Category Archives: Christology

Jesus, my friend

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Last night was my monthly divorced fathers dinner in which I volunteer.  It is my least favorite evening of the month.  Last night was especially heavy in domestic violence.  Not fun.  These men are not monsters, but the hyper-sensitivity of the law and its profound and often objectively unfair and completely biased treatment of them only makes their crosses heavier and more eggregious.

No one is innocent here, but family court directly and obtrusively says by its behavior men are the root of all evil, and women are always innocent victims, never manipulating their advantages in the courts towards evil and selfish purposes.  Untrue.  I would be the first to defend women against domestic violence, but demonizing and truly oppressing a gender is un-American, or is it?  And, not the answer.

Before going into dinner, I opened my little prayer book by Rev. Peter John Cameron, OP.  The next prayer up was in the theme of “Jesus, my friend”.  What is this silliness that faith is a lifestyle choice, and not simply the air we breathe, in all of their implied necessity?

Too, I have been asked and invited to join a ministry in a local hospice, to provide 24 hr bedside companionship when local family cannot be present, if any.  My training is in June.  Pray for me.  And, I opened our local news app here and saw the beautiful, youthful face of an 18 yr old young man, with just his name.  I know tragically what that means, and my heart breaks for him, for his parents.

“O Jesus, you are my true friend, my only friend. You take a part in all my misfortunes; you take them upon yourself; you know how to change them into blessings. You listen to me with the greatest kindness when I relate my troubles to you, and you always have balm to pour on my wounds. I find you at all times; I find you everywhere; you never go away; if I have to change my dwelling, I find you wherever I go.

You never weary of listening to me; you are never tired of doing me good. I am certain of being loved by you if I love you; my goods are nothing to you, and by bestowing yours on me, you never grow poor. However miserable I may be, no one more noble or learned or even holier can come between you and me and deprive me of your friendship; and death, which tears us away from all other friends, will unite me to You forever.

All the humiliations attached to old age, or to loss of honor, will never detach me from You. On the contrary, I shall never enjoy You more fully, and You will never be closer to me than when everything seems to conspire against me, to overwhelm me and to cast me down. You bear with all my faults with extreme patience. Even my want of fidelity and my ingratitude do not wound You to such a degree as to make You unwilling to receive me back when I return to You. O Jesus! Grant that I may die praising You; that I may die loving You; that I may die for love of You. Amen.”  St Claude de la Colombiere, SJ

“O my Lord, how You are the true friend, and how powerful!  When You desire, You can love, and You never stop loving those who love You!  All things praise You, Lord of the world!

Oh, who will cry out to You to tell everyone how faithful You are to Your friends!  All things fail; You, Lord of all, never fail!  Little it is, that which You allow the one who loves You to suffer!  Oh my Lord!  How delicately and smoothly and delightfully You treat them!  Would that no one ever pause to love anyone but You!

It seems, Lord, You try with rigor the person who loves You, so that in extreme trial she might understand the greatest extreme of Your love.  Oh my God, who has the understanding, the learning, and the new words with which to extol Your works as my soul understands them?  All fails me, my Lord;  but if You do not abandon me, I will not fail You.  Let all learned men rise up against me, let all created things persecute me, let the devils torment me;  do not You fail me, Lord, for I already have experience of the gain that comes from the way You rescue the one who trusts in You alone.  Amen.  St Teresa of Avila

Love & friendship,
Matthew

Solemnity of the Epiphany – wise people still seek Him…

Adoration_of_the_Magi_Tapestry
The Adoration of the Magi, tapestry, wool and silk on cotton warp, 101 1/8 x 151 1/4 inches (258 x 384 cm.), Manchester Metropolitan University, designed 1888, woven 1894, designed by Edward Burne Jones with details by William Morris and John Henry Dearle, please click on the image for greater detail.

While we may not all possess gold, frankincense and myrrh to give the newborn King this Epiphanytide, Pope Francis says we can all nevertheless offer him three precious gifts.

In his homily on the Solemnity of the Epiphany of Our Lord, which the Vatican celebrates on January 6, Pope Francis said that the Magi represent “the men and women throughout the world who are welcomed into the house of God.”

“Countless people in our own day have a ‘restless heart,’ (St Augustine, Confessions, “Our hearts are restless until they rest in Thee!”) which continues to seek without finding sure answers,” he said. “They too are looking for a star to show them the path to Bethlehem.”

He noted that the Magi saw many stars in the sky, but one shone more brightly than the others, and forever changed their lives.

In a similar way, it is up to the Church, whose nature it is to receive God’s light and reflect it in the lives of individuals and peoples, “to draw out the desire for God present in every heart.”

“How many people look to us for this missionary commitment, because they need Christ,” he said. “They need to know the face of the Father.”

The Pope continued: “Let us follow the light which God offers us, the light which streams from the face of Christ, full of mercy and fidelity. And once we have found him, let us worship him with all our heart, and present him with our gifts: our freedom, our understanding and our love.”

For when we open these most precious gifts to the newborn King, Pope Francis said, he fills them with grace, enabling us “to rise and go forth, to leave behind all that keeps us self-enclosed, to go out from ourselves and to recognize the splendor of the light which illumines our lives: ‘Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you’” (Isaiah 60:1).

Here below we publish the official English translation of the pope’s homily:

“The words of the Prophet Isaiah — addressed to the Holy City of Jerusalem — are also meant for us. They call us to rise and go forth, to leave behind all that keeps us self-enclosed, to go out from ourselves and to recognize the splendor of the light that illumines our lives: “Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you” (60:1). That “light” is the glory of the Lord. The Church cannot illude herself into thinking that she shines with her own light. St. Ambrose expresses this nicely by presenting the moon as a metaphor for the Church: “The moon is in fact the Church … [she] shines not with her own light but with the light of Christ. She draws her brightness from the Sun of Justice, and so she can say: ‘It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me’” (Hexaemeron, IV, 8, 32). Christ is the true light shining in the darkness. To the extent that the Church remains anchored in him, to the extent that she lets herself be illumined by him, she is able to bring light into the lives of individuals and peoples. For this reason the Fathers of the Church saw in her the mysterium lunae.

