Tag Archives: Christ

Fatima, Marriage, and the Theology of the Body – March 25, 2017

It has been reported that Sister Lucia of Fatima wrote a letter to Cardinal Caffarra predicting that “the final battle between the Lord and the reign of Satan will be about marriage and the family.” Not long after, Pope John Paul II was in the midst of his famous “Theology of the Body” talks on marriage and the family when a Turkish assassin attempted to kill him. The assassination attempt happened on May 13, 1981, the Feast day of Our Lady of Fatima, and the same day that Pope John Paul was going to announce the establishment of his Pontifical Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family. John Paul credited “a mother’s hand,” Our Lady of Fatima, with saving his life that day, and consequently, allowing for the promulgation of his exegetical insights on the theology of the body.

Pope John Paul’s biographer, George Weigel, described John Paul’s revolutionary ideas on the theology of the body as a “kind of theological time bomb set to go off with dramatic consequences, sometime in the third millennium of the Church.” What were these novel ideas? As author Christopher West restated, the Pope’s thesis is the human body “has been created to transfer into visible reality of the world the mystery hidden from eternity in God, and thus to be a sign of it.” The body is not just something biological, but also theological. The body is the sacrament of the person. As is often misconstrued, the Church does not teach that the body or sex is bad; this is a neo-gnostic heresy disparaging the body as something external to us and exploitable. Rather, the Church teaches that the body is good and holy, the temple of the Holy Spirit. It is incarnational and sacramental. The body is a person, and the person is a body.

But, the body is also more. God created the body as a sign and self-disclosure of His own divine mystery. God “impressed His own form on the flesh He had fashioned, in such a way that even what was visible might bear the divine form.” (CCC 704) The central mystery of the Christian faith is that God is an eternal Communion of three divine Persons: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. There is a sacramentality to the human body that makes visible this mystery hidden from eternity.

How does it do this? In the beginning, when God created man, He made them two separate but complementary incarnations, male and female. Through the beauty of sexual difference, masculine and feminine, we are called to form a communion of persons, just as there is a communion of Persons within the Godhead. In this exchange of love between husband and wife, a third person is generated in a child, forming again an icon of Trinitarian love, just as through the mutual love of the Father and Son proceeds the Holy Spirit. In this way, the human family makes visible in the created world, by way of analogy, only infinitely less so, the hidden eternal exchange of love within God. Man is allowed to take part in this great mystery of generation and creation, in imitation of the Trinity. It can be understood then that when God tells Adam and Eve, “be fruitful and multiply,” He is really telling them on a symbolic level to manifest His Trinitarian image throughout the world. This is man’s original vocation, to love as God loves.

God teaches us to love as God loves, through the complementary sexes, as imprinted upon our bodies. This reveals the spousal meaning of our very existence. Jesus Himself reaffirms the truth of dual genders and their nuptial meaning. When the Pharisees question Him about divorce, Jesus answers them, “Have you not read that He who made them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two but one flesh.” (Mt. 19:4-6) The two become one in the primordial sacrament of marriage: It was the original sacrament, the prototype that foreshadowed the marriage union of Christ with the Church. St. Paul refers to this marriage of Christ with the Church as a “great mystery.” (Eph. 5:32) Married couples are a sacramental sign of the divine Bridegroom and His bride. In reference to the marriage of husband and wife, and Christ and the Church, John Paul states, “these two signs together, making of them the single sign, that is, a great sacrament.”

The underlying theme throughout the Bible is God wants to “marry” us (Hos. 2:19). Indeed, God wanted to make His nuptial plan for us so obvious that He created our very bodies, male and female, to prepare us for this eternal, mystical marriage. Human marriage then is the sign and the sacrament, revealing the eternal reality of the union of Christ and His Church. Jesus spoke of this as well when He addressed the Sadducees saying, “For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven.” (Mt. 22:30) Jesus reaffirms that earthly marriage is not the ultimate end in itself, but a sign of the heavenly marriage to come. It is a harbinger of the final truth, when the earthly sign will at last give way to the heavenly reality. In the resurrection, the body will be raised eternal, incorruptible, spiritualized and divinized. Yet, as with any marriage proposal, mutual consent is necessary. We must give our “yes” through faith and the offering of ourselves.

