received of the Lord that which also I delivered unto you, that the Lord Jesus, the same night in which he was betrayed, took bread, And giving thanks, broke and said: "Take ye and eat: This is my body, which shall be delivered for you. This do for the commemoration of me." In like manner also the chalice, after he had supped, saying: "This chalice is the new testament in my blood. This do ye, as often as you shall drink, for the commemoration of me. For as often as you shall eat this bread and drink the chalice, you shall shew the death of the Lord, until he come." Therefore, whosoever shall eat this bread, or drink the chalice of the Lord unworthily, shall be guilty of the body and of the blood of the Lord. But let a man prove himself: and so let him eat of that bread and drink of the chalice. For he that eateth and drinketh unworthily eateth and drinketh judgment to himself.
            Returning to our earthly analogy about food, we must always remember that food is a great gift, meant for our nourishing.  Yet we see in today’s culture, one of the greatest problems is that of obesity.  Why?  We have approached food with an improper intention.  Rather than eating for sustenance, we gorge our desires at the table.  While before food sustained us, now food places us in great danger when we approach it in this manner.
            God gave this to us for a lesson.  Just as a temporal good can be abused, so can a spiritual, yet with even graver consequences.  We must carefully discern our intentions.  This is why Holy Mother Church reminds Catholics that those not in a state of grace may not receive the Blessed Sacrament.  Why would the reception of this sacrament unworthily bring upon us the guilt of Christ’s crucifixion?
            We return to the concept of the anamnesis for our answer.  As was said, at our reception of the Eucharist, we make present what occurred 2,000 years ago.  Yet if we are in a state of mortal sin, we are in a state of willfully disobeying God on a serious manner.  We would be akin to the Pharisees who mocked Christ on the cross.  We would be the “wicked” thief who reviled Christ and taunted Him as He hung on the tree.  We are in a real sense crucifying Christ again willingly.  How could we partake of the fruits of such a sacrifice, when we knowingly, willingly, and blindly drive the nails into His flesh?  The Pharisees could at least proclaim ignorance in whom they were killing (Forgive them Father; they know not what they do.)  When we sin mortally, we know precisely what we are doing, and who we are killing.  This is why we must repent immediately and seek the grace of the Sacrament of Penance if we are in mortal sin.  Only after that point, can we approach the altar not with the desire to crucify Christ anew, but beg His pardon and salvation, asking Christ to remember us in His Kingdom.
            I would like next to come upon the Post Communion (Prayer After Communion) which states:
O Lord, grant that we may enjoy the eternal presence of Your divinity, which is foreshadowed by our earthly reception of Your Precious Body and Blood; who lives and rules with God the Father
            Here on Earth, food sustains us towards our goal. Indeed, being famished, the snack I had helped myself to gave me the energy to write this column.  The sustenance is a means to an end for the righteous.  For the gluttonous, sustenance is the end in and of itself.  Likewise for the Eucharist, we have an end in mind when we receive communion.  That end is ultimately the time when such sacramental veils will not be necessary.  In heaven and the consummation of the age, there will no longer be a Sacrifice of the Mass.  Instead, Christ will offer Himself in full and total union with His Spouse, the Church, us.  Every time we receive this Holy Sacrament, we move ourselves closer and closer to that eternal goal.  Let us pray that we stay upon this path, that one day, we will behold our Lord and Redeemer face to face.