Tag Archives: Nazareth

The Power of Silence Amidst the Noise of the World – September 12, 2017

Saint John tells us in the Book of Revelation “when the Lamb opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven for about half an hour.” (Rev. 8:1) The silence of heaven rests above the great din of the world. Before the immensity of the Infinite, there are no words, only wonder, adoration, and silence. We have a foretaste of this eternal silence in the Divine Liturgy, which is the liturgy of the Church. Rivers of living water and sanctifying grace flow not only about the heavenly Throne, but also into the sacramental confines of hearts and flesh. Yet, as Cardinal Sarah says in his book The Power of Silence, if we, who are made in the image of God, are to approach him, “the great Silent One,” we must first quiet ourselves and enter into his silence.

But, the world today is raging against the silence of eternity. “Modern society,” Cardinal Sarah tells us, “can no longer do without the dictatorship of noise.” Postmodern man engages with hellish noise in “an ongoing offense and aggression against the divine silence.” Humanity has lost its sense of sin, and no longer tolerates the silence of God. He poignantly describes the current sad state of man: “He gets drunk on all sorts of noises so as to forget who he is. Postmodern man seeks to anesthetize his own atheism.” Even within the Church there is a noisy undercurrent of idolatrous activism. In this wonderfully written book with so many striking passages, the African Cardinal seeks to re-proselytize the increasingly secularized and debased West; the new evangelization rises from south to north.

Why silence? Silence is the chief means that enables a spirit of prayer. “Developing a taste for prayer,” he confides, “is probably the first and foremost battle of our age.” In modern techno-parlance, if our “interior cell phone” is always busy, how can God “call us”? Without silence, there is no prayer; and without prayer, there is no supernatural life in God.

Silence is not necessarily not speaking, but rather, it is an interior condition of the soul. “God is a reality,” he tells us, “that is profoundly interior to man.” God resides within the heart of man. The path to God is a path of interiority. At the Carthusian monastery of La Grande Chartreux in the French Alps, where they observe the vow of silence, interiority is a way of life. But, as wonderful and as holy as an exterior vow of silence is, it is not really an option for most people. Most lay people live amidst of the noise of the world. Cardinal Sarah understands this, and recommends a solution: “each person ought to create and build for himself an interior cloister, a ‘wall and bulwark’, a private desert, so as to meet God there in solitude and silence.” Man must learn to live in an interior silence, ‘an interior cloister,’ which we can bring with us wherever we go.

This silent interiority lends itself to a sacramental vision of the world. The silent and invisible Spirit of God dwells within the physicality of our bodies. We are a temple of God. Cardinal Sarah tells us that God gave us three mysteries to sanctify and grow our interior life with Jesus, namely: the Cross, the Host, and the Virgin. We are to contemplate these continually in silence. They are incarnational and sacramental by nature, where the heavenly is mingled with the mundane, and the divine lies hidden within the ordinary. So it is with our interior cloister, where the divine comes to rest silently in our human nature. In this sacramental vision of reality we participate directly in the mystery of God and impart it to the world.

Our primary focus should always return to the silence of Jesus. The divine silence entered the world as the “all-powerful word leaped from heaven”(Wis. 18:14-16) to be conceived and born of a woman, the Virgin. Mary is nearly silent in scripture, though she echoes over the ages “Do whatever he tells you.” Few words are recorded from the Holy Family, including not one word from St. Joseph, his silence reflecting his saintliness. Divine silence and humility came first as a baby in Bethlehem. Cardinal Sarah reminds us of this first scandal, “God hid himself behind the face of a little infant.” No stage of human life is deemed unworthy of Christ.

Then, for thirty years Jesus lived a hidden and silent life in Nazareth. So much so that his neighbors question at the beginning of his public ministry “where did this man get all this?” His divinity was veiled in everyday life, even though his mission of redemption had already begun from the ordinary woodworking in the carpenter’s shop to the mundane sweeping of its floors. Our interior silence is of upmost importance because it allows us to imitate the Son of God’s thirty years of silence in Nazareth. Jesus recapitulated within his “holy and sanctifying humanity” all the ordinariness of our human natures and vocations. By doing so, “the hidden life at Nazareth allows everyone to enter into fellowship with Jesus by the most ordinary events of daily life.” (CCC 533) Our interior cloister should be animated with the knowledge that, no matter where we are or what we are doing, Christ is there with us in the silence of Nazareth.

