Mary

-by Rev Gabriel of St Mary Magdalen, OCD, Divine Intimacy, Baronius Press, (c) 1964

Presence of God – Under your protection I take refuge, O Mary; be the guide and model of my interior life.

MEDITATION

Month of May, month of Mary! The heart of every Christian turns spontaneously toward his heavenly Mother, with a desire to live in closer intimacy with her and to strengthen the sweet ties which bind him to her. It is a great comfort on our spiritual way, which is often fatiguing and bristling with difficulties, to meet the gentle presence of a mother. One is so at ease near one’s mother. With her, everything becomes easier; the weary, discouraged heart, disturbed by storms, finds new hope and strength, and continues the journey with fresh courage.

“If the winds of temptation arise,” sings St. Bernard, “if you run into the reefs of trials, look to the star, call upon Mary. In danger, sorrow, or perplexity, think of Mary, call upon Mary.”

There are times when the hard road of the “nothing” frightens us, miserable as we are; and then, more than ever, we need her help, the help of our Mother. The Blessed Virgin Mary has, before us, trodden the straight and narrow path which leads to sanctity; before us she has carried the cross, before us she has known the ascents of the spirit through suffering. Sometimes, perhaps, we do not dare to look at Jesus the God-Man, Who because of His divinity seems too far above us; but near Him is Mary, His Mother and our Mother, a privileged creature surely, yet a creature like ourselves, and therefore a model more accessible for our weakness.

Mary comes to meet us during this month, to take us by the hand, to initiate us into the secret of her interior life, which must become the model and norm of our own.

COLLOQUY

“O my soul, do you fear to approach God? He has given you Jesus as Mediator. Is there anything that such a Son could not obtain from His Father? The Father who loves Him will answer Him, because of the love He bears Him. But do you yet hesitate to approach Him? He made Himself your brother, your companion, and in everything, sin excepted, He willed to undergo all the humiliations of human nature, just to compassionate your miseries. Mary has given you this brother. But His divine Majesty still awes you, perhaps; for, although He is man, He does not cease to be God. Do you want an advocate with Him? Have recourse to Mary. Mary is a pure creature, pure not only because she is free from sin, but also because of her unique human nature. I am sure, O Mary, that your prayers will be heard because of the respect you deserve; your Son will certainly hear you because you are His Mother, and the Father will hear His Son. This is why my confidence is unshakable; this is the reason for all my hope! O Blessed Virgin, the Angel declared that ‘you have found grace before God.’ You will always find grace, and I need only grace; I ask for nothing else” (cf. St. Bernard).

“Draw me after you, O Virgin Mary, that I may run in the odor of your ointments. Draw me, for I am held back by the weight of my sins and the malice of your enemies. Since no one comes to your Son unless he is drawn by the Father, I dare to say that no one, so to speak, comes to Him if you do not draw him by your prayers. You teach true wisdom, you beg grace for sinners, you are their advocate, you promise glory to those who honor you, because you are the treasury of grace. You have found grace with God, O most sweet Virgin, you who have been preserved from original sin, filled with the Holy Spirit, and have conceived the Son of God. You have been given all these graces, O most humble Mary, not only for yourself, but also for us, so that you may be able to help us in all our necessities” (cf. Ven. Raymond Jourdain).”

Love,
Matthew

Pascha Nostrum

Alleluia.
Christ our Passover has been sacrificed for us;
therefore let us keep the feast,

Not with the old leaven, the leaven of malice and evil,
but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth. Alleluia.

Christ being raised from the dead will never die again;
death no longer has dominion over Him.

The death that He died, He died to sin, once for all;
but the life He lives, He lives to God.

So also consider yourselves dead to sin,
and alive to God in Jesus Christ our Lord. Alleluia.

Christ has been raised from the dead,
the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep.

For since by a man came death,
by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead.

For as in Adam all die,
so also in Christ shall all be made alive. Alleluia.

Love,
Matthew

Mystery of Love

“If I meditate on the Cross, and its mystery, I “understand”. I understand how perverse and disappointing this life & world is, my marriage is, the Church can be, everything. In the Cross is the answer to all.” -MPM

-by Rev Gabriel of St Mary Magdalen, OCD, Divine Intimacy, Baronius Press, (c) 1964

Presence of God – O Jesus, help me to penetrate the mystery of Your infinite love, which constrained You to become our Food and Drink.

MEDITATION

All God’s activity for man’s benefit is a work of love; it is summed up in the immense mystery of love which causes Him, the sovereign, infinite Good, to raise man to Himself, making him, a creature, share in His divine nature by communicating His own life to him. It was precisely to communicate this life, to unite man to God, that the Word became Incarnate. In His Person the divinity was to be united to our humanity in a most complete and perfect way; it was united directly to the most sacred humanity of Jesus, and through it, to the whole human race. By virtue of the Incarnation of the Word and of the grace He merited for us, every man has the right to call Jesus his Brother, to call God his Father and to aspire to union with Him. The way of union with God is thus opened to man. By becoming incarnate and later dying on the Cross, the Son of God not only removed the obstacles to this union, but He also provided all we need to gain it, or rather, He Himself became the Way. Through union with Jesus, man is united to God.

It is not surprising that the love of Jesus, surpassing all measure, impelled Him to find a means of uniting Himself to each one of us in the most intimate and personal manner; this He found in the Eucharist. Having become our Food, Jesus makes us one with Him, and thus makes us share most directly in His divine life, in His union with the Father and with the Trinity.

By assuming our flesh in the Incarnation, the Son of God united Himself once and for all with the human race. In the Eucharist, He continues to unite Himself to each individual who receives Him. Thus we can understand how the Eucharist, according to the mind of the Fathers of the Church, may really be “considered as a continuation and extension of the Incarnation; by it the substance of the Incarnate Word is united to every man” (cf Mirae Caritatis paragraph 7).

