Tag Archives: sacrament

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.

God’s Presence in Confession – January 24, 2017

A number of years ago I approached the confessional booth in the crypt church at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C. It was there that something somewhat miraculous happened, or at least that is how it struck me.

I was a regular visitor at the crypt church for Confession and to attend Mass. On this particular day, however, I was also there to pray for my friend. At the time, a close childhood friend of mine had recently and unexpectedly passed away. He had become an avid mountain climber, and had gone on an adventure to climb one of the tallest mountains in the world in Pakistan. Then, one fateful day I received a phone call that he had gone missing after an avalanche. Soon after, our worst fears were confirmed. Obviously shocked and saddened I turned towards prayer and the Church.

After praying before the Blessed Sacrament, I went to Confession. Once I had confessed my sins, I spoke to the priest about concerns for my friend. I never once mentioned to him who he was or what had happened. I told him only that he had died outside the Church, and I asked if I should pray for him? His answer amazed me.

In part, he said, “sometimes I will pick up the paper and read, for example, about people who died while mountain climbing in Pakistan, and yes, I would pray for them.” I took this as a miraculous intervention of Christ in the sacrament, and as a direct response regarding my friend. The unknown priest, I am sure, had no idea of the prophetic words he had just spoken to me. Yet, his words resonated loudly in my soul.

As believers, we know that God always hears our prayers, even if sometimes it may not feel like it. As Catholics, we also know that God is present to us in a special way in the sacraments. The priest works in persona Christi Capitis, in the person of Christ the head, or as the Church teaches, “it is Christ Himself who is present.” (CCC 1548). This is of great consolation in Confession – the sacrament of divine mercy – when we are blessed to hear those most comforting of Jesus’ words, “My son, your sins are forgiven.” (CCC 1484)

The priest’s words that day had a number of effects on me. First and foremost, it powerfully reconfirmed the efficaciousness of the sacrament. Christ is truly present and truly forgives. It also affirmed to me that we are called to be intercessors, for our family and our friends, and in fact, for all those entrusted to us. This is our privilege and important responsibility as Christians. Lastly, we should not judge, but rather, entrust everyone by prayer and sacrifice to the divine mercy of God. Even today, years later, I pray for my friend’s eternal rest.

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Confirmation, the Sacrament of Spirit, Strength, and Combat – November 15, 2015

“Now when the apostles at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had accepted the word of God, they sent Peter and John to them. The two went down and prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit (for as yet the Spirit had not come upon any of them; they had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus). Then Peter and John laid their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 8:14-17)

Some question whether Confirmation is really a sacrament. Martin Luther retained the ceremonial aspect of it, but rejected its sacramentality, saying, “God knows nothing of it.” Even some modern Catholic thinkers have referred to it as “a sacrament in search of a theology.” After all, Christians receive the Holy Spirit in Baptism. Why then do we need a second anointing of the Holy Spirit in Confirmation? What is its purpose? Part of the criteria the Church used in delineating the seven sacraments was that each had to have been instituted by Christ Himself, as when He instituted the Eucharist at the Last Supper, and when He was baptized in the Jordan River. But, when and where in the Gospels did He institute the sacrament of Confirmation? Maybe its critics have a point. Yet, the Church has continually upheld Confirmation as a sacrament. In the 13th century, St.Thomas Aquinas took up this very question of the defense of Confirmation as a sacrament in his Summa Theologica (Summa, III, q.72). Later, the Church Council of Florence in 1439, and again, the Council of Trent in 1566 both affirmed the sacrament of Confirmation as one of the seven sacraments. These declarations have remained as the foundational Catholic understanding of Confirmation all the way up to modern times. As the Catechism now states, “Baptism, the Eucharist, and the sacrament of Confirmation together constitute the ‘sacraments of Christian initiation’.” (CCC 1285) Confirmation is one of the three sacraments in which the Christian is initiated into the Church. Baptism, Eucharist and Confirmation are a unity which complete our initiation. In the Eastern Orthodox Church, unlike the Latin Church, this unity is expressed by administering these three sacraments together, one after another, for initiation into the Church. In Roman Catholicism, however, they are spread out over time, generally speaking, beginning with Baptism, then later, Eucharist, and finally, upon entering adulthood, Confirmation. The reception of Confirmation completes and perfects the Baptismal grace. (CCC 1285) So, Baptism and Confirmation are two distinct sacraments, but linked together in the conferral of grace. As the passage (above) from the book of Acts demonstrates, the disciples in Samaria had already been baptized, but Peter and John came to lay hands on them so that they would receive the Holy Spirit. They were then, in fact, “confirmed” into the Church, received the Holy Spirit, and completed their Baptismal grace.

