Tag Archives: sacraments

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Didache, The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles – 25 January 2016

Wouldn’t it be great to have a snapshot into the life of the early Church to see what they believed and taught and practiced on a day-to-day basis? Of course, we have the New Testament, which is divinely-inspired, and tells us about the life of Jesus Christ and the faith of the first Christian communities. Its 27 books, and eight (possibly nine, depending on if you think St.Paul, or a disciple of St.Paul, wrote the letter to the Hebrews.) authors – including the Apostles St.Matthew, St.John, St.James, St.Peter, St.Jude, and disciples St.Mark, St.Luke, and St.Paul – is the scriptural foundation of all Christian canonical beliefs. All of the books were written in the first century by eye-witnesses to Jesus, or by the first disciples of the Apostles. Aside from being the Word of God, these are incredibly reliable historical documents, reflecting direct contact with the person of Jesus and written relatively soon after. Yet, there are also many extra-biblical sources and letters, from the first century and early second century, that describe the life, belief and practices of the early Church. These are the writings of the early Church Fathers, in particular, the Apostolic Church Fathers, such as Clement of Rome, Ignatius of Antioch, and Polycarp of Smyrna. They are considered “Apostolic” because they had direct contact with the Apostles themselves, thus making their work fascinating and of utmost importance (even though they were not ultimately included within the canon of Church Scripture).

One such document is called “The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles,” or known simply as “The Didache.” It is one of the earliest known Christian writings, even possibly predating some of the New Testament books. It is generally agreed to have been written between 50-120 AD, well within the lifetime of some of the Apostles and first disciples. Some of the early Christians even considered it an inspired book, although again it was ultimately not included in the canon. The Didache is generally divided into four different sections concerning: (1) a moral catechesis (ie, “The Way of Life” vs. “The Way of Death”), (2) liturgical instruction, (3) a Church manual for various ecclesiastical and community norms, (4) and a brief eschatology of the parousia (ie, the second coming of Christ). One of the most profound aspects of the early Church Fathers’ writings is that they are thoroughly sacramental in nature, that is, they speak explicitly of the sacraments of the Church. Simply, from an apologetics point of view, they demonstrate that the sacraments and doctrines of the Catholic Church are not something contrived or incrementally slipped into Christianity over the centuries. They are not paganism, or a so-called Roman mystery religion. Christianity holds all of that in contempt as idolatry and blasphemy. Rather, the sacraments, the prayers, the Church, they were all there from the beginning. This is also true in The Didache. The tracts of the Didache, as are all the early Church Fathers’ writings, are decisively Catholic. [of note: The Way of Life specifically mentions not to commit “abortion, or infanticide,” which is probably the earliest known Christian writing explicitly condemning abortion and infanticide. Later, it references The Way of Death, in which they “murder their infants, and deface the image of God.”]

The Didache speaks matter-of-factly about Baptism, going to Church on Sundays, receiving the Eucharist, and making a general confession of sins. For example, as part of “The Way of Life,” the author says “In church, make confession of your faults, and do not come to your prayers with a bad conscience.” Later, he instructs:

“Assemble on the Lord’s Day, and break bread and offer the Eucharist; but first make confession of your faults, so that your sacrifice may be a pure one. Anyone who has a difference with his fellow is not to take part with you until they have been reconciled, so as to avoid any profanation of your sacrifice. For this is the offering of which the Lord has said, Everywhere and always bring me a sacrifice that is undefiled, for I am a great king, says the Lord, and my name is the wonder of nations.”

In the Church manual section, he similarly states, “No one is to eat or drink of your Eucharist but those who have been baptized in the Name of the Lord; for the Lord’s own saying applies here, ‘Give not that which is holy unto dogs.’” The manual gives in-depth instruction of the eucharistic prayers to say over the chalice and over the broken bread, offering us a glimpse into the first century Mass. They are to pray, “Thou, O Almighty Lord, hast created all things for thine own Name’s sake; to all men thou hast given meat and drink to enjoy, that they may give thanks to thee, but to us thou hast graciously given spiritual meat and drink, together with life eternal, through thy Servant. Especially, and above all, do we give thanks to thee for the mightiness of thy power.” The manual similarly gives precise details about how to go about baptizing people saying, “..immerse in running water ‘In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.’” It offers a similar prescription for standing water, or simply pouring water over the person’s head. The manual delves also into fasting, instructing people to fast on Wednesdays and Fridays, much like the modern tradition, and to pray the Our Father three times every day.

And, how should this affect us? These brief snippets offer us glimpses, from outside the New Testament (i.e., accepted Scripture), into the hearts and minds of the first Christians. They lived a sacramental life in toto. Their daily lives were rooted in Baptism, Confession, the Eucharist, Sunday worship, fasting, and prayer. This is what they called The Way of Life. The Way of Life involves modeling our lives after Christ, that is, among many other things, loving our enemies, living a moral life, being meek and compassionate. Moreover, it instructs us, “Accept as good whatever experience comes your way, in the knowledge that nothing can happen without God.” We are to live out our Christian vocations within our ordinary circumstances and trials of each day, with Christ as our “spiritual meat and drink, together with life eternal.” As some have argued, The Didache could be a form of vade mecum, a small handbook that Christians would have carried about with themselves. It spoke to them of how they should live their lives, conduct themselves and embrace the sacramental life. And so it remains with us!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Sacrament of Divine Mercy – October 9, 2015

“then the Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living being.” (Gen.2:7)

“When He had said this, He breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” (Jn. 20:22-23)

The sacraments are the very heart of Christianity. They are the manifestation of Christ in the world. In them, Christ truly becomes present to us. They are the visible sign and the real symbol that are the very inward grace they signify. They signify the grace they cause, and cause the grace they signify. God’s grace is present efficaciously. (CCC 1084) They are our gateway to communion with God as well as our lighted guideposts to remain in communion. To stray from them is to risk walking in darkness and death. For, the seven sacraments are imbued with the sanctifying grace of Christ’s eternal act of redemption. In receiving the sacraments, that sanctifying grace of redemption is applied to our soul. It is the supernatural power that God uses to act in our lives. Sanctifying grace is what saves us. In the sacraments, Christ’s redemptive act is transmuted into a symbolic reality and transferred directly to our souls. This is miraculous and amazing. It is also the foundation of orthodoxy. The Church, as the administrator of the sacraments, is the holder and the dispensary of Christ’s miraculous grace. Although the priest acts in persona Christi, we know that it is truly Christ Himself, through the priest, who confers sanctifying grace. (CCC 1088)  This sacramental grace allows us to enter into an immediate relationship with the living God.

Yet, the application of that redemptive grace varies from sacrament to sacrament. In Baptism, we gain our initial entry into Christ’s salvific action. Our souls are cleansed of Original Sin and incorporated into His death and Resurrection. It is our entrance into eternal life, and makes possible our lifelong communion with God. In the Eucharist, Christ’s redemptive grace actually comes to us in bodily form. The very body and blood of Jesus are made present physically. In consuming Him, we are continually sanctified and remade into His mystical body. He is literally our sustenance to eternal life. In Reconciliation, Christ’s sanctifying grace restores our relationship to God and the Church through the forgiveness of our sins. In our fallen human nature, still beset by frailty, weakness and concupiscence, we regularly regress back into sin. Christ knew our nature, and so, afforded us His sacrament of forgiveness. Repentance becomes linked to life. In the book of Genesis, it says God formed man from the ground and breathed life into him. The Hebrew word used for breath is רוח (ruach), which also means “spirit.” When God breathed into man, He made him a living spirit. We see that same word רוח repeated when the Resurrected Jesus appears to His disciples and He “breathes” (רוח again) on them, and thus, institutes the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Jesus is implicitly, or some might say, explicitly, linking His sacraments and the Holy Spirit with God’s life giving spirit at Creation. Immediately after He breathes on them, He says, “Receive the Holy Spirit,” and any sins you forgive are forgiven, and any you retain are retained. Jesus transfers His divine power, the power to forgive sins, to His Apostles. Now, with the capacity to forgive sins, the Church has another restorative power to heal our spirits. Just as Adam was, originally before the Fall, a living spirit, a pure man in communion with God, so too now, we can be restored as living spirits through our Redeemer. We pass from death into life as new creations. God again breathes into man and reanimates us. Through grace in the sacraments He not only brings us to life, but also, sustains that life with His on-going and unlimited forgiveness found in the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