COLLOQUY

“O eternal Trinity! O fire and abyss of charity! How could our redemption benefit You? It could not, for You, our God, have no need of us. To whom then comes this benefit? Only to man. O inestimable charity! Even as You, true God and true Man, gave Yourself entirely to us, so also You left Yourself entirely for us, to be our food, so that during our earthly pilgrimage we would not faint with weariness, but would be strengthened by You, our celestial Bread. O man, what has your God left you? He has left you Himself, wholly God and wholly Man, concealed under this whiteness of bread. O fire of love! Was it not enough for You to have created us to Your image and likeness, and to have re-created us in grace through the Blood of Your Son, without giving Yourself wholly to us as our Food, O God, Divine Essence? What impelled You to do this? Your charity alone. It was not enough for You to send Your Word to us for our redemption; neither were You content to give Him to us as our Food, but in the excess of Your love for Your creature, You gave to man the whole divine essence. And not only, O Lord, do You give Yourself to us, but by nourishing us with this divine Food, You make us strong with Your power against the attacks of the demons, insults from creatures, the rebellion of our flesh, and every sorrow and tribulation, from whatever source it may come.

“O Bread of Angels, sovereign, eternal purity, You ask and want such transparency in a soul who receives You in this sweet Sacrament, that if it were possible, the very angels would have to purify themselves in the presence of such an august mystery. How can my soul become purified? In the fire of Your charity, O eternal God, by bathing itself in the Blood of Your only-begotten Son. O wretched soul of mine, how can you approach such a great mystery without sufficient purification? I will take off, then, the loathsome garments of my will and clothe myself, O Lord, with Your eternal will!” (St. Catherine of Siena).”

Love,
Matthew

“Mysterium fidei” – Mystery of Faith

[Ed. Recall when the Catholic Church uses the word “mystery”, it does not mean something unknowable. Rather, it means something infinitely knowable. Key.]

-by Rev Gabriel of St Mary Magdalen, OCD, Divine Intimacy, Baronius Press, (c) 1964

Presence of God – O Jesus, I believe that You are present in the Blessed Sacrament of the altar, and I adore You. Increase my faith.

MEDITATION

In the Canon [Eucharistic Prayer] of the Mass, the Eucharist is called “Mysterium fidei,” the Mystery of faith; indeed, only faith can make us see God present under the appearances of bread. Here, as St. Thomas says, the senses do not help at all—sight, touch, and taste are deceived, finding in the consecrated Host only a little bread. But what matters? We have the word of the Son of God; the word of Christ, Who declared: “This is My Body … This is My Blood” and we firmly believe in His word. “Credo quidquid dixit Dei Filius, nil hoc verbo Veritatis verius.” I believe everything the Son of God has said; nothing can be truer than this word of Truth (Adoro Te Devote by St Thomas Aquinas, OP)…

I devoutly adore you, O hidden Deity,
Truly hidden beneath these appearances.
My whole heart submits to You,
And in contemplating You, it surrenders itself completely.

Sight, touch, taste are all deceived in their judgment of You,
But hearing suffices firmly to believe.
I believe all that the Son of God has spoken;
There is nothing truer than this word of truth.

On the cross only the divinity was hidden,
But here the humanity is also hidden.
Yet believing and confessing both,
I ask for what the repentant thief asked.

I do not see the wounds as Thomas did,
But I confess that You are my God.
Make me believe more and more in You,
Hope in You, and love You.

O memorial of our Lord’s death!
Living bread that gives life to man,
Grant my soul to live on You,
And always to savor Your sweetness.

Lord Jesus, Good Pelican1,
wash my filthiness and clean me with Your blood,
One drop of which can free
the entire world of all its sins.

Jesus, Whom now I see hidden,
I ask You to fulfill what I so desire:
That the sight of Your face being unveiled
I may have the happiness of seeing Your glory. Amen.

…We firmly believe in the Eucharist, we have no doubts about it; unfortunately, however, we must admit that our faith is often weak and dull. Although we may not live far from a church, although we may perhaps dwell under the same roof with Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament, it is easy to become rather indifferent, or even cold, in the presence of this great reality. Alas, our coarse nature gradually grows accustomed to even the most sublime and beautiful realities, so that they no longer impress us and have no power to move us, especially when they are near at hand. Thus it happens that while we believe in the ineffable presence of Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament, we pay little or no attention to the greatness of this reality, and we fail to have the lively, concrete appreciation of it which the saints had. Let us then repeat, very humbly and confidently, the Apostles’ beautiful prayer: “Domine, adauge nobis fidem,” Lord, increase our faith! (Luke 17:5).

COLLOQUY

“Praise and thanks to you, O blessed faith! You tell me with certitude that the Blessed Sacrament of the altar, the heavenly Manna, is no longer bread, but my Lord Jesus Christ Who is wholly present there for love of me.

“One day, O Jesus, full of love and of goodness, You sat beside the well to await the Samaritan woman, that You might convert and save her. Now, You dwell on our altars, hidden in the consecrated Host, where You wait and sweetly invite souls, to win them to Your love. From the tabernacle You seem to say to us all: ‘O men, why do you not come to Me, Who love you so much? I am not come to judge you! I have hidden myself in this Sacrament of love only to do good and to console all who have recourse to Me’; I understand, O Lord; love has made You our prisoner; the passionate love You have for us has so bound You that it does not permit You to leave us.

“O Lord, You find Your delight in being with us, but do we find ours in being with You? Especially do we, who have the privilege of dwelling so near Your altar, perhaps even in Your very own house, find our delight in being with You? Oh! how much coldness, indifference, and even insults You have to endure in this Sacrament, while You remain there to help us by Your presence!

