Tag Archives: Jesus

Leviticus 24-25:

Perpetual Light and The Bread of the Presence:
The Bread of the Presence (“the Showbread”) figures prominently in the Tabernacle.  The holy bread is perpetually in the Lord’s presence.  It too is a prefigurement to the Eucharist. It consists of 12 loaves of bread in two piles as part of a food offering.  It shall be eaten by Aaron and his sons in the sacred space, as a type of prefiguring Communion.  Similarly, the light of the golden lampstand must be perpetually lit, reflecting the eternal light.  It is to use oil from “crushed olives.”  We too are to be crushed, just as Jesus sacrificed Himself in the Garden of Gethsemane among the olive trees, so too, are we to be crushed to ourselves and burn with zeal for the Lord.  We are to be lights for the world.

Lex Talionis (“Law of Retaliation”)::
These are the so-called “lex talionis” verses, or “eye for an eye, tooth for tooth!” (Lev. 24:20)  Many atheists and critics of the Judeo-Christian worldview use these verses as a criticism of the Bible.  However, these verses are not about barbaric literal, corresponding mutilation and revenge.  It is about proportionality.  It is about limiting revenge and giving matching compensation for an injury or action. There is a lot of latitude for handling judgment and restitution under the Mosaic system.  The one exception is murder, where the punishment is likewise the death penalty.

The Sabbatical Year:
Concerning holy years and holy seasons, every 7 years is the Sabbatical Year, that is, the seventh year is to be observed as a Sabbath, on which no agricultural work was to be done.  The Israelites were to take a solemn rest from their farming and tilling of the land every seventh year.  (Lev. 25:1-7)

The Year of Jubilee:
After every seven cycles of Sabbatical Years, or 49 years, was to be followed by a Jubilee Year, or the 50th year.  The same “rest” as the Sabbath was to be observed, but in addition, on the Day of Atonement, the ram’s horn trumpet blast was to be sounded to signal throughout the land that all debts were forgiven and all ancestral land was returned to the proper owner.  This was an effective “reset button” or “reboot” for the economy and all impoverished peoples.  All debts were forgiven and lands restored.  The land belonged to Yahweh, and the Israelites could not do with it what they wanted.  God is the real owner of the land.  Yahweh renewed the lease of the land to the Israelites every fifty years, but also forgave all debts and gave back property to the rightful owners. Israelites were not to be divided into haves and have-nots forever.  The Jubilee Year was meant to enforce this and break any cycle of poverty.  This is the land and economy resets.  Embedded in this Jubilee Year is the idea of the “kinsman-redeemer.”  “The fiftieth year you shall make sacred by proclaiming liberty in the land for all its inhabitants.  It shall be a jubilee for you, when every one of you shall return to his own property, every one to his own family estate.” (Lev. 25:10)

The Messianic Jubilee Liberator:
The Jubilee Year within priestly thought is linked to the Day of Atonement.  The reset button of the Jubilee Year is like going back in time to the Garden of Eden. Everything is made right and perfect. Every man now dwells in the land with God, just like in the days of Eden.  God again dwells with His people.  It is an “Edenic Reset” or Restoration.  Eden is back on Earth again.  This harmonious idea always lurks in the background of Salvation History. The Jubilee Year abolishes selling land and field and debts.  Corruption then is eliminated.  Thus, in Leviticus, God proclaims “liberty in the land.”  Liberty is given on the Day of Atonement in the Jubilee Year.  This is the same day that the Azazel goat carries away the sins of the people.  The nation is restored to the Edenic land.  In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus quotes Isaiah 61 saying: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed,  to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.” (Lk. 4:18-19)  Isaiah 61 reads in part: “to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prisonto those who are bound; to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” (Is. 61:1-2)  This language of “liberty” hearkens back to Leviticus 25 “proclaiming liberty in the land.”  Jesus is the eschatological fulfillment of the “year of the Lord’s favor” or the Jubilee Year of Liberty.

Jesus as the Jubilee Liberator:
What has Jesus the Messiah come to liberate us from? Sin. Satan is the strongman who binds the nations, holds all in bondage and extorts harsh debts upon all mankind. The demonic forces are humanity’s overlords. Jesus declares that He has come to liberate the nations and reclaim them from the demonic fallen angels. Christ announces that the liberation has begun. Now is the acceptable year of the Lord. The Jubilee Reset has begun for the whole world to break the bonds of sin and corruption enslaving the whole world. Jesus’ Cross and Crucifixion and Resurrection has set in motion the worldwide Jubilee cycle. The Reset has begun. Jesus declares the Jubilee cycle has been set in motion, and it cannot be stopped. The Restoration is moving inexorably and relentlessly forward. Nothing can stop it now. Jesus inaugurates the Kingdom of God and the gates of hell cannot stop it. The kingdom is “already, but not yet.” The final consummation and judgment will not happen until Christ’s Second Coming (linked to the Day of Atonement), when the liberation process will be completed. Then, the final bonds and enslavement to sin will be broken forever, in an eschatological climax to the Jubilee Year. In the Dead Sea Scrolls, the Jubilee cycle is linked to the coming Messiah, who in effect, as a priest-king Melchizadek, will judge Satan and the fallen angels. The Book of Hebrews in fact explicitly links Jesus to Melchizadek and a priest forever according to the order of Melchizadek. The Jews of the first century had linked the coming of the Messiah to the Jubilee Cycle. In Luke 4, Jesus is in effect saying that He is the eschatological “Jubilee Liberator.” After Jesus read Isaiah 61 about the Jubilee Liberator: “And He closed the book, and gave it back to the attendant, and sat down; and the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. And He began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” (Lk. 4:20-21) The Kingdom is “already, but not yet.” The final conquering of evil will come at Jesus’ Second Coming.

Genesis 37-50:

Joseph and the Jealousy of His Brothers, the Sons of Israel:
Jacob, or Israel, now settled in the land of Canaan. Israel loved Joseph best of all his sons, “for he was the child of his old age.” The special love of his father drew the jealously of the other sons. “When his brothers saw that their father loved him best of all his sons, they hated him so much that they would not even greet him.” (Gen. 37:4) To make matters worse, young Joseph began having dreams of his brothers bowing down to him. This only infuriated the brothers more. And so, they plotted to kill him. “They said to one another: ‘Here comes that master dreamer! Come on, let us kill him..” (Gen. 37:19-20) After throwing him in an empty cistern, they came to their senses a little bit. Judah convinces the brothers: “What is to be gained by killing our brother and concealing his blood? Rather, let us sell him to these Ishmaelites, instead of doing away with him ourselves. After all, he is our brother our own flesh.” (Gen. 37:26-27) So, they decided rather than killing Joseph, they would sell him into slavery to a caravan of Ishmaelites.