One of the most poignant stories in all of scripture is Jesus’ parable of the prodigal son. It is so poignant and moving because Jesus gives us a glimpse in detail of the immense and unconditional love God has for us. In the parable, a son takes his inheritance early from his father, goes off to a distant land, and spends it all on “dissolute living.” After he had nothing left and was dying from hunger, he finally comes to his senses. He decides to repent of his sins and go back to his father’s house. As the son says, “I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you.” (Lk.15:18) As the son is penitent and returning to his father’s house, we see the great mercy of the father: “But while he was still far off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion; he ran and put his arms around him and kissed him.” (Lk.15:20) Even as the son was “still far off,” the father hurriedly went out to embrace him. And Jesus shows how great is the mercy of the father, who is superabundantly generous to the son. He says: “But the father said to his slaves, ‘Quickly, bring out a robe—the best one—and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet.  And get the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; for this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!’ And they began to celebrate.” (Lk. 15:23-24) Jesus’ parable of the prodigal son is rich in the underlying truths of forgiveness and divine mercy. In the parable, we are the prodigal son, and God is the father. We, through Original Sin and committing sins during our lives, have lived lives unworthy of God, and consequently, squandered our inheritance, that is, eternal life. We were dead in our sins; outside of the Father’s house. Yet, when we recognize our own destitution and repent of our sins, God notices this, even while we are still struggling with sin “far off.” As soon as we repent and turn back to God, the Father embraces us immediately. As the son did, we must admit and confess our sins to Him with heartfelt sincerity. We should confess to God as he did, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you.” Then, look at the response of God to our repentance and confession. God immediately welcomes us back into His divine friendship and adorns us with grace. This is represented in clothing the son with his best robe, putting a ring on his finger, and sandals on his feet. God immediately calls for a celebration. He orders the fatted calf to be killed so they can have a great feast. Jesus gives us a revelation.  He reveals God’s reaction to our repentance: He is ecstatic. Jesus mentions this in similar parables, on finding the lost coin and finding the lost sheep, that there is so much “joy in heaven,” even over one sinner who repents. (Lk. 15:7) We were dead in our sins, but when we repent, are made “alive again.” The prodigal son parable shows the compassion and forgiveness God offers us. It reveals the superabundant grace God waits to lavish upon us, if we but turn back to Him.

The Christian life is one of constantly turning away from sin and back towards God. The bible uses the Greek word “metanoia” [μετάνοια], or “a turning away” from one’s sins. We are called to a constant state of conversion. In Pope John Paul II’s encyclical, Dives in Misericordia, “Rich in Mercy,” he describes how when we come to see God’s tender mercy, we “can live only in a state of being continually converted to Him.” (DM, 13) This should be our “permanent attitude” and “state of mind.” Our consciousness becomes increasingly branded by our offenses against God, and this should lead us to repent. In the analogy of the prodigal son story, the son says to the father “I am no longer worthy to be called your son.” (Lk.15:19). As Pope John Paul II points out in the encyclical, we begin to realize our lost dignity in the severing of our relationship with the Father. He writes, “at the center of the prodigal son’s consciousness, the sense of lost dignity is emerging, the sense of that dignity that springs from the relationship of the son with the father.” (DM, 5) So too, should our consciousness reflect that deep connection between our sinfulness and lost dignity. Our sins sever us from our relationship with the Father, and we lose that inherent dignity as children of God. In the same way, turning away from sin, repenting, restores our dignity as sons and daughters of God. Jesus Himself preached this saying, “the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.” (Mk.1:15) Jesus calls us to an interior conversion of the heart; a contrite heart moved to penance and renewal, in order to be reconciled to God. (CCC 1428) So that, in this way, we can “be holy and without blemish” (Eph. 5:27), and “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Mt.5:48)

But, how do we do this? The most effective, secure and efficacious way is to receive absolution in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. In the sacrament, we know that Jesus is truly present. We know it is an act that embodies our conversion, penance, confession, forgiveness and reconciliation. (CCC 1423-1424) These are Jesus’ requirements to regain eternal life. In Reconciliation, we receive sacramental grace with the absolute assurance of the forgiveness of our sins. In the Gospels, Jesus gives Peter and the Apostles the “keys of the kingdom” and the power to “bind and loose.” Jesus said to them, “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” (Mt.16:19) As such, the Church has the authority directly from Christ to forgive sins. It is Christ, under the guise of the priest, there in the confessional who forgives our sins. How much better is life if we maintain that intimate friendship with God by regularly turning away from sin and turning towards God in the Sacrament of Reconciliation? Here, we find divine mercy. We are like the paralytic who Jesus healed, and whose sins He forgave. “He personally addresses every sinner: ‘My son, your sins are forgiven.’” (CCC 1484; Mk.2:5) What a wonderful assurance!

The Second Transubstantiation, One in the Eucharist – 25 September 2015

“The Eucharist is “the source and summit of the Christian life.” (CCC 1324)

The idea of living the sacramental life is to order all that we do and all that we are, by way of our intentions and invocations, to be one with Jesus Christ. We can live in union with Jesus in our most ordinary of circumstances each day. Yet, both the foundation and the pinnacle of the sacramental life are found in the sacraments themselves. As per the Catechism, “The sacraments are efficacious signs of grace, instituted by Christ and entrusted to the Church, by which divine life is dispensed to us.” (CCC 1131) They are efficacious, or produce the intended effect in our souls, in order to sanctify us. The sacraments are the source and continuation of the divine life of Jesus Christ for the world. Indeed, the whole liturgical life of the Church revolves around the seven sacraments. These are, of course: Baptism, Confirmation, Eucharist, Penance, Anointing of the Sick, Holy Orders, and Matrimony. Christ did not leave us orphaned when He left this world. (Jn.14:18) Rather, Jesus said, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Mt.28:20) When Jesus founded His Church, the Catholic Church, He intended to continue on living amongst us through the grace of His sacraments and the power of the Holy Spirit. Christ does act directly through His Church via the sacraments. Jesus’ real presence endures. He is with us always.

These sacramental celebrations are, in fact, rituals instituted by Christ that are woven together with signs and symbols (CCC 1145) that “make present efficaciously the grace that they signify.” (CCC 1084) They are outward signs, a visible activity, which reveals the invisible reality. St. Augustine described them as “an outward and visible sign of an inward and invisible grace.” The washing by water in Baptism is the sign of the true reality of God’s spirit washing away our sin. However, these are not just symbols or symbolic, but rather, “real symbols,” which truly are what they represent. They are efficacious symbols that reveal a hidden reality. The water, as symbol, infused with sacramental grace does truly sanctify us in reality, albeit a hidden reality. It does what it symbolizes. In them, we proceed from the visible to the invisible and from the sign to the thing signified. Sign and reality are one. Initiation into the sacraments is to initiate us into the mystery of Christ (“mystagogy”). (CCC 1075) For the early Christians, the faith wasn’t simply going to Church on Sunday, it was an all-encompassing faith, sacrament-alizing their lives, living in communion with God and with each other. The sacraments lead us to Christ, drawing us ever deeper into His mystagogy. They draw their power from Christ Himself. For Christ Himself is the ultimate sacrament of God-made-present, just as the Church too, as the Mystical Body of Christ, is the efficacious sign, or sacrament, of Christ in the world.

