Mar 19 – St Joseph


-“El sueño de San José”, Vicente López Portaña (1772-1850), Museo del Prado

“Joseph’s virtue was sublime and exceptional; therefore it was subjected to a great and singular trial. But, as he heroically surmounted this trial, so God was pleased, not only to console him, but to exalt him to a dignity of extraordinary glory. … Jesus, the Son of God … willed to recognize this virgin spouse as His father in affection, adoption, government, and education, and to be constantly obedient and subject to him. The Holy Ghost, who had operated the incarnation of the Son of God in the womb of Mary, willed that to Joseph this His spouse should be entirely confided. He was to be the zealous guardian of her virginity, her guide, her aid, her support, and her inseparable companion through all the vicