Friday, August 8, 2014

On the Wrong Side of History?

Several months ago, a friend of mine posted a meme on Facebook. It compared segregationists in the 1960's to people today who want to maintain the traditional definition of marriage. The point of the meme was how, in 40 years time, such a view will look just as ridiculous, just as morally reprehensible, as that of segregationists. In effect, anyone continuing to agree with 2500 years of natural law (running from Plato and Aristotle up through Kant and MLK) or 3500 years of Judaeo-Christian belief, will find themselves “on the wrong side of history.”

Because my friend is a fellow Catholic my initial reaction was one of sadness:  Doesn’t she know that Christ’s definition of marriage would never seek to demean anyone? It was Christianity’s cultural influence that moved society to recognize the existence of human “rights” to begin with! Didn’t anyone explain the Church’s beautiful, intricate understanding of the human person, sexuality, marriage and children to her?

My reaction quickly turned from sadness to wanting to correct her point about how those holding Christianity's understanding of marriage will soon find themselves on the wrong side of history. The OT prophets announced, and Jesus and the apostles insisted, that God’s kingdom – God’s vision for human life and the ordering of our relationships – will ultimately be recognized by all. When Jesus returns, He will make it clear who has or hasn’t been on the wrong side of history.  But then I realized that my friend was…technically, absolutely correct. Scripture and Tradition agreed with her. All those who maintain that Christ and His Church have spoken the truth, not just about marriage, but a host of issues, will most assuredly find themselves on the wrong side of history.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church does a wonderful job of summarizing the teaching of Scripture on this point (italics added):
675   Before Christ's second coming the Church must pass through a final trial that will shake the faith of many believers (Lk. 18:8; Mt. 24:12). The persecution that accompanies her pilgrimage on earth (Lk. 21:12; Jn. 15:19-20) will unveil the "mystery of iniquity" in the form of a religious deception offering men an apparent solution to their problems at the price of apostasy from the truth. The supreme religious deception is that of the Antichrist, a pseudo-messianism by which man glorifies himself in place of God and of his Messiah come in the flesh (2 Tess. 2:4-12; 1 Thess. 5:2-3; 2 Jn. 7; 1 Jn. 2:18-22). 

676  The Antichrist's deception already begins to take shape in the world every time the claim is made to realize within history that messianic hope which can only be realized beyond history through the eschatological judgment. The Church has rejected even modified forms of this falsification of the kingdom to come under the name of millenarianism, especially the "intrinsically perverse" political form of a secular messianism (Pope Pius XI, Divini Redemptoris). 

677  The Church will enter the glory of the kingdom only through this final Passover, when she will follow her Lord in his death and Resurrection (Rev. 19:19). The kingdom will be fulfilled, then, not by a historic triumph of the Church through a progressive ascendancy, but only by God's victory over the final unleashing of evil, which will cause his Bride to come down from heaven (Rev. 13:9; 20:7-10; 21:2-4). God's triumph over the revolt of evil will take the form of the Last Judgment after the final cosmic upheaval of this passing world (Rev. 20:12; 2 Pet. 3:12-13).

Now, I am certainly not claiming “this is it,” and Jesus will return at any moment. Rather, I am writing to remind myself and others that, in the end, everyone who remains in the Faith will find themselves on the wrong side of history. We will look like fools to everyone around us. Our convictions will be mocked, we will be persecuted, and eventually a great number will be martyred. There will be no rapture to whisk us away to safety. No - to share in Christ’s resurrection demands that we first share His cross.

History, for Christians, has always been a roller coaster. Periods of triumph (think King St. Louis IX) are followed by periods of darkness (think French Revolution). And at the end of our earthly journey stands the cross.  That should not shock us though; we are walking the path of Christ himself. While the apostles were still basking in the glory of Jesus' transfiguration and the expulsion of a demon, he told them squarely, “The Son of man is to be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill him, and he will be raised on the third day.” (Mt. 17:22).

Recall Peter's reaction to Jesus' prediction of the Passion. "God forbid, Lord! This shall never happen to you." No one wants to suffer; we don't want it for ourselves, and we certainly don't want it for those we love. Jesus' words are as jarring to us as they were to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me; for you are not on the side of God, but of men” (Mt. 16:22-23).

