Tag Archives: Catechism

Matthew 24, Josephus and the Preterist Apocalypse – February 5, 2016

Olivet Discourse

In Jesus’ Olivet Discourse, that is, His foretelling to the Apostles while on the Mount of Olives about the destruction of Jerusalem and His Second Coming, He said, “Amen, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place.” (Mt. 24:34) Jesus was predicting to them that Jerusalem and the Temple were going to be destroyed in their lifetimes. He spoke of “the desolating abomination” in the Temple, prophesied by Daniel, a time of great tribulation, false prophets, rumors of wars, famines, earthquakes, persecutions, and signs in the sky. Many regard that these prophecies concern the Second Coming of Christ. These are also all markedly similar to the prophecies found throughout the Book of Revelation. So, that raises the question, was Jesus wrong? Did He wrongly predict that these apocalyptic events were going to happen to His Apostles in the first century? Certainly, the first century Christians, the Apostles and disciples were expecting an imminent return of Christ. The Book of Revelation opens with John describing, “what must happen soon.” (Rev. 1:1) Yet, we know Christ did not return in His Second Coming in that generation, and even now, 2,000 years later Christ has not yet returned. So, again, was Jesus incorrect?

The definitive answer is no. As Jesus Himself said, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will not pass away.” (Mt. 24:35) Jesus’ words were initially fulfilled in 70 A.D. when the Romans destroyed Jerusalem and the Temple. The Jewish world, as they knew it in 70 A.D., did, in fact, come to an end. It was an apocalyptic end, as executed by the Roman Empire, against Jerusalem, Israel and Jewish Temple life. This is the Preterist interpretation (Latin praeter meaning “past”) of Christ’s prophecy, and the Book of Revelation. These eschatological prophecies were fulfilled in the devastations of the first century. The Catholic Church holds that these were a microcosm of the events, a type and foreshadowing, of what will happen at the end of the world, just preceding the Second Coming of Christ. The ultimate fulfillment of these prophecies will happen at the end of time, but were initially fulfilled here. The future fulfillment is called the Futurist interpretation. The Catholic Church holds the prophetic words of Christ are to be interpreted together, on multiple levels, and with multiple fulfillments, in both a Preterist interpretation and a Futurist interpretation. The Roman Empire of 70 A.D. and the Roman Caesars, foreshadow as a type, the yet-to-be, future empire of the Antichrist and the final Antichrist himself before the climax of history. As the Catechism teaches, Before Christ’s second coming the Church must pass through a final trial that will shake the faith of many believers.” (CCC 675)

Jesus was predicting the end of the Old Covenant and the removal of the central symbol of that Mosaic Covenant, the Temple. It was to be replaced by the Church, God’s New Covenant, and the New Jerusalem, made in the spiritual temples of Christian believers themselves. Christians, and the Church, the Body of Christ, is the New Temple, where the Holy Spirit dwells. Yet, Christ did not want the desolation of the Jews or Israel. He longed for them to believe in Him. As Jesus lamented over them, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the one who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing! See! Your house is left to you desolate.” (Mt. 23:37-38) It is not hard to imagine the anguish Jesus felt with His foreknowledge of the destruction that lay ahead for Jerusalem. Jesus longed to save them, but many of them were unwilling to accept Him and His message. This rejection by the Jewish authorities, namely the Pharisees and Sadducees, reaches its climax when Jesus went on trial before the Sanhedrin and was condemned to death. As the Gospel plays out, the false prophets of the Jewish hierarchy, in collusion with the pagan Roman authorities, crucify and kill the Messiah. These are the same themes repeated throughout Scripture, especially in eschatology, concerning the false prophet, the pagan beast or empire, and the persecution of God’s people.

Flavius Josephus

What we are interested in here now, however, is the initial fulfillment, not the final, of these prophecies, the Preterist apocalypse. Fortunately, history has been blessed with firsthand accounts and witnesses to the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. Flavius Josephus, was a first century Roman, Jewish historian. He wrote extensive, detailed books from the time period called The War of the Jews. It is fairly amazing that any of the passages he wrote offer historical confirmation, sometimes in excruciating detail, of Jesus’ predictions concerning the fall of Jerusalem. For example, Jesus begins His Olivet Discourse by pointing to the Temple saying, “Amen, I say to you, there will not be left here a stone upon another stone that will not be thrown down.” (Mt. 24:2) Josephus affirms the fulfillment of this prophecy writing, “Caesar gave orders that they should now demolish the entire city and temple…. it was so thoroughly laid even with the ground by those that dug it up to the foundation, that there was left nothing to make those that came thither believe it had ever been inhabited.” (Bk 7.1.1) In fact, the Roman army, three legions, surrounded the walled city and lay siege to it for many months, while the Jews were trapped inside.

False Messiahs

Many more parallel confirmations abound. St. Matthew writes that Jesus warns His Apostles to not be deceived by false Messiahs. He says, “See that no one deceives you. For many will come in My name, saying ‘I am the Messiah,’ and they will deceive many.’” (Mt. 24:4-5) In the time period before the destruction of Jerusalem, in fact, many zealots and false prophets popped up misleading the people. Josephus records this too. He states, “Now, there was then a great number of false prophets suborned by the tyrants to impose upon the people, who denounced this to them, that they should wait for deliverance from God: and this was in order to keep them from deserting…. Thus were the miserable people persuaded by these deceivers..” (Bk 6.5.2-3) Josephus wrote more about them saying “These were such men as deceived and deluded the people under pretense of divine inspiration… and these prevailed with the multitude to act like madmen, and went before them into the wilderness, as pretending that God would there show them the signals of liberty..” (Bk.2.13.4) Moreover, Josephus spoke about a certain “Egyptian false prophet” that “got together thirty thousand men that were deluded by him; these he led round about from the wilderness to the mount which was called the Mount of Olives, and was ready to break into Jerusalem by force from that place..” Eventually, the Romans confronted them, and “the greatest part of those that were with him were either destroyed or taken alive.” (Bk.2.13.5) The false prophets are related to what Josephus termed the “seditious, “robbers” and “zealots.” These are the ones that took over the city in 66 A.D. provoking the Roman siege. These are the ones that mislead Jerusalem at its fateful hour. Jesus similarly spoke about the false prophets telling them they will hear of “wars and insurrections,” but that will not yet immediately be the end.

Natural Disasters

After this, St. Luke wrote that Jesus tells His Apostles “There will be powerful earthquakes, famines, and plagues from place to place;” (Lk. 21:11) Similarly, the Book of Revelation records, “A loud voice came out of the temple from the throne, saying, “It is done.” Then there were lightning flashes, rumblings, and peals of thunder, and a great earthquake.” (Rev. 16:17-18) Josephus confirms massive storms and earthquakes so large that they interpreted them as portending imminent disaster. Josephus writes, “..for there broke out a prodigious storm in the night, with the utmost violence, and very strong winds, with the largest showers of rain, with continued lightnings, terrible thunderings, and amazing concussions and bellowings of the earth, that was in an earthquake. These things were a manifest indication that some destruction was coming upon men, when the system of the world was put into this disorder; and any one would guess that these wonders foreshowed some grand calamities that were coming.” (Bk.4.4.5) The Book of Revelation also speaks about a plague of “large hailstones.” It says, and huge hailstones, each weighing about one talent (or, a hundred pounds), dropped from heaven on people, until they cursed God for the plague of the hail, so fearful was that plague.” (Rev.16:21) Josephus offers a curiously matching description in his eyewitness account. He says,Now the stones that were cast were of the weight of a talent, and were carried two furlongs and further. The blow they gave was no way to be sustained, not only by those that stood first in the way, but by those that were beyond them for a great space. As for the Jews, they at first watched the coming of the stone, for it was of a white color, and could therefore not only be perceived by the great noise it made, but could be seen also before it came by its brightness; accordingly the watchmen that sat upon the towers gave them notice when the engine was let go, and the stone came from it, and cried out aloud, in their own country language, ‘The Son Cometh:’ so those that were in its way stood off, and threw themselves down upon the ground; by which means, and by their thus guarding themselves, the stone fell down and did them no harm. But the Romans contrived how to prevent that by blacking the stone, who then could aim at them with success, when the stone was not discerned beforehand, as it had been till then; and so they destroyed many of them at one blow.” (Bk.5.6.3)

Famine and Pestilence

The miseries were piled one upon another as the Jews were trapped behind the walls of the city, as the Roman soldiers encamped outside. For one thing, their food supply was running out. In fact, at one point their supply of corn, a major staple, was destroyed. (Bk.5.10.2) The robbers and the zealots had risen up against their fellow Jews, stealing their food, and leaving them to die. Josephus describes that the encampment around the city and the siege led to a famine so bad that it obliged them to chew everything, while they gathered such things as the most sordid animals would not touch, and endured to eat them; nor did they at length abstain from girdles and shoes; and the very leather which belonged to their shields they pulled off and gnawed: the very wisps of old hay became food to some;” (Bk.6.3.4) The famine was so terrible that, as Josephus bitterly reports, some turned to cannibalism. He tells the story of one desperate woman who ends up killing, cooking and eating her own baby. He reports the men who witnessed this horrible act, along with all of Jerusalem, “trembled.” Josephus states as a matter of fact that, “So those that were thus distressed by the famine were very desirous to die; and those already dead were esteemed happy, because they had not live long enough either to hear or see such miseries.” (Bk.6.3.4) The living envied the dead! Similarly, disease and pestilence spread through the city as it was held under siege. Josephus says, “And indeed the multitude of carcasses that lay in heaps one upon another, was a horrible sight, and produced a pestilential stench..” (Bk.6.1.1)

Mighty Signs from the Sky

Jesus said there would also be “awesome sights and mighty signs will come from the sky.” (Lk. 21:11) An incredulous Josephus wrote down what was witnessed in regard to miraculous phenomenon in Jerusalem before its destruction. Here Josephus tells of an ominous star, resembling a sword, that stood over the city; similarly, a comet continued in the sky for a whole year. He mentions a great light shone in the Temple making it as bright as daytime. Moreover, a massive brass and iron door, that required twenty men to open and shut it, swung opened by its own accord. One of the more incredible things witnessed was a heavenly display of chariots and armored soldiers running amidst the clouds. Also, a great noise was heard that sounded like “a great multitude,” saying “Let us remove hence.” As way of speculation, this may have been the voice of God declaring to all He would no longer remain in the Temple, and thus, the end of the Old Covenant. With the destruction of the Temple and Jerusalem and the scattering of the Jews, the Great Diaspora, the Old Covenant ended and the New Covenant began, officially with the establishment of the Church in Rome. Josephus’ writings on these incredible phenomena are worth quoting at length:

“..while they did not attend, nor give credit, to the signs that were so evident, and did so plainly foretell their future desolation; but, like men infatuated, without either eyes to see or minds to consider, did not regard the denunciations that God made to them . Thus there was a star resembling a sword, which stood over the city, and a comet, that continued a whole year. Thus also, before the Jews’ rebellion, and before those commotions which preceded the war, when the people were come in great crowds to the feast of unleavened bread, on the eight day of the month Xanthicus, [Nisan,] and at the ninth hour of the night, so great a light shone round the altar and the holy house, that it appeared to be bright day-time; which light lasted for half an hour. This light seemed to be a good sign to the unskillful, but was so interpreted by the sacred scribes as to portend those events that followed immediately upon it.

Moreover, the eastern gate of the inner, [court of the temple,] which was of brass, and vastly heavy, and had been with difficulty shut by twenty men, and rested upon a basis armed with iron, and had bolts fastened very deep into the firm floor, which was there made of one entire stone, was seen to be opened of its own accord about the sixth hour of the night. Now, those that kept watch in the temple came thereupon running to the captain of the temple, and told him of it; who then came up thither, and not without great difficulty was able to shut the gate again. This also appeared to the vulgar to be a very happy prodigy, as if God did thereby open them the gate of happiness. But the men of learning understood it, that the security of their holy house was dissolved of its own accord, and that the gate was opened for the advantage of their enemies. So these publicly declared, that this signal forshewed the desolation that was coming upon them.

 Besides these, a few days after that feast, on the one-and-twentieth day of the month Artemisius, [Jyar,] a certain prodigious and incredible phenomenon appeared; I suppose the account of it would seem to be a fable, were it not related by those that saw it, and were not the events that followed it of so considerable a nature as to deserve such signals; for, before sun-setting, chariots and troops of soldiers in their armor were seen running about among the clouds, and surrounding of cities. Moreover, at that feast which we call Pentecost, as the priests were going by night into the inner [court of the] temple, as their custom was, to perform their sacred ministrations, they said that, in the first place, they felt a quaking, and heard a great noise, and after that they heard a sound as of a great multitude, saying, “Let us remove hence.” (Bk.6.5.3)   

 The Abomination of Desolation

Returning to the Olivet Discourse, Jesus spoke about the “desolating abomination” of the Temple. He said, “When you see the desolating abomination spoken through Daniel the prophet standing in the holy place (let the reader understand), then those in Judea must flee to the mountains..” (Mt. 24:15-16) Here, Jesus is referring to the prophecies that Daniel made in the Old Testament concerning the desolation of the Temple, and the end of the world. Daniel prophesied, “From the time that the daily sacrifice is abolished and the horrible abomination is set up, there shall be one thousand two hundred and ninety days.” (Dn.12:11) This prophecy, as with other prophecies from the Bible, has multiple fulfillments over time. The initial fulfillment, and again a foreshadowing type of the Antichrist, the tyrannical Seleucid king, Antioches IV Epiphanes, who set up a statue of Zeus in the Temple in 167 B.C., thus desecrating it. Yet, Jesus refers to the prophecy again, applying it to the coming desecration of the Temple by the Romans. Even in the time of Jesus, the Temple had become a meeting place for evildoers, as Jesus had to drive them out of the Temple, saying they are making it a den of thieves. (Mt. 21:13) By the time 70 A.D. came around, Josephus makes a similar observation that the Temple had become filled with abominations. He wrote, “And now, when the multitude were gotten together to an assembly, and every one was in indignation at these men’s seizing upon the sanctuary, at their rapine and murders but had not yet begun their attacks upon them Agnus stood in the midst of them, and casting his eyes frequently at the temple, and having a flood of tears in his eyes he said, ‘Certainly, it had been good for me to die before I had seen the house of God full of so many abominations, or these sacred places that ought not to be trodden upon at random, filled with the feet of these bloodshedding villains.'” (Bk.4.3.10) And, just as Antiochus Epiphanes had erected the idol Zeus in the Temple, so did he put an end to the “daily sacrifice” (these were the lambs offered twice a day as proscribed in the Mosaic Law: Num. 28:3-4) in the Temple. Josephus records the same cessation with the Roman siege. He said, “..the sacrifice called ‘the Daily Sacrifice’ had failed, and had not been offered to God for want of men to offer it, and that the people were grievously troubled at it..” (Bk.6.2.1)  

Now, a large part of the problems for Jews and Christians in the Roman Empire was its polytheism and imperial cult of emperor worship. Nero Caesar, who’s name in Hebrew adds up to 666, the mark of the beast from Revelation, reigned from 54 – 68 A.D., was a great persecutor of Christians, and is seen as a forerunner to and a type of the Antichrist. He also claimed to be divine. The refusal of Christians to participate in this imperial cult, of emperor worship of various Caesars, led to many of the early martyrdoms. St. Jerome, in his Commentary on the Book of Daniel, expressed this idea, “And so there are many of our viewpoint who think that Domitius Nero was the Antichrist because of his outstanding savagery and depravity.” This was no less true for the Roman soldiers, who participated in the imperial cultus, and even worshipped their own ensigns with the eagle. In the Jewish and Christian mind, this is all idolatry and blasphemy. Yet, Josephus wrote that the Roman soldiers brought their ensigns, especially the eagle emblem, and their idolatrous religion to Jerusalem. Then, upon entering and conquering the city, they set up their ensigns in the Temple and worshiped them, another fulfillment of the desolating abomination. Josephus wrote, “And now the Romans, upon the flight of the seditious into the city, and upon the burning of the holy house itself, and of all the buildings round about it, brought their ensigns to the temple and set them over against its eastern gate; and there did they offer sacrifices to them, and there did they make Titus imperator with the greatest acclamations of joy.” (Bk.6.6.1)

The Siege of Jerusalem

Now, in the corresponding passage in the Gospel of Luke, Jesus says, “When you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, know that its desolation is at hand. Then those in Judea must flee to the mountains. Let those within the city escape from it, and let those in the countryside not enter the city, for these days are the time of punishment when all scriptures are fulfilled… They will fall by the edge of the sword and be taken as captives to all the Gentiles; and Jerusalem will be trampled underfoot by the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled.” (Lk.21:20-24) Firstly, Josephus records that Vespasian had surrounded the city with his armies. He says, And now Vespasian had fortified all the places round about Jerusalem..” (Bk.4.9.1) He says they camped initially at the Mount of Olives, and then, they built in three days, a wall in that “encompassed the city.” (Bk.5.12.3) Yet, we know that the Christians actually took heed to the warning of Christ, as there are no recorded deaths of Christians, miraculously perhaps, within the city. They saw the armies of Vespasian and Titus in Judea and fled towards Jordan. Similarly, when there was a break in the siege of Jerusalem, upon hearing of Nero’s death, they took that opportunity to escape the city. The early Christian scholar Eusebius recorded it this way, “The whole body, however, of the church at Jerusalem, having been commanded by a divine revelation, given to men of approved piety there before the war, removed from the city, and dwelt at a certain town beyond the Jordan, called Pella. To Pella those who believed in Christ migrated from Jerusalem; and as if holy men had utterly abandoned the royal metropolis of the Jews and the entire Jewish land, the judgment of God at last overtook them for their abominable crimes against Christ and His apostles, completely blotting out that wicked generation from among men.” (Bk.3.5) The Christians had taken Jesus’ advice and fled to the mountains!

The Great Tribulation

The death and destruction visited upon Jerusalem in 70 A.D. is nearly unimaginable. Jesus Himself prophesied, “..for at that time there will be great tribulation, such as has not been since the beginning of the world until now, nor ever will be. And if those days had not been shortened, no one would be saved; but for the sake of the elect they will be shortened.” (Mt. 24:21-22) Josephus, as an eyewitness to these calamities, was able to confirm Jesus’ prophecy. Josephus wrote, “Whereas the war which the Jews made with the Romans hath been the greatest of all those, not only that have been in our times, but in a manner, of those that ever were heard of; both of those wherein cities have fought against cities, or nations against nations.” (Preface.1) He continued, “Accordingly it appears to me, that the misfortunes of all men, from the beginning of the world, if they be compared to these of the Jews, are not so considerable as they were..” (Preface.4) Josephus related that the siege began during the feast of unleavened bread, or Passover, meaning Jews from all over Israel and beyond would have been visiting Jerusalem, swelling the number of people in the city. (Bk.5.3.1) Josephus speculated that the number of people killed during the siege is at least 1,100,000, and the number taken captive at 97,000. What a massive calamity! Over a million people killed and nearly a hundred thousand taken into bondage. He wrote, “Now the number of those that were carried captive during this whole war was collected to be ninety-seven thousand; as was the number of those that perished during the whole siege eleven hundred thousand, the greater part of whom were indeed of the same nation [with the citizens of Jerusalem], but not belonging to the city itself; for they were come up from all the country to the feast of unleavened bread, and were on a sudden shut up by an army, which, at the very first, occasioned so great a straitness among them that there came a pestilential destruction upon them, and soon afterward such a famine, as destroyed them more suddenly.” (Bk.6.9.3) With that, the seven year tribulation from 63 A.D. to 70 A.D. came to an end, as Jerusalem and the Temple were destroyed, and the Jewish people slaughtered and cast into a diaspora among the Gentile nations for the next two millennia. Therefore, Jesus’ warnings about the coming apocalypse, for that generation, were most definitely fulfilled. For its part, the early Church continued to suffer persecution and martyrdom under the Roman Empire, as Christians steadfastly refused to participate in imperial cults, emperor worship or sacrifice. This, just as Jesus had predicted, you will be hated by all nations because of My name,” (Mt. 24:9) and a foreshadowing of the final fulfillment of Christ’s words.

The Incarnation of God into Our Lives – December 25, 2015

The Incarnation of God as man is a scandal. The first century Jews were expecting a Messiah, but did not conceive that he would be the Son of God Himself. They expected a messianic political leader. Jesus, being the second person of the Trinity, could very well have descended from Heaven ablaze in His divine power and majesty to establish His kingdom. Yet, we know this is not what happened. The Son of God came in obscurity, humility and poverty. This is the second scandal of the Incarnation. The divine being was born as a baby, completely dependent and helpless, to a poor family in a small village, placed in an animal manger. God came as the least among us. Chesterton called this “an idea of undermining the world.” This is the great paradox of Christianity, God as man, and even, God as an infant, the divine hidden in the ordinary, the exalted humbled. So intimate is His love for us that the Creator entered His creation, coming personally in search of us. How few recognized the extraordinary baby in their midst in that most ordinary scene in Bethlehem? How often still do we fail to see God in our ordinary circumstances each day?

The Incarnation is, at its most basic and profound level, a love story. It is the love of an infinitely merciful God for a broken and lost humanity. God came into our world on a search and rescue mission, to save us from our sins. Jesus did not come as the expected conquering king, rather, He came as the unexpected suffering servant. He chose to enter into our state of life, to follow the same path as all of us, of being born, growing up, laboring as an adult, and ultimately, dying. In doing so, He chose to take on the lowliness of our human nature, the ordinariness of our circumstances, and the drudgery of our every day lives. This is truly an amazing thing to contemplate. Jesus, the divine being, chose to spend most of His life, approximately thirty years, living a private, ordinary existence just like yours and mine. God chose to live like us in the small, mundane details of our lives. But why?

We know the ultimate purpose of the Incarnation is the Redemption, culminating in Jesus’ passion and crucifixion. Yet, to state the obvious, Jesus was God even before His public ministry. When He worked as a carpenter in Joseph’s workshop, He was God. When He obeyed Mary His mother, He was God. Jesus’ redemptive mission did not begin with His public ministry. It began with His Incarnation and birth, and continued along the spectrum of His whole life. As the Catechism states, “Christ’s whole life is a mystery of redemption.” (CCC 517) One aspect of Jesus’ mission was to restore humankind to its original dignity and vocation. Jesus recapitulated within Himself all of our ordinary human actions, our daily routines, our human institutions, such as the family, our sufferings, our jobs, and our ordinary human vocations. Jesus lived all of this. God deemed no stage or circumstance of life unworthy of His presence. He lived these in order to sanctify them, consecrate them, and restore them.

Each of Jesus’ actions were performed with the salvific power of the Godhead, infusing them with infinite moral value not limited by time or space. We can be united, even now, with Jesus in our humanity. This is part of the on-going love story, and is perhaps the third scandal of the Incarnation. We can partake in Christ’s mysteries, and He can continue to live them in us and through us. If we do so, in communion with the Church, the infant Christ of Bethlehem will be born again into our hearts and our souls. And, we too, like the Magi in the Epiphany, can recognize Christ in our midst and adore His presence in our lives each day.

Nightly Examination of Conscience – January 22, 2016

Each day is a microcosm of our entire life. In the morning we are “born” into our day, and at night we go to sleep into our “death.” Each day is analogous to one’s life, and each night is analogous to one’s death. If we consecrate each morning and day to God, should we not also consecrate each night and sleep to God? In that way, our whole day, whether awake or asleep, is consecrated to God. Our sleep anticipates our death, and our waking in the morning anticipates our resurrection. What is more important at the end of one’s life, at the doorstep of death, than to review one’s life, and to ask forgiveness for all one has done or failed to do? If we seek pardon and forgiveness at the end of life, in anticipation of the final judgment, should we not seek to examine our lives and ask for forgiveness each and every day? After all, we do not know when our end will come, it may be fifty years from now, or fifty minutes from now. As Jesus cautions us, the end may come for us at an hour we do not expect, and so, we must be like the faithful servant, and always vigilant and ready. As Jesus warns in the Gospel of Matthew in the parable of the ten bridesmaids: “..the Bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with Him to the marriage feast; and the door was shut. Afterward the other maidens came also, saying, ‘Lord, lord, open to us.’ But He replied, ‘Truly, I say to you, I do not know you.’ Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.” (Mt. 25:10-12)

Even though this is a horrible judgment, Jesus gives us reason to hope. He tells us that we can be ready for the end and welcomed into the “marriage feast” of the Lord. But, how? We must remain vigilant and prepared for the return of the Master, either at the end of the world, or at the end of our lives. And, how do we remain vigilant and ready? We must remain faithful servants, obedient to the Church, living closely to the sacraments, especially the Eucharist and Confession, have an active prayer life, read the word of God, and live a life filled with good and merciful deeds, in short, we must love God and our neighbor. All of these activities contribute to us having a well-formed moral conscience. Once we have a well-formed moral conscience we will better understand that we regularly fall short of the commandments of God, and are in constant need of His forgiveness. Moreover, the more we examine our lives and seek forgiveness, the more clearly we will know right from wrong, that is, have a “correct conscience,” and seek to perfect our lives. This is the idea of the nightly examination of conscience. As the Catechism quotes Gaudium et Spes, “ For man has in his heart a law inscribed by God. . . . His conscience is man’s most secret core and his sanctuary. There he is alone with God whose voice echoes in his depths.” (CCC 1776) In the traditional canonical hours of the Church the nightly examination of conscience would be “Compline,” or night prayers for the last hour of the day. Before we go to sleep each night, we should examine in our minds, at least briefly, the events of the day, and everything that we did or said, or failed to do, good or bad.

So, how should we proceed? First, we should ask for the Holy Spirit to come upon us and enlighten our consciences, to give us discernment about the events of the day. Then, we should offer thanksgiving, by thanking God for all the good gifts and blessings that day. Where did we receive His grace and encounter Christ throughout the day? Where did we pray, sacrifice, be merciful or love throughout the day? Where did we fail to do so? Then, we should also confess directly to God, in the silence of our heart, all our sins and failures for that day, and ask forgiveness.(**see below) We can ask God to forgive us and to help us, through the power of the Holy Spirit, to do better tomorrow, in renewal of our commitment to Christ. We can consecrate ourselves to God in our sleep, that even our rest may glorify God. After having examined our whole day, from beginning to end, and asked forgiveness for our sins, we should pray an act of contrition. This is a typical version of the Act of Contrition:

“O my God, I am heartily sorry for having offended You, and I detest all my sins because of Your just punishments, but most of all because they offend You, my God, Who is all-good and deserving of all my love. I firmly resolve, with the help of Your grace, to sin no more and to avoid the near occasions of sin. Amen.”

It is also traditional to end your nightly prayer by saying the Our Father. We can also offer our breath and our heartbeats, in union with the breath and heartbeats of Christ, for the sanctification of the world. The examination of conscience and Compline prayers at night are the final seal of prayer and consecration of the day, finishing what we began in the morning, with our Morning Offering prayer, in that way the whole day is consecrated to God, where Christ is the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end of our life (for that day), sealed in God as one. In this way, we can go to rest in the peace of the Holy Spirit, at peace with our day and with our God, in hope of the resurrection to a new and eternal life.

**There are a number of standards by which we should judge our selves and our actions for the day. These are the same questions we should measure ourselves, in the examination of our consciences, when approaching the sacrament of Confession. They are all rooted in following the Ten Commandments and the Beatitudes. The questions include (but, obviously not an exhaustive list): Have I humbled myself before God today and prayed? Did I fail to make acts of faith or charity today? Have I made an idol out of anything in my life? Have I taken the name of God in vain? Have I missed going to Church? Have I stolen anything? Have I lied? Have I hurt someone? Have I bore false witness against someone, or gossiped about someone? Have I cursed today? Have I committed sins of the flesh and lust? Have I been envious of others’ property? Have I lashed out in anger? Have I been lazy and wasted time? Have I engaged in gluttony? Have I been greedy? Have I harbored jealous or evil thoughts? Have I been stubborn or unforgiving today? Did I give into temptation today? Have I seen, said or watched anything sinful, or blasphemous? Did I respect and honor my family and my parents today? Did I fail to be merciful to someone? Was I joyful and nice to other people today? Was I arrogant and proud? Have I willingly not followed Jesus in any aspect today?

The Sanctifying Humanity of Jesus – December 17, 2015

“For in Him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, and you have come to fullness in Him.” (Col.2:9)

“I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” (Jn.10:10)

Can you take a moment and try to imagine yourself standing before Christ while He was alive here on earth, or maybe imagine that He is standing in front of you right now wherever you are. What would He look like? He would appear as a man, for Jesus is a man, as the Creed says He became man. Jesus looked like you and like me. There did not seem to be anything noticeably or discernably different between Him and us. We can take Jesus’ neighbors from Nazareth as evidence of this. When Jesus had begun His public ministry, and began to reveal who He truly was, they “took offense at Him” and “were astounded” saying “Where did this man get this wisdom and these deeds of power?” (Mt. 13:54,57) Jesus, it seemed to them, was an ordinary man, and only a man. They did not recognize that Jesus was something more. They did not fathom that He was even a prophet, much less the Son of God. Isaiah prophesied of Christ’s ordinariness writing, he had no form or majesty that we should look at him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.” (Is.53:2) Jesus looked common, nothing special in appearance. He was of humble social status too. Jesus performed the humblest type of work as a daily laborer. He was the son of a carpenter, and He Himself was a carpenter. Again, Jesus’ neighbors were perplexed by Christ asking, “Is not this the carpenter’s son? Is not His mother called Mary? And are not His brothers James and Joseph and Simon and Judas? And are not all His sisters with us? Where then did this man get all this?” (Mt.13:55-56) They could not reconcile the juxtaposition of the ordinary neighbor who had lived among them with the great wisdom and power He was manifesting now. By every measure, according to His neighbors in Nazareth, Jesus was just a man. They, in fact, were partially right. As the Councils and Catechism declare, Jesus was “true man.” (CCC 464)

The part they missed, however, is that Jesus was also “true God.” He was both true God and true man.” (CCC 464) Jesus was not just an ordinary person that stood and lived in their midst. He was also the Son of God, the Incarnation of the second person of the Trinity. Jesus the man was also the divine being, God-become-man. They saw perfectly the humanity of Christ, but failed to see His divinity. Yet, Jesus was fully God. As scripture says, “For in Him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily.” (Col. 2:9) The fullness of the Trinity dwelt in Christ. His earthly life was the autobiographical life of the Incarnated God. The thoughts of God were communicated through the voice of Christ. In the mystery of the hypostatic union, Christ’s earthly nature was united with His divine nature. The two natures together, human and divine, form the one theandric, divine person. The Catechism reinforces this saying Everything that Christ is and does in this nature derives from “one of the Trinity”. The Son of God therefore communicates to His humanity His own personal mode of existence in the Trinity. In His soul as in His body, Christ thus expresses humanly the divine ways of the Trinity.” (CCC 470) It is for this reason that St.Thomas can exclaim to the risen Christ, “My Lord and my God!” (Jn. 20:28)  

Now, because the fullness of divinity dwelt in the person of Christ, every event, every circumstance, every word, every deed, no matter how small or seemingly inconsequential, takes on a divine significance and importance. There are no small actions for a God-man. Everything He would have done or said would be of divine significance. The divine Sonship of Christ imbued all of His actions with infinite value. The Catechism alludes to this saying “Christ’s whole life is a mystery of redemption. Redemption comes to us above all through the blood of His cross, but this mystery is at work throughout Christ’s entire life.” (CCC 517) For Christ’s whole life, the infinite God performed finite human tasks, living as an ordinary man.  For thirty years, Jesus labored as a carpenter in silence and obedience to Mary and Joseph. The infinite vastness of Jesus’ divinity remained hidden under the auspices of His ordinary humanity, only to be revealed occasionally, and progressively, when He so chose, in His miracles and His healings, in His words, at the Transfiguration, in the Resurrection and Ascension. Jesus communicated His divinity to us through the lens of His humanity. He was able to save the human race precisely because He took on a body and soul as a human being when the Word became flesh. (Jn. 1:14) The mystery of redemption took place in the body of Christ, in His humanity, and because of His divinity. The Catechism calls this “His holy and sanctifying humanity.” (CCC 774) All of humanity and human nature was made holy and sanctified because God took on our nature and lived as one of us. The Church teaches, “The saving work of His holy and sanctifying humanity is the sacrament of salvation, which is revealed and active in the Church’s sacraments.” (CCC 774) Jesus’ human nature is the instrument for redeeming our human nature, which is why the Church calls it His “sanctifying humanity.” In Jesus’ sanctifying humanity, He performed finite actions, limited to a particular time and space. Yet, these finite actions were performed by a divine person, by which, giving them infinite moral value and efficaciousness, for all time and for all people.

Sanctifying grace is the true source of greatness for the believer. Without sanctifying grace our faith is meaningless. It is the transformative and life-giving power that Christ won for us in His life that can transform our ordinary lives and actions. Sanctifying grace is primarily conferred upon us through the sacraments. Baptism and Confirmation confer the Holy Spirit into our lives making us adopted children of God. Reconciliation and Eucharist sustain us with sanctifying grace from one day to the next, divinizing all of our activity in imitation of Christ for the glory of God. However, just as Christ’s divinity lay hidden in the workshop in Nazareth, so our life, as adopted sons and daughters, lay primarily interior and hidden. As Jesus tells us “the kingdom of God is within you.” (Lk. 17:21) St.Paul echoes this too, saying “your life is hidden with Christ in God.” (Col. 3:3) The Christian life is truly a supernatural life. It is our participation in the mysteries of Christ, making us partakers in the divine nature. (2 Pet.1:4) We are drawn into Christ’s mysteries through our faithful love and adoration of Christ, in contemplation, in reading the Bible, in the mass and liturgy, in the sacraments, in our prayer life, in our actions, in doing them with intentionality to please God. As John says, “from His fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.” (Jn.1:16) So that, through our contemplation and worship of the life of Christ and all His words and deeds, He may be able to reproduce them in us by the special grace attached to each of His deeds and actions. Christ’s whole life is a type of sacrament, imparting His sanctifying grace upon us in each of His actions. As Jesus walked through the masses of people “the crowd were trying to touch Him, for power came out from Him and healed all of them.” (Lk 6:19) Christ is a living Christ, with this same grace and power He had then, which still emanates forth from Him now into those that draw near to Him and dare to reach out for Him in faith.

The Catechism lucidly describes Christ’s sanctifying humanity and our communion with His mysteries. It is worth quoting at length:

All Christ’s riches “are for every individual and are everybody’s property.” (Redemptor Hominis, 11) Christ did not live His life for Himself but for us, from His Incarnation “for us men and for our salvation” to His death “for our sins” and Resurrection “for our justification”. He is still “our advocate with the Father”, who “always lives to make intercession” for us. He remains ever “in the presence of God on our behalf, bringing before Him all that He lived and suffered for us.”

In all of His life Jesus presents Himself as our model. He is “the perfect man” who invites us to become His disciples and follow Him. In humbling Himself, He has given us an example to imitate, through His prayer He draws us to pray, and by His poverty He calls us to accept freely the privation and persecutions that may come our way.

Christ enables us to live in Him all that He Himself lived, and He lives it in us. “By His Incarnation, He, the Son of God, has in a certain way united Himself with each man.” We are called only to become one with Him, for He enables us as the members of His Body to share in what He lived for us in His flesh as our model:

“We must continue to accomplish in ourselves the stages of Jesus’ life and His mysteries and often to beg Him to perfect and realize them in us and in His whole Church. . . For it is the plan of the Son of God to make us and the whole Church partake in His mysteries and to extend them to and continue them in us and in His whole Church. This is His plan for fulfilling His mysteries in us.   (St.John Eudes)

The mysteries that Christ lived in the flesh are our mysteries too. They are meant for us. We can unite ourselves each day with them. His divine, sanctified humanity, which conquered death, gives eternal life to our mortal humanity. This is the whole point. We are doomed to die, but in Christ we have the blessed hope of resurrection and eternal life. And, how should we live? We can habituate ourselves to try to please God in all things, even the smallest of our actions, in order to be united with Christ in all that we do. This is a key to the sacramental life, living with the intentionality of pleasing God. This will orient all of our activity towards God, and unite our lives with the life of Christ. He will recreate His mysteries within us. Just think, even more so than adoring the life of Christ, Christ’s very own sanctifying humanity – His divine essence as manifested in His flesh – lives on with us, even now, He is still here, in the real presence of the Eucharist. We can merge ourselves with His sacred humanity and His sanctifying grace by consuming His body and blood in reception of the Eucharist, our Holy Communion. Then, Christ will live within our dying bodies and souls, His sanctifying humanity transfiguring our humanity, and resurrecting us to eternal life.

Christ’s Infinite Knowledge and Consciousness – December 12, 2015

“Jesus said to them, ‘Very truly, I tell you, the Son can do nothing on His own, but only what He sees the Father doing; for whatever the Father does, the Son does likewise. The Father loves the Son and shows Him all that He Himself is doing; and He will show Him greater works than these, so that you will be astonished.’” (Jn. 5:19-20)

Jesus Christ, as a divine person, enjoyed the Beatific Vision of the Father from the moment of His conception. Jesus had a divine consciousness in which He continuously perceived God the Father, face-to-face with infinite knowledge and beatitude. As Jesus reveals, “I declare what I have seen in the Father’s presence.” (Jn. 8:38) And again, “Not that anyone has seen the Father except the one who is from God; He has seen the Father.” (Jn. 6:46) Scripture is clear on this: Christ beheld the Beatific Vision. From His first second on Earth, Jesus’ human nature was assumed by the Logos, the Word of God, and had immediate and direct knowledge of God and the knowledge of all things. St.Thomas understood this as Christ knowing whatsoever is, will be, or was done, said, or thought, by whomsoever and at any time.” (Summa, III, Q.10, a.2) He was both fully human and fully divine, with two natures, two intellects, and two wills, that worked perfectly together, in the hypostatic union, as the one divine person. The finite, in all its humanly facets, was linked seamlessly to the infinite. In this same way, Christ’s consciousness was also both human and divine, united together in the hypostatic union. His finite human brain and human consciousness were united to the infinite mind and infinite consciousness of the Logos. Not that these are two separate beings. They are not. This was the error of Nestorianism, a fifth century heretical movement that wrongly espoused Christ as two separate persons, one, the divine Logos, and the other, the human Jesus of Nazareth. Rather, there is only one Christ, one divine being, one divine person, who is concurrently both the eternal Logos and the human son of Mary. This is the mystery of Christ, and the theandric mystery of the hypostatic union.

Yet, because His human body, human brain and human consciousness were created, they were necessarily finite. He did not perceive the infinite number of possibilities of all things of all eternity at any given moment. For, the finite cannot fully realize or actuate all that is infinitely possible simultaneously in any one moment. Following this Aristotelian logic, St.Thomas surmised, and thus in Himself God knows many more things than the soul of Christ.” (Summa, III, Q.10, a.2, a.3) This is the great paradox of Jesus. As a divine person, Jesus knew all things, but at any given moment, He did not contain infinite knowledge. In effect, Christ is theandric in nature, in His intellect and operation, as both God and man, where the human side works in perfect harmony with the divine side. His human soul was united perfectly with the infinite Word of God. Although His finite human consciousness could not hold the infinite possibilities in every moment, He did still have access to the divine infused knowledge and Beatific Vision, from which, to draw knowledge towards anything He turned His attention. The infinite knowledge of Christ was manifested in specific, finite instances in His life. The Beatific Vision remained intact, from which, Jesus drew from it as necessary in His finite, human consciousness.

This in no way undermines dignity of Jesus as the divine Word. He is ontologically always the Son of God, meaning He was never at any point anything less than the divine being. Of this, He was acutely aware. Throughout His whole life He understood His own divinity and being eternally begotten of the Father. From the first instance of His Incarnation into human nature, Jesus enjoyed infused divine knowledge and the Beatific Vision of God. No one had to teach Christ who He was. No one ever had to show Him the Father. Jesus Himself knew all this innately. Jesus says, “No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made Him known.” (Jn. 1:18) There was at no point in His life when He did not know of His own divinity, or did not perceive the Beatific Vision of the Father, or did not have access to all knowledge. We read in scripture that at the age of twelve, the boy Jesus was sitting amongst the teachers of Israel in the Temple, and And all who heard Him were amazed at His understanding and His answers.” (Lk. 2:47) When His distraught parents found Him after three days of searching and questioned Him, He reveals His divine self-consciousness as already present, saying, “Did you not know that I must be in My Father’s house?” (Lk. 2:47) He was ignorant of nothing, or no thing to which He directed His gaze. This has been affirmed and reaffirmed through the centuries from the trajectory of teaching of the Church Fathers to the Magisterium. This truth still holds true. As the Catechism instructs, “The human nature of God’s Son, not by itself but by its union with the Word, knew and showed forth in itself everything that pertains to God. Such is first of all the case with the intimate and immediate knowledge that the Son of God made man has of His Father.” (CCC 473)

However, this truth has been sporadically under attack through the millennia. The First Council of Ephesus in 431 AD had to deal with the error of Nestorianism by declaring Jesus one person, fully God and fully man, united in the hypostatic union, and consubstantial with the Father. Yet, from that, another heresy quickly emerged in the sixth century, the Agnoites, or “the Ignorants,” who espoused that there were things that Jesus did not know, or for which, He was ignorant of. They attacked Christ’s divinity in particular by saying He did not know the day or hour of the final judgment. In response, Pope Vigilius declared in his “Constitutum” on May 14, 533 AD:

If anyone says that the one Jesus Christ, true Son of God and true Son of Man, was ignorant of future things, or of the day of the last judgment, and says He could know only as much as the divinity dwelling in Him as in another made known to Him: let him be anathema.” (Fr.Most, Consciousness of Christ, p.137)

Yet, the error has persisted into modern times, focusing primarily around questions that Jesus grew in knowledge, and that He did not know the hour of the Parousia. In regard to the former, the Gospel of Luke says, “And Jesus increased in wisdom and in years.” (Lk. 2:52) In regard to the latter, the Gospel of Mark says, “But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” (Mk. 13:32) The historical deniers of Christ’s divine knowledge, and indeed, some modern theologians use these passages as the primary proof that Jesus was ignorant. But, are they correct? The arc of Church Father teachings and the Magisterium, again, say no. They are not correct. Jesus had infused divine knowledge, beheld the Beatific Vision, and knew all things. St.Thomas argues that Jesus, in addition to His divine knowledge, did in fact, possess acquired or experiential knowledge, and advance and progress in the acquisition of experiential knowledge. (Summa, III, q.12, a.2) To grow in wisdom, then means perhaps, Christ manifested His wisdom more and more as He grew older. Another explanation is that Christ advanced in acquired knowledge, but possessed the full Beatific Vision and infused divine knowledge from the moment of His conception. Hence, there was no growth in His divine knowledge. He possessed it fully from His first moment. Christ did have two channels of knowledge, divine and human. His knowledge and consciousness, like all the other aspects of His being, are theandric in nature, operating at two separate levels, human and divine, yet in complete harmony together. So, even if, as a child, He learned, for example, the Aramaic word for bread, this is the human, experiential knowledge. At the same time, He already knew this, and everything besides, from the divine knowledge within Him.

And, what of the knowledge, or lack of knowledge, Jesus had of the day and hour of the End? Most scholars and theologians ascribe that Jesus was using oikonomia, a dispensation, or an adaptation to the human conditions Jesus found Himself in. It was not fitting that humanity should know the day and hour of the End. Jesus knew in His divinity the day and hour of the End, but He had not come to reveal that. It was not part of His mission, and it was of no benefit to humanity to know this exactly. Thus, Jesus chose to not reveal this in order to preserve, as St.Cyril said, “the order proper to humanity.” This was an assumed unawareness, where Jesus identifies with His human brethren, in our human nature, as part of a divinely providential oikonomia. The Catechism answers this directly: By its union to the divine wisdom in the person of the Word incarnate, Christ enjoyed in His human knowledge the fullness of understanding of the eternal plans He had come to reveal. What He admitted to not knowing in this area, He elsewhere declared Himself not sent to reveal.” (CCC 474) In the Book of Acts, Jesus replies to the Apostles’ questions about the End, “It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by His own authority.” (Acts, 1:7) Or, in other words, Jesus tells them it is not fitting for humanity to know when the End will come, and it is not His mission to reveal it to them. This does not attest to ignorance, but to the fitness of humanity to have this knowledge of the Parousia. For, in other parts of the Gospels, such as Matthew 24, Jesus speaks with great specificity about future events and the signs of the End and what would happen.            

The Magisterium continues to address these issues and errors, Neo-Nestorianisms, if you will, up till today, as the current manifestations of old heresies keep popping up, cloaked in the veneer of modernity. In 1907, Pope Pius X issued Lamentabili Sane (“It is Lamentable”) in condemnation of “The Errors of the Modernists.” One such error condemned in the Syllabus is that Christ having “knowledge without limits…cannot be historically conceived.” (LS, 34) In condemning this error, the Church affirms the infinite knowledge of Christ. In 1928, Pope Pius XI published Miserentissimus Redemptor, “Merciful Redeemer,” in which he addressed reparations to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. He argues that Jesus’ Sacred Heart was oppressed as He foresaw our future sins, and was consoled as He foresaw our future reparations. Jesus in His infused divine knowledge and Beatific Vision continuously beheld God, and as part of that, He also perceived His Mystical Body, made up of His believers and followers through the centuries. The encyclical attests to this saying, “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..” (MR, 13) In 1943, Pope Pius XII wrote the encyclical, Mystici Corporis Christi, “On the Mystical Body of Christ.” In this document, the Church addresses the question of the knowledge of Christ in one of the most clear and profound statements ever on the topic. It is worth quoting it at length:

“Now the only-begotten Son of God embraced us in His infinite knowledge and undying love even before the world began. And that He might give a visible and exceedingly beautiful expression to this love, He assumed our nature in hypostatic union: hence – as Maximus of Turin with a certain unaffected simplicity remarks – “in Christ our own flesh loves us.” But the knowledge and love of our Divine Redeemer, of which we were the object from the first moment of His Incarnation, exceed all that the human intellect can hope to grasp. For hardly was He conceived in the womb of the Mother of God, when He began to enjoy the Beatific Vision, and 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. O marvelous condescension of divine love for us! O inestimable dispensation of boundless charity! In the crib, on the Cross, in the unending glory of the Father, Christ has all the members of the Church present before Him and united to Him in a much clearer and more loving manner than that of a mother who clasps her child to her breast, or than that with which a man knows and loves himself.” (MCC, 75)            

In this, with the authority of the Apostolic teaching commissioned to the Church, we can see that Christ had infinite knowledge, beheld the Beatific Vision, and perceived us always, as part of His Mystical Body, all from the moment of His conception, indeed, from before the foundation of the world. In 1951, Pope Pius XII also issued Sempiternus Rex Christi, “Christ, the Eternal King,” reaffirming the truths of the Council of Chalcedon, that Christ was both fully human and fully divine, united together in the hypostatic union, as one divine person. Moreover, he reiterates, “Each nature possesses its properties without defect.” (SR, 21) Jesus is “perfect in His divinity, perfect in His humanity, true God, and true man.” (SR, 23) Again, Pope Pius XII, in 1956, published another encyclical, Haurietas Aquas, “You Will Draw Waters” in regard to the devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. He speaks again of Jesus’ divine knowledge, saying: since ‘in Him dwells the fullness of the Godhead bodily.’ It is, besides, the symbol of that burning love which, infused into His soul, enriches the human will of Christ and enlightens and governs its acts by the most perfect knowledge derived both from the beatific vision and that which is directly infused.” (HA, 55-56) In the year 2,000, Pope John Paul II put out the encyclical Novo Millenio Ineunte, “At the Beginning of the New Millenium.” In it, he refers to Jesus in the Garden of Olives as “oppressed by foreknowledge of the trials that await Him.” (NMI, 25) The Church consistently teaches that Jesus is divinely aware, knowing the intimate details of future events and all that would befall Him, as predicted in His Passion. Lastly, in 2013, Pope Francis put out his first encyclical Lumen Fidei, “The Light of Faith.” In it, Pope Francis alludes to the divine understanding Christ has of the Father. He says,Christ’s life, His way of knowing the Father and living in complete and constant relationship with Him, opens up new and inviting vistas for human experience.” (LF, 18) The infinite knowledge and consciousness is important because it is united to Jesus’ humanity. God reached down to become part of man, so man could be lifted up to become part of God. We are adopted children of God, who are made partakers in the divine nature, through Christ’s humanity. This is the new and inviting vistas for human experience Pope Francis refers to, and which, is an intimate aspect of the sacramental life.    

Scripture, too, repeatedly and unequivocally affirms and reaffirms Christ’s divinity, and in doing so, incidentally professes His divine knowledge and consciousness. Jesus takes for Himself the name of God, declaring Himself “I Am.” (Jn. 8:58) And, He openly declares, “The Father and I are one.” (Jn. 10:30) Jesus takes to Himself special titles, such as “The Son of Man” and “The Son of God.” He refers to God as Abba, or Father. He declares Himself “greater than the Temple” and “Lord of the Sabbath.” (Mt.12:6; 8) Authority for, both of which, belongs only to God Himself. Jesus can read the interior thoughts of other people and knows future events. He ascribes for Himself the power to forgive sins and the power to judge, particularly as the eschatological final judge of all humanity. He can only be the true and just judge of all humanity if He truly knows all the deeds and interior motivations of all humans, as He does in His divine knowledge. Occasionally, Jesus uses simple rhetorical ploys, often times to elicit a response from someone. For example, when Jesus is talking with the Samaritan woman, He asks her, “Go, call your husband, and come back,” even though He already knows that she has had many husbands, and the one she is with now is not her husband. (Jn. 4:16) He gently elicits her moral conscience to sins she has committed, and at the same time, reveals His divinity. This is reminiscent of God coming into the Garden of Eden after Adam and Eve sinned, asking “But the Lord God called to the man, and said to him, “Where are you?” (Gen. 3:9) God, of course, knew where Adam and Eve were, but elicited a moral response from them after they had sinned. This is the same oikonomia that Jesus practiced in His lifetime, in tempering down His divine knowledge and consciousness to the human condition. Nevertheless, we should not be fooled by Christ’s humility and fall into error by questioning His divine knowledge and consciousness. For, in His final revelation to humanity, Jesus proclaims His omnipotence saying, “I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.” (Rev. 1:8)  

Confirmation, the Sacrament of Spirit, Strength, and Combat – November 15, 2015

“Now when the apostles at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had accepted the word of God, they sent Peter and John to them. The two went down and prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit (for as yet the Spirit had not come upon any of them; they had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus). Then Peter and John laid their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 8:14-17)

Some question whether Confirmation is really a sacrament. Martin Luther retained the ceremonial aspect of it, but rejected its sacramentality, saying, “God knows nothing of it.” Even some modern Catholic thinkers have referred to it as “a sacrament in search of a theology.” After all, Christians receive the Holy Spirit in Baptism. Why then do we need a second anointing of the Holy Spirit in Confirmation? What is its purpose? Part of the criteria the Church used in delineating the seven sacraments was that each had to have been instituted by Christ Himself, as when He instituted the Eucharist at the Last Supper, and when He was baptized in the Jordan River. But, when and where in the Gospels did He institute the sacrament of Confirmation? Maybe its critics have a point. Yet, the Church has continually upheld Confirmation as a sacrament. In the 13th century, St.Thomas Aquinas took up this very question of the defense of Confirmation as a sacrament in his Summa Theologica (Summa, III, q.72). Later, the Church Council of Florence in 1439, and again, the Council of Trent in 1566 both affirmed the sacrament of Confirmation as one of the seven sacraments. These declarations have remained as the foundational Catholic understanding of Confirmation all the way up to modern times. As the Catechism now states, “Baptism, the Eucharist, and the sacrament of Confirmation together constitute the ‘sacraments of Christian initiation’.” (CCC 1285) Confirmation is one of the three sacraments in which the Christian is initiated into the Church. Baptism, Eucharist and Confirmation are a unity which complete our initiation. In the Eastern Orthodox Church, unlike the Latin Church, this unity is expressed by administering these three sacraments together, one after another, for initiation into the Church. In Roman Catholicism, however, they are spread out over time, generally speaking, beginning with Baptism, then later, Eucharist, and finally, upon entering adulthood, Confirmation. The reception of Confirmation completes and perfects the Baptismal grace. (CCC 1285) So, Baptism and Confirmation are two distinct sacraments, but linked together in the conferral of grace. As the passage (above) from the book of Acts demonstrates, the disciples in Samaria had already been baptized, but Peter and John came to lay hands on them so that they would receive the Holy Spirit. They were then, in fact, “confirmed” into the Church, received the Holy Spirit, and completed their Baptismal grace.

Confirmation is sometimes called “the sacrament of Christian maturity.” It is the sacrament that ushers the Baptized into the fullness of the Christian community, through the special strength of the Holy Spirit it identifies us more closely with the public mission and witness to Jesus Christ. Lumen Gentium says that, in Confirmation, those confirmed are “more perfectly bound to the Church,” so that, they are “obliged to spread and defend the faith, both by word and by deed, as true witnesses of Christ.” (LG, 11) The Confirmed are to share more completely in the mission of Christ and the fullness of the Holy Spirit, so as to give off “the aroma of Christ.” (CCC 1294) In his letter to the Corinthian Church, St.Paul calls the newly converted, and presumably newly Baptized, “infants in Christ.” (1 Cor.3:1) Baptism is our beginning point to the life in the Spirit. St.Thomas also compares Baptism as the point of our spiritual regeneration, and Confirmation as the point of our spiritual maturity. Baptism is our entrance, and Confirmation is our graduation. St.Thomas says of Confirmation that “man is perfected by Confirmation.” (Summa, III, q.65, a.3)  In Baptism, we become children of God, and in Confirmation, we become friends of God, sent into the world to give witness and carry on the mission of Christ.

