Zeal For Our Own Houses: Lent, Purifications, and Keeping Our Souls Upright

J.M.J.

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My dear friends,

Tomorrow, March 8th, we’ll hear one of the more unsettling Gospel readings of the liturgical cycle. St. John relates the happenings for us (Jn. 2:14-17):

Jesus found in the temple area those who sold oxen, sheep, and doves, as well as the money changers seated there. He made a whip out of chords and drove them all out of the temple area, and spilled the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables, and to those who sold doves He said, ‘Take these out of here, and stop making my Father’s house a market place.’ His disciples recalled the words of Scripture: Zeal for your house will consume me.

Jesus-Picture-Driving-Out-The-Money-Changers-And-Merchants-From-The-Temple

The temple referred to here is, of course, a physical building, and Christ here is attempting to cleanse it of those who would use it improperly. But this reading, coming as it does during Lent, that penitential time of the Church’s calendar, makes me think of a second, and much more important, type of temple: human persons.

 I have such a difficult time remembering that my body and soul, really and truly, constitute a temple of God.  Being in God’s grace does not just mean that one is “without mortal sin,” or that one is “kinda, sorta right with God.” Being in the state of grace means the real, genuine, and personal indwelling of God within the soul. Our Lord said to His disciples, “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My words, and My Father will love him, and We will come to him, and make Our dwelling with him” (Jn. 14:23). This wasn’t some kind of nice figure of speech that has no real effect on reality—it’s a genuine assurance, a real sign of God’s love for each person individually. The person who follows God is not just given a ticket to heaven when he dies, but rather, he receives the true indwelling of the Three Divine Persons in his soul.

Not only the soul, but the body, too, constitutes a temple. “Do you not know,” St. Paul writes to the Corinthians, “that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you? You are not your own. You were bought at a price. Therefore, bear and glorify God with your bodies” (1 Cor. 6:19-20).

“You are not your own.”

It’s hard to remember that, isn’t it?

The passage from John’s Gospel quoted above says that “zeal for God’s house” consumed Our Lord as He drove everyone from the temple. If we, too, human persons, are temples, then what is Lent but a time to drive damaging vices, corruptions, and influences from ourselves? Zeal for the physical temple consumed the Lord Jesus, yet any physical temple is destined for decay.  The human soul, however, is a temple which will last forever, either in heaven or hell, depending on whom we have followed in our time on earth. The human body, too, the temple of the Holy Spirit, will be resurrected at the end of time, to add either to our glory and happiness in heaven with God, or our torment in hell apart from Him.

Part of the idea behind the customary Lenten sacrifices that Catholics take on is that they might be an aid in purifying the soul, quelling vices, and bringing one closer to God. But without a zeal for the soul as God’s temple, they can become an arbitrary chore that might as well not be taken on. Are you performing a sacrifice this Lent out of a sense of obligation, or do you truly want to grow closer to God through this offering? Is there some vice you want to eradicate? Perform your sacrifice with the mind of Christ in this Gospel: get a whip, knock over tables, and drive out that which makes your relationship with God a kind of contract, but not a relationship of personal and genuine love.

Let zeal for your house, for your temple, consume you.

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May God bless you all, and have a holy Lent.

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“…Then the Son Himself Will Be Subject to Him…” — Explaining 1 Corinthians 15:24-28

J.M.J.

For better or for worse, some passages of Scripture are just confusing. I’m sure you’ve all had times where you’ve mulled over the meaning of some Bible verse, wondering why in the world the Good Lord couldn’t have had the inspired author write more clearly.

One of those passages is 1 Corinthians 15:24, 25, & 28, verses which are frequently employed by those who don’t believe in the Divinity of Christ: “He must reign until He has put all enemies under His feet…then comes the end, when He hands over the kingdom to [God the Father] … When all things are subjected to Him, then the Son Himself will be subjected to the one who put all things beneath Him, that God may be all in all” (NASB).

Does this not sound like the Son will reign for a time, and then stop reigning, give everything to the Father, and undergo voluntary subjection to the Father? Doesn’t it imply, almost, an inferiority of the Son? Well, it seems to. But there’s a lot to be unpacked here, so let’s take it piece by piece.

