Tag Archives: Mass

Purgatory and the Communion of Saints – November 11, 2017

“No man is an island,” so Pope Benedict XVI reminds us in his encyclical letter Spe Salvi (“Saved in Hope”). We are each bound to one another “through innumerable interactions” so that: “No one lives alone. No one sins alone. No one is saved alone.” Pope Benedict exhorts us to ask, “what can I do in order that others may be saved? . . . Then I will have done my utmost for my own personal salvation as well.” Salvation is a social reality. The letter to the Hebrews speaks of the community of believers coming together in a city. Heaven, as a city full of people, is a place of communal salvation. Sin, on the other hand, introduced the “destruction of the unity of the human race.” While man’s original unity was torn apart by sin, the work of redemption aims to heal that disintegration, as Benedict discerns, “redemption appears as the reestablishment of unity.”

Each believer is an interconnected cell in the Mystical Body of Christ. We are a band of brothers and sisters, bound together in hope and love, in a confraternal exchange of supernatural charity. Even now, the saints of Church Militant on earth, are surrounded by “so great a cloud of witnesses” – Church Penitent (or Church Suffering) in purgatory and Church Triumphant in heaven. The Communion of Saints live in a symbiotic relationship: the saints in heaven and purgatory interceding for those on the earth, while the believers on the earth ask for their heavenly intercession. And, in this month of November, dedicated to the souls in purgatory, we recall our special role in this symbiotic relationship while still alive: to pray, sacrifice and intercede for the dearly departed souls in purgatory.

Those in purgatory have died in God’s grace and friendship and are “assured of their eternal salvation,” however, they are “still imperfectly purified” and must necessarily “undergo purification” to enter into heaven (CCC 1030), for nothing unclean enters into it. (Rev. 21:27) Jesus spoke of purgatory, alluding to it as a “prison,” in which we pay for our sins down to “the very last penny”:

“Thus, when you go with your accuser before a magistrate, on the way make an effort to settle the case, or you may be dragged before the judge, and the judge hand you over to the officer, and the officer throw you in prison. I tell you, you will never get out until you have paid the very last penny.” (Lk. 12:58-59)

St. Paul similarly tells the Corinthians that we all will stand before the judgment seat of Christ and are subject to a “purifying fire;” they “will be saved, but only as through fire.” (1 Cor. 3:15) The encounter with Christ is one of grace and judgment. Benedict describes this eloquently:

“Grace does not cancel out justice. It does not make wrong into right. It is not a sponge which wipes everything away, so that whatever someone has done on earth ends up being of equal value. . . . Evildoers, in the end, do not sit at table at the eternal banquet beside their victims without distinction, as though nothing had happened.” (Spe Salvi, 44) Even after Confession, we must still make penance.

The departed faithful souls in purgatory do have to make recompense for their sins to satisfy the perfect justice of God. We can, however, assist them in that. The Catechism (CCC 1032) quotes an example from Scripture saying, “Therefore [Judas Maccabeus] made atonement for the dead, that they might be delivered from their sin.” (2 Macc. 12:45) And so, how do we as Christians make atonement for the dead? The Catechism clarifies this:

“From the beginning the Church has honored the memory of the dead and offered prayers in suffrage for them, above all the Eucharistic sacrifice, so that, thus purified, they may attain the beatific vision of God. The Church also commends almsgiving, indulgences, and works of penance undertaken on behalf of the dead.”

We are called to be intercessors, for both the living and the dead. We can offer up our prayers, sacrifices and sufferings on behalf of the poor souls in purgatory, for they can no longer merit for themselves. But, God has deigned through the Communion of the Saints that we can make up for others what is lacking in the sufferings of Christ. For, we are “God’s fellow workers” (1 Cor. 3:9), contributing to the salvation of souls. We can do this through our prayers, such as praying the rosary for those in purgatory. We can offer penances, and sacrifices. We can give alms, and do acts of charity on behalf of the deceased person.