Since Christ Himself is the supreme sacrament, the fountain of grace, we can approach Him directly to dispense His grace upon us. We can unite ourselves with Him in our daily activities to sacramentalize our ordinary lives. This is the sacramental life. Yet, we also know Christ established His sacraments through the Church as the divine avenues by which grace is issued upon us. Specifically, He established in the Church the seven sacraments for initiation, healing, personal commitment, and to impress an indelible character on our souls. The seven sacraments of the Church are the way. They are the path of salvation and holiness.  They draw us ever deeper into the mystagogy of Christ. The blood and water that issued forth from the side of Christ on the Cross, flows to us today as His grace and mercy in the sacraments. They bring forth the real presence of Christ to us and help conform us to His image. With those ideas in mind – His real presence and the transformation of us into His image – the sacrament par excellence is the Eucharist. The sacraments and the whole liturgical life of the Church are contained and oriented towards the Eucharist. For, the Eucharist contains the real presence of Jesus Christ, body and blood, soul and divinity, and ever transforms us into Himself. As the Catechism says, “For in the blessed Eucharist is contained the whole spiritual good of the Church, namely Christ Himself.” (CCC 1324)

The real presence of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist has been there from the beginning. The scriptures and Jesus Himself testify to this. After Jesus’ death and resurrection, two of His disciples were downcast walking on the road back to the town of Emmaus. Jesus approached them, “but their eyes were kept from recognizing Him.” (Lk. 24:16) He began to teach them about all the scriptures related to what would happen to the Messiah. Jesus was so compelling that the disciples’ “hearts were burning” within themselves, and they asked Him to stay longer with them. Then, the Gospel writer Luke captures so succinctly what happens next: “When He was at the table with them, He took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized Him; and He vanished from their sight.” (Lk.24:31) Jesus uses this post-resurrection appearance to teach them the importance of the Eucharist. They were unable to see Jesus until He consecrated and broke the bread. As the disciples later testified, “how He had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.” (Lk.24:35) 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 uses the same Eucharistic formula as at the Last Supper, when He instituted the Eucharist. At the Last Supper, “Jesus took a loaf of bread, and after blessing it He broke it, gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is My body.” (Mt.26:26) Jesus did not say this is a “symbol” of My body, rather, in no uncertain terms, “This is My body.” Jesus reinforced in Emmaus, what they initially called “the breaking of bread,” and what Jesus had instituted at the Last Supper, the Eucharistic sacrifice of His body and blood. Now, the disciples continued this going forward as the beginnings of the mass and Eucharist. As St.Paul says, “They devoted themselves… to the breaking of bread.” (Acts 2:42)

Of course, Jesus is the one who first spoke about Himself as “the bread of life.” (John 6:35) He goes into a long discourse, the Bread of Life discourse, which greatly offended and scandalized many of His followers and non-followers alike. Jesus continues, “the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” (Jn.6:51) It is interesting to note that John uses the Greek word “sarx” here to denote the word “flesh.” Sarx can only mean real flesh. Sarx is the same word John uses at the beginning of his Gospel in regard to the Incarnation when he states “The Word became flesh.” (Jn.1:14) Thus, he links the Eucharist with the Incarnation. In the synoptic Gospels and the Pauline epistles, in regard to the Eucharistic formulation, they use the word soma, which means “body.” But here, in the Bread of Life discourse, John specifically uses the word sarx six times! As Jesus emphasizes, “for My flesh is true food and My blood is true drink.” (Jn. 6:55) Not just an idea or mere symbol. The Eucharist is a Real Symbol. It is what it signifies. Yet, the disciples and the Jews were scandalized by this “hard saying.” Nonetheless, Jesus does not back off, but more forcefully emphasizes the point. He says: “Very truly, I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you. Those who eat My flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day;” (Jn. 6:53-54) The word John uses for “to eat” is the Greek word “trogein,” which literally means “to gnaw.” He’s emphasizing that you gnaw on real meat, not a symbol or an idea. Not surprisingly, many of Jesus’ disciples and non-disciples alike were aghast at this; believing He was speaking about some sort of cannibalism. Jesus, of course, knew this, and so, He asks them, and by way of extension, He asks us, “Does this shock you?” (Jn. 6:61) We know it was too much for many to bear, because as John records, many of His disciples abandon Him at this point. (Jn.6:66) * After they abandon Him, Jesus reassures His skeptical Apostles. He tells them, “The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life.” (Jn.6:63) Or, in other words, Jesus is telling them not to understand this with their fleshy, materialistic minds; But rather, they should understand it by trusting in God’s supernatural power. This is not a cannibalistic ritual, but a heavenly sacrament. **