We’ll start with the issue of the Son “handing over the kingdom”, then go into the issue of His subjection to the Father, and finally, we’ll address the problem of Him “reigning until” He has subjected all things. In the first respect (that of Christ handing the Kingdom over to Father), it’s helpful to turn to three particular verses from the Gospel of John. Early on in there, John the Baptist says (3:35), “The Father loves the Son, and has given all things into His hand.” Then in John 16:15, Christ Himself says to the Apostles, “All things that the Father has are Mine”; and finally, in His prayer to the Father, He says, “All that is Yours is Mine, and all that is Mine is Yours” (17:10).

We need to bear this principle in mind: all that is the Son’s is the Father’s, and all that is the Father’s is the Son’s. What does this mean with regard to the Son “handing over the Kingdom”? It means that, although the Son gives it to the Father, the Father, having “given all things into Son’s hand” out of love for the Son, does not seize it for Himself, however much He would have a right to do so, but instead gives it back to the Son, due to the infinite and selfless love between the two. Furthermore, because “all things that the Father has” are the Son’s, then even though the Son gives the heavenly Kingdom to the Father, He does not lose it Himself, because as long as the Father has it, the Son has it in equal measure. Either way, the Son does not lose the Kingdom or cease to rule over it by giving it to the Father.

Now, let’s look at the issue of the Son “being subjected”, shall we?

There are several ways to answer this, but for the moment, we’ll stick with the most commonly-used one. Many who comment on difficult Christ-centered passages of Scripture use the following principle to interpret them. Some of you are probably familiar with it already, but it’s good to bear in mind whether you’ve heard it or not. As mentioned by St. Augustine in his work On the Trinity, “[T]he Son of God is both understood to be equal to Father according to the form of God … and less than the Father according to the form of a servant which He took” (Book II, Chapter I). Now, we do want to be careful here, so that we avoid Nestorianism. The Son is not two persons, one divine, one human. He is one divine Person, who has taken to Himself a human nature. Although He is a divine Person, however, He still has, in His human nature, all the “attributes” of humanity (except sin), attributes which include inferiority to God.

With this principle in mind, that the Son is equal to the Father as God, but less than the Father as man, let’s consider it more deeply. St. Paul writes that Christ “became obedient” in His “humbled” nature (Phil. 2:8). So one of the primary arguments you’ll find to explain the Son “subjecting Himself” is that He is subjected as man, and that’s what the passage is getting at. This might seem too simple at first glance, but with further inspection, it actually makes a lot of sense, as we’ll see, and it isn’t just a weak attempt to explain the verse. So how does this work?

St. Paul says in the context of the verse above that Christ humbled Himself and became obedient in that form He took “as a servant” (2:7). Well, we know that Christ kept His human nature, His “servant” and “obedient” nature, even after the Resurrection, and has it even now in Heaven. So  it actually makes perfect sense to say that He would still be obedient and subservient in this form, for as long as He has it (which will be forever). Yes, He is equal to God. Yes, the Father’s kingdom is going to be the Son’s, since the Father gives it to the Son as much as the Son gives it to the Father, as I hopefully demonstrated above. Thus, there should be no question for us about the inferiority of one Divine Person to another, and we shouldn’t think that one Divine Person possesses the Kingdom of Heaven while another is without it. And yet, precisely because He is permanently man, and thus permanently obedient, the Son will always be subservient as man (though not as God), and will always be “subjected” to the Father according to that subservient nature.

St Augustine had somewhat similar explanation for this issue. He said it’s possible that the passage was written this way in order to show that the Son does not give up His “subjected” nature of humanity, that it does not go away at the end of time, but that He is now, forever, man as well as God, inferior as well as equal, to the Heavenly Father (De Trinitate, Book I, Ch. 8).

Finally, there comes the issue of what seems to be the “temporary” nature of the Son’s reign, thanks to the word “until” (“He must reign until He has put all enemies under His feet”). The first thing I’d like to do is point out something that the infallible voice of God the Father says to the Son, according to St. Paul: “But to the Son, God says, ‘Your throne, O God, is forever and ever; the scepter of Your kingdom is a scepter of justice'” (Hebrews 1:8, emphasis mine). If God Himself says the Son will reign forever, that should give us pause in interpreting any verses that seem to run contrary to this idea. Something to remember here is that, many times in Scripture, the word “until” will be used in such a way that it doesn’t mean “up to a certain point, but not after that”. For example, in Genesis 28:15, God says to Jacob, “I will be with you and protect you wherever you go, and I will bring you into this land, for I will not leave you until I have done as I have said” (emphasis mine). Would anyone say in this case that God is going to depart Jacob after He has done as He promised? Or, from the New Testament, there is the statement concerning Joseph that he did not “know Mary” (i.e., engage in marital relations with her) until she gave birth to Jesus (Matt. 1:25). But this does not by any means imply that Joseph and Mary did anything of the sort after the birth of Christ. Indeed, the stance of the Catholic Church in this regard, as well as that of John Calvin and Martin Luther, has been to interpret the word “until” in such a way that it doesn’t imply that the consummation of their marriage occurred later (you can read Calvin’s commentary here, and many sources from Luther on the matter are quoted here). In any case, the use of the word “until” concerning the reign of the Son does not, by any means, imply that His reign is going to end.

With all this said, I hope I’ve been helpful in some way with regard to this passage. God bless and keep you as we approach Christmas.

 

Great is Your Faith: Pray Confidently and Constantly.

J.M.J.

My good people,

I’m just going to say it: We need to trust God more. You, I, all of us: whether we pray constantly or never, most of us don’t trust in God enough.

How do you go into prayer if you want something?  Does it run along these lines, like mine often does? “…I ask for this, and I really want it, but it probably won’t be answered…I mean, I’ll ask anyway, but it’s probably not going to happen.”

Or when you think of dying, do you think that you’re pretty certainly going to wind up in Purgatory, and that God doesn’t really expect or want you to go straight to Heaven with no delay? Or when you pray for the conversion of a soul (say, a notorious politician…) do you retain that judgement in the back of your mind, no matter how ardent your prayer, that it “probably won’t happen”?

Let’s turn to Matthew 15, shall we?

Our Lord is stopped by a Canaanite woman, who begs Him to heal her daughter possessed by a demon (Mt. 15:22). Our Lord says no. The disciples even tell Him to make the woman leave. And yet, she continues, kneeling down and pleading. Still, He says no. And still she asks, and finally, commending her faith, Our Divine Lord heals her daughter, who is well from then on.

There’s a good deal we can take from this. First, there’s no lack of humility if you “bother” the Lord for something. If you want something, pray, and pray ardently for it. Should worse come to worst, your prayer simply isn’t answered. But there’s nothing wrong with asking repeatedly—or even incessantly—for the same thing, and you shouldn’t take a lack of answering on God’s part as an indication that your prayer is opposed to His will. Indeed, St. Paul urges us to “Pray without ceasing” (1 Thess. 5:17). If your prayer is not answered quickly, keep praying for it, even if you end up praying for ten years.

Of course, there is a caveat: you want to be sure that, in all circumstances, you’re open to the Divine Will. Weighed down by His agony in Gethsemane, Our Lord prays repeatedly that He might not suffer His Passion, and yet, despite His ardent prayer, He ends on the note of resolution to the Father: “Not My will, but Thine be done” (Luke 22:42). This must be the conclusion of all our prayers as well.

Now, there’s other things we can learn from the episode with the Canaanite woman as well. Primarily, we must be humble in the true sense of the word, which is to say, we need to have a healthy recognition of our place before the Supreme Being (basically, we need some sizable doses of piety and fear of the Lord).  God and we are incomparable. God doesn’t need us, despite His infinite love for us, and He doesn’t need to answer our prayers. He will, if we are in accord with His will, because He loves us, but we don’t even have the semblance of a right to answered prayers. Not only that, we’re especially undeserving of having our prayers answered because we constantly sin. We constantly turn away from God who loves us, and it would be entirely reasonable of Him not to answer any of our prayers. So be sure to bear in mind when you pray that it is entirely within God’s right not to answer you, whether you’re wondrously holy or horrendously sinful. The good Lord only answers prayers because of the greatness of His love, not because we somehow deserve what we’re asking for. Thus, the woman kneels down before Our Lord and pleads: a position of humility, piety, and reverence; an acknowledgement of lowliness before Him who wills, despite our constant failings, to hear and grant our prayers.

