Saturday, November 28, 2015

Book Review: "Chiara Corbella Petrillo: A Witness to Hope"

Unusual - that is the word that keeps coming to mind for this book. It may not sound like a compliment, but I assure you that it is. I knew that Michael Lichens, Sophia Institute Press's new editor, had worked hard to bring this Italian bestseller to English audiences; and I now understand why. Chiara Corbella Petrillo: A Witness to Joy is unlike any account of redemptive suffering and God's superabundant grace that I have encountered. Like me, you may have read brief online accounts of Chiara's life: Chiara carried her first two pregnancies to term, knowing that both of her children had developmental abnormalities that would allow them to live only a short time outside her womb. She then welcomed a third, healthy child into the world; but she heroically postponed cancer treatment to do so, and she succumbed to the disease a year later, in 2012. This book is the definitive telling of her story - written at the request of Chiara's husband, Enrico (who provides the Foreword), by the couple that the Lord allowed to intimately share his and Chiara's journey.

This book is unusual because, despite the presence of suffering, it is - from start to finish - a love story. It communicates the young romance that blossomed into a deep, ever-abiding love between Chiara and Enrico - two young Catholics who had put Christ at the center of their lives. Against the backdrop of Assisi and Rome it tells the on-again, off-again, nature of their courtship - the honest struggle Chiara and Enrico faced to move past their own baggage and fears to make a mature commitment to one another on the day of their marriage. This is a couple who took seriously John Paul II's Theology of the Body, with each spouse manifesting Christ's love for the other in their mutual surrender to each other and the absolute joy and love with which they welcomed each of their three children. This book is a story of Divine love - of Christ the Bridegroom's love and the unfathomable mystery of finding union with Him upon the marriage bed of the Cross.

The authors make no attempt to paper over Chiara and Enrico's pain, or seek to soften it with platitudes. They relate Chiara's darkest night and that fleeting moment, a year before her death, when the pain became so intense that she questioned how God could exist if he allowed her to suffer like that. And yet, even in that dark moment, she and Enrico experienced a Presence, a Love, that transcended the excruciating pain. Their story is not well-wishing but testimony - the lived experience of two of our contemporaries: 
"The cross cannot be avoided; because of this, Jesus made it his. Standing before the cross is truly difficult. But you make it much more difficult by refusing it, [because] then he will compel you to take it up" (p. 61). 
"I quit wishing to understand, otherwise I could go crazy. And I am better. Now I am at peace; now I take whatever comes. He knows what he is doing, and up to now He has never disappointed. Later I shall understand" (p.122). 
"Thinking of Jesus' phrase, 'my yoke is sweet and my burden is light,' [Enrico] asked, 'Chiara, is this yoke, this cross, really sweet, as Jesus said?' And Chiara, smiling and turning her glance from the tabernacle to her husband, said in a weak voice, 'Yes, Enrico, it is very sweet'" (p. 152). 
"We are born and we shall never die" (p. 147).
This book is unusual in the way it stays with you. I have found myself thinking about the way I show my love for the members of my family and striving to make it more visible. I have been thinking about the day of my own death and the difficulties that may precede it; and I pray to be focused on the Beloved more than my pain. I think about Jesus, and the way that He loves us fragile, little creatures. Chiara Corbella Petrillo: A Witness to Joy is an unusual little book, highlighting the enormously unusual life we Christians are invited to live in the midst of the world.

My thanks to Charlotte J. Fasi for translating this work into English.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Book Review: "Word by Word" by Sarah Reinhard

What a fascinating concept for a book: Sarah Reinhard and her 41 contributors unpack the Hail Mary one word at a time, and the result is the perfect blending of personal testimony and Catholic theology.

"Lex orandi, lex credendi" - the Church believes as she prays. The Hail Mary is a theological gold mine and Reinhard and her contributors dazzled me with their ability to point out the sizeable theological nuggets hidden in plain sight. The first reflection, Fr. Patrick Toner's for the word "Hail," is a perfect example:
"To greet [Mary] is to acknowledge that she is present to us" (p.7).
"Hail" as a one word testimony to the Communion of Saints! This book had me hooked right there. It is the best kind of theology, that done on one's knees: prayer yields insight, and that insight launches one back into prayer.  I found it in reflections over even the most seemingly insignificant words of the Hail Mary. Listen to contributor Val J. Bianco:
Of is a preposition meaning "from." It can indicate ownership or position, neither of which has any meaning unless the word forms a bridge between two other words. Here, those words are Mother and God...Mary is of God in that she is from him, and in her fiat she completely belongs to him. Jesus, in turn, is of her in that his humanity springs from her. His genetic code, eyes, hair color, blood type, and smile are all of his mother, Mary.
Take that thought with you into today's praying of the Hail Mary; I guarantee that you will be the richer for it.

I was also drawn into this book by the personal connection each author felt to the Blessed Mother and the important role the Hail Mary played in their lives. Their witnesses allowed me to recognize what a small mental world I inhabit when praying the Hail Mary and to appreciate the many different notes it strikes in the souls of my brothers and sisters.

Word by Word: Slowing Down with the Hail Mary is an amazing tool to bring into your prayer life, especially as we enter Advent. With one reflection for each of the 42 words of the Hail Mary, I urge you to pick up a copy now; and let it enrich your approach to the great feasts that lie ahead: the Immaculate Conception, Our Lady of Guadalupe, Christmas, and the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Restoring Marriage Today

What is the most pressing need today? Sharing Christ's vision of marriage and the family. Here is an exciting opportunity for us to deepen our own understanding. Catholic Answers is offering a conference March 3-5, 2016, in San Diego. In addition to Catholic Answers' outstanding staff apologists such as Tim Staples, Trent Horn, and Jimmy Akin, we'll have the opportunity to hear from scholars the stature of Jennifer Roback Morse. For more information and to register, click here, or watch the trailer below.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

John Paull II on All Saints Day

In 1999, Pope John Paul II made a pastoral visit to my hometown of St. Louis, MO. I had just married a year and a half before, though, and was living in Illinois, a little west of Champaign-Urbana. I knew a couple of people in my new digs that were making the trip to St. Louis to see him, but I never made an attempt to get tickets to the large youth rally or Mass.

That’s where my buddy Pete, a high school campus minister in St. Louis, came in. Two days before the Pope’s arrival, Pete called to say that he had a few extra tickets to the youth rally and wanted to know if my wife and I could come back to help him chaperone his group. My heart skipped a beat!  One problem: my wife was taking classes at the time and absolutely could not miss on the day of the youth rally. She encouraged me to go nonetheless. I told Pete that I’d need to call him back.

