Since You’ll Need To Suffer In the End—Why Not Begin Now?

J.M.J.

I hate suffering.

I also hate to say that so bluntly, but to put it any other way would be dishonest. I don’t imagine anybody likes suffering, or else it wouldn’t be suffering at all. You and I, we like comfort: we like our warm beds, we like our food to taste good, we find ourselves complaining, inwardly or outwardly, when things don’t go as we want. I would venture to say that this very desire for pleasure is an indication that we are made by and for the Good Lord: it shows that happiness is the goal of life. God made us to be happy, and that’s what we spend most of our time wanting to be.

And yet, the state of happiness we exist for isn’t reached by being happy as we think of the word (i.e., as pleasure). Paradoxical as it may be, we can only make ourselves permanently and truly happy if, throughout our lives, we willingly bear that which makes us unhappy. 

In other words, if we suffer.

Suffering is not the end of our life: happiness, beatitude, is the end of our life. But suffering, allowing ourselves to be unhappy here and now by offering our sufferings for the sake of holiness, is the means to achieving the beatitude for which we live. Think for a moment: Christ Our Lord shows how to live an ideal human life. And as Fulton Sheen so eloquently put it in Life of Christ, “. . . to Christ, death was the goal and fulfillment of His life, the gold that He was seeking. Few of His words or actions are intelligible without reference to His Cross . . . The story of every human life begins with birth and ends with death. In the Person of Christ, however, it was His death that was first and His life that was last” (Life of Christ, Ch. I, pg. 5). If Christ’s life, centered on suffering, is the exemplary life, then should we not view suffering as our own modus operandi?

Our Good Lord said to the Samaritan woman at the well that those who adore the Heavenly Father must do so “in spirit and in truth”, for that is the adoration God desires (John 3:24). Additionally, we’re all familiar with the section of Scripture where Christ said that “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me” (Douay-Rheims Bible, Luke 9:23). In light of these two passages, our participation in the Sacrifice of the Eucharist is gaged not by how lively we are in making responses or by how many roles we perform in the sanctuary, but rather, by how much we manage to unite our personal sacrifices with the sacrifice of Our Lord presented on the altar. The Roman Canon mentions “these holy and unblemished sacrifices“, Latin sacrificia, and there’s a reason for the plural use: the Mass isn’t just the Sacrifice of the Cross, it’s our own sacrifices, too. And if we don’t suffer, we have no sacrifices, and if we have no sacrifices, our assistance at Mass is pointless, our relationship to Christ is more or less severed, and our very lives have their purpose obstructed.

If the Eternal Son of God, perfect, innocent, and infinite, did not begrudge suffering, why should we, who are so much more deserving of suffering than He? If the Blessed Virgin Mary, the one sinless member of this fallen race, needed to suffer with the Lord at Calvary, why should we demand less for ourselves, who sin daily? We have a job to perform, which St. Paul was able to see clearly: we must use our sufferings to complete whatever is lacking in the effectiveness of Our Lord’s death (Col. 1:24). No one will deny that the sacrifice of Christ covers all the sin of the world; no one will deny that it was complete, infinite, and entirely pleasing to the Father. But we humans have free will. We can spurn the grace which Our Lord handed to us on the Cross, and so He has established that, taking up that cross we’ve been given, we work to ensure that people turn to the Cross and the graces it won. Christ opened the floodgates of Heaven and offered the grace to man, but He would never force man to accept it. And so, because those who refuse it won’t use their free will for His purposes, He asks for our free will instead, and uses that to soften the hardened wills of unbelievers.

Thankfully, any suffering fits the bill. You can offer any and all of your sufferings for the well-being of yourself and others. Don’t want to get out of bed in the morning? Offer it in union with the Cross of Christ. Having trouble sleeping? No good food in the refrigerator? Have house cleaning to do? Is an obnoxious sibling pestering you? Do you feel self-conscious, lonely, or bored? Are you stressed about something? All of it can be used for the higher purpose of uniting yourself with God. To borrow from St. Paul again, “Whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him” (NIV, Col. 3:17). 

It’s worth pointing out that suffering not only unites us with Our Lord and works for the welfare of souls (our own and those of others), but it also can remove the temporal punishment we receive as a result of our daily venial sins: that is to say, it shortens our time in Purgatory. If we don’t willfully suffer now, we’ll need to spend a greater amount of time in Purgatory, the pain of which, to borrow from St. Augustine, “will be more painful than anything man can suffer in the present life” (Comment on Ps. 37:3. Journel, no. 1476, qtd. here). As I wrote earlier, we human beings are made for God. If we suffer here and now, we will be united with God in Heaven much sooner and might very possibly bypass Purgatory altogether. If we wait until Purgatory to suffer, however, not only will we have to wait longer (possibly a good deal longer!) before we enter Heaven, but the very pain of being absent from God in Purgatory will make the suffering there all the greater!

Like I said, I hate suffering. If we—you, I, and everyone—didn’t hate suffering, it wouldn’t be suffering. Of course it’s tough. But if you ask for the grace to bear your sufferings, not only will they become less difficult, but you’ll even begin to actively appreciate suffering, as an opportunity to unite yourself and others around you more closely with your Creator, Who has purchased you with His own Blood (Acts 20:28). And it’s highly likely that, the more you offer up your sufferings for the cause of holiness, Our Blessed Lord’s words will become reality for you: “My yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light” (New Living Translation, Matt. 11:30). 

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Are You Required (These Days) To Confess How Many Times You Committed a Mortal Sin?

Good morning, my good people,

A few years ago I heard a priest (whom I suppose we’ll call “Priest W”, for no reason) give a little presentation about Confession, and thank the Good Lord, almost a whole room of people ended up making use of this Sacrament that evening. Unfortunately, Priest W made a common mistake, which I’m sure you’ve heard: he said that although people used to confess the number of times they committed their given sins, it’s not done like that these days.

And considering that’s what I had heard for years and no one ever mentioned doing it the “old way” to me, I was rather surprised to learn that the old method still holds: according to the 1983 Code of Canon Law, “A member of the Christian faithful is obliged to confess in kind and number all grave sins committed after baptism” which have not already been confessed (Can. 988 §1).

Pope St. John Paul II also wrote the same thing in his 2002 Motu Proprio, “Misericordia Dei”:

3. Since ‘the faithful are obliged to confess, according to kind and number, all grave sins committed after Baptism of which they are conscious after careful examination and which have not yet been directly remitted by the Church’s power of the keys, nor acknowledged in individual confession’ (Can. 988 §1), any practice which restricts confession to a generic accusation of sin or of only one or two sins judged to be more important is to be reproved. Indeed, in view of the fact that all the faithful are called to holiness, it is recommended that they confess venial sins also.

So what does this mean? It means that if you (unfortunately) have a mortal sin to confess, try your best to remember how many times you ended up doing it. If you can’t remember precisely, then make an approximation. If you can’t do that, you should tell the priest you really can’t count how many times it was but you are sincerely sorry anyway.

Now, that’s all well and good, but what if you haven’t confessed your mortal sins in number before? You don’t need to confess them again, do you? Thankfully not. You confessed them previously with invincible ignorance of the actual protocol. They’re gone. You’re good to go. But do bear it in mind for the future. Venial sins are not required to be confessed in number (since they’re not required to be confessed at all). Still, for the sake of getting into the habit of confessing mortal sins properly (if, God forbid, you have any in the future), it wouldn’t be a bad thing to confess even venial sins in number.

As Fr. Z so bluntly put it over here at his blog, “Pay no attention to the liberals who belittle the necessity of confessing in kind and number by stupid phrases like ‘laundry list’.” It’s not about legalism or scrupulosity or OCD. It’s about giving an admission of all your sins so that all your sins can be forgiven and, furthermore, it’s so that you can know they’ve been accounted for.

Who knows? It might even deter you from mortally sinning in the future so you won’t have to go through the added mental process of counting how often the sin was committed!

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The Problem With Liturgical Pickiness—From A Guy With Very Specific Liturgical Views

Good evening, everyone!

I’m not gonna be going on about Latin or English in the Mass right now, but as a background to the topic of this post, I was talking about the liturgy recently (big surprise there) and it was on the very subject of Latin vs. English. My opinion may strike some as almost being schizophrenic: I actively like the vernacular, and when I go to a Mass in Latin I find it takes an extra effort to pay attention, but as a matter of fact I don’t like the vernacular and think we should go back to using Latin.

But why in the world would I argue we should use something (Latin) other than the thing I technically prefer (English)? That, my dear readers, is an idea I want to talk to you about now.

In a word, I would say this: in the end, the Mass is just not about us. To be sure, some liturgical principles should be maintained everywhere. To be sure, any liturgical celebration should be entirely founded on the traditions of the Church (a topic open to varying interpretations itself), and to be sure, I have my own opinions and pray about them. But in the end, I think we need to remember something: it’s not about us.

Did you notice that across the whole spectrum, especially across countless Catholic blogs, there’s a bunch of opinions about what would make the best liturgy? In conversation, I’ve heard many older Catholics say that they like the reverence and feel of the Mass before 1965, but don’t miss not being able to understand what the priest is saying; so basically they’re saying that, if they could pick, they’d take the reverence and aura of the older liturgy and do it in their own language. A ton of examples could be used to illustrate this mindset. What if you like Praise and Worship in the Mass, a distinctively new thing, but like to receive Holy Communion kneeling down and on your tongue, a distinctively old thing? What if, say, you like it when only the priest gives Communion, but you like Communion under both species rather than Communion under one kind only, so you start pressing for intinction? I’m not saying you can’t have your likes and dislikes. That isn’t my point. But how good is it, do you think, if we keep picking and choosing all these different aspects, as so many Catholics invariably end up doing? At what point do we begin to see the liturgy as a great big set of opinions, with our individual opinion—rather than the countless individual opinions of other people—representing the ideal liturgy? Before the 1960s, such an idea would have generally been unheard of. The liturgy was codified in all its different parts and was viewed as something that the Church was given and meant to safeguard. Now, whether someone is labelled a traditionalist or a liberal, it seems like the liturgy is viewed as something you can tinker with at will—making the liturgy what Cardinal Ratzinger once called a fabricated and on-the-spot product.

How do we get out of this? Honestly, I don’t know. In the end there will inevitably be varying opinions about what makes “good liturgy” and “bad liturgy”, but in my humble opinion, this would be helped partially by slimming down the huge number of options for everything in the current missal, giving us instead a set formula for each part, which would be used every Mass. This would give greater stability to the celebration of the liturgy in general; then, though many will disagree with me, I think we should do all we can (to borrow from the Pope Emeritus again) to bring the “current” Mass in line with the “previous” Mass, thus, again, limiting the differences. Finally, it would be my hope that we would, after many, many years, perhaps, have once again a single liturgical form, founded soundly on Church tradition, without a plethora of options and variations. This, to me, would decrease the “mental narcissism” of many Catholics—including me!—and would allow us to view the Mass, once again, as something objective, codified, and not formed by majority opinions. And if we were to reach such a point of resignation, we could repeat the outstanding principle laid out by St. John the Baptist: “He must increase, and I must decrease” (Jn 3:30).