CanaaniteWoman_Drouais
“O woman, great is thy faith…”

When Our Lord finally grants her request, notice what He tells her: “O woman, great is thy faith…” (Mt. 17:28). Anything truly worth having will be worth pursuing, even in the face of adversity. I am convinced that part of the reason He let her beg and plead was so that she would demonstrate the extent of her faith; so that she would be tested. It was Our Lord’s way of saying, “How much do you really want this? How important is it, really? Will you give up on Me if I don’t give it to you now?” And as we know, the woman didn’t give up. She repeated her prayer, with confidence not only in the ability of Our Lord to answer her prayer, but in His will and desire to grant her request as well. But she had to play her part first, which included a great deal of prayer.

Our Lord says in John 14:14, “If you ask Me anything in My name, I will do it”; in John 16:23-24, He strengthens this assurance still more: “Amen I say to you, if you ask anything of the Father in My name, He will give it to you . . . ask and you will receive, that your joy may be made full.” Our Blessed Lord says anything asked in His name will be done. Not “might be done”, but will be done. Certainly, sometimes prayers aren’t answered, either because God has other plans or because the prayer is against the Divine Will, but it must be pointed out that Our Lord wouldn’t say something without there being a founded belief in its reliability.

“…it will be given to you…” 

How much do we believe this to be the case? Do you trust that God will give you what you ask, even if it takes years of asking for it? Or do you pray with the repeated idea in the back of your mind that it’s really a futile enterprise?

Don’t pray like that. Follow St. Paul and the Canaanite woman, praying constantly. And if you’re resigned to God’s will, whatever it might be, it’s wholly probably that Our Lord will say to you what He did to that distressed mother: Great is your faith. And all will be well from that hour.

What, Precisely, Makes Your Participation “Full, Conscious, & Active” In The Liturgy?

J.M.J.

Greetings to all of you, my good readers!

I’m going to begin with a dichotomy, one you’ve probably heard quite a bit if you’ve gone to Mass within the past 50 years. Here it is, with its mixture of truth and untruth:

Before Vatican II in the 1960s, Catholics didn’t participate in the Mass. It was in Latin, so they couldn’t even understand it, the priest was up there talking quietly toward the wall, and the people didn’t even get to say anything during Mass.

After Vatican II, the people have a much greater role in the Church’s liturgy: the Mass is in the local language, the people make the responses and read the readings and perform ministries during Mass, the priest was turned around—it’s all much more inclusive now.

Fair enough. It’s a huge oversimplification, but most people can hardly be blamed if that’s their perception, or worse yet, if that was their experience with the Mass in the Church before the Second Vatican Council. Still, an oversimplification it is, which is in desperate need of a deeper look. And so, my friends, take a deeper look we shall.

I’d like to let you all know right now that this post won’t be saying anything about the old or new Mass forms, or any of the specific practices in either one. So you can breathe easily in that respect; the controversy level will be pretty low for liturgy devotees. Instead, I want to help you unpack the meaning of a commonly thrown-around phrase from the Second Vatican Council which declared that the peoples’ participation in the Sacred Liturgy should be “fully conscious and active” (Sacrosanctum Concilium 14). Most people (quite understandably) take this to mean that the people need to make the responses and perform ministries and whatnot, since the phrase was from Vatican II and since the Mass that came out of Vatican II seems to put so much stock into people doing things.

But then we get to the question: is that indeed what full, conscious, and active participation is, or is it something deeper than that?

As with most questions that run like that, you’re probably able to guess that this active participation is indeed more than just external activity. At the risk of surprising some of you, I’m going to go out on a limb and say the following: fully conscious and active participation can be accomplished whether a person makes every response devotedly or whether he never opens his mouth during Mass. In fact, fully conscious participation can be accomplished even when one does not receive Holy Communion! The quiet Irishman sitting in his pew who keeps his eyes shut and hands folded during the entirety of the Mass can technically achieve the same level of participation in Mass as the reader who reads and makes all the responses with attentiveness and devotion.

So what, then, is active participation in the Sacred Liturgy? It is when you crucify yourself along with Our Good Lord and give your life, yourself, to Him in four ways: 1) adoration; 2) contrition; 3) thanksgiving; and 4) supplication.

