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.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Daily Consecration - Christ's and Ours

In Psalm 40, the writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews heard Christ’s prayer at his incarnation. Our author tells us, “When Christ came into the world, he said, ‘Sacrifices and [sin] offerings you have not desired, but a body you have prepared for me … I have come to do your will, O God” (Heb.10:5-7; Ps.40:6-8).  He then explains the incredible benefit we derive from Christ’s prayer and his doing of the Father’s will, “By this ‘will,’ we have been consecrated through the offering of the Body of Jesus Christ once for all” (Heb.10:10).

Consecrated – made holy, set apart exclusively for the service of God. Our inspired author brings up consecration within the larger discussion of how Christ’s sacrifice fulfilled the sacrifices of the Old Covenant, under which both the priests (Ex.28:41; Lev.3:30) and offerings (Ex.13:2; Deut.15:19) were consecrated. Thus Jesus, both Priest and Offering of the New Covenant, is consecrated to the Father – as are we whom he unites to his offering! On the night before he died, Jesus prayed, “[Father,] for their sake I consecrate myself, that they also may be consecrated in truth,”  - that they may be set apart in offering to You, in me who is the truth (Jn.17:19).

Unlike the sacrificial offerings under the Old Covenant, however, you and I must cooperate with the Priest. St. Paul wrote of this, “present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship” (Rom.12:1). Even though we are in the world, we are no longer of it – we have been consecrated, set apart and joined to Christ’s self-immolation. “Bodies” for “spiritual worship” – it is no head trip; it must be lived in the flesh and bone of our day-to-day lives. So what steps can we take to become better at this?  Start each day with an Act of Consecration.

Here is a short, but thorough, Act of Consecration which the Apostleship of Prayer has been recommending to its members since the nineteenth century. (Note the affinity between the intentions ascribed to Jesus’ Heart here, and the intentions for which he prayed at the Last Supper [Jn.17:6-21; Lk.22:31-32].)

O Jesus, through the Immaculate Heart of Mary, I offer You my prayers, works, joys, and sufferings of this day in union with the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass throughout the world. I offer them for all the intentions of Your Sacred Heart: the salvation of souls, reparation for sin, and the reunion of all Christians.  I offer them for the intentions of our bishops and of all Apostles of Prayer, and in particular for those recommended by our Holy Father this month.

By beginning our day with an intentional act of consecration we ground ourselves and, whether or not we are cognizant of it in the busiest moments of the day, all our actions are converted into prayer. We join Christ’s sacrificial offering upon the Cross, “where prayer and the gift of self are but one” (CCC 2605). Jesus’ offering was perpetual (daily) – from the first instant of the Incarnation, throughout his days in Palestine, all the way to his Cross, Resurrection, and return to the Father in the Ascension; and ours is meant to be as well.  Our sister, St. Therese of Lisieux, even teaches us how to extend it into our sleep! “O my Beloved, I desire at every beat of my heart to renew this Oblation an infinite number of times.”

A daily act of consecration – yet another beautiful means the Holy Spirit has given the Church for making concrete the Good News we read of in Scripture.
If you enjoyed this post, you may also like the soon-to-be-released Through, With, & In Him: The Prayer Life of Jesus and How to Make It Our Own from Angelico Press.

Richest Man in the World

Now, I realize that I am not; but I feel like it.
Walking back to my seat after receiving Communion, I had one of those moments of clarity. "Lord Jesus, You are here. You are in me. You are greater than anything else I could ever want. In You, I have everything. You are the treasure I want for all eternity."

I am not the richest man in the world. Everyone who receives the Lord in Communion is equally as rich as me. That is staggering.  How can I, how can we, not marvel at this reality? "Oh God, Creator of all, Your love for us is beyond all comprehension."

Monday, March 24, 2014

Book Trailer for "Man Up!"

Alright, alright, alright - here is the book trailer to Jared Zimmerer's book due out in April, Man Up! Becoming the New Catholic Renaissance Man. The book is an all-star cast of male, Catholic writers (with me obviously being the huge exception) - Jared, Kevin Vost, Jesse Romero, Fr. Steve Grunow, Deacon Harold Burke-Sivers, Kevin Lowry, Dave DiNuzzo Sr., Douglas Bushman, Marlon De La Torre, Gerard-Marie Anthony, Jim Burnham, and Fr. Dwight Longenecker - not to mention endorsements from Fr. Robert Barron, Brandon Vogt, and Matt Fradd!

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Walking the Chaplet of Divine Mercy

Divine Mercy Chaplet made at
Today I am trapped inside by the frigid temps, but last weekend I was able to get out for a five mile walk; and with both spring and Lent just around the corner I wanted to suggest a method of prayer. 