Confirmation is sometimes called “the sacrament of Christian maturity.” It is the sacrament that ushers the Baptized into the fullness of the Christian community, through the special strength of the Holy Spirit it identifies us more closely with the public mission and witness to Jesus Christ. Lumen Gentium says that, in Confirmation, those confirmed are “more perfectly bound to the Church,” so that, they are “obliged to spread and defend the faith, both by word and by deed, as true witnesses of Christ.” (LG, 11) The Confirmed are to share more completely in the mission of Christ and the fullness of the Holy Spirit, so as to give off “the aroma of Christ.” (CCC 1294) In his letter to the Corinthian Church, St.Paul calls the newly converted, and presumably newly Baptized, “infants in Christ.” (1 Cor.3:1) Baptism is our beginning point to the life in the Spirit. St.Thomas also compares Baptism as the point of our spiritual regeneration, and Confirmation as the point of our spiritual maturity. Baptism is our entrance, and Confirmation is our graduation. St.Thomas says of Confirmation that “man is perfected by Confirmation.” (Summa, III, q.65, a.3)  In Baptism, we become children of God, and in Confirmation, we become friends of God, sent into the world to give witness and carry on the mission of Christ.

Jesus promised that His Spirit would lead us to all truth, and we must take into account the veracity of His word in the Church seeing fit to establish the sacrament of Confirmation. The Spirit does not make mistakes. Confirmation, as with all the sacraments, contains an essential form to make the rite valid. The signs and symbols of the rite confer the grace they signify and signify the grace they confer. The catechumens are confirmed by the bishop by anointing their foreheads with a perfumed oil, a sacred chrism blessed by the bishop, and the laying on of hands by the bishop (just as Peter and John, as the first apostolic bishops, laid hands on the disciples of Samaria), and with the words “Be sealed with the Gift of the Holy Spirit.” (CCC 1300) The sign of anointing with the chrism imprints a spiritual seal upon our souls with the indelible mark of the Holy Spirit. (CCC 1304) For this reason, because it imparts a special character upon us, just as in Baptism, it is only given once. (CCC 1305) In ancient times, a seal was a symbol of a person, or the symbol of who that person belonged to, such as, soldiers marked with their leader’s seal, or slaves with their master’s seal. (CCC 1295) So too, now, Christians are confirmed with the mark of the Holy Spirit in order to seal us as His, consecrated to Christ. In the old mosaic covenant, an indelible mark was left on the body in circumcision, but now, in the new covenant, an indelible mark is left on the soul with the seal of the Holy Spirit. St.Paul speaks about this saying we are “marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit” (Eph.1:13), and “marked with a seal for the day of redemption.” (Eph. 4:30) To the Corinthians, he similarly says, “But it is God who establishes us with you in Christ and has anointed us, by putting His seal on us and giving us His Spirit in our hearts as a first installment.” (2 Cor.1:21-22) This idea of the seal of the Holy Spirit hearkens back to the Old Testament, where God prophesies through Ezekiel “I will put My spirit within you.” (Ez.36:27) The seal of the Holy Spirit is also promised to us as divine protection in the eschatological future, that is, at the end of the world. (CCC 1296) In Revelation, the angels of judgment are told, “Do not damage the earth or the sea or the trees, until we have marked the servants of our God with a seal on their foreheads.” (Rev. 7:3)

The effects of the sacrament of Confirmation are most commonly associated with the outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon the Apostles at Pentecost. (CCC 1302) As St.Luke describes the dramatic event in the book of Acts:

“When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them.  All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.” (Acts 2:1-4)

The Holy Spirit came upon the Apostles in startling fashion with a rush of violent wind and tongues of fire. This is in fulfillment of Jesus’ command to “stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.” (Lk.24:49) In obedience, the Apostles had been persevering in prayer, hiding in the upper room for fear of persecution. However, once they were sealed with the power of the Holy Spirit “from on high,” they emerged from the upper room and began to preach powerfully and publicly to the crowds of people. St.Peter, in particular, is the first to fearlessly witness to the crowds about the crucified Jesus, the forgiveness of sins, and the gift of the Holy Spirit. He begins by quoting the prophet Joel:

‘In the last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams.” (Acts 2:17; Joel 2:28)

The Holy Spirit had strengthened the Apostles and the disciples, who were now unafraid to proclaim and defend the faith publicly. The flinching Apostles became towering super-Apostles, for through these twelve men, Christianity spread throughout the whole world in the midst of, and in spite of, terrible persecutions and martyrdom. St.Thomas discusses the miraculous change in their behavior due to the Holy Spirit. He says, “whereas in Confirmation he receives power to do those things which pertain to the spiritual combat with the enemies of the Faith.” (III, q.72, a.5) Confirmation anoints us with the power for spiritual combat, and to persevere amidst the trials and tribulations of giving witness to Christ in a hostile world. Confirmation is the sacrament to strengthen us for combat.