We need this light from on high if we are to respond in a way worthy of the vocation we have received. To proclaim the Gospel of Christ is not simply one option among many, nor is it a profession. For the Church, to be missionary does not mean to proselytize: for the Church to be missionary means to give expression to her very nature, which is to receive God’s light and then to reflect it. This is her service. There is no other way. Mission is her vocation; to shine Christ’s light is her service. How many people look to us for this missionary commitment, because they need Christ. They need to know the face of the Father.

The Magi mentioned in the Gospel of Matthew are a living witness to the fact that the seeds of truth are present everywhere, for they are the gift of the Creator, who calls all people to acknowledge him as good and faithful Father. The Magi represent the men and woman throughout the world who are welcomed into the house of God. Before Jesus, all divisions of race, language and culture disappear: in that Child, all humanity discovers its unity. The Church has the task of seeing and showing ever more clearly the desire for God which is present in the heart of every man and woman. This is the service of the Church, with the light that she reflects: to draw out the desire for God present in every heart.

Like the Magi, countless people, in our own day, have a “restless heart,” which continues to seek without finding sure answers — it is the restlessness of the Holy Spirit that stirs in hearts. They too are looking for a star to show them the path to Bethlehem.

How many stars there are in the sky! And yet the Magi followed a new and different star, which for them shone all the more brightly. They had long peered into the great book of the heavens, seeking an answer to their questions — they had restless hearts — and at long last the light appeared. That star changed them. It made them leave their daily concerns behind and set out immediately on a journey. They listened to a voice deep within, which led them to follow that light. It was the voice of the Holy Spirit, who works in all people. The star guided them, until they found the King of the Jews in a humble dwelling in Bethlehem.

All this has something to say to us today. We do well to repeat the question asked by the Magi: “Where is the child who has been born the King of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage” (Matt. 2:2). We are impelled, especially in an age like our own, to seek the signs which God offers us, realizing that great effort is needed to interpret them and thus to understand his will. We are challenged to go to Bethlehem, to find the Child and his Mother. Let us follow the light which God offers us — that tiny light. The hymn in the breviary poetically tells us that the Magi lumen requirunt lumine [following a light, they were searching for the Light] — that tiny light. The light which streams from the face of Christ, full of mercy and fidelity. And once we have found him, let us worship him with all our heart, and present him with our gifts: our freedom, our understanding and our love. True wisdom lies concealed in the face of this Child. It is here, in the simplicity of Bethlehem, that the life of the Church is summed up. For here is the wellspring of that light that draws to itself every individual in the world and guides the journey of the peoples along the path of peace.”

Love, and praying for Epiphany, constantly, in my life,
Matthew

Mercy & Justice

scarred-christ-crucified

Why did Jesus, the Son of God, have to atone?  Good question.  Not every offense carries the same gravity or punishment, even if the offense is identical.  Allow me, gentle, kind reader.

I want to use a disturbing example, indulge me kind reader, indulge me, I beg.  Imagine throwing a rotten tomato at a sleeping or unconscious homeless person in an alley, no witnesses.  Terrible, I realize, but it helps to make the point.  What penalty will you suffer?  Very likely none, if that child of God even awakes, or is able.  What if you threw the same rotten tomato at the President of the US?  You might have a problem.  My point, and the Church’s, is reason demands it depends on the dignity of the person so offended.  It does.  “Remember, money doesn’t go to jail”, as the saying goes, tragically.  The penalty will, must, by reason reflect the dignity of the personage so offended.

Now imagine God, and offending His infinite majesty. This is sin.  What is the penalty?  Terrifyingly infinite, but still, proportionate. Who can atone for even the least modicum of offense against God? Only God. See? Makes sense, doesn’t it? That’s the scary part, if you are willing and study, you will see again, and again, the reasonableness and infinite mercy of Christ’s salvation. You will. Do you dare? Will this knowledge, this awareness have consequences, implications to you and your life and how it is lived? Will you do the hard, long work of examination of your own conscience? Will you convict yourself? I hope so. I pray so. It will be accounted. The salvation of our souls is real. Pray for me and mine, I beg you. I truly do. Recall, justice is a mercy to the offended mortal.

“It would not be out of place at this point to recall the relationship between justice and mercy. These are not two contradictory realities, but two dimensions of a single reality that unfolds progressively until it culminates in the fullness of love.” -Pope Francis, Misericordiae Vultus, §20

From the Dialogue of St. Catherine of Siena, OP, (1347-1380), Doctor of the Church, recording God’s words to her:

“This is why I gave the world my only-begotten Son. The clay of humankind was spoiled by the sin of the first man, Adam, and so all of you, as vessels made from clay, were spoiled and unfit to hold eternal life. So to undo the corruption and death of humankind and to bring you back to the grace you had lost through sin, I, exaltedness, united Myself with the baseness of your humanity. For my divine justice demanded suffering in atonement for sin. But I cannot suffer. And you, being only human, cannot make adequate atonement. Even if you did atone for some particular thing, you still could make atonement only for yourself and not for others. But for this sin you could not make full atonement either for yourself or for others since it was committed against Me, and I am Infinite Goodness.

Yet I really wanted to restore you, incapable as you were of making atonement for yourself. And because you were so utterly handicapped, I sent the Word, my Son; I clothed Him with the same nature as yours—the spoiled clay of Adam—so that He could suffer in that same nature which had sinned, and by suffering in His body even to the extent of the shameful death of the cross He would placate My anger.

