Tag Archives: Christianity

Trinitarian Life of the Family – May 19, 2016

God is one, but He is not alone or solitary. God is a communion of Persons. He is the Most Holy Trinity, an eternal communion of three divine Persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. This is the central mystery of the Christian faith. (CCC 261) St. Patrick converted Ireland with the Trinitarian analogy of the Shamrock: three leaves, one clover. God is an eternal unity of three distinct divine Persons, each of whom is wholly and substantively God. They are consubstantial and equal to each other. The three Persons of the Trinity are relational to one another in two internal divine processions: The Father eternally generates the Son, and the Holy Spirit eternally proceeds from the Father and the Son. (CCC 254) The one Godhead is an inter-relational Being of three Persons. In short, God is a family.

Man is ontologically created in the image of the one Trinitarian God. As God is a family, so is man created in His image as a relational being made for families. After God creates Adam, He says, “It is not good that man is alone.” (Gen. 2:18) Man by himself did not yet fully represent the relational nature of God. With that, God creates Eve, the first woman, so that man cleaves to his wife, and they become one flesh.” (Gen. 2:24) This is the primordial sacrament of marriage. It is Trinitarian by nature. Husband and wife become a communion of persons in the natural order, where the two become one, reflecting the communion of Persons in the Godhead in the heavenly order. The perfect self-knowledge of the Father eternally begets the second divine Person, the Son; and from the perfect self-offering of will and mutual love between the Father and the Son proceeds the third divine Person, the Holy Spirit. In an infinitely imperfect but analogous way, husband and wife come together in a mutual self-offering of love, consummated in the sexual union, which conceives a third independent being, a child, just as from the mutual love of the Father and Son comes the Holy Spirit. Although with obvious and profound dissimilarities, this is our closest imitation of Trinitarian relations within the natural realm. As Pope John Paul II wrote in his Theology of the Body series, “Man becomes the image of God not so much in the moment of solitude as in the moment of communion.”

The Trinitarian image is reflected in our families, and the family is the icon of Trinitarian life. As the Catechism teaches, The Christian family is a communion of persons, a sign and image of the communion of the Father and the Son in the Holy Spirit.” (CCC 2205) The family is a mythic archetype of the relationships within the Trinity. Living with a husband or wife and children necessarily draws us out from ourselves. It challenges our pride and selfishness. It forces us to minimize ourselves for the sake of others. It pushes us to focus on someone else, not just our own well-being. It challenges us as a form of preparation, within the concreteness of our flesh and blood relationships, to be holy as God is holy. The family, as the “domestic Church,” is the foundational building block of the greater Church, and of society on the whole. It was part of God’s plan for humanity from the beginning. Indeed, Jesus Himself incarnated into a family, in order to highlight its institutional importance, and to personally sanctify them. (CCC 533)

Of course, living a self-sacrificial marriage and complete self-offering to family is easier said than done. Marriage and parenthood are hard work. Our selfish pride and egocentric desires get in the way. Overcoming these requires a lifetime of tiny steps to incrementally grow in holiness and virtue. It is difficult to reflect at times that Trinitarian love and vision amidst the exhaustion of crying babies, soiled diapers, sibling squabbles, spousal arguments, stressful jobs, washing dishes and baskets of laundry. This is part of our daily Cross, to take up and follow Jesus, by denying ourselves and serving others. Yet, we should also remember that the supernatural spirit of God works in the ordinary and mundane activities of our everyday lives. The family is meant to be holy, reflecting here and now, in time and space, the eternal beauty of the Trinity’s relationships. Tragically, we need only look at the current sad state of fractured families and marriages today to see the greater challenges. Families are riddled with every type of pain and suffering, abuse and abandonment, dysfunction and dissolution. The Trinitarian image in many modern families is badly disfigured.

Fortunately, God has not left us orphans. He has left us His Church. He has left us the sacraments, which can heal and make us whole again. Even if we come from irreparable marriages and broken families, God has provided us with the communion of persons found in the Church. This is the supernatural family of God. (CCC 1655) Jesus Himself points to the Communion of saints, not biological or hereditary bonds, as His true family in faith, saying, Here are My mother and My brothers!(Mt. 12:49) Our families are the closest natural approximation to the spiritual communion of Persons in the Trinity. However, beyond that, we have our supernatural communion of Persons in faith and the Church, in which, we can also live a Trinitarian life. The Catechism states, For if we continue to love one another and to join in praising the Most Holy Trinity – all of us who are sons of God and form one family in Christ – we will be faithful to the deepest vocation of the Church.” (CCC 959) Our deepest vocation is to live in communion with each other in our marriages, in our families, and in our Church, serving the universal brotherhood of man, with mutual self-sacrifice and life-giving love, in imitation of the Most Holy Trinity.

  

 

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.

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.