Benedict also recommends a particular devotion for everyday life, that is, “offering up” all the minor daily hardships of the day. We can “insert these little annoyances into Christ’s great ‘com-passion’ so that they somehow became part of the treasury of compassion so greatly needed by the human race.” We can offer up those petty annoyances throughout the day whatever they might be, slow traffic, the heat, the pestering co-worker, etc. “In this way, even the small inconveniences of daily life could acquire meaning.” (Spe Salvi, 40) We can be assured that our efforts, prayers and sacrifices are efficacious and capable of mitigating the suffering of those in purgatory. (CCC 958)

Most importantly, we can offer the sacrifice of the Mass, and indulgences granted by the Church, for souls in purgatory. You can contact your Church and have a mass offered for your beloved deceased. Another beautiful gift is the tradition going back to Pope Gregory the Great of offering “Gregorian Masses” for deceased persons on thirty consecutive days. These are generally not done now in parishes, but in monasteries, seminaries, and other religious institutions.

The efficaciousness of intercession for those in purgatory has received mystical confirmation too. One such mystic was St. Faustina. She wrote in her Divine Mercy diary about a soul, a recently deceased nun, who visited her from purgatory requesting her prayers. Upon first visiting her, the sister was in “terrible condition,” but after some undisclosed amount of time of praying for her, the nun eventually returned and “her face was radiant, her eyes beaming with joy.” She would soon be released from purgatory and conveyed to her that many souls had “profited from my prayers.” Similarly, in the Divine Mercy Novena, dictated to St. Faustina by Jesus, He asks us to offer the eighth day for the souls in purgatory. He told St. Faustina, “It is in your power to bring them relief. Draw all the indulgences from the treasury of My Church and offer them on their behalf. Oh, if you only knew the torments they suffer, you would continually offer for them the alms of the spirit and pay off their debt to My justice.” (Diary, 1226) Memorializing a person is nice, but prayer for the deceased may be what they truly need.

Thus, it is within our power as members of the Communion of Saints to assist the poor souls in purgatory in the process of their purification and sanctification. Our prayers and sacrifices can help pay off their debts. In turn, in gratefulness for the merit we win for them, they will surely pray and intercede for us, until, at last, in heaven we will meet all those who we have helped, undoubtedly to our surprise. Also, lest we put our earthly time limits upon God, we should remember to pray even for those who have died long ago. God, who exists outside of time in eternity, receives all of our prayers and sacrifices in the eternal present, and can merit a soul whether long since dead or in purgatory. So, out of love for our family and friends, let us do our part in supernatural charity for the souls in purgatory, who may be most in need of our help.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We All Need Leisure – August 1, 2016

“No philosopher has ever been able to grasp the being of a single fly,” pondered St. Thomas Aquinas. The scientist ceases to wonder when he receives his results. Yet, those who philosophize and contemplate the nature of the world, reality, and God, can never fully comprehend, and never cease to wonder. To contemplate spiritual and eternal things is to wonder and to hope, never fully grasp the infinite nature of God. The philosopher Josef Pieper calls this wonder and holy puzzlement “leisure.” Leisure, he says, is the basis for all culture. Derived from the same word, the ancient Greek “skole” means to educate or to teach.. They understood that the idea of leisure as something more than our limited interpretation today.

Here in the summer month of July and heading into the dog days of summer, with families focused on vacations, cookouts, swimming and the beach, taking a break from work, it is fitting to reflect upon leisure. What is leisure? To Pieper, leisure is not a break from an activity or a distraction, but a state of the soul. It is a contemplative and spiritual attitude consisting of an inner silence. It is receptivity to the world and an embrace of who we truly are.

One unfortunate tendency of the modern age is to idolize work. In the West, we tend towards careerism, to be workaholics. On the other side, under Communism and Marxist rule, all of life was oriented towards “the worker,” with all activities focused on material economics and work itself. In either extreme, the idea of the worker becomes an idol, and work becomes idolatry. The person lives to work, rather than work to live. The dignity of man and his personhood is subsumed under his utility. How useful is he to society? Utilitarianism is the ultimate purpose of the worker. There is no higher dignity, no contemplation of God, no comprehension of spiritual things. In short, no leisure.

It was not always so. Although modern philosophy and science focuses primarily upon utilitarian ends, the ancient Greeks and Romans considered liberal arts an end in themselves. In our current times the “hard sciences” of biology, chemistry, physics, mathematics, computer science, engineering, and medicine are favored culturally, and monetarily, over the “soft sciences” of philosophy and theology. The Aristotelian and Thomistic views of knowledge, however, focused not exclusively on the empirical senses, but also on a broader spiritual base of knowledge. Knowledge to them meant more than materialism, but also an understanding of ultimate things. It does not necessarily need function or utility, and the worker does not need to be tied to the State or production. Pieper called this the “de-proletariarizing” of the worker. Higher work and higher knowledge in ancient times were generally non-utilitarian and spiritual in nature.

Leisure is a form of rest. It does not necessarily mean “non-work.” It is an attitude of the mind, a state of the soul, whether working or not working. It does not imply that work is bad. God commanded man in the book of Genesis to work, then declaring, “it was good.” Work is good, but God also gives us the Sabbath. Sabbath is derived from the Hebrew word for rest. In the Creation story, on the seventh day, God rested. God commands us to rest on the seventh day as well and observe the Sabbath by doing no work. It is not a rule whimsically imposed on us by God. As Jesus said, “The Sabbath was made for man,” or, in other words, for our benefit. Rest in this Judeo-Christian sense does not mean to do nothing. It means to engage in restful contemplation and thanksgiving towards God. We are to worship in awe at all that God has created and wrought for us. As the psalmist says, “Be still and know that I am God.” (Ps. 46:10)

Leisure involves true knowledge. It involves recognition of who we truly are, in light of the knowledge of God. We can rest and be still in the knowledge that God created us, redeemed us, and it is to Him that we are ultimately to return home for eternity. This is the peaceful spirit of leisure that should inform our lives whether we are working or not working. The spirit of leisure can be our constant state of mind.

The ancient philosophers also had a term for idleness, “acedia.” It was not meant in the modern notion of laziness, or a lack of work or activity, but rather a sense of restlessness. It is a restlessness of our being when we refuse to receive God’s command to rest in Him. As St. Augustine said, “Our hearts are restless, until they rest in Him.” The restlessness of acedia is to ignore the third Commandment to observe the Sabbath, and take our rest in God. When we refuse God’s rest, we will remain in a spirit of restlessness. Jesus renews the gift of the Sabbath: “Come to Me all who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest… For My yoke is easy and burden is light.” (Mt. 11:28, 30) Jesus here is speaking of leisure of the soul.

Whether we are steeped in work or driven to distraction, God calls us first and foremost to rest in Him. This is our true leisure. We are not called to withdraw from the world, but rather, to fully reconnect to reality. The term religion comes from the Latin “religare” meaning to bind or to connect. When we engage in religion, and specifically the Church and the Mass, we are re-engaging with God, with spiritual things, with reality and ourselves, who we truly are. This is our leisure. Leisure is that briefest of glimpses of eternal rest when we will, with awe and wonder, behold the Beatific Vision.

This summer as we take our vacations, let us remember to embrace leisure in our minds, for we are not made for work alone. We are made for God. As St. Josemaria Escriva wrote of being “contemplatives in the midst of the world,” we can seek leisure in the midst of all our summer activities, as we orient all of our work and relaxation towards its proper end, with the true knowledge of God and of ourselves. In so doing, we will use our work and our rest to “consecrate the world itself to God.” (Lumen Gentium, 34)

Running to Win the Spiritual Race – May 19, 2016

William Shakespeare famously wrote “All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players,” and so it is with us. Each of us “performs” each day on the world’s stage before the spectacle of our fellow man, and before the saints and angels in heaven, and under the watchful eyes of God. We act out our lives from moment to moment, for good or for ill, before the human and the heavenly audience. St. Paul says, “..we have become a spectacle to the world, to angels and to men.” (1 Cor. 4:9) The letter to the Hebrews depicts us as competing in a packed stadium filled with all the saints and heroes that have gone before us, cheering us on, competing in a race around the track. “..since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses . . . let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us..” (Heb. 12:1) St. Paul urges us to shed “every weight” of sin that slows us down so we can persevere and win the race. The cloud of witnesses, the saints in heaven, are not only cheering us on but also offering personal intercession for us. (CCC 2683) St. Paul must have been a great admirer of runners and athletic competitions, such as the Isthmian and Olympiad Games; he uses the running metaphor a number of times in his letters. To the Corinthians he says, “Do you not know that in a race all the runners compete, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable.” (1 Cor. 9:24-25) St. Paul compares the spiritual life to an athletic competition, in which we should strive not for a laurel victory wreath but for the crown of eternal life.

How should we compete for this crown of eternal life? Much in the same way that an athlete must plan his or her exercise regimen each day to prepare for the race, so should we plan our spiritual regimen each day. We can exercise our souls with a schedule of daily prayer. In this way we can grow in faith and holiness, pleasing to God, and on the path to eternal life. First, we must discipline and train our spiritual selves. This can be difficult. It can be so much easier to sit back and watch a TV show or surf the internet rather than pray. I can find a million excuses not to pray at any given moment, but I have found my day is so much better if I do pray. My day is given direction and satisfaction, and a sense of purpose and connection to God. It sacramentalizes my whole day. The best way to approach our spiritual training is to have a simple, fixed schedule of prayer. Basically, we need a plan. It should be a simple one, accommodating our individual circumstances and responsibilities. The key is to faithfully stick to the plan as best we can, and repeat it each day and each week. If we do this, we can “pray without ceasing.” (1 Thess. 5:17) We can become, as St. Josemaria Escriva described, “contemplatives in the midst of the world.”

Here are some suggestions for us to include in our daily spiritual exercises:

  • The Morning Offering upon waking up
  • Pray the Rosary
  • Attend Mass and receive Communion
  • Pray the Angelus at noon
  • Pray the Divine Mercy Chaplet (maybe at the 3:00 hour)
  • Small acts of penance or mortification throughout the day
  • Grace before meals
  • Attend Adoration
  • Pray the Liturgy of the Hours (particularly, in the morning and evenings hours; see phone apps to assist with this)
  • Short conversations of mental prayer (a “heart to heart” talking and listening to God)
  • Spiritual Reading (Bible or other spiritual reading)
  • Meditate on the Stations of the Cross
  • A Nightly Examination of Conscience and Act of Contrition before bed

Of these, I have found it particularly important to never miss the Morning Offering or the Nightly Act of Contrition. These help frame our day and orient it completely towards God, sanctifying the hours of the day from morning to night. I also find saying the Rosary and the Chaplet of Divine Mercy particularly powerful, but this is my own particular spiritual affinity. Each of us should determine what we are drawn to personally.

It does not take much time to speak to God each day, even mere minutes. Yet, it can still be difficult. Much like our regular muscles, we need to exercise our prayer muscle to improve. The more we exercise our prayer life, the stronger and easier it will become. Prayer is our connection to Him. Our relationship with God will take on a much more personal flavor and commitment. God calls us friends and His children. He is personally interested in us, even down to the most minute details of our lives. Jesus said, “Even the hairs of your head are all numbered.” (Mt.10:30) This should give us comfort. God knows our hearts and thoughts. He hears everything we ask and tell Him. He cares about us more than we could ever imagine. We just need to make the time to speak and listen to Him. Our daily prayer schedules are part of our commitment to Him, and proof that we love Him. If we live this way, each and every day, and continue this over our lifetimes, a “compounding interest of prayer,” if you will, this is the stuff of saints. Then, we can come to the end of our lives, the end of our race and competition, and declare as St. Paul says, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” (2 Tim. 4:7)

 

One in the Eucharist – April 27, 2016

Sacraments are rituals instituted by Christ, woven together with signs and symbols, (CCC 1145) that “make present efficaciously the grace that they signify.” (CCC 1084) St. Augustine described them as “an outward and visible sign of an inward and invisible grace.” They are not just symbolic, but are “real symbols,” which actually make present that which they signify. Sign and reality are one. Initiation into the sacraments initiates us into the mystery, or mystagogy, of Christ. (CCC 1075) They draw us ever deeper into Himself.

One such “real symbol” is the Eucharist. It is the real presence of Jesus Christ: body and blood, soul and divinity. The whole liturgical life of the Church is oriented towards the Eucharist. It is communion with the sacred flesh and blood of Christ into our bodies, and the sanctifying grace of His soul and divinity into our souls.

