Tag Archives: Church

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.

The Didache, The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles – 25 January 2016

Wouldn’t it be great to have a snapshot into the life of the early Church to see what they believed and taught and practiced on a day-to-day basis? Of course, we have the New Testament, which is divinely-inspired, and tells us about the life of Jesus Christ and the faith of the first Christian communities. Its 27 books, and eight (possibly nine, depending on if you think St.Paul, or a disciple of St.Paul, wrote the letter to the Hebrews.) authors – including the Apostles St.Matthew, St.John, St.James, St.Peter, St.Jude, and disciples St.Mark, St.Luke, and St.Paul – is the scriptural foundation of all Christian canonical beliefs. All of the books were written in the first century by eye-witnesses to Jesus, or by the first disciples of the Apostles. Aside from being the Word of God, these are incredibly reliable historical documents, reflecting direct contact with the person of Jesus and written relatively soon after. Yet, there are also many extra-biblical sources and letters, from the first century and early second century, that describe the life, belief and practices of the early Church. These are the writings of the early Church Fathers, in particular, the Apostolic Church Fathers, such as Clement of Rome, Ignatius of Antioch, and Polycarp of Smyrna. They are considered “Apostolic” because they had direct contact with the Apostles themselves, thus making their work fascinating and of utmost importance (even though they were not ultimately included within the canon of Church Scripture).

One such document is called “The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles,” or known simply as “The Didache.” It is one of the earliest known Christian writings, even possibly predating some of the New Testament books. It is generally agreed to have been written between 50-120 AD, well within the lifetime of some of the Apostles and first disciples. Some of the early Christians even considered it an inspired book, although again it was ultimately not included in the canon. The Didache is generally divided into four different sections concerning: (1) a moral catechesis (ie, “The Way of Life” vs. “The Way of Death”), (2) liturgical instruction, (3) a Church manual for various ecclesiastical and community norms, (4) and a brief eschatology of the parousia (ie, the second coming of Christ). One of the most profound aspects of the early Church Fathers’ writings is that they are thoroughly sacramental in nature, that is, they speak explicitly of the sacraments of the Church. Simply, from an apologetics point of view, they demonstrate that the sacraments and doctrines of the Catholic Church are not something contrived or incrementally slipped into Christianity over the centuries. They are not paganism, or a so-called Roman mystery religion. Christianity holds all of that in contempt as idolatry and blasphemy. Rather, the sacraments, the prayers, the Church, they were all there from the beginning. This is also true in The Didache. The tracts of the Didache, as are all the early Church Fathers’ writings, are decisively Catholic. [of note: The Way of Life specifically mentions not to commit “abortion, or infanticide,” which is probably the earliest known Christian writing explicitly condemning abortion and infanticide. Later, it references The Way of Death, in which they “murder their infants, and deface the image of God.”]

The Didache speaks matter-of-factly about Baptism, going to Church on Sundays, receiving the Eucharist, and making a general confession of sins. For example, as part of “The Way of Life,” the author says “In church, make confession of your faults, and do not come to your prayers with a bad conscience.” Later, he instructs:

“Assemble on the Lord’s Day, and break bread and offer the Eucharist; but first make confession of your faults, so that your sacrifice may be a pure one. Anyone who has a difference with his fellow is not to take part with you until they have been reconciled, so as to avoid any profanation of your sacrifice. For this is the offering of which the Lord has said, Everywhere and always bring me a sacrifice that is undefiled, for I am a great king, says the Lord, and my name is the wonder of nations.”

In the Church manual section, he similarly states, “No one is to eat or drink of your Eucharist but those who have been baptized in the Name of the Lord; for the Lord’s own saying applies here, ‘Give not that which is holy unto dogs.’” The manual gives in-depth instruction of the eucharistic prayers to say over the chalice and over the broken bread, offering us a glimpse into the first century Mass. They are to pray, “Thou, O Almighty Lord, hast created all things for thine own Name’s sake; to all men thou hast given meat and drink to enjoy, that they may give thanks to thee, but to us thou hast graciously given spiritual meat and drink, together with life eternal, through thy Servant. Especially, and above all, do we give thanks to thee for the mightiness of thy power.” The manual similarly gives precise details about how to go about baptizing people saying, “..immerse in running water ‘In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.’” It offers a similar prescription for standing water, or simply pouring water over the person’s head. The manual delves also into fasting, instructing people to fast on Wednesdays and Fridays, much like the modern tradition, and to pray the Our Father three times every day.

And, how should this affect us? These brief snippets offer us glimpses, from outside the New Testament (i.e., accepted Scripture), into the hearts and minds of the first Christians. They lived a sacramental life in toto. Their daily lives were rooted in Baptism, Confession, the Eucharist, Sunday worship, fasting, and prayer. This is what they called The Way of Life. The Way of Life involves modeling our lives after Christ, that is, among many other things, loving our enemies, living a moral life, being meek and compassionate. Moreover, it instructs us, “Accept as good whatever experience comes your way, in the knowledge that nothing can happen without God.” We are to live out our Christian vocations within our ordinary circumstances and trials of each day, with Christ as our “spiritual meat and drink, together with life eternal.” As some have argued, The Didache could be a form of vade mecum, a small handbook that Christians would have carried about with themselves. It spoke to them of how they should live their lives, conduct themselves and embrace the sacramental life. And so it remains with us!