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Genuflecting, Tabernacles, and You—What is the Correct Protocol?

Greetings, my dear readers,

It’s been quite a while since I’ve posted anything liturgically related, but I feel I should write about what you’re going to read for the sake of everyone involved. Every time I go to a Catholic church, whether the Tabernacle is located in the sanctuary or not, 90% of the congregation invariably skips genuflecting and makes a bow, unless they’re getting into pews, where genuflecting seems to be a more ingrained habit.

Part of this confusion comes from the separation of the altar and Tabernacle in the 1960s. Without going into my thoughts on that, I will say simply that before the postconciliar changes, it was simple: the Tabernacle and the altar were typically one unit, and so when you passed the altar (which was also the Tabernacle containing the Blessed Sacrament), you genuflected. Now, people hear conflicting directions: genuflect to the Tabernacle, but bow to the altar when the Tabernacle is absent. And it has confused people enough that now, they mostly bow whether the Tabernacle is present or not. I’ve heard priests and laypeople alike say that the “profound bow” (a bow of the torso) is sufficient before the Blessed Sacrament, but I’d like to clear up some things. What does the Church currently expect you to do when you pass by or in front of the Tabernacle? Is it any different than it was in the pre-Vatican II days? Read on!

The current document of guidelines on these matters, the General Instruction of the Roman Missal, distinguishes between a) the reverence given to the Tabernacle inside Mass and outside of Mass; b) the reverence given to the Tabernacle inside Mass, which differs between those who have a liturgical role to perform and those sitting in the pews. Easy guideline first.

Although there are individual exceptions, 99% of the time you will only need to remember this one rule: the GIRM says that “all who pass before the Most Blessed Sacrament genuflect” (274). I’ll get to the exceptions in a second, but like I said, they will only rarely affect you, so just genuflect most of the time. I think it’s important to underscore something, not to be a Pharisee, but to ensure that the importance of the Holy Eucharist, the reverence due to God present in It, is properly conveyed by our movements. Genuflecting is the required gesture before the Blessed Sacrament. The profound bow is only allowed if you truly cannot genuflect. If you can’t genuflect without something to hold onto, then by all means, grab onto a nearby pew and genuflect that way. Please, consider the truth of the Real Presence and use the profound bow as a truly last resort, like if you have genuine leg problems and nothing to grab hold of. 

Now, what are the exceptions to genuflecting? Like I said, they’re rarely going to apply to you. They actually apply to the priest and other ministers, and only during Mass (GIRM 274):

If the tabernacle with the Most Blessed Sacrament is present in the sanctuary, the priest, the deacon, and the other ministers genuflect when they approach the altar and when they depart from it, but not during the celebration of Mass itself.

There we go.

Rule 1) Outside of Mass, everyone genuflects to the Tabernacle, whenever it is passed and whenever entering or leaving a pew. This trumps bowing to the altar. At the risk of sounding irreverent, just ignore the freestanding altar if the Tabernacle is there and make a genuflection.

Rule 2) During Mass, if you’re just a member of the faithful in the pews, genuflect before the Tabernacle. The profound bow, contrary to common belief, is reserved only for those with a true inability to genuflect, rather than being just an easier and equally acceptable gesture.

Rule 3) If you’re performing some ministry within the Mass, then you do not genuflect to the Tabernacle. If you’re the priest or an altar server, you genuflect upon approaching the altar if the Tabernacle is present, and also upon leaving it, but not during Mass itself.

Rule 4) Only if the Tabernacle is not present, make a profound bow to the altar instead.

And you know what, I’ll even throw in a personal pity plea: I’m confined to a wheelchair. I wish that I could genuflect, but I can’t. Please, I beg you, use the working legs God gave you and perform this gesture of reverence before Him in the Eucharist. It’s worth a few seconds of stopping for.

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Quick Theological Musings: #1

NB: Unless I can think of topics for longer posts, there will be…..well, who knows how many more posts similar to this on various topics in the near future. Sometimes quick little posts like this end up far more interesting than longer ones anyway. Have fun reading!

“…and immediately there came out blood and water.” – John 19:34

One of the great things about Sacred Scripture is that there’s never just one rigid way of looking at things. An area where this is especially noticeable is in the quote I gave just above. 

The first reaction of . . . most anyone . . . is going to be, “Okay, Jesus seemed dead, and to be sure He was dead, they thrust a lance into His side, and water and blood came out. Cool story. Kinda random too. But hey, John felt like including that, I’m good with it.”

Understandable. Quite so. But as with everything, there’s more to it than that. 

I’m going to go out on a limb here and make a proposal. Let’s pretend for the remainder of this post that in the Gospel, water is a symbol of the human and that two things, wine and blood, are symbols of the divine.