It is Jesus Himself who first speaks about His real presence in the Eucharist: “Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you.” (Jn. 6:53-54) The word John uses for “to eat” is the Greek word “trogein,” which literally means “to gnaw”; you gnaw on real meat, not a symbol or an idea. Many of Jesus’ disciples and non-disciples alike are aghast at this, believing He is speaking of cannibalism. Roman pagan historians would later record false rumors of Christians participating in cannibalistic rituals – a clear misunderstanding of the Mass and the real presence. Jesus knows, of course, that this is difficult for them to believe, and says, “Does this shock you?” (Jn. 6:61) We know it did, because, as John records, many of His disciples abandon Him at this point. (Jn. 6:66)

After they leave, Jesus reassures His skeptical Apostles, telling them, “The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life.” (Jn. 6:63) They cannot understand this with their fleshy, materialistic minds, but rather, by trusting in God’s supernatural power. This is not a cannibalistic ritual but a heavenly sacrament. Directly before Jesus’ Bread of Life Discourse, John relates two other miracles, Jesus’ multiplication of the loaves and Jesus walking on water. Both miracles reveal that physical matter, nature itself, is subject to Jesus. Immediately before we see the bread and wine becoming His flesh and blood, John demonstrates with these miracles that material boundaries are no constraint upon Jesus.

After Jesus’ death and resurrection, His appearances to His disciples further establish the importance of the sacraments. When Jesus first approaches the disciples on the road to Emmaus, “their eyes were kept from recognizing Him.” (Lk. 24:16) After He took bread and broke it, Luke says, “then their eyes were opened,.” (Lk. 24:31) Jesus illustrates that He is no longer with them as He once was, but will now remain with them sacramentally in the form of the Eucharist. He has demonstrated the Eucharistic formula for the disciples starting with the Last Supper. Now, the disciples continued this going forward as the beginnings of the Mass and Eucharist, devoting themselves “to the breaking of bread.” (Acts 2:42)

A millennium and a half later, at the Council of Trent in the 16th century, the doctrine of Christ’s real presence in the Eucharist was reaffirmed in precise language. Transubstantiation is ultimately the term they arrived at to define what happens in the mystical sacrament of the Eucharist. Under the veiled appearance of bread and wine, “the whole of Christ is truly, really, and substantially contained.” (CCC 1374; Trent 1551) Jesus becomes our spiritual food, and our “medicine of immortality.” (St.Ignatius, 110 AD) Receiving Holy Communion brings us into intimate union with Christ. Just as material food nourishes our bodies, so Holy Communion nourishes our spiritual soul. (CCC 1392)

Moreover, it also transforms us as a whole community of believers, the Church, into the Mystical Body of Christ. In the Mass, after the priest invokes the Holy Spirit, an epiclesis prayer, to transform the bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ, he again, invokes the Holy Spirit, a second epiclesis, that those who eat the body and blood of Christ may be “one body, one Spirit in Christ.” He says, “Grant that we, who are nourished by His body and blood, may be filled with his Holy Spirit, and become one body, one spirit in Christ.” This is, in effect, a second transubstantiation: the transformation, by the power of the Holy Spirit, of those who eat the Eucharist into the one Mystical Body of Christ. This recalls Jesus’ prayer in Gethsemane to the Father that His followers “may be one, as We are one.” (Jn. 17:11) The Eucharist unites us mystically together in Him as living sacramental realities.

As such, the Church comes together to offer “praise, sufferings, prayer, and work” in union with the sacrifice of Christ. (CCC 1368) We, by virtue of our common priesthood, can unite all that we are and do with the offering of the sacrifice of the Mass.  Jesus put an end to the millennia-old, ritualistic and violent bloodletting of the pagan ancient world.  Alas, He is the pure offering. For from the rising of the sun to its setting My name is great among the nations, and in every place incense is offered to My name, and a pure offering; for My name is great among the nations, says the Lord of hosts.” (Mal.1:11). Christ in the Eucharist transforms us into His image, so that His presence enters into the world again, and in us, continues His pure offering to the Father.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.