We had moved to eastern Illinois, knowing no one; and the small town where we lived was incredibly unfriendly, so we hadn’t made any good friends. It didn’t feel right to leave my wife there without any support if something should go wrong.

I had seen the Pope once before, in a private audience (of 4,000 people) when I visited Rome, for the canonization of Rose Philippine Duchesne. I was fifteen at the time. In the eleven years between that audience and Peter's invitation, I had come to understand and love Christ's gift of the papacy in a much deeper way, and John Paull II in particular. I had read Archbishop Sheen's autobiography and could not agree more. Venerable Fulton J. Sheen died only a year into John Paul's papacy, but before doing so he wrote these prophetic words:
I believe that John Paul II will go down in history as one of the great Pontiffs of all times. As one looks over the history of Christendom, it seems that there is a crisis about every five hundred years. The first cycle of five hundred years was the fall of Rome, when God raised up the great Pontiff Gregory the Great....The second cycle of five hundred years brings us roughly to the years 1000, when there was the Eastern schism, but also the decline of holiness in the Church...Gregory VII, who was a Benedictine, was raised by God to heal the crisis....In the third cycle there was a breakup of Christian unity...The great Dominican Pontiff, Pius V, saved the Church by applying the reforms of the Council of Trent and by establishing missionary activity throughout the world. Now we are in the fourth cycle of five hundred years, with two world wars in twenty-one years, and the universal dread of nuclear incineration. This time God has given us John Paul II, who has drawn the attention of the world to himself as no human being has done in history. (Treasures in Clay, 244-5)
Sheen did not live to see John Paul II survive an assassin's bullet, set in motion the fall of Communism, traverse the world spreading the Gospel, articulate and proclaim his life-changing Theology of the Body, and a thousand and one other accomplishments - all by the grace of God. What Sheen did know was this:
Over a century ago, a Polish poet by the name of Slowacki wrote these prophetic lines: "God has made ready the throne for a Slav Pope/ He will sweep out the Churches and make them clean within,/ God shall be revealed, clear as day, in the created world." A polish woman who died in 1972 at the age of ninety-two knew Father Wojtyla as a young priest. Among her effects at death there was found in her prayer book this prophecy of Slowacki under which she had written the lines: "This Pope will be Karol." (Treasures in Clay, 246)
I can rarely recount that story without feeling the pressure of tears behind my eyes. (They are even there as I write them this morning.) I believed that God was at work in Karol Wojtyla, Pope John Paul II, and I had come to love him as my own dear brother, as my own father in faith (as Paul was to Timothy - 1 Tim. 1:2).

As I sat in my Illinois living room, thinking about making the trip to see John Paul II in St. Louis, the Lord let me feel the incredible love I bore this man. The reality of the Communion of Saints was impressed very deeply upon me, and I knew that going to St. Louis could not bring me any closer to that man, than the Holy Spirit had in that moment. Seeing John Paul II, even speaking with him face-to-face, could not increase that union. There was no need to go to St. Louis. No, I needed to stay where I was and be present to my wife. That was what I did, and I have never second-guessed the decision.

We here on earth - as well as those in heaven and those experiencing God's purifying love in purgatory - are joined together in Christ's one, great, Mystical Body. " Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it...If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together" (1 Cor. 12:26-7). Each of us is joined to Christ and, because of Him, simultaneously joined to one another.

I share this not to downplay the awesome experience of physically going to see or hear holy people such as John Paul II. My purpose is to draw attention to one of the tremendous realities encapsulated in today's feast, All Saints Day. Today we celebrate all of the brothers and sisters Christ's grace has raised up to the glory of heaven. Jesus has brought them with him into the "cloud" of God's glory (Ex. 24:16-18; Num. 9:15-23; Luke 1:35; Luke 9:30-35; Acts 1:9). And so, when we draw near to the Lord Jesus, we simultaneously draw near to His saints (Heb. 12:22-24).

Today is a day of feasting and inspiration! 
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. (Heb. 12:1-2)

Monday, August 3, 2015

Interspersing the Rosary with the Chaplet of Divine Mercy

When you intersperse your praying of the Rosary with the Chaplet of Divine Mercy you have the ingredients for powerful meditation and transformation. In the Rosary we, like the Apostles in the Upper Room, join Mary in meditating upon the life of her Son, in the light of Scripture (Acts 1:13-20). When we intersperse our meditation on the mysteries with a decade of the Chaplet we not only find our meditation led in exciting directions; but we join Mary at the foot of the Cross. We pray the Chaplet of Divine Mercy with her, joining ourselves to Christ's offering of His Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity - the same offering made present in the Eucharist - and intercede for the graces we have just meditated upon. I am sure you can see how this would be true while praying the Sorrowful Mysteries, but I have found it to be true of the other mysteries as well.

First, however, let me explain the mechanics of interspersing the Rosary with the Chaplet. I begin the Rosary as I always, with the Apostle's Creed, Our Father, three Hail Marys, and Glory Be. (Note how the first three prayers are also found at the beginning of the Chaplet, albeit in a different order.) I then pray a decade of the Rosary, followed by the Fatima Prayer:
O my Jesus, forgive us our sins. Save us from the fires of hell. Lead all souls to heaven, especially those in most need of thy mercy.
It is here that I interject a decade of the Chaplet:
On the Our Father bead: 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: For the sake of His sorrowful Passion have mercy on us and on the whole world.
I then pray the Our Father and begin my Rosary meditation for the next mystery. After meditating upon five mysteries in this manner, I conclude by praying the Hail Holy Queen and the triple recitation of the Trisagion (Holy God, Holy Mighty One, Holy Immortal One, have mercy on us and on the whole world).

What I found most exciting about combining these two beautiful devotions was the way the Chaplet colored my meditation on the Mysteries of the Rosary. Venerable Fulton J. Sheen said that our Lord's Cross cast its shadow backward over His entire life; and that is exactly what I have found. I offer the following three samples from the Luminous Mysteries:

The Wedding Feast of Cana
When Mary approached Jesus about the shortage of wine, He replied, “Woman, what does that have to do with us? My hour has not yet come” (Jn. 2:4). Our Lord then went ahead to grant His Mother's request, the first of His "signs" (Jn. 2:11). The remainder of John's Gospel makes clear that Jesus's "hour" refers to His Passion (for example, 16:2, 32; 17:1). Jesus's turning of water into wine was a sign that pointed ahead that hour - to His sacrificial passage from this world to the Father and the Messianic Age His passage inaugurated. 

Isaiah had prophesied that in the Messianic Age God would provide "a feast of rich food for all peoples, a banquet of aged wine - the best of meats and the finest of wines" (Is. 25:6). It was on the Cross that the Grape (Christ's Body) was crushed, and the new wine (His Blood) flowed; and it is in the Eucharist (the wedding feast of the Lamb, Rev. 19:7-9) that they are given to us as supernatural food and drink.

The Proclamation of the Kingdom
Walking beside the Sea of Galilee, Jesus called Peter, Andrew, John, and James to follow Him and become "fishers of men." "Immediately they left their nets and followed Him" (Mt. 4:20). Where were the four at Jesus's crucifixion, though? Only John had the courage to stand before the Lord's Cross (Jn. 19:26). I found myself praying for the grace of final perseverance.

The Transfiguration
There on the mountain the Apostles heard Moses and Elijah speak with Christ about His "exodus" (Lk. 9:31), His Passover from this world to the Father. The Apostles heard the Father's voice, "This is my Son, my Chosen" (Lk. 9:35). My mind was led to another mountain, the one scaled by Abraham and his "only son" Isaac (Gen. 22:2). Isaac climbed, carrying the wood of sacrifice on his shoulders. Abraham intuited that God would send a "lamb" to take the place of his son upon the altar (Gen. 22:8). It was a type of the Passover which, in turn, was a type of Christ's sacrifice and Eucharist.

Our Lord's Transfiguration foreshadowed His Resurrection. Before that moment of Transfiguration glory, though, Christ and the Apostles had to climb a mountain. There is no Resurrection without first experiencing the Cross. We must embrace the Cross, and we petition our Lord for the grace to do so.

By linking my Rosary meditation with the praying of the Chaplet, my meditation was led in unexpected directions. I haven't given up praying each separately nor am I advocating that anyone else should. I reaped positive fruit from praying the two in tandem, though, and I humbly submit that others may as well: They will not only share Mary's contemplation of Christ's life, in the light of His Cross, but unite themselves to Mary's intercessions at the foot of the Cross. "Eternal Father, I offer You the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of Your dearly beloved Son....For the sake of His sorrowful Passion..."

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Book Review - "Something Greater Is Here" by Kenneth J. Howell

Dr. Kenneth Howell's conversion story, Something Greater Is Here, is an absolute page-turner. (It arrived in the mail yesterday afternoon and, once I started reading, I couldn't go to bed before reaching the conclusion.)

You are undoubtedly familiar with Dr. Howell from his work with the Coming Home Network and Catholic Answers, as well as the courageous stand he took for academic freedom as an adjunct professor at the University of Illinois. Here, however, Dr. Howell recounts the many graces that readied him to serve God in this capacity. In a tightly-written narrative that feeds the mind and heart, Dr. Howell carefully leads readers through the penetrating series of questions - and their unexpected answers - that moved him to resign his position as a Presbyterian minister and seminary professor to seek the fullness of Christian life and faith (the "something greater") in Christ's Catholic Church.

Conversion stories typically focus upon a few key issues - e.g., Scripture and Tradition, the Papacy, the Eucharist. What stands out about Dr. Howell's story is the vast range of issues it allows him to explore with readers: the necessity of faith and reason; the Catholic Church's appreciation of scientific method; the absence of a biblical hermeneutic within the texts of Scripture (and subsequent need for Tradition); the sacrificial reality of the Eucharist and Christ's substantial presence therein; apostolic succession and the ordained priesthood; the ongoing nature of justification; the papacy; and redemptive suffering.

Hans Urs Von Balthasar said that theology is best done on one's knees, best done in prayer. It is an apt description of Dr. Howell's journey. He is a man of true spiritual depth, a quality arrived at through decades of sharing Christ's prayer in Gethsemane. I was completely unaware that his wife's conversion to Catholicism came years after his own; that they cared for their oldest child through a protracted illness; or that in 1995, while teaching a course at Indiana University, Dr. Howell was shot (and the shooter never apprehended). I consider the peace that permeates Dr. Howell's writing a proof of the power of Christ, crucified and risen; it should instill hope in each of us.

In times like ours, when relativism is the creed of the majority, and persecution seems perched on the horizon, Dr. Kenneth Howell reminds us that Something Greater Is Here - Christ in the midst of His Church - and that the powers of hell cannot prevail against them.

Friday, July 3, 2015

Doubting Thomas & Me

Today the Church celebrates the Feast of St. Thomas the Apostle. I've always felt a kinship with Thomas because of his incredulity at the news of Christ's Resurrection, and I went through my own period of intense doubt regarding Christ's claims. I shared my conversion at greater length in the God Who is Love and at the Why I'm Catholic site, but with today's feast, I have to share at least a snippet. (Hard to comprehend that the moment described below happened 29 years ago.)

...A few days later I passed by the kitchen and spied my dad sitting at the table working on a project. I decided to put him on the hot-seat one more time, "Dad, tell me again why you believe in Jesus." He didn't tell me to have faith, and he didn't reach for the Bible; instead he looked into my eyes and said, "Shane, Jesus loves you so much that He weeps for you. He wants you, but you won't come to Him." And then... 
I saw Him. 
In my mind's eye I saw Jesus sitting, His head pressed into His hands and His shoulders convulsing as He wept for me. 

It happened in an instant, a "flash" in my mind's eye. It wasn't the kind of evidence I had been searching for – objective, verifiable, free from emotion(1) – and yet it was personally undeniable. Over twenty years have passed since that day, and I'm still feeling the reverberations. I didn't know quite how to explain it to others until I came across this description years later from Caryll Houselander, a Catholic mystic: 
What do I mean by saying that I "saw"? Frankly, in the ordinary way I did not see anything at all; at least I did not see...with my eyes. I saw...with my a way that is unforgettable, though in fact it was something suddenly known, rather than seen. But it was known not as one knows something through learning about it, but simply by seeing it..."alive" and "unforgettable."(2) 
And what did I know in that moment? I knew that Jesus of Nazareth was alive, bodily and spiritually alive, and that He loved me with everything in Him. I knew that He was God the Father's outstretched hand to me, the Truth I had been seeking. I burst into tears right there at the kitchen table – tears of remorse for doubting, tears of gratitude for what I'd been shown. I can't tell you how my dad reacted to my tears or anything else he said to me that afternoon. I know that I really talked to Jesus though - for the first time in a long time. 

In the years since, I've come to feel a kinship with the "doubting" Apostle, Thomas. Appearing to him after the resurrection, Jesus said: "[Thomas] put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side; do not be faithless, but believing." Thomas answered him, "My Lord and my God!" (John 20:27-28). In the end, I've realized that it wasn't so much me seeking Jesus, as it was His seeking me. I will eternally thank Him for allowing me my "crisis of faith" because it brought me to my senses, woke me to the reality of being loved by the Living God. How about you, are you awake yet? 
(1) In time, I encountered fantastic, objective reasons to believe in God's existence. I refer you to The God Who is Love: Explaining Christianity From Its Center, Appendix I. Reasons for giving Jesus' claims a fair hearing are explored in Appendix II. 
(2) Found in Patricia Treece's Apparitions of Modern Saints (Ann Arbor, MI: Servant Publications, 2001), p.35.

If you are more of an audio-visual person, here is a video of my testimony, (I'd advance to 2 minutes.) And wow - look at that awesomely weird expression on my face!

Sunday, June 21, 2015

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 ..."
This post was adapted from Through, With, and In Him: The Prayer Life of Jesus and How to Make It Our Own.

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?

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Book Review: "The Seven Deadly Sins" by Dr. Kevin Vost

I was so incredibly honored to write the Foreword to this amazing new book by Dr. Vost. I share a portion of it here as my review of this fine work:

Proverbs 27:17 tells us, “Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another.” Let me assure you: men do not come any sharper than Dr. Kevin Vost. Kevin has so fully assimilated the thought of St. Thomas Aquinas and his massive Summa Theologica, that he is able to articulate it in the words of today’s man and woman in the pew. 

That you have opened Dr. Vost's The Seven Deadly Sins: A Thomistic Guide to Vanquishing Vice and Sin means that you recognize the destructive power of sin, want to understand its insidious nature, and begin the serious work of beating back its power in your life. The Seven Deadly Sins will help you do precisely that. Not only does this book present you with the insights of St. Thomas, who seemed to have synthesized the thought of all the great philosophers and theologians who preceded him; but it unites them with Kevin’s own insights as a doctor of psychology. Most importantly, however, it takes the New Testament’s claims seriously –that all growth in virtue is the result of Christ’s grace, and that we must do all in our power to cooperate with that grace (Phil. 2:12-13).

By the time you finish this book you will have set out anew on the path to Heaven. Your gaze will be sharper, your ability to evaluate the spiritual terrain more pronounced; and as a result, your steps will be more deliberate. You will have been led through a penetrating examination of conscience, given practical steps to squash vice and cultivate virtue, and directed to the powerful channels of grace Christ entrusted to the Church. And I have no doubt that, like me, you will recognize Dr. Kevin Vost as one of today’s most gifted communicators of the Church’s divine and timeless wisdom.

Book Review: "Demons, Deliverance, and Discernment" by Fr. Mike Driscoll

When Catholic Answers Press tackles a topic, I have come to expect a well-researched, well-balanced presentations. Father Mike Driscoll's Demons, Deliverance, and Discernment: Separating Fact from Fiction About the Spiritual World did not disappoint in this regard and is a nice addition to Catholic Answers' list of titles. 

Although not expressly stated in the title, Fr. Driscoll's book is focused on exorcism. Something that immediately caught my attention was that, unlike other recent books on the topic (Fr. Gabriele Amorth's An Exorcist Tells His Story and  Interview with an Exorcist, and Fr. Thomas Euteneuer's Exorcism and the Church Militant), Fr. Driscoll is not himself an exorcist. Rather, he is a hospital chaplain with a doctorate in counseling, who wrote his doctoral disseration on the ways Catholic exorcists distinguish between demonic possession and mental disorders. (Neat twist, eh?) In the course of writing his dissertation he performed a great deal of historical research into the ministry of exorcism throughout Church history as well as interviewed a number of exorcists. Bottom line: I feel like he gives a fact-based, level-headed assessment of an often overly-sensationalized topic.

Father Driscoll believes, with the New Testament and the Church, that demons are real and that possessions do occur. He leads the reader through the New Testament data, pointing out how both the writers of Scripture and subsequent Church authorities clearly distinguish between possession and mental illness. He also points out how Scripture shows cases where possession and illness are co-morbid conditions. Father speculates that demons - bullies that they are - sometimes assault those already weakened in some way.

What I found most fascinating was the actual Rite of Exorcism. I did not realize that most exorcists used the rite established in 1614, nor did I know that the rite identified three signs that exorcists should look for to accurately diagnose a case of possession. (Fr. Driscoll points out how these three signs - speaking a foreign language, knowledge of hidden events, and displays of power beyond the subject's age and natural condition - completely rule out mistaking possession with a mental disorder.) I was surprised at how straight-forward the rite is. It was also quite interesting to read that, even though the rite gives exorcists latitude in certain places, those exorcists who follow the rite more rigidly actually report both a higher success rate (100% when the afflicted cooperate with the process) and a smaller number of sessions (twelve) needed to expel demons than exorcists who take a "wider approach." 

In his final chapter Fr. Driscoll discussed good and bad spiritual habits, with the reminder that having a solid
 spiritual life (the Sacraments, regular prayer, Scripture, sacramentals) is the best way to protect oneself from the enemy. He also included two helpful appendices: Prayers for Protection Against Demons (which is quite thorough) and Advice for Pastors and Ministers (with important cautions and a few creative suggestions for making exorcism better understood).

The only part of the book that left me uncomfortable was the chapter dealing with deliverance ministries, titled "Deliverance" Drama. "Deliverance" in this context refers to the work of helping those who suffer from lower-level demonic attacks such as temptation, opposition, and bondage/influence. The Church reserves the work of exorcism to priests appointed by their bishop, but has no such restriction, or even officially-stated position, regarding praying for, or with, someone for release from such lower-level attacks. In large part, deliverance is heard of in connection with priests and lay people involved with the charismatic renewal movement, a movement that has received numerous endorsements from our recent popes but spoken of, at least in my opinion, in a rather negative and dismissive tone by Fr. Driscoll. 

In the late 1960s, some Catholics began bringing Pentecostal spirituality into the Church. This started with students and instructors at Duquesne University who had been reading books written by Pentecostals, attending their prayer services, and inviting them to instruct Catholics in their spirituality. In addition to imitating the alleged extraordinary gifts of the Holy Spirit they learned of, some Catholics wished to drive out demons in the same dramatic fashion as their Pentecostal counterparts. (p.126)
I should point out that the Catechism acknowledges that God continues to impart spiritual gifts such as those seen in the charismatic renewal (see more here); but back to our discussion: Fr. Driscoll went on to discuss works produced by authors such as Fr. Michael Scanlan, T.O.R. (Deliverance From Evil Spirits) and John LaBriola (Onward Catholic Soldier), as well as several others with whom I was unfamiliar. In Mr. LaBriola's case, I know his book was endorsed by solid, orthodox Catholics such as Johnette Benkovic and Fr. Joseph Langford, co-founder of Blessed Mother Teresa's Missionaries of Charity Fathers (see right side of page). Fr. Driscoll quotes from the book written by Fr. Scanlan, and his co-author Randall Cirner, in the following passage:
Deliverance professionals tend to insist that their methods and only their methods, followed according to the specific steps, are safe and effective for delivering people from demons...Two such professionals explain that their deliverance method is superior because it is the most comprehensive, "Other approaches to deliverance tend to isolate on aspect of [our] approach. We do not believe that these approaches work as well as ones which integrate deliverance into a system of pastoral care...To isolate one stage is to risk a serious distortion or imbalance in gospel living" (Deliverance From Evil Spirits, 78).
I had Scanlan and Cirner's book on the shelf and, upon consultation, felt that Fr. Driscoll's quotation did not represent the original authors' overall intent. The "method" recommended by Scanlan and Cirner is meant to be wholistic, one that breaks free of an overly-narrow focus on the demonic. Allow me to quote directly from the authors:
While no two sessions are alike, an effective deliverance ministry should incorporate seven elements or stages. These stages do not have to be followed rigidly, one after another. But all stages should be present because all seven are important parts of the pastoral care for the person present for ministry...The goal is not to do a specific form of prayer or to employ any set of schema of word or actions, nor is it to mechanically implement a standard remedy for a problem diagnosed before the session...The model format for deliverance ministry will include the necessary elements. The seven stages are: (1) Preparation, (2) Introduction, (3) Listening, (4) Repentance, (5) Deliverance, (6) Healing-Blessing, and (7) Pastoral Guidance. (Deliverance From Evil Spirits, 80)
Anyway, that is my one criticism of the work. Let me end by saying that I think that Fr. Driscoll has crafted a solid, sane, well-balanced explanation of the phenomena of possession and exorcism; and I have no difficulty giving Demons, Deliverance, and Discernment: Separating Fact from Fiction About the Spiritual World my endorsement. (And as a bonus - it's one that you can read without being afraid to turn out the lights afterwards.)

Monday, June 15, 2015

Book Review: "The Drama of Salvation" by Jimmy Akin

I use the word "definitive" quite sparingly, but it is absolutely fitting when applied to Jimmy Akin's The Drama of Salvation: How God Rescues You From Your Sins and Brings You to Eternal Life (Catholic Answers Press, 2015).

I first learned of this book when, I kid you not, I had just finished footnoting Akin's The Salvation Controversy (2001) several times in a new book of my own. I considered it the clearest expression of Catholic soteriology to date, so I was incredibly curious to see how Akin had developed his presentation in the fourteen year interim. What I considered the core of The Salvation Controversy - Akin's Scriptural illustration of the past, present, and future aspects of justification, and his analysis Paul's statement that we are saved by faith apart from works of the law (Torah) - is here, but integrated into a much more comprehensive presentation of Catholic belief regarding how we are saved. The final portion of  the book consists of bonus material that, taken by itself, makes The Drama of Salvation a veritable source book of Catholic teaching on this subject:
  • The Council of Trent's Decree Concerning Justification (1547), the Church's most extensive, dogmatic treatment of the subject
  • The Letter of the Holy Office on Salvation Outside the Church (1949), correcting the controversial claims made by Fr. Leonard Feeney, S.J.
  • The Catechism of the Catholic Church's statements on Grace and Justification (1992)
  • Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification (1999) by the Catholic Church and the Lutheran World Federation
  • Dominus Iesus (2000), the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith's declaration on the centrality of Jesus Christ and His Church to human salvation
  • Two of Pope Benedict XVI's audiences (2008) treating St. Paul's teaching on justification

The bulk of the book, though, is Akin's clear, scriptural exposition of Catholic belief. I was impressed by how he consistently cut through differences in terminology between Catholicism and different streams of Protestant thought (especially Lutheranism) to reveal our areas of agreement. In his first chapter he lays out the plan of salvation as it appears in the pages of the New Testament: Repentance, Faith, Baptism (and if one should later fall into mortal sin, Confession). He then confirms the Catholic reading of Scripture with quotations from Church leaders of the late-first and early-second century. The second chapter shows, absolutely conclusively to my mind, that Christ and His Apostles taught that justification is a process with past, present, and future aspects. 

The next three chapters explain the difference between "temporal" and "eternal" salvation and the related matters of penance and indulgences. By beginning in Scripture, and then tracing the developments in the Church's offering of indulgences, a number of misconceptions are cleared away and objections answered.

The sixth chapter is perhaps my favorite. Akin gives the most insightful exposition of St. Paul's teaching on justification that I have ever read. He also leads the reader through a study of James 2:14-26. Akin exhaustively examines the role of faith and works in justification, and his analysis of Paul's use of the term "works of the Law" is top-notch. This chapter leaves no doubt that, while we are not justified through obedience to the Law of Moses, we Christians are bound to the Law of Christ (Gal. 6:2; 1 Cor. 9:21) - which we fulfill through the power of His Spirit at work within us.

Chapters seven and eight are commentaries on Trent's Decree Concerning Justification and the Catholic-Lutheran Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification, respectively. Even if you have already read both works, I wager that you will find Akin's survey illuminating. He finishes his exposition with a well-balanced chapter examining the possibility of salvation for those who do not come to an explicit faith in Christ.

As I said, this work is a monumental development of Akin's already-illuminating The Salvation Controversy. The only element not carried over was his contrasting of Catholic teaching and Calvinism's belief in T.U.L.I.P., the theological tenets of Total depravity, Unconditional election, Limited atonement, Irresistible grace, and the Perseverance of the saints. Given the much greater scope of The Drama of Salvation, I do not consider it a loss, especially when Akin has made the information available online.

This is an exciting work, one that puts gratitude in your heart for the amazing salvation that Christ offers. If your goal is to deepen your understanding of salvation and sharpen your ability to explain the Gospel to others, then The Drama of Salvation is the most comprehensive resource available. 

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Jesus, the Great "Amen"? (A Summation of Our Faith)

James Tissot, Le Pater Noster
In the Book of Revelation, Jesus described himself to the church in Laodicea as, "the Amen, the faithful and true witness" (Rev. 3:14). We use "Amen" at the end of our prayers - when being led in prayer by another to say, "I agree, so be it," or when praying by ourselves to say "let it be done." We might also use it to express agreement with what someone has said.

