Monthly Archives: October 2015

The Mystical Body of Christ – October 30, 2015

A real symbol is both a symbol and a reality. It symbolizes a reality, but it also has the real presence of the reality it symbolizes. The symbol, in a real symbol, is so intimately identified with the reality of it that the symbol makes present the reality. It is more than just a representation. The symbol and the reality are one. Yet, even though the symbol and the reality are inseparably bestowed, they are also identifiably distinct from each other. The best illustration of a real symbol is the human body. The human body is the real symbol of the soul. It both symbolizes the reality of the soul and it actually makes present the essence of the soul, or the reality of self. In St.Thomas’ words, the soul is the substantial “form” of the “matter” of the body. (Summa, I, q.76, a.1, a.4) When we think of a human person, we think of a united being of body and soul, forming one human substance. We know that the human person is more than a physical body. It is also a rational, immaterial, and immortal soul created directly by God that lives on after the death of the body. The body and soul are distinct. Nevertheless, the body is not simply a cocoon possessed by the soul. Rather, the body individuates the soul, permanently. The two principles, body and soul, are forever linked and conformed to each other. Man is a composite being, in which body and soul are separated at death, but reunited, in eternal form, in the final Resurrection. (CCC 366) The corporeal matter of the body and the spiritual form of the soul make one human person. As the Catechism teaches, “spirit and matter, in man, are not two natures united; but rather their union forms a single nature.” (CCC 365) Human nature is the body and the soul together. Therefore, the body is the real symbol of the soul, because it symbolizes the soul and also makes the soul present in reality.

The Church is the real symbol of Jesus Christ. The Church symbolizes the continued presence of Christ in the world, and it also makes present Christ in reality. Just as the soul animates the body of a person, so too, the Holy Spirit animates the body of the Church. (CCC 797) As the encyclical Mystici Corporis Christi, or “On the Mystical Body of Christ,” makes clear, the Church is a body (MCC, 14), and specifically, the Body of Christ. (CCC 805) She is both visible and invisible, and human and divine. (CCC 779) She is the physical symbol of a hidden reality. In that sense, the Church is like a sacrament. (CCC 775) She is the visible sign in communicating God’s invisible grace. She is the efficacious instrument, and real symbol, of Christ’s redemption by which man is reconciled with God. (CCC 780) The Holy Spirit “forms,” as it were, the “matter” of the body of the Church. Just as the body is formed in the likeness of the soul, so too, we are formed into the likeness of Christ. We are recreated in His image. (Rom.8:29) This is begun at Baptism and continues in a lifelong process, so that we “may become daily more and more like to our Savior” (MCC, 56), and are being “transformed into the same image from glory to glory.” (2 Cor.3:18) This self-communication of Christ to His believers is primarily through the sacraments, where we are “united in a hidden and real way to Christ in His passion and glorification.” (LG, 7) In Baptism, we are conformed to His likeness; in Confirmation, we are sealed with the Holy Spirit; and in the Eucharist, we are brought into communion with Him and with each other. Christ is as intimately connected with His followers as the soul is with the body. Lumen Gentium puts it this way, “For by communicating His Spirit, Christ mystically constitutes as His body those brothers of His who are called together from every nation.” (LG, 7) The Church is the Mystical Body of Christ. (CCC 779) It is for this reason that when the risen Jesus confronts Saul on the road to Damascus, who is on his way to persecute and kill members of the Church, Christ says, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute Me?” (Acts 9:4) Christ is actually present, under veiled form, in His community of believers, the Church. As Jesus says, “For where two or three are gathered in My name, I am there among them.” (Mt.18:20)

Hidden divine realities are often times expressed in the world through symbolic reality, as has been discussed in regards to the soul and the Church. In a similar way, Christ is the real symbol of the eternal Word of God. In His humanity, Christ symbolizes, in bodily form, the manifestation of the divine and eternal Word, but He also is, in reality, the Son of God. In a similar fashion, within the Church, grace is primarily conferred on us through the symbolic reality of the sacraments. This is most especially true in the Eucharist. Christ is symbolically present under the veiled species of bread and wine, but Christ is also actually present in reality in the Eucharist. At consecration, with the transubstantiation, His body and blood, soul and divinity truly become present, even though our “eyes were kept from recognizing Him.” (Lk.24:16) Christ is the primordial sacrament from which grace is bestowed upon the Church; itself, a type of analogous sacrament; which, in turn, confers grace upon us in the actual sacraments themselves. Sanctifying grace flows from Christ, to the Church, and to the sacraments. We, the community of believers, initiated and sustained by the sacraments, are thence drawn into the symbolic reality of Christ. We become symbols of Christ and manifest His real presence in our lives. We are taken up into the mysteries of His life. (LG, 7) As such, we, the Church, who are the Body of Christ, are drawn into close union with Jesus Christ, who is the Head of the Body. (MCC, 81) St.Paul reveals this to us saying, “Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread. (1 Cor.10:17) Since we all partake of the one Eucharistic “bread,” we are united into communion with Christ, and consequently, with each other. (LG, 7) This is a constant theme of the New Testament. As St.Paul teaches the Romans, “So we, being many, are one body in Christ, and every one members one of another.” (Rom.12:5) The effect of the Eucharistic sacrament, or in Thomistic terms, “the Res Tantum,” or the “final reality” produced by the sacrament, is our unity with God and with each other, i.e., the coalescing of the Mystical Body of Christ. As Jesus Himself testified, “Those who eat My flesh and drink My blood abide in Me, and I in them.” (Jn.6:56) We are made one in the symbolic reality of Christ’s Body.