“O God, present in the Eucharist, O Bread of Angels, O heavenly Food, I love You; but You are not, nor am I, satisfied with my love. I love You, but I love You too little! Banish from my heart, O Jesus, all earthly affections and give place, or better, give the whole place to Your divine love. To fill me with Yourself, and to unite Yourself entirely to me, You come down from heaven upon the altar every day; justly then, should I think of nothing else but of loving, adoring, and pleasing You. I love You with my whole soul, with all my strength. If You want to make a return for my love, increase it and make it always more ardent!” (St. Alphonsus).”

Love,
Matthew

1. In medieval Europe, the pelican was thought to be particularly attentive to her young, to the point of providing her own blood by wounding her own breast when no other food was available. As a result, the pelican came to symbolize the Passion of Jesus and the Eucharist.

Bible study: Acts of the Apostles


-“Saint Paul”, Bartolomeo Montagna, ~1431 AD


-by Casey Chalk

“Ecumenical Bible studies: they are often demonstrations of the best and worst of Christian dialogue. In their most beneficial form, they offer opportunities for members of various Christian traditions, be they Catholic, Orthodox, Reformed, or various strands of Evangelicalism, to share their own rich understandings and applications of Biblical literature. Alternatively, they can devolve into unprofitable contests of “name that Scripture verse” to support some particular doctrine — justification by grace through faith alone, Petrine primacy, infant baptism, you name it. A tendency among those Christians eager to “keep the peace” in a setting featuring divergent theological beliefs and practices is to try to find common ground, lowest common denominators, and “non-negotiables.” Such attempts can themselves be profitable, though at times the result is a conversation lacking any theological depth, the participants so frightened of controversy and of offending one another that folks reduce themselves to “this is how this Scripture verse speaks to me” comments. Better than nothing, I suppose, though certainly less than what we are called to do as Christians when approaching Holy Scripture. It’s hard to imagine St. Paul walking into a synagogue in Corinth and declaring in firm confidence to the Jews present: “You may have your own interpretations of the Torah, which may be equally true, but let me tell you what this Scripture means to me!” Is there any way for Christians of different theological stripes to bridge the gap? In this post I will propose an alternative way to read and discuss Scripture that I think offers opportunity for more fruitful exchanges between Christians.

Why Can’t We All Just Get Along?

One of the biggest obstacles to overcome in ecumenical Bible studies is that individuals from different traditions have certain “voices” speaking to them when they sit down to read Scripture, and it’s not that we are all schizophrenics. What I mean is that no one really sits down to read their Bible in a vacuum, as if one could really isolate their reading in such a way that it was just that person, the Holy Spirit, and the text. Rather, we read Scripture with all manner of unavoidable influences: what others have told us about the text, what we have read others say about the text, what influence the text may have had on our lives (presuming we’ve read it before), what associations we have with certain words or ideas in the text, and so on. Truly, there’s no such thing as “me and my Bible” — it’s me, my middle-school youth group leader, my first “Teen Bible,” the pastor at my church, Christian radio, that course I took in college, what my significant other believes, and on and on.

To take a more doctrinal view, some Protestants will be reading their Bibles in light of doctrines prevalent in mainstream evangelicalism (say, Rick Warren or Philip Yancey), Reformed thought (say, John Piper or R.C. Sproul), or even the “emergent church” movement (think Donald Miller’s Blue Like Jazz or William P. Young’s The Shack). Catholics, on the other hand, will read their Bibles in light of popular Catholic thinkers like Scott Hahn or Bishop Robert Barron, and probably with various Magisterial teachings from Church councils or papal doctrinal statements floating around in the background, as well. None of these influences, I would argue, can be easily put aside in an ecumenical Bible study, because their mark on our thoughts and practices runs deep. But neither can members of different traditions just accept an opposing position, as if an evangelical would say, “fine, I’ll just put my opinions on hold for the next hour-and-a-half and act as if whatever the Pope says is true.” We do indeed need some “common ground” beyond just picking up the Bible and starting to read it together, and it needs to be more than just some overly-deferential and vapid validation of everyone’s opinions. Since the New Testament, and particularly Paul’s letters, are one of the more popular texts for Bible studies, I want to focus my attention there. In this case, I propose that reading Paul in light of another New Testament text, the Book of Acts, can reap ecumenical dividends.1

Why Acts?

Using Acts as an interpretive “lodestar” can be an effective tool for ecumenical dialogue because it itself is something everyone at the table should already agree on: it’s Scripture! There shouldn’t be any Protestants, Catholics, or Orthodox asserting their defiance to the book, as if it represents some subtle means of asserting one’s particular theological tradition over the conversation. In addition to this fairly obvious point, I can identify at least three other good reasons why Acts can be an interpretive lodestar — meaning, just as certain stars in the sky, like Polaris, can serve as a guide the course of a ship, so Acts can serve as a guide or reference point for reading Paul.

The first is that Acts is history, specifically, the history of the early Church during part of the Apostolic age. Generally speaking, reading a history of a particular era shines light on the “primary texts” of that era, helping contextualize and make sense of that historical period. Consider this example: let’s say you want to learn about the American Civil War. There are many great collections of letters, diaries, and memoirs regarding this historical period: Elijah Hunt Rhodes, Sam Watkins, Mary Chestnut, etc. You could certainly pick up one of them and just start reading. But will much of the text make sense to you, especially if you have little knowledge of that period? If your goal is to answer certain broad contextual questions regarding the Civil War, like “what were its causes?,” “who were the most important people?”, “what were the most important events”?, and “how and why did it end?”, these texts will not provide a systematic or thorough answer. Indeed, they weren’t intended to, because they were occasional, meaning written in reaction to a certain occasion. Elijah Hunt Rhodes, an enlisted soldier in the Union Army, didn’t intend his journal to be a history — he was simply recording his own personal experiences. In order to have a history in the modern sense, one needs a book (or books) written by someone who has read scores of primary and secondary sources, interviewed people, and visited important sites. You need a general history.