I think it’s no mistake, for example, that in John’s Gospel, the wedding at Cana immediately follows John the Baptist. John had his own preliminary baptism with water (which, again, we’re going to say is a symbol of the human), while the miracle at Cana, turning water into wine, symbolized the true baptism which Christ brought with Him: the lifting up of the human (water) to the divine (in this case, wine) which was the ultimate goal of the Redemption and which would be the goal of the baptism He would shortly preach about. With this in mind, that the wedding at Cana symbolizes baptism, I also don’t think it is a mistake that Our Lord begins preaching about this baptism almost immediately after the Cana miracle (Cana is the second chapter of John, the mention of baptism is the third chapter). 

Now I also said blood was a symbol of the divine. We are told that when Our Lord had His Sacred Heart pierced with a lance, blood and water came out of the wound.  If we keep rolling with this idea that water is the human and blood (or wine) is the divine, then this begins to really come together into something neat.  When the Blood of Christ came out with water on the Cross, it was a symbol of the new union between God, the Creator, and man, the Created. Up until that moment, only blood came out of the wounds of Jesus, but now, the purpose of His life accomplished and the Divine Goal fulfilled, there was union—and thus, as a way of saying, “Look at the reunited state of God and man!”, the Scriptures tell us that “immediately there came out blood and water.”

Have a good summer. I’ll post next whenever I can. God bless you all, in the meantime.

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Couldn’t the Redemption Have Been Accomplished…..well….More Easily?

D.J.C.M.N

One of the questions that arises when we really put our minds on the Crucifixion goes along the lines of: WHY that? Here you have what was one of the most agonizing types of deaths of the time, and not only that, you have an omnipotent God who could have used a much simpler and less unsettling method, while achieving the exact same thing.

And to give credit to anyone who wonders this question, it really is quite reasonable: God could have done anything. He could have said, “You’re redeemed” and all could have gone on quite rosily. 

And yet, He did not. 

I’ve come to realize recently that there is far more to the death of Our Lord than just to be redemptive. Let’s backtrack a bit and look at God. It sounds like a funny question, but what does God do with Himself? We know what He does to us: He sustains our existence, so that we don’t all of the sudden vanish into the nothingness from which He made us; He loves us, desiring what is beneficial to us; He gives us grace to avoid sin; He desires that we be united to Him in Heaven, the purpose for which we were created; and He does countless other things. 

But in Himself, God is much simpler—and yet, much more profound. We profess Faith in a single Divine Being Who possesses the distinct quality of being more than one person. I don’t need to go farther into that specific doctrine for the time being. It’s sufficient for us to know that among the three Persons Who are God, there is a continuos outflow of love from one to the other, a total lack of self-interestedness, a total emptying of self for love of the others—in a word, a total gift of self between Them. That is what God does in His own life. The Father totally and infinitely gives Himself to the Son, the Son to the Father, both to the Holy Spirit, and the Holy Spirit to both.

What God does infinitely in Himself is what we are called to do—despite our finiteness—in our earthly lives. God wants us to be self-expending, both for others and for Himself. This is why Our Lord makes such commands as, “….if any man would go to law with thee, and take away thy coat, give him thy cloak also; and whosoever shall compel thee to go one mile, go with him two. Give to him that asketh thee, and from him that would borrow of thee, turn not away” (Mt. 5:40-42). Now obviously, we humans are limited by our very nature. We cannot be totally self-expending like God can.

But believe it or not, we can come close. We know that Our Lord Jesus Christ is God possessing a human nature. Would not the actions of God in a human nature essentially mirror the action of God in His divine nature? God is necessarily self-exhaustive. He must necessarily go to the limit of self-giving, and if a human nature would not allow Him to be self-sacrificing on an infinite scale, He would spend every last ounce of the finite nature He had. 

In short, He would give His entire life. Because that is how God works. Certainly Christ our Lord had the power to redeem us in any fashion, and such an act as a mere declaration and then POOF might seem far nicer to us, sparing Christ His suffering. Yet even if He could have done such a thing, I doubt He would have wanted to. He said to the disciples shortly before the episode in Gethsemane that there is no greater love than for a man to lay down his life for his friends (Jn. 15:13). To merely declare us redeemed rather than to sacrificially make us redeemed would not follow the nature of God, and it would lose for us two important teaching opportunities: 1) to demonstrate the extent of the Divine Love for us; 2) to show us how God acts in Himself and how we must act also. 

Now because these are just a few reasons, if anyone else has anything to add, please do that. I have a tendency to overlook interesting things and would love additional insights on the matter.

Farewell for now, please pray for me, and may God and His Blessed Mother protect you now and always.

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The Meaning of the Agony in the Garden

Seeing as it’s now Lent, and Lent is a penitential season, it seems like the opportune time to talk about something that’s been on my mind for the last week: the agony in the garden.

It’s one we’ve all heard before on the many Palm Sundays we’ve lived through. After the Last Supper, Jesus Christ goes with His disciples to the Mount of Olives, instructs them to stay awake and pray, then goes off to pray Himself, saying: “Father, if Thou wilt, remove this chalice from Me; yet not My will, but Thine be done” (Lk. 22:42, Douay-Rheims).

We are told that the suffering experienced by Our Blessed Lord was so intense that, even after an angel came to comfort Him in His agony, His sweat became “as drops of blood, trickling down on the ground” (22:44).

434px-Christ_in_Gethsemane

According to Matthew’s gospel, His prayer (Remove this chalice, yet Thy will be done) was repeated three times in all. Here comes the intriguing part. What caused such anguish in Our Lord’s soul that the presence of an angel, the sweating of blood, and a threefold repetition of His prayer were necessary before it was over? That, my dear friends, is what I will show you now.

It would be a mistake to think that Our Savior was merely afraid of approaching suffering and death. To be sure, His physical suffering went to the utter limit of human capacity; to be sure, it caused immense pain, which no one but a person in total union with God (or in our case here, God Himself) could handle. But the anguish in Gethsemane was not related, at least primarily, to upcoming physical pain.

The suffering in the Garden of Gethsemane was the pain of sin. Think for a minute now. How many times have you sinned mortally? Obviously that’s something you yourself will know (at any rate, I don’t want to know). Then, how many times throughout a given day have you sinned venially? How many times have you resolved within the past month or two to never sin again, with the help of God’s grace, only to fall again? How many times have you done this throughout your whole life? I don’t know about you, but I can’t count my own number of times. Then consider all the people presently alive, who sin, have sinned, or will sin, multiple times every day. And all those of a previous generation who have died and sinned either gravely or slightly, from Adolph Hitler to Henry VIII to Thomas Aquinas to the Pharisees to the ancient Egyptians, all the way back to Adam and Eve. And if all those countless sins aren’t enough to think about, consider all those in the future who will sin over and over again who haven’t yet done so, all the way to the end of the world.

Every. Single. Sin. Big and small, public and private, communal and individual, through all ages, past, present, and future. In the Garden of Gethsamene, Our Lord felt that weighing upon His soul—the weight of the world’s sin, and all those who would reject Him and choose Hell, past, present, and future (and if we are to take His words in Matthew 7 at face value, the majority end up doing that).

It must be remembered that the same One who was Almighty God from eternity became really man at the Incarnation. He became really man, and thus, as man, became really finite. He really had emotions, really experienced suffering, and all the knowledge that His suffering was necessary couldn’t mitigate the emotional devastation brought about by sin.

I don’t say this to make you feel unnecessarily terrible, of course. If you’re in the state of grace, praise God, and thank Him for what He went through for you and for the world. If you’re not, think of what was done for you and repent. And indeed, if you think about it, the suffering of the agony in the garden was itself a clear display of the Divine Mercy. No one except a person with an infinite capacity for love could go through that. But it’s very interesting to think about, and hopefully this episode beginning Our Lord’s Passion can light a fire within your soul that will help you persevere more faithfully through Lent. However countless our sins may be, they are not, in fact, infinite, and never can be, and God will always have greater power than they.

God bless, and may the Blessed Virgin Mary keep you under her protection.

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“….And The Truth Shall Set You Free.”

Salvete, my dear readers. Below you will find a piece I originally wrote for the new Fire of the Spirit blog, a blog I highly recommend you check out and support. You can read more about said blog over there, but suffice it to say, it’s run by Catholic young people who want to further the cause given by Christ of spreading the Gospel to all nations. So without further ado, my post. Enjoy.

“What Is Truth?” – John 18:38

The question which Pilate asked Our Lord before having Him scourged is perhaps more relevant in today’s world than when it was originally asked. In our own day, however, the question is no longer, “What is truth?” (as in, which proposed truth is correct) but rather the much more blind, “What is truth at all?”. Indeed, many people today have lost or have never received any concept of objectivity. This past weekend I was talking to a very good friend of mine who happens to be Presbyterian, and one thing led to another and by the end of it I said quite directly what I believed: “My religion is true, yours is not”. Rather than responding with an equally objective claim about the truth of Presbyterianism, however, my friend said, “Well, no, they’re all true, but they’re true in different ways”. After the March for Life this year, the crew at the Detroit-based Church Militant.TV interviewed a score of Catholic teens and asked them whether the Catholic Faith was superior to other religions, and most of them gave a murky, confused answer that ultimately resulted in “no, it’s not”.

I can’t count the number of devout, well-intentioned Catholics who refuse to bring up differences in religious beliefs on the grounds that they cause division or are opposed to Our Lord’s prayer that all may be one as He and the Father are one. Back when the new translation of the Novus Ordo Mass was promulgated, there were many who grieved over the loss of the (quite frankly laughable) previous translation since it was a supposed blow to ecumenism. Catholic churches with no trace of Catholic identity and removable altars are built so they can be shared with Protestant denominations, Catholics are told growing up that there are no differences between their Church and others, and people put COEXIST bumper stickers on their cars as a way of quietly saying, “Oh, do be quiet with all your differences! Can’t we all get along?”

Cardinal Ratzinger, now Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI and one of my favorite modern theologians, spoke about this in April 2005, just before being elected Pope. “Today,” he said, “having a clear faith based on the Creed of the Church is often labelled as fundamentalism. Whereas relativism, that is, letting oneself be ‘tossed here and there, carried about by every wind of doctrine’ (Eph. 4:14), seems to be the only attitude that can cope with modern times. We are building a dictatorship of relativism that does not recognize anything as definitive and whose ultimate goal consists solely of one’s own ego and desires” (Homily at the Mass for Electing the Roman Pontiff, April 18, 2005).

“Having a clear faith based on the Creed is often labelled as fundamentalism”—it doesn’t take much to see how correct those words are. Whether it was the examples I mentioned at the beginning of this post or the example of a very holy priest I once knew who, after mentioning other religions, quickly followed up with, “….and that’s not to say other religions are bad”, people today either willfully refuse to see that there is objective truth or honestly don’t see it. I really do hope, for their souls and for the sake of charity, that it is the latter.