To this point, the main purpose of the Church is to be the “sacrament of the inner union of men with God” and the “sacrament of the unity of the human race.” (CCC 775) In Gethsemane, Jesus prays to the Father for the Church’s communion with God and with one another, or in other words, for the Communion of Saints, “so that they may be one, as We are one.” (Jn. 17:22) As part of this oneness, the Church’s mission is to take care of each other, and not just corporeally, but also, spiritually. God wills that the Church take part in the redemptive mission of Christ, and become “as it were, another Christ.” (MCC, 53) Christ’s redemptive work merited superabundant grace for us, of which the Church contributed nothing. (MCC, 44) Yet, Christ’s passion and death “merited for His Church an infinite treasure of graces.” (MCC, 106) God could have chosen any way possible to distribute those graces, but He chose that the Church should take an active role in the work of redemption; thus, conferring a special dignity upon His members. The magisterium teaches “not only does He share this work of sanctification with His Church, but He wills that in some way it be due to her action. This is a deep mystery..” (MCC, 44) This deep mystery pervades every member of the Body of Christ. For, Christ wills that His Mystical Body, we, the Church, carry on His salvific mission here on earth until the end of the world. It is an utterly serious responsibility, for “the salvation of many depends on the prayers and voluntary penances” of her members. (MCC, 44) We can petition God to apply our own prayers and mortifications, our “spiritual sacrifices,” in union with the infinite grace of Christ’s Passion, towards the salvation and sanctification of other souls, and in particular, on behalf of sinners. We can be co-redeemers. Again, this is not from anything we have done or earned or merited. We can do nothing without Christ. All grace is from Him. Christ simply wills that we should share in His work. The encyclical says we must offer our “prayers, works, and sufferings” every day to the Eternal Father. (MCC, 109) In this way we resemble Christ (MCC, 47) in our intercession and mediation for the whole human family. Being one body, we must have “the same care for one another.” (1 Cor.12:25) As individual members of the Mystical Body of Christ we must be rustled up from our slumber with a “supernatural charity” for the good of all men. (MCC, 97) We can do this by remaining faithful to the Church. When we abide as members united in His Mystical Body, He too abides in us by the Holy Spirit. We become a living symbolic reality, where Christ is truly present in the world again.

Laborers in the Vineyard (the Vocation of the Laity) – October 23, 2015

“For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. After agreeing with the laborers for the usual daily wage, he sent them into his vineyard. When he went out about nine o’clock, he saw others standing idle in the marketplace; and he said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.’ So they went.  When he went out again about noon and about three o’clock, he did the same. And about five o’clock he went out and found others standing around; “and he said to them, ‘Why are you standing here idle all day?’  They said to him, ‘Because no one has hired us.’ He said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard.’” (Mt. 20:1-7)

God is calling each of us to work in His vineyard. Just as the landowner in the parable hires laborers, so too, Jesus says to us, “You also go into the vineyard.” The vineyard, of course, is an allusion to the world around us. God is the landowner, and we are His potential laborers. And, what is God’s work in the vineyard? Jesus Himself answers this saying, “This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He has sent.” (Jn. 6:29) Later on, just before His final Ascension into Heaven, Jesus gives the “Great Commission,” telling His disciples, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you.” (Mt. 28:19-20) The work Jesus commands us to do in the vineyard is to spread His Gospel, the Good News, to the whole world. We are to herald the Kingdom of God. This is the universal mission of the Church. Christianity is not confined to any one region, or to any one people, or to any one time, but the Gospel is meant for all. Our labor in the vineyard is to evangelize all peoples for the salvation of souls. This is the harvest. From the time that Jesus spoke those words, 2,000 years ago, till now, it is estimated that approximately fifty billion (or 50,000,000,000) people have lived. Today alone, the world has over seven billion (or 7,000,000,000+) people. Now, that is a lot of grapes! As Jesus said, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few.” (Mt. 9:37) And so, we see in the parable, the landowner keeps coming out to the marketplace in the hours throughout the day each time to call for more laborers.* It doesn’t matter what “hour” we are called; whether in the early morning or in the late afternoon, whether early in life or late in life, God is calling us just the same, now, at this hour, urgently, “You also go into the vineyard.”