Joseph as a Type of Christ:
Joseph is a type of Christ, a forerunner figure of the Messiah. Joseph is the beloved son of the father, Israel, just as Jesus is the beloved Son of God the Father. Joseph is rejected by his own people, his own family, just as Jesus is to be rejected by his own town of Nazareth, and eventually spurned by many of the Jewish people. Joseph’s brothers are enraged at the father for his special relationship with the son Joseph, just as later, the Pharisees are enraged at Jesus with His special relationship with God the Father. They want to kill Joseph, even though he is innocent, just as they want to kill Jesus, though He committed no sin. Joseph is thrown into the pit (well) of death but comes out to save others, just as Jesus dies on the Cross and rises to save others. Joseph is brought by the Ishmaelites into Egypt, just as Jesus would be brought to Egypt too.

Twenty Pieces of Silver:
It is interesting to note that the brothers sell Joseph to the Ishmaelites for twenty pieces of silver. It reads: “They sold Joseph to the Ishmaelites for twenty pieces of silver.” (Gen.37:28) One cannot help but think of Judas’ betrayal of Christ. “They paid him thirty pieces of silver, and from that time on he looked for an opportunity to hand him over.” (Mt. 26:15-16) Whereas Joseph’s brothers spared his life and did not spill his blood, the Pharisees, in the deepening darkness of sin in the world, saw to it that Jesus was crucified; they killed their brother. They cried out before Pilate “His blood be upon us and upon our children.” (Mt. 27:25)  

The Question of Onan and Masturbation:
Judah and Tamar had two sons, Er and Onan. When God was offended by Er, He took his life. So, then Judah told Onan, “Unite with your brother’s widow, in fulfillment of you duty as brother-in-law, and thus preserve your brother’s line.” (Gen. 38:8) Onan, however, did not obey. Onan “knew that the descendants would not be counted as his; so whenever he had relations with his brother’s widow, he wasted his seed on the ground, to avoid contributing offspring for his brother. What he did greatly offended the Lord, and the Lord took his life too.” (Gen. 38:9-10) Many have used this passage as a condemnation of masturbation. Although masturbation is a sin and outside the realm of normal sexual relations, I do not think that is the main point of this passage. God is greatly offended because Onan did not obey his father and selfishly did not do his duty towards his brother’s family, as would have been customary at the time.   

Joseph and Pharaoh’s Dreams:
After Joseph was brought into Egypt, he was assigned to a certain Egyptian, Potiphar, a courtier of the Pharaoh and his chief steward. After being falsely accused by Potiphar’s wife, Joseph was thrown into the royal prison where he was confined. However, after correctly interpreting some dreams for others, the Pharaoh summoned Joseph to his court because of perplexing dreams he was having. The Pharaoh dreamed of seven fat cows, and then seven ill cows. Then, he had another dream of seven healthy ears of grain, and then, seven shriveled ears of grain. Joseph answered Pharaoh: “Both of Pharaoh’s dreams have the same meaning. . . Seven years of great abundance are now coming throughout the land of Egypt, but these will be followed by seven years of famine..” (Gen. 41: 29-30) Joseph then counsels Pharaoh to set up reserves of food to survive the coming years of famine. Pharaoh was greatly pleased by Joseph’s advice. Pharaoh then told Joseph, “I place you in charge of the whole land of Egypt.” (Gen. 41:41) Joseph becomes Pharaoh’s right-hand man. Later, Joseph would have two sons, Manasseh and Ephraim.

Famine and Joseph’s Rations:
Following the seven years of abundance, came seven years of famine, just as Joseph had interpreted Pharaoh’s dream. When famine struck the whole region, they came to Egypt to obtain grain rations from Egypt’s abundance, that Joseph had established. Joseph is perhaps a type of Christ again providing a Eucharistic grain for the world. Caught up in this great famine are the land of Canaan, his family and his brothers. His brothers eventually come before him in the court of Pharaoh to ask for rations of grain. Joseph recognized them, but they do not recognize him. After submitting his brothers to some tests, he eventually confides in them that it is he, Joseph, their long-lost brother. “But his brothers could give him no answer, so dumbfounded were they at him.” (Gen. 45:3)

Joseph’s Faith and Forgiveness:
Joseph tells his brothers not to be distressed. He tells them: “It was really for the sake of saving lives that God sent me here ahead of you.” (Gen. 45:5) Again, this will echo the mission of Jesus who is sent ahead of us as the firstborn to save the lives of many. (Jn. 3:17) Joseph demonstrates his great faith and acceptance of God’s will to save many people and be exiled into Egypt. He tells his brothers: “God, therefore, sent me on ahead of you to ensure for you a remnant on earth and to save your lives in an extraordinary deliverance. So it was not really you but God who had me come here; and he has made of me a father to Pharaoh, lord of all his household, and ruler over the whole land of Egypt.” (Gen. 45:7-8) “Joseph then kissed all his brothers, crying over each of them;” (Gen. 45:15)

Israel and his Sons in the Land of Egypt:
Then Joseph sends for his father and the rest of his family to come stay with them in Egypt (the land of Goshen) and escape the famine. When they told Jacob/Israel that his son Joseph was still alive, he too was dumbfounded. Then, Jacob and all his descendants migrated to Egypt. They settled in the region of Ramses. Before dying, Jacob blessed the two sons of Joseph, Manasseh and Ephraim. Israel blessed the sons: with his right-hand he blessed Ephraim, even though he was the younger, and with his left hand he blessed Manasseh, even though he was the firstborn. Joseph protested this, but Israel told him: “I know. . . Nevertheless, his younger brother shall surpass him, and his descendants shall become a multitude of nations.” (Gen. 48:19)

Israel’s Twelve Sons and the Twelve Tribes of Israel:
In Jacob’s last testament, he addressed and prophesied over his twelve sons, who were to become the twelve tribes of Israel. These are: Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah, Zebulun, Issachar, Dan, Gad, Asher, Naphtali, Joseph (later, Manasseh and Ephraim), and Benjamin. (Gen. 49)

The Scepter of Judah:
Jacob’s prophesy over Judah is of particular note as it is one of the earliest prophesies concerning the coming Messiah. Jacob says to Judah: “You, Judah, shall your brothers praise – your hand on the neck of your enemies; the sons of your father shall bow down to you. . . The scepter shall never depart from Judah, or the mace from between his legs. While tribute is brought to him, and he receives the people’s homage.” (Gen. 49:8-10) Jacob prophesies that the Messiah shall come out of Judah. The connection is made more explicit in the Gospel of Matthew, linking back to this prophesy from Jacob: “‘And you, Bethlehem, land of Judah, are by no means least among the leaders of Judah; for out of you shall come forth a Ruler who will shepherd My people Israel.’” (Mt. 2:6) Jesus Christ is, of course, born in the town of Bethlehem in the land of Judah. Jesus is the Messianic Son of David, who is from the Tribe of Judah.