Now, on a five mile walk there is plenty of time to pray the Rosary and Chaplet of Divine Mercy - and the latter, multiple times.  I often find it hard to focus during the Chaplet, but last weekend I found two different ways of praying it that, combined with the physicality of walking, held my attention. 

Each of the fifty times I prayed, "For the sake of His sorrowful Passion have mercy on us and on the whole world," I imagined:

  1. Our Lord receiving one more blow from the whip
  2. Jesus taking one more agonizing step under the weight of the Cross

Prayed while walking at a good clip - breathing a little heavier, with ankles a bit sore - it kept my focus on Jesus' pain, and how little my discomfort is in comparison ... and then I went ahead and united my little discomfort to His Passion.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Answers to More Questions about the Eucharist

A month ago, I posted an email question from a former Catholic and my response. He asked me to explain why the Eucharist wasn't an act of idolatry.  (You can read it here).  This morning he sent a follow up email.  His comments are in white, and mine in yellow.  Please keep this seeker in your prayers!
Dear Derek (name has been changed),

Thank you for your email.  I thought my response would be clearer if I responded to each part of your letter in turn.

Dear Shane,

Thank you for your reply.

I still feel you have left my question unanswered. The problem is how can a priest convert a piece of bread into the Body, blood soul and divinity of Our Lord Jesus, the second person in the Trinity. I do believe in Transubstantiation - that one substance is changes into another but one substance i.e. bread is changed into the flesh of Christ but one substance is changed into two body and blood is not acceptable , but I fail to see however how does the soul and divinity come in.

Derek, I think if you go back and read your original question, you will discover that I actually did answer it, as stated.  Here you are raising new questions, more specific questions than you did before – and honestly, that’s quite exciting.  It is by really grappling with Christ’s teachings that we open ourselves to receiving all He has for us!

That you believe in Transubstantiation is wonderful, because it should make what I’m about to say a little easier to understand.  You said that you believe “bread is changed into the flesh of Christ but one substance,” not two, “body and blood.”  Excellent, because that is what the Church teaches.  And here is the next step:

Christ’s Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity, are joined together.  Where one is, there the whole Christ becomes present.  So if the bread’s substance is changed to that of Christ’s Body, His Blood, Soul, and Divinity must likewise be present there as well.  And if the substance of the wine is changed into that of His Blood, then His Body, Soul, and Divinity must be present there as well.  This is called concomitance. To say otherwise would be to say that Christ could be divided up.  No, He is a living Person, a Person both divine and human (body, blood, soul).We’re talking about something supernatural, it does not violate reason, but it is something above our powers of thought to completely comprehend.

God is spirit and we must worship him in spirit.

Yes, “in spirit and truth” (Jn.4:23)

In the book of Acts chapter 7:48, 17:24, it states that God does not live in temples built by man.

The Jewish people knew that the Creator of the universe could not be contained in building made of a stone (1 Kg.8:27).  No one knew this better than the God-Man, and yet Jesus reverenced the Temple as “My Father’s house” (Lk.2:49; Jn.2:16). So the transcendent God could make Himself present in a very unique way in a specific part of creation.

As I said in my original email response, with the Incarnation we have entered into a new way of relating to God. The Second Person of the Trinity joined a human nature, a soul and a body, to Himself. It is the human soul and body of God. So wherever that Body is, there the soul and divinity must be present as well.

So, in direct response to your citation of Acts 7:48 and 17:24 – no, the divine essence cannot be “pigeon-holed” in a temple made of stone, much less the entire created universe … and yet in Christ, “the fullness of Deity dwells bodily” (Col. 2:9).  And thus, we could say that God incarnate did live in a house in the village of Nazareth.  He seems to have lived in a house in Capernaum as well –  Derek, you must recognize this.  And God incarnate, Jesus, can also be present in our church buildings today in the Eucharist.

At the last supper when Christ says 'take eat this is my body' did he by his will and power create a mirrored image of himself or an entity apart and distinct from his real self that is from a piece of bread. this bread has now become his creation. First it was bread and now it is God, It is an offence against the 1st commandment.

No, not a mirror image of Himself; but an extension of His One Self. This is a rough analogy, because in the Eucharist we are talking about a supernatural extension; but in the natural sphere you can see how Christ “extended” Himself when He grew from an infant to a man. His infant Body and adult Body were one and the same.

The Host (Communion) exhibits no form of life nor is able to communicate. It is as if God is punished by imprisonment or solitary confinement unable to relate with all who receive him worthy or unworthy. This very thought of a mute God is absurd. We should not use imagination to say he speaks to me in communion.

Derek, take a step back and consider for a moment, what you already believe:  In the paragraph ahead you profess your belief that the Holy Spirit lives inside of you.  Good.  Is He a “mute God,” or do you hear an audible voice?  If you are hearing an audible voice, then you are among a very small minority among Christians.  I think most of us would say that the Holy Spirit does speak to us, but by bringing certain thoughts to our minds or causing us to recognize the significance of things. Is the Holy Spirit a prisoner within you? No, I wouldn’t characterize Him like that.