Marriage was built upon this notion of a free, sincere gift of self to another. The gift of self in marriage is a sign and analogy of Christ’s total gift of Himself for His Church. At the Last Supper, when Jesus institutes the Eucharist, He says, “This is My body which is given for you.” (Lk. 22:19) Jesus offers Himself bodily for us, His bride. His total self-offering of His body is consummated with the His crucifixion on the Cross. In the same way then, the Eucharist is a renewal of Christ’s spousal gift of His body. In the words of Jesus, “He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him.” (Jn. 6:56) This is our one flesh communion.

Jesus repeatedly points us back to the beginning to see God’s original plan for marriage. In His response to the Pharisees’ challenging Him on marriage, Jesus says “but from the beginning it was not so.” (Mt. 19:8) He tells us implicitly that a certain residual echo of that original innocence remains in us. In man’s “original nakedness,” Adam and Eve “were both naked and not ashamed.” (Gen. 2:25) They had no shame, or fear, or lust, but only innocence. Their composite natures, body and spirit, were in perfect harmony. Adam and Eve saw in each other a whole person who perfectly imaged the Creator. Their total gift of self to one another was an embodiment of God’s self-giving love, and a perfect expression of the nuptial meaning of their bodies. Christ calls us to restore this.

Of course, with the Fall of man in Original Sin, immorality and death entered the world. Adam and Eve sewed fig leaves together to cover their bodies and hide their shame. In the mythic language of Genesis’ prehistory, something had gone horribly wrong, and has never been the same since then. The perfect harmony of body and spirit had been ruptured. Our human nature was wounded by concupiscence, pride, lust, and disobedience. The revelation of the person as an image of God, the theology stamped upon our bodies, had become obscured.

Yet, as John Paul points out, despite sin, “marriage has remained the platform for the realization of God’s eternal plans.” This is no more evident than in the Incarnation. Jesus willed Himself to be incarnated into a family, and to be raised by a mother and father. Jesus’ Incarnation shows the body, and marriage, and the family remain “very good.” He Himself highlights the centrality of sacramental marriage. Scripture tells us that, “Jesus also was invited to the marriage” (Jn. 2:2). His presence sanctifies the sacrament. Jesus worked His first public miracle at the wedding feast at Cana, turning water into wine. The wedding at Cana points towards His marriage consummation at Calvary, when He gives His body for His bride.

On the Sermon on the Mount, Christ again calls us back to the way it was in the beginning. Jesus says, “everyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” (Mt. 5:28) He challenges us to find a new, pure way of looking at each other, with custody of our eyes and a purity of heart, capable of seeing the person as the image of God. Jesus calls us to conversion, and a mastery of self. This is Jesus’ new ethos of the heart, in which our eros is infused with an agape love. John Paul’s anthropological vision is a redeemed sexuality, an “ethos of the redemption of the body,” through the power of Christ, free from the domination of concupiscence and lustful self-gratification. We are called to this liberation and freedom of being, to which Jesus came to restore us; to let us have “life, and have it abundantly.” (Jn. 10:10)

However, if marriage is the primordial sacrament – the primary revelation in creation of God’s inner being and the primary revelation of Christ’s union with His Church – is there any doubt why Satan attacks it? It is precisely in this original unity of the sexes that he tries to sever our communion with God. Satan’s goal is to keep man from his eternal destiny with Christ. Sister Lucia commented, in fact, that many people go to hell because of “sins of the flesh.” By distorting the theology of our bodies, Satan schemes to obscure the Trinitarian image within us. He seeks to mock our one flesh union with Christ. It is an increasingly depraved society that twists the sacrament into an anti-sacrament, and distorts the sign into a diabolic countersign. The staggering loss of sexual ethics over the last fifty years at least, as part of the “sexual revolution,” (and subsequent “culture of death”) shows the savage assault that has taken place on marriage, sexuality, procreation, and the family. We can readily see so many counterfeit signs that have gained widespread cultural acceptance, sadly even by many within the Church. As John Paul declared, “The ‘great mystery’ is threatened in us and all around us.” Not surprisingly, progressive sexual morality, especially the redefinition of both marriage and gender, is now the tip of the spear threatening religious freedom.