Jesus Himself, in fact, did institute the sacrament of Confirmation, albeit not by bestowing it directly, but with the promise of a future fulfillment, for He could not give the Spirit until after His Resurrection and Ascension. (Summa, III, q.72) Jesus promises His Apostles beforehand, “Nevertheless I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send Him to you.” (Jn.16:7) Jesus promises that once He is gone He will send the Spirit of Truth (Jn.14:17), the Advocate (Jn.14:16), the Paraclete, the Comforter and Counselor, to clothe them with power “from on high.” And again, Jesus tells His Apostles, “I have said these things to you while I am still with you. But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you.” (Jn14:25-26) Jesus promises this, even though His Apostles had already been baptized, as implied in Him washing their feet and His saying to them “you are clean.” (Jn.13:10) Yet, Jesus promises more. He promises to clothe them with the power of Heaven, the Holy Spirit, which is ultimately fulfilled on that day of Pentecost.

This is the birth of the active Church, the Church militant. From there, the Church spread through the ancient world, first to Jew, and then, soon after, to Gentile, and all the way up till today, to all nations, universally across the globe. Yet, the Holy Spirit did not continue to anoint the disciples in such a dramatic, miraculous and visible fashion as at Pentecost. From that point on, the Apostles begin to invoke and confer the Holy Spirit through the imposition of hands, or the laying on of hands. This is truly the birth of the sacrament of Confirmation. As Acts says, “Then Peter and John laid their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 8:14-17) St.Paul and the other bishops of the apostolic Church also conferred the Holy Spirit upon the Baptized through the imposition of hands. As St.Paul’s letter says, “For this reason I remind you to rekindle the gift of God that is within you through the laying on of my hands.” (2 Tim. 1:6) We see this again in Acts, “When Paul had laid his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came upon them, and they spoke in tongues and prophesied.” (Acts, 19:6) The “laying on of hands” is similarly mentioned in other places throughout the New Testament, such as in the letter to the Hebrews. (Heb.6:2) It was an integral part to the early, apostolic Church. It was part of The Way. The laying on of hands is the sacrament of Confirmation. It remains part of our way today. Confirmation is an extraordinary and charismatic conferral of grace, that completes our Baptism, unites us more closely with Christ, confers an indelible character upon our souls, gives us a special permanent status within the Church, strengthens our faith to engage in spiritual combat and to be able to publicly and boldly defend it. (CCC 1303) In short, it perfects the character we receive (in Baptism) as part of the common priesthood of the faithful. (CCC 1305) Our initiation is complete. Our status and our service in the common priesthood of the faithful are officially consecrated to God through the power of the Holy Spirit. With the winds of the Spirit in our hearts and the tongues of fire in our minds, we are ready now, ready to leave the safe confines of the upper room and witness to Christ in the public marketplace.

The Mystical Body of Christ – October 30, 2015

A real symbol is both a symbol and a reality. It symbolizes a reality, but it also has the real presence of the reality it symbolizes. The symbol, in a real symbol, is so intimately identified with the reality of it that the symbol makes present the reality. It is more than just a representation. The symbol and the reality are one. Yet, even though the symbol and the reality are inseparably bestowed, they are also identifiably distinct from each other. The best illustration of a real symbol is the human body. The human body is the real symbol of the soul. It both symbolizes the reality of the soul and it actually makes present the essence of the soul, or the reality of self. In St.Thomas’ words, the soul is the substantial “form” of the “matter” of the body. (Summa, I, q.76, a.1, a.4) When we think of a human person, we think of a united being of body and soul, forming one human substance. We know that the human person is more than a physical body. It is also a rational, immaterial, and immortal soul created directly by God that lives on after the death of the body. The body and soul are distinct. Nevertheless, the body is not simply a cocoon possessed by the soul. Rather, the body individuates the soul, permanently. The two principles, body and soul, are forever linked and conformed to each other. Man is a composite being, in which body and soul are separated at death, but reunited, in eternal form, in the final Resurrection. (CCC 366) The corporeal matter of the body and the spiritual form of the soul make one human person. As the Catechism teaches, “spirit and matter, in man, are not two natures united; but rather their union forms a single nature.” (CCC 365) Human nature is the body and the soul together. Therefore, the body is the real symbol of the soul, because it symbolizes the soul and also makes the soul present in reality.