Jesus promised that His Spirit would lead us to all truth, and we must take into account the veracity of His word in the Church seeing fit to establish the sacrament of Confirmation. The Spirit does not make mistakes. Confirmation, as with all the sacraments, contains an essential form to make the rite valid. The signs and symbols of the rite confer the grace they signify and signify the grace they confer. The catechumens are confirmed by the bishop by anointing their foreheads with a perfumed oil, a sacred chrism blessed by the bishop, and the laying on of hands by the bishop (just as Peter and John, as the first apostolic bishops, laid hands on the disciples of Samaria), and with the words “Be sealed with the Gift of the Holy Spirit.” (CCC 1300) The sign of anointing with the chrism imprints a spiritual seal upon our souls with the indelible mark of the Holy Spirit. (CCC 1304) For this reason, because it imparts a special character upon us, just as in Baptism, it is only given once. (CCC 1305) In ancient times, a seal was a symbol of a person, or the symbol of who that person belonged to, such as, soldiers marked with their leader’s seal, or slaves with their master’s seal. (CCC 1295) So too, now, Christians are confirmed with the mark of the Holy Spirit in order to seal us as His, consecrated to Christ. In the old mosaic covenant, an indelible mark was left on the body in circumcision, but now, in the new covenant, an indelible mark is left on the soul with the seal of the Holy Spirit. St.Paul speaks about this saying we are “marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit” (Eph.1:13), and “marked with a seal for the day of redemption.” (Eph. 4:30) To the Corinthians, he similarly says, “But it is God who establishes us with you in Christ and has anointed us, by putting His seal on us and giving us His Spirit in our hearts as a first installment.” (2 Cor.1:21-22) This idea of the seal of the Holy Spirit hearkens back to the Old Testament, where God prophesies through Ezekiel “I will put My spirit within you.” (Ez.36:27) The seal of the Holy Spirit is also promised to us as divine protection in the eschatological future, that is, at the end of the world. (CCC 1296) In Revelation, the angels of judgment are told, “Do not damage the earth or the sea or the trees, until we have marked the servants of our God with a seal on their foreheads.” (Rev. 7:3)

The effects of the sacrament of Confirmation are most commonly associated with the outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon the Apostles at Pentecost. (CCC 1302) As St.Luke describes the dramatic event in the book of Acts:

“When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them.  All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.” (Acts 2:1-4)

The Holy Spirit came upon the Apostles in startling fashion with a rush of violent wind and tongues of fire. This is in fulfillment of Jesus’ command to “stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.” (Lk.24:49) In obedience, the Apostles had been persevering in prayer, hiding in the upper room for fear of persecution. However, once they were sealed with the power of the Holy Spirit “from on high,” they emerged from the upper room and began to preach powerfully and publicly to the crowds of people. St.Peter, in particular, is the first to fearlessly witness to the crowds about the crucified Jesus, the forgiveness of sins, and the gift of the Holy Spirit. He begins by quoting the prophet Joel:

‘In the last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams.” (Acts 2:17; Joel 2:28)

The Holy Spirit had strengthened the Apostles and the disciples, who were now unafraid to proclaim and defend the faith publicly. The flinching Apostles became towering super-Apostles, for through these twelve men, Christianity spread throughout the whole world in the midst of, and in spite of, terrible persecutions and martyrdom. St.Thomas discusses the miraculous change in their behavior due to the Holy Spirit. He says, “whereas in Confirmation he receives power to do those things which pertain to the spiritual combat with the enemies of the Faith.” (III, q.72, a.5) Confirmation anoints us with the power for spiritual combat, and to persevere amidst the trials and tribulations of giving witness to Christ in a hostile world. Confirmation is the sacrament to strengthen us for combat.

Jesus Himself, in fact, did institute the sacrament of Confirmation, albeit not by bestowing it directly, but with the promise of a future fulfillment, for He could not give the Spirit until after His Resurrection and Ascension. (Summa, III, q.72) Jesus promises His Apostles beforehand, “Nevertheless I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send Him to you.” (Jn.16:7) Jesus promises that once He is gone He will send the Spirit of Truth (Jn.14:17), the Advocate (Jn.14:16), the Paraclete, the Comforter and Counselor, to clothe them with power “from on high.” And again, Jesus tells His Apostles, “I have said these things to you while I am still with you. But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you.” (Jn14:25-26) Jesus promises this, even though His Apostles had already been baptized, as implied in Him washing their feet and His saying to them “you are clean.” (Jn.13:10) Yet, Jesus promises more. He promises to clothe them with the power of Heaven, the Holy Spirit, which is ultimately fulfilled on that day of Pentecost.

This is the birth of the active Church, the Church militant. From there, the Church spread through the ancient world, first to Jew, and then, soon after, to Gentile, and all the way up till today, to all nations, universally across the globe. Yet, the Holy Spirit did not continue to anoint the disciples in such a dramatic, miraculous and visible fashion as at Pentecost. From that point on, the Apostles begin to invoke and confer the Holy Spirit through the imposition of hands, or the laying on of hands. This is truly the birth of the sacrament of Confirmation. As Acts says, “Then Peter and John laid their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 8:14-17) St.Paul and the other bishops of the apostolic Church also conferred the Holy Spirit upon the Baptized through the imposition of hands. As St.Paul’s letter says, “For this reason I remind you to rekindle the gift of God that is within you through the laying on of my hands.” (2 Tim. 1:6) We see this again in Acts, “When Paul had laid his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came upon them, and they spoke in tongues and prophesied.” (Acts, 19:6) The “laying on of hands” is similarly mentioned in other places throughout the New Testament, such as in the letter to the Hebrews. (Heb.6:2) It was an integral part to the early, apostolic Church. It was part of The Way. The laying on of hands is the sacrament of Confirmation. It remains part of our way today. Confirmation is an extraordinary and charismatic conferral of grace, that completes our Baptism, unites us more closely with Christ, confers an indelible character upon our souls, gives us a special permanent status within the Church, strengthens our faith to engage in spiritual combat and to be able to publicly and boldly defend it. (CCC 1303) In short, it perfects the character we receive (in Baptism) as part of the common priesthood of the faithful. (CCC 1305) Our initiation is complete. Our status and our service in the common priesthood of the faithful are officially consecrated to God through the power of the Holy Spirit. With the winds of the Spirit in our hearts and the tongues of fire in our minds, we are ready now, ready to leave the safe confines of the upper room and witness to Christ in the public marketplace.

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.

The Second Transubstantiation, One in the Eucharist – 25 September 2015

“The Eucharist is “the source and summit of the Christian life.” (CCC 1324)

The idea of living the sacramental life is to order all that we do and all that we are, by way of our intentions and invocations, to be one with Jesus Christ. We can live in union with Jesus in our most ordinary of circumstances each day. Yet, both the foundation and the pinnacle of the sacramental life are found in the sacraments themselves. As per the Catechism, “The sacraments are efficacious signs of grace, instituted by Christ and entrusted to the Church, by which divine life is dispensed to us.” (CCC 1131) They are efficacious, or produce the intended effect in our souls, in order to sanctify us. The sacraments are the source and continuation of the divine life of Jesus Christ for the world. Indeed, the whole liturgical life of the Church revolves around the seven sacraments. These are, of course: Baptism, Confirmation, Eucharist, Penance, Anointing of the Sick, Holy Orders, and Matrimony. Christ did not leave us orphaned when He left this world. (Jn.14:18) Rather, Jesus said, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Mt.28:20) When Jesus founded His Church, the Catholic Church, He intended to continue on living amongst us through the grace of His sacraments and the power of the Holy Spirit. Christ does act directly through His Church via the sacraments. Jesus’ real presence endures. He is with us always.

These sacramental celebrations are, in fact, rituals instituted by Christ that are woven together with signs and symbols (CCC 1145) that “make present efficaciously the grace that they signify.” (CCC 1084) They are outward signs, a visible activity, which reveals the invisible reality. St. Augustine described them as “an outward and visible sign of an inward and invisible grace.” The washing by water in Baptism is the sign of the true reality of God’s spirit washing away our sin. However, these are not just symbols or symbolic, but rather, “real symbols,” which truly are what they represent. They are efficacious symbols that reveal a hidden reality. The water, as symbol, infused with sacramental grace does truly sanctify us in reality, albeit a hidden reality. It does what it symbolizes. In them, we proceed from the visible to the invisible and from the sign to the thing signified. Sign and reality are one. Initiation into the sacraments is to initiate us into the mystery of Christ (“mystagogy”). (CCC 1075) For the early Christians, the faith wasn’t simply going to Church on Sunday, it was an all-encompassing faith, sacrament-alizing their lives, living in communion with God and with each other. The sacraments lead us to Christ, drawing us ever deeper into His mystagogy. They draw their power from Christ Himself. For Christ Himself is the ultimate sacrament of God-made-present, just as the Church too, as the Mystical Body of Christ, is the efficacious sign, or sacrament, of Christ in the world.

Since Christ Himself is the supreme sacrament, the fountain of grace, we can approach Him directly to dispense His grace upon us. We can unite ourselves with Him in our daily activities to sacramentalize our ordinary lives. This is the sacramental life. Yet, we also know Christ established His sacraments through the Church as the divine avenues by which grace is issued upon us. Specifically, He established in the Church the seven sacraments for initiation, healing, personal commitment, and to impress an indelible character on our souls. The seven sacraments of the Church are the way. They are the path of salvation and holiness.  They draw us ever deeper into the mystagogy of Christ. The blood and water that issued forth from the side of Christ on the Cross, flows to us today as His grace and mercy in the sacraments. They bring forth the real presence of Christ to us and help conform us to His image. With those ideas in mind – His real presence and the transformation of us into His image – the sacrament par excellence is the Eucharist. The sacraments and the whole liturgical life of the Church are contained and oriented towards the Eucharist. For, the Eucharist contains the real presence of Jesus Christ, body and blood, soul and divinity, and ever transforms us into Himself. As the Catechism says, “For in the blessed Eucharist is contained the whole spiritual good of the Church, namely Christ Himself.” (CCC 1324)

The real presence of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist has been there from the beginning. The scriptures and Jesus Himself testify to this. After Jesus’ death and resurrection, two of His disciples were downcast walking on the road back to the town of Emmaus. Jesus approached them, “but their eyes were kept from recognizing Him.” (Lk. 24:16) He began to teach them about all the scriptures related to what would happen to the Messiah. Jesus was so compelling that the disciples’ “hearts were burning” within themselves, and they asked Him to stay longer with them. Then, the Gospel writer Luke captures so succinctly what happens next: “When He was at the table with them, He took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized Him; and He vanished from their sight.” (Lk.24:31) Jesus uses this post-resurrection appearance to teach them the importance of the Eucharist. They were unable to see Jesus until He consecrated and broke the bread. As the disciples later testified, “how He had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.” (Lk.24:35) Jesus illustrates that He is no longer with them as He once was, but will now remain with them, sacramentally, in the form of the Eucharist. He uses the same Eucharistic formula as at the Last Supper, when He instituted the Eucharist. At the Last Supper, “Jesus took a loaf of bread, and after blessing it He broke it, gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is My body.” (Mt.26:26) Jesus did not say this is a “symbol” of My body, rather, in no uncertain terms, “This is My body.” Jesus reinforced in Emmaus, what they initially called “the breaking of bread,” and what Jesus had instituted at the Last Supper, the Eucharistic sacrifice of His body and blood. Now, the disciples continued this going forward as the beginnings of the mass and Eucharist. As St.Paul says, “They devoted themselves… to the breaking of bread.” (Acts 2:42)

Of course, Jesus is the one who first spoke about Himself as “the bread of life.” (John 6:35) He goes into a long discourse, the Bread of Life discourse, which greatly offended and scandalized many of His followers and non-followers alike. Jesus continues, “the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” (Jn.6:51) It is interesting to note that John uses the Greek word “sarx” here to denote the word “flesh.” Sarx can only mean real flesh. Sarx is the same word John uses at the beginning of his Gospel in regard to the Incarnation when he states “The Word became flesh.” (Jn.1:14) Thus, he links the Eucharist with the Incarnation. In the synoptic Gospels and the Pauline epistles, in regard to the Eucharistic formulation, they use the word soma, which means “body.” But here, in the Bread of Life discourse, John specifically uses the word sarx six times! As Jesus emphasizes, “for My flesh is true food and My blood is true drink.” (Jn. 6:55) Not just an idea or mere symbol. The Eucharist is a Real Symbol. It is what it signifies. Yet, the disciples and the Jews were scandalized by this “hard saying.” Nonetheless, Jesus does not back off, but more forcefully emphasizes the point. He says: “Very truly, I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you. Those who eat My flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day;” (Jn. 6:53-54) The word John uses for “to eat” is the Greek word “trogein,” which literally means “to gnaw.” He’s emphasizing that you gnaw on real meat, not a symbol or an idea. Not surprisingly, many of Jesus’ disciples and non-disciples alike were aghast at this; believing He was speaking about some sort of cannibalism. Jesus, of course, knew this, and so, He asks them, and by way of extension, He asks us, “Does this shock you?” (Jn. 6:61) We know it was too much for many to bear, because as John records, many of His disciples abandon Him at this point. (Jn.6:66) * After they abandon Him, Jesus reassures His skeptical Apostles. He tells them, “The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life.” (Jn.6:63) Or, in other words, Jesus is telling them not to understand this with their fleshy, materialistic minds; But rather, they should understand it by trusting in God’s supernatural power. This is not a cannibalistic ritual, but a heavenly sacrament. **

The Council of Trent in the 16th century reaffirmed the belief of the real presence in the Eucharist and spelled out in precise language the nature of the sacrament. The Council reaffirmed that by the consecration of the bread and wine, “there takes place a change of the whole substance of the bread into the substance of the body of Christ our Lord and of the whole substance of wine into the substance of His blood. This change the holy Catholic Church has fittingly and properly called transubstantiation.” (CCC 1376; Trent 1551) Transubstantiation is ultimately the term they arrived at to define what happens in the mystical sacrament of the Eucharist. Under the veiled appearance of bread and wine, “the whole of Christ is truly, really, and substantially contained.” (CCC 1374; Trent 1551) Jesus becomes our spiritual food. He is our “medicine of immortality.” (St.Ignatius, 110 AD) Jesus loves us so much that He desires to be consumed by us; to merge with us, and merge us into Himself. As Jesus said, “Those who eat My flesh and drink My blood abide in Me, and I in them.” (Jn. 6:56) The real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist is not an end in itself. The purpose of the real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist is for us to consume Him and be in communion with Him. Receiving Jesus in Holy Communion is meant to bring us into intimate union with Christ. It deepens our relationship with Him. Just as material food nourishes our bodies, so Holy Communion nourishes our spiritual soul. (CCC 1392) You are what you eat. Holy Communion transforms us into the image of Jesus Christ.

Our personal salvation and transformation are not the only goals of Holy Communion. It also transforms us, as a whole community of faithful believers, the Church, into the Mystical Body of Christ. St.Paul wrote to the Corinthians, Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread.” (1Cor. 10:17) The Eucharist lifts us up into union with Christ, and unites us all as one in His Mystical Body. (Mysterium Fidei, 70) All who partake in the body and blood of Christ, “enter into communion with Him and form but one body in Him.” (CCC 1329) In the mass, after the priest invokes the Holy Spirit to transform the bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ, he again, invokes the Holy Spirit, a second time, that those who eat the body and blood of Christ may be “one body, one Spirit in Christ.” This is in reality the second transubstantiation; the transformation of those who eat the Eucharist into the one Mystical Body of Christ. This recalls Jesus’ prayer in Gethsemane to the Father that His followers “may be one, as We are one.” (Jn 17:11) Just as the Holy Spirit transforms the bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ, so does He transform us into the Mystical Body of Christ. The Eucharist unites us together mystically in Him.

Moreover, the members of the Church come together to offer “praise, sufferings, prayer, and work” in union with the sacrifice of Christ. (CCC 1368) We, the Body and by virtue of our priesthood, unite all that we are and do, with the offering of the Head, the one and eternal Priest and Mediator, Jesus Christ, in His passion and death. Body and Head united, we offer our sacrifice together to the Father in the Eucharist and the sacred liturgy of the mass for the intercession of all humanity and the salvation of our souls.  The Eucharist and the sacred liturgy of the mass draw us “day by day into ever more perfect union with God and with each other, so that finally God may be all in all.” (Sacrosanctum Concilium, 48) In the fifth century B.C. the Hebrew Prophet Malachi (מַלְאָכִי) prophesied a time when not only the Jews, God’s chosen people, would worship the one, true God, but all the Gentile nations around the world would too. People everywhere would not make bloody or burnt sacrifices, but rather, each day they will make a pure and acceptable offering to God’s holy name.  This has found its fulfillment in the Christian Eucharist and mass.  Jesus puts an end to the millennia-old ritualistic blood-letting.  He is the pure offering. For from the rising of the sun to its setting My name is great among the nations, and in every place incense is offered to My name, and a pure offering; for My name is great among the nations, says the Lord of hosts.” (Mal.1:11) 

*As an aside, it’s interesting to note that various early Roman pagans had spread false rumors about Christians that they participated in cannibalistic rituals. This was probably from their false understanding of the Eucharistic meal. As recorded by Roman pagan historians, this smear was used as one of the excuses to persecute the early Christian Church. Yet, it also lends extra-biblical credence to the idea that the first Christians believed in the real presence of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist.

**It’s also interesting to note that directly before Jesus’ Bread of Life Discourse in John 6, John related two other miracles. The first was Jesus’ multiplications of the loaves. This has obvious Eucharistic connotations. The next was Jesus walking on water on the Sea of Galilee. Both miracles reveal that matter, the elements and nature itself are subject to Jesus. In other words, just before Jesus discusses bread and wine becoming His flesh and blood, John demonstrates by these miracles, that material boundaries are no constraint upon Jesus.

Consoling the Sacred Heart of Jesus, Part II – 17 September 2015

The Catechism states that, “Jesus knew and loved us each and all during His life.” (CCC 478) As we have just explored, this would have been possible for Jesus to know us, and who we are, and what we would do, despite living in a different time and a different location. Jesus Christ, as the Word of God, was filled with divine knowledge. He had Infused divine knowledge about everything related to His mission of Redemption, and all the people and events involved in fulfilling that mission. He also had divine knowledge of the Beatific Vision, in which He constantly beheld the glory of God the Father and the Holy Trinity. He, as the divine being, was not confined by space and time, in relation to His divine nature. In this way He could perceive people and places in the future and in other locations; hence, Jesus’ ability to read people’s minds and hearts, know what was happening elsewhere, and prophesize future events and actions. There was no one who was outside of Jesus’ grasp to know or understand. Jesus’ only limitation in this respect, during the time of His Incarnation, was His finite human mind and soul’s ability to grasp the infiniteness of God the Father. Yet, we know as per the discussion by St.Thomas, that Jesus knew the essence of all finite creatures. Furthermore, He knew “whatsoever is, will be, or was done, said, or thought, by whomsoever and at any time.” (S.T. III, Q.10.,a.2) All human beings and human nature are finite in essence, and so, Jesus, as the Word of God, in His deified humanity, could well perceive all that we are, and all that we did, or will do, despite the limitations of His human mind.

And so, St.Paul could say, “the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.” (Gal 2:20) Jesus loved me and gave Himself for me. This is a fascinating thing to contemplate. Specifically, Jesus, in His earthly life 2,000 years ago, knew me. He knew my life, my circumstances, my failings, my actions, my prayers. When Jesus willingly entered on Holy Thursday and Good Friday into His Passion, to suffer horrible tortures and death, He was thinking about saving you, and saving me. Jesus in His divine knowledge saw that His suffering and death could save us from our individual sins. So, He willingly laid down His life for us, out of love for us. As Jesus said, “There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” (Jn. 15:13) Think about all the good you have done and all the sins you have committed. They were all there, wrapped up in the heart and mind of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane. We have to remember that Jesus was no ordinary man. What may seem impossible to us would not have been impossible to the God-man. We were on His mind. Indeed, Jesus prayed for us saying, “I pray not only for them, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word.” (Jn.17:20)  

Jesus was in fact praying for all of His followers throughout the centuries who would form His Church and His Mystical Body. In His divinely Infused knowledge and the Beatific Vision, Jesus would perceive not only God the Father, but the whole Blessed Trinity. As a part of the Second Person of the Trinity, God the Son, Jesus would have been able to know all the people that make up His Mystical Body. The Mystical Body of Christ is made up of Christ’s followers, or simply, the Church. In 1943, Pope Pius XII put out an encyclical “On the Mystical Body of Christ,” or “Mystici Corporis Christi.” In one section of that, he addresses Christ’s vision of us in the Mystical Body, “For hardly was He conceived in the womb of the Mother of God, when He began to enjoy the Beatific Vision, and 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) Throughout Christ’s life He beheld all of us in the Beatific Vision as members of the Mystical Body of Christ. There, Christ was able to keep all of us individually present to Himself throughout His life and continually in His thoughts. Whoever we are, wherever or whenever we live, Christ loved us. The symbol with which the Church shows this love for us is the Sacred Heart of Jesus. As the Catechism states, “He has loved us all with a human heart.” (CCC 478) In the agony of the Garden of Gethsemane, that human heart of Jesus was afflicted by our sins and consoled by our acts of charity and mercy.

In 1928, Pope Pius XI put out an encyclical “Miserentissimus Redemptor,” or “All Merciful Redeemer,” concerning Reparation to the Sacred Heart. This is a wonderful meditation on the Sacred Heart of Jesus that also delves into the idea of forethought in Christ. The encyclical reminds us that, “no created power was sufficient to expiate the sins of men.” (M.R. 9) Rather, the God-man alone would be sufficient to undo the transgressions of sin for all mankind. It quotes the suffering servant prophesies from Isaiah, “He was wounded for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities.” (Is.53:5) All of the sins of every person in the history of the world were placed upon Christ in the hour of His Passion and Crucifixion. The Chief Apostle, St.Peter, reiterated this saying, He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross.” (1 Pt.2:24) The sins and crimes of people throughout the ages were the source of Jesus’ grief, suffering, and death. Our sins today, caused Jesus’ agony then. Seeing and bearing the immensity of sins and crimes committed by every person that has ever lived, an unimaginable burden, Jesus was in agony in the Garden of Gethsemane, even to the point of His sweat becoming like drops of blood. (Lk.22:44) So, for us today, in the 21st century, when we sin, are “crucifying again the Son of God and are holding Him up to contempt.” (Heb.6:6) Jesus, with His divine foreknowledge, knew the sins we would commit. He beheld them in the garden. It was a source of agony for Him, and He willingly suffered that torture on our behalf to expiate our sins. Simply put, our sins today are a source of suffering and grief to Jesus’ Sacred Heart then.

