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Holiness and the Sacramental Life, A Review – July 2019

The Church is in crisis. Mass attendance has dropped to historically low numbers, and even of those, gray-haired people far outnumber young people.  The Church is facing a demographic implosion.  Many Catholics lack even the basic catechetical knowledge of their faith. The catechumenates entering the Church are instructed in the mystagogy of the faith, but the greater body of Christ is also in need of a renewed catechetical mystagogy.  Fr. Philip-Michael Tangorra seeks to address this need in the Church with his well-written book Holiness and the Sacramental Life. Part of the problem in the Church today is that “the sense of mystery and understanding of the faith has been lost,” as Fr. Tangorra writes.  A catechetical understanding of the faith is necessary, but what is truly of “vital importance in the Church today” is a return to the mystery and beauty of the Catholic Church, in order “to wake up the sleeping Catholic.”  If people do not see the mystery and beauty of the Church, they will not be drawn to it, or for those who have left, drawn back into it.  

This is reflected at first on a material level, with beauty of the Church in sacred art, and sacred architecture and sacred music.  These should draw us to the source of all beauty, who is God.  The beauty in the arts should draw us to the beauty of God. The beauty in the Church should reflect the surpassing beauty and grandeur of God.  However, beauty is also reflected in the sacred mysteries of the Church, the seven sacraments, and especially in the sacred liturgy of the sacrifice of the Mass.  It is in the seven mysteries of the Church that we make our spiritual pilgrimage of this life.   

Fr. Tangorra frames his whole work around this spiritual pilgrimage, with the exitus, of God’s self-revelation and communication to humanity in the person of Jesus Christ, and in the reditus, humanity’s return back to unity with God.  This is the journey all mankind must make, to varying levels of success and failure.  It is through the mediation of the Catholic Church, the “universal sacrament of salvation,” that the faithful are especially blessed to receive the sanctifying grace of Christ.  It is in the mysteries of the sacraments that we encounter Christ and are “purified, illumined, and perfected” by him, and through them.  This is the theme throughout Fr. Tangorra’s book, that is, the threefold process of purification, illumination, and perfection of the faithful through the sacramental encounter with Christ.  In this spiritual pilgrimage of exitus and reditus we assume our respective spots in the ecclesiastical choir before God.  

It was through the open side of Christ that the comingling of blood and water flowed out.  We must receive the sacramental water of Baptism and the sacramental blood of the Eucharist in order to gain admittance “to enter the kingdom, the Body of Christ.”  Part of the problem with the loss of the sense of mystery in the Church is the denial of the efficaciousness of the sacraments.  If the sacraments are merely signs and symbols, and not truly efficacious in giving sanctifying grace, why would one continue with them?  Fr. Tangorra points out that the sacrament of Baptism, and Confirmation, in particular, make one ontologically different.  An ontological difference exists between the baptized and the non-baptized, as the baptized has been incorporated into the mystical Body of Christ. In Baptism, Christ makes “all things new.” (Rev. 21:5)  The sacramental character imparted in Baptism is brought to maturity and fullness in the Sacrament of Confirmation.  We are anointed to share in the threefold offices of Christ as priest, prophet, and king. Taken together, through Baptism and Confirmation, we become adopted sons of God, partakers in the divine nature, “living stones,” a spiritual house, “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation.” (CCC 1268)  

As the baptized and confirmed, all of the laity is a part of the common priesthood of the faithful.  And so, what are the implications of that?  As Fr. Tangorra points out, this means that all of the faithful, including the laity, have “a mediatory capacity.” The laity can and should offer intercessory prayers and sacrifices, by virtue of our sharing in the life, death and resurrection of Christ.  In Baptism, one dies with Christ into the water, and then, rises with Christ out of the water.  The Christian must live out their vocation of picking up his or her Cross and following after Christ on his via dolorosa.  We must die to ourselves and share in the suffering of the Cross.  Yet, this is not empty suffering.  This is suffering that when it dies and falls in the ground, it grows again to new life.  As Catholics, our suffering, united with Christ, can be efficacious, intercessory, and mediatory for ourselves and for others, as part of the Communion of the Saints. We are priests offering sacrifices in our lives, for the salvation of souls and to the glory of God.  As Fr. Tangorra states, “even the way we drive our cars should bear witness to the resurrected glory of Jesus.”  In other words, offer up that road rage and allow it to be crucified with Christ.  

As part of the common priesthood of the faithful, we offer not only sacrifices, but also prayer. The Church is called to sanctify the whole day by praying without ceasing.  This is an integral aspect to living a holy and sacramental life.  Fr. Tangorra mentions various forms of devotional sacramentals to aid in our sanctification of the day, including praying the Divine Office or the Liturgy of the Hours.  In praying the Liturgy of the Hours we seek to sanctify the day by praying seven times from morning to nighttime.  Praying without ceasing should include other devotionals as well, such as the Rosary, chaplets, novenas, and the Stations of the Cross among other meditations and prayers.  In response to Our Lady of Fatima’s urgent request to “pray the Rosary every day,” our daily routine must include at least five decades of the Rosary each day. This is truly a minimum effort we should be making as part our vocations as Christians.              

In Baptism, we receive the white garments of Christ’s sanctifying grace.  Yet, we know as sinful, fallen people, these white garments are dirtied regularly, and often.  Christ has left us the means to wash our dirty garments clean, to make them white again in sanctity and righteousness, as Isaiah wrote, “though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow.”(Is. 1:18)  This is the blessed assurance we have in the Sacrament of Penance, or Confession.  The priest, acting in persona Christi, is able to forgive us of our sins and offer absolution through his ecclesiastical mediation of the fruits of the paschal mystery. Christ’s sanctifying grace is transmitted to the Church most commonly through the sacraments.  Confession enables us to maintain our friendship with God, and continue on our reditusspiritual journey back to Him.  

The final approach of our reditusjourney is as we come to the hour of death.  Christ provides forgiveness of sins and healing at this late stage too with the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick.  We can partake of this sacrament at any point in our lives, but it is especially important in that fateful time before passing over to our final judgments and eternity.  This is our final chance to wash the white garments of our souls to be as clean as possible.  As like water, bread, and wine, the use of holy oil is an ordinary substance used in the sacraments to transmit extraordinary graces.          

The ordinary signs and symbols of the sacraments make present the invisible realities they signify. This is true in the holy Eucharist, where ordinary bread and wine become the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Christ. Fr. Tangorra quotes St. Cyril that the Eucharist is the pinnacle of mystagogical instruction.  Christ is spiritually present in the Word of God in scripture and He is present in the faithful of the Church, but Christ is present bodilyin the Eucharist.  This is not cannibalism, as many understood Jesus at the time, but a partaking in His spiritualized resurrected body in a sacramental way.  Through the mediation of the priesthood of Christ, “divine things are made available to humanity.”  As Fr. Tangorra writes, “The whole purpose of the sacred liturgy is to offer humanity, through the priesthood of Jesus Christ, entrance into the inner communion of love of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.”  

The vocational sacrament of Holy Orders is necessary to perpetuate and promulgate the sacramental mediation of Christ to humanity.  The ministerial priesthood is able to consecrate the Eucharist, and in effect, nourish the Church.  The other vocational sacrament is that of Marriage.  The Sacrament of Marriage images the love of Christ, the Bridegroom, for His Church, the Bride.  The spousal love of husband and wife is a sign and symbol of the spousal love of Christ and the Church.  Marriage and fruitful family life is meant to nourish vocations to the Sacrament of Holy Orders as part of a symbiotic relationship.                

The liturgy of the Mass, Fr. Tangorra states, “imitates the journey of Christ’s life on earth.” The Mass reaches the sacrifice of Golgotha in the consecration, and then the Resurrection event in Communion.  The one Church partakes in the one Eucharist mediated by the one High Priest Jesus Christ.  In the liturgy, all of humanity is offered up to God the Father so “that they may be one, even as we are one.” (Jn. 17:11)  Fr. Tangorra mentions that there are numerous sacred liturgical rites throughout the Church, but he focuses considerable discussion on the Roman Liturgy, in both its ordinary and extraordinary forms.  In a Church where there is, at times, some tension between those who practice the ordinary form and those who practice the extraordinary form of the Mass, it is good to hear Fr. Tangorra write that “neither of the two forms of the Roman liturgy are in any way deficient for our spiritual and intellectual formation as Christians . .”  Both the ordinary and the extraordinary forms of the Roman liturgy are valid.  The sacramental mysteries are valid too, despite any shortcomings of the priest, as declared by the Church doctrine of “ex opera operato” (i.e., “the work which is worked”), is valid regardless of the holiness, or lack of holiness, of the individual priest. 

Fr. Tangorra concludes with the spiritual pilgrimage that reaches its apex in the Mass: “The exitus-reditusmovement of purification, illumination, and perfection is stamped throughout the sacred liturgy, but the Mass, above all, is that sublime act of worship that, through a union with the Paschal mystery, elevates humanity and draws it back into perfect harmony with the divine.”  Fr. Tangorra’s book is in many ways a tour of the Catechism.  It points us towards the way of looking for beauty and mystery in the Church and the sacraments.  Rediscovering the beauty and mystery in the sacramental life of the Church is ultimately how the Church will be revitalized. Jesus said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but by Me.”(Jn. 14:6)  The Catholic Church is the mediator of Christ’s sanctifying grace on earth, and as such, it is through the sacraments that we find the way, the truth, and the life. The sacramental life is our spiritual pilgrimage that brings us back into communion with God.      

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Kecharitomene – March 1, 2019

The word “kecharitomene” (κεχαριτωμένη) is used only once in the Greek New Testament.  It does not appear anywhere else in Greek literature.  The Gospel writer, Luke, appears to have created it out of thin air. This Greek word is, in some respects, very much reminiscent of another Greek word seemingly created out of thin air in the Gospels, “epiousios” (ἐπιούσιον), which also only appears in Jesus’ Our Father prayer.  Epiousios is translated as our “daily” bread but its literal meaning is our “super-substantial” bread, as translated in the Douay-Rheims bible, based off of St. Jerome’s Latin Vulgate translation.  It was a special, singular word to express a special, singular phenomenon – the Bread of Life.  Epiousios is translated in most modern translations as “daily,” however, the literal meaning that St. Jerome conveyed, hints at the Eucharist, the bread above material substance.  

In a similar manner, Mary is a special, singular creature in Salvation History.  She became the Tabernacle where Christ would dwell. Mary is the new Ark of the Covenant where God would dwell in her womb.  Christ, the Son of God, was clearly without sin and second Person of the Trinity.  How could Jesus a Person of the Godhead dwell anywhere but somewhere immaculately pure and clean?  He could not co-dwell somewhere with sin.  That is impossible.  The archangel Gabriel came to the Virgin Mary at the moment of the Annunciation and declared to her, “Hail, full of grace.” (Lk. 1:28)  He seems to address her more with a title than descriptive language.  He addresses her more for who she is rather than what she is.  Who is she?  She is “full of grace.”  Eighteen hundred years later, Mary came to St. Bernadette Soubirous in Lourdes, France referring to herself as, “I am the Immaculate Conception.”  Mary was reiterating the words of Gabriel in Luke 1:28.  The Immaculate Conception is the one full of grace.

How could one have been “full of grace” before the life, death, and resurrection of Christ? According to Ineffabilis Deus, Mary was given the sanctifying grace of Jesus Christ, her Son, by way of anticipation of His Redemption.  This is the underlying teaching of the Immaculate Conception.  Mary was preserved from Original Sin to make her a suitable dwelling place for the Second Person of the Trinity.  The Immaculate Conception made possible the Incarnation.  The Annunciation led directly to the Incarnation, as Mary gave her fiat to do the will of the Lord. Kecharitomene is the Greek word St. Luke used for the angel Gabriel’s address to Mary as “full of grace.”  In the Rosary, we pray over and over, these special and singular words of the angel Gabriel at the Annunciation and the Incarnation, “Hail Mary, full of grace.”  We are invoking the name of Mary, Kecharitomene, over and over again.  She is “Full of Grace” and “the Immaculate Conception.”  Mary is the Theotokos, the Mother of God, “the woman,” who crushes the head of the serpent, through her seed, the Messiah.  Kecharitomene was that blip in the matrix, where the devil was undone.  Sin was undone in one creature, preserved in grace, in order to bear the Savior of the world.  

Just another reason to pray your five decades of the Rosary every day!        

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Pilgrimage to the Holy Land – Dec. 23, 2018

I was privileged recently to go on a pilgrimage with Fr. Dwight Longenecker and forty-eight other pilgrims to the Holy Land.  We were retracing the steps of the Magi from Jordan into Israel.  The pilgrimage was based on the historical detective work that Fr. Longenecker produced in his book Mystery of the Magi: The Quest to Identify the Three Wise Men. One of the main points of this intriguing book is to demythologize the story of the Magi and root them in history.  Why does this story need demythologizing?  There is nothing overtly harmful to the faith in the present-day retelling of the “three kings,” typically named “Melchior, Caspar, and Balthasar,” who come from distant countries like “Persia, Babylonia, and India.”  The only issue is that parts of it are fable.  It is these fable-parts that are used to attack the faith, calling it just another made-up myth of the Church.  Fr. Longenecker’s book blunts this attack by placing the Magi in a historical context.

Modern secularists like to cast a wide net, portraying not only Christmas, but also the life of Christ as fable.  They say there was no virgin birth, no miracles, and no resurrection.  According to them, we can know very little about the historical Jesus, what he did or said, or even if he existed at all.  God becoming man is just another made-up story, falling into the genre of ancient Near East mystery religions.  In short, Jesus is a myth.  Worse yet, the people who believe the myth are foolhardy and weak of mind.  Marx and Lenin called religion the ‘opium for the people.’  Prominent atheist Richard Dawkins even goes so far as to write children’s books trying “to save kids” from the perils of religion.  Christmas is scary!  

In one sense, they are right.  Christianity is myth.  Christianity highlights the themes of good and evil, tragedy and triumph, supernatural feats and ordinary failings.  The archetypal hero with a thousand faces can be seen in the Bible.  These profound undercurrents of truth run deeply through the human soul.  Christianity is a myth, but it is, as C. S. Lewis called, a ‘true myth:’ “a myth working on us in the same way as the others, but with this tremendous difference that it really happened.”  God’s myth is greater than man’s myth, as it is incarnational in nature.

C.S. Lewis’ good friend, J.R.R. Tolkien, penned a modern-day mythic tale in his Lord of the Rings books, weaving in Catholic themes about heroes, truth, death and redemption.  G.K. Chesterton spoke about Christianity as the fulfillment of myth as well: “The Catholic faith is the reconciliation because it is the realization both of mythology and philosophy.  It is a story and in that sense one of a hundred stories; only it is a true story.” God’s true story is revealed to us in the events of the life of Christ.    

Lewis, Tolkien, and Chesterton used myth in the truest and most profound sense of the word.  That is, all the spiritual truths that percolated up into ancient man’s mind found their realization in the person of Christ. The use of myth today is more of the petty, slanderous kind, with accusations of “untruth.” Think of the ancient Christian “Icthys”fish symbol (“Jesus Christ, Son of God, Savior” used by 1st century Christians to mark secret meeting spots in the time of pagan persecutions), which is now mocked on cars with the labels “science” or “Darwin.”  The irony is that the more science digs into Christianity, the more evidence of its truth is discovered.  This has been no more evident than in recent Biblical archeological discoveries.  

Fr. Longenecker’s book establishes the Magi in history, just as many of the archeological sites we visited on our pilgrimage fix Judaism and Christianity in history.  There are the caves at Qumran near the shores of the Dead Sea where nearly a thousand scrolls or fragments of scrolls were discovered beginning in 1947.  These are the writings from the Jewish religious sect known as the Essenes, contemporaries of Jesus.  The archeological discovery found copies, in part or in whole, for nearly all the books of the Hebrew Bible, except Esther. More importantly, the 2,000-year-old scrolls show only minor divergences from modern translations of the Old Testament. This proves the many textual critics of the Bible wrong.  The text of the Bible has remained intact and substantially unchanged throughout its history. 

The pilgrimage also allowed us to see first-hand that we are now in a ‘golden age’ of biblical archeology.  Ironically (to some), this golden age is powered by scientific advancements and new disciplines; things like archaeoastronomy, Lidar studies, and ground penetrating radar, to name just a few.  There are examples of new discoveries everywhere you go in Israel and Jordan. In 1986, two fisherman and amateur archeologists uncovered the “Jesus boat” in the muddy lakebed in the Sea of Galilee during a severe drought.  The fishing boat was radiocarbon-dated to between 120 B.C.-40 A.D., or roughly the time of Christ.  The Apostles would have fished in a boat exactly like this one.  In 2004, the “Pool of Siloam” was discovered, where Jesus cured a blind man by having him wash mud out of his eyes. (Jn. 9:7)  A drainage repair crew working on pipe maintenance uncovered large stone steps down into the pool.  In 2007, archeologists discovered the long-lost tomb of Herod at his Herodium fortress.  In 2009, while building a retreat house along the northern side of the Sea of Galilee, crews unearthed the remains of a first century synagogue at Magdala (home of Mary Magdalene).  This discovery is now the oldest synagogue in the Galilee, with the oldest known representation of the Temple on the “Magdala Stone,” and is likely one of the hallowed grounds where Jesus frequented and taught.  

In October 2016, a renovation project funded by National Geographic was done at the tomb of Christ in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher.  Some historians had previously believed that the original cave was not there, not that old, or doubted that this was the actual site of Christ’s burial (and resurrection) at all.  An archeologist using ground-penetrating radar, however, proved them wrong.  He was able to determine that the original cave walls were, in fact, still present. The simple cave is still there underneath the millennium of marble, icons and incense of the ornate Edicule shrine. 

Mortar samples, taken from between the limestone cave-surface and the marble slab of the tomb, carbon-dated to about 345 A.D.  This is exactly the right time frame when the Emperor Constantine would have discovered the tomb and built the current shrine around it.  The Emperor Hadrian had built a pagan temple to Venus over the Christian holy site, as a means to cover up Christ’s burial spot, and presumably to stop Christian worship there.  Constantine subsequently destroyed the pagan shrine and excavated the site around 326 A.D., nearly matching the 345 A.D. date, and lending credence to this being the actual location of Christ’s tomb.  Modern science again proved the historical veracity of Christianity.  

At no place in the pilgrimage did Old Testament typology burst forth more into New Testament history than at “Shepherd’s Field,” an eastern suburb of Bethlehem.  It is the site traditionally where the angel announced the birth of Christ to the shepherds tending to their sheep.  The shepherds were the precursors to the Magi in worshiping the Christ child.  The prophet Micah had made an ancient prophecy (8th century B.C.) of the birthplace of the Messiah in the city of David, Bethlehem: “But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me, one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose origin is from of old, from ancient days.”(Micah 5:2)  The Messiah, “the Son of David,” would be born in Bethlehem, like King David before him. 

This is the prophecy that was cited to king Herod by his wise men, when the Magi came looking for the newborn king of the Jews.  Herod also perverted this into his maniacal slaughter of the innocence in Bethlehem.  At Shepherd’s Field, the angel of the Lord appeared to the shepherds, saying: “And this will be a sign for you: you will find a babe wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.”(Lk. 2:12) This “sign” would be the fulfillment of Micah’s prophecy.  The shepherds and the location were not coincidental either.  

These were no ordinary sheep and no ordinary shepherds.  Shepherd’s Field is where thousands of lambs were born and used for the daily sacrifices, and more importantly, the Passover sacrifices at the Temple in Jerusalem, as intimated in the ancient Jewish oral tradition of the Mishnah(e.g., Shekalim, 7.4) and Alfred Edersheim’s The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah (Bk.2, Ch.6).  The “shepherds” were not ordinary shepherds either, but most likely Levite priests.  They were specifically stationed there at Shepherd’s Field to pasture the sheep and preserve the newborn lambs ‘without blemish’or ‘broken bone,’ to meet the requirements of the Law for Temple sacrifices.  The unblemished lambs were then chosen from Shepherd’s Field in Bethlehem and kept for the annual Passover sacrifice in the Temple in Jerusalem.

Shepherd’s Field and Bethlehem highlight the convergence of Christ, biblical prophecy, God’s true myth, and archeology.  Jesus was the fulfillment of the angel’s announcement to the shepherd-priests. It is fitting that when the shepherds came to the manger, they found not a baby lamb, but the baby Jesus wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.  Jesus is the true ‘Lamb of God,’who was the fulfillment of the Passover sacrifice of the lamb, in order to take away sin and keep us from death.  John the Baptist knew Jesus fulfilled this typology of the Passover lamb, saying: “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!”(Jn. 1:29)  Like many of the Christian sites in the Holy Land, the scriptures, Old Testament typology, and history come together to reveal the divine plan in the person of Jesus Christ.

Diving even deeper into the Old Testament symbology, Jesus is the Passover lamb who must be eaten. He is the fulfillment of God’s true myth rooted in history.  The little town of Bethlehem means ‘house of bread’ in Hebrew and ‘house of meat’ in Arabic. Bethlehem intimates the ‘bread and flesh’ of Jesus in the Eucharist.  Jesus was also placed in a manger (i.e., a feeding trough), symbolism hinting that he is food that gives life.  It is no wonder that when the shepherd-priests found the newborn Christ-child, as the angel had announced, “all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them.”(Lk. 2:18) This same wonder is with us still in the ongoing afterglow of the birth of Christ.

Gabrielle Bossis and the Intimate Life of the Soul – October 2019

“Do you know what we’re doing in writing these pages? We’re removing the false idea that this intimate life of the soul is possible only for the religious in the cloister. In reality my secret and tender love is for every human being living in the world” (p.293).

This is a quote from a book called He and I, written down by French laywoman, nurse, and mystic, Gabrielle Bossis, who recounts the words of Jesus that she heard as inner locutions. Ms. Bossis lived from 1874 to 1950, and who in her sixties began having an interior mystical-dialogue with Jesus. Her journal is a recording of this miraculous intimate conversation.

Pauline Books and Media has just released a daily devotional guide, Jesus Speaking: Heart to Heart with the King, featuring quotes from Ms. Bossis’ book

It should be noted that Bossis’ writing falls under the domain of “private revelation” that no one is obliged to believe or follow, as the Catechism states: “Throughout the ages, there have been so-called ‘private’ revelations, some of which have been recognized by the authority of the Church. They do not belong, however, to the deposit of faith” (CCC 67). That is to say, private revelation must never contradict the deposit of faith, and even if it does not contradict the faith, it still does not necessarily need to be believed or followed by the faithful. The majority of private revelations are false. I do not believe the Church has ever made an official declaration on her writing, although it has an Imprimatur from Msgr. Jean-Marie Fortier, Archbishop of Sherbrooke, Quebec from November 14, 1969. 

That being said, I believe it is possible that these are the words of Our Lord to Ms. Bossis. In my humble opinion, they ring true. I first read He and I a number of years ago and was moved by it. It paints a portrait of Jesus as an extremely loving and empathetic Creator who is deeply concerned about the most intimate details of each person’s life. For example, Jesus tells Gabrielle on March 6, 1947: 

“I need each one of you as though you were the only person in the world, as though the cosmos had been created for you alone . . .” (p. 193). 

Jesus instructs Gabrielle on how to live every day for the Lord and consecrate every action to him. We are all called to live holy lives (1 Pet. 1:16). One of the ways we live holy lives is by actively participating in the sacraments, as he addresses Gabrielle on March 5, 1948:

“My invitations are sent out at Baptism and again in my sacraments. It is for you to respond even though imperfectly” (p. 220). 

In regard to the Eucharist, Jesus tells Gabrielle on May 27, 1948: 

“The thirst for union with you is so great that I want to be consumed by you in order to merge our minds, our beings. I want to be your thinking and your doing” (p. 229). 

On October 11, 1940, Jesus reminds Gabrielle, who was an actress, that we are all performing our actions on a grand stage before Heaven, and the saints, and angels:

“What a spectacle for Heaven! Because you are all performing before the angels and saints. You see, you are still on the stage” (p. 67).

We are to live our lives in daily unity with Christ. We can unite our ordinary mundane lives with his life in the past. Jesus lived the life of the God-man in ordinary circumstances, and so by doing, he divinized ordinary actions and supernaturalized ordinary life. The Catechism attests to this:

“The hidden life at Nazareth allows everyone to enter into fellowship with Jesus by the most ordinary events of daily life” (CCC 533). 

Jesus tells Gabrielle the same thing on May 23, 1946:

“I ask my children for the most ordinary actions: eating, drinking, sleeping, working, your whole day united with mine in the past, your actions dipped in my blood and clothed in my merits. There is nothing difficult about this; it heals you of your usual poverty and wraps you in the richest garment. Acquire the habit by gazing at me as I gaze at you” (p. 176). 

Jesus tells Gabrielle to practice the morning offering and to offer him things throughout the day from our daily routines. He tells her on October 15, 1943:

” . . . but in the morning say, ‘Everything will be for you, my great friend.’ Then from time to time during the day, a little word such as, ‘This is for you.’ It will warm your heart and bring balm to mine” (p. 118).  

On the same day, he spoke about making atonement for sinners. This is the symbiotic relationship of the communion of the saints. We are baptized into Christ’s Mystical Body and are mediators and intercessors as part of his priestly people (1 Pet. 2:9). Jesus tells Gabrielle that we should do our part for the salvation of sinners by offering him everything in our lives:

“My child, don’t lose a single minute. Time is short for saving so many souls. It is not merely by praying that they are saved, you know, but through the actions of even the most ordinary lives lived for God. Offer me everything. Absolutely everything, united to My life on earth. What wealth! Give it to poor sinners, most of them are just ignorant.  You have known and received so much. Take pains to help them. You will comfort this heart of mine so full of tenderness, and you will satisfy justice. Offer me all the crosses of the world” (p.117-118).

Indeed, we can offer up our sufferings, in conjunction with Christ’s Passion (Col. 1:24), for the sake of sinners in the world, as Jesus tells Gabrielle on July 11, 1946:

“You take your place in the sacrifice for which the crown is prepared. You play your part in the unfinished symphony of my passion. Love these last sufferings. They are part of your travel wardrobe. The most ordinary sufferings – heat, insects, unforeseen mishaps, petty annoyances that you offer me in expiation – are part of the harvest of the autumn of your life in this ever-marvelous springtime of love” (p.180).

Jesus the God-man had divine foresight and knowledge of all of us and all that we would do in our lives, as the Catechism states: “Jesus knew and loved us each and all during his life, his agony and his Passion, and gave himself up for each one of us” (CCC 478). 

Jesus made a similar statement to Gabrielle on October 30, 1947:

“Any suffering that you offer me with love eases my sufferings. You know that I saw everything in advance, right to the end of the world” (p. 208).

Christ’s divine foreknowledge has been expounded upon in papal encyclicals as well. Pope Pius XII wrote in 1943 on the Mystical Body of Christ: 

“. . . in that vision all the members of his Mystical Body were continually and unceasingly present to him, and he embraced them with his redeeming love” (Mystici Corporis Christi, 75). 

In his Passion, as Jesus beheld the sin for all humanity for all time, he became “very sorrowful, even to death”(Matt. 26:38). In 1928, Pope Pius XI wrote: 

“Now if, because of our sins also which were as yet in the future, but were foreseen, the soul of Christ became sorrowful unto death, it cannot be doubted that then, too, already he derived somewhat of solace from our reparation, which was likewise foreseen . . . And so even now, in a wondrous yet true manner, we can and ought to console that Most Sacred Heart which is continually wounded by the sins of thankless men” (Miserentissimus Redemptor,13). 

Precisely because Jesus is the God-man, we can ease his Passion in the past by our reparations and acts of love and mercy in the present. 

These are just a few excerpts from Gabrielle Bossis’ spiritual book. There are many more spiritual nuggets within. Prayer, the sacraments, sacrifice: this is all part of the intimate life of the soul. It is a good meditation on living a Christ-centered daily life. 

The Intercommunion Controversy and Exodus – August 13, 2018

The German bishops are keeping at it. They are pushing the controversial agenda of intercommunion in certain instances for “mixed marriages” of Catholics with Protestant spouses. Accordingly, the German bishops published guidelines entitled: “Walking with Christ – tracing unity. Inter-denominational marriages and sharing the Eucharist.” It was released even after Pope Francis had sent a letter, via Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) Archbishop Luis Ladaria, S.J. to Munich Cardinal Reinhard Marx, president of the German Bishop’s Conference, in order to stop its publication. The guidelines argue that Protestant spouses should be allowed to receive the Eucharist, because it may cause “grave spiritual distress” to the spouse and the marriage if they are not permitted to do so. The German bishops plan to continue pushing the measure at the bishop’s conference plenary assembly in September.

However, as Cardinal Gerhard Muller, former prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, has argued, interdenominational marriage “does not represent a situation of ‘grave and pressing need.'” He further reflected: “Whoever wants to receive the sacramental Body and Blood of Christ must already be integrated into the body of Christ, which is the Church, through the confession of faith and sacramental baptism. Thus, there is no mystical, individualistic, and emotional communion with Christ that can thought of apart from baptism and the Church membership.” This follows the guidelines of the Catechism: “Ecclesial communities derived from the Reformation and separated from the Catholic Church, ‘have not preserved the proper reality of the Eucharistic mystery in its fullness, especially because of the absence of the sacrament of Holy Orders.’ It is for this reason that, for the Catholic Church, Eucharistic intercommunion with these communities is not possible.” (CCC 1400) Or, in other words, only a person who is in full communion with the Catholic faith is permitted to receive the Sacrament of Holy Communion.

Then, there is the question of Canon Law 844, paragraph 4, which “provides for the giving of Holy Communion to a non-Catholic who has no access to his own minister and who manifests the Catholic faith, if he is in danger of death, or in the judgment of the Diocesan Bishop or Conference of Bishops, another grave necessity warrants it.” The German bishops are using this as a kind of sacramental loophole. Yet, as Cardinal Raymond Burke points out, this exception is meant specifically for emergency, near-death situations. He recommends revising this paragraph, because of “its lack of clarity which has led to many contradictory practices in the matter of ‘intercommunion.'”

There are other, older, antecedents found in scripture to this idea of intercommunion. The Book of Exodus sheds light on the present controversy regarding the Paschal mystery. After all, the Paschal mystery originated in Exodus, as a sketch of things to come. After the original Passover, the Israelites were permitted to leave Egypt. Yet, it was not just the Jews who departed but: “A mixed multitude also went up with them.” (Ex. 12:38) Like the present controversy involving “mixed marriages,” the Israelites came out of Egypt as a “mixed multitude,” meaning they were not all practicing Jews. They were outside the Israelites’ covenantal bonds with the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. It was at the dramatic scene at Mount Sinai that the Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread were established as annual, obligatory feasts as part of the Covenant. Later, apparently, some of the non-Jews of the mixed multitude, in the midst of the Israelite congregation, wanted to partake also of the Passover lamb and Unleavened Bread – prefigurements to the Eucharist and the Mass. How would Yahweh respond?

Yahweh declares: “no foreigner shall eat of it.” (Ex. 12:43) No foreigner, meaning no one outside of the covenantal seal, shall partake of it. If someone does want to partake in the Passover, Yahweh tells them to be “circumcised, then he may come near and keep it.” That is, He tells them to become Jews and observe the commands of the Law, to worship God “as a native of the land.” Basically, God tells the mixed multitude to convert and join the covenant. Only then, can they participate. God is adamant that there will be “one law for the native and for the stranger who sojourns among you.” Yahweh does not give allowance for anyone outside the covenantal relationship.

Yahweh further declares: “In one house shall it be eaten; you shall not carry forth any of the flesh outside the house.” Just as none of the Passover meal should be eaten outside of the Jewish house, so too, the Eucharist should not be carried outside of the one holy Catholic Church. Even if one is baptized, the seal of the New Covenant (like circumcision in the Old), as Protestants are, the Eucharistic prerogative remains: it shall be eaten in one house, and none of its flesh shall be taken outside the house, that is, the faith of the Church. Communion should be given only to Catholics within the one Catholic Church.

This is the Fathers’ interpretation too. St. Cyprian said of this verse: “The flesh of Christ and the holy thing of the Lord cannot be cast out. The faithful have no home but the one church.” And: “The faith of the divine Scripture manifests that the church is not outside and that it cannot be rent in two or divided against itself, but that it holds the unity of an inseparable and invisible house. It is written concerning the rite of the Passover: “It shall be eaten in one house; you shall not take any of its flesh outside the house.” St. Jerome likewise wrote, “All such efforts are only of use when they are made within the church’s pale. We must celebrate the Passover in the one house.” In other words, St. Jerome confirms the parallelism of the Passover as the Mass, and the one house as the Catholic Church.

The prefiguring shadow of the Eucharist inundated the Israelites throughout their wilderness wanderings. God was not subtle with His symbology. When the Israelites were hungry in the Sinai wilderness, God rained down bread from heaven for them to eat for forty years. When the Israelites saw it, they said, “What is it?” And Moses said to them, “It is the bread which the Lord has given you to eat.” Later, the Israelites murmured against God and Moses saying “we loathe this worthless food.” In response, “the Lord sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people, so that many people of Israel died.” If God punished such murmurings against perishable manna, how then can non-Catholics be allowed to partake in the new manna of the Holy Eucharist while deeming it “worthless food?”

In His Bread of Life discourse, the new Moses, Jesus, addressed directly a similar grumbling. He said: “I am the living bread which came down from heaven; if any one eats of this bread, he will live for ever.” Some of the disciples murmured against the Eucharist saying, “This is a hard saying, who can listen to it?” Yet, Jesus did not soften His speech, rather He declared more forcefully: “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.” Jesus forced the issue: “Do you take offense at this?” His disciples had to decide whether it was “worthless food” or not. There is no middle ground to the Real Presence. Many could not accept it, for after this “many of his disciples drew back and no longer went about with him.” It is immediately following this episode too, perhaps not coincidentally, that Judas is revealed as Jesus’ betrayer. Indeed, the Real Presence is pivotal to the faith.

As Catholics receiving the Eucharist, we can answer the Israelites’ question from the desert, “what is it?” with rather another question, “who” is it? We can affirm, “It is our Jesus.” The psalmist wrote, “Man ate of the bread of the angels.” If this was just a shadowy wisp of the reality to come, how much holier is the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Christ in our new manna? How can the German bishops allow admittance to the Bread of Life by those who also deny it? As St. Paul addressed the gravity of this situation: “For any one who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment upon himself.” Instead of catering to emotions and false-ecumenicalism, the German bishops should affirm the sacredness of the sacrament and invite them to a conversion of faith.

Gaudete et Exsultate Impressions – April 30, 2018

The message of Pope Francis’ Apostolic Exhortation Gaudete et Exsultate (“Rejoice and Be Glad”) is one that deserves to be read.  I very much like the spirit of the message of the universal call to holiness for all Christians regardless of their state in life and vocation.  This is a good teaching reaffirming the statements from the Second Vatican Council “.. all the faithful, whatever their condition or state, are called by the Lord – each in his or her own way – to that perfect holiness by which the Father Himself is perfect.” (LG, 11)  We can unite our whole lives, in our daily thoughts and actions, to the life of Christ. I appreciate his mentioning of St. Josemaria Escriva’s call to become “contemplatives in the midst of the world.”  This is a beautiful call to holiness.

On the other hand, as others have critiqued the document, there are a number of unnecessary “distractions” in it.  These are the apparent rhetorical jabs at more conservative, traditional-minded Catholics.  It is beneath the office of the Pope and against the unity of the Body of Christ to segregate the Church into separate political pockets.  The Church is bigger and better than that.  The Church is transcendent, not political.  Nevertheless, she is a diverse, big-tent community.  The idea of scolding certain types of Catholics is ultimately not helpful and only deepens divisions.

Critics have pointed in the document to his discussion on Gnosticism and Pelagianism.  These were two ancient heresies that he warns have snuck back into the Church.  Gnosticism was an ancient heresy that the body and physical realm  are evil, and it was only through secret spiritual knowledge that one attains salvation.  Pelagianism was a heresy that one can “earn” salvation through good works rather than the gratuitous sanctifying grace from Christ.  Thus, it diminished Christ’s Cross and His gift to us for our salvation.

Pope Francis criticizes a group of Christians as “new Pelagians.”  These new Pelagians have “an obsession with the law, an absorption with social and political advantages, a punctilious concern with the Church’s liturgy . .” He adds, “some groups of Christians give excessive importance to certain rules, customs or ways of acting” that “appears to subject the life of grace to certain human structures,” rendering the Church “fossilized, or corrupt,” a “museum piece.”  This is reminiscent of a similar condemnation of neo-Gnosticism and neo-Pelagianism in the February 2018 letter titled Placuit Deo put forth by The Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith.  The letter states: “Both neo-Pelagian individualism and the neo-Gnostic disregard of the body deface the confession of faith in Christ, the one, universal Savior.” And, “The salvation that God offers us is not achieved with our own individual efforts alone, as neo-Pelagianism would contend.”

Jesus did warn us about the pharisaical practice of following the letter of the law while ignoring the spirit of the law.  I think this must have been Pope Francis’ intention.  This is a good point, which we should all fully absorb to avoid too much rigidity and scrupulosity in our faith.

On the other hand, why does the Vatican seem to go out of its way to scold traditional Catholics?  Are traditionalists really the main problem in the Church today?  Certainly, the bigger issue seems to be those Catholics who have fallen away en masse from the doctrines of the Faith, ignore the social teachings, and ignore the sacraments of the Church.  I would posit that, in fact, it is these Christians who fit better with the neo-Gnostic and neo-Pelagian labels.  Liberal Catholics are much more likely to be the ones who want an ambiguous, individualized Christianity free of specific doctrines and dogmas, and free to determined one’s own personalized enlightenment.  This would align much more closely with ancient Gnosticism.  Similarly, a liberal Catholic would be much more willing to say, in a neo-Pelagian way, that they are a “good person,” who doesn’t really need the Church or social doctrines or the sacraments.  In effect, they can do it on their own, earn their own salvation.

The Exhortation spends quite a bit of time highlighting the fact that we cannot earn sanctifying grace, but it is a free gift from God.  We are justified by grace alone.  Obviously, this is true enough. This is the same epithet of Pelagianism, however, that was a common accusation in the Protestant Reformation.  It was a regular critique by Martin Luther and the other Protestant Reformers against the Church’s emphasis on good works.  Pope Francis’ critics would argue he is echoing the critique of Martin Luther against the Church.

The Exhortation also makes the false equivalence between abortion and the “equally sacred” lives of the poor, destitute, and vulnerable.  It argues that the quality of life of the poor and the migrant has the same moral weightiness as the very life of a human person.  This is a nonsensical untruth.  The quality of life of a poor person, or a migrant, as awful as their circumstances might be, in no way reaches the moral equivalence of exterminating the life of a human being.  This is a misleading liberal trope, usually used by liberal Catholic politicians to hide their unfaithfulness to the Faith. It does not, however, excuse us from the Gospel’s mandate of serving the poor, sick and oppressed, which, as Pope Francis rightly points out, is the measure by which we will be judged.