The Church is the real symbol of Jesus Christ. The Church symbolizes the continued presence of Christ in the world, and it also makes present Christ in reality. Just as the soul animates the body of a person, so too, the Holy Spirit animates the body of the Church. (CCC 797) As the encyclical Mystici Corporis Christi, or “On the Mystical Body of Christ,” makes clear, the Church is a body (MCC, 14), and specifically, the Body of Christ. (CCC 805) She is both visible and invisible, and human and divine. (CCC 779) She is the physical symbol of a hidden reality. In that sense, the Church is like a sacrament. (CCC 775) She is the visible sign in communicating God’s invisible grace. She is the efficacious instrument, and real symbol, of Christ’s redemption by which man is reconciled with God. (CCC 780) The Holy Spirit “forms,” as it were, the “matter” of the body of the Church. Just as the body is formed in the likeness of the soul, so too, we are formed into the likeness of Christ. We are recreated in His image. (Rom.8:29) This is begun at Baptism and continues in a lifelong process, so that we “may become daily more and more like to our Savior” (MCC, 56), and are being “transformed into the same image from glory to glory.” (2 Cor.3:18) This self-communication of Christ to His believers is primarily through the sacraments, where we are “united in a hidden and real way to Christ in His passion and glorification.” (LG, 7) In Baptism, we are conformed to His likeness; in Confirmation, we are sealed with the Holy Spirit; and in the Eucharist, we are brought into communion with Him and with each other. Christ is as intimately connected with His followers as the soul is with the body. Lumen Gentium puts it this way, “For by communicating His Spirit, Christ mystically constitutes as His body those brothers of His who are called together from every nation.” (LG, 7) The Church is the Mystical Body of Christ. (CCC 779) It is for this reason that when the risen Jesus confronts Saul on the road to Damascus, who is on his way to persecute and kill members of the Church, Christ says, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute Me?” (Acts 9:4) Christ is actually present, under veiled form, in His community of believers, the Church. As Jesus says, “For where two or three are gathered in My name, I am there among them.” (Mt.18:20)

Hidden divine realities are often times expressed in the world through symbolic reality, as has been discussed in regards to the soul and the Church. In a similar way, Christ is the real symbol of the eternal Word of God. In His humanity, Christ symbolizes, in bodily form, the manifestation of the divine and eternal Word, but He also is, in reality, the Son of God. In a similar fashion, within the Church, grace is primarily conferred on us through the symbolic reality of the sacraments. This is most especially true in the Eucharist. Christ is symbolically present under the veiled species of bread and wine, but Christ is also actually present in reality in the Eucharist. At consecration, with the transubstantiation, His body and blood, soul and divinity truly become present, even though our “eyes were kept from recognizing Him.” (Lk.24:16) Christ is the primordial sacrament from which grace is bestowed upon the Church; itself, a type of analogous sacrament; which, in turn, confers grace upon us in the actual sacraments themselves. Sanctifying grace flows from Christ, to the Church, and to the sacraments. We, the community of believers, initiated and sustained by the sacraments, are thence drawn into the symbolic reality of Christ. We become symbols of Christ and manifest His real presence in our lives. We are taken up into the mysteries of His life. (LG, 7) As such, we, the Church, who are the Body of Christ, are drawn into close union with Jesus Christ, who is the Head of the Body. (MCC, 81) St.Paul reveals this to us saying, “Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread. (1 Cor.10:17) Since we all partake of the one Eucharistic “bread,” we are united into communion with Christ, and consequently, with each other. (LG, 7) This is a constant theme of the New Testament. As St.Paul teaches the Romans, “So we, being many, are one body in Christ, and every one members one of another.” (Rom.12:5) The effect of the Eucharistic sacrament, or in Thomistic terms, “the Res Tantum,” or the “final reality” produced by the sacrament, is our unity with God and with each other, i.e., the coalescing of the Mystical Body of Christ. As Jesus Himself testified, “Those who eat My flesh and drink My blood abide in Me, and I in them.” (Jn.6:56) We are made one in the symbolic reality of Christ’s Body.