Now, if we are a source of pain to Jesus in His agony by our actions now, it reasons that by our prayers, sacrifices and good deeds now, we can also console the Sacred Heart of Jesus then. This reaches a key point in the encyclical. It says: 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.” (M.R. 13) So, just as Jesus foresaw our sins, He also foresaw our acts of reparation, love and mercy. We, by our actions today, can console the Sacred Heart of Jesus in the past. This is a wonderful thing to contemplate. By our acts of mercy and charity, we can ease the pain of Christ in His Passion. We can bring Him consolation, even now after the fact. The encyclical says this plainly, “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.” (M.R. 13) It is within our power to make reparation and console the Sacred Heart of Jesus in the midst of His Passion. Time and space is of no constraint to the divine person, the eternal Word. We are, in a mystical but real way, present to Jesus in His life and His Passion. By our actions in the present, we can either wound or console Jesus’ Sacred Heart in the past. Our unfolding actions here and now in time are already present to Jesus in the eternity of His foreknowledge.

In 1980, in Pope John Paul II”s encyclical Dives in misericordia,” or “Rich in Mercy,” he also addressed this idea of consoling the crucified Christ. He said, “In a special way, God also reveals His mercy when He invites man to have “mercy” on His only Son, the crucified one.” (Dives et Misericordia, 8) We can show mercy to Christ. Think about that, God allows us to comfort Him. This is part of the scandal of Christianity. It calls to mind the fact that Jesus’ Mystical Body continues to live on in the world as the Church, whose members continue to suffer, “I am completing what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of His body, that is, the church.(Col.1:24) The resurrected and glorified Christ also appeared to Saul on the road to Damascus as he was trying to slaughter the Christians of the infant Church. Jesus confronted him saying, Saul, Saul, why do you persecute Me?” (Acts 9:4) Jesus implied attacks on His Church were in fact attacks on His very person. Saul, by persecuting individual Christians and the Church was persecuting Jesus Himself. This is the same language Jesus uses when He spoke about the Last Judgment. The Righteous will be rewarded for all the good deeds they did, even those done to the least person among us. Jesus associates Himself with those suffering the most, and the weakest, most in need. Jesus said, And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to Me.” (Mt.25:40) Thus, our good deeds, our charity, our prayers, and our mercy, especially towards those most in need, can bring comfort both to Jesus’ Sacred Heart in His Passion 2,000 years ago and to the on-going suffering of His Mystical Body today. As the encyclical states we can, by living holy lives and by reparation and by deeds of mercy, “fulfill the office of the Angel consoling Jesus in the garden.” (M.R. 19) For as the Gospel states, “there appeared to Him an angel from heaven” (Lk. 22:43), in order that His Heart, oppressed with weariness and anguish, might find consolation.” (M.R. 13)

The Theandric Nature of Christ – 5 September 2015

“The Word became flesh.” (John 1:14) 

“Jesus Christ is true God and true man, in the unity of His divine person” (CCC 480)

Writing about theology is often a process of recapitulating in a few minutes or hours what the Church has struggled with and elucidated over two thousand years. This is both a blessing and curse. A blessing, of course, because now in the 21st century, we have the luxury of these neatly and elaborately defined dogmas; and a curse, because it’s not always an easy task sifting through the minutiae of two millennia of history and exegesis. These religious ideas and doctrines we take for granted now have been struggled with, debated, fought over, scandalized, held Councils about, and in the cases of the various heresies, called heretical and anathema, but all the while leading to more refined doctrines and creeds of the Church. Such is the will of God, that we should “love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.” (Mt. 22:37-38) Jesus instructed us, by adding to the Deuteronomic quote (Dt.6:5), that we should love God with “all your mind.” And hence, the Church, and the doctors of the Church, theologians and saints have studied the Word of God, the Bible, the teachings of the Apostles, the Traditions of the Church, and life of Jesus, parsing every word and deed to understand the true nature of God. This dialectic struggle within the Church over the two thousand years has resulted in 21 major ecumenical Church Councils, in order to resolve the nearly as many major heretical movements within each century. Loving God with all your mind is easy, but precise exegetical, Church-approved analysis has been long, hard, and arduous. In no area has this been more contentious than Christology, or the study of the nature and person of Jesus Christ.

The “Hypostatic Union” is the theological term positing the fusion of the divine and the human in the person of Jesus Christ. Hypostasis (ὑπόστασις) is the Greek word referring to the “underlying substance” of something, or “concrete existence” of a person. In Christian theology, it refers to the union of the two natures of Christ in the one divine person. Christ had two natures, one human and one divine; as well as two intellects and wills, or “modes of operation,” one human and one divine. Taken together, the two natures and the two intellects, and wills or operations, they form in perfect union the one divine man, Jesus Christ. It seems so straight-forward to us now. What was so difficult? I jest, yet this simple phrase had a long, struggled history. The struggle began back with the first ecumenical Council at Nicea in 325 AD. This Council was called to deal with a heresy involving a popular priest named Arius. Arius believed that Jesus was not consubstantial with God the Father, but was rather “homo-i-ousios,” or of “like or similar substance and being,” in effect, Jesus was less than the Father. A huge schism was created in the Church between those who believed in homo-i-ousios and those who adhered to “homo-ousios,” or that Jesus and God the Father were “of one substance or being.” As Edward Gibbon had noted the world was divided over “one iota.” Thus, the Council met and then issued the Nicean Creed. This declared Jesus “homo-ousios,” or “consubstantial” with God the Father, the same creed we repeat in mass to this very day.

After that, the Christological struggle to define the exact nature of who Jesus is continued on for centuries. In the fifth century, the Patriarch of Constantinople, Nestorius, had felt uncomfortable calling Mary “Theotokos,” (in Greek Θεοτοκος) or “God-bearer,” since he did not think she was the cause of Jesus’ divinity. As such, he ended up devising a doctrine, Nestorianism, that essentially divided Jesus into two persons, one divine (Logos) and one human (son of Mary). This, of course, in response led to the Council of Ephesus in 431 AD. The Council proclaimed Mary is not the cause of Jesus’ divinity since He’s consubstantial with the Father for all eternity. As well, it proclaimed Mary is not the cause of Jesus’ human soul since that is also from God. Yet, the Council reaffirmed the hypostatic union of a divine nature and a human nature in the one divine person of Jesus Christ. Being that Mary bore the divine person, Jesus, and not just His human nature, it is in fact true to call her the bearer of God.

A couple of decades later a Byzantine monk, Eutyches, had began advocating that there was really only one nature in Christ; or that His human nature was absorbed by His divine nature. This heresy was termed “Monophysitism,” or that Christ only had a divine nature. In 451 AD, the Church called the Council of Chalcedon to deal with this. The Council declared Jesus had “two natures, without confusion, without change, without division, without separation.” They reaffirmed that Jesus was one person and one hypostasis with two natures, one human and one divine. In the 7th century, the Monothelitism heresy posited that Christ only had one will and one natural operation; eliminating the distinctly human will in Christ, in favor of His divine will. In response to this, the Church called the Third Council of Constantinople in 681 AD. The Council eventually declared, in reiteration of the Chalcedon declaration, that Christ possessed “two natural wills and two natural energies, without division, alteration, separation or confusion.” (III Council of Constantinople) The Hypostatic Union had finally triumphed! Jesus Christ, the God-man, is one divine person, of one substance with the Father, with two natures, human and divine; two wills, human and divine; and two modes of operation, human and divine.

Yes, there are two natures and two wills in Christ, yet they always act in harmony together. Jesus was perfectly one with Himself, undivided. He is the perfect model for us to align our human nature and our human will with the divine nature and the divine will. In us, our nature and our will resist the divine nature and the divine will. In Christ, His human nature and His human will were in perfect obedience and submission to the divine. We, because of Original Sin, are divided; He, without sin, is one. The Catechism quotes the Council of Constantinople III in this respect saying: Christ’s human will “does not resist or oppose but rather submits to His divine and almighty will.” (CCC 475) As the Church Fathers teach us, the obedience of Christ atoned for the disobedience of Adam. Only Christ could have done this. Jesus is in a sense properly defined as “theandric.” Theandric taken from the root Greek words, “theos,” (θεός) meaning “god;” and “andros,” (ἀνδρός) meaning “man.” Christ properly understood is both God and man united as one person, or literally, the God-man. In the 7th century St.John of Damascus wrote, “Thus, the theandric operation shows this: when God became man, that is to say, was incarnate, His human operation was divine, that is to say, deified. And it was not excluded from His divine operation, nor was His divine operation excluded from His human operation. On the contrary, each is found in the other.” The divine operation and the human operation are independent and separate, yet they subsist – one in the other – in Jesus Christ. St.Thomas Aquinas in the Middle Ages wrote, “Dionysius* places in Christ a theandric, i.e. a God-manlike or Divino-human, operation not by any confusion of the operations or powers of both natures, but inasmuch as His Divine operation employs the human, and His human operation shares in the power of the Divine.” (Aquinas) Thus, what Aquinas argues is that because of the dual nature of Christ as both human and divine, it appears as though He operates with a single, theandric operation. Yet, what is really happening is the two distinct natures of Christ are operating in perfect communion with each other, so much so as to appear as a single, theandric operation.

“Everything that Christ is and does in this nature derives from ‘one of the Trinity.’ The Son of God therefore communicates to His humanity His own personal mode of existence in the Trinity. In His soul as in His body, Christ thus expresses humanly the divine ways of the Trinity.” (CCC 470) The Catechism shows that, although separate, the divine is part of His human nature and the human is part of His divine nature. Christ’s humanity was a deified humanity. As in the healing of the leper, Christ uses the divine operation to heal, but He also uses His humanly operation to touch. In the raising of Lazarus, He uses His divine operation to resurrect, and His human operation to speak it. In these instances, as in all the others in His life, the divine operation is made manifest in perfect harmony with the human operation. And the human operation acts in perfect obedience to the divine operation. In the epistle to the Hebrews, St.Paul calls Christ, “the exact imprint of God’s very being.” (Heb.1:3)** That is, Christ is God made manifest in the flesh. The life of Christ is the human biography of the Trinity. Since the human and divine, though distinct, work in perfect operation together in Christ, His operations are, in effect, theandric. Each of His humanly actions are in conjunction with Godly actions. It can be surmised then that each of His actions is of infinite merit and grace. For the divine is operating within the natural. The Catechism says, “Christ’s whole life is a mystery of redemption.” (CCC517) The smallest of His actions take on divine efficaciousness. There are no small actions in the life of the God-man. Because of this, Aquinas can say, “Consequently, Christ did merit in the first instant of His conception.” Then, all of Christ’s actions throughout His life are of divine worth imbued with supernatural grace. Hence, when Christ reaches the climax of His life with His Passion and Crucifixion, His death takes on infinite value, capable of saving all of humanity from sin, and even death itself. The infinite dignity of God, offended by the sin of man, is now satisfied by the infinite sacrifice of Christ, the God-man.     

*Dionysius refers to the fifth century monk Gaius, a theologian who operated under the name Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite. He was one of the first to refer to Christ’s actions as “theandric.” He said, “by virtue of being God-made-man He accomplished something new in our midst – the activity of the God-man (ie, the theandric activity).” The error in his thought is by proscribing in Christ “one” mode of operation, not two.

**This line includes the use of the Greek word “hypostasis.”