Those are the four ends of the Mass, the four reasons the priest stands at the altar and offers the Eucharist to God. Our participation in the Mass, therefore, is nothing more than an extension of those four things.

Firstly, Christ offers Himself (through the priest) to the Heavenly Father as an act of adoration. “To adore God is to acknowledge him as God, as the Creator and Savior, the Lord and Master of everything that exists, as infinite and merciful Love” (CCC 2096). We must adore God simply because God is God, because God is the sustainer of all that is, because God has all perfection, because God is the source of good and love, the One Who creates all that is good and lovable.

Secondly, Our Blessed Lord offers Himself to the Father as an act of contrition. Not for Himself, since He is without sin, but for us, that we may obtain forgiveness for our sins. He said on the Cross concerning His killers, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Douay-Rheims Bible, Luke 23:34).

Thirdly, Christ offers Himself to the Father in thanksgiving, because of the greatness of the Father’s love, His mercy shown toward sinners, and for His very self, which can only be loved when known.

And finally, Our Lord offers Himself in supplication, mediating for us to the Father, praying with His human nature for us and our needs, using His Crucified Self as a prism through which the Father looks at creation and grants all its prayers. “Holy Father, keep them in thy name . . . that they may be one, as we also are . . . I pray that thou wouldst keep them from evil and sanctify them in truth” (John 17).

My good readers, this is what you must do in Mass: offer yourself in adoration of God, with all your fears and imperfections and worries. Offer yourself in contrition, repenting of sin and asking for the Divine Mercy; offer yourself as an act of thanksgiving for all God has done for you, in good times and in bad; and offer yourself in supplication, asking the Lord to grant those prayers compatible with His will. And be mindful of that fact that you don’t do this alone, disconnected from others, but rather, you do it with Christ, placing your “little” cross next to His Cross on the altar during and after the Consecration. He said that in the Scriptures that anyone who would be His disciple must take up a cross (Mt. 19:24) and, further, that anything asked of God the Father in His name would be granted (Jn. 16:23). Our participation in the Mass takes up these two passages of Scripture and turns them into reality: we crucify ourselves with Jesus Christ, offering ourselves to God through Him, in His name, in virtue of His status as God, Man, Lord, and Redeemer.

It is not enough merely to say the responses of the Mass carefully or to focus on the text of what’s being said or to perform some special liturgical function, which are all very commendable things. Rather, in the words of Archbishop Fulton Sheen, “In order to take a part in [the Mass], you have to bring little crosses” (Fulton Sheen, “The Meaning of the Mass”). The Baltimore Catechism was very insistent on this point as well, and although I don’t remember the exact words it used, it was speaking about the phrase “assist at Mass” and said something along the lines of, “One never merely attends Mass. One must consciously unite himself with the Sacrifice of Christ, and thus it is said that he assists at Mass”. That has always stuck with me. One never merely attends Mass. It’s not like a lecture where we’re passive spectators, contrary to the perceptions of many in the pre-Vatican II Church, and perhaps more importantly to be driven home is the point that it’s not just about doing things, saying things, or having a role to play. It’s about making a sacrifice of oneself so as to be united with Christ, Our Lord, the Head of His Mystical Body, whose members we are.

At this point I hope it’s evident that one can participate just as well in the pre-Vatican II liturgical form as in the one prevalent now, and that such dichotomies as commonly heard lack a certain degree of substance. Participation in the Holy Mass has always been essentially the same, the offering of the self with the offering of Jesus the Christ.

Now, because the current form of the Mass desires the vocal participation of the faithful, it is good to be an obedient son or daughter of the Church and participate vocally. But it is not essential, and it’s no skin off my back if the person two pews away never opens his mouth. For all I know, he’s more concretely focused on his ultimate liturgical mission than 90% of the congregation present. In the end, disregarding the goodness—or not—of external participation, the thing to be remembered as essential is that liturgical participation is about self-offering with the Crucified Savior. If you have that down, then you’re doing your job correctly.

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 Mass, and 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, but are able to do so with some sturdy object as support, 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.

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.

“….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.

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.

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.

A Post On One of Many Great Mysteries of the Holy Trinity

Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me thine eyes!