“You” is, in fact, us. The vast majority of “us” are the lay faithful of the Church, or the laity. In a post-synodal apostolic exhortation, Pope John Paul II, addressed the vocation and the mission of the laity in the document, Christifideles Laici, or “Christ’s Lay Faithful.” It explains the “unique character of their vocation” to “seek the Kingdom of God by engaging in temporal affairs and ordering them according to the plan of God.” (CL 9; LG 31) We, the lay faithful, are to live the Christian life in the midst of the world by bringing our spiritual values to our temporal surroundings. We need not recoil from the world or embrace all aspects of it, but should live out our Christian vocation in whatever state we find ourselves. The Exhortation says the lay faithful “contribute to the sanctification of the world, as from within like leaven.” (CL 15; LG 31) God has assigned us an insider job! We are Christ’s leaven sprinkled throughout the “dough” of the world, specifically into the particular areas and communities that He has sent us. By definition, yeast is to have an “altering or transforming influence.” Jesus Himself compared the Kingdom of Heaven to yeast in making bread, saying even though only a little yeast was used, it “permeated every part of the dough.” (Mt.13:33) And, so it is with us. The laity is to have a transforming influence, like yeast, upon the whole world. Jesus also proclaims us the “salt of the earth” and the “light of the world.” (Mt. 5:13,14) These are strong words showing the unique dignity of our vocation as Christians. We would do well to remember the great significance Jesus placed on His disciples. The laity is called to shine that significance and that dignity in the people around us by fostering a “Christian animation of the temporal order.” (CL, 36) This call is even more urgent today. In the Vatican II document Apostolicam Actuositatem (“Decree on the Apostolate of Lay People”), the Council recognized the great need in modern times for an “infinitely broader and more intense” lay apostolate. (AA, 1) Before Jesus would come to a town He sent pairs of disciples ahead of Him to preach to them and prepare them. (Lk. 10:1) So too, “It is the Lord who is again sending them [us] into every town and every place where He Himself is to come.” (AA, 33) We are His messengers still, sent to prepare the way before Him.

God sends us into the vineyard to work for the salvation of each person. Each of us is “unique and irrepeatable.” (CL, 28) We have distinct identities, character, and actions, which, in total, will never be repeated again. Each of us is unique in the history of the world. There will never be another one of you.  We have a unique and irrepeatable contribution to make.  We were all a distinct and individual thought in the mind of God before our creation. As the prophet said, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you.” (Jer. 1:5) God calls us personally by name. The Church exhorts, “from eternity God has thought of us and has loved us as unique individuals. Every one of us He called by name, as the Good Shepherd ‘calls his sheep by name’ (Jn.10:3).” (CL, 58) We receive our dignity as individual persons from Him, for this is the image of God within us. The personhood (“I”) in our consciousness, our minds and souls, is derived from the personhood of God (“I Am”). Thus, our dignity as an individual person is our “most precious possession.” (CL37) It is for this reason that the Church fulfills her mission in the world primarily through the person and in service to all humanity. (CL, 36) All human life is precious. And so, part of the way the laity evangelizes the world is in upholding our basic human rights and promoting a culture of life, not death. The laity must evangelize on the unique, unrepeatable, and inviolable dignity of each person as an image of God; in short, with an authentic humanism. (CL, 38)

Man is important because of our foundational dignity in Christ. He is the source and the primordial sacrament. Jesus references this when He says, I am the vine, you are the branches,” and “apart from Me you can do nothing.” (Jn.15:5) We are unique and irrepeatable, but we are also, in some way connected as one with Jesus as part of His mystical body. The Church recognizes the “extraordinary and profound fact that ‘through the Incarnation the Son of God has united Himself in some fashion to every person.’” (CL 36; GS 22) This is an under-appreciated fact of our religion. Because the infinite God became man, we are now connected in our humanity back to God through the human nature of Jesus Christ. The Vatican II document Gaudium et Spes, or “Joy and Hope,” (ie, “Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World”) refers to this unity between God and Man, via the Incarnation, in the human nature of Jesus Christ. It says, “Human nature, by the very fact that it was assumed, not absorbed, in Him, has been raised in us also to a dignity beyond compare.” (GS, 22) Christ, the Son of God, has lived the same human existence as us in the ordinary conditions of life. The magisterium teaches that the laity can “through the very performance of their tasks, which are God’s will for them, actually promote the growth of their union with Him.” (AA, 4) We can live in unity with Christ by living out our vocation in the ordinary circumstances of our lives. As the Word of God entered human history, He recapitulated everything in Himself. (GS, 38) So, by gathering up “all things in Him” (Eph.1:10), Jesus sanctified and redeemed human nature. We, the laity especially, can achieve holiness by living “above all in the ordinary circumstances of daily life.” (GS, 38) Our daily activities are actually occasions for us to join ourselves with God. (CL, 17) Christ ennobled the dignity of work by using the labor of His hands in the carpenter’s workshop in Nazareth. When we offer our work up to God, through faith, it is ennobled in association with the work of Christ. (GS, 67; CL 43) In our work, in our leisure, in our sufferings, and in all of our activities, we can unite ourselves ever more intimately with God in our every day lives. Each day is another opportunity to work for the plentiful harvest in the vineyard. And so, here now again, we the lay-faithful, must follow that resounding call of the Lord echoing through the centuries, “You also go into the vineyard.”

*There is an interesting juxtaposition of the hours of calling the laborers matching the Liturgy of the Hours.