And so I satisfied both My justice and My divine mercy. For My mercy wanted to atone for your sin and make you fit to receive the good for which I had created you. Humanity, when united with divinity, was able to make atonement for the whole human race—not simply through suffering in its finite nature, that is, in the clay of Adam, but by virtue of the eternal divinity, the infinite divine nature. In the union of these two natures I received and accepted the sacrifice of My only-begotten Son’s blood, steeped and kneaded with his divinity into the one bread, which the heat of My divine love held nailed to the cross. Thus was human nature enabled to atone for its sin only by virtue of the divine nature.”

Love, and constantly needing His mercy,
Matthew

The Mystical Body of Christ – Why the Catholic Church?

sheen_mystical

The “cause” for the canonization of Archbishop Sheen (1895-1979) was opened in 2002. The enthusiasm for the cause of a deceased holy person of heroic virtue is called its “cultus”, or cult, in the most positive sense of the word. The enthusiasm by those who hold a special devotion to the Virgin Mary is her “cult”. Get it?

I attended an informal informational meeting in Chicago a while ago on the status of the good archbishop’s cause. Very interesting, to say the least. His beloved memory now bears the title Venerable. The Vatican is very interested in his cause, as he would be the ONLY beati to have won an Emmy!!! Take THAT modern media!!! A SAINT amongst ye!!!

Only Catholics could create the current situation though, sadly. Catholics!!!!!!!! Grrrrrrr!!!!! 🙁 . The cause is currently in stasis. 🙁 Miracles are good to go, except the good archbishop was buried in New York, where he did much of his work and ministry. His home diocese, where any cause must begin, is in Peoria, IL.

Wait!!!! It gets better!!! Part of the official process of canonization is there must be a formal, very formal, examination of the remains of the candidate of heroic virtue in the home diocese, called the “elevation” of the remains, to a place of honor and respect, and the removal, get your Catholic dictionaries out!, of the “first class” relics, i.e. actual parts of the remains!

You guessed it!!!! There is a kerfuffle!!! It seems New York, typical, after many, many promises to release the remains and remove them to Peoria, has reneged. Internal Church politics stands in the way of sainthood!!! There is no current Church process around this!!!! So, we’re and the good archbishop’s cause is stuck!!! Do you see why the typical expression in the Vatican is “Come and see me on Wednesday, and I’ll get back to you in 300 years!!!!! Catholics!!!! My greatest frustrations in the life of faith are Catholics!!!!! I pray for that same Spirit who comforted the Lord with His Keystone Cops Apostles!!!! 🙁 Who knows WHAT generation of our children may yet enjoy this great celebration. 🙁

http://www.archbishopsheencause.org/

CaseyChalk
-by Casey Chalk, a “revert” to the Catholic Church, who was raised Catholic, left the Church with his parents for Evangelicalism & Presbyterianism, spent time in Thailand, and has now returned to the Church of his birth.

“A good friend and elder at my former Presbyterian (PCA) church once invited me over for beers and conversation several months after my decision to become a Catholic. In that exchange, he expressed what he termed as his predominant concern with my entrance into the Catholic Church: that the decision embraced a form of sacerdotalism, effectively putting certain individuals – be they priests, bishops, cardinals, or the pope – or even the institutional church, between the individual and God. This mediated reality, my friend believed, was in some sense an affront to Biblical Christianity, presumably because it obscured or obstructed the primary mediatory role of Jesus Christ, the God-man. Venerable Fulton J. Sheen, one of the most iconic American Catholic figures of the 20th century, would respectfully disagree.

Fulton Sheen died on this day 36 years ago: December 9th, 1979, before I was even born. Yet his influence is felt far beyond the end of his earthly life and reaches far beyond the millions of American radio listeners and television viewers he reached. Even the Redemptorist parish I attend in Bangkok, Holy Redeemer Catholic Church, bears Sheen’s mark. The architectural design of the parish, built to model the traditional Thai Buddhist wat, was an idea suggested by Sheen himself during a visit to Thailand.

Sheen’s writings and teachings likewise continue to influence Christians and non-Christians the world over, largely because Sheen so accurately recognized philosophical and religious trends that increasingly were dominating our culture. Take for example the individualist tendencies of our current age, asserting that no institution or denomination is needed between man and God. Many people, even those with robust prayer lives or strong convictions in historical doctrines regarding Christ or Holy Scripture, hold such a “low church” position. Indeed, some form the limits of their Christian experience around the reading of the Bible or other spiritual literature, listening to podcasts or sermons in the privacy of their homes or cars, and maybe the occasional Bible study or prayer group.1 To this popular, commonly Protestant trend, Sheen’s The Mystical Body of Christ offers a surprisingly Scriptural critique. Indeed, Sheen’s presentation of the Church as Christ intended and directs it stands in contrast even to those Protestants – be they Reformed, Evangelical, or Mainline – who affirm some conception of the visible Church, since, Sheen argues, even these efforts lack a fully Biblical account of the Church as Christ’s very own mystical body.