In further reflection on the Church’s sexual prohibitions, such as contraception, for example, it is theologically sacrilegious because it falsifies the sacramental sign of marriage. In exploring these sublime truths, John Paul considered his theology of the body as “an extensive commentary” on Humane Vitae (of Human Life) and the regulation of birth. Do we ask of ourselves the hard questions, like is our union free, total, faithful and fruitful? In the modern rationalist era that we live, where sexuality is reduced to just biology, is there room for “the great mystery?” In order to understand the Church’s teaching on birth control and sexual ethics it is necessary to have a “total vision of man and of his vocation.” Openness to life makes complete sense in the “prophetism of the body” as an image of God. In failing to recognize the sacramental sign, however, it is folly.

In this year, the 100th anniversary of the apparitions of Fatima, perhaps we can, like Pope John Paul, appeal to Our Lady of Fatima for her intervention for the sake of marriage and the family. It was in the October 1917, in the climactic final apparition, that the world was given the miraculous vision of the Holy Family: Our Lady, and the Child Jesus in the arms of St. Joseph. They were presented for us as the model of the perfect family. We too can strive in our families for holiness and perfection through prayer, penance, and the sacraments. As Sister Lucia wrote about the vision of the Holy Family:

“In times such as the present, when the family often seems misunderstood in the form in which it was established by God, and is assailed by doctrines that are erroneous and contrary to the purposes for which the divine Creator instituted it, surely God wished to address to us a reminder of the purpose for which He established the family in the world?”

“Hence, in the message of Fatima, God calls on us to turn our eyes to the Holy Family of Nazareth, into which He chose to be born, and to grow in grace and stature, in order to present to us a model to imitate, as our footsteps tread the path of our pilgrimage to Heaven.”

Marriage is a lifelong sacramental sign of God’s inner mystery, to be lived out chastely and experienced in the day-to-day moderation of our lives, in reverence for Christ. This is, for many, our roadmap to eternal life. Let us study anew the theology of the body, as part of the new evangelization, to shine truth and compassion again in this world so desperately in need of it, for the hour is late.

Jesus and the Fulfillment of the Jewish Fall Feasts – October 18, 2016

“Spiritually we are all Semites.” Thus spoke Pope Pius XI on the eve of World War II, as Nazi Germany was about to launch its fateful war and Final Solution against the Jewish people. His words of solidarity are, of course, manifestly true. Christianity grew directly out of Judaism. Jesus was an observant Jew. The scriptures, the beliefs, and the rituals are all intertwined and interconnected between old and new. It is for this reason that St. Augustine can say, “the New Testament lies hidden in the Old and the Old Testament is unveiled in the New.” (CCC 129) Christian theologians refer to this biblical prefiguring and foreshadowing as typology. There is a unity in the divine plan linking the progressive stages of salvation history. The Old Testament, in its symbols and rituals, point to the Messiah, while the New Testament fulfills all of these in the person of Jesus Christ. In speaking of the law and the prophets, Jesus Himself said plainly, “I have come not to abolish them but to fulfill them.” (Mt. 5:17)

This typology is evident in the Jewish memorial feast days. They are generally broken up into two seasons, the spring feasts and the fall feasts. They anticipated and foreshadowed Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross, the Last Supper, the Eucharist, and the coming of the Holy Spirit. The feasts prepared Israel for the Incarnation. God obligated centuries of faithful observance of these feasts to place the seeds of understanding in the minds of Israel to prepare them to accept the Son of God when He finally was born into the world. While we as Christians no longer celebrate these Jewish feasts, they are still part of our common Judeo-Christian lineage. Jesus chose these major Jewish feasts to fulfill the central parts of His mission. As the catechism teaches, “His public ministry itself was patterned by His pilgrimages to Jerusalem for the great Jewish feasts.” (CCC 583) Jesus was formed by the feasts, and in fact, the central events of His life gave ultimate meaning to the feasts. (CCC 592)

The primary focus of the Jewish feasts was to prefigure the coming of Jesus. This is true of the fall feasts of Yom Kippur and Sukkot (Oct. 16-23rd this year). Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, is primarily a prefiguring of Calvary. One of the most important aspects of Yom Kippur is the idea of the scapegoat. This is the one and only time of the year when the high priest would go behind the veil in the Holy of Holies in the Temple, dare to utter the name of God, the Tetragrammaton, YHWH, and offer the sacrifice of two goats. Upon one goat, the high priest placed his hands while confessing all the sins of Israel, symbolically conferring the sin to the goat. It was then sent off into the wilderness to die. The other goat was sacrificed, and the high priest sprinkled its blood upon the mercy seat in the Holy Holies. The high priest then came out and announced, “It is done.” This has clear similarities with the paschal lamb, and again, a foreshadowing of Christ and His last words from the Cross “It is finished.” (Jn. 19:30)

Calvary, of course, was sacramentalized in the Last Supper. The Mass became the feast of the new and eternal covenant. Just as the high priest entered the Temple and offered the sacrifice of goats, so too, does Christ enter the heavenly sanctuary and offer the sacrifice of Himself to the Father on behalf of our sins. The high priest of Yom Kippur is a ‘type’ of the true and eternal high priest of Christ in heaven. Christ Himself is both the high priest and the sacrifice. As the letter to the Hebrews states, “He entered once for all into the sanctuary, not with the blood of goats and calves, but with His own blood, thus obtaining eternal redemption.” (Heb. 9:12) If God accepted Israel’s sacrifice of goats, as mere symbol of Christ’s sacrifice, how much more efficacious is the actual sacrifice of Jesus’ body and blood? The Day of Atonement finds its ultimate meaning in Calvary, and each Mass is the fulfillment of the Day of Atonement.

In this regard, Jewish tradition documents a miraculous event pertaining to Yom Kippur. In both the Jerusalem and Babylonian Talmuds, they record that there was a scarlet cloth or strap tied to the scapegoat on Yom Kippur, as part of the sin offering. A thread from the crimson cloth was later tied to the Temple door. According to the Talmudic anecdote, every year when the goat was sacrificed, the thread would miraculously turn white, in recognition of God accepting their sin offering. One is reminded of Isaiah’s scripture “though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow.” (Is. 1:18) Yet, as recorded in both Talmuds, this stopped happening some forty years before the destruction of the Temple in 70 A.D. This would have been about the time of Jesus’ crucifixion in 30 A.D. The scapegoat was no longer accepted in atonement for sin, but was superseded now by the sacrifice of Christ.

In contrast to Yom Kippur, the last fall feast is a little bit different. It is the joyous feast of Tabernacles, also known as the feast of Booths, or simply, Sukkot. Sukkot is the road map for the Church. It is ironic to call Sukkot a road map because it commemorates when the Israelites wandered seemingly aimlessly through the desert for forty years! But, their wanderings are representative of our wanderings as pilgrims on this earth. Just as the Israelites crossed the waters of the Red Sea and the evil Pharaoh was killed, so too, do we pass into new life through the waters of Baptism and sin is removed. Yet, the Israelites did not immediately make it to the Promised Land. Rather, they traveled in the desert wilderness for forty years with God leading them, who as “the pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night did not depart from before the people.” (Ex. 13:22) For forty years, God sustained them in the desert. Sukkot is a roadmap because it reveals God’s plan to sustain us.

It is in this intermediary period that we find ourselves today, as travelers in the desert wilderness of life. Sukkot reveals that we must stay close to God, and be fed with the supernatural manna from heaven, and the water of the rock. The Israelites ate manna from heaven each day. As Moses said of the manna on the morning dew, “It is the bread which the Lord has given you to eat.” (Ex. 16:15) This immediately reminds us of Jesus’ discourse on the Bread of Life. The Pharisees demanded a sign from Jesus, citing the miraculous manna from heaven story, but He answered them saying, “I am the bread of life; he who comes to Me shall not hunger, and he who believes in Me shall never thirst.” (Jn. 6:35) Jesus reveals that He is the new manna from heaven, the Eucharist, which sustains us until we reach the eternal Promised Land.