Joseph Forgives them One More Time:
Joseph forgives his brothers again and reassures them: “Even though you meant harm to me, God meant it for good, to achieve his present end, the survival of many people. Therefore have no fear.” (Gen. 50:20) Joseph then remained in Egypt, and lived to an age of 110 years old.

The Curious Question of the Patriarchs’ Ages:
Pre-Flood Lifespans:
There is an interesting phenomenon happening throughout the Genesis narrative of early human history: Age is decreasing. That is, the length of a human life decreases from Adam and the beginning of the world down to Joseph and Moses. This is particularly true of the Antediluvian Patriarchs: Adam lived to be 930 years old; Seth 912; Enosh 905; Cainan 910; Jared 962; Methuselah 969; Lamech 777; and Noah 950 years old. According to the Bible, “Pre-Flood” people lived apparently to great lengths of age and years, up to nearly 1,000 years old.

Post-Flood Lifespans:
After the Flood, Noah’s son, Shem, lives only up to 600 years old; Shelah 433 years; Eber 464 years; Peleg 239 years; Reu 239 years; Serug 230 years; Nahor 148 years; Terah 205 years; Abraham 175 years; Isaac 180 years; Jacob (Israel) 147 years; Joseph 110 years old; and Moses 120 years old. As we can see, the Pre-Flood people lived well into the 900’s, while the post-Flood people’s age began to exponentially drop from generation to generation. From immediately after the Flood in the 600’s to 400’s to 200’s and down to what we would typically consider now a possible regular, albeit long, human lifespan of 120 years.

God Intervenes to Limit Lifespans to 120 Years:
In looking back to Genesis 6, God is increasingly upset about the amount of wickedness spreading on the Earth. He says: “Then the Lord said, “My spirit shall not abide in man for ever, for he is flesh, but his days shall be a hundred and twenty years.” (Gen. 6:3) At this point before the Flood, as wickedness is spreading over the world, God decides to limit the lifespan of man down to 120 years. This is where we come to modern times age length with Joseph and Moses. David laments in the Psalms about even shorter ages: “The years of our life are threescore and ten [70], or even by reason of strength fourscore [80]; yet their span is but toil and trouble; they are soon gone, and we fly away.” (Ps. 90:10)

What Happened?:
It is all pure speculation, but it is interesting to ponder. Is it literal, allegorical, or a different measure of time? Most biblical scholars would argue that the ages are allegorical and not literal. Perhaps, their great longevity was meant to be symbolic of the wisdom and influence of the Patriarch. Others argue that they were measuring time by a different calendar, such as by months or lunar cycles. But, the ancients were very gifted for astronomy and measuring the cycles of the Sun and moon. This mathematical approach does not add up though with births and deaths and match family trees. For example, if Abraham was 175 months old that would mean he lived to be 14.

The Wages of Sin are Death:
We might consider that the Biblical texts are actually telling the Patriarchs actual age. We know that God created humans to live forever. Adam and Eve were in a preternatural condition where they would not die. However, God did warn Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden not to eat of the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and evil, or they would die (Gen. 2:17). They did not die immediately, but certainly over time their bodies began to wear down, and though they lived hundreds of years, they did eventually die. Their preternatural gift dissipated. That preternatural life then dissipated from generation to generation. The letter to the Romans says, “For the wages of sin is death.” (Rom. 6:23) Perhaps this is a theological truth that as sin increased, the lifespan of man decreased. Sin is life-destroying.  

Other Musings on the Flood:
First off, this is all pure speculation, but it is somewhat interesting to think about.

Perhaps, the Flood created a devastating climatic change to the planet. Perhaps whatever cataclysmic occurrence happened it damaged a protective layer on the Earth’s atmosphere. Maybe after that point more damaging cosmic radiation made it into the atmosphere, which would damage and age humans on a molecular level; the cells and genetic material being damaged by more direct cosmic radiation. Who knows? Genesis does say about the Flood “on that day all the fountains of the great deep burst forth, and the windows of the heavens were opened.” (Gen. 7:11) Maybe the opening of “the windows of the heavens” is alluding to the penetration now of damaging radiation, which could decay and age cells at a much more rapid pace. The cellular mutations would break down and eventually no longer be able to reproduce themselves; thus, more rapid aging and death.

God Intervenes Again in the Future World Renewed:
The prophet Isaiah wrote about the future world to come. He said: “No more shall there be in it an infant that lives but a few days, or an old person who does not live out a lifetime; for one who dies at a hundred years will be considered a youth, and one who falls short of a hundred will be considered accursed.” (Is. 65:20) Apparently, in the future renewed world if someone does not live to be 100 years old, they would be considered cursed, and one who dies at 100 years old only the age of a child.

The Woman and the Two – 27 March 2018

There has been a lot of discussion recently about women, from the “Weinstein Effect” to #MeToo. Misogyny in our culture is on notice, and the idea of womanhood has come to the forefront. In many respects, we have never before seen a moment like this focused on the dignity of women.

Perhaps it is time the modern world should look towards an older idea of womanhood, that which permeates our Catholic faith.

From the very beginning of scripture to the very end we find ‘the woman.’ Christians often quote lines from the Old Testament and the prophets regarding the Savior to come. This is all true, but it is not the whole story. The prophetic announcements tell of two intertwined together on behalf of our salvation. In the first moments in Genesis after the fall, God declares to the wicked serpent, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed.”

There is some dispute how to best translate the next line in the passage, specifically if it should be “he” and “his” or “she” and “her.” But, St. Jerome in translating this from the ancient Hebrew, Greek, and Latin texts chose to translate it as “she” and “her” as the most accurate. The Douay-Rheims translation based on the Latin Vulgate into English renders it “she shall crush thy head, and thou shalt lie in wait for her heel.” This was reaffirmed by other Church Fathers and in Ineffabilis Deus on the Immaculate Conception as “unmistakable evidence that she crushed the poisonous head of the serpent.”

The effect is the same. The woman through her seed shall crush the head of the serpent. That is, the Virgin Mary through Jesus Christ shall crush the head of Satan. Jesus is the divine Redeemer, and Mary the creature, but the two together crush Satan, and bring hope of eternal life. This is downplayed in our protestantized modern Christianity. The prophet Isaiah talks of the two as well, a virgin who will bear a son. The fall came at the hands of two, and in God’s beautiful symmetry, the restoration also comes at the hands of two.

The Virgin Mary is the masterpiece of God’s creation. She is conceived without sin, the sanctifying grace of her Son applied to her by way of anticipation, but to the rest of humanity by deliverance. She is unique in all of creation. Mary told St. Bernadette at Lourdes “I am the Immaculate Conception.” In the heavenly vision to St. Catherine Laboure at Rue du Bac, later forged into the miraculous medal, Mary is standing on the head of the serpent, seemingly answering the question of pronouns in the protoevangelium.

We find ‘the woman’ again at a wedding feast in Cana. The two together, Jesus and Mary, co-launch Jesus’ first miracle and his public ministry. When the wedding party ran out of wine, Mary looks knowingly at Jesus saying, “They have no wine.” In that one short sublime sentence Mary asks Jesus to perform his first open miracle, and begin his public work of salvation. This is Mary’s first act of motherly mediation too for her spiritual children. Jesus knows what she is asking but answers, “O woman, what have you to do with me? My hour has not yet come.” He addresses his mother as the archetype ‘woman’ acknowledging her prophetic role. Yet, Mary continues to direct the servants to “do whatever he tells you.” Jesus is the Son of God, he is in charge, but he defers out of respect and love for his mother.

At last, at the final stroke of the salvific drama, Jesus addresses ‘the woman,’ this time from the Cross, saying “woman, behold your son,” and to John, “behold your mother.” Mary, ‘the woman,’ became, by order of grace, the spiritual mother of all the living. And, Mary is still our mother. Is it any wonder that our Lady still comes to us at Guadalupe, Lourdes, and Fatima to remind us over the centuries “do whatever he tells you”?

St. Louis de Montfort called the Incarnation the “greatest event in the whole history of the world.” It is ‘the woman’ who is central to the Annunciation, which leads to the Incarnation and the Redemption. At that critical moment, God sends the Archangel Gabriel to Mary, and he greets her with the Angelic Salutation, “Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with you” and “blessed are you among women.” In ‘the woman,’ who alone is full of grace, the inherited link of sin is broken. The serpent can only lie in wait of her heel, and only enmity remains between them.

It was not until Mary’s fiat, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord,” that God became man. God made his Incarnation dependent upon the woman. This set in motion the whole drama of the Redemption. This greatest moment in the history of the world, the Incarnation, is memorialized in the prayer of the Rosary. Every time we pray the words of the Rosary, which are the words of the Angelic Salutation, we are greeting and honoring Mary again, just as the heavenly ambassador did. We are praying over and over again the words of the Incarnation. In it, we are reliving and honoring that unique theandric event, when the Word became flesh in the woman. In short, the Rosary is the Incarnation in prayer form.

‘The woman’ is at Eden; she is at Cana; and she is at Golgotha. And, ‘the woman’ appears again at the very end of time, with the great unveiling of the apocalypse, the final bookend to salvation history: “And a great portent appeared in heaven, a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars.” Our spiritual Mother appears as Queen of heaven, offering intercession for her children even to the last moment.

St. Pope John Paul II highlights this in Redemptoris Mater. He declares that the Virgin Mary was “not only the ‘nursing mother’ of the Son of Man but also the ‘associate of unique nobility.'” One of the great modern errors is that Mary was just a human vessel to birth Jesus. Mary did provide Jesus with his physical flesh and blood, hence the profound link between the devotions to the Virgin Mary and the Eucharist. But, Mary’s maternal mediation was much more in the order of grace. She was, and is, a collaborator with her Son in the work of salvation, as the encyclical states: “Mary’s motherhood itself underwent a singular transformation” with “‘burning charity,’ which sought to achieve, in union with Christ, the restoration of ‘supernatural life to souls.'”

In this time of women, let us remember ‘the woman.’ The Virgin Mary is the fulfillment of that original dignity in our preternatural past. She offers us the example par excellence of holiness and virtue. Mary is the Theotokos, and based on that unique grace of who she is, her intercession for us is most efficacious. Through our devotion to her, she will crush the head of Satan in our lives. She is the Queen mediating on behalf of our salvation before the throne of the King.

This is why we pray: Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death. Amen.

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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.

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The Liberating Power of Fasting – March 6, 2017

“Do you wish your prayer to reach God? Give it two wings, fasting and almsgiving.”
-St. Augustine, Discourse on the Psalms

“What happened to fast and abstinence in the Church in the United States?” This was the question Pope John Paul II asked Msgr. Charles M. Murphy, the former Dean of the Pontifical North American College, in a conversation they had in Rome in 1980. Pope John Paul perceived what is readily apparent to us still today, the seeming collapse of the practice of fasting in the day-to-day lives of Catholics. This question is particularly relevant now in the midst of Lent as the Church unites herself “to the mystery of Jesus in desert.” (CCC 540) The Bible tells us that Jesus “fasted for forty days and forty nights, and afterwards He was hungry.” (Mt. 4:2) If we are to unite ourselves more closely with Christ, we need to rediscover this holy practice of fasting.

The Catechism lists fasting as one of the three pillars of penance in the Christian life. Fasting, prayer and almsgiving express our conversion, respectively towards oneself, God, and neighbor. (CCC 1434) Fasting is a critical part of our metanoia, our turning away from sin. We are in constant need of this conversion towards God. It was when Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit that Original Sin and concupiscence entered our human nature. Since then, as St. Paul eloquently wrote, “the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh.” (Gal. 5:17) This is our human predicament. The question we must ask ourselves is: Do our bodily desires and instincts rule our spirit, or does our spirit control our bodies? The mortification of the flesh, through fasting, offers a sort of “liberation of man” against this “wound inflicted on the dignity of our nature by intemperance.” (Paentiemini, II) Through fasting, we can cultivate this cardinal virtue of temperance, as moderation and self-control tame the unruliness of the flesh.

In the Old Testament, Nineveh turned away from their sins. The wickedness of the city had reached a point that God sent the prophet Jonah to warn them that in “forty days more and Nineveh shall be destroyed.” (Jnh. 3:4) However, the people of Nineveh believed Jonah and the words of God, so “they proclaimed a fast and all of them, great and small, put on sackcloth.” God reacted by not carrying out His threat against them. God showed Himself to be “a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and ready to relent from punishing.” (Jnh. 4:2) It is an example for us. By fasting, we can demonstrate our humility before God by repenting of our sins and asking forgiveness. As the story of Nineveh shows, God readily accepts this act of contrition.

Jesus is our example par excellence on the vital spiritual importance of fasting. Scripture tells us that before He began His public ministry, He was “led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil.” (Mt. 4:1) Just as the first Adam was tempted by the serpent and failed by eating the fruit, so the second Adam, Jesus, was tempted by Satan, and yet resisted him by not eating. Satan tempted Jesus to break His fast by turning stones into loaves of bread, at which Jesus countered him, “One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes forth from the mouth of God.” Jesus’ fast spiritually prepared His humanity to confront and resist the devil. This is reminiscent of the disciples, who were unable to cast out a demon from a boy. Jesus rebuked them for their lack of faith, and then, exorcised the demon. Later, when the disciples asked Jesus why they could not cast it out, He replied, “This kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer and fasting.” (Mk. 9:29) Prayer and fasting are fundamental tools we have to overcome the devil and his minions, and temptation. Fasting is a powerful weapon.

This self-denial and mortification, as expressed in fasting, is also efficacious for the conversion of others. Sacrifice and prayer are the vicarious payment we make towards the redemption of another. It is the required “money,” if you will, offered on behalf of their “debt.” St. Paul captured this eloquently when he wrote, “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.” (Col. 1:24) This remains the same for us. We know that our love and intercessory sacrifices for others will cover a multitude of sins. (Jas. 5:20)

Intercessory prayer and fasting is exactly the message of Fatima as well. Our Lady of Fatima said, “Pray, pray very much, and make sacrifices for sinners; for many souls go to hell, because there are none to sacrifice themselves and to pray for them.” Mary revealed that our prayers and sacrifices are truly efficacious reparations, in which we can even positively affect someone’s eternal destiny. This Lent is the perfect opportunity for us to heed her words, especially this year, the 100th anniversary of the Fatima apparitions. Heaven is waiting for our daily prayers, sacrifices, and fasts.

As Christians, we need to re-embrace this pillar of our faith and practice regularly the discipline of fasting. It is a transformational habit that would enliven the modern Church, liberate us from our intemperate desires, and bring us into a closer divine intimacy with God. It also draws us nearer to the hungry and the poor, in line with the Beatitudes of Jesus. Although Jesus forbade His disciples from fasting while He, the divine Bridegroom, was still here, He did exhort future generations, and for that matter, us, that once the Bridegroom was gone, “then they will fast.” (Mt. 9:15) Some 2,000 years later, we continue our fast, at the behest of Jesus’ Good News, “Repent, for the kingdom of Heaven is at hand.” (Mt. 4:17)

Of course, fasting is not easy. It is a discipline that we must train our bodies to handle. We can accommodate fasting to our life situation. The important point is that we fast in some fashion, in union with the Church, particularly on Fridays in remembrance of Christ’s Passion, whether just giving up meat, or strictly on bread and water, or somewhere in between the two. The ancient ascetic monks perfected the discipline of fasting in the desert. Yet, we can bring fasting into the hustle and bustle of our lives, and families, and homes, and Churches, to form an oasis of sanctity in our modern world. Let us renew our faith – and fasting – this Lent, and beyond.

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A Meditation on the Theology of the Face – February 22, 2017

“Thou hast said, “Seek ye My face.”
My heart says to Thee,
“Thy face, Lord, do I seek.” (Psalm 27:8)

Do our faces reflect the divine signature of Christ?

Genesis declares that man is “made in the image of God.” Humanity is set apart from the rest of creation with an eternal soul capable of reason, will, and self-giving love; that is, God created man with divine attributes. These preternatural gifts bestow on us a rational and spiritual nature, elevating us above our mere physical natures. Man is separated from animal, person from non-person, primarily by our rational souls.

Yet, as Christians, we do not believe that we are just spiritual beings. We are more than just incarnate spirits confined to a body and then freed upon death. This is an ancient gnostic heresy, a Manichean dualism, unfortunately still prevalent today. Rather, our true human nature is a composite nature of spirit and body. The Catechism calls the flesh of the body the “hinge of salvation.” In the beginning, God created the flesh of the body; in marriage, man and woman become one flesh; in the Incarnation, the Word became flesh; in the Eucharist, Jesus gives us His flesh; and in the resurrection, the flesh is raised glorified and incorruptible. (CCC 1015) Christ, the Bible, and the Church are all in agreement: The body is good.

There is a sacramentality to the body. The body is the sacrament of the human person. It is a sign and symbol, making visible a hidden reality. Pope John Paul plumbed the depths of this mystery in his “Theology of the Body” series, referring to the body, “It was created to transfer into the visible reality of the world the mystery hidden from eternity in God, and thus to be its sign.” The body is a sign of divine mystery. Pope John Paul also stated “the face reveals the person.” It is the gateway to the soul. All of our senses are found in our face: our eyes, our ears, our nose, our mouth. They are the means by which the material world is translated by our human bodies to the spiritual world of our mind and soul. The face is the mediator between material and divine.

According to our Christian faith, the whole economy of salvation rests upon the bodily crucifixion of Jesus Christ. For, through the wounds of Christ we are healed, and through His death and resurrection we are saved. We can speculate, in conjunction with this definitive event in human history, did God mark our faces with Christ’s redemptive act?

Imagine, for a moment, Jesus’ Cross transposed on our faces. Our two eyes seem to correspond to the nail wounds of Christ’s two outstretched hands on the horizontal beam; our nose, the vertical beam of the Cross; our nostrils, the piercing of Christ’s side; our mouths, the nail wounds of both feet, placed one atop the other. Of all the shapes our faces could have taken, they assumed the perfect symmetry of a cross. The human face is clearly arranged in a “T” shape of two perpendicular lines. It is like a symbolical seal of Christ and His wounds.

In contemplating the face as a sign, all that we perceive, and all that we know of the world, is through our senses: In effect, analogously through Jesus’ hand wounds, we have eyes and sight; through the piercing of Jesus’ side, we can breathe and smell; and through the wounds to Jesus’ feet, we can taste, drink, breathe, and speak. His suffering was our grace. The face is not just the means of our perception, but also brings in life. The nose intakes air, and breaths oxygen into our lungs and blood. The mouth too provides sustenance through breathing, and nourishment through eating and drinking. Moreover, the face also conveys outwardly our divine faculties. We express emotions, words, language, singing, love, and worship all through our face. It reveals our rational and conscious nature.

The face is the icon of the person. This is God’s primordial claim upon us, through the imprint of Christ on the flesh of our face. The personal “I” of each one of us is made present to the world by the portal of our face. We can almost broaden Isaiah’s suffering servant prophecy that “with His stripes we are healed” (spiritually), and extend it, metaphorically, to the body: So that, through His wounds, we have our senses, life, and access to the whole universe around us.

There are hints in scripture to the supernatural significance of the face. St. Paul calls Christ the “head of the body.” Would it not be fitting that our heads should bear the stamp of our Savior? When God spoke with Moses on Mt. Sinai, Yahweh hid His face from him saying, “you cannot see My face; for man shall not see Me and live.” When Moses returned to the Israelites, they were afraid to come near him because “the skin of his face shone.” Moses then put a veil over his face, which St. Paul later interpreted to mean they failed to recognize Christ; In effect, the unveiling of the face is related to recognizing Christ. Just before His Passion, Jesus did unveil His divinity on Mt. Tabor in His Transfiguration when “His face shone like the sun,” giving us a brief glimpse to the glory of the face of God.

In the climax of Dante’s Paradiso, the face of God is finally revealed in full to man in the Beatific Vision, and he is amazed to see that God’s face “seemed to be painted with our human likeness.” Perhaps more aptly, we are being painted with the likeness of God. St. Paul alluded to this, saying “And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being changed into His likeness from one degree of glory to another.” (2 Cor. 3:18) Our ultimate hope is to behold God “face to face” for all eternity. At last, as St. John wrote of this blissful destiny, the redeemed “shall see His face,” and “we shall be like Him.”