Biblical Foundations for the Mystical Body of Christ

Sheen begins by citing Fr. Emil Mersch – who observed that the New Testament’s use of “kingdom,” “mystery,” and “life” all appeal to different aspects of the same reality: the mystical body of Christ2. Sheen argues that the Mystical Body is not an abstraction, but “something visible and invisible, something tangible and intangible, something human and something Divine; it refers to a reality which is the subject of attribution, of properties and rights, to an organism with a supernatural soul, to a prolonged Incarnation, to the extension of Bethlehem and Jerusalem to our own days, to the contemporary Christ: the Church.3 We share a bond with Jesus quite different than what we might share with any other religious teacher or philosopher: a life of which we are partakers, in His earthly life, His glorified life, and His mystical life.4 The third of these, the mystical life, He continues to live through us by means of His Holy Spirit, which was given quite publicly to the visible Church at Pentecost.5

In this reality, Christ is the Head, His people are His body: “Christ is our contemporary.”6 With exacting exegetical detail of the Biblical texts, Sheen demonstrates that one cannot separate Christ from His mystical body, and that the “spiritual, not religious” Christian ideal is untenable. Christ identified Himself too intimately with His followers to believe otherwise: Sheen notes that our Lord taught that He and His body would be one, referring to such Gospel passages as the vine and the branches (John 15:5), or “He that heareth you, heareth me” (Luke 10:16).7

Also central to this argument is Sheen’s analysis that St. Paul’s language of the body of Christ in 1 Corinthians must be properly understood not as a post-facto Pauline analogy, but as a reality that preceded the Apostles in the very life of Christ.8 Indeed, it was Christ Himself who said he would assume another body in John 20:17.9 The Church would be this body, not physically or morally, but mystically and intimately united to the risen and ascended Christ. Sheen helpfully articulates:

‘He said that whatever happened to Him as Head would happen to His Body; if He was persecuted His Body would be persecuted; if He was hated His Body would be hated; if the world did not receive Him it would not receive His Body, for the servant is not above the master…. The relation would be so close between the members of that Body and Himself, that anyone [who performed a work of mercy for one His members] would be doing the service unto Him. It would seem that He had exhausted all analogies to mark the unity between Him and His new body; but the night before He died, He said that He and His flock were not to be one merely as shepherd and sheep, they were to be one as He and the Father are one.10’

The Mystical Body of Christ is His Church

Building upon this identification of Christ with His Church, St. Paul and St. John extend these analogies of mystical union to include a building (1 Corinthians 3) and marriage (Ephesians 5, 2 Corinthians 11, Revelation 19, 21).11 The Church effectively extends Christ “beyond the space of Palestine and the space of thirty-three years to prolong His influence unto all times and to all men.” “Without the Church,” Sheen asserts, “Christ would be incomplete,” for the Church continues the Incarnation.12 The “actions of the Mystical body are the actions of Christ.”13 Through Christ, the ultimate prophet, priest and king, the Church would extend “His posthumous Self, His prolonged Personality… Very simply they were to do the same three things as He had done in His earthly life: they were to teach, to govern, and to sanctify.”14 These include the Church’s mission to baptize, to perform the Eucharist, and to forgive sins (Matthew 28, Luke 22, 1 Corinthians 11, John 20).15 Sheen’s analysis strikes at the heart of much contemporary Christian spirituality and Protestant religiosity:

‘How far removed is this doctrine of the Church from the false conception of those who would accuse the Church of standing between Christ and us? How often we hear it said: “I do not want an organization between Christ and me,” or “True religion consists in union with Jesus of Nazareth without priest, or prelate, or sacrament.” Anyone who understands the Scriptures will see that the Church does not stand between Christ and me. The Church is Christ16’

The Church, if she is truly Christ’s mystical body, cannot then be some voluntary organization, as if the Apostles heard Christ’s message and on the “basis of their common faith” agreed to form a religious society. No, Sheen declares, the Church began “the very moment” the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.17 Anyone then who claims the visible, institutional Church and its sacramental system is an “obstacle” to a relationship with Christ has misunderstood “the meaning and beauty of the Incarnation of our Lord.”18 Through the Church, Bethlehem is revived in every baptism, “the Cenacle in every Mass, the instruction of the doctors of the Temple in every definition, the pardon of Peter in every absolution, and the Crucifixion in every persecution.”19 Rather than an obstacle to relationship with Christ, the Church is the very means by which that relationship is fostered.

The Catholic Church as Christ’s Mystical Body, Preserved by the Holy Spirit

Christ is of course the head of this mystical body – per St. Paul’s teaching in Colossians 1:18. Yet if Christ is the head, one might reasonably ask, which conflicting group or sect within Christianity is the “one Body of Christ”?20 According to Sheen, the “obvious way” for Christ to identify His post-ascension body would be “through a visible head or a primate.”21 This is appropriate, he contends, because the “democratic form of government” visible in many forms of Protestantism is problematically individualistic:

‘…each individual [is] his own supreme authority, allowing him either to interpret the Scriptures privately or else interpret his own religious experiences without any dictation from without. Religion on this theory is a purely individual affair: each one casts his own vote as to what he will believe, rejects all creeds, beliefs, and dogmas which run counter to his moods and prejudices, determines for himself the kind of a God he will adore, the kind of an altar before which he will kneel – in a word, he worships at the shrines his own hands have made.22’

Rather than this subjective, individualist model, Christ gave us what Sheen calls the “monarchical” model, citing Matthew 16, where He rejects both what “men say” about who He is, and even what the Apostles together say about who He is (the “aristocratic model”), but ultimately affirming St. Peter’s declaration that He is the son of the living God.23 Peter had divine assistance, the keys to the kingdom (Matthew 16), and the commission to feed Christ’s lambs (John 21). This is not to say that St. Peter is “a Head apart from Christ.” Rather, he is “one authority with Him,” the “visible representation, the concrete symbol, the vicar of the Sender among the Sent.”24

Sheen further argues that it was the Holy Spirit who conceived the Church in the incarnation, guided St. Peter’s declaration of Christ’s divinity, and who remains its very soul, and speaks first not through inspired writings, but a “voice,” carried by the Apostles and their successors.25 This is to contrast the Catholic conception of Holy Tradition, Holy Scripture, and magisterial teaching, as cooperating spheres of authority, against the Protestant doctrine of sola scriptura. Indeed, it was the Holy Spirit, acting as the soul of the Church, who inspired the writings of Holy Scripture and guided their collection and inclusion into a canon. The Bible stands not on its own but “within the life of the Church.” It is the Church that “makes its meaning clear.”26 And if the Holy Spirit is the soul of the Church, “there can be no contradiction, no variety of opinions, no divided loyalties, no half-truths, no schisms, no heresy where God is.”27

