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.

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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.

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“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.