To this point, the main purpose of the Church is to be the “sacrament of the inner union of men with God” and the “sacrament of the unity of the human race.” (CCC 775) In Gethsemane, Jesus prays to the Father for the Church’s communion with God and with one another, or in other words, for the Communion of Saints, “so that they may be one, as We are one.” (Jn. 17:22) As part of this oneness, the Church’s mission is to take care of each other, and not just corporeally, but also, spiritually. God wills that the Church take part in the redemptive mission of Christ, and become “as it were, another Christ.” (MCC, 53) Christ’s redemptive work merited superabundant grace for us, of which the Church contributed nothing. (MCC, 44) Yet, Christ’s passion and death “merited for His Church an infinite treasure of graces.” (MCC, 106) God could have chosen any way possible to distribute those graces, but He chose that the Church should take an active role in the work of redemption; thus, conferring a special dignity upon His members. The magisterium teaches “not only does He share this work of sanctification with His Church, but He wills that in some way it be due to her action. This is a deep mystery..” (MCC, 44) This deep mystery pervades every member of the Body of Christ. For, Christ wills that His Mystical Body, we, the Church, carry on His salvific mission here on earth until the end of the world. It is an utterly serious responsibility, for “the salvation of many depends on the prayers and voluntary penances” of her members. (MCC, 44) We can petition God to apply our own prayers and mortifications, our “spiritual sacrifices,” in union with the infinite grace of Christ’s Passion, towards the salvation and sanctification of other souls, and in particular, on behalf of sinners. We can be co-redeemers. Again, this is not from anything we have done or earned or merited. We can do nothing without Christ. All grace is from Him. Christ simply wills that we should share in His work. The encyclical says we must offer our “prayers, works, and sufferings” every day to the Eternal Father. (MCC, 109) In this way we resemble Christ (MCC, 47) in our intercession and mediation for the whole human family. Being one body, we must have “the same care for one another.” (1 Cor.12:25) As individual members of the Mystical Body of Christ we must be rustled up from our slumber with a “supernatural charity” for the good of all men. (MCC, 97) We can do this by remaining faithful to the Church. When we abide as members united in His Mystical Body, He too abides in us by the Holy Spirit. We become a living symbolic reality, where Christ is truly present in the world again.

Baptism, Initiation into the Common Priesthood – October 15, 2015

“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Mt.28:19-20)

“Baptism imprints on the soul an indelible spiritual sign, the character, which consecrates the baptized person for Christian worship.” (CCC 1280)

The sacrament of Baptism initiates us into the mystery of Christ. It is the essential rite to eternal life, and the beginning point of the whole Christian experience. (CCC 1213) In Baptism, God first demonstrates His self-communication to us. It imprints His indelible mark upon our souls configuring us to the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The character of Christ is irrevocably sealed upon our minds and souls, configuring us to a new and eternal spiritual reality. (CCC 1272) It transforms who we are. A permanent ontological change takes place to our very being. Just as a material object or person is visibly sealed with a mark, defining who or what it is, or whose property it might be, so too, in Baptism, God marks our immaterial souls invisibly and permanently, claiming us as His own. It sets us apart. It can only be done once, and nothing can undo it. It is a necessary transformation. Jesus attests to it, saying, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit.” (Jn.3:5) Baptismal water is a graced sign, a real symbol, which efficaciously applies the invisible grace it signifies. It does in reality, the sign it points to. We are washed of Original Sin, purified of all of our sins, and regenerated to eternal life. It consecrates us into the sacramental character of Christ’s paschal mystery, impressing upon us His saving grace of the Cross. (SC, 6) We are sealed with Christ’s imprimatur, conforming us to the God-man. (2 Cor. 1:21-22) He alone conquered sin, and death itself, so that by faith and grace, we too, who are flesh and blood mortals, may partake in His supernatural life. Baptism is necessary because Christ alone overcame death. We need His divine life in us, so we too will rise to eternal life. Baptism anticipates our own resurrection. Through it, we are grafted into communion with the Easter mysteries. The mystery of Christ becomes alive to us, and in us. Christ in His life, and in His Passion and suffering, and all that He was in His eternal and divine humanity, begins to unfold and live out in our individual lives. When we are immersed into the water, we are brought into His death, and rising from the water, we are brought into His life and resurrection. (Rom. 6:3-4) As the Catechism says, “It signifies and actually brings about death to sin and entry into the life of the Most Holy Trinity through configuration to the Paschal mystery of Christ.” (CCC 1239) We are made into a new living, Trinitarian reality; spiritually reordered towards the Father, configured to the Son, and filled with the Holy Spirit. We become adopted children of God, by faith and grace; baptized into the Son of God, we are made partakers in the divine nature by proxy, as He is in reality.