Consider the words of Christ in John 16:7- it is to your advantage that I go away because if I do not go the Holy Spirit will not come but if I go I will send the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit has the advantage of being with everybody at the same time.

In chapter 16, it explains how Christ will be with us and help us and he will be with us till the end of time.

He even reiterates in a little while - you will see me no more. The absence of his person , body, soul and divinity till the second coming is confirmed here. 

Derek, Jesus is most certainly not “absent” from the disciples.  Please go back and look at John 16 again.  In context, Jesus is talking about the change that will take place with His Passover to the Father; He will not be with them as He had been during the previous three years.  But He will continue to be with them – spiritually (Mt.28:20) and sacramentally in the Eucharist (Lk.24:30-31; note the use of the same four verbs here as at the Last Supper).

I would recommend meditating more deeply on the nature of the Trinity and what Jesus tells us in John, chapters 14-17.  “If a man loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him” (14:23) “I go away and I come to you” (14:28), “when the Counselor comes, whom I shall send you from the Father” (15:26).

We partake of one Loaf not a multiplication of the same loaf.

Yes, that is what we believe: these multiple loaves scattered throughout the world have been supernaturally joined to the One Loaf, Christ.  They can be joined to Him Whose Body is now outside of space and time as we understand it. 

We must remember the soul is not divisible, it cannot be replicated, duplicated in any way, so does the soul of Christ.

You can see the answer to this in what I shared above.

Please show me any scripture which confirms his presence of his body, soul and divinity in communion.

Happily. 1 Corinthians 11, beginning at verse 27:

“Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord. 28 Let a man examine himself, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. 29 For any one who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment upon himself. 30 That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died. 31 But if we judged ourselves truly, we should not be judged. 32 But when we are judged by the Lord, we are chastened so that we may not be condemned along with the world.”

The Eucharist is no mere figure or image of Christ. To sin against the Lord’s Body and Blood in such a way that sickness and death are suitable chastisements, the Lord’s Body and Blood must truly be present. You are not convicted of assault because you ripped up a man’s photograph, but because you have wronged his actual person!

Also please let me know the official Catholic position on whether the body is a crucified body or the resurrected body of Christ.

The Church’s position is that it is Christ’s Body, as it exists right now, which is made present.  Because Christ is risen from the dead, it is His resurrected Body made present in the Eucharist.

God has put in place safeguards that we might not do and believe like what Catholics do and believe.

But Derek, what Catholics do and believe is what the Orthodox Church does and believes, and is exactly what all Christians did and believed up until the time of the Reformation. There are safeguards in place to keep us believing and doing the truths Jesus entrusted to the Apostles, but when a person rejects the teaching authority of the successors to the Apostles, the Pope and Bishops, they have rejected that safeguard. Do you really think that God would abandon His Church and allow it to believe in a heretical teaching from the time of the apostles until the Reformation?  Ridiculous.  God is a faithful Father.

I’ve shown you passages in the New Testament testifying to the Catholic understanding of the Eucharist, but have you not studied how these were understood in the early Church?  The Catholic Church did not create its faith in the Eucharist centuries later; it is what Christians have believed from the start! When we go back to the earliest Christian writings we have outside of the New Testament, the writings left to us by the men who were actually taught by the Apostles, this is what we find:

Ignatius, the disciple of the Apostle John and Bishop of Antioch, wrote in 110 A.D. that he desired “the Bread of God, which is the Flesh of Jesus Christ, Who was of the seed of David, and for drink, His Blood, which is love incorruptible.” He admonished the believers in Philadelphia, Asia Minor, to “use one Eucharist so that whatever you do, you do according to God: for there is one flesh of our Lord Jesus Christ, and one cup in the union of his blood; one altar as there is one bishop with the presbytery and the deacons.” To the Church in Smyrna, Ignatius wrote, 
“Take note of those who hold heterodox [or heretical] opinions on the grace of Jesus Christ which comes to us, and see how contrary their opinions are to the mind of God ... They abstain from the Eucharist and from prayer, because they do not confess that the Eucharist is the flesh of our Savior Jesus Christ, flesh which suffered for our sins and which the Father, in his goodness, raised up again. They who deny the gift of God are perishing in their disputes.”

Our faith in the mysteries of God should not border on the ridiculous and absurd.

Ooh, but telling God what He can and cannot do out of love for us is the height of absurdity.  For one who limits God, the authentic Faith, taught to us by Christ and His Apostles, will always seem ridiculous.  That is what Paul wrote, “Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? …Jews demand a sign and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles …For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men” (1 Cor.1:20-25).

Christ Himself, when He first spoke of the Eucharist, was met with jeers and rejection:

“The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, ‘How can this man give us his flesh to eat?’ So Jesus said to them, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you … for my flesh is food indeed, and my blood is drink indeed …” (Jn. 6:52-56). 
And John goes on to tell how, 
“Many of his disciples, when they heard it, said, ‘This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?’ …. After this many of his disciples drew back and no longer walked with him” (Jn.6:60,66).

Derek, why is it so hard to take Jesus at His word on the Eucharist? Is it because we cannot observe the change through our five senses or detect it with our most sensitive instruments? Our technology is finite – His power limitless! As the Creator, Jesus grasps matter much better than me or you. If He pronounced the bread and wine to be His Body and Blood then I have to believe He can make it so. Lets keep in mind, this is the same Person who said, “Let there be light…dry land…living creatures….man…woman” (Genesis 1-2). He showed Himself able to manipulate matter at will – multiplying the loaves, walking on water, even appearing and disappearing into thin air after His resurrection. And let’s not forget that this is the Body and Blood formed in the womb of Mary without sexual intercourse – talk about turning the laws of nature upside down! 

Thank You
You are welcome.  Derek, I hope you do not feel that I am being antagonistic.  What I want to help you see is how your objections are nothing novel or unexpected.  They are the same objections Protestant Christians have made throughout the last 500 years, and the answers to them are relatively simple.  Jesus waits for you in the Eucharist.  He wants to give Himself to you in a way so humble and loving that we hesitate to believe it is true.  But that’s what makes the Good News, so good! “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” (Matt.11:28-29)

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Book Review - Kevin Vost's "The One-Minute Aquinas"

Life is full of difficulties, but being a fan of Dr. Kevin Vost’s writing sure isn’t one of them!  Each book is as insightful and exciting as the last (if not more so).  In Memorize the Faith! and Memorize the Reasons! Vost used the memory techniques employed by St. Thomas Aquinas to teach us how to inculcate the Faith and explain it to others.  In Fit for Eternal Life he harnessed Aquinas’ insights into our hylomorphic nature and the four cardinal virtues to get us off the couch and back to tending these magnificent bodies God entrusted to us. (I shed 52 lbs. after digesting that one!)  His next book, Unearthing Your Ten Talents, widened the focus from developing the cardinal virtues to progressing in all ten of the virtues addressed in Part II of St. Thomas’ Summa Theologica.  Now, in The One-Minute Aquinas, he successfully tackles the promethean task of making the Angelic Doctor’s entire Summa Theologica accessible to us regular gals and guys in the pew!  It is an amazingly thorough crash-course in Thomas’ theology.

Anyone who has cracked the Summa for the first time quickly realizes that he or she is on semi-foreign soil.  Yes, Thomas wrote about the God we love and the Faith we are devoted to living, but 13th century philosophical vocabulary can be immensely difficult to follow.  I have purchased a number of thick commentaries in the hopes of making headway, but I’ve never come across one like The One-Minute Aquinas.  At less than 300 pages, it is an insightful, comprehensible (and fun) treatment of the entire Summa

As hard as this may be to believe, in only 42 brief sections, Dr. Vost is able to lead us through Thomas’ theological understanding of man, God in Himself, the Incarnation and life of Jesus, and the life of grace.  The section on Thomas’ five “proofs” of God’s existence, for example, is penetrative.  Vost moves from quoting and explaining Thomas’ proofs in more accessible language to addressing the New Atheists’ misunderstanding of them. Then, memory master that he is, Dr. Vost translates the information into both a chart and diagram (take your pick) to aid in forming connections and later recall. I appreciated the way he tried to draw attention to fine points as well.  An example: While we can affirm that God’s existence can be known through reason, it is a mistake to say His existence is “self-evident.”  And if we have questions and want to delve deeper into Dr. Vost's summation, his explanation of Thomas' terminology and copious footnotes help us dig deeper into the Summa for ourselves - it's right there online! Take a subject as profound as the Incarnation, simply Google Vost's footnote to "ST, Part III, Question 2" (and following), to continue mining.

Sprinkled throughout the book are also insets labeled “Dumb Ox Box”es (after Thomas’ nickname while at university).  These address questions of interest to readers that don’t easily fit into the schema of the book, and range from the whimsical, “Is it a sin to be boring?,” to the grave, “Is it fair to lay an ambush in war?”

This book is a wonderful contribution to the growing body of literature dedicated to equipping the laity for the New Evangelization.  Pope St. Pius X stated his conviction that, “a man can derive more profit from [Thomas’] books in one year than from a lifetime spent pondering the philosophy of others.” If you are looking to not just meet the Angelic Doctor but to spend time meditating upon his Summa, then I can’t think of a better resource than Dr. Kevin Vost’s The One-Minute Aquinas.