But we must get ourselves out of this lethargy. The catechisms used before the Second Vatican Council were exceedingly clear about the existence of objective truth and the falsity of non-Catholic religions. Even the Council itself, argued by some as being far too vague, made a statement about the Catholic Faith rarely, if ever, heard nowadays, which is still sufficiently clear for the purpose of establishing the truth of Catholicism: “This is the one Church of Christ, which in the Creed is professed as one, holy, catholic and apostolic, which our Saviour, after His Resurrection, commissioned Peter to shepherd . . . which He erected for all ages as ‘the pillar and mainstay of the truth’. This Church, constituted and organized in the world as a society, subsists in the Catholic Church, which is governed by the successor of Peter and by the Bishops in communion with him” (Lumen Gentium 8).

And even if the quote from the Council itself gives some amount of leeway by using the verb “subsists in” rather than simply “is”, the Credo of the People of God by Paul VI supplies any clarity lacking.

Do we have to go out into the streets and preach the truth of the Roman Church? No, not necessarily. But we must live our lives in a way that communicates the Catholic Faith, we must keep and spread the Faith, and we must pray for nonbelievers. How do we start? I’d suggest we begin by doing what was suggested by Fr. Dwight Longenecker: be bold with your Catholic vocabulary. Don’t just say, “Real Presence”, which is used even by some Protestants, but instead say, “Transubstantiation”, which definitively communicates the total disappearance of bread and wine and the total presence of Christ in the consecrated elements. Rather than merely calling it the vague term “liturgy”, call it the “Sacrifice of the Mass”, which communicates clearly the re-presentation of Christ’s death on the altars of our churches. Instead of saying simply, “Mary”, say “Our Lady” or the “Blessed Mother”. Instead of simply “Jesus” or “the Lord”, try “Our Lord”. These types of things are non-threatening ways of communicating a distinctly Catholic faith, and though they may feel awkward at first, they soon become second nature, and the people around you might find themselves following your lead (and please be aware, I’m not saying there’s anything sinful about not doing them; it’s up to you in the end, but it’s highly worth it). Only by a resurgence of Catholic identity will a recognition of Catholicism’s objectivity be able to take hold in the minds of the faithful, and only then will they bother evangelizing the non-Catholics around them. There aren’t many different truths where we have an option of picking the one that suits us best. There is one truth, and Our Lord died for it, so let us pray that He will give us the grace to recognize and hold firmly to it.

“If you continue in My word, you shall be My disciples indeed, and you shall know the Truth, and the Truth shall make you free” (John 8:31-32).

May the Holy Trinity bless you, and may Our Lady keep you under her protection.

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The Holy Trinity & the Crucifixion

Good afternoon, readers, followers, and visitors.

I find myself very reluctant in posting this, since it doesn’t concretely lead anywhere and instead just stimulates possible discussion. I thought about simply not posting it, but I’d be curious, if there are any, to know thoughts on the matter outside my own. So, in the end, here’s the post, posted.

This is something that I would warn you not to try just skimming. You’ll end up confused, disappointed, or both. Read it when you have time to read it, then you’ll find it more appreciable.

Recently I saw a blog post somewhere that was highly critical of Catholicism for its supposedly violent character. As you might guess, one of the primary examples of this violence that the blogger used was the Crucifixion. The argument went like this, and if you’ve ever come across someone opposed to Christianity, you’ll recognize it all too well: “What kind of God would make his own son go down and die like that?”

In response, I—well, I helping someone else—pointed out that Jesus, the Only-Begotten Son, is Himself God together with that God that sent Him to die, and the Son, having the same divine will as the Father, chose to die of His own accord (as is implied in John 10:18, Matthew 26:52-53, Ephesians 5:25, and many others, I’m sure). Viewing it this way shifts it from being “mean old God sending child to die” to being “God suffering and dying of His own will for the well-being of others”. At the same time, this shifting of focus makes the Crucifixion look no longer like a cruel act of a mean God, but a loving act of a merciful God.

Now, a thought sort of spontaneously occurred to me while I was making that response, and while I ultimately decided to take it out (since it was only loosely connected to the blogger’s argument), I wasn’t ready to let go of it completely. And that discarded thought, my friends, is what you’ll be reading about shortly (we’ll need to make a detour or two before the idea is finally given, though).

Ultimately, the “discarded thought” was a further response to the accusation that God the Father is cruel for sending the Son to die, and it rests on the fact that anything done by or to one of the Divine Persons will affect all three. For example, any time we pray the Our Father, we’re only actively addressing the Father, but it has to be the case that we’re also addressing the Son and the Holy Spirit. Any time we adore the Holy Eucharist, we are not adoring the Son in isolation, but are also adoring the Father and the Holy Spirit. Any time we pray for the gifts of the Holy Spirit, we’re asking those same gifts from the Father and the Son. This is not because we’re modalists. We don’t believe that the Father is the Son or the Son is the Holy Spirit or any of that. Each Person is wholly Himself. However, there is only one divine nature and only one allotment of that divine nature which can be possessed. Let me attempt to prove that point as succinctly as possible—”succinctly” for me, though perhaps not in your view of things—before moving on.

Stating that there’s only one nature and one allotment of it stands in contrast to us here below. We all have “human nature”, and indeed, every human is alike insofar as he is a rational animal with five senses, two arms and two legs, etc… But as you’ll readily agree, each human has his own share of “humanness”. I’m a different human than Joe, Joe is a different human than Stephanie, Stephanie is a different human than Rick. However, this cannot be the case with the divine nature of God. Why?