God also quenched the thirst of the Israelites with the water from the rock. Sukkot commemorates Moses striking the rock in the desert and water coming out for the Israelites to drink. St. Paul tells us this rock and water was Christ. He says, “For they drank from the supernatural Rock which followed them, and the Rock was Christ.” (1 Cor. 10:4) In the time of the Temple, the priests would make a procession to the Pool of Siloam and draw water out with a golden pitcher. The high priest would then pour the water out on the altar in the Temple while reciting the verse from Isaiah, “With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation.” (Is. 12:3) This was to celebrate the days of the Messiah when the Holy Spirit would be poured out on all of Israel.

It was at the climax of the feast of Booths, on the eighth day, Shemini Atzeret, that scripture declares, “On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and proclaimed, “If any one thirst, let him come to Me and drink. He who believes in Me, as the scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart shall flow rivers of living water.’” (Jn. 7:37-38) Jesus is telling them that He is the living water that is symbolized in this Temple ceremony. The living water is the Holy Spirit, and the sanctifying grace in faith and the sacraments, particularly the waters of Baptism. This is also reminiscent of Jesus’ discussion with the Samaritan woman at the well. He tells her, “the water that I shall give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” (Jn. 4:14) The Holy Spirit and the sacraments are the fulfillment of the water ceremony in the feast of Booths. This is our spiritual water from the rock, to sustain us in this age of the Church, from Christ’s first coming to His second coming.

Sukkot also has a deeper eschatological meaning to it. During the exodus, the Israelites had no permanent abodes. So, during Sukkot, the Jews commemorated this by building temporary “booths” or “huts” outside their house, and covering them with leafy branches or palms. The roofs were not supposed to be perfect but have openings, so they could view the stars at night. This again is allegory to us. Our lives are also imperfect, but in much the same way, we can look up to heaven and yearn for our permanent home with God. Scripture reminds us that we are “strangers and exiles on the earth… seeking a homeland.” (Heb. 11:13-14) It is perhaps fitting, then, that Jesus likely chose the feast of Booths to reveal His glory to the Apostles in His Transfiguration. (see Mt. 17:4) The Transfiguration gives us a glimpse and hope of the glory of God to come.

Thus, the Jewish feasts were a foreshadowing of Christ, and Christ fulfilled them with His life. They point to eternal truths of God and the Incarnation. The signs and symbols of the feasts were fulfilled in reality with the coming of Jesus the Messiah and the foundation of His Church. We no longer anticipate the coming of the final sacrifice in the paschal lamb or the scapegoat or the pouring out of water in the Temple. The Temple itself is no longer necessary, because we ourselves have become the temple of God. The Jewish feasts have been superseded by the sacramental reality. However, the feasts are still metaphorical roadmaps for us. We are to survive on the food God provides in the Eucharist and the water God provides with the Holy Spirit and the sacraments. We continue to learn the faith now through the celebration of the Catholic liturgical calendar, with its sets of feasts, and festivals and fasts. The primordial feast remains the Sabbath, or to Christians, the Lord’s Day, Sunday. It is the day set aside each week for rest and worship offered to God. The Mass is the foundational liturgical celebration of the Church. It anticipates the eternal wedding feast of the Lamb. This is our manna from heaven and our life giving water. Indeed, if but we believe, the sacramental life of the Church will sustain us, through our temporary wandering in this desert wilderness, to eternal life.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Lord of the Rings and the Eucharist

As J.R.R. Tolkien declared, “The Lord of the Rings is, of course, a fundamentally religious and Catholic work… the religion is absorbed into the story and the symbolism.” This is possibly no more obvious than in Tolkien’s description of lembas. As Tolkien introduced them into The Lord of the Rings, “The food was mostly in the form of very thin cakes, made of a meal that was baked a light brown on the outside, and inside was the colour of cream. Gimli took up one of the cakes and looked at it with a doubtful eye.” It was a special, almost supernatural, bread-like food given by the Elves of Lothlorien to the hobbit members of the fellowship on their journey. The elves describe the lembas to them saying, “..we call it lembas or waybread, and it is more strengthening than any food made by Men, and it is more pleasant then cram, by all accounts. … Eat little at a time and only at need. For these things are given to serve you when all else fails.” Lembas, or the “waybread,” is meant to sustain them in their deepest and darkest trials.