Baptism, Initiation into the Common Priesthood – October 15, 2015

“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Mt.28:19-20)

“Baptism imprints on the soul an indelible spiritual sign, the character, which consecrates the baptized person for Christian worship.” (CCC 1280)

The sacrament of Baptism initiates us into the mystery of Christ. It is the essential rite to eternal life, and the beginning point of the whole Christian experience. (CCC 1213) In Baptism, God first demonstrates His self-communication to us. It imprints His indelible mark upon our souls configuring us to the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The character of Christ is irrevocably sealed upon our minds and souls, configuring us to a new and eternal spiritual reality. (CCC 1272) It transforms who we are. A permanent ontological change takes place to our very being. Just as a material object or person is visibly sealed with a mark, defining who or what it is, or whose property it might be, so too, in Baptism, God marks our immaterial souls invisibly and permanently, claiming us as His own. It sets us apart. It can only be done once, and nothing can undo it. It is a necessary transformation. Jesus attests to it, saying, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit.” (Jn.3:5) Baptismal water is a graced sign, a real symbol, which efficaciously applies the invisible grace it signifies. It does in reality, the sign it points to. We are washed of Original Sin, purified of all of our sins, and regenerated to eternal life. It consecrates us into the sacramental character of Christ’s paschal mystery, impressing upon us His saving grace of the Cross. (SC, 6) We are sealed with Christ’s imprimatur, conforming us to the God-man. (2 Cor. 1:21-22) He alone conquered sin, and death itself, so that by faith and grace, we too, who are flesh and blood mortals, may partake in His supernatural life. Baptism is necessary because Christ alone overcame death. We need His divine life in us, so we too will rise to eternal life. Baptism anticipates our own resurrection. Through it, we are grafted into communion with the Easter mysteries. The mystery of Christ becomes alive to us, and in us. Christ in His life, and in His Passion and suffering, and all that He was in His eternal and divine humanity, begins to unfold and live out in our individual lives. When we are immersed into the water, we are brought into His death, and rising from the water, we are brought into His life and resurrection. (Rom. 6:3-4) As the Catechism says, “It signifies and actually brings about death to sin and entry into the life of the Most Holy Trinity through configuration to the Paschal mystery of Christ.” (CCC 1239) We are made into a new living, Trinitarian reality; spiritually reordered towards the Father, configured to the Son, and filled with the Holy Spirit. We become adopted children of God, by faith and grace; baptized into the Son of God, we are made partakers in the divine nature by proxy, as He is in reality.

We are indeed remade into this new holy status as children of God, and temples of the Holy Spirit, and co-heirs with Christ. It makes us, first and foremost, Christian, and members of the Church, the Body of Christ, and gains us access to divine grace in the rest of the sacraments. It is our foundation for the supernatural life. But, it is also the first moment of a lifelong phenomenon of conversion. Baptism is more than just a single event, or a static state; it transforms us in such a way that we are perpetually drawn deeper into the living reality of Christ. It allows us to engage in the sacramental life and realize the mysteries of Christ in our being. It establishes a new dynamic in our consciousness, where our everyday circumstances are reinterpreted and contextualized within the divine humanity of Christ. Our humanity is elevated and divinized. We are afforded special offices. One of these is our incorporation into the common priesthood of the faithful, the baptized, and the ordinary. With a sacred chrism, the oil consecrated by the bishop, the newly baptized is anointed into Christ as “priest, prophet, and king.” (CCC 1241) We become sharers in Christ’s one eternal priesthood. As Lumen Gentium, the Dogmatic Constitution of the Church, says, “The baptized, by regeneration and the anointing of the Holy Spirit, are consecrated as a spiritual house and a holy priesthood.” (LG, 10) Even as Christ is the one true and eternal Mediator between God and man, He still graciously saw fit that we should also participate, to varying degrees, in His priestly office. As part of our baptismal right and dignity, we can exercise that priestly office by virtue of our association in Christ’s life, passion, and redemptive sacrifice.

But, what are our priestly functions? Scripture and the Church say we are to make spiritual sacrifices. We are to offer up interiorly all of our actions, words, deeds, suffering, successes, and all that we do, for the glory of God and for the intercession of souls. The magisterium teaches that the baptized should “present themselves as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God.” (LG, 10 ) Every common thing in our ordinary existence can be extended towards God as a sacrifice in our common priesthood. We can offer up everything, including our prayers, sacrifices, fasting, bodily weaknesses, illness, even patiently enduring the things that annoy us, or nearly anything that may otherwise seem useless and worthless in the eyes of the world. God’s eternal priesthood is mediated in the implements of our material world. Our physical operations can have spiritual significance. We can exercise our priesthood, in such a way, that we can, in effect, “sacramentalize” all that we do. That is, we spiritualize our activity through faith and with the intention of offering reparation to God. This is how we become living sacrifices. As the magisterium explains, we can “exercise that priesthood in receiving the sacraments, in prayer and thanksgiving, in the witness of a holy life, and by self-denial and active charity.” (LG, 10) By ourselves, a branch separated from the vine, our actions have no spiritual power. But, united with Christ, in the power of the Holy Spirit, our actions can be spiritually efficacious for reparation of our sins and the sins of others. This is our role in the communion of saints. We are mediators. Through initiation in Baptism and the imprinting of Christ’s priestly seal upon us, we become priests. We can use our willful intention to please God, in a particular activity, invoke the anointing of the Holy Spirit, and raise that up as a form of worship. So, we can, for illustration, use our being hungry on any given afternoon, or say, being stuck behind a slow driver in our morning commute, to invoke the Holy Spirit, and offer these annoyances up to God for the sanctification of souls. These are just two minor examples, but the possibilities are nearly endless. St.Paul explains these spiritual sacrifices. He says, I am now rejoicing in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am completing what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church.” (Col.1:24) Christ deemed us worthy to take part in His priestly ministry, and left for us a portion of the redemption to offer up to the Father. He made us a living Church, actively carrying on His mission. Christ’s presence and power remain hidden now sacramentally, just as it did in His life then when He walked the earth.  Some people today see just bread and wine, and not the body and blood of Christ, as before they saw just the carpenter’s son, and not the Son of God.  Christ continues His priestly mediation for the world today through us. In this vein, St.Paul is dutifully acting out his priestly character. He offers intercession and mediation for the Church, through his own sufferings, in unity with the sufferings of Christ. We are called to do the same. Christ has deputized us. He appointed us His priests. It is our role to live as mediators and intercessors here on earth in imitation of Him. We are to stand in the breach for those entrusted to us.  Baptism is everything, but it’s also just the beginning.