Because the divine nature carries with it claims of infinity: infinite knowledge, infinite justice, infinite love, infinite power, and infinite whatever else. So if the divine nature is infinite, then there can only be one of it. Two infinites can’t exist. If something is infinite, it is endless. An endless thing will be greater than everything else. It keeps on going when other things have reached a limit due to their finitude. So, if an infinite thing will be the only thing that keeps on going, it has to be isolated. It has to be by itself, only one, not many. This being the case, there’s only one divine nature. Not one divine nature for the Father, one divine nature for the Son, and one divine nature for the Holy Spirit. No, They all must have the exact same, identical one (and They must possess it completely, each of Them, since it is infinite and can’t be split among Them like a thing with a boundary could)*. It would be kind of as though two other persons possessed, as much as you possess it, the exact same humanity that makes you you. Because they have your humanity, anything you do affects them, and anything they do affects you, because they are acting with your individual nature.

After that perhaps mentally painful detour, we finally get to that “discarded thought” I mentioned up above. It was this:

If the Persons of the Trinity possess the exact same divinity (just like if someone possessed your particular allotment of humanity), and one of these Persons (the Son) experienced intense suffering and death, could it be that His suffering and death affected the Father and the Holy Spirit in some mysterious, hypothetical way?

Obviously I’m not trying to say that the Son’s divine nature underwent suffering, thus making the Father and Holy Spirit feel that suffering, too. The Son didn’t suffer in His divinity; He suffered in His humanity. Nor am I trying to say the Father and Holy Spirit suffered and died. They did not assume a human nature as the Son did, and so could not suffer or die. But the Son, possessor of both human and divine natures, is a single Person. The same one who experienced suffering, death, and agony in His humanity from the time after the Last Supper until His death is united infinitely, unfathomably, to God the Father and the Holy Spirit, in a unity so intense that even if the First and Third Persons did not experience suffering properly speaking, They must still have shared somehow in the anguish of the Second Person. We can see a hint of this in our own lives. If we see loved ones sick, for example, or on the verge of death, we feel a certain degree of heartache for them, especially if they are remarkably upright individuals. We’re not sick or dying ourselves, and may not be even close to death, but our love for them makes their suffering ours. And this is the case with our small, imperfect, finite natures. Is it not possible, is it not likely, that this is the case further with that infinite and perfect God, Whose communion with the suffering and perfectly innocent Christ is so strong, Whose love for Him is so intense, as to be only glimpsed at by the greatest of minds?

We need to be very careful here, however, because from the outset, any notions of the Father and the Holy Spirit heaving sighs of grief over the Son or feeling the nails of the Cross cut into Them need to be thrown out. The Father and Holy Spirit, and also the Son according to His divinity, do not possess human emotion or physical senses. But even with that being the case, the unity and love of the Godhead suggests that, somehow, in a way perhaps known only to God, the suffering experienced by the Divine Son affected the other Persons. I don’t pose the question to you as one that I expect or attempt to give proof about. Rather, I give it for you to ponder amidst the fog it brings. Have you considered this before? What do you think? Let me know.

Though please, if possible, keep comments limited to this topic. If you want to talk about the impossibility of the Trinity or something like that, keep it to yourself for now.

*Edit: If anyone feels, like I do, that the explanation of why there’s only one particular divine nature is not exactly relevant to the topic, let me know and I’ll see about removing it. I felt it was necessary for the purpose of highlighting the profound unity of the Three Persons, but now I’m thinking it might just be a confusing and unnecessary addition.

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Why Call God a He?

Hello, readers, a a pleasant beginning of Advent to you!

One thing I would request is that if you’re going to make a comment on this post arguing against it, please make sure you read the whole thing before doing so. Few things are more frustrating than having someone argue against a point you make when it turns out that you answered the person’s objection, but they didn’t read the post carefully or long enough to notice. Anyway, to business… ;)

Somewhat recently I was asked to do a post on the feminist view which tries to make God female—the view which uses the pronoun “she” when referring to God, the view which almost always wants women to be ordained to the priesthood, and the view which, rather than saying, “In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit”, says, “In the name of the Creator, the Word, and the Sanctifier”, so as to avoid obviously male titles. Now, I suppose that in order to discuss this issue, we need to look at it from two angles: firstly, is there a legitimate problem with calling God a “she”, and secondly, why does the Church have a tradition of calling God a “he”?

There a Problem, Officer?

This may surprise some of you, but there is nothing intrinsically wrong with calling God a she. But you want to be very careful for a few reasons. One, the Church has always called God “He” for a reason (more on that later). Two, you must be well-learned on this issue and don’t do it unless you’re ready to give a good explanation for it; if you can’t explain it well, you may spread confusion to your hearers, which is never good. Three, there’s a certain sense in which the people or ideas associated with a neutral thing can taint it and make it bad (in this case, the feminists who want God to be called a “she”). For example, although there’s nothing wrong in and of itself with receiving Holy Communion under the species of both bread and wine, the Church decided to restrict the practice for a good while because heresies were going around, asserting that one did not receive Our Lord whole and entire without receiving both. So to drive home the point that yes, Christ is received entirely in one species or the other, the Church did not allow Communion under both species, even though it’s not evil in and of itself (and yes, I know it’s allowed now; I don’t dispute that).