Our salvation is to be caught up into the very life of Christ, his relationship with the Father. That also means that we share his relationship with the world:
If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it; and whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it...For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of man also be ashamed, when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels (Mk. 8:34-38). 

In the end, it's about love. "If you love me, keep my commands" (Jn. 14:15). We don't follow Christianity's moral claims out of a blind sense of duty, but because we love Christ and are convinced that the Faith he entrusted to his apostles is meant to bring us, to bring all of humanity, to fullness of life. To reject Christ's teachings out of a sense of shame is to reject him; and that robs the soul of eternal life.

A quote from J.R.R. Tolkien has been making its rounds on the internet, and it summarizes my thoughts well, "I am a Christian, and indeed a Roman Catholic, so that I do not expect ‘history’ to be anything but a ‘long defeat’— though it contains...some samples or glimpses of final victory" (Letters 255). 

So what are we to do, lock ourselves away in Catholic ghettos and await our inevitable defeat? Tolkien sure didn't think so. Neither did Jesus nor the millenia of saints who have followed Him. We are not meant to be paralyzed by the shadow of the cross. Instead we are to be a people animated by the deep joy of the world to come, a world already mysteriously present within us.  How is that possible? There is only one answer:  Communion - literally "union with" Christ Jesus.

Jesus' entire life was lived in the shadow of His cross, and yet that knowledge never impeded the joy He took in doing His Father's work, ministering to the people. Even when the cross was mere hours away it did not prevent him from realizing one of his most profound desires. "I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer...This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me...This cup is the new covenant in my blood" (Lk. 22:17-20).  He achieved union, Eucharistic Communion, with those for whom He would offer His life on the cross. 

The NT tells us that because of the joy set before Him - you and I, sharing Jesus' life with the Father, for eternity - Jesus endured the cross, disregarding its shame (Heb. 12:2).  Even in the midst of His horrific suffering upon the Cross, in His praying of Psalms 22, 31, and 69, Jesus looked ahead to the moment when, in the Eucharist, He would both celebrate his Resurrection and renew His union with the disciples. 

The Eucharist is where the Lord Jesus shares His life, stronger than death, with us. "Just as the living Father sent me and I live because of the Father, so the one who feeds on me will live because of me" (Jn. 6:57). A life of prayer, with the sacraments - especially the Eucharist - at the center, is how we can continually move forward, even in the shadow of the cross, with a solidity and peace that defies human explanation: 
[The LORD] leads me beside quiet waters, he refreshes my soul...Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I will fear no evil, for you are with me...You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies.You anoint my head with oil...and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever (Ps. 23:2-6).

Whether times are good or bad, whether enduring the cross or experience some small foretaste of the resurrection, we are called to love the Lord by obeying Him and witnessing to His Truth. C.S. Lewis provided a literary example that has always stuck with me:
In King Lear (III:VII) there is a man who is such a minor character that Shakespeare has not given him even a name: he is merely "First Servant." All the characters around him...have fine long-term plans. They think they know how the story is going to end, and they are quite wrong. The servant has no such delusions. He has no notion how the play is going to go. But he understands the present scene. He sees an abomination (the blinding of old Gloucester) taking place. He will not stand it. His sword is out and pointed at his master's breast in a moment: then Regan stabs him dead from behind. That is his whole part: eight lines all told. But if it were real life and not a play, that is the part it would be best to have acted. (The Joyful Christian, 70-71).

Yes, blessed will we be if the Master find us faithfully doing our work when He returns. Finding ourselves on the wrong side of history is one thing, but the wrong side of eternity quite another! I do not wish that upon Christianity's worst persecutors. Let us pray, offer our Eucharists, and work as hard as we can that they might come to know the all-surpassing love of Christ too..



Sunday, June 15, 2014

Why Do We Address God as "Father," Instead of "Mother"?


Well, because that is what Jesus did, and as Christians we don't have an independent relationship with God; we participate in Jesus' relationship.

Over the years I have heard a number of people object, "But Jesus only did that because of the patriarchal nature of ancient cultures" - the underlying assumption being that Jesus' word choice was culturally conditioned.   

The difficulty with that assumption is the freedom Jesus demonstrated throughout his ministry in breaking with the gender conventions of the time:  meeting with women privately, welcoming them to travel with him independent of their husbands, and his selection of women (unable to testify in courts of law at that point in history!) as the first witnesses to His resurrection.  His decision to name only males as apostles and address God with the masculine “Father” was not circumscribed by the outside culture.  In fact, priestesses and female deities existed throughout the Middle East as well as among the Greeks and Romans.  As the Word made flesh, Jesus’ revelation of God as Father was both free and deliberate. But why?


In Hebrew and Christian thought God is bigger than gender.  Both male and female are reflections of the Deity (Gen.1:27).  Scripture compares God to a mother (Is.49:15; Hos.11:3-4).  And yet, throughout the whole of Scripture, God is never addressed as “Mother.”  There is something about fatherhood that is more analogous than motherhood for describing God’s relationship to us.  Scripture does not come out and explain it, but I would suggest that male and female have been invested by God with an “iconic character.”  By this I mean that the differences we observe between male and female can give us insight into spiritual realities.


Think about the complementary roles the mother and father play in the conception of the child.  The father comes from the "outside," and the mother welcomes the father into herself.  The ovum produced by the mother awaits the father's sperm cell, and the union of the two produces the child’s body.  The child then grows within her mother, unable to see her father’s face until birth.   

God also plays a "Fatherly" role in every conception - coming from outside of all creation to breathe a spirit, an intellectual soul, into the child at the instant of his/her physical conception.  All of God’s actions come from “the outside” so to speak, and in this way are Fatherly.  The Church on the other hand – and the individual souls that make it up - is the  part of creation that has received God into itself and allowed him to bring forth new supernatural life.  In this analogy, whether biologically male or female, each human soul resembles the feminine.  This explains why Scripture refers to the Church as Christ’s Bride (Eph.5:22-23), and the Mother of the faithful (Rev.12:17).


As members of Christ's Body we approach God the Father through, with, and in Jesus.  In union with him we pray "Our Father, who art in heaven ..."

Question:  If we think about the "iconic character" attached to gender, might that yield an insight as to why the ministerial priesthood has been reserved to males?  If the priest is ordained to function "in the person of Christ" in ministering to the Lord's Bride, then doesn't the priest's masculinity function as a sacramental sign of Christ, the Divine Groom?

fatherhood and Fatherhood

I have been recalling how it felt when my first child arrived – ecstatic, scared, awed. Awed – that’s a good word. I was awed at the new life in my arms. Looking at him, how could anyone doubt that there was a God when they saw the beauty of this boy? I remember attending Mass a couple of Sundays afterward and, as the Eucharistic prayer began, just weeping in a loving awe at the realizations sweeping over me:


The first was in regard to Jesus: My little boy, the most important person in the world to me, was loved by Jesus. Jesus had stretched out His arms and let nails be driven through them for my child. I was grateful that Jesus had died for me, but now I felt an unspeakably deeper gratitude because He had laid down His Life for my child !


The second was in regard to God the Father: I know that theologians have explored why the Son became incarnate instead of one of the Other Persons of the Trinity. But what I saw, becoming a new dad, was that the Father's sending of His Son was an even greater act of Love for us than if the Father had come Himself. In sending His Son, the Father sent the One He Loves and cherishes even more than Himself ! And the Father sent Him, knowing how we would treat Him, knowing that we would torture and kill Him. Paul's words from Romans never penetrated me so deeply, "God proves His love for us in this: that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us."


There's fatherhood, and then there's Fatherhood. And I stand in awe.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

CATHOLIC ANSWERS - LIVE: Help Me Prepare!



Hey my friends, on Monday, June 9th, I will be visiting with the Catholic Answers - LIVE radio program about my new book, Through, With, and In Him

I've listened to the program for years and am a huge fan of their work. That said, I know that a LOT of people both listen and CALL IN WITH QUESTIONS.  I was hoping that you good folks might lend me a hand by: (1) Praying that the Lord gives me wisdom and allows the words to flow easily that afternoon; and (2) Putting yourself in a "Patrick Coffin state of mind" and posting some questions you think he or callers may ask regarding the book, their prayer lives, Jesus' prayer life, and/or Catholic devotions.

If you post a question in the comment section, it would be a real help; and I will do my best to have an answer up within 36 hours. My thanks in advance! 

                                                                        -Shane

Sunday, May 11, 2014

The Rosary & Our Mother Mary's Jewish Prayer Life

When I ponder what it means for Mary to be the mother of God incarnate, one of the most astounding aspects is to recognize the role she played in shaping Jesus’s human prayer. Yes, in the heights of His soul Jesus beheld the Father as clearly as the angels in heaven; but as a child, “He learns the formulas of prayer from his mother. . .He learns to pray in the words and rhythms of the prayer of his people” (CCC 2599).  When Jesus entrusted the Church to Mary at the Cross (Jn. 19:26-27; Rev. 12:17), He extended her motherhood to His entire Mystical Body. She became, in an utterly unique way (next to her Son of course), the Church’s great instructor in prayer. I think we see this most especially in the Rosary, and the way it mirrors the prayer times Mary and Jesus shared as devout Jews.

As faithful Jews, Jesus and Mary stopped three times each day to pray together.  They recited Israel’s creed, the Shema: “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God is one LORD; and you shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might. And these words which I command you this day shall be upon your heart. . .  .” (Deut. 6:4–9, 11:13–21; Num. 15:37–41). They also prayed the Eighteen Benedictions, a beautiful, comprehensive tapestry of praise and petition. And between those times of prayer, as Mary went about the business of the day, she pondered the words of the Torah and the Prophets that she had heard in the synagogue and discussed with Jesus and Joseph. Through her meditation the Holy Spirit planted the words of Scripture so deeply in Mary’s heart that they naturally permeated her spontaneous prayer (see 1 Sam. 2:1-8 and Lk. 1:46-55) Most importantly, Mary’s heart was fixed upon her Son’s every word and action, contemplating the divine condescension to which she was exposed on a daily basis and how the covenants with Abraham, Moses and David were all reaching their fulfillment in Jesus. Mary’s prayer, so intimately united to the prayer of her Son, is the most beautiful imaginable – and that is what the Holy Spirit wants to give us in the Rosary!

You see, in the New Covenant, the magnificent prayer of God’s people has been to new heights. Jesus commanded His disciples to pray the Our Father, a prayer whose seven petitions encapsulate all others – the Eighteen Benedictions included. And when it is prayed slowly, with the proper awe and love expressed in the words, “Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name,” it can encapsulate all blessing and thanksgiving as well. The early Church recognized this quite clearly (CCC 2767). The revelation of God’s oneness constantly confessed by the Jewish people in the Shema, has been completed by Jesus’s revelation of the Trinity and our confession of it in the Apostles’ and Nicene Creeds and our making of the Sign of the Cross (the Creed in miniature) each time we prayer. All of this, and more, is present when we pray the Rosary.

We also join in Mary’s contemplation of her Son – contemplating Him in the light of Scripture. We invoke her intercession, softly praying the words of Scripture (the Hail MaryLk. 1:28, 42-43), as we mediate upon the mysteries of her and Jesus’s lives, narrated in the gospels. As we think and rethink the evangelists’ inspired words the Holy Spirit blesses us with deeper understanding of their significance and calls us, as He did Mary, to ever more profound discipleship. We complete our meditation on each mystery with the Glory Be – even more Scripture (Lk. 2:14; Matt. 28:19; Rev. 1:8). It’s such an amazing reflection of our Lady’s own prayer life! Pope St. John Paul II called Mary’s meditation, “the ‘rosary’ which she recited uninterruptedly throughout her earthly life;” and he invited us to join her: “With the Rosary, the Christian people sits at the school of Mary and is led to contemplate the beauty on the face of Christ and to experience the depths of his love” (Rosarium Virginis Mariae, 11; 1). Is it any wonder that when our Blessed Mother has been sent to earth – such as at Lourdes and Fatima – she beseeches us to pray the Rosary? It is one of the most important ways she nourishes and instructs the children entrusted to her by Jesus, at the Cross. It is one of the main ways she cooperates with the Holy Spirit to mother the Body as she did our Head!
____________________

If you enjoyed the information shared in this post, you may also enjoy the book, Through, With, and  In Him: The Prayer Life of Jesus and How to Make It Our Own (Angelico Press, 2014), which explores these points in further detail.

Friday, April 18, 2014

DON'T FORGET - Divine Mercy Novena Starts Today!



For those unfamiliar with it, the Divine Mercy is a beautiful devotion consisting of several elements to unite our prayers with Jesus’ offering on the Cross.  One of those elements is a Novena (nine days of prayer) beginning today, Good Friday.  Here's a quick summary:  


On February 22, 1931, St. Faustina Kowalska, a Polish nun, saw an apparition of our Lord.  He was clothed in a white garment, one hand raised in blessing, and the other slightly parting the garment at his chest.  Two large rays, one red and the other pale, emanated from his heart.  The Lord directed her to, “Paint an image according to the pattern you see, with the signature, ‘Jesus, I trust in You.’  I desire that this image be venerated. . .throughout the world”[1]  When asked to explain the image, our Lord responded, “The two rays denote Blood and Water.  The pale ray stands for the Water which makes souls righteous.  The red ray stands for the Blood which is the life of souls. . .These two rays issued from the very depths of My tender mercy when My agonized Heart was opened by a lance on the Cross.”[2]

“Jesus, I trust in You.”  Trust, the absolute conviction that Jesus’ heart is filled with mercy for us, is a striking feature of the devotion.  Faustina reported the Lord saying, “The graces of my mercy are drawn by means of one vessel only, and that is – trust.  The more a soul trusts, the more it will receive. . . I am sad when souls ask for little, when they narrow their hearts.”[3]To implore God’s mercy, Jesus imparted a prayer to Faustina.  It has become known as the Chaplet of Divine Mercy:
First of all, you will say one Our Father and Hail Mary and the I Believe in God.  Then on the Our Father beads you will say the following words: “Eternal Father, I offer You the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of Your dearly beloved Son, Our Lord Jesus Christ, in atonement for our sins and those of the whole world.”  On the Hail Mary beads you will say the following words:  “For the sake of His sorrowful Passion have mercy on us and on the whole world.”  In conclusion, three times you will recite these words: “Holy God, Holy Might One, Holy Immortal One, have mercy on us and on the whole world.”[4]

The chaplet recalls the great truths that we are a priestly people (1 Peter 2:9) and that Jesus’ sacrifice is the most precious offering we can bring before the Father, the reason for all the grace that flows to us.  With this central truth in mind, we listen to the promise made to Faustina: “My daughter, encourage souls to say the chaplet which I have given to you.  It pleases Me to grant everything they ask of Me by saying the chaplet.  When hardened sinners say it, I will fill their souls with peace, and the hour of their death will be a happy one.”[5]


Jesus further instructed Faustina to immerse herself in prayer for his mercy from 3 to 4 p.m. daily  – the hour of his death:

Invoke [My mercy’s] omnipotence for the whole world, and particularly for poor sinners . . . it was the hour of grace for the whole world . . . try your best to make the stations of the Cross in this hour . . . and if you are not able . . . immerse yourself in prayer there where you happen to be, if only for a brief instant.[6]

Jesus also told Faustina that he wanted the Sunday following Easter to be a celebration of Divine Mercy.  He promised, “Whoever will go to confession and Holy Communion on that day will receive complete forgiveness of sin and punishment.”  In preparation, he requested that Faustina make a yearly novena, nine days of prayer to begin on Good Friday and finish on the Saturday before the feast“On each day you will bring to My Heart a different group of souls, and you will immerse them in this ocean of My mercy:”[7]

1.      All humanity, especially sinners

2.      Priests and religious

3.      Devout and faithful souls

4.      Non-Christians and atheists

5.      Christians not united to the Church

6.      The meek and humble, and children

7.      Those who glorify and love Jesus’ mercy

8.      Souls in purgatory

9.      Those who are lukewarm

Like the Solemn Intercessions of Good Friday, these intentions invite us to participate in Jesus’ intercession.


As a matter of private revelation the Church can never make the Divine Mercy Devotion incumbent upon her people.  I doubt anyone reading this however would dispute it as a singular way to enter into the intercession Jesus made through his Passion.  John Paul II was devoted to it.  In the year 2000 he invited the entire Church to turn anew to God’s mercy by establishing the Second Sunday of the Easter season as Divine Mercy Sunday and attaching a plenary indulgence to its celebration – but more on that later.



[1] Kowalska, Mary Faustina, Diary: Divine Mercy in My Soul, (Stockbridge, Massachusetts: Marians of the Immaculate Conception, 1996), p.24.
[2] Ibid, p.139.
[3] Ibid, p.561.
[4] Ibid, p.207-208.
[5] Ibid, p.547.
[6] Ibid, p.558
[7] Ibid, p.435.  The intentions for each of the nine days are discussed in detail on pp.436-442.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Judas' Greatest Sin Was NOT His Betrayal of Christ

Love receiving emails from Daily Gospel.  I have to share the commentary it paired with the reading from Matthew, focusing on Judas' betrayal.  St. Catherine of Siena (1347-1380 A.D.) recorded these words in her Dialogue, words she believed were spoken to her by God the Father:
Saint Catherine heard God say to her: This is the sin that is never forgiven, now or ever: the refusal, the scorning of my mercy. For this offends me more than all the other sins they have committed. So the despair of Judas displeased me more and was a greater insult to my Son than his betrayal had been. Therefore, such as these are reproved for this false judgment of considering their sin to be greater than my mercy... They are reproved also for their injustice in grieving more for their own plight than for having offended me. 
They are being unjust in this because they are not giving me what is mine, nor taking for themselves what belongs to them. It is their duty to offer love and bitter heartfelt contrition in my presence for the sins they have committed against me. But they have done the opposite. They have lavished such tender love on themselves and felt so sorry about the punishment they expect for their sins! So you see how unjust they are. They will be punished, therefore, on both accounts. They have scorned my mercy, so I turn them over to my justice.
Powerful words to keep in mind as we begin the Novena to Divine Mercy on Good Friday!

I remember hearing Archbishop Fulton Sheen contrast the actions of Judas and Peter.  Both betrayed the Lord.  Both wept for their sins.  But where Peter opened himself to God to receive mercy and forgiveness, Judas turned inward on himself and took his life in despair.  The great tragedy is that, had Judas turned to God as Peter did, we would know him as Saint Judas.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Rosary Mysteries for Holy Thursday

My admiration of the Rosary as a form of prayer is no secret. I use it on a daily basis. For most of the year I pray the Mysteries usually associated with a given day of the week (Joyful Mysteries on Monday & Saturday, Sorrowful on Tuesday & Friday, Glorious on Wednesday & Sunday, and Luminous on Thursday), but at special times of the year such as Christmas, Holy Week, and Easter, I like to use the Rosary to unpack and meditate upon these events more in depth. 

On my drive into work this morning I was thinking about the events of Holy Thursday and how we could use five decades of the Rosary to join Mary in uniting our hearts to Jesus’s on this night. I recommend stopping to read Scripture at the beginning of each Mystery and then softly praying the Hail Mary as you visualize and go over what you have read in your mind:

The Washing of the Apostles Feet – John 13:1-20
The Institution of the Eucharist – Luke 22:14-22
Jesus’s “High Priestly” Prayer – John 17:1-26
His prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane –  Mark 14:32-42
The arrival of Judas and Jesus’s arrest -  Luke 22:47-53

Monday, April 14, 2014

Help Matt Fradd Deal Porn a DEATH BLOW!

Matt Fradd is putting together a new monster website to combat pornography and set men and women free from addiction to it.  Please consider financially supporting this incredibly important apostolate!

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Making Pilgrimage - A Touch of Irony


This Sunday is Palm Sunday, the liturgical celebration of Jesus' final Passover pilgrimage to Jerusalem.  As the Torah commanded, He traveled to Jerusalem to celebrate Passover in the Spring, Pentecost or the Feast of Weeks fifty days later, and Tabernacles in the fall (Ex.23:14-17; 34:22-23).  Keeping the feasts allowed the Jewish people to not only relive Israel’s deliverance, the giving of the Law, and entrance into the Promised Land; but to look ahead to the time when the Messiah would usher in a period of unequaled freedom, faithfulness, and prosperity.  That reached a fever pitch when Jesus entered Jerusalem amidst the other pilgrims on Palm Sunday.  

Why make pilgrimage to Jerusalem?  Because of the Temple! It is impossible to overstate the Temple's importance in Judaism.  It was the only place on earth from which legitimate sacrifice, avodah, could be offered by Israel’s Levitical priests.  The synagogue and prayer in the home were never a substitute for the sacrificial worship of the Temple, but means for those living at a distance to unite themselves to it. Prayer in the synagogue took place facing the Temple, at the same time as the morning and evening sacrifice.  And although Jews recognized that the universe itself couldn’t contain God, His presence in their Temple was utterly unique.  It was “His House.”  Just look at the love and esteem Jesus showed for His "Father's House" throughout the gospels.

And all of these elements have of course been carried over into Christianity - pilgrimage, the centrality of sacrifice (Jesus' sacrifice, made present in the Eucharist), and even our church buildings as "God's House."

Now, in the title of this post I mentioned that there is an ironic aspect to making a pilgrimage.  I do not mean to discount the wonderful experience that pilgrimage can be - traveling to the places where the awesome events in salvation history took place and being able to pray there.  It simply strikes me that the most important pilgrimage we can make is the one we make down the road each Sunday morning to the local parish where Jesus, God Himself, is present in the tabernacle.  We visit God's House, where we enter into Jesus' Passover from earth to the Heaven in the Eucharistic celebration!  There are surely wonderful benefits to be gained in making a pilgrimage overseas, but it cannot objectively bring you into any more intimate contact with God than your mini-pilgrimage to Palm Sunday Mass in your local parish.  And that is something to celebrate!



Sunday, April 6, 2014

Praying the "Our Father" at Mass

Our Faith is so immensely deep that we will never stop unpacking it. At Mass, just today, I was struck by the placement of the Our Father within the Liturgy of the Eucharist:

The Our Father could be prayed at any point, but it is only after the Consecration, when Jesus is sacramentally and substantially present with us, that we pray "Our Father." Jesus is present to us in the Liturgy in several different ways - in the other members of the congregation, in the priest through Holy Orders, in the Word  proclaimed to us - but it is only after He becomes substantially present to us in the Eucharist that, together with Him, we say "Our Father." 

It takes my mind to two beautiful passages of Scripture. The first is from John's Gospel, when the Risen Christ sent Mary Magdalen to the Apostles with the message, "I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God" (Jn 20:17). And the second is from the pen of Paul, "Because you are his sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, “Abba, Father!" (Gal 4:6).

The majesty of pronoun "Our" in the Our Father derives from its inclusion of Christ Jesus!


Sunday, March 30, 2014

Jesus, the Creator of Mankind

Stworzenie Adama by Tadeusza Kowalskiego
I think that anyone who has attempted to read John's Gospel quickly realizes that he or she is in deep spiritual waters. Granted, it is the Word of God; but John's Gospel reads differently than many other parts of Scripture. We are dealing with an author who uses not only straight forward statements but often play on words and subtle illusion to communicate the truth about Christ.

In his prologue John asserts Jesus's divinity. "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God....And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us" (Jn 1:1,14). But he brings this same truth out in the subtle details he provides in his narrative too, showing Jesus to be the Creator the Jewish people read of in the Book of Genesis.

The first example can be seen in the Gospel for this Fourth Sunday of Lent, when Jesus healed the man born blind.  I'll begin my quotation with Jesus's words to the disciples:
"...While I am in the world, I am the light of the world."
When he had said this, he spat on the ground
and made clay with the saliva,
and smeared the clay on his eyes,
and said to him,
“Go wash in the Pool of Siloam” —which means Sent—.
So he went and washed, and came back able to see. (Jn 9:5-7)
Just as God, in the beginning, had said "Let there be light" (Gen 1:3), so Jesus came to bring light to the world. God formed Man from the dust of the ground (Gen 2:7); and here Jesus shows His divinity in the recreation of Man, making clay from the ground to restore the man's sight. (Washing in the pool is a wonderful image for how Christ recreates us and heals our spiritual blindness  in Baptism).

The second example that jumps to mind is when Jesus appeared to the Apostles on the night of the Resurrection:


Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I send you.” And 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; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” (Jn 20:21-23)

The same God who made the man he had formed from dust into a "living being" by "breath[ing] into his nostrils the breath of life" (Gen 2:7), was there that night recreating them as sons in the only begotten Son! 
Do you see what I mean about John's Gospel? It's all of these little nuances that make Scripture so incredibly deep, and why it merits a lifetime of study.