Addendum:
St. Justin Martyr mentions this in his First Apology:
“And the human form differs from that of the irrational animals in nothing else than in its being erect and having the hands extended, and having on the face extending from the forehead what is called the nose, through which there is respiration for the living creature; and this shows no other form than that of the cross. And so it was said by the prophet, “The breath before our face is the Lord Christ.” (Lam. 4:20)
(The First Apology of Justin Martyr, Chapter LV, circa 155 A.D.)

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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.

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Our Supersubstantial Bread – December 5, 2016

“Grant us this day our daily manna.” Dante, Purgatorio, Canto XI

The Lord has left us a mystery to contemplate. It is right there in the middle of the “Our Father” when Jesus teaches us to pray, “Give us this day our daily bread.” (Mt. 6:11) This is generally recognized to mean pray for our basic daily necessities. (CCC 2837) This is true. Yet, hidden in the mundane and seemingly redundant word “daily” is the veiled, mysterious Greek word epiousios (επιούσιος). Epiousios is a unique word, sacramental-like in nature, a visible sign of a hidden reality. Epiousios occurs nowhere else in the Greek Bible except in the same Our Father passage in Luke 11:3 and the Apostle’s Didache. In fact, epiousios is not found anywhere else at all in Greek literature. The only recorded reference to epiousios, ever, is Jesus’ prayer.

As the early Church Father and master of the Greek language Origen (d. 254 AD) concludes, epiousios was “invented by the Evangelists.” The millennia have bore out his assertion that epiousios was a new word, a neologism of uncertain etymology. The usual Greek word for “daily,” hemera, is, after all, used elsewhere in the New Testament, but not in this instance. Why did St. Matthew and St. Luke feel compelled to create a new Greek word to accurately reflect the words of Jesus? They most likely had to use a new word to faithfully translate a novel idea or a unique Aramaic word that Jesus used in His prayer. What was Jesus’ new idea? Although there are multiple levels of meanings to epiousios, Jesus is making a clear allusion to the Eucharist. “Our daily bread” is one translation of a word that goes far above our basic needs for sustenance, and invokes our supernatural needs.

St. Jerome translated the Bible in the 4th century from the original Latin, Hebrew and Greek texts to form the Latin Vulgate Bible. When it came to the mysterious word epiousios, St. Jerome hedged his bets. In Luke 11:3, St. Jerome translated epiousios as “daily.” Yet, in Matthew 6:11, he translated epiousios as “supersubstantial.” The root words are: epi, meaning “above” or “super;” and ousia, meaning “being,” “essence,” or “substance.” When they are read together, we come to the possible translations of “super-substantial,” “above-essence,” or, in effect, “supernatural” bread. This translation as supersubstantial is still found today in the Douay-Rheims Bible. Taken literally, our supersubstantial bread is the Eucharist. (CCC 2837) In his commentary on St. Matthew’s gospel, St. Jerome states this directly: “We can also understand supersubstantial bread in another sense as bread that is above all substances and surpasses all creatures.”

St. Jerome also suggests that the Hebrew word for epiousios was the word maar meaning “for tomorrow,” invoking an eschatological interpretation of epiousios. In this sense, we are praying “this day” for our bread “for tomorrow,” or our future bread. We are petitioning God for tomorrow’s future bread today. Pope Benedict reflects on this “petition for an anticipation for the world to come, asking the Lord to give already ‘today’ the future bread, the bread of the new world – Himself.” This again has Eucharistic overtones, as the Catechism states, “the Eucharist that is already the foretaste of the kingdom to come.” (CCC 2837)

This eschatological interpretation is also borne out in the parable for the “coming day’s bread,” that Jesus teaches immediately following the Our Father. In Luke 11:5-8, Jesus tells the story of a man, who at “midnight” asks a friend to lend him three loaves of bread, as another friend of his has arrived from a journey and he has nothing to give him. As scholars have noted, there is the crucial matter of timing in this parable. In the morning the man can provide an abundance of food and bread for his guest, but at midnight he has nothing. This is an allusion to the fact that in the coming day of the Lord in heaven we will have a superabundance to meet our every need, both material and spiritual. But, as of yet, in this temporal life, a constant need remains.

Ours, like the man in the parable, is a matter of timing. We desire to have a measure of that superabundance now, and not just to meet our needs, but also to share with others. Thus, in praying today for tomorrow’s bread, we are praying to realize now, in time, a bit of the fulfillment of eternity. This is in line with the theme of “realized eschatology” that runs through the Our Father, in which we pray for “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” Even now on earth, we share daily in the realized eschatology of the heavenly Mass.

In asking God for our daily, supernatural bread, we are also reminded of the manna from heaven that the Israelites supernaturally survived on in the desert for forty years. In the exodus, where there was no food or water in the desert, God miraculously rained down bread from heaven each day, both a supernatural and daily occurrence. In the morning dew, they gathered manna for their daily sustenance, and in the evening they ate the flesh of quail. As the psalmist says, “Man ate of the bread of the angels,” and “He rained flesh upon them like dust.” (Ps. 78:25; 27) The Israelites ate of the heavenly bread and flesh from the time they crossed the waters of the Red Sea (a foreshadowing of Baptism) until they reached the Promised Land (a foreshadowing of heaven). Then, as soon as they completed their journey, the heavenly manna ceased. (Joshua 5:12) Our daily manna is with us too from the time we enter into the Church until the time we cross over into eternity.

Jesus makes a direct connection of Himself to the manna from heaven, calling Himself the “Bread of Life.” The Jews, citing Moses and the manna from heaven, demanded a similar sign from Jesus. In response, Jesus tells them, “I am the living bread which came down from heaven; if any one eats of this bread, he will live for ever.” (Jn. 6:51) Jesus is the new Moses, leading a new exodus, with a new heavenly manna. Like the Israelites’ manna, Jesus offers His bread and flesh for us to survive on for our journey. He tells them “he who eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life.” (Jn. 6:54) Evidently Jesus wanted to make sure His scandalous words were not glossed over, because He repeated six times that those who eat His flesh and drink His blood have eternal life.

This theme of “eating and living forever” is mentioned in only one other place in the Bible – in the Garden of Eden with the Tree of Life. After the fall of man, God sent Adam and Eve out of paradise, lest he “take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live for ever.” (Gen. 3:22) However, now with the Incarnation of the God-man, Jesus, paradise is, at last, opened fully to humanity to “eat and live forever.” The Tree of Life, cut off to us by our sins, is now open to us through the tree of the Cross, and resurrection of Christ. The fruit of this tree is given to us sacramentally in His supernatural manna, the Holy Eucharist. It is our spiritual bread without which we cannot live.