The Exhortation also lashes out at Christians “caught up in networks of verbal violence through the internet . .”  It is no secret that the Vatican has had many recent spats with online conservative blogs, outlets and news organizations.  Some have suggested that the swipe in the Exhortation against “silence” was a personal jab at Cardinal Sarah, who the Vatican has publicly rebuked and his book on The Power of Silence.  The difficulty for many traditional Catholics under this Pope is the perception that he idolizes mercy to such a degree as to make doctrines and dogmas seem elastic, or at worst, irrelevant.  I don’t believe that is true. We shall see over the next few years if this comes to a head with various social issues and synods.  Pope Francis is a good Pope.  But, for all of the pontiff’s wonderful gifts and his humble persona that attracts new people to the Faith, the Church must be able to show mercy without sacrificing truth.

Holy Confidence in God – April 17, 2018

Goodness of God:
Father Benedict Rogacci (1646-1719) in his book Holy Confidence paraphrases the attitude of the great ascetic monk St. Anthony saying, “none should be sad who awaited the salvation of God and His heavenly kingdom.” This is one of the fundamental themes he stresses in the book. Christians should not be sad and gloomy, despairing of past sins and anxiously questioning their salvation. Rather, we should rejoice in the Lord and in the promise of our salvation. Ours should be a deep-seated spiritual joy befitting the children of God. He cites two models of our converted state of mind: in one, the penitent rightfully bewails having fallen into his past sins and misery; the other, the better way, is to rejoice in amazement at the goodness of God in rescuing him.

The Lord Comes to Us:
God loved us so much that He came down from Heaven to enter the world, and took on a body to suffer for us at Calvary. Now, He remains with us in the hiddenness of the Blessed Sacrament, where He comes to dwell within us in Holy Communion. This intimate love is reminiscent of Solomon’s Song of Songs poetically describing God’s love for His mystical Bride, the Church. In talking with the prophet Elijah at Mount Horeb, God said He would be “passing by.” A strong and heavy wind came by, rending the mountain and crushing rocks, but the “Lord was not in the wind.” Then, there was an earthquake and fire, but the Lord was not in the earthquake and fire. Then, the Lord came to him in a summer breeze with “a tiny whispering sound.” (1 Kgs. 19:12) The Lord comes down in gentleness to meet us.

Abba / Father:
Father Rogacci reminds us of God’s tender affection for His children, as He “found delight in the sons of men.” (Prov. 8:31) The King of Heaven is not like the kings of the earth who lord over their subjects. God is not anxious to preserve His loftiness before us, but approaches us with tenderness. He seeks love, not fear. He does not call us servants but “friends” and “children of God.” Jesus taught us to call God “Abba,” or to address Him as our very own Father. The letter to the Romans says: “For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the spirit of sonship. When we cry, “Abba! Father!”” (Rom. 8:15)

Forgiveness:
God’s whole mission is not to condemn the world but to save souls, desiring that none be lost. He does punish sins, but He does so only to satisfy His perfect justice. He punishes without anger or passion. Sin provokes His pity for us, and He stands ready to blot out our transgressions and remember them no more. (Is. 43:25) We are to avoid mortal sin at all costs, and remain in a state of grace. This is why He has mercifully given us Confession, Absolution and Holy Communion.

Believe and Receive:
How then should we act? Father Rogacci says we should trust in the words of Christ: “Ask, and it will be given you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.” (Mt. 7:7) There is nothing more reassuring than these words of Jesus to dispel all doubts. This requires perseverance in our prayer daily. Jesus taught us to believe in our hearts that God will answer all of our prayers, saying, “All things are possible to him who believes.” (Mk. 9:23) St. Peter also tells us to “Cast all your worries upon Him because He cares for you.” (1 Pt. 5:7) Fr. Rogacci continues this idea of ‘believe and receive’ stating: “We should go to Him in all our needs with confidence that He will help us, like the tenderest father or mother we have ever known. We should never fear a refusal or think we are a trouble to Him, but be certain that He is willing to grant with all His heart what we ask.”

Perpetual Dependence:
Sometimes what we ask for may require us to pray for a long time. Fr. Rogacci says this is a good thing. It reminds us that without God we can do nothing. He says: “This necessity of perpetual dependence on Him teaches us our utter powerlessness, our absolute inability of doing any good thing without Him. Nothing is better fitted to humble our pride and give glory to God.” As Jesus said we can do nothing on our own. We are utterly dependent upon the mercy of God and the merits of Jesus Christ. We should not dwell in anxious scrupulosity on our sins, but have a holy confidence in God. Fr. Rogacci recommends imploring God each day with prayer, such as from the Liturgy of the Hours: “O God, come to my assistance; O Lord, make haste to help me.”

Spiritual Joy:
Someone asked Jesus will only a few be saved? “But He answered, ‘Strive to enter in by the narrow gate.'” (Lk 13:24) As Fr. Rogacci points out, this “signifies little to us whether the number of the elect be great or small, but it signifies a good deal that we should do what is necessary to obtain eternal life.” To be saved requires us to persevere in divine grace until our deaths. All of us were like the Prodigal Son who squandered his inheritance from the Father. Yet, with the son’s humble confession before Him, the Father joyously welcomed him back into His house as His son, and as Jesus says, they were “merry.” Fr. Rogacci posits that sadness and depression can be used as weapons of the devil to harm us. Sometimes this is unavoidable, and not always easy. Despite this, as children of God and heirs to the Kingdom, we have an underlying spiritual joy to sustain us. Assured of God’s divine goodness, we can trust in His sanctifying grace. As Jesus told His disciples “rejoice because your names are written in heaven.” This is the foundation for our hope and joy.

Holy Confidence:
We are to have a simple holy confidence in our Father in Heaven who hears all that we ask and pray. Fr. Rogacci echoes the letter of St. Paul to the Philippians: “Rejoice in the Lord always. I shall say it again: rejoice! . . . Have no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God. Then the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” (Phil. 4:4-7)

The Divine Mercy Sunday Promise – 28 March 2018

Eastertime:
It is a wonderful time of year. Spring is here and the opening day of baseball. The weather is becoming nicer and the days longer. Lent has given way to Easter, and the Octave of Easter gives way on the following Sunday to “Divine Mercy Sunday.” It is another great reason to love the season. But, what is so great about Divine Mercy Sunday?

The Promise:
Divine Mercy Sunday may be the greatest day of the year because of the immeasurable amount of grace Jesus promised to pour forth on this day. In the private revelation accepted publicly by the Church, Jesus made a specific promise to Saint Faustina about Divine Mercy Sunday:

“On that day . . . The soul that will go to Confession and receive Holy Communion shall obtain complete forgiveness of sins and punishment.” (Diary, 699)

Conditions:
Christ wanted to draw our attention to the immense importance of these two sacraments of Confession and Holy Communion. So much so, that Christ’s promise amounts to offering the graces of a complete pardon, or essentially a second baptism! Jesus reiterated these conditions and promise of a complete pardon at least two other times to her. (Diary, 300 & 1109) The “oceans of grace” available to us on Divine Mercy Sunday can make us anew and give us a fresh start again. We simply have to make a good Confession (such as the Saturday before) and stay in a state of grace up to receiving Holy Communion on Divine Mercy Sunday or the vigil Mass. Jesus requested we also do works of mercy whether deed, word, or prayer.

Opposition:
But, the devotion was not always so. Initially, the Vatican had received erroneous and confusing translations of Sister Faustina’s Diary, and in 1959, censured the devotion and banned her writing. The ban would last 20 years, seemingly fulfilling a prophetic writing in the Diary that her work would “be as though utterly undone.” In 1965, Karol Wojtyla, the Archbishop of Krakow at the time, commissioned one of Poland’s leading theologians, Fr. Ignacy Rozycki, to prepare a critical analysis of the Diary. Then, on April 15, 1978, after receiving Fr. Rozycki’s analysis and a better translation of the Diary, the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith lifted the ban. The Congregation’s Nihil Obstat stated: “there no longer exists, on the part of the Congregation, any impediment to the spreading of the devotion to The Divine Mercy in the authentic forms proposed by the Religious Sister [Faustina].” Years later, on April 30, 2000, Karol Wojtyla, then Pope John Paul II, canonized Sister Faustina Kowalska and established the first Sunday after Easter as Divine Mercy Sunday.

