Tag Archives: incarnation

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 Sanctifying Humanity of Jesus’ Incarnation – December 24, 2016

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

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

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

We know the ultimate reason for the Incarnation is the Redemption. Yet, to state the obvious, Jesus was God even before His public ministry. When He worked as a carpenter in Joseph’s workshop, He was God. When He lived with Mary His mother, He was God. Jesus’ redemptive mission did not begin with His public ministry. It began with His Incarnation and birth, and continued along the spectrum of His whole life. As the Catechism states, “Christ’s whole life is a mystery of redemption.” (CCC 517) What is nearly as remarkable is the fact that almost all of Christ’s life was hidden and seemingly unspectacular. As the Church states, “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) Jesus lived as one of us in all ways, except sin.

Little else is said in the Bible of this time period before Jesus’ public ministry. Unsurprisingly, 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?

The two distinct periods of Jesus’ life, the private and the public, were not at odds with each other. Jesus’ whole life was lived accomplishing the will of the Father. Even from His beginning, 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.” (CCC 606) The mystery of redemption was at work throughout His life, even in His private years as a seemingly ordinary person. It was one continuous redemptive mission along the spectrum of Jesus’ life.

So then, what was Jesus’ redemptive mission in His private life? 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. He also 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, and in fact, our very ordinary human nature.

This mystery of recapitulation included our human institutions, from the family, to our jobs, our hardships, and our vocations. He also recapitulated all of our states in life. He was conceived in the womb, He was born, He grew up as a child, He became a young adult, and finally He reached maturity, and at last, died. Jesus lived all of this. God deemed no stage or circumstance of life unworthy of His presence. He lived these in order to sanctify them, consecrate them, and restore them. 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.” (CCC 518) Within Jesus, all aspects of human life, from birth until death, were sanctified.

The mystery of redemption took place in the body of Christ when “the Word became flesh.” The material nature of man was subsumed in the vastness of His divinity, and the infinite efficaciousness of His divine nature was infused into human nature. This is the hypostatic union – a fusion of humanity and divinity – in the person of Jesus Christ. The Catechism refers to this as “His holy and sanctifying humanity.” (CCC 774) Jesus’ humanity is the instrument for redeeming our human nature. It was made holy and sanctified when God took on our nature and lived as one of us. Humanity was raised up, restored, and divinized in the life and Resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Furthermore, as the fullness of divinity dwelt in the person of Christ, every event, every word, every deed, no matter how small or seemingly inconsequential, took on a divine significance and importance. There are no small actions for a God-man. Everything He did or said was of divine significance. Because of this, St. Thomas Aquinas can say, “Christ did merit in the first instant of His conception.” All of Christ’s actions are of divine worth imbued with supernatural grace and with infinite value. For Christ’s whole life, the infinite God performed finite human tasks, living as an ordinary man. His sacred humanity then was a sacrament, a sign and instrument, of His divinity. (CCC 515)

Christ was indeed the “perfect man,” 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) Part of the reason Jesus lived His private life of thirty years was so we could be united to Him in everything we do. Our ordinary lives can have extraordinary meaning. The Catechism forthrightly describes our communion with His mysteries, “Christ enables us to live in Him all that He Himself lived, and He lives it in us. “`By His Incarnation, He, the Son of God, has in a certain way united Himself with each man.’” (CCC 521) And so, it is up to us to unite ourselves with Him in all that we do.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Divine Filiation and Ordinary Life, St.Josemaria Escriva – January 20, 2016

“The street does not get in the way of our contemplative dialogue; the hubbub of the world is, for us, a place of prayer.” St.Josemaria Escriva (letter 9, Jan.1959, No.60)

St.Josemaria Escriva de Balaguer was a Catholic priest from Spain in the 20th century who founded the Catholic organization, Opus Dei, “The Work of God,” a personal prelature comprised of lay people and clergy. The mission of Opus Dei is to evangelize Christians everywhere to live out their faith in their ordinary lives, to sanctify their daily work, and offer it all up to God. As St.Josemaria Escriva said, We have come to point to the example of Jesus, who spent thirty years in Nazareth, working at His job. In Jesus’ hands, work, an ordinary job like that done by millions of people throughout the world, becomes a divine task, a redeeming job, a path of salvation.” Josemaria was the “saint of ordinary life.” On October 2, 1928, God gave him an overwhelming vision. It was of ordinary Christians, who direct all their activity towards God, as a sanctifying sacrifice in participation with their baptismal vocation in the priesthood of Christ. He saw ordinary Christians sanctifying their daily work and activities by uniting them with the life of Christ. He saw the laity, of every background and race and profession and social status, all becoming apostles, saints in the world. Factory worker saints, farmer saints, carpenter saints, teacher saints, regardless of their profession or work, no matter how small, average or ordinary, they could all be saints. This is echoed in Lumen Gentium from Vatican II with the “universal call to holiness.” (LG, 5) All people, not just the clerical and religious class, but all people are called to holiness, even the lowliest of the laity are called to “be holy, for I am holy.” (1 Pet. 1:16) Josemaria called this “The Way,” or more precisely, the way of sanctification. By this, he meant that we should unite our daily duties, whatever they may be, with God, through Christ; that is, to live out our Christian vocation within our daily secular vocation. Then, our daily secular work will become divine work that transforms us into holy apostles of Christ.

But, how is any of this possible? The key to St.Josemaria is “divine filiation,” the idea that, through Baptism, we have become God’s children. In Baptism, we are born by grace into the death and life of Christ, and become by grace what Jesus is by nature, namely, a son of God. St.John says See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are.” (1 Jn. 3:1) This idea is scattered throughout the New Testament. St.Paul says to the Romans, “For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God… but you received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’ It is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God..” (Rom. 8:14-16) In the second letter of Peter, he says God has let us “become partakers of the divine nature.” (2 Pet. 1:4) Even Jesus Himself quotes Psalms 82:6 saying, “Is it not written in your law, ‘I said, you are gods’?” (Jn.10:34) Of course, He also teaches us at the Sermon on the Mount to pray to God by radically calling Him “Our Father.” (Mt.6:9) As part of our redemption and sanctification in Christ, St.Josemaria points out, it also involves our deification and divinization. We are no longer just servants created by God, but rather, we have been grafted through Jesus into the divine family. We have become adopted sons and daughters of the Father, and brothers and sisters to Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Jesus, as the second person of the Trinity, by incarnating into the world, humanized His divinity, and divinized His humanity. God reached down to humanity, so humanity could reach up to God. By giving us His Spirit, the Holy Spirit and grace, we can become one with Jesus in our life, just as the Persons of the Trinity, in their inner relationship, are one. Through Baptism and faith, we are brought into oneness with Jesus, and then, necessarily into the life of the Holy Trinity. Jesus prayed this in the Garden of Gethsemane saying “As you, Father, are in Me and I am in You, may they also be in Us..” (Jn 17:21) This is the scandal of Christianity. Not only do we believe in a singular divine, omnipotent Being, but we also believe that He came into the world to personally save us, and by grace, adopt us into His divine family of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. By nothing of ourselves, but only by the free gift of faith and grace, God makes us part of His family.

So, what is the significance of all of this? Firstly, we should recognize our special dignity as Christians, and our unique status conferred upon us in Baptism. The gift of faith, the Church, the sacraments should not be taken lightly. We should live our lives uprightly as fitting as children of God. As St.Peter states, “you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation.” (1 Pet. 2:9) We have been baptized into the royal priesthood of Jesus Christ, the one true mediator between God and man. So, we are anointed as a priest of Christ, as part of the common priesthood of the faithful. (CCC 1547) St.Josemaria urged us that we should have a “lay mentality” with a “priestly soul.” Yet, unlike an ordained ministerial priest who offers the sacrifice of the Mass, what are we, as ordinary lay people, to offer and sacrifice? To answer that, we should understand that Jesus’ whole life was a mystery of redemption. (CCC 517) Even before Jesus’ passion and death, He was performing redemptive acts in His daily private life, which He lived for thirty years. Jesus lived the ordinary life of each one of us, a private life of work and daily routine, and as part of a family. During Jesus’ “hidden life,” He sanctified our everyday existence. Since Jesus, as God, became man, all of His life and actions were that of a divine Being. Jesus divinized humanity, and made holy everything in His ordinary life, from work, to leisure, to eating and meals, to family and friendship. Jesus sanctified everyday life. The people of Jesus’ day who saw Him declared, “He has done everything well.” (Mk. 7:37) Jesus lived out perfectly the common priesthood of the faithful that God had intended for Adam and Eve. He is our perfect model. (CCC 520) Jesus offered His priestly action and sacrifice throughout His whole life, including the thirty years of His private life, so that while He worked in Joseph’s carpenter shop, He offered work as a redemptive spiritual sacrifice. Jesus made possible the elevation and transformation of all of our mundane, ordinary actions into acts of divine worship. Because God performed these actions and lived this life, He has made them holy. So now, too, we as His divinely adopted children, can in conjunction with Him and His life, offer to God, all of our everyday routines and works as spiritual sacrifice, prayer, worship and praise. We can now fulfill our role as children of God, imitators of Christ, striving to become holy and sanctified, interceding on behalf of the souls of others, exercising our common priesthood of the faithful in the midst of the streets and homes and workplaces of the world.     

Jesus said “and I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to Myself” (Jn. 12:32), and so, St.Josemaria had another vision of God drawing all men and women to Himself through their ordinary lives and occupations and vocations throughout the world, becoming “another Christ,” or Christs, within the world. Jesus endowed our work and our actions and our sufferings with divine efficaciousness. St.Paul mentions this idea saying, “Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I complete what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of His body, that is, the Church..” (Col. 1:24) Because of the mystery of the Incarnation, we are connected in some way with the life of Christ and His redemptive actions. We can offer all of our works, prayers, and sacrifices in conjunction with His. God has willed that we can, in effect, be co-redeemers and co-workers of Christ in the mystery of sanctification and redemption, both of ourselves and of others. For through our Baptism and in the Eucharist, we are connected to Jesus and in a real way with each other. We form, as it were, a communion of saints. Our work then is the sanctification of ourselves and of each other, in unity with the grace of Christ. As St.Paul says, “For this is the will of God, your sanctification.” (1 Thess. 4:3) Now, through Christ, we can “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling” (Phil. 2:12) by offering worship to God through our everyday activities. All things sacred need not be relegated just to Church on Sundays while the rest of the week is occupied by the secular, devoid of holiness. God wills that all of our lives, each and every day, be holy and sanctified, worshipping God ceaselessly. (1 Thess. 5:17) We can do that by offering sacred worship to God through our secular ordinary activities. St.Josemaria cautioned against living a “double-life,” but rather instead, we should live an “integrated life,” single-minded in the pursuit of holiness. The key is bringing the presence of God into our lives, in whatever it is we are doing, making the secular holy.

And how can we bring the presence of God into our lives in whatever we are doing? Well, first off, this is not necessarily a loud, visible obvious presence. On the contrary, this is an invisible, interior apostolate. This is us, interiorly asking for the presence of God in our lives each day, consecrating all of our actions, submitting even our “small” actions, to God, in order to please Him. This involves our invisible, interior relationship with Him directly. We can join all of our work to the saving work of Jesus, again via the mystery of the Incarnation. Now, St.Josemaria asks, in effect, should we leave our jobs or families, and run off to do great, heroic deeds, or join a contemplative, monastic order in order to please God? No, not necessarily. Although some most certainly are called to religious life, most are not. As St.Paul again instructs us, “Every one should remain in the state in which he was called.” (1 Cor. 7:20) We can be at peace with where we are, and work out our sanctification amidst the circumstances we find ourselves.

Yet, to answer the original question, St.Josemaria recommended a number of daily markers and spiritual milestones to follow each day. These spiritual practices, a daily “plan of life,” followed by Opus Dei begin with offering a Morning Offering, or prayer immediately once we wake up in the morning; attending Mass each day if possible; prayer, such as saying the Rosary and the Angelus; reading the Gospels or scriptures, or a spiritual book; offering small acts of penance and mortifications; adoration before the tabernacle; three hail Marys at bedtime, examination of your conscience and asking forgiveness at night before going to bed. He also recommended regular sacramental confession and yearly spiritual retreats. By sticking to these simple milestones throughout the day, the person spiritually orders his or her workday to worship. Thus, our most common actions become spiritual sacrifices, offered in our temples (of our lives), which can be anywhere and everywhere of everyday life. St.Paul exhorts us directly to do this, “I appeal to you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.” (Rom. 12:1) Vatican II’s Gaudium et Spes also highlights that this glorification of God in our lives “concerns the whole of everyday activity.” (GS, 34) Our most basic tasks can be transformed into supernatural activities, ie, folding laundry, cooking dinner, serving customers at work can become holy acts of worship. So, we should strive, as Jesus did, to “do all things well,” and offer everything we do for the glorification of God and the sanctification of ourselves and for each other. Our secular day should be wrapped in spiritual prayer and sacrifice. This is part of the “pure offering” mentioned by the prophet Malachi (Mal.1:11) St.Josemaria spoke of how we should live: “Live as the others around you live with naturalness, but ‘supernaturalizing’ every moment of your day.” This is how we should approach each day, with a “holy ambition,” to ambitiously pursue holiness in the ordinary things of life. We are not called out of the world, but to sanctify the world from within, as leaven within the dough, to raise up Christ in ourselves and in our actions and in our place in life, as St.Josemaria espoused, to be “contemplatives in the midst of the world.” Then, we will truly be children of God.

The Sanctifying Humanity of Jesus – December 17, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Theandric Nature of Christ – 5 September 2015

“The Word became flesh.” (John 1:14) 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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