The Sacrament of Divine Mercy – October 9, 2015

“then the Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living being.” (Gen.2:7)

“When He had said this, He breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” (Jn. 20:22-23)

The sacraments are the very heart of Christianity. They are the manifestation of Christ in the world. In them, Christ truly becomes present to us. They are the visible sign and the real symbol that are the very inward grace they signify. They signify the grace they cause, and cause the grace they signify. God’s grace is present efficaciously. (CCC 1084) They are our gateway to communion with God as well as our lighted guideposts to remain in communion. To stray from them is to risk walking in darkness and death. For, the seven sacraments are imbued with the sanctifying grace of Christ’s eternal act of redemption. In receiving the sacraments, that sanctifying grace of redemption is applied to our soul. It is the supernatural power that God uses to act in our lives. Sanctifying grace is what saves us. In the sacraments, Christ’s redemptive act is transmuted into a symbolic reality and transferred directly to our souls. This is miraculous and amazing. It is also the foundation of orthodoxy. The Church, as the administrator of the sacraments, is the holder and the dispensary of Christ’s miraculous grace. Although the priest acts in persona Christi, we know that it is truly Christ Himself, through the priest, who confers sanctifying grace. (CCC 1088)  This sacramental grace allows us to enter into an immediate relationship with the living God.

Yet, the application of that redemptive grace varies from sacrament to sacrament. In Baptism, we gain our initial entry into Christ’s salvific action. Our souls are cleansed of Original Sin and incorporated into His death and Resurrection. It is our entrance into eternal life, and makes possible our lifelong communion with God. In the Eucharist, Christ’s redemptive grace actually comes to us in bodily form. The very body and blood of Jesus are made present physically. In consuming Him, we are continually sanctified and remade into His mystical body. He is literally our sustenance to eternal life. In Reconciliation, Christ’s sanctifying grace restores our relationship to God and the Church through the forgiveness of our sins. In our fallen human nature, still beset by frailty, weakness and concupiscence, we regularly regress back into sin. Christ knew our nature, and so, afforded us His sacrament of forgiveness. Repentance becomes linked to life. In the book of Genesis, it says God formed man from the ground and breathed life into him. The Hebrew word used for breath is רוח (ruach), which also means “spirit.” When God breathed into man, He made him a living spirit. We see that same word רוח repeated when the Resurrected Jesus appears to His disciples and He “breathes” (רוח again) on them, and thus, institutes the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Jesus is implicitly, or some might say, explicitly, linking His sacraments and the Holy Spirit with God’s life giving spirit at Creation. Immediately after He breathes on them, He says, “Receive the Holy Spirit,” and any sins you forgive are forgiven, and any you retain are retained. Jesus transfers His divine power, the power to forgive sins, to His Apostles. Now, with the capacity to forgive sins, the Church has another restorative power to heal our spirits. Just as Adam was, originally before the Fall, a living spirit, a pure man in communion with God, so too now, we can be restored as living spirits through our Redeemer. We pass from death into life as new creations. God again breathes into man and reanimates us. Through grace in the sacraments He not only brings us to life, but also, sustains that life with His on-going and unlimited forgiveness found in the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

One of the most poignant stories in all of scripture is Jesus’ parable of the prodigal son. It is so poignant and moving because Jesus gives us a glimpse in detail of the immense and unconditional love God has for us. In the parable, a son takes his inheritance early from his father, goes off to a distant land, and spends it all on “dissolute living.” After he had nothing left and was dying from hunger, he finally comes to his senses. He decides to repent of his sins and go back to his father’s house. As the son says, “I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you.” (Lk.15:18) As the son is penitent and returning to his father’s house, we see the great mercy of the father: “But while he was still far off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion; he ran and put his arms around him and kissed him.” (Lk.15:20) Even as the son was “still far off,” the father hurriedly went out to embrace him. And Jesus shows how great is the mercy of the father, who is superabundantly generous to the son. He says: “But the father said to his slaves, ‘Quickly, bring out a robe—the best one—and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet.  And get the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; for this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!’ And they began to celebrate.” (Lk. 15:23-24) Jesus’ parable of the prodigal son is rich in the underlying truths of forgiveness and divine mercy. In the parable, we are the prodigal son, and God is the father. We, through Original Sin and committing sins during our lives, have lived lives unworthy of God, and consequently, squandered our inheritance, that is, eternal life. We were dead in our sins; outside of the Father’s house. Yet, when we recognize our own destitution and repent of our sins, God notices this, even while we are still struggling with sin “far off.” As soon as we repent and turn back to God, the Father embraces us immediately. As the son did, we must admit and confess our sins to Him with heartfelt sincerity. We should confess to God as he did, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you.” Then, look at the response of God to our repentance and confession. God immediately welcomes us back into His divine friendship and adorns us with grace. This is represented in clothing the son with his best robe, putting a ring on his finger, and sandals on his feet. God immediately calls for a celebration. He orders the fatted calf to be killed so they can have a great feast. Jesus gives us a revelation.  He reveals God’s reaction to our repentance: He is ecstatic. Jesus mentions this in similar parables, on finding the lost coin and finding the lost sheep, that there is so much “joy in heaven,” even over one sinner who repents. (Lk. 15:7) We were dead in our sins, but when we repent, are made “alive again.” The prodigal son parable shows the compassion and forgiveness God offers us. It reveals the superabundant grace God waits to lavish upon us, if we but turn back to Him.