In the Cross, Cardinal Sarah reminds us that “the mystery of evil, the mystery of suffering, and the mystery of silence are intimately connected.” This trinity of mysteries is summed up in Jesus’ cry from the Cross quoting Psalm 22, “My God, my God why hast thou forsaken me?” Modern man likes to see the silence of God in the face of horrible, tragic events as proof of his non-existence: “if evil and suffering exist, there can be no God.” Yet, as Cardinal Sarah points out, the infinite and absolute love of God does not impose itself on anyone: “his respect and his tact disconcert us. Precisely because he is present everywhere, he hides himself all the more carefully so as not to impose himself.” In creating man and the world, God had to, in effect, “withdrawal into himself so that man can exist.” In allowing for human freedom and freewill, God would necessarily appear silent.

Man’s freedom, and ultimately sin, would leave God disappointed in man, and make God himself vulnerable to suffering, as a Father suffers for his child. The suffering of man leads to the suffering of God. God is with us in our suffering. The mystery of suffering and God’s silence will never be fully understood in this life, but must be viewed from the lens of eternity. God’s time is not like our own where “a thousand years are like one day.” Our brief sufferings on earth disappear forever like drops of water into the immense ocean of eternity. Even now, the person who prays often can “grasp the silent signs of affection that God sends him” as noticeable only by those who are lovers. Jesus has revealed, however, that bearing our crosses and silent sufferings can be redemptive and sanctifying. We can complete what is “lacking in Christ’s afflictions” for the sake of the Church. Our interior cloister should be united with the redemptive sufferings of Christ in his Passion and Crucifixion.

Jesus remains with us now, most silent and most humble and most small in the Eucharist. As the bread and wine become the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ, “the miracle of transubstantiation comes about imperceptibly, like all the greatest works of God.” There is no extravagant burst of light and power at each Eucharistic consecration, only silence before the Real Presence of God in the Host and the Mass. Cardinal Sarah laments the lack of silence and adoration today in much of the modern liturgy, declaring bluntly “The liturgy is sick.” He continues: “The liturgy today exhibits a sort of secularization that aims to ban the liturgical sign par excellence: silence.” Rather, reception of Holy Communion should be a moment of intimacy with the Lord, when we “receive the Lord of the Universe in the depths of our hearts!” Our interior cloister should be continually fortified by the words of Jesus: “He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him.” (Jn. 6:56)

In every manner in every mode of everyday life, silence is necessary. Silence is necessary because it predisposes us to a life of prayer, a life of interiority and a sacramental vision of reality. Through the seven sacraments, the channels of dispensation of the divine grace of Jesus Christ to the world, we are recapitulated within Christ – a holy priesthood making spiritual sacrifices. We are spiritualized and divinized, made into children of God. Jesus adjures us not to leave the way of the sacramental life, for “apart from me you can do nothing.” Our prayers and sacrifices are “like the fragrance of incense that ascends to God’s Throne.” Each of us can become, as Saint John Paul called, a “contemplative in action.” Our practice in the virtues of silence and prayer are “an apprenticeship in what the citizens of heaven will experience eternally.”

Silence is needed most urgently now, even for those in the Church who would subsume social activism ahead of the worship of God. Cardinal Sarah proposes “a spiritual pedagogy” as illustrated by Mary and Martha in the gospel. Jesus does not rebuke Martha for being busy in the kitchen, but rather for “her inattentive interior attitude” towards Christ, as shown in her complaint about the “silence” of Mary. Mary remained at the feet of Jesus in silent contemplation and adoration. Cardinal Sarah warns, “All activity must be preceded by an intense life of prayer, contemplation, seeking and listening to God’s will.” We should be Mary before becoming Martha. Man can encounter God only in interior silence. The active life must be harmonized with the contemplative life. Silence must precede activity.

Silence is a form of resistance to the noise of the world. There is a danger today of being lost in “unbridled activism,” where our interior attitudes are diverted from Jesus towards social justice and politics. In the field hospital of the Church, the social aspect does have its place, but as Cardinal Sarah says, “the salvation of souls is more important than any other work.” This vital effort entails evangelization, prayer, faith, repentance, mortification and embracing the sacramental life, in short, living a liturgical existence. Before venturing out into the noise of the world, Cardinal Sarah’s The Power of Silence encourages us to remain firmly grounded in our interior cloister, adoring God in silence.

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

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

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

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

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

The Sanctifying Humanity of Jesus – December 17, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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