The Eucharistic tones and parallels are undeniable. The Eucharist has been called the “food of angels,” or as in Tolkien terms, the food of Elves. Gimli, the dwarf, initially even looked at it with a “doubtful eye” thinking it was just ordinary bread made by men, harkening the disbelief in the Eucharist among many, especially in the modern world. He quickly realizes this is not any ordinary bread. The unique and special qualities of lembas are depicted throughout the tale. As Merry and Pippin talk of it at one particularly stressful moment in the journey while trying to escape Orcs, “The cakes were broken, but good, still in their leaf wrappings. The hobbits each ate two or three pieces. The tasted brought back to them the memory of fair faces, and laughter, and wholesome food in quiet days, heedless of the cries and sounds of battle nearby.” They continue saying, “Lembas does put heart into you! A more wholesome sort of feeling, too, than the heat of that orc-draught. I wonder what it was made of.”

As the hobbits journey deeper into danger and to the very epicenter of evil, Mount Doom, the lembas play an increasingly significant role. Sam and Frodo are following their path of self-sacrifice, even to the possible end of laying down their lives for the love of their friends, for which, in Christian terms, “there is no greater love.” They are analogously on their way of the Cross. On the contrary, the evil characters find the lembas repulsive. Tolkien describes the Orcs’ reactions saying, “But I guess they disliked the very look and smell of the lembas, worse than Gollum did. It’s scattered about and some of it is trampled and broken, but I’ve gathered it together.” When the two hobbits reached the point when there was “no hope anymore” came Tolkien’s most poignant description of the lembas: “The lembas had a virtue without which they would long ago have lain down to die. It did not satisfy desire, and at times Sam’s mind was filled with the memories of food, and the longing for simple bread and meats. And yet this waybread of the Elves had a potency that increased as travellers relied on it alone and did not mingle it with other foods. It fed the will, and it gave strength to endure, and to master sinew and limb beyond the measure of mortal kind.” The lembas sustained the two hobbit sojourners in their darkest hour, not by feeding them necessarily physically but by feeding their will. The waybread also evokes the viaticum, “a provision for the journey,” that is, the Communion given to people on their deathbed. It is the Eucharist for the journey, or the “waybread,” home towards one’s death. There are differences however. For one, lembas are not described as having any divine qualities, whereas the Eucharist is the divine sacrament of the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of Christ. Additionally, the Eucharist is not just meant for times when all else fails, as lembas are described, but rather for our daily journeys. The two hobbits on their way fraught with death and destruction relied completely upon this waybread.

We too are all on our journeys to our inevitable deaths. Christ has left us His Body and Blood in the heavenly sacrament of the Eucharist.  It is our sustenance in this life. It is our waybread. Like the humble and seemingly weak hobbits, we must take our waybread in order to heroically, and against all odds, ascend the Mount Dooms in all our lives and complete our missions. As Tolkien confessed, he at first unconsciously, and later consciously, wove Catholic ideas and themes into the story. Tolkien was not out to re-create a Christian world or myth. Rather, he tried to create a literary myth to point towards the truths of the real world. The primary thrust of the story, as Tolkien said in one of his letters, is “about death and the desire for deathlessness,” two notions central to mythology and Christianity. As G.K. Chesterton spoke of Christianity as the fulfillment of myth, “The Catholic faith is the reconciliation because it is the realization both of mythology and philosophy. It is a story and in that sense one of a hundred stories; only it is a true story.”