The Christian life is one of constantly turning away from sin and back towards God. The bible uses the Greek word “metanoia” [μετάνοια], or “a turning away” from one’s sins. We are called to a constant state of conversion. In Pope John Paul II’s encyclical, Dives in Misericordia, “Rich in Mercy,” he describes how when we come to see God’s tender mercy, we “can live only in a state of being continually converted to Him.” (DM, 13) This should be our “permanent attitude” and “state of mind.” Our consciousness becomes increasingly branded by our offenses against God, and this should lead us to repent. In the analogy of the prodigal son story, the son says to the father “I am no longer worthy to be called your son.” (Lk.15:19). As Pope John Paul II points out in the encyclical, we begin to realize our lost dignity in the severing of our relationship with the Father. He writes, “at the center of the prodigal son’s consciousness, the sense of lost dignity is emerging, the sense of that dignity that springs from the relationship of the son with the father.” (DM, 5) So too, should our consciousness reflect that deep connection between our sinfulness and lost dignity. Our sins sever us from our relationship with the Father, and we lose that inherent dignity as children of God. In the same way, turning away from sin, repenting, restores our dignity as sons and daughters of God. Jesus Himself preached this saying, “the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.” (Mk.1:15) Jesus calls us to an interior conversion of the heart; a contrite heart moved to penance and renewal, in order to be reconciled to God. (CCC 1428) So that, in this way, we can “be holy and without blemish” (Eph. 5:27), and “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Mt.5:48)

But, how do we do this? The most effective, secure and efficacious way is to receive absolution in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. In the sacrament, we know that Jesus is truly present. We know it is an act that embodies our conversion, penance, confession, forgiveness and reconciliation. (CCC 1423-1424) These are Jesus’ requirements to regain eternal life. In Reconciliation, we receive sacramental grace with the absolute assurance of the forgiveness of our sins. In the Gospels, Jesus gives Peter and the Apostles the “keys of the kingdom” and the power to “bind and loose.” Jesus said to them, “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” (Mt.16:19) As such, the Church has the authority directly from Christ to forgive sins. It is Christ, under the guise of the priest, there in the confessional who forgives our sins. How much better is life if we maintain that intimate friendship with God by regularly turning away from sin and turning towards God in the Sacrament of Reconciliation? Here, we find divine mercy. We are like the paralytic who Jesus healed, and whose sins He forgave. “He personally addresses every sinner: ‘My son, your sins are forgiven.’” (CCC 1484; Mk.2:5) What a wonderful assurance!

Pray Without Ceasing: The Liturgy of the Hours – 5 October 2015

“Private prayer is like straw scattered here and there: If you set it on fire it makes a lot of little flames. But gather these straws into a bundle and light them, and you get a mighty fire, rising like a column into the sky; public prayer is like that.” St.John Vianney

The public prayer of the Church is the “Liturgy of the Hours,” also known as the “Divine Office.” (SC, 90) The Liturgy of the Hours unites the voices of the whole Church into a singular and constant prayer, a mighty fire, offered around the world, day and night. It – in conjunction with the liturgical sacrifice of the Mass – echoes Malachi’s “pure offering,” where “in every place incense is offered to My name” among the gentile nations “from the rising of the sun to its setting.” (Mal.1:11) The two liturgies, the Liturgy of the Eucharist and the Liturgy of the Hours, together form the central components of the Church’s public prayer life. This is the incense offered up to Heaven in God’s name. The Eucharistic sacrifice is obviously the primary liturgical focus, as we are offering Jesus’ body, blood, soul and divinity back to the Father. But, the Church’s offering of praise and worship, in the Liturgy of the Hours, is like an extension of the Mass. (CCC 1178) It is liturgical in nature, and it continues the Church’s public worship throughout the whole day, albeit in a complementary way to the Mass. As the Bishops state, “In the Hours, the royal priesthood of the baptized is exercised, and this sacrifice of praise is thus connected to the sacrifice of the Eucharist, both preparing for and flowing from the Mass.” (USCCB) We, as the Laity, can participate in this liturgy and offer up our sacrifices too, because of our common, baptismal priesthood. The Liturgy of the Hours is part of the Church’s response to Jesus’ exhortation to us to “pray always” (Lk.18:1) and to “pray without ceasing.” (1 Thess. 5:17) We pray always by consecrating and sanctifying our days and hours and minutes, and even our seconds, from moment to moment. Hence, the primary purpose of the Liturgy of the Hours is the sanctification of time. In it, we consecrate to God the phases of the day. (SC, 88) As the “General Instructions of the Liturgy of the Hours” highlights, “it consecrates to God the whole cycle of the day and the night.” The Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, Sacrosanctum Concilium, says it this way, By tradition going back to early Christian times, the divine office is devised so that the whole course of the day and night is made holy by the praises of God.” (SC, 84) It invokes an anointing of the Holy Spirit upon us, an epiclesis, from morning, to noon, to afternoon, to evening, to night sanctifying all that we do. As the letter to the Hebrews says “Through Him, then, let us continually offer a sacrifice of praise to God.” (Heb.13:15)