Jesus used the word "Amen" much differently, though - not at the end of his statements, but at the beginning. In our modern English translations we often find it rendered, "Truly, I say to you...," or when Jesus used a double-amen, "Truly, truly, I say to you..." There are fifty such occurrences in the four gospels, twenty five in the Gospel of John alone. (Fr. Felix Just, S.J., has a wonderful summary.) Fr. Roch Kereszty, O Cist., was the first to bring this to my attention, and I want to quote from him here:
...the "Amen" of Jesus has a "hidden prehistory;" it is the final act of a dialogue between the Father and Jesus. The word of Jesus is of divine authority because it comes from the Father. Yet the Father's divine word is Jesus' own, not that of an "Outsider" as in the case of a prophetic message. Here we have a first hint of Jesus' personal identity: his absolute authority is based on his absolute dependence on his Father. (Jesus Christ: Fundamentals of Christology, 110-11.)
Ultimately, Jesus' "Amen" is a revelation of the Trinity and of the mystery of the Incarnation. Jesus is the one Who, from all eternity, streams forth from the Father. All that the Father is, He gives; all that the Son is, He receives. As the Letter to the Hebrews tells us, Jesus is "the refulgence of [the Father's] glory, the very imprint of his being" (Heb. 1;3); or, as Colossians says, He is "the image of the invisible God" (Col. 1:15). When the Son became incarnate, He revealed the Father in and through His humanity. His words and actions were those of the divine Son, the perfect image, perfect Word, of the Father (Jn. 1:1; Mt. 11:27). Jesus is the Great Amen, the faithful witness to all that the Father is and does (Jn. 5:19; Rev. 3:14) - praise God!

Alright, now lets look at something St. Paul wrote to the Corinthians: "all the promises of God find their Yes in [Christ]. That is why we utter the Amen through him, to the glory of God" (2 Cor. 1:20).  What beauty - what an amazing summation of the Gospel:  Through grace, through our union with the Incarnate Son, we say "Amen" to all that the Father has said. We say "yes," "let it be so," to God's vision of man and woman, His vision of sexuality, of the family, of community, and of the world. Like Jesus, we receive all we are from the Father and offer ourselves completely back to him in loving gratitude. We live the Apostle Paul's call to offer our "bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God," recognizing that this is authentic "spiritual worship" (Rom. 12:1). In Christ, in His Eucharist, we reach the apex of prayer:
Through him, and with him, and in him, O God, almighty Father, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, all glory and honor is yours, forever and ever.  Amen.

Friday, June 12, 2015

The Sacred Heart - Source of Our Prayer

When we speak of Jesus’s prayer, it is legitimate to put “prayer” within quotation marks. (Benedict XVI did this in Volume I of his Jesus of Nazareth). It is done when we want to highlight the uniqueness of Jesus’ prayer. It was, after all, the human prayer of the Second Person of the Trinity. But even on the purely human level, the personal union of God and man in Christ allowed his prayer to be something impossible since humanity’s fall from grace – the loving conversation of a child with his Father, as opposed to simply a creature petitioning and offering homage to his or her Creator.

I think there is also a truth to be highlighted by coming prayer from the opposite direction too – to say that Jesus prayed, and you and I “pray” to the degree that we unite ourselves to His prayer. It is in Jesus, after all, that every human action  –  prayer included – reaches perfection. Only He can show us what it means to be fully human, and only He can teach us what it really means to pray.  And because prayer is an activity of the heart (CCC 2562), meditation upon Jesus’ Sacred Heart will open our eyes to the startling reality of what it means to pray as a Christian.

From eternity, God the Father and God the Son have been communicating Themselves to Each Other in the Person of the Holy Spirit. In a never ending, perfect rush of Love, Father and Son pour Themselves out to One Another. When the Son became a human being he continued to pour himself out to the Father, but that gift began to be “channeled” through a human heart – Jesus’ Sacred Heart. God the Son expressed His love and dependence upon the Father in human thoughts, displays of emotion, words, and actions.

Jesus assured the apostles that, “no one comes to the Father but by me.” We do not have independent relationships with God the Father; we participate in Jesus’ relationship with the Father! We believe that Jesus wants to perfect our words and actions in this world by making them extensions of His own (we are saved by grace), and that extends to our prayer lives.

Jesus desires to raise our prayer up into His own, and He does this through the Holy Spirit. What I am talking about is a Mystery of the first order. Listen to St. Paul:
… the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words. And he who searches the hearts of men knows what is the mind of the Spirit, for the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God” (Rom. 8:26-27)
That’s right – the Divine communication that takes place in eternity, the Divine communication that was channeled through the human heart of God the Son, is now (because of our union with Christ) occurring inside of you and me! The YOUCAT says it about as clearly and as beautifully as possible:
Basically prayer means that from the depths of my heart, God speaks to God. The Holy Spirit helps our spirit to pray. Hence we should say again and again, “Come, Holy Spirit, come and help me to pray.” (YOUCAT 496)
Yes Holy Spirit, flow from the Sacred Heart of our Savior to ours (Jn. 7:38), and fill us with his prayer to the Father.  

If you wish to begin uttering Jesus’ prayer right now, then pray the Our Father, for “God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba! Father!’” (Gal.4:6). As the Catechism teaches:
[This] prayer that comes to us from Jesus is truly unique... On the one hand, in the words of this prayer the only Son gives us the words the Father gave him [Jn.17:7]... On the other, as Word incarnate, he knows in his human heart the needs of his human brothers and sisters and reveals them to us: he is the model of our prayer (CCC 2765).
Jesus discloses and entrusts his Heart to us at Mass. He professes his love to us in the words of consecration and delivers himself – heart, soul, body, blood, soul, and divinity – into the arms of his beloved in Communion. The Mass makes present his sacrifice upon the Cross, “where prayer and the gift of self are but one” (CCC 2605), and it is our participation in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass that identifies us with his Heart – “This is my body…this is my blood…Do this” (CCC 1419).

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Mail from the Vatican!

Since Cardinal Ratzinger's writings figured so heavily in Through, With, and In Him, I sent a copy to both the Pope Emeritus and Pope Francis. It was pretty exciting to fish this out of the mailbox today:

Monday, June 8, 2015

Why has this blog been so dead?

Well, I have been writing; it's just that none of it has made it onto my blog. I recently finished a book manuscript for Angelico Press, tentatively titled The Letter to the Hebrews and the Seven Core Beliefs of Catholics. I am proud to say that it is the "sibling" of a new book by my good friend Kevin Vost, The Porch & The Cross: Ancient Stoic Wisdom for Modern Christians.  Each can be read on its own; but together they seek to show how revelation and philosophy, faith and reason, prepared the world - Jew and Gentile - for Christ's appearance. I am honored to say that both books have been graced with Forewords by Jared Zimmerer and Introductions by Dr. Kenneth Howell. They should be released prior to Advent 2015.

Here is a sneak peek at my study of Hebrews:

James Tissot, It Is Finished
A People PersecutedAuthorship and CanonicityThe Present Work

1. The Trinity (Hebrews, Chapters 1-3)
In the BeginningThe Son, Superior to All Created MediatorsAnother AdvocateThe Revelation of Divine Relationships Sons and Daughters in the Son

2. The Incarnation (Hebrews, Chapters 2-5)
Jesus, Fully HumanSubject to TrialsAchieving His Goal

3. The Word of God (Hebrews, Chapters 4-6)
The Word in ScriptureInspiration and InerrancyThe SeptuagintThe Deuterocanonicals, or Apocrypha Authoritative Oral TraditionsChristian Tradition Conveys God’s RevelationThe Fullness of Truth

4. Christ’s Priesthood, Our Salvation (Hebrews, Chapters 7-11)
The Earthly Temple Gives Way to the HeavenlyThe Day of AtonementA Priest in the Order of Melchizedek The New CovenantNo Longer Under the Torah – The Plan of Salvation

5. The Communion of Saints (Hebrews, Chapters 11-12)
Past Champions of FaithFrom Sheol to the Heavenly JerusalemParticipants in Jesus’s Heavenly Intercession The Purgative WayThe Reality of PurgatoryMary in the Communion of Saints

6. The Eucharist (Hebrews, Chapter 13)
Partners in the AltarThe Todah of the Risen OneChrist, Our Passover LambThe Apostolic WitnessThe Ministerial PriesthoodThe Liturgy of Eternity

7. The Authority of the Church’s Leaders (Hebrews, Chapter 13)
A Matter of RevelationThe Master of the PalaceThe Elders/PresbytersBishops and DeaconsSuccessors to the ApostlesInfallibility: Its Necessity and Limits


Appendix – Formation of the New Testament’s Canon

I've got to tell you how this project came about because it definitely wasn't planned:
I had started work on a book about devotion to the Immaculate Heart, when a friend at work came to me with a question about the Letter to the Hebrews. After we worked through his question, I shared with him that I had developed a five-part study of Hebrews over a decade ago, and had sometimes thought about revisiting it as a book project. He thought it was a great idea and, when he returned the next week with another question, remarked, "Man, I sure hope you write that book."  

I found myself thinking about that future book project as I laid in bed. I realized that I would want it to focus on seven elements instead of the original five. Hmm...was this something the Lord wanted me to pursue?

Two days later I received this email from Kevin Vost (who knew nothing of what I had been thinking):
There is a little mistake I'd like to share with you - but neither mine, nor yours! In your last email you mentioned St. Thomas, and I seem to recall your special interest in Hebrews. Well, when I ordered the beautiful Latin and English Commentaries on the Letters of Saint Paul, they "accidentally" sent me two copies of St. Thomas's Commentary on Hebrews and did not request it back. I supposed the other was for you, so I've been holding this to give to you if you don't already have a copy.
That sealed the deal for me. Instead of pursuing a book about devotion to the Immaculate Heart, it seemed like my focus should switch to Hebrews. When I shared my thoughts with Kevin, he had the wonderful idea of writing "twin tomes." And so, that is what I found myself doing for the past nine months (instead of regularly posting to my blog).

Friday, June 5, 2015

Book Review: "Filling Our Father's House" by Shaun McAfee

Shaun McAfee's Filling Our Father's House (Sophia Institute, 2015) is a gem of a book. At 100 pages, it is perfect for those perpetually on the go (as we all seem to be these days). The book is subtitled, What Converts Can Teach Us about Evangelization, and every page is filled with concrete, easily-executable suggestions for everything from developing your personal testimony to making our parishes places of true welcome. Out of Shauns' personal experience - both what was of value in leading him into the Catholic Church, as well as what could have been improved upon - he weaves a rich, multi-faceted plan for deepening our participation in Jesus's redemptive work.

Shaun understands that evangelization is far more than technique. It means bringing Christ to others - allowing them to experience Him, through us. Shaun is adament that the work of evangelizing others begins with continuing to evangelize ourselves; and he gives practical ways to do this by deepening our prayer, studying Scripture, and participating in small faith sharing groups. As I said, Shaun is concrete. He provides straight-forward steps, recommendations for further reading, and plenty of free, online resources to get you started immediately.

Chapters include:
1. Understanding the Need for Evangelization
2. Develop and Deliver Your Personal Testimony
3. Read the Bible Regularly
4. Deepen Your Personal Relationship with Jesus
5. Get Involved
6. Be Active In Your Parish

For where I am in my own life, Shaun's final chapter really spoke to me. His appendix, "Useful Tools and Resources," where he draws together all of the free, digital resources that he suggested in the course of the book, is a gold mine. This book would be a marvelous resource for a parish book club - or even better, a parish council - to read together. If followed, it can set tremendous change in motion.

Sunday, May 31, 2015


This is one of my favorite days of the liturgical year – the Feast of the Most Holy Trinity!  I couldn’t resist sharing a short excerpt from The God Who is Love: Explaining Christianity From Its Center Enjoy your Trinity Sunday!

The Triune God [1]

Throughout elementary, and then high school, everything religion teachers and ministers taught me about the Trinity could be summed up in two points: It is a mystery, impossible to completely understand; and the best image for it is the shamrock.

Tragically, a vast number of us never progress further. Why is that a tragedy? Because without the understanding of God as a Trinity of Persons, the heart of Christianity will always be elusive. Everything progresses, everything comes into sharper focus, with the realization that God is interiorly a relationship of unfathomable, reciprocal Love. To arrive at this, however, we will have to get a bit “abstract” first. 

Like Judaism and Islam, Christianity begins with the conviction that God is infinite;[2] His intellect and power are inexhaustible. Saying that such a Being “knows everything in the universe” is a given.  A person of faith can go further and say that God knows all possible worlds – even different realms of creation, such as the angelic. But again, for a Being of infinite intelligence - not that spectacular. To say something truly breath-taking about God’s intelligence, you would have to say…“He knows Himself, His infinite Self.”

Allow that statement to sink in. As persons, you and I have an idea of who we are – a picture in our mind of our appearance, a record of our past, and judgments as to strengths and weaknesses. We can flip on the television and hear what a high priority people place on “finding themselves,” discovering what they want out of life. I am sure you have found through experience, however, that our self-images are often in error.

If we acknowledge that God is perfect though, then the same has to be said for His idea of Himself. It would have to be a perfect reflection – and more: there would be nothing in the Thinker that was not also present in His thought of Himself. All of God’s attributes must be shared in by His idea: His infinite power, intelligence, will, divine life - even Personhood. Now I realize that is a lot to take in; I would recommend rereading the paragraph a few times before continuing. 

Alright, lets go one step farther now. Because God stands outside of space and time, He has no beginning. He did not develop, did not grow; He, and He alone, simply IS. There could never have been a time when He was without this knowledge of Himself. So we have God and this living Thought always dwelling within Him. I suggest taking another pause. 