Moreover, the Holy Spirit vivifies the Church to maintain its four marks so that neither sin nor scandal within the ranks can nullify her intrinsic holiness.28 Sheen observes, “the world has yet to point out a single age in which the Church has not produced her heroes whom she calls saints.”29 The last mark, the Church’s apostolic character, is best understood within the Catholic paradigm as requiring a discernible “origin or source.” Sheen elaborates: “it would be too late for her to begin sixteen hundred years after the life or our Lord; it would be too late for her to begin even twenty years after the life of Christ. She must be in intimate contact with Him from the beginning.” He cites several pieces of evidence of this from Scripture and history. These include the choosing of Matthias (a witness to the resurrection) to replace Judas in Acts 2 and the centrality of the appeal to Apostolic origin by the immediate successors of the Apostles: “Everywhere in the early Church the test was: ‘What is the source of your authority and truth?’ It if did not come from Christ and the apostles, it was false.”30 What a remarkable testament it is that the Catholic Church, longer than any nation, empire, or heretical movement has withstood the test of time: “Who today venerates Eutyches? Where are his disciples? Who today knows of Novatian?”31 Because it is the Holy Spirit alive within the Church, she cannot be killed.32

Further Implications of the Mystical Body of Christ

Having presented His biblical argument for the Mystical body of Christ — and that it be identified with the Catholic Church — Sheen devotes the remainder of his book to exploring many other realities that flow from this initial truth: the infallibility and unique authority of the Church, the role of the priesthood and individual Christians in this mystical body, the communion of the saints, the value of reparation, and the expansion of the body throughout the entire world. 33 Of particular interest to Protestants investigating Catholicism, Sheen devotes a chapter to the role of Mary, the mother of God, as mother also of His mystical body. The bishop explains that this is a natural logical progress: “if the fullness of Christ embraces not only His historical Life in Galilee but also His Mystical Life in the Church, then should not Mary be not only the Mother of the physical Christ, but also the Mother of the fullness of Christ or the Mother of the Church?”34 Also of potential interest to Protestants are chapters on how the sacrifice of the cross is translated to the sacrifice of the Mass, Sheen arguing that the sacrifice of the Cross is “complete and perfect in it itself,” yet “not complete as regards us; the merits of that great redemptive act have to flow unto us.”35 The Eucharist then serves to project Christ’s sacrifice into the present: “the Mass is the one thing in the world which makes it possible for us who live in the [present age] to share in the sacrifice of Calvary…. The Mass is Calvary realized, made present, contemporized, lifted out of the limit of space and time living in the members of the Mystical Body….36

The Mystical Body of Christ is a helpful – nay, essential – concept for how Christians should understand their role individually and corporately to Christ their Lord and Savior. This is the way Christ wanted it: for His Church to be the extension of His earthly ministry projected through time and space to our present era. To respond to the legitimate concern of my Presbyterian elder friend: Christianity at its core is sacerdotal — the Incarnation, the beginning of the Church on earth, exemplifies God’s extension of grace to Christians through matter. Christ then, fully God and fully man, is Himself a sacerdotal figure, mediating between man and God in His very flesh. It is entirely fitting then that Christ would appoint members of His own mystical body to do exactly what He had done: bear God’s authority and mediate between members of His body and the eternal God. In Sheen’s analysis, this does not detract from Christ’s mediatory role; it preserves and perfects it.37

Venerable Fulton Sheen, one of America’s great defenders and explicators of the Catholic faith, pray for us!

  1. Sheen’s own critique of Protestantism is quite prescient. In his 1935 introduction to the book, he notes that Protestant churches “no longer claim to be Divine or to be Deposits of Revelation.” He asserts that Protestantism has been reduced to “the individualistic type of religion in which each man’s subjective religious experience determines the God he will worship and the altar he will serve,” or a “purely social form of religion.” See Fulton J. Sheen, The Mystical Body of Christ (Ave Maria Press, Notre Dame, IN, 2015), p. 2.
  2. The reader should take note that in addition to the extensive Biblical exegesis Sheen offers in the main body of his work, the footnotes of the text supply a wealth of additional Biblical references and analysis that should not be overlooked.
  3. Sheen, p. 5.
  4. Sheen, p. 7.
  5. Sheen, p. 15.
  6. Sheen, p. 18.
  7. Sheen, p. 20.
  8. Sheen, p. 56.
  9. Sheen, p. 37.
  10. Sheen, p. 27.
  11. Sheen, p. 29.
  12. Sheen, p. 41.
  13. Sheen, pp. 42-43.
  14. Sheen, p. 45.
  15. Sheen, p. 32.
  16. Sheen, p. 33.
  17. Sheen, p. 48.
  18. Sheen, p. 49.
  19. Sheen, p. 50.
  20. Sheen, p. 51.
  21. Sheen elsewhere explains that baptism is the mechanism for incorporation into the Mystical Body of Christ. See Sheen, p. 298.
  22. Sheen, p. 57.
  23. Sheen, p. 58.
  24. Sheen, p. 59.
  25. Sheen, pp. 61-63.
  26. Sheen, p. 66.
  27. Sheen, p. 304. Sheen extensively highlights the evidence for the historicity of the primacy of St. Peter and Rome in his footnotes for Chapter Three. See Sheen, pp. 305-308.
  28. Sheen, p. 75.
  29. Sheen, p. 79.
  30. Sheen, p. 81.
  31. Sheen devotes an entire chapter to explaining how scandals in the Church can be reconciled with her role as Christ’s mystical body. In rhetorical flourish typical of the bishop, Sheen exhorts the Church’s detractors to “reveal the worst, for it will only help to make clear her true nature.” See Sheen, p. 99.
  32. Sheen, p. 85.
  33. Sheen, pp. 86-88.
  34. Sheen, p. 91.
  35. Sheen, p. 96.
  36. Sheen argues that “the Infallibility of the Church is nothing more than the Infallibility of Christ,” and asks rhetorically whether the Holy Spirit died after Pentecost or the early councils of the Church. See Sheen, p. 117, 121. On the unique authority of the Church, Sheen observes, “a book could not preserve [Christ’s] authority, for the book needs interpretation, and who would interpret it?” See Sheen, p. 134.
  37. Sheen, p. 225.
  38. Sheen, p. 242.
  39. Sheen, p. 247, 249.
  40. It is in this book that one of Sheen’s most famous aphorisms can be found: They do “not really hate the Church; they hate only that which they mistakenly believe to be the Church.” See Sheen, p. 140.

Prayer for the Canonization of Venerable Fulton Sheen

Heavenly Father, source of all holiness, You raise up within the Church in every age men and women who serve with heroic love and dedication. You have blessed Your Church through the life and ministry of Your faithful servant, Archbishop Fulton J Sheen. He has written and spoken well of Your Divine Son, Jesus Christ, and was a true instrument of the Holy Spirit in touching the hearts of countless people.

If it be according to Your Will, for the honor and glory of the Most Holy Trinity and for the salvation of souls, we ask You to move the Church to proclaim him a saint. We ask this prayer through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.

Imprimatur:
+Most Reverend Daniel R. Jenky, C.S.C., Bishop of Peoria

Love,
Matthew

Jaded? Try the tenderness of His Heart…

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This life, this world is a cold, cruel, arbitrary, brutal place.  We know this.  What saves us from total despair?  His tenderness of Heart.  Mt 11:28-29.

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-by Charlie Johnson, a former Calvinist, is embracing his new Catholic faith.

“The world, it seems, is full of both crisis and triumph. The world’s problems can make any compassionate person feel helpless. The world’s problems can give any cynic his fodder. The triumphs? Well, often they can be hard to locate. Usually because they are small things. I saw a woman on TV handing out bottles of water to refugees in Hungary and I cried. What a beautiful thing. I can’t do that. I am not in Hungary. But I can do some small things. I can promote some small kindness today. A small kindness is a great triumph.

I have found that most people are rather pessimistic about the world. I know I have been. And seeds of that are probably still evident in my daily milieu. But when I discover truth – the truth of kindness -, it gives me immense hope. Once upon a time, when I suffered greatly under the weight of such intense existential questioning and depression, I never imagined I could experience a sustained disposition of joy. But this kindness has brought me great joy.

A Christian will not have an effective religion unless he sees its source. It is true that a man died for the lost and downtrodden. But a message of salvation, I think, is insufficient if there is no Great Affection intrinsically attached to it. I was a Christian for a long, long time before I knew that God liked me and smiled at my presence. God has great affection for me. And a kind heart – the likes of which no other kindness can match.

The Sacred Heart of Jesus is an image that provokes a confused reaction in me. I want to recoil at the sight of it. A bleeding heart, punctured by thorn. But then I cannot take my eyes off it. There is no greater symbol for human nature than the heart. The thing that keeps the blood going, giving life.

I cannot escape it no matter how much I try. I have tried to come up with a better answer. But all I know is that the most effective religious observance is knowing the kindness of Christ. When I have hated myself the only remedy I can find is kindness. When I have hated others the only remedy that has sorted me out is kindness. When the world goes black to me and all I see are grim faces of disapproval, the only remedy is the affectionate smile of a Savior.

The Sacred Heart tells us of Jesus’ humanity. That he is not an abstract idea or fanciful thought meant to encourage positive emotions. The Sacred Heart imagines the heart of Jesus, exposed and aflame with life. It is crowned with thorns, pierced through by an instrument meant to usurp his status as king. He wears it gladly. I keep the image of the sacred heart close to me because it reminds me of his burning love when I get jaded.

The most important thing ever is knowing Jesus and the tenderness of his Sacred Heart.”

“O Sacred Heart of Jesus, we place our trust in Thee!”  -traditional McCormick family aspirational prayer.

Love,
Matthew

Church tour & Psalm 63

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-by Br Joseph Martin Hagan, OP

“Summer is the tourist’s season.  Imagine taking a tour of the White House. There is that surreal feeling of walking through the corridors of such an important building, where so much has happened. And then, at the climax of the tour, you enter the Oval Office. There, the tour guide comments on the history of the room and its current appearance. Visitors ooh and ah, snapping photos and selfies.

However, sitting there in the Oval Office, behind the desk, is the President. For some strange reason, the tour guide does not mention him, and following suit, most visitors hardly even notice him. Perhaps a few devoutly patriotic visitors offer a polite “good afternoon, Mr. President.” But besides such niceties, there is no fuss about the President. People are more enthralled by the room than the man.

A similar scenario plays out in many Catholic churches. Most tours focus on architecture and artwork. “Look at these gothic arches.” “What beautiful stained glass!” All the while, the King of the Universe, the unmatched Lover of every heart is present—Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity—awaiting each guest in the Eucharist. Sure, the pious visitors will genuflect or bow, but even these gestures are often perfunctory.

Art has an inherent value, worthy of receiving the tour’s appreciation. And it is a blessing to have a church worthy of such a tour. Even more, the beauty of the church helps to manifest the beauty of the Eucharist. Good artwork tells the story of God’s love for us, and good architecture calls forth the reverence due to the Eucharist.

Yet the irony remains. For a brief period of time, we get more excited about the wrapping paper than the gift.

Our response should be quite simple: “You are my God; I thirst for You.”

Love,
Matthew

Believe, Desire, Do – Jn 6:26

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benedictjonak

-by Rev Benedict Jonak, OP, English Province

“St Thomas Aquinas says in a neat way that there are three things necessary for our salvation: to know what to believe, to know what to desire and to know what to do.

Of course he is not the first one to stress the importance of knowledge, whether practical or theoretical. The value of knowledge has been key to many philosophical or religious movements. It is expressed in the familiar “Know thyself” of the Delphic oracle or in the saying of Laozi: “To know others is wise; to know oneself is enlightenment.”

What knowledge or understanding does Christianity offer us?

Our Lord, by His being truly human and Divine, teaches us what it means to be truly human. By His words and actions He also reveals to us something of the mystery of God.

In Jn 6:26 Jesus attempts to educate our desires, our motivations, as well as instructs us in what we ought to believe about Himself.

The crowds that followed Christ to the other side of the lake did so because He gave them food:

‘I tell you most solemnly,

you are not looking for Me because you have seen the signs

but because you had all the bread you wanted to eat.’

These words of Christ provoke us to ask some questions about our discipleship:

Why is it that we follow Him? What do we believe about Him and does that what we believe fully inform our daily lives? Feel free to meditate this week on these questions in prayer before the Lord with all honesty.

What you might discover, however, is that there are many reasons why you follow Christ.

Our motivations can be multiple because we find ourselves attracted to the goodness of God for different reasons. Some of us look for peace and consolation of the faith. Others try to make the world a more just and a better place. Some still find in the faith an insightful structure enabling them to manage their family life or the education of their children. All these motivations are good in themselves; they are right and proper, just as working to provide food for oneself and one’s family is right and proper. But there is one motivation, one desire, that needs to crown all these in order for us fully to embrace the discipleship of Christ. That fundamental desire is for God Himself, the living bread. (A sacristan saw Thomas Aquinas late one night kneeling before the altar and heard a voice, coming, it seemed, from the crucifix, which said, “Thou hast written well of Me, Thomas; what reward wouldst thou have?” To which Thomas replied, “Nothing but Thyself, Lord.”)  Good answer.  Right answer.  Best.  🙂

If we truly embrace the knowledge that Christ is our Head in his Body which is the Church, then we need to teach ourselves to long to be ever closer to Him. In the way we think or act, in the way we speak and look at each other, we are called to be Christ-like. This is the new life that St Paul talks about:

“Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. Because of these, the wrath of God is coming.”  Col 3:5-6

“So I tell you this, and insist on it in the Lord, that you must no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their thinking. They are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts. Having lost all sensitivity, they have given themselves over to sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity, and they are full of greed.

That, however, is not the way of life you learned when you heard about Christ and were taught in Him in accordance with the truth that is in Jesus. You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.”  Eph 4:17-24

The life that the Apostle speaks about flows from the revelation of Christ: He is sent, given to us, so that we may flourish as one body. He lives in us – this is what we ought to believe; He is coming back in glory – this is what we ought to desire; He left us His Good News and His own Body and Blood to be shared around the world – this is what we ought to do.”

Love,
Matthew

We are all Nazoreans – Mk 6:1-6

nazareth
-modern day Nazareth, Israel

We shouldn’t judge the Nazoreans too harshly.  If God appeared to us in disguise, would we see Him?  Even the disguise of bread and wine?  Would we?  Really?  You’re that sure of yourself?  I’m not.

“Seeking the face of God in everything, everyone, all the time, and His hand in every happening; This is what it means to be contemplative in the heart of the world. Seeing and adoring the presence of Jesus, especially in the lowly appearance of bread, and in the distressing disguise of the poor.” -Bl Teresa of Calcutta, MC

megantwomey
-by Megan Twomey

“A priest, in his homily recently, reminded his congregation that we are all called to be prophets and evangelize to those around us and that we are not to be surprised when those around us reject us. As I listened to the priest, however, I found that I often identify not with Christ, but with the incredulous people of Nazareth. I began to wonder how often I had rejected a message from God or shut myself off from His miracles, because I was too snobbish to believe that God could work through the people around me.

The people of Nazareth were incredibly blessed among the towns of history, for they had the sole privilege of witnessing God grow up. In their simple town, the Blessed Mother and her spouse, the ever-steadfast St. Joseph, raised the Son of God. Nazareth sheltered the family from whom the Savior of the world came, and yet, they did not recognize Him. They saw only what they wanted to see: a local boy, someone “just like us”; they missed their opportunity for Christ to do what could have been His greatest miracles. They refused to believe that God could be fulfilling His promise of salvation through, in their minds, an ordinary man.

There are dozens of reasons they could have felt that way. Perhaps they did not like Christ’s message of repentance. They could have thought themselves too humble to be noticed by God, or, conversely, too proud to need help from a neighbor. It must have been hard to wrap their heads around the fact that the Messiah had been under their noses the whole time. Whether they had imagined a charismatic stranger, a solider, or a wealthy king, I doubt they saw the Anointed One as a young man with whom they had shared a village, a synagogue, and maybe a family tree.

Yet no matter the reason, be it prejudice or pride, self-abasement or self-righteousness, the people of Nazareth heard the truth and were unable to believe it. They witnessed the Son of God in their midst and saw only the son of a local carpenter. Their clouded vision cost them the chance for great miracles, miracles Jesus clearly wanted to perform. They had the opportunity to fall down at the feet of Christ, and claim, along with their unworthiness, their gratitude for what God was working in front of their very eyes. Instead, they watched the chosen one of Israel walk away and shake His head at their unbelief.

How many times have I unknowingly caused the Savior of the world to shake His head at my own doubt? I can be so blind to what the Holy Spirit is working in my life because I only see what I want to see. I must miss miracles all the time because I cannot believe I am worthy of them or that they could happen here. My ears are so often closed to the truth because of the person who has spoken it. We are so familiar with those around us that we can miss how God uses them as agents of change and messengers of repentance.