But, what is the Liturgy of the Hours? How is it performed? The Liturgy of the Hours is a set of psalms, antiphons, scripture readings, canticles, hymns, intercessions and other prayers offered at seven canonical hours throughout the day. These seven Hours are: (1) Lauds or morning prayer (about 6am); Daytime prayer: (2) Terce or third Hour (about 9am), (3) Sext or sixth Hour (about 12 noon), and (4) None or ninth Hour (about 3pm); (5) Vespers or evening prayer (about 6pm); (6) Compline or night prayer (about 9pm); (7) Office of the Readings or formerly Matins (traditionally around midnight; but now, anytime in the day). These are the prayers the Church offers up twenty-four hours a day and 365 days a year. Now, envision what is really happening here. As the earth turns on its axis and the hours shift from time zone to time zone, groups of Christians pass the prayer-baton to the next ones continuing the spiritual relay across the globe. Believers together all singing, chanting, and praying, one after another, the same ancient prayers of the Church; lay people along with the ecclesiastical hierarchy, and even with the Pope himself. The Liturgy of the Hours is more than a simple private devotion, such as a particular novena. Rather, it is said as a form of prayer in unity with the broader body of believers; it is no less than the universal Church coming together every day in liturgical, public worship. The Catechism describes the Liturgy of the Hours as “intended to become the prayer of the whole People of God. In it Christ Himself “continues his priestly work through his Church.” (CCC 1175) As a liturgical work, we exercise our priestly function in the Divine Office in unity with the high priest, Christ. The Church, as the bride of Christ, prays to her bridegroom, Christ. And together, the bride and bridegroom sing praise to the Father. (CCC 1174) The Liturgy of the Hours is an unending dialogue of love between God and man. Sacrosanctum Concilium beautifully describes it:

“Christ Jesus, high priest of the new and eternal covenant, taking human nature, introduced into this earthly exile that hymn which is sung throughout all ages in the halls of heaven. He joins the entire community of mankind to Himself, associating it with His own singing of this canticle of divine praise.” (SC, 83)

The Liturgy of the Hours connects us back with our most ancient traditions. Christians inherited the idea of the seven canonical hours in the day from Judaism. As David wrote in Book of Psalms, Seven times a day I praise you for your righteous ordinances.” (Ps.119:164) In the Book of Daniel, Daniel’s shown praying three times a day, presumably morning, afternoon and night. (Dan.6:10) These traditions were then carried forward with the first Christians. In the Book of Acts, the Apostles pray specifically at various canonical hours in the day, such as St. Peter praying at noon and again at three o’clock. (Acts 3:1; 10:3; 10:9; 10:30; 16:25) These are the same prayers Jesus would have known and would have prayed. Now, how can we, today, continue forward this ancient prayer into our modern times? Most of us know with evident certainty that our daily lives are awash in clutter, stress, noise, duties, work and responsibilities. It is not easy to pray the seven canonical Hours of the Divine Office. Not easy, especially with young kids, or with a highly demanding job. So, depending upon circumstances, having that time available can be quite difficult. Nevertheless, the Church encourages us to pray what we can, especially if possible, the three major hours of morning, evening, and night prayers. We need to adapt the Liturgy of the Hours to meet our particular circumstances and the rhythm of our day. It should not be a burden, but rather, a sanctifying joy. Although there’s something nostalgic about owning the physical breviary (the book containing the Liturgy of the Hours), I have found it much easier to use an online App for my phone, such as the ‘Divine Office’ app. In this way you always have it at your fingertips (as long as you have your phone), and you won’t have to carry around a large book. It’s very easy to use.  At this point, the most important thing is to just get started, and do what we can. Let the prayers cultivate our days into a sacramental life. It will help provide a spiritual framework to our hours; blessing us from our waking moments till drifting off to sleep. So, let us stop here, and pray as every Liturgy of the Hours begins, “O God, come to my assistance. Lord, make haste to help me.” (Ps.70:1)

Pray Without Ceasing: The Morning Offering – 1 October 2015

“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls; on finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it.”  (Mt. 13:44-46)

How ought we to live our lives once we find the “pearl of great value?” In Jesus’ parable, the pearl of great value is a metaphor for the kingdom of heaven. What could be of greater value than to live in communion with God in heaven for all eternity? This is the pearl we are in search of. We are the merchants in search of eternal life. It is the central purpose to our existence here on earth: the salvation of our souls and to live in communion with God for all eternity. Truly, nothing else matters. But, where do we find this pearl of great value? Well, Jesus answers this question directly for us. He says, “For, behold, the kingdom of God is among you.” (Lk. 17:21) Other translations have it “the kingdom of God is within you.” To find the kingdom of God, the pearl of great value, we must look inside ourselves, and amongst ourselves. What is the state of our soul? What is the state of our life? Are we examining our consciences each day, and living in communion with the Church and the sacraments? Are we seeking forgiveness for our sins in the sacrament of Reconciliation, and doing deeds of mercy and charity? We attain the salvation of our souls and live out the kingdom of God by being in a state of grace. This is the pearl of great value. It’s finding the goodness of Christ and applying His grace to our souls. And what should our response be when we find this pearl of grace, eternal life? We should conform ourselves in totality to the treasure that we have found. As Jesus says of the merchant, “he went, and sold all that he had and bought it.” Eternal life requires our response. We ought to “sell,” or let go of anything, and all, that prevents, breaks or interrupts our holding the pearl, the kingdom, within our hearts. Finding the pearl of great value implores us to live in a constant state of grace. By living in a state of grace, we can actualize the kingdom of heaven in our lives.

But, how do we live in a state of grace? For starters, we follow the Commandments. We can examine our consciences regularly to see when and where and how we may have broken the Ten Commandments. In such cases, especially for mortal sins, we should go receive forgiveness and absolution in the sacrament of Reconciliation. There, our friendship with Christ, and our state of grace, is restored. We should be frequent visitors to the confessional. To neglect this, is to neglect the state of our souls and risk our friendship with Christ. Jesus was asked what is the greatest commandment, and He answered: “`You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Mt.22:36-39) We must love God and our neighbor. These are the two greatest commandments that sum up the whole Judaic law and God’s law. And how must we love God with all our heart, soul and mind? We love God by having a relationship with Him. Yes, we love God through our actions of obedience to His will. We can do this by avoiding sin and doing good. Primarily, this means obedience to the Church, staying close to sacraments, and loving our fellow man. But, it also means we have a relationship with God by talking with Him. Simply put, it means we pray. Through prayer, we can show our desire to have an intimate friendship with God. In order to have an intimate relationship with someone, do we not have to speak with them? And speak with them often? St.Paul exhorts us to “pray without ceasing.” (1 Thess. 5:17) Our lives should be a constant state of prayer. Even Jesus Himself beseeches us “to pray always and not to lose heart.” (Lk. 18:1)

But, how do we pray without ceasing and pray always? We know it is mentally impossible, and for all practicality, inconceivable to pray at every moment in a day. We have jobs, we work, we have children that demand out care, and probably millions of other, everyday activities that demand our near constant attention and focus. God knows this. So, how then can we live out the command the Bible seems to give us? I think we can do this by sanctifying our time. We can, with intentionality, offer up each day to God and invoke His anointing on all that we do throughout the day. Saint John Vianney gave us insight into the consecration and sanctification of time, saying All that we do without offering it to God is wasted.” The Church teaches us that the best way to sanctify our day is to say a special prayer to God first thing in the morning, as soon as we wake up. This has come to be known as “The Morning Offering.” In so doing this, we can consecrate the whole day to the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The Catechism says the Christian begins his morning in prayer to dedicate his day to the glory of God and “calls on the Savior’s grace which lets him act in the Spirit as a child of the Father.” (CCC 2157) The Morning Offering helps us to fulfill our daily vocation to be children of God, by which we “act in the Spirit.”

The Morning Offering is the key moment at the beginning of each day. It sets the tone. It’s in that instance that we consecrate our whole day to Jesus Christ. The importance of this cannot be overstated. It allows us, from the first waking moments, to waste nothing. Now, the whole day, whatever happens, can have eternal meaning. It all becomes consecrated and sanctified to God; in effect, spiritualized. Our desire in the Morning Offering is to subsume all the moments that follow into an intentional spiritual sacrifice. This is our baptismal right, as royal priests of Christ. In our mind’s eye, we can imagine offering up all of our actions, works and sacrifices, united by the power of the Holy Spirit with the works and sacrifices of Christ, and placing them on the altar before God the Father. God will accept our offering. Then, all the things that happen in a day, from moment to moment, like eating, driving, working, feeding your children, cleaning your house, etc., which otherwise may seem insignificant and like wasted time, is now consecrated and sanctified by the grace of Jesus Christ. All of our ordinary and mundane actions become efficacious spiritual works. Our day infused with grace. Anointed with the Holy Spirit and offered to God, walking up a flight of stairs may help repair a friend’s sin. Anointed with the Holy Spirit and offered to God, sweeping the kitchen may help stir belief into a brother’s heart. Now, there are various formulations of the Morning Offering that we can recite, or we can even make up our own prayer. But, one of the most famous versions espoused by the Church is this:

O Jesus, through the Immaculate Heart of Mary, I offer you my prayers, works, joys, and sufferings of this day 
for all the intentions of your Sacred Heart, in union with the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass throughout the world, for the salvation of souls, the reparation of sins, the reunion of all Christians, and in particular for the intentions of the Holy Father this month. Amen.   (U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops)

It does not have to be very long.  It just needs our desire and intention to please God.  The Morning Offering makes it possible for us to “pray without ceasing.” It unites our whole day, and all that we will do, with the life of Christ. It consecrates us and sanctifies our actions, so that we can live out our prayer.  We become a dynamic temple of the Holy Spirit and an ambulatory altar of spiritual sacrifices. Our lives become liturgical in nature; our actions sacramental. And, it helps to renew – daily – our firm grasp on the pearl of great value. As St.Paul says, “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do everything for the glory of God.” (1 Cor. 10:31)