We are the real-life Sam’s and Frodo’s. They are metaphors of us, as Christians, taking up our crosses, amidst our tribulations, while being sustained by the Eucharist. Though we are “weak” and “ordinary” people (hobbits if you will), we can achieve great and heroic ends by staying on the narrow paths of our simple faith journeys. Our lembas, the Eucharist, strengthens our wills and spirits, and presses us up the mountain, even when we would rather turn back and give up. But, it is up to us to choose: to give up or to not give up; to follow Christ or to not follow Christ. Tolkien’s literary myth spells out the lucid choice each one of us is to make of our own freewill between life and death, and good and evil. As Frodo laments the fact that the evil ring has come into his possession and the apparent hopelessness of the situation, Gandalf says to him: “All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.” And so it is with each one of us to decide. Yet, as Tolkien slowly reveals Aragorn, the Christ-King archetype, he repeatedly declares to Sam and Frodo, “be not afraid.” In the end, even if, as Frodo, after our long journeys into the darkness, we remain faithful, but seemingly fall short in our mission, God’s grace can still save us.

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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Extraordinary in the Ordinary – 24 August 2015

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

Jesus spent the majority of His life in relative obscurity, in family life, growing, learning, working and manual labor. Jesus did not come to Earth and immediately set the world ablaze with His divine power and majesty. On the contrary, Jesus came in obscurity, humility and poverty; being 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. How few recognized the extraordinary baby in the midst of that most ordinary scene? How often do we fail to see God in our ordinary circumstances each day? Following His birth, Jesus then spent His childhood, adolescence and early adulthood in continued obscurity. Or, in other words, the God-man, the divine Son of God, the second person of the Trinity, spent the vast majority of His earthly life in a very ordinary, everyday existence; a seemingly average person. Christ lived as one of us in every way, but sin. As the Catechism teaches, “During the greater part of His life Jesus shared the condition of the vast majority of human beings: a daily life spent without evident greatness, a life of manual labor.” (CCC 531) This is truly an amazing thing to contemplate. Jesus, the divine being, spent most of His life, or approximately thirty years, living a private, ordinary life just like ours. But why? He worked in Joseph’s workshop as a carpenter. He lived an existence in humble obedience to Mary, His mother, and Joseph, His step-father. Little else is said of this time period in the Bible. Of course, when we think of the life of Jesus, we think most often about the last three years of His life, His public life, as recorded in the Gospels. These were the all-important years when Jesus gathered His disciples, preached the kingdom of God and the repentance of sins, worked miracles, healings, instituted the Sacraments, founded His Church, and of course, offered Himself to the Father with His Passion and Crucifixion. There seems to be a huge dichotomy between the ordinariness of His first thirty years and the extraordinariness of His last three years. One can imagine at the beginning of His public ministry the astonishment of His neighbors when they asked, “Where did this man get all this?” (Mk. 6:2) They only recognized the “ordinary” Jesus, and were incredulous at seeing and hearing the divine Jesus.

This begs the question then, why did Jesus live these two almost separate, distinct stages in His life? Why was there seemingly such a difference between the first 90% of His life versus the last 10% of His life?  In part, I think the answer lies in the focus of those stages. Jesus’ mission was to do the will of the Father.  As Jesus said, “For this is the will of My Father, that every one who sees the Son and believes in Him should have eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day.(Jn 6:40) Jesus was born into the world in order to save and bring to Heaven as many human souls as possible. This was clearly accomplished by Jesus in His Passion and Crucifixion. The reason for the Incarnation was the Redemption. (CCC 607) In the midst of Jesus’ agony in the Garden of Gethsemane, He prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet not what I want but what you want.” (Mt. 26:39) Jesus accomplishes His Father’s will in the redemptive act of His Passion. This was the culmination of His public ministry, the culmination of the Incarnation. Yet, to state the obvious, Jesus was God even before His public ministry. For the first thirty years, in His private, ordinary life, He was God. He was already accomplishing the will of the Father in perfect obedience. As the Catechism states, “From the first moment of His Incarnation the Son embraces the Father’s plan of divine salvation in His redemptive mission: “My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me, and to accomplish His work.”” (CCC 606/Jn 4:34) Jesus’ whole life was lived accomplishing the will of the Father. From the first moment of His Incarnation into the womb of Mary, to His birth in Bethlehem, to His childhood and adolescence, to His young adulthood in Nazareth, Jesus accomplished the will of the Father. The two distinct periods of Jesus’ life, the private and the public, were not at odds with each other. They were one continuous redemptive mission along the spectrum of Jesus’ life. The mystery of redemption was at work throughout His life. As the Catechism states, “Christ’s whole life is a mystery of redemption. Redemption to us above all through the blood of His cross, but this mystery is at work throughout Christ’s entire life.” (CCC 517) Thus, Jesus was fulfilling the will of the Father to redeem and save, even in His private life as an ordinary person.

Then, what was the mystery of redemption at work through the thirty or so years of Jesus’ private life? How did this mystery of redemption permeate Jesus’ ordinary existence? Part of Jesus’ mission was to restore mankind to its original dignity and vocation. Jesus could have descended from the clouds of Heaven and begun His life in His public ministry. Yet, that is not what He did. Instead, He followed the same path that we all follow of being born into this world, growing up, and laboring as an adult. Jesus took on all of our circumstances, and lived our daily, ordinary lives. And not only that, He lived in the most humble and extreme of circumstances so as to encompass the breadth and depth of human experiences. He came intentionally to live through all these various stages of life. The Catechism says, “Christ’s whole life is a mystery of recapitulation. All Jesus did, said, and suffered had for its aim restoring fallen man to his original vocation.” (CCC 518) Jesus recapitulated within Himself all of our ordinary human actions, our ordinary human vocations, and in fact, our very ordinary human nature. The Catechism quotes St.Irenaeus in this area, “For this reason Christ experienced all the stages of life, thereby giving communion with God to all men.” (CCC518) Within Jesus, all aspects of human life, from birth until death, were sanctified. All of the material nature of man was subsumed in the vastness of His divinity. The infinite efficaciousness of His divine nature was infused into human nature. As such, human nature was raised up, restored, and divinized in the person of Jesus Christ. When the God-man lived our stages of life and our ordinary actions and vocations, He infused them with His eternal grace. Thus, the Catechism can state, “The obedience of Christ in the daily routine of His hidden life was already inaugurating His work of restoring what the disobedience of Adam had destroyed.” (CCC 532)

Christ was indeed the “perfect man” (CCC 520), the new Adam, who lived a perfect life, but He did not live it for Himself. Rather, Christ lived it for us and for our salvation. Moreover, “All Christ’s riches ‘are for every individual and are everybody’s property.’” (CCC 519) Taking on human nature, all of humanity was recapitulated within the God-man Redeemer (CCC 518) St.Paul uses the perfect phrase to illustrate this idea; that is, in order “to sum up all things in Christ.” (Eph.1:10) This captures it succinctly. Jesus is all that we are and all that we live. The divine man Jesus, lived the ordinary life of each of us, suffering the mundane work and trials of each day, so as to redeem our lives, consecrate them, and divinize them by His own divine life. Jesus cares about us in our poverty. He lived it. He offers eternal meaning to our poor lives. Christ, by living an ordinary life like ours, consecrated our ordinary vocations. The effects of His Spirit are not limited by time or space. We can be united with Jesus in our humanity, in our ordinariness. Our ordinariness should not worry us. We don’t have to do extraordinary things or live extraordinary lives. We can be content in our simplicity. Christ summed up all that we are within Himself. We can live within Him, and He will live within us. In a certain way Christ Himself is united with each man. Christ saves us individually. Being united as one with Jesus – as a part of the Mystical Body of Christ – we continue within ourselves the mysteries of His life, making Him present in the world. (CCC 521) In Nazareth, Jesus lived a quiet, humble and obedient life. He lived in communion with His family. He worked in the carpenter’s workshop. Jesus is our perfect example. We should imitate Him by consecrating to God our family life, our work life, and our everyday activities. We do this through the intentions of our thoughts and prayers. Part of the reason Jesus lived His private life of 30 years was so we could be united to Him in everything we do. Our ordinary lives can have extraordinary meaning. After His Resurrection, Jesus repeatedly shows up to His disciples, sometimes unawares; once walking with them on the road to Emmaus; another time fixing breakfast for them at the Sea of Galilee. What’s to stop Jesus now from being with us as we drive to work? Or, as we sit down for dinner with our family? Or, at anytime in our daily routine? This should be our intention every day: union with Jesus. Whether in family life or at work or in leisure, we should unite ourselves with Him. Then the ordinary will take on the extraordinary. This is our true treasure.