One of the tenets of the doctrine of the Trinity is that each Person possesses the Divine Nature in its entirety. Thus, it’s wrong to say that each Person comprises 1/3 of God. This, in turn, means that one can’t say, “We only have God whole and entire if we take all three Persons together”. Rather, it can rightly be said–as mind-boggling as it seems–that with the Father alone, we have God in His totality. With the Son alone, we have God in His totality. With the Holy Spirit alone, we have God in His totality. Then of course, with all three Persons together, we have God (you guessed it) in His totality. So how does this work? If God is three Persons, how can it be that all three taken together don’t make up any more of a whole than one taken alone? Read on, m’friend. Be prepared for confusion, too, especially if you don’t read about the Trinity often. But Ill do my best to explain why this is the case, and I hope by the time you’re done reading, you will come away with a new appreciation for the holiness and majesty of God.

Reason 1: All Three Persons are Infinite

So first of all, the infinite can only be equal to itself. If “infinite” is “limitless”, then one limitless thing can not have more or less “limitlessness” than another “limitless” thing. If there were differences between two limitless things, then one of them would not actually be limitless at all. Ponder that for a minute, and read it as many times as you need to. Now, if the Father is limitless, the Son is limitless, and the Holy Spirit is limitless, there can be no inequality between Them. Fair enough. But one limitless thing can’t be more limitless than another limitless thing. Thus, the Trinity is not more limitless or infinite than one of the three Persons individually. It’s simply impossible that such a thing would be the case. The Father is as great as the three Persons together, the Son is as great as the three Persons together, and the Holy Spirit is as great as all three Persons together.

Reason 2: One Nature

It is Catholic doctrine that the three Persons are distinct from one another. Each is wholly Himself. Thus, the Father is not the Son or the Holy Spirit, the Son is not the Father or the Holy Spirit, and the Holy Spirit is not the Father or the Son. However, despite the singular identity of each Person, there is only one Divine Nature. There can’t be any more than one because there can’t be two separate, infinite things. Now, each distinct Person possesses the totality of this single Divine Nature. Think about that for a second. Each one has 100% of the Divine Nature. The Divine Nature can only be possessed completely, since the infinite can’t be cut in parts. Now, this being the case, if someone were to say that each Person alone is not equal to all three Persons together, that would mean that all three Persons together would have 300% of the Divine Nature, which is simply impossible. As baffling as it is, there is not “more of the Divine Nature” in three Persons together than in one alone.

Reason 3: All Three Persons are Perfect

This is rather like reason #1. If something is perfect, it is complete. It lacks nothing. The Father is perfect, the Son is perfect, the Holy Spirit is perfect, and all three together are perfect. But there can’t be more perfection in three together than in one alone. Perfection means nothing is lacking. Nothing is lacking in one Person alone, and nothing is lacking in all three, and that means that one Person has to be equal to the three together.

Reason 4: Inseparable

Because there is one and only one Divine Nature, and it is only able to exist completely, that means that whoever has this Divine Nature must be inseparable from whomever else happens to have it. For example, the Son can’t decide to “cut away” His portion of the divinity so as to be isolated from the Father and the Holy Spirit. It just doesn’t work like that. It can’t be sliced up or separated. Ergo, because They possess the same nature, the Father is where the Son and Holy Spirit are, the Son is where the Father and the Holy Spirit are, and the Holy Spirit is wherever the Father and the Son are.

What does that mean? It means that in the womb of the Virgin Mary, although the human nature of her child was possessed by the Son alone, the Father and the Holy Spirit were there present. Not because They were the owners of the newly conceived Body (something only belonging to the Son), but because They’re inseparable from the Son. Because He has the one same nature They do, They must be present wherever He is present. Likewise with the Eucharist. The Father and Holy Spirit are present in the Eucharist not because the Body and Blood which It has become is Theirs, but because the Divine Nature of the Son–the very same one possessed by Them–is present in the Eucharist.

Mind-boggling, isn’t it? I hope I’ve gotten you to think of something new in reading this. It’s really quite something, and if you ask me, it’s proof that the Trinity is real.

You can’t come up with this stuff by yourself.

Eadem Trinitas sancta benedicat vos (if you didn’t get that, try Google Translate).