Now, let me come at this from a different direction, the personalist: from eternity there is one divine Person coming forth from Another. One divine Person, a Son, being generated by Another, His Father. All that the Father is, He gives; all that the Son is He receives. The Son cannot be apart from the Father. The Son is the One Who eternally comes forth from Him. And this is what we find when we turn to the New Testament. There is a slight change in terminology though. When the Son entered the human race, He was not called the Father’s Idea, but His Word - exactly what we call an idea that has entered the world![3]
The Father’s sharing of Himself with the Son is mirrored in the Son’s return of love. As perfect Lovers, Each pours Himself out to the Other, holding nothing of Themselves back. Their love shares in Their very being; it is all that They are - infinitely powerful, filled with Their intelligence, will, life. Their Love, precisely because it is Theirs, is divinely alive, is Person – Their Holy Spirit.[4]
 “Three Persons in one God,” is the statement traditionally used by Christianity to define “Trinity.” We can see something of this three-in-one when we look at ourselves; for as Judaism first taught, humanity is made in the “image and likeness of God” (Genesis 1:27). Our existence could be said to image the Father; our thought within us, the Son; and our capacity to demonstrate love, proceeding as it does from both our existence and thought, the Spirit. I am an individual being and yet these three aspects coexist in me, flow out of one another, and complete one another. Take any one of these away and I cease to be me. I am but a pale reflection of the Triune God – infinite Existence, Knowledge, and Love intertwined, flowing to and from One Another.  

When the New Testament says, “God is Love,” (1 John 4:8) it is not describing one of His traits, but defining His very Being! The One God is an exchange of Love - The Father and Son giving themselves to Each Other in the Person of the Holy Spirit.


God the Creator

This brings us to a very interesting point: if God is so complete, then why did He create other beings? What can an angel or a human give Him that He does not already have, and to an infinite degree? Nothing, absolutely nothing; He could not have created us because of anything we could give Him. The only logical alternative is that He created to give to us, to allow us to share in the Love that He is! That kind of generosity is beyond our human power to express. No wonder we call the Trinity mystery!

Hebrew Scripture begins with God’s act of creation. Pregnant within those first pages is the later recognition of God’s Trinitarian nature: while “the Spirit of God was moving over the face of the waters,” God (the Father) spoke His Word,[5] “Let there be…” (Genesis 1:2-3). But perhaps the most pregnant words in the Old Testament are heard when God crowned His creation with man and woman:“Let us make man in our image, after our likeness”…So God created man in his own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female he created them. And God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply” (Genesis 1:26-28).
God, Who is a bond of Love, created us to live in His image as a bond of love! Man and woman reflect the very Oneness of God when they “become one flesh” (Gen.2:24). Their Oneness is so real, so complete, that oftentimes after nine months you have to give their love his or her own name![6] Man, woman, and child, living as a family, give us a glimpse of God’s inner life.

There is a second aspect of what it means to be created in God’s “image and likeness.” The phrase carries with it the revelation that we were created as God’s sons and daughters.[7] God’s act of creation is described as forming man from the clay of the earth and “breath[ing] into his nostrils the breath of life,” making man a “living being” (Gen.2:7). 

That “breath of life” is what we today call the soul, spirit, or heart. To bridge the gap between His transcendence and material creation, God created man and woman with an immaterial component. Like all animal life, we are equipped with strong instincts and drives (self-preservation, fight-or-flight, sex).  Unlike the rest of nature, however, we have been given a spiritual soul to integrate these drives and channel them so as to give ourselves in love in imitation of God’s Love. Where does the human soul receive that kind of strength? From God dwelling in it, filling it with His Own divine Life!

The first man and woman were created as God’s son and daughter, and as such bore a special likeness to God the Son. Like Him, we have received all we are from the Father and are blessed with the capacity to give ourselves back to Him. We can allow God to make a gift of Himself to us in the Person of the Spirit (Love), and then cooperate with the Spirit as He moves us in a return of love to the Father and a sharing of that love with our brothers and sisters. Man and woman shared in the Life, the Love, of the Trinity! It was that state that Scripture called Eden, Paradise – and rightly so.

[1] I owe a tremendous debt of gratitude for the thoughts shared here to Frank Sheed, Theology and Sanity (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1986); Gerald O’Collins, The Tripersonal God (New York: Paulist Press, 1984); and Scott Hahn, The Catholic Gospel (Audiocassette Series by St. Joseph Communications).
[2] To make such a claim for God is not really a matter of faith, but of reason. Appendix I illustrates how a fair-minded, scientific observer can conclude that our universe is the product of design, the work of a Creator. Logically, therefore, the Creator would have to exist both “before” and “outside” of it. His existence, intellect, and power would thus transcend the universe – be infinite.
[3] Consider the following passages: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (John 1:1). “In this, the final age, God has spoken to us through his Son…This Son is the reflection of the Father’s glory, the exact representation of the Father’s being” (Hebrews 1:2-3, NIV). In John’s Gospel we hear Jesus say, “He who has seen me has seen the Father…I am in the Father and the Father in me” (14:9-10). “The Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does” (John 5:19, NIV).
     This is also what we find in the Nicene Creed, professed by Christians for the past 1600 years: “We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God eternally begotten of the Father, God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, one in Being with the Father.
[4] In the New Testament the Spirit is spoken of as a distinct Person, but always proceeding from the Father and the Son: “exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, [Jesus] has poured out this which you see and hear” (Acts 2:33); The Apostle Paul and his companions were “forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia…they attempted to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them” (Acts 16:6-7); according to Paul it was God the Holy Spirit Who spoke in the Old Testament’s Psalm 95 , “Therefore, as the Holy Spirit says, ‘Today, when you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts’…” (Epistle to the Hebrews 3:7-8).
     This again, is what we see reflected in Christianity’s Nicene Creed: “We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life, who proceeds from the Father and the Son. With the Father and the Son he is worshiped and glorified. He has spoken through the prophets.”
[5]The New Testament will bear witness that Jesus, the Son, was the Word “through Whom [God] made the universe” (Heb.1:2). “In the beginning was the Word…Through him all things were made” (John 1:1,3); “He is the image of the invisible God…For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible” (Colossians 1:15-16).
[6] Hahn, Scott. First Comes Love: Finding Your Family in the Church and the Trinity (New York: Doubleday, 2000) p.46.
[7] Genesis makes this clear when, just a few chapters later it tells us, “When God created man, he made him in the likeness of God. Male and female he created them…When Adam had lived a hundred and thirty years, he became the father of a son in his likeness, after his image” (Gen.5:1,3).