Thus, Jesus is making a direct reference in the Our Father for our daily supernatural bread of the Eucharist. As Jesus instructs us in the beginning of the Bread of Life discourse to not work for “food that perishes but for the food that endures for eternal life.” (Jn. 6:27) The theme of bread runs through the life of Christ, as visible signs pointing to a hidden reality. He is a priest-king, the order of Melchizadek, who offered bread and wine. He was born in Bethlehem, Hebrew for the “house of bread.” He performed the miracle of the multiplication of the loaves to feed 5,000. He refers to Himself as the “Bread of Life,” the true manna from heaven. In the culmination of the Last Supper, the Passover feast and the feast of Unleavened Bread, He offered bread and wine as His Body and His Blood of the New Covenant. After His Resurrection, He revealed Himself to His disciples in the “breaking of the bread.” Jesus lives on with us sacramentally in the Holy Eucharist, under the guise of bread. In the final revelation He promises to give us “some of the hidden manna.” (Rev. 2:17) This is our food of salvation, our medicine of immortality, which gives eternal life. It is not surprising then that the disciples beseeched Jesus saying, “Lord, give us this bread always.” (Jn. 6:34) And, so it remains with us.

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A Few Observations on Therese Neumann, Laywoman, Mystic, and Stigmatic – October 24, 2016

Very rarely has a person reflected so many purported supernatural gifts as did Therese Neumann, a 20th century German mystic and stigmatic. Her renown nearly rivaled that of St. Padre Pio. Their gifts supposedly included bearing the sacred stigmata (the wounds of Christ), visions, bilocation, reading hearts, healings and conversions, among other phenomena. However, unlike St. Padre Pio who was canonized June 16, 2002 by Pope John Paul II, the Roman Catholic Church has not yet officially recognized Therese Neumann as a saint. She was known as a joyful woman who loved animals and flowers, and was particularly despised by the Nazis. By most accounts, Therese Neumann was an extraordinarily holy laywoman, as well as a Third Order Franciscan, who displayed a great devotion to Jesus and the Church. She truly lived as a “Servant of God.” After an investigative period for some years after her death, the Vatican officially opened proceedings for her beatification on February 13, 2005 by Bishop Gerhard Mueller of Regensburg, Germany. The process remains open to this day.

Regardless of the Church’s final ruling on Therese Neumann, we must recognize that the mystical component of her life falls squarely under private revelation, which no one in the Church is forced to accept. The Catechism states in no uncertain terms that the deposit of faith is closed, and there will be no further public revelation. (CCC 67) In certain limited instances the authority of the Church recognizes private revelations that are in line with magisterial teachings, in order to help the faithful “live more fully” the gospel. The Church obviously treads very carefully in these matters, so as to root out frauds and impostors. Indeed, the focus should never be directed towards sensationalism, but always towards faithful obedience to Jesus Christ and the Catholic Church. Still, in reviewing Therese Neumann’s purported mystical gifts, we may find inspiration for our own lives.

Therese was a stigmatist, that is, she bore the wounds of Christ on her own body. There have been numerous people in the history of the Church who have officially had the sacred stigmata, including St. Francis of Assisi and St. Padre Pio, and perhaps even St. Paul himself, as he suggests in his letter to the Galatians. (Gal. 6:17) In March 1926, during Lent, as Therese began to have ecstatic visions of Jesus in His Passion, she concurrently began to have the stigmata. The wounds of Christ began to appear on successive Fridays: first the wound to her side, just over her heart; then the next Friday, the wounds to her hands; and finally, on Good Friday, all five wounds. Months later, on Friday November 5, 1926, Therese received the full complement of Jesus’ wounds from His Passion: holes in both hands; holes in both feet; the wound to the side above her heart; nine wounds around her head from the crown of thorns; and wounds to her shoulders and back from the scourging and the Cross. It is estimated that she bore at least 45 wounds in total, meaning she bore the full wounds of Christ’s Passion, not just the Crucifixion. Perhaps even more shocking, the wounds never left her from that moment in 1926 until her death in 1962. As one biographer, Adalbert Vogl, put it, “Not one of the wounds ever disappeared; they never healed, and they were still imprinted on her body at the time of her death.”

Therese’s sufferings and visions conformed exactly to the liturgical calendar of the Catholic Church. Just as she received the wounds of the Crucifixion on Good Friday, so also were her visions and ecstasies aligned to the liturgical calendar. For example, when she initially received the sacred stigmata, it was during the liturgical season of Lent. Although Therese had the wounds of the Passion for the rest of her life, she only experienced the ecstasies of the Passion on Fridays, and only on Fridays during Lent and Advent, and on some of the sorrowful octaves. Thus, her experience of the Passion was connected only to the relevant liturgical days, and never during joyful seasons, such as Christmas or Easter. On the Fridays when she did not endure the Passion ecstasy, she would have a vision of the death or martyrdom of the saint whose feast day it happened to be, in recognition of the liturgical calendar. On All Saints Day, November 1st, she would have a 24-hour ecstasy and see souls of saints from Heaven, and similarly on All Soul’s Day, November 2nd, she saw saints from Purgatory. Based on the timing of the mystical experiences of Therese Neumann, it seems heaven honors with great respect the liturgical calendar; perhaps we should pay close attention to this as well.

One of the most remarkable aspects of Therese Neumann’s mystical experiences is that she evidently lived without food or water for much of her life. This supernatural phenomenon is known as inedia. It is not unheard of in ecclesiastical history, particularly with stigmatists, as reported in the life of St. Catherine of Siena, who supposedly ate no food for the last seven years of her life. Therese herself stopped eating food in 1922, and then stopped drinking nearly all water in 1926, and continued this way until her death in 1962. Her sole sustenance for 36 years was the Holy Eucharist. As part of this experience, she had no desire whatsoever to eat food or drink water. Solid food or liquids would be immediately expelled from her body, save her daily Holy Communion. Her physical sustenance depended directly on her reception of the Eucharist. If she did not receive the Eucharist on a given day, she would have an extreme hunger and fatigue until she received Him. Once when asked how she could live just on the Eucharist alone, she responded, “The Savior can do all things. Did He not say that “My flesh is real food, and My blood is real drink?”” (Jn. 6:55)

For 15 days in 1927, Therese was placed under strict observation and investigation at the behest of the Archbishop of Regensburg. The investigation was directed by a non-Catholic professor of Psychiatry, Dr. Ewald, and a prominent Catholic physician, Dr. Seidl, as well as four nuns, who were trained nurses. Their strict instructions were to work in two-person teams, never leaving Therese alone, day or night. They were to record, measure and photograph everything that happened over the course of the investigation. At the end Dr. Ewald reported Therese’s complete abstinence from food and minimal water intake to swallow Communion (about 45cc of water, although this was apparently discharged too). Despite losing some weight around the time of her Passion ecstasy, she then regained the weight back over the next few days. Her weight was the same, 121 lbs., on July 28th as it had been on July 13th, despite not eating anything.