We are indeed remade into this new holy status as children of God, and temples of the Holy Spirit, and co-heirs with Christ. It makes us, first and foremost, Christian, and members of the Church, the Body of Christ, and gains us access to divine grace in the rest of the sacraments. It is our foundation for the supernatural life. But, it is also the first moment of a lifelong phenomenon of conversion. Baptism is more than just a single event, or a static state; it transforms us in such a way that we are perpetually drawn deeper into the living reality of Christ. It allows us to engage in the sacramental life and realize the mysteries of Christ in our being. It establishes a new dynamic in our consciousness, where our everyday circumstances are reinterpreted and contextualized within the divine humanity of Christ. Our humanity is elevated and divinized. We are afforded special offices. One of these is our incorporation into the common priesthood of the faithful, the baptized, and the ordinary. With a sacred chrism, the oil consecrated by the bishop, the newly baptized is anointed into Christ as “priest, prophet, and king.” (CCC 1241) We become sharers in Christ’s one eternal priesthood. As Lumen Gentium, the Dogmatic Constitution of the Church, says, “The baptized, by regeneration and the anointing of the Holy Spirit, are consecrated as a spiritual house and a holy priesthood.” (LG, 10) Even as Christ is the one true and eternal Mediator between God and man, He still graciously saw fit that we should also participate, to varying degrees, in His priestly office. As part of our baptismal right and dignity, we can exercise that priestly office by virtue of our association in Christ’s life, passion, and redemptive sacrifice.

But, what are our priestly functions? Scripture and the Church say we are to make spiritual sacrifices. We are to offer up interiorly all of our actions, words, deeds, suffering, successes, and all that we do, for the glory of God and for the intercession of souls. The magisterium teaches that the baptized should “present themselves as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God.” (LG, 10 ) Every common thing in our ordinary existence can be extended towards God as a sacrifice in our common priesthood. We can offer up everything, including our prayers, sacrifices, fasting, bodily weaknesses, illness, even patiently enduring the things that annoy us, or nearly anything that may otherwise seem useless and worthless in the eyes of the world. God’s eternal priesthood is mediated in the implements of our material world. Our physical operations can have spiritual significance. We can exercise our priesthood, in such a way, that we can, in effect, “sacramentalize” all that we do. That is, we spiritualize our activity through faith and with the intention of offering reparation to God. This is how we become living sacrifices. As the magisterium explains, we can “exercise that priesthood in receiving the sacraments, in prayer and thanksgiving, in the witness of a holy life, and by self-denial and active charity.” (LG, 10) By ourselves, a branch separated from the vine, our actions have no spiritual power. But, united with Christ, in the power of the Holy Spirit, our actions can be spiritually efficacious for reparation of our sins and the sins of others. This is our role in the communion of saints. We are mediators. Through initiation in Baptism and the imprinting of Christ’s priestly seal upon us, we become priests. We can use our willful intention to please God, in a particular activity, invoke the anointing of the Holy Spirit, and raise that up as a form of worship. So, we can, for illustration, use our being hungry on any given afternoon, or say, being stuck behind a slow driver in our morning commute, to invoke the Holy Spirit, and offer these annoyances up to God for the sanctification of souls. These are just two minor examples, but the possibilities are nearly endless. St.Paul explains these spiritual sacrifices. He says, I am now rejoicing in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am completing what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church.” (Col.1:24) Christ deemed us worthy to take part in His priestly ministry, and left for us a portion of the redemption to offer up to the Father. He made us a living Church, actively carrying on His mission. Christ’s presence and power remain hidden now sacramentally, just as it did in His life then when He walked the earth.  Some people today see just bread and wine, and not the body and blood of Christ, as before they saw just the carpenter’s son, and not the Son of God.  Christ continues His priestly mediation for the world today through us. In this vein, St.Paul is dutifully acting out his priestly character. He offers intercession and mediation for the Church, through his own sufferings, in unity with the sufferings of Christ. We are called to do the same. Christ has deputized us. He appointed us His priests. It is our role to live as mediators and intercessors here on earth in imitation of Him. We are to stand in the breach for those entrusted to us.  Baptism is everything, but it’s also just the beginning.