The Book of Acts is, in a sense, exactly that kind of general history. It is an overview of the major events and themes of the early Church, beginning with Jesus’ ascension into heaven around A.D. 33, and ending when St. Paul was imprisoned in Rome (probably around A.D. 60). Of course, for us as twenty-first century readers, Acts is itself a primary source of information about the early Apostolic Church, but it would not be too much of a stretch to call it a type of “secondary source,” or maybe more accurately a “proto-secondary source.” The author, St. Luke, very explicitly says in the beginning of the Gospel of Luke that his research is a compilation of information based on eyewitness testimony. If we read Acts first, and read Paul’s letters (or any other letters in the New Testament, for that matter), in light of what we know about the Church in Acts, we are sure to reap interpretive rewards.

A second reason to understand Acts as a general history is an argument from literature. Consider this analogy: if you wanted to know about Jane Austen and her literary corpus, reading all of her literature would give you quite a few details about her: her own life, and the major themes and ideas of her writing. But it would still be incomplete, because reading Austen’s work doesn’t tell you a lot of important things about her, information that would illuminate much of her books. If you were to read other works by authors who have done research on Austen, or who have sought to compile a biography of her life, you would be able to grasp more fully what she is trying to accomplish in Pride and Prejudice or Sense and Sensibility.

St. Paul’s letters are themselves a genre of literature, what scholars often call epistles, a type of formal letter. If you want to understand St. Paul, his life, the themes and doctrines that defined his theological understanding, you could read only the thirteen letters ascribed to him. Yet this would be woefully incomplete, especially given that the Book of Acts contains so many details about his life and teachings. Indeed, in addition to his conversion story (related three separate times!) and his missionary activity, Acts features several sermons of St. Paul, giving an additional important aspect to interpreting his teaching. Moreover, St. Paul is the main character of the second half of Acts, so much so that he is mentioned 131 times in the entire book. If you know Acts, you will better know St. Paul.

Finally and somewhat obviously is the organization of the New Testament itself. One may know that the books of New Testament are not listed in chronological order. In chronological order, the first book of the New Testament would likely be the Gospels of Matthew or Mark, or possibly Paul’s Letter to the Galatians. Then would be most of Paul’s epistles, followed by the Gospel of Luke, then Acts, possibly some more epistles, and finally the Gospel of John and Revelation. Yet in our our Bibles, we have Acts coming right after the Gospels, before any of Paul’s epistles, the other epistles, or Revelation. Why?

Remember that the New Testament canon did not arrive in the early Church overnight, nor was it easily agreed upon by all Christians. The books of the New Testament were written over a period of around 50 or 60 years, and many churches didn’t have access to all of those books for centuries. The earliest lists of New Testament books we have are from the latter half of the second century A.D. — this includes the Muratorian Canon and a list provided by St. Irenaeus of Lyon. No body of Christians (at least that we know of in the historical record) weighed in on an authoritative list of the New Testament until the four century. When these councils did vote on the content of the New Testament, they placed Acts directly after the four Gospels. This seems to have been a reasonable decision, given that the Gospels tell the life of Jesus and His Apostles up through the resurrection and ascension, and Acts picks up the story from the ascension. Possibly a bit more curiously, these Church councils separated Acts from the Gospel of Luke, which most scholars recognize was written by the same author, given the similarity of language and themes. In between the two books the councils placed the last of the Gospels, John, written almost certainly last, and also almost certainly after Acts. Why do this? Possibly because the council wanted to declare to readers: “first, know the story of Jesus; then,, know the story of the early Church; and once you know those stories, know the epistles of Paul and others.” Acts appears where it does in the New Testament because the Church in the fourth century believed it important for people to read it before reading St. Paul’s own works.

A Few Questions to Explore

I’d like to briefly move from theory to application. Bible studies often feed upon group questions for discussion. I’ll propose a few here, with the overarching theme of asking what happens if one reads St. Paul’s letters (or other Apostolic letters, for that matter) in light of Acts. I’ll also offer a few of my own reflections as I’ve sought to read St. Paul using Acts as my lodestar.

Question 1: What were the most important issues facing the early Church as recorded in the Book of Acts? Once you’ve named two or three, consider how those issues are addressed in St. Paul’s letters.

I would argue that apart from the persecution of Christians by Jewish and Roman authorities, the most pressing question facing the early Church was this: who is in the Church, and what do they have to do to be part of it? More specifically, is the Church only for Jews? If Gentiles are allowed in, do they in any sense have to become Jews? Note that the first recorded conflict in the early Church is between Greek-speaking and Hebrew-speaking Jews over the distribution of food to widows from their respective communities (Acts 6:1). This cultural-linguistic division becomes more pronounced when some Church leaders start sharing the Gospel with non-Jews, including an Ethiopian (Acts 8:26-40), and a Roman centurion and his household (Acts 10: 1-48). Moreover, the centurion’s conversion is so controversial that when St. Peter returns to the Church in Jerusalem he is forced to defend himself against certain Jewish Christians (called “the circumcision party”), who question the decision to baptize a Roman pagan. This conflict becomes an overwhelming tidal wave by Acts 15, when certain Christian men assert that “unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved” (Acts 15:1).

The greatest controversy within the early Church seems to localize on this particular question: do Gentiles who convert to Christianity need to become Jews by being circumcised and accepting Jewish dietary laws? The Church determines in Acts 15 that no, they do not, but the question continues to dog the Church: St. Paul tells us in Galatians 2:11-21 that St. Peter, coming under the influence of the same “circumcision party,” had separated himself from Gentile believers in Antioch, for which St. Paul publicly reprimanded him. This is actually the only mention we have within the New Testament of one Apostle publicly rebuking another.