Theandric Christ:
It had been assumed that such an overly generous and merciful grace as the remission of all sins and punishment would be impossible. Yet, any doubt was overcome and the Catholic Church universally embraced the message of Divine Mercy. As St. Thomas Aquinas points out: “Christ’s passion was not merely sufficient but a superabundant atonement for the sins of the human race.” (III.48.2) Since Christ is the divine Son who took on human flesh, all of his actions were “theandric;” that is, they were divine actions manifested in a human body. Consequently, all of His humanly actions were of infinite value and merit, and more than enough to satisfy divine justice for all of humanity. This is why St. Pope John Paul, who had been thinking about Saint Faustina for a long time when he wrote Dives in Misericordia (“Rich in Mercy”), could say: “This constitutes even a “superabundance” of justice, for the sins of man are “compensated for” by the sacrifice of the Man-God.” (DM, 7) Christ’s superabundance of grace leaves at our disposal an ocean of divine mercy greater than any sin.

Blood and Water:
This is how Christ can promise us on Divine Mercy Sunday a complete forgiveness of sins and punishment. Just as Eve was drawn from Adam’s side while he fell into a “deep sleep,” so too, Christ’s Bride, the Church, was drawn from the blood and water that came from Christ’s side in His crucifixion. In the Divine Mercy image, red and white light is issuing from Jesus’ heart, symbolizing the blood and water of the sacraments for Holy Communion and Baptism. One of the main prayers Jesus taught Saint Faustina was “O Blood and Water, which gushed forth from the Heart of Jesus, as a fount of mercy for us, I trust in You.” Jesus is asking us to trust in the sacraments of the Church. The power of the Holy Spirit can make us new creations in Christ, particularly if we partake regularly in Confession and Holy Communion. Why not take advantage of Christ’s great promise this Divine Mercy Sunday?

The Woman and the Two – 27 March 2018

There has been a lot of discussion recently about women, from the “Weinstein Effect” to #MeToo. Misogyny in our culture is on notice, and the idea of womanhood has come to the forefront. In many respects, we have never before seen a moment like this focused on the dignity of women.

Perhaps it is time the modern world should look towards an older idea of womanhood, that which permeates our Catholic faith.

From the very beginning of scripture to the very end we find ‘the woman.’ Christians often quote lines from the Old Testament and the prophets regarding the Savior to come. This is all true, but it is not the whole story. The prophetic announcements tell of two intertwined together on behalf of our salvation. In the first moments in Genesis after the fall, God declares to the wicked serpent, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed.”

There is some dispute how to best translate the next line in the passage, specifically if it should be “he” and “his” or “she” and “her.” But, St. Jerome in translating this from the ancient Hebrew, Greek, and Latin texts chose to translate it as “she” and “her” as the most accurate. The Douay-Rheims translation based on the Latin Vulgate into English renders it “she shall crush thy head, and thou shalt lie in wait for her heel.” This was reaffirmed by other Church Fathers and in Ineffabilis Deus on the Immaculate Conception as “unmistakable evidence that she crushed the poisonous head of the serpent.”

The effect is the same. The woman through her seed shall crush the head of the serpent. That is, the Virgin Mary through Jesus Christ shall crush the head of Satan. Jesus is the divine Redeemer, and Mary the creature, but the two together crush Satan, and bring hope of eternal life. This is downplayed in our protestantized modern Christianity. The prophet Isaiah talks of the two as well, a virgin who will bear a son. The fall came at the hands of two, and in God’s beautiful symmetry, the restoration also comes at the hands of two.

The Virgin Mary is the masterpiece of God’s creation. She is conceived without sin, the sanctifying grace of her Son applied to her by way of anticipation, but to the rest of humanity by deliverance. She is unique in all of creation. Mary told St. Bernadette at Lourdes “I am the Immaculate Conception.” In the heavenly vision to St. Catherine Laboure at Rue du Bac, later forged into the miraculous medal, Mary is standing on the head of the serpent, seemingly answering the question of pronouns in the protoevangelium.

We find ‘the woman’ again at a wedding feast in Cana. The two together, Jesus and Mary, co-launch Jesus’ first miracle and his public ministry. When the wedding party ran out of wine, Mary looks knowingly at Jesus saying, “They have no wine.” In that one short sublime sentence Mary asks Jesus to perform his first open miracle, and begin his public work of salvation. This is Mary’s first act of motherly mediation too for her spiritual children. Jesus knows what she is asking but answers, “O woman, what have you to do with me? My hour has not yet come.” He addresses his mother as the archetype ‘woman’ acknowledging her prophetic role. Yet, Mary continues to direct the servants to “do whatever he tells you.” Jesus is the Son of God, he is in charge, but he defers out of respect and love for his mother.

At last, at the final stroke of the salvific drama, Jesus addresses ‘the woman,’ this time from the Cross, saying “woman, behold your son,” and to John, “behold your mother.” Mary, ‘the woman,’ became, by order of grace, the spiritual mother of all the living. And, Mary is still our mother. Is it any wonder that our Lady still comes to us at Guadalupe, Lourdes, and Fatima to remind us over the centuries “do whatever he tells you”?

St. Louis de Montfort called the Incarnation the “greatest event in the whole history of the world.” It is ‘the woman’ who is central to the Annunciation, which leads to the Incarnation and the Redemption. At that critical moment, God sends the Archangel Gabriel to Mary, and he greets her with the Angelic Salutation, “Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with you” and “blessed are you among women.” In ‘the woman,’ who alone is full of grace, the inherited link of sin is broken. The serpent can only lie in wait of her heel, and only enmity remains between them.

It was not until Mary’s fiat, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord,” that God became man. God made his Incarnation dependent upon the woman. This set in motion the whole drama of the Redemption. This greatest moment in the history of the world, the Incarnation, is memorialized in the prayer of the Rosary. Every time we pray the words of the Rosary, which are the words of the Angelic Salutation, we are greeting and honoring Mary again, just as the heavenly ambassador did. We are praying over and over again the words of the Incarnation. In it, we are reliving and honoring that unique theandric event, when the Word became flesh in the woman. In short, the Rosary is the Incarnation in prayer form.

‘The woman’ is at Eden; she is at Cana; and she is at Golgotha. And, ‘the woman’ appears again at the very end of time, with the great unveiling of the apocalypse, the final bookend to salvation history: “And a great portent appeared in heaven, a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars.” Our spiritual Mother appears as Queen of heaven, offering intercession for her children even to the last moment.

St. Pope John Paul II highlights this in Redemptoris Mater. He declares that the Virgin Mary was “not only the ‘nursing mother’ of the Son of Man but also the ‘associate of unique nobility.'” One of the great modern errors is that Mary was just a human vessel to birth Jesus. Mary did provide Jesus with his physical flesh and blood, hence the profound link between the devotions to the Virgin Mary and the Eucharist. But, Mary’s maternal mediation was much more in the order of grace. She was, and is, a collaborator with her Son in the work of salvation, as the encyclical states: “Mary’s motherhood itself underwent a singular transformation” with “‘burning charity,’ which sought to achieve, in union with Christ, the restoration of ‘supernatural life to souls.'”

In this time of women, let us remember ‘the woman.’ The Virgin Mary is the fulfillment of that original dignity in our preternatural past. She offers us the example par excellence of holiness and virtue. Mary is the Theotokos, and based on that unique grace of who she is, her intercession for us is most efficacious. Through our devotion to her, she will crush the head of Satan in our lives. She is the Queen mediating on behalf of our salvation before the throne of the King.

This is why we pray: Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death. Amen.

Saint Polycarp, Heresy, and Lent – February 23, 2018

How many people today have left the Church because they deem the Bible incongruent, mythological and unscientific? This falling away is usually undergirded, whether knowingly or unknowingly, by assumptions made in critical historical and textual analysis of the Bible. Modern scholars have sought over the past couple of centuries to deconstruct the Bible by weeding out prophecies, miracles, supernatural occurrences, and other textual peculiarities from the “historical facts.” This technique of Biblical criticism has been used to try to delegitimize Jesus in the New Testament and Yahweh in the Old Testament. What we are left with, so they say, is that we know little about the “historical Jesus,” if he even existed, and much less about the genocidal, tribal God of the Hebrews.

This is exactly the type of heresy that St. Polycarp fought against in the 1st and 2nd centuries.

St. Polycarp, as one of the prime Apostolic Fathers, had direct contact with St. John and the other Apostles. He had one degree of separation from Jesus. Polycarp himself was a direct disciple of St. John the Apostle. St. Irenaeus, who was a student of Polycarp, wrote in Against Heresies that Polycarp “was not only instructed by the Apostles, and conversed with many who had seen the Lord, but was also appointed bishop by Apostles in Asia and in the church in Smyrna.” He also wrote reminiscently about Polycarp in his letter to Florinus, “I seem to hear him now relate how he conversed with John and many others who had seen Jesus Christ, the words he had heard from their mouths.”

One of the stories that Irenaeus heard from Polycarp was about a time when St. John was in Ephesus. He describes seeing St. John going to take a bath, but upon seeing Cerinthus [a Gnostic heretic] inside the building, he rushed out saying, “Let us get out of here, for fear the place falls in, now that Cerinthus, the enemy of truth, is inside!” Along these same lines, Polycarp himself ran into on one occasion a similar heretic, Marcion. Marcion said to Polycarp, “Don’t you recognize me?” To which Polycarp responded, “I do indeed: I recognize the firstborn of Satan!”

Marcion was a well-known heretic of his day. He espoused a particular semi-gnostic heresy that the God of the Old Testament could not be the God of the New Testament and Jesus. There were “two gods,” or so he thought, in a dualistic world. The Old Testament God was the Demiurge creator of the material universe, who sought to impose legalistic justice with harsh and severe punishments; while, the God of the New Testament gospel was one of kindness, compassion, and mercy. As he found these two dichotomies irreconcilable, Marcion dismissed all of the Old Testament and much of the New. Marcion was, in effect, the first Bible critic.

St. Polycarp was not amused. The early Church historian, Eusebius, records Irenaeus’ account of how St. Polycarp would react to the Gnostics he encountered, saying, “O good God! For what times hast thou kept me that I should endure such things!” Although Marcion did believe in the divinity of Jesus, he was a Docetist, who believed Jesus only had an imitation body. In effect, he denied the physical birth, death and resurrection of Jesus. Polycarp responded by quoting St. John, “To deny that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is to be Antichrist.” Marcion distorted Paul’s theology to create an all-forgiving God, and rejected the hard-sayings of the Gospels and the so-called wrathful, jealous God of the Judaism.

Many modernist critics today (i.e., atheists, agnostics, universalists, etc.) agree with Marcion’s interpretation of Scripture. Marcion’s influence from the 2nd century seems to have extended all the way to the 21st century. This modernist attack on the veracity of the Scriptures has certainly contributed to the “rise of the nones” (i.e., those who increasingly espouse “none” as their religious affiliation). They deny that sacred Scripture is the inspired work of the Holy Spirit, and see it rather as the work of fallible men alone. This watered-down version of the faith has even crept into some Christian circles as well. Their mantra is “Jesus is love,” so how could he also be a God of justice?

Interestingly, Marcion’s heresy forced the young Church to deal rather quickly with this challenge to Scripture by assembling and defining the canon, which would eventually take on the form of the modern Bible. St. Polycarp may very well have been one of those early Church leaders who helped define the canon. Polycarp’s own writing “The Epistle to the Philippians” was ultimately not included in the canon of Scripture, but it gives us great insight into the mind and heart of an Apostolic Father who interacted directly with St. John the Apostle.

St. Polycarp is perhaps most well-known for his martyrdom, which happened probably on February 23, 155 A. D. This is now the day we celebrate his Feast day, or, as the account of his Martyrdom refers to it “the birthday of his martyrdom.” “The Martyrdom of Polycarp” is also the first recorded martyrdom themed letter after the New Testament period. It follows a particular genre highlighting the similarities in Polycarp’s death with the Passion and Crucifixion of Christ.

By this time in 155 A.D., Polycarp was an old man in the midst of a repressive pagan, anti-Christian Roman Empire. The Empire was forcing all to publicly offer incense and declare that Caesar is Lord. Those who did not were killed, and in the most barbaric ways, such as being thrown to the wild beasts in the arena. Christians were a prime target as many refused to apostatize.

Three days before his arrest, Polycarp had a vision of “flames reducing his pillow to ashes.” Whereupon Polycarp turned to his companions and said, “I must be going to be burned alive.” When the Romans finally seized him, he said peacefully “God’s will be done.” Then, they brought him to the arena with “deafening clamor” full of pagans who wanted to kill him.

It was then that “a voice from heaven” was heard. Here follows a few excerpts of his martyrdom:

“As Polycarp stepped into the arena there came a voice from heaven, ‘Be strong, Polycarp, and play the man.'”

Polycarp is then brought before the proconsul for examination. He tells Polycarp: “Take the oath, and I will let you go,” and “Revile your Christ.”

Polycarp’s response is, “Eighty six years have I served Him, and He has done me no wrong. How then can I blaspheme my King and my Savior?”

The proconsul tells him, “I have wild beasts here. Unless you change your mind, I shall have you thrown to them.”

Polycarp declines again, to which the proconsul says, “If you do not recant, I will have you burnt to death, since you think so lightly of the wild beasts.”

Polycarp rejoined, “The fire you threaten me with cannot go on burning for very long; after a while it goes out. But what you are unaware of are the flames of future judgment and everlasting torment which are in store for the ungodly. Why do you go on wasting your time? Bring out whatever you have a mind to.”

Upon that, they bind Polycarp to a pile of wood to be burned alive “like a noble ram taken out of some great flock for sacrifice: a goodly burnt-offering all ready for God.”

Polycarp proceeds to give his final prayer, offering himself up as a Eucharistic sacrifice in union with the sacrifice of Christ. In part, praying, “I bless thee for granting me this day and hour, that I may be numbered amongst the martyrs, to share the cup of thine Anointed and rise again unto life everlasting, both in body and soul, in the immortality of the Holy Spirit.”

With that, the fire is lit and “a great sheet of flame blazed out.” Then, another miracle occurs. The author writes, “we who were privileged to witness it saw a wondrous sight . . . the fire took on the shape of a hallow chamber, like a ship’s sail when the wind fills it, and formed a wall round the martyr’s figure; and there was he in the center of it, not like a human being in flames but like a loaf baking in the oven.” Again, he depicts Polycarp’s martyrdom in Eucharistic terms “like a loaf baking.” They then smell “a delicious fragrance.”

His martyrdom concludes with this:

“Finally, when they realized that his body could not be destroyed by fire, the ruffians ordered one of the dagger-men to go up and stab him with his weapon. As he did so, there flew out a dove, together with such a copious rush of blood that the flames were extinguished; and this filled all the spectators with awe, to see the greatness of the difference that separates unbelievers from the elect of God. Of these last, the wondrous martyr Polycarp was most surely one.” The account comes to a close with the author stating the martyrdom of Polycarp the Blessed is “talked of everywhere, even in heathen circles. Not only was he a famous Doctor, he was a martyr without peer.”

Saint Polycarp offers us an example this Lent. He was a great Apostolic Father who adhered steadfastly to orthodoxy and fought against heresy and Gnosticism. He had a simple but strong faith, and spoke in Eucharistic terms of self-sacrifice. His self-denial led him eventually to his own martyrdom. This Lent we also walk the way of the Cross, in a self-sacrificial union with Christ. We mortify our bodies in Lent with the hope to rise in our bodies with Christ in Easter.