Anyways, while I would perhaps question the prudence of the statement you’re about to read, it’s nevertheless true that Pope John Paul I said the following in his Angelus Address on September 10th, 1978:

…we are the objects of undying love on the part of God. We know: he has always his eyes open on us, even when it seems to be dark. He is our father; even more he is our mother. He does not want to hurt us, He wants only to do good to us, to all of us. If children are ill, they have additional claim to be loved by their mother. And we too, if by chance we are sick with badness, on the wrong track, have yet another claim to be loved by the Lord (http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/john_paul_i/angelus/documents/hf_jp-i_ang_10091978_en.html).

Once again, I would urge caution. The reason this statement can be made is that God is sexually neutral. To have a gender is the property of a body. God became a man at His Incarnation, but in and of Himself, according to His divinity, He is neither male nor female. Additionally, man and woman both are created in God’s image, so God has properties associated with fatherhood (justice, strength, the tendency to sacrifice oneself for the good of others) and also properties associated with motherhood (gentleness, mercy, a capacity to nurture, and what have you). So God is not more male than female. He is neither male nor female, yet reflects both.

Another thing you want to be aware of is that when the Holy Father said, “…even more [God] is our mother”, a couple things must be taken into account. The way it’s worded here, it looks as though he’s saying, “It would be more correct if we stopped calling God ‘Father’ and started calling Him ‘Mother’ instead”. Well, not so fast. The statement I quoted is a translation of the original text, and it’s quite possible that in the Italian there is a clearer nuance which the English doesn’t convey. Also, if the text appears as shady, be aware that this Angelus Address was not an act of the pope’s infallible magisterium. A pope can speak error. He cannot define error as a dogma of the Faith, but in speaking, he is able to slip. So while I’m not saying that what he said is wrong, it’s certainly not a dogmatic statement and does not require the assent of faith.

Back on the main issue of “is there a problem with referring to God in feminine terms”, you’ll sometimes find that Christ Our Lord is portrayed as a mother pelican (such as in St. Thomas Aquinas’ Adore Te Devote). Same logic applies: God has properties of both the male and the female. It’s not inherently wrong to speak of Him in female terms, but should be done carefully, with the right audience, and not too often, so as not to spread unnecessary confusion.

Why Speak of God as Masculine?

While I’m going to save the best argument for last, I feel like for the Catholic, the fastest initial explanation is that Christ Himself constantly called God “Father” and commanded us to do likewise. He could have said, “When you pray, say, ‘Our Father or Mother, who art in Heaven…”, but He did not. He told us to call God “Father” and continually did so Himself. And don’t let anyone tell you that was just because of the times He was in. He had no problem breaking protocol elsewhere if necessary (eating with sinners, bypassing ritual hand washing, claiming to be divine, what have you). If it were really imperative that God be thought of as feminine, I feel like He would have let us know.

Another argument is that Our Lord, in becoming human, became male. Think for a moment. Jesus Christ is the fullness of God’s revelation, because Jesus Christ is God “manifested in the flesh” (1 Tim 3:16). Given that the Incarnation was God’s greatest chance to make Himself known, is it not likely that He would have become female if He wanted people to think of God as feminine? If it were truly better to call God a “she”, would it not have been more sensible for Christ to be a woman? It seems so to me, and yet He became a man.

I’d like to give one last argument, which is superior to the above two and points simultaneously to why God became male and why God is referred to in male terms at all. The crux of this one is that man gives and woman receives, God reflecting the male tendency to give, creation reflecting the female tendency to receive. It is the nature of God to give of Himself. You can see this in the life of the Trinity, as the Three Divine Persons constantly love One another and give this love without limit. You can see it in the Incarnation, when God condescended to human frailty for our welfare. You can see it in the Crucifixion, where He laid down His human life for us. And finally, you can see it in the Holy Eucharist, where Christ condescends to the frailty of bread and wine, but does so that we might be filled with His grace. This need to give, to sacrifice, is a masculine thing. Man gives, woman receives. You could use any number of situations to demonstrate this, but here’s what I would argue by the end of it all:

Yes, God is neither male nor female. Yes, God could feasibly be considered female if necessary. Yes, man and woman are both made in the image of God, without favoritism. But in spite of all of this, it is most appropriate to call God “He” because not only in His divinity, but also in His earthly life, God did what men do primarily: He selflessly gave Himself for the welfare of others. God reflects the masculine, while all of creation—the human soul as well as the Bride of Christ, the Church—is the feminine, which is receptive, as the female is, to God’s giving. I can write more about the female quality of the genderless human soul in another post, but for now, simply except that fact, regardless of any discomfort it causes to the men who read this. Although they are both without any sex, God reflects the masculine, while the human soul (whether belonging to male or female) reflects the feminine. Thus, it belongs to God to be called “He” and it belongs to creation to be called “she”. Anyone who wants God to be a woman fails to grasp this essential fact.

Now, this is partly why I asked you up above to read the entire thing before arguing. I’m not saying that women don’t give or sacrifice, or that men can’t be receptive. Indeed, men and women alike are called to offer their own personal sacrifices together with the great Sacrifice of Christ, and men are “feminine” in the relationship with God, receiving His graces in their souls. But the point is that, primarily, the male acts as giver, the female as recipient. It doesn’t need to work all the time like that, but generally, it holds true.

And so we reach a rather informal conclusion. Any other arguments I didn’t give here are welcome. I hope you’ve found this post intriguing.

Farewell, until next time.

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