What I’ve described above suggests that this was the predominant controversy of the early Church, encompassing the entirety of the historical period during which St. Paul’s letters were written. We should thus ask ourselves how the issues cited in the Pauline epistles (including his discussion of “faith v. works”) appear when viewed as part of this particular conflict over the status of Gentile Christians.2

Question 2: How did the Apostles pursue evangelism toward Jews and Gentiles in the days of the early Church? What was necessary to become a Christian? Do we see those priorities identified in St. Paul’s letters? Is there continuity or discontinuity in St. Paul in comparison to Acts?

St. Peter gives the first sermon of the early Church, recorded in the second chapter of Acts. When his audience asks him what is necessary for them to be saved, his response is that they repent, be baptized, and “receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38). The theme of baptism is consistent throughout the conversion stories of the early Church, repeated in Acts 8:13, 38-40; 10:44-48; 16:15, 33; 18:8; and 19:5, among others. Baptism, it would appear, is an essential feature of the missionary efforts of the Church. Moreover, baptism seems to be intimately united to the gift of the Holy Spirit, as if the sacrament in some sense actually serves as the mode by which new Christians receive the third person of the Trinity. Baptism also plays a dominant role in St. Paul’s theology, and is often united to discussion of the Holy Spirit (Romans 5:5, 6:3-4; 1 Corinthians 1:17, 6:11, 10:2; Galatians 3:27; Ephesians 2:5-6, 5:26; Colossians 2:11-12; Titus 3:5-7, etc.).

Question 3: What is the Church according to Acts? How does the Church resolve crises and conflicts? How does that compare to what St. Paul says about the Church?

The Apostles, unsurprisingly, are central to the leadership of the early Church. Indeed, Acts is largely a story of just a few key leaders: St. Peter, St. John, St. James, and St. Paul. St. Peter and St. Paul loom the largest. As noted above, the debate over the place of Gentiles within the nascent Church seems to reach its apex in Acts 15, when we read that “the apostles and the elders were gathered together to consider this matter” (Acts 15:6). This is in a sense the very first council of the Church, with the most important leaders, including St. Peter and St. Paul, present. Indeed, it is St. Peter who seems to give the “keynote address,” while St. James confirms St. Peter’s judgment. The council, apparently representing “the whole Church,” then sends a letter to the church in Antioch with its determination and various commands, while apparently claiming to act with the authority of the Holy Spirit (Acts 15:28).

The role of the Church is also central to St. Paul’s letters, emphasizing the importance of its unity (1 Corinthians 1:10-13; Ephesians 4:1-6), its holiness (1 Corinthians 6:1, 16:1; Ephesians 5:25-27), its universality or catholicity (Galatians 3:28; Ephesians 3:8-10), and its apostolicity (Ephesians 2:20; 1 Timothy 3:15; 2 Thessalonians 2:15; 1 Corinthians 11:2). Indeed, St. Paul’s ecclesiology is so high, he declares the household of God, the “church of the living God,” to be the “pillar and bulwark of the truth” (1 Timothy 3:15).3

Conclusion

Disagreements between Protestants, Catholics, and other Christian communions over the interpretation of Scripture are inevitable. In settings like Bible studies, however, we too often try to gloss over the differences as if they weren’t there, or as if discussing them will weaken our fellowship. This only needs to be the case if we aren’t capable of respectfully listening to and considering an interpretation or belief different from our own, or of communicating our own position with humility and charity. Yet through prayer and the aid of the Holy Spirit, we can overcome our own weaknesses, and find far richer ecumenical dialogue in the process. Reading the letters of the New Testament through the lens of Acts presents one opportunity for such conversation. We will likely disagree over such issues as the role of faith and works in salvation, or the how and when of baptism, or the exact nature of Church authority. Yet rather than returning to our usual mode of defensive apologetics or proof-texting, we might all benefit from a careful study of Paul in the context of Acts. We might be surprised what we find.”

Love, & Christian charity,
Matthew

1. I am indebted here to Fr. Sebastian Carnazzo, a professor at the Notre Dame Graduate School of Theology at Christendom College, who provided this methodology in his New Testament course.
2. Helpful analysis of this question can be found in N.T. Wright, What Saint Paul Really Said: Was Paul of Tarsus the Real Founder of Christianity? (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1997) and N.T. Wright, The New Testament and the People of God (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1992).
3. Taylor R. Marshall, The Catholic Perspective on Paul (Dallas, TX: Saint John Press, 2010), 35-46.

Grace?

“With the Gift of the Holy Spirit, the gift of supernatural grace makes one’s whole existence holy. This doctrine of deification, or divinization, involves a true sharing in God’s life that does not diminish our created dignity but raises our freedom above its natural capacities.

To be assimilated into the life of God in a way that perfects our humanity, the human person, as a creature, needs a gift that elevates, transforms, and unites it to the Holy Trinity. Sanctifying grace given through a new presence of the Holy Spirit in the soul is a participation in the life of God in the sense that it implicates and lifts up the very substance and nature of what it means to be a human being in the very life of God.

The theological tradition says that this sharing in divine life has a physical, formal, analogous, and accidental character. This seems odd to affirm and can easily be misunderstood. A proper understanding of these terms, however, opens up the mystery of sanctifying grace and protects it from dangerous and reductionist lines of reasoning.

We say that grace is an accidental participation in the life of God because even those who do not know God and who have rejected grace still have a soul and remain in the Divine Image. Whether or not someone has the gift of grace, his life is sacred and his dignity calls for respect. Furthermore, sanctifying grace does not physically change a human being into a wholly different creature. Human nature receives the life of God as a secondary reality, a second nature. This means that grace builds up and perfects humanity but does not replace it. This also means that as we accept the gift of grace, our frailty and inadequacy do not magically disappear. Instead, through grace we discover in our weaknesses that the power of God is brought to perfection (see 2 Cor. 12:9).

Why do we affirm that grace is an analogous participation in divine life? Analogous refers to the true relation, the harmony, the due proportion that grace establishes between creatures and God. Grace does not make us God by nature. If it did, we would cease to be human; we would cease to be at all. There would be no question of harmony or relation between humanity and divinity, between creation and creator.

To be analogous, to be in harmony, to be in due proportion requires that the soul who freely accepts sanctifying grace perfects its unique individuality before God. Affirming that grace is an analogous participation in the life of God is therefore essential for understanding justification. Grace, because it is analogous, gives real standing before God, because without standing there is no real relation. The gift of God is an analogous participation in the life of God insofar as it brings new and deeper meaning to the personal existence of the believer, establishing a real relation, while animating, healing, and perfecting the uniqueness of the individual before the Lord.

The more infused our humanity is with divine life, the greater our union with God and at the same time, the more fully human we become. Grace makes us like God to unite us to Him. This increased likeness does not diminish our humanity, and our union with God does not deprive us of our freedom. Instead the closer we draw to God, the greater freedom we enjoy, and the more we are like Him, the more the uniqueness of who we are delights His heart.

An analogous participation in God’s life opens up an understanding of relational mysticism that stands over and against various mysticisms of identity. Many systems propose an absolute being or absolute emptiness that either absorbs or annihilates the individual soul. In pantheistic systems, like that proposed by Hegel, the value of the individual is only its part in an overall process. Here, a measurable outcome yet to be realized surmounts the uniqueness of the individual: no soul is to be saved, but instead individual freedom must be overcome, made to conform. Our participation in God’s life, on the contrary, is not about mere compliance, but about a tender friendship with God, a sacred solidarity with the whole reality of heaven.

What do theologians mean by the term physical? In this context, physical does not mean simply something visible or bodily or material but instead refers to something invisible and spiritual. Grace works not extrinsic to the soul’s natural powers, but intrinsically through them, renewing the soul’s very substance. God’s nature does not impose itself from without but lifts up and expands the soul’s interiority so that the Divine Persons might dwell in it.

To participate physically in the life of God implies that the soul can be animated by a life infinitely deeper and fuller than the one that is its own by nature. It can have a second nature, a new nature within its nature, a life that is “not my own” (cf. Gal. 2:20). In the life of grace, frail human nature is physically caught up in and transformed by the immensity of divine life.

How is grace a formal participation in divine life? The form of grace is divine — it comes from God and is in God, not man. To say participation in divine life is formal affirms that the grace that makes us holy is a higher reality, above our human nature, capable of lifting our created nature into the very life of God. Divine life is a gift that is over the soul, above human existence, and its divine form lifts the soul above the limits of human nature without harming the integrity of our humanity. To say that grace is a physical and formal participation in the life of God is to say that all that is most noble, good, and true about being human is under the influence of this higher power.

This kind of participation in divine life subordinates everything that can be felt and touched, understood and imagined in human existence so that nothing can separate us from the love of God. New powers of faith, hope, and love, infused virtues, and an array of spiritual gifts lift merely human works above themselves. The grace that makes us holy elevates, transforms, and unites to God that part of us that is deeper than our bodily existence and even our psychological powers, so that through cooperation with the Holy Spirit, we can actually give praise to God. Thus, grace as a physical and formal sharing in God’s life refers to those depths and horizons of human existence and being that no science can adequately measure or examine.

Sanctifying grace involves the deepest center of the soul, reaching deeper into our human substance than any feeling, any enlightened state of consciousness, or any attitude, although it can influence all of this in the powers of the soul. This gift of holiness is an intrinsic principle at work within our nature: not an external force, not an extrinsic influence, not a power imposed over and against the natural greatness of humanity. In the very center of our being is where God physically implicates our frail human “I” with His omnipotent divine “Thou,” tenderly setting apart the very substance of who we are, subtly consecrating our very life-principle itself so that we can offer our bodies as a living sacrifice of praise.

In the form of heavenly things, the grace that makes us holy involves a sacrificial self-emptying of our humanity and a divinely humble lifting up of our frailties. Not limiting itself to the greatest and most powerful, the perfection of this eternal life is revealed in our weakness and failures. It is not the product of human effort or industry, but of trust and complete surrender. Only Uncreated Love can create this new life in the soul, but to do so, the soul must die to itself out of devotion to its crucified Master.

Through this blessing from above, God reveals His glory while protecting the integrity of human nature. Sanctifying grace raises the wonder of human dignity, helping man and woman see the greatness of each one’s created purpose. This gift from above commits the saint more deeply to promoting what is good and noble in the created order even as he is drawn closer to the Lord’s uncreated mystery.”

Love, & His grace, always,
Matthew

The Old Evangelization

Q. Before we get into the “Old Evangelization,” could you give us a definition of the New Evangelization?

A. Pope St. John Paul II called for a “New Evangelization” because he recognized that we are in a new era in the Church’s history: we have millions of baptized Catholics who have not been evangelized. Instead of traveling to a foreign country to evangelize, now we need only look next to us in the pews. This new reality presents new challenges for spreading the gospel.

Q. So what is your definition of the “Old Evangelization”?

A. The Old Evangelization is a return to the basic principles of evangelization that originated with Jesus himself. Too many things labeled “New Evangelization” today are neither new nor evangelization. The term has been co-opted. Popular techniques and programs are often just reruns of corporate marketing tricks or Protestant megachurch methods. The Old Evangelization focuses on the bold proclamation of the gospel, based on the model of Jesus Christ, and primarily through one-on-one relationships.

Q. What was your motivation behind writing this book?

A. I’ve been involved in Catholic evangelization for twenty-five years. In that time I’ve seen “evangelization” go from being practically taboo in Catholic circles to a buzzword attached to every parish program and outreach. Yet we still see a massive number of people leaving the Church. So I asked myself, “What if we don’t really understand what evangelization is?”

The most common misunderstandings I’ve seen are a result of two traps. First, many Catholics see evangelization primarily as a job for other people—those who are professionals, or maybe the people who run the programs at their parish. [Ed. too, too tragically, those professionals or even volunteers given responsibility are possessive, obsessive, territorial, and NO ONE but the officially sanctioned may proclaim.  The preaching office belongs to ALL the faithful. (Canon 766) Clericalism has NOTHING to do with males, celibate, clergy. It is ALL too common a Catholic universal malady. Tragic. Jesus weeps.] Or, second, they misunderstand what evangelization entails, figuring it can be summed up as being nice to others. Yet true Catholic evangelization—as Jesus and his first followers practiced it—means every Catholic boldly proclaiming the truths of our Faith to those around us. I wrote The Old Evangelization to remind Catholics of that fact and to show them how to do it.

Q. You call this “a practical guide.” How so?

A. Laced throughout the book are practical examples of evangelization. First and foremost are examples from the life of Jesus himself, unpacking his encounters with people like the Samaritan woman at the well and the rich young man. The book also includes examples from the lives of the saints over the past two millennia. Finally, I include many examples of evangelization—both successes and failures—I’ve encountered myself over the past quarter century of evangelization work. The book draws lessons from each of these examples that equip and encourage the reader to evangelize.

Q. I notice the book has study aids at the end of each chapter: examination, exercise, and exploration. Was the book designed for group as well as individual study?

A. I’m a firm believer that evangelization is best done one on one. But learning about evangelization can be a group affair. The Old Evangelization can be read as an individually or as part of a group, with the purpose of encouraging each Catholic to go out and proclaim his or her Faith without fear.

Q. Give us an example of how you would use The Old Evangelization in practice.

A. Let’s say you have a close relative who has fallen away from the Church. This book will give you practical advice—as well as encouragement—to talk to that person and help him or her back to the practice of the Faith.

Q. What is the greatest lesson you hope people learn from reading your book?

A. That they should not be scared to evangelize. Some are intimidated because they don’t think they know enough theology or doctrine. Others are intimidated because they fear social rejection if they talk about some of the Church’s more controversial teachings. In both cases, it is the devil who is working to keep Catholics quiet, but our Lord wants us spreading the Faith as he did!

Love,
Matthew

Mercy?

FROM A SERMON BY SAINT CAESARIUS OF ARLES (470-542 AD), BISHOP
(SERMO 25M I: CCL 103, 111-112)

“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.”
(Matthew 5:7)

“My brothers and sisters, sweet is the thought of mercy, but even more so is mercy itself. It is what all men hope for, but unfortunately, not what all men deserve. For while all men wish to receive it, only a few are willing to give it.

How can a man ask for himself what he refuses to give to another? If he expects to receive any mercy in heaven, he should give mercy on earth. Do we all desire to receive mercy? Let us make mercy our patroness now, and she will free us in the world to come. Yes, there is mercy in heaven, but the road to it is paved by our merciful acts on earth. As Scripture says: Lord, your mercy is in heaven [cf Psalm 36:6].

There is, therefore, an earthly as well as heavenly mercy, that is to say, a human and a divine mercy. Human mercy has compassion on the miseries of the poor. Divine mercy grants forgiveness of sins. Whatever human mercy bestows here on earth, divine mercy will return to us in our homeland. In this life, God feels cold and hunger in all who are stricken with poverty; for, remember, he once said: What you have done to the least of my brothers you have done to me [cf Matthew 25:40]. Yes, God Who sees fit to give His mercy in heaven wishes it to be a reality here on earth.

What kind of people are we? When God gives, we wish to receive, but when He begs, we refuse to give. Remember, it was Christ who said: I was hungry and you gave Me nothing to eat [Matthew 25:42]. When the poor are starving, Christ too hungers. Do not neglect to improve the unhappy conditions of the poor, if you wish to ensure that your own sins be forgiven you. Christ hungers now, my brethren; it is He Who deigns to hunger and thirst in the persons of the poor. And what He will return in heaven tomorrow is what He receives here on earth today.

What do you wish for, what do you pray for, my dear brothers and sisters, when you come to church? Is it mercy? How can it be anything else? Show mercy, then, while you are on earth, and mercy will be shown to you in heaven. A poor person asks you for something; you ask God for something. He begs for a morsel of food; you beg for eternal life. Give to the beggar so that you may merit to receive from Christ. For He it is Who says: Give and it will be given to you [cf Luke 6:38]. It baffles me that you have the impudence to ask for what you do not want to give. Give when you come to church. Give to the poor. Give them whatever your resources will allow.”

“For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” -Mk 7:2

Love, begging for His mercy,
Matthew

Peacocks & Resurrection

Master of Isabella di Chiaromonte. ‘Initial D with Imago Pietatis (Christ on His Tomb with Marks of the Passion),’ ca. 1460. ink, paint and gold on parchment. Walters Art Museum (W.328.101R): Acquired by Henry Walters.


-by Rev John Bartunek, LC

“Peacocks often appear in early Christian art as a symbol of the Resurrection and Eternal Life. There are various levels to this symbolism.

Pagan Roots

The most obvious is a carry-over from ancient pagan religions, some of which held the belief that the peacock’s flesh never decayed, even after it died. Early Christians, therefore, adopted the bird as a symbol of the Resurrection, Christ’s eternal, glorious existence.

Medieval Theories

In medieval times, it was also thought that peacocks molt (shed their feathers) every year, and the new ones that grow are more beautiful than the old ones. Along with this idea, medieval legends included the theory that the gorgeous colors of a peacock’s feathers came from a special diet: It was believed that peacocks could kill and eat poisonous serpents, ingesting the poison and transforming it into the colors of their feathers. This too contributed to their being an apt symbol of Christ’s Resurrection, since Christ “became sin” [cf 2 Corinthians 5:21] for us on the Cross, but then rose from the dead with his glorified body and wounds having conquered the powers of evil.