The Council of Trent in the 16th century reaffirmed the belief of the real presence in the Eucharist and spelled out in precise language the nature of the sacrament. The Council reaffirmed that by the consecration of the bread and wine, “there takes place a change of the whole substance of the bread into the substance of the body of Christ our Lord and of the whole substance of wine into the substance of His blood. This change the holy Catholic Church has fittingly and properly called transubstantiation.” (CCC 1376; Trent 1551) 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. He is our “medicine of immortality.” (St.Ignatius, 110 AD) Jesus loves us so much that He desires to be consumed by us; to merge with us, and merge us into Himself. As Jesus said, “Those who eat My flesh and drink My blood abide in Me, and I in them.” (Jn. 6:56) The real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist is not an end in itself. The purpose of the real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist is for us to consume Him and be in communion with Him. Receiving Jesus in Holy Communion is meant to bring us into intimate union with Christ. It deepens our relationship with Him. Just as material food nourishes our bodies, so Holy Communion nourishes our spiritual soul. (CCC 1392) You are what you eat. Holy Communion transforms us into the image of Jesus Christ.

Our personal salvation and transformation are not the only goals of Holy Communion. It also transforms us, as a whole community of faithful believers, the Church, into the Mystical Body of Christ. St.Paul wrote to the Corinthians, Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread.” (1Cor. 10:17) The Eucharist lifts us up into union with Christ, and unites us all as one in His Mystical Body. (Mysterium Fidei, 70) All who partake in the body and blood of Christ, “enter into communion with Him and form but one body in Him.” (CCC 1329) In the mass, after the priest invokes the Holy Spirit to transform the bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ, he again, invokes the Holy Spirit, a second time, that those who eat the body and blood of Christ may be “one body, one Spirit in Christ.” This is in reality the second transubstantiation; the transformation 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) Just as the Holy Spirit transforms the bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ, so does He transform us into the Mystical Body of Christ. The Eucharist unites us together mystically in Him.

Moreover, the members of the Church come together to offer “praise, sufferings, prayer, and work” in union with the sacrifice of Christ. (CCC 1368) We, the Body and by virtue of our priesthood, unite all that we are and do, with the offering of the Head, the one and eternal Priest and Mediator, Jesus Christ, in His passion and death. Body and Head united, we offer our sacrifice together to the Father in the Eucharist and the sacred liturgy of the mass for the intercession of all humanity and the salvation of our souls.  The Eucharist and the sacred liturgy of the mass draw us “day by day into ever more perfect union with God and with each other, so that finally God may be all in all.” (Sacrosanctum Concilium, 48) In the fifth century B.C. the Hebrew Prophet Malachi (מַלְאָכִי) prophesied a time when not only the Jews, God’s chosen people, would worship the one, true God, but all the Gentile nations around the world would too. People everywhere would not make bloody or burnt sacrifices, but rather, each day they will make a pure and acceptable offering to God’s holy name.  This has found its fulfillment in the Christian Eucharist and mass.  Jesus puts an end to the millennia-old ritualistic blood-letting.  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) 

*As an aside, it’s interesting to note that various early Roman pagans had spread false rumors about Christians that they participated in cannibalistic rituals. This was probably from their false understanding of the Eucharistic meal. As recorded by Roman pagan historians, this smear was used as one of the excuses to persecute the early Christian Church. Yet, it also lends extra-biblical credence to the idea that the first Christians believed in the real presence of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist.

**It’s also interesting to note that directly before Jesus’ Bread of Life Discourse in John 6, John related two other miracles. The first was Jesus’ multiplications of the loaves. This has obvious Eucharistic connotations. The next was Jesus walking on water on the Sea of Galilee. Both miracles reveal that matter, the elements and nature itself are subject to Jesus. In other words, just before Jesus discusses bread and wine becoming His flesh and blood, John demonstrates by these miracles, that material boundaries are no constraint upon Jesus.