The supernatural phenomenon of inedia highlights in a literal way the words of the Lord regarding the Bread of Life. Jesus said in the Gospel of John, “I am the bread of life; he who comes to Me shall not hunger; and he who believes in Me shall never thirst.” (Jn. 6:35) There seems to be a mystical connection between the sacred stigmata and embracing the Passion of Jesus, and inedia and living strictly off the body and blood of Jesus in the Eucharist. In consuming the body and blood of Jesus in the Eucharist, His Passion and sacrifice of the Cross may come to life in the events of our ordinary lives. In some extreme instances, the Passion and sacrifice of Christ come to life in an individual’s life in an extraordinary way, such as with Therese Neumann. The Eucharistic life is a life of redemptive and vicarious suffering. It is an embrace of the Cross of Christ. Therese Neumann lived this life of divine union par excellence. As St. Paul said “it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.” (Gal. 2:20) This suffering is not without meaning. We know that we who suffer with Christ, for this short while, will also rise with Him to eternal life.

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St. Irenaeus and the Gnostics – June 28, 2016

How common is it today to hear someone say, “I’m spiritual, not religious.” A very Gnostic-esque statement. One need only to glance at your local bookstore’s religion shelves to see that Gnosticism, that ancient heresy and foe of Christianity, is alive and well in the modern world. There you would find a smorgasbord of spirituality, with topics on “New Age,” transcendentalism, astrology, reincarnation, and ways of attaining a “secret knowledge.” Cults and belief systems for attaining secret knowledge, or gnosis, were all the rage back in the second century as well. Gnostic sects were in direct competition with the nascent Christian Church. It was amidst the threat of Gnosticism that perhaps the greatest Church Father of the second century emerged, Saint Irenaeus.

Irenaeus was born in 130 A.D. in Smyrna (modern day Turkey), and died in 202 A.D. in Lyons, France, where he had become the bishop. In his youth Irenaeus was a disciple of Saint Polycarp, who was martyred in 155 A.D, but who had himself been a disciple of the Apostle Saint John the Evangelist. Thus, Irenaeus’ close historical connection to John lends a distinct apostolic credence and weight to all his writings. His greatest work is the massive five-volume set of books Adversus Haereses, or Against Heresies, a refutation of the doctrines of Gnosticism. In addition to his close proximity to John and the Apostolic Fathers, Irenaeus’ writings are all thoroughly Catholic. It is as if we are reading the modern Catechism (on such topics as the Real Presence of the Jesus in the Eucharist, the Sacrifice of the Mass, Apostolic succession, and Mariology) inserted within the second century.

The heretical Gnostic movements led Irenaeus to develop Church sacramental theology and Christology, or an understanding of exactly who Christ is. Irenaeus developed the idea of the necessity of a bodily atonement and redemption through Jesus’ sacred humanity. This is simply the “Recapitulation theory of Atonement.” In order to understand this better, we should first look at the false teachings of Gnosticism.

The Gnostic sects emphasized a secret, pseudo-mystical knowledge that had to be gained for salvation, and generally reserved only for the few who were deemed spiritually worthy. As such, Gnosticism became associated with elitism. Most Gnostic myths, relying heavily upon Greek pagan philosophy, taught that worldly things were created by a wicked demi-god, Demiurge, and thus, evil. The evil material universe is then at odds with the goodness of the Supreme Creator and the spiritual world. Gnosticism descended into a form of Dualism, where the body and all matter are evil, and all that is spiritual is good. The world, and all that is in it, is to be rejected. Man is seen as a spark from the spiritual God, but entrapped in the evil material world and imprisoned in the body.

This is in direct contradiction to the teachings of Christianity. Man is not simply a spiritual being, who discards the body at death. Man is a composite being of body and soul. In the Book of Genesis, God calls all creation “good,” and later, on the sixth day, when God creates Man, He calls him “very good.” (Gen. 1:31) Orthodox Christianity’s major objection to Gnosticism focused around its denial of the goodness of the material world. St. Irenaeus fought such heresies vigorously, including the denial of the physical atonement of Jesus as well as the rejection of the material sacraments.

Before long, the Gnostics had devolved into a form of Docetism that denied the corporeal incarnation of God into the world. To them, Jesus only “appeared” to be human, and wore a body like a mask or shell. By their beliefs, it made no sense that God would enter into an evil material universe.

Irenaeus, in response, seized upon the teachings of St. Paul that Christ did unite all things in Him, things in heaven and things on earth.” (Eph. 1:10) St. Irenaeus taught that Christ had to enter into the world, and into humanity, in order to atone for the sins of the world and redeem humanity. In his theory of Atonement by Recapitulation, Irenaeus says, “The Word, becoming man, recapitulates all things in Himself, so that just as the Word is foremost in things super-celestial, spiritual, and invisible, so also in things visible and corporeal He might have the primacy.” Jesus lived a life in the body like one of us, redeeming our humanity through His divine-humanity. Irenaeus goes further in saying that Jesus lived through all the stages of man, from birth, to infancy and childhood, maturity, old age and even unto death, thereby sanctifying all the stages of a man’s life. Here the Catechism concurs stating, “Christ’s whole life is a mystery of redemption… and a mystery of recapitulation. All Jesus did, said and suffered had for its aim restoring fallen man to his original vocation.” (CCC 517-518)

Just as the Gnostics professed that God as Spirit would not incarnate into the evil world, so too, according to their belief, would His Spirit neither enter into the material sacraments of the Church. According to their teachings, God would not enter into bread and wine, or water, oil or chrism. St. Irenaeus fought vociferously against this heresy with an explicit defense of the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. He writes, “For as the bread from the earth, receiving the invocation of God, is no longer common bread but the Eucharist . . . so also our bodies, when they receive the Eucharist, are no longer corruptible but have the hope of resurrection into eternity.”

When we say the Apostles’ Creed, we are reminded of the early Church’s constant spiritual battle with Gnosticism. We say God is the creator of heaven “and earth.” Jesus was physically born into the world, physically suffered and died. We believe in the “resurrection of the body.” The Creed reveals a constant push back against those who denied the goodness of the material world, the body, and the corporeal redemption by Jesus. As one of the earliest and greatest defenders of the faith, St. Irenaeus counteracted the polymorphic pagan influences of Gnosticism, dispelling their dualism and wishy-washy spirituality, which St. Paul refers to as the profane and vain babblings and contradictions of what is falsely called knowledge.” (1 Tim. 6:20) And so, as we remember St. Irenaeus on his Feast day, June 28th, we should retain the true faith, clinging to the doctrines of our Apostolic religion, believing in the sacred humanity of Jesus, crucified on the Cross, and whose Real Presence is in the Eucharist. May He resurrect us bodily to eternal life.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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