Regardless of the biological accuracy or inaccuracy of these traditions, they help explain why Christian artists often used peacocks as a symbol of the Resurrection and Eternal Life.

Hidden Splendor

Personally, however, I have always been moved even more deeply by another level of symbolism that we can discover in this intriguing bird.

During the normal activities of a normal day, peacocks are fairly normal looking animals. And yet, all the while they are pecking and clucking like your average fowl, a hidden splendor lies underneath. When they spread their tail-feathers, this magnificence shines forth, revealing their true beauty.

The symbolism here is clear. When you see a Christian walking along the street, you can’t tell the difference between him and someone who has never been baptized. From all external appearances, they are both just human beings making their way through the hustle and bustle of daily life. And yet, underneath that ordinary appearance, the Christian soul enjoys a hidden splendor through the transforming power of God’s grace. The Blessed Trinity actually dwells in the soul who lives in that grace. And the person living the life of grace has also received a plethora of spiritual gifts: the theological virtues and the other infused virtues; the gifts of the Holy Spirit; the sacramental seals coming from baptism and confirmation, etc.

These spiritual realities are habitually and dynamically present in every Christian who lives the life of grace, but they are not visible in the ordinary way. Their full splendor will only become visible when the Christian enters into eternal life and comes to share in Christ’s own glorious resurrection. At that point, the hidden magnificence of each Christian’s soul will be revealed, to the wonderment of all, similar to a sudden spreading of the peacock’s magnificent feathers.

It’s only an artistic symbol, so there isn’t a perfect correlation. But it’s a lovely one, in my opinion.”

Love, and beauty,
Matthew

Vocal Prayer

-by Rev Gabriel of St Mary Magdalen, OCD, Divine Intimacy, Baronius Press, (c) 1964

Presence of God – Lord, teach me to pray!

MEDITATION

When one of His disciples said to Jesus, “Lord, teach us to pray” (Luke 11:1), He taught them a very simple vocal prayer: the Our Father. It is certainly the most sublime formula possible and contains the whole essence of the most elevated mental prayer. However, Jesus gave it as a for post on vocal prayerformula for vocal prayer: “When you pray, say …” (Luke 11:2). This is enough to make us understand the value and importance of vocal prayer, which is within the reach of everyone—even children, the uneducated, the sick, the weary…. But we must realize that vocal prayer does not consist only in the repetition of a certain formula. If this were true, we should have a recitation but not a prayer, for prayer always requires a movement, an elevation of the soul toward God. In this sense, Jesus instructed His disciples: “When thou shalt pray, enter into thy chamber, and having shut the door, pray to thy Father in secret…. And when you are praying, speak not much as the heathens” (Matthew 6:6,7). It is interesting to note that in St. Matthew these prescriptions concerning the exterior and interior dispositions necessary for well-made prayer immediately precede the teaching of the Pater Noster.

Therefore, in order that our vocal prayer be real prayer, we must first recollect ourselves in the presence of God, approach Him, and make contact with Him. Only when we have such dispositions will the words we pronounce with our lips express our interior devotion and be able to sustain and nourish it. Unfortunately, inclined as we are to grasp the material part of things instead of the spiritual, it is only too easy in our vocal prayer to content ourselves with a mechanical recitation, without taking care to direct our heart to God; hence we should always be vigilant and alert. Vocal prayer made only by the lips dissipates and wearies the soul instead of recollecting it in God; it cannot be said that this is a means of uniting us more closely to Him.

COLLOQUY

“Never permit it to be thought right, my God, that those who come to speak with You do it with their lips alone.

“I must not be unmannerly because You are good, addressing You in the same careless way I might adopt in speaking to a peasant. If only to show You my gratitude for enduring my foul odor and allowing one like myself to come near You, it is well that I should try to realize who You are ….

“O my Emperor, Supreme Power, Supreme Goodness, Wisdom itself, without beginning, without end, and without measure in Your works; infinite are these and incomprehensible, a fathomless ocean of wonders, O Beauty, containing within Yourself all beauties. O very Strength. God help me. Would that I could command all the eloquence of mortals and all wisdom, so as to understand, as far as is possible here below, that to know nothing is everything, and thus to describe some of the many things on which we may meditate in order to learn something of Your nature, my Lord and my God.

“When we approach You, then, let us try to realize who You are with whom we are about to speak. If we had a thousand lives we should never fully understand what are Your merits, Lord, and how we should behave before You, before whom the angels tremble…. We cannot approach a prince and address him in a careless way. Shall less respect be paid then to You, my Spouse, than to men?… I cannot distinguish mental prayer from vocal prayer when faithfully recited with a realization that it is You, O Lord, that we are addressing. Further, are we not under the obligation of trying to pray attentively?” (Teresa of Jesus, Way of Perfection, 22-24).”

Love,
Matthew

Summa Catechetica, "Neque enim quaero intelligere ut credam, sed credo ut intelligam." – St Anselm, "Let your religion be less of a theory, and more of a love affair." -G.K. Chesterton, "I want a laity, not arrogant, not rash in speech, not disputatious, but men and women who know their religion, who enter into it, who know just where they stand, who know what they hold and what they do not, and who know their creed so well that they can give an account of it."- Bl John Henry Newman, "Encounter, not confrontation; attraction, not promotion; dialogue, not debate." -cf Pope Francis, "To convert someone, go and take them by the hand and guide them." -St Thomas Aquinas, OP. 1 saint ruins ALL the cynicism in Hell & on Earth. “When we pray we talk to God; when we read God talks to us…All spiritual growth comes from reading and reflection.” -St Isidore of Seville