As the village of Nazareth demonstrated, the people of Israel had a habit of missing out on the prophecies of God and mistreating his prophets. God reached out to them again and again, but their hearts were hard, their ears were deaf, and their eyes were blind. And still we continue not to learn from their stories. The Holy Spirit still speaks to us: through the Church, through the Scriptures, and through the people around us. We must not let our ideas of what we want God to say and of what His messengers ought to look like cost us our ability to hear.

We walk in a landscape of prophets, angels, and miracles, if our eyes and ears will only be open. As the poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning once said: ““Earth’s crammed with heaven/And every common bush afire with God, /But only he who sees takes off his shoes; /The rest sit round and pluck blackberries.” God has not stopped speaking and He has not stopped working miracles. Let us not stop listening and looking. If we allow those around us to scandalize us when they speak truth and when we see our town and our time and ourselves as unworthy of miracles, we miss more than a message, we miss Christ.”

Love & blessing,
Matthew

The Way, the Truth, the Life…Jn 14:6

WayTruthLife

Ego sum via veritas et vita

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-by Br Alan Piper, OP

“Everyone knows who Jesus is. He’s that great (God-)man Who taught His followers to love their enemies and warned them not to judge. He spoke truth to power, and He paid the price for it. He loved the outcast and dined with sinners. This is the Jesus we all know and love.

But this portrait, true as far as it goes, turns out to be rather flat. Most people agree that we should love one another. And everyone supports speaking truth to power. If Jesus taught only what everyone already knows, He really has nothing to say to us.

In fact, however, Jesus’ teaching on truth and love is far from common knowledge. It’s true, for example, that He instructs us to love our enemies, but he also says—admittedly, by way of hyperbole—that we should hate our parents out of love for Him (Lk 14:26). And His own love for the Pharisees did not prevent Him from describing them as the rankest filth (Mt 23).

He also called them “hypocrites” and “a brood of vipers”—even though He instructed His disciples not to judge (Mt 23; 7:1). Apparently (and obviously), Jesus did not mean to rule out all moral denunciation. In fact, when Jesus discourages the man with the beam in his eye from removing the speck in his neighbor’s, He advises him to remove the beam in his own eye in order better to remove the speck in his neighbor’s (Mt 7:3-5). So, according to Jesus, to pass judgment on another’s immorality is to do that person a favor!

Given all Jesus’ criticism of the religious authorities, people sometimes infer that Jesus was against hierarchy or any organized religion. But of course He Himself chose twelve men to succeed Him in teaching the world, and He gave them power to decide things concerning heaven and earth (Mt 28:19; 16:19; 18:18). In fact, what Jesus acknowledges as good in the Pharisees is precisely their official capacity. Despite the Pharisees’ egregious wickedness, Jesus tells the people to listen to them because they sit on the seat of Moses (Mt 23:2-3). That is about as ringing an endorsement of organized, hierarchical religion as one could find. Not that the Pharisees are necessarily better than everyone else. Jesus saves His highest praise for the humble: “whoever humbles himself like [a] child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven” (Mt 18:4). According to Jesus, humility and hierarchy go together. Even in heaven, human beings will be arrayed in order of greatness.

Nothing in Jesus’ teaching is self-contradictory (unlike Walt Whitman, Jesus did not consider self-contradiction an expression of wisdom). Instead, the teaching of Jesus is paradoxical, because life itself is paradoxical. Only a doctrine that is profound and perplexing is adequate to the mystery of human life. And only a teacher Who is surprising, strange, and strong can demand our full attention. If we content ourselves with anything less, we lose the real Jesus. We get a cardboard-cutout Jesus, who can be little more than a confirmation of our own prejudices.

And really, it is Jesus’s teaching about Himself that is at the heart of His message. Unlike the Buddha, for example, Jesus did not instruct His followers to ignore His person and focus on his teaching. In the center of Mark’s Gospel, Jesus asks His disciples the central question: “Who do you say that I am?” (Mk 8:29). In John’s Gospel, He answers His own question: “He who has seen Me has seen the Father” (Jn 14:9). It is this paradox, the mystery of Jesus’ true humanity and true divinity, that is the source and explanation of all the other paradoxes of His doctrine. And all the other paradoxes lead back to this One. And it is this mystery of Jesus’ identity that makes His teaching infinitely worth hearing.

“Let him who has ears to hear . . .” (Mt 11:15).

Love,
Matthew

“What is Truth?”, Pilate retorted. -Jn 18:38

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Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, My servants would fight to prevent My arrest”…”You are a king, then!” said Pilate. Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. In fact, the reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to Me.” -Jn 18:36-37.

Our recent media coverage of “identifying as” is symptomatic, only in a clearer way, of humanity’s difficulty with objective truth, imho.  Pilate’s question about truth is one of my favorite in Scripture.  I pray on it constantly.  Perhaps reality is even too much to ask of some?  Reality is too much of a tyrant?

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-by Rev Vincent Serpa, OP

“I suppose the most basic definition of truth would be: the conformity of the intellect with what the thing perceived actually is. This would be objective truth. In our culture many want to make such truth relative. “You have your truth and I have mine.” Such is not truth. If one’s perception of something does not conform to what it actually is, then one is in error—no matter how convinced one is and certainly no matter how one feels about it. People who  are (Ed. willfully) colorblind  are not seeing all the true colors before them.

Their perceptions are distorted, even though they are not aware of it. When I make a statement about something that does indeed actually exist, then such a statement could be called a truth. Any statement that would contradict that statement would then be an untruth. If such an untrue statement is deliberately made in order to deceive, then that statement is called a lie. This is pretty basic stuff. Unfortunately, there is so much dishonesty in our society about the very nature of truth that many are confused. Since God is the source of all that is and knows His creation perfectly, He is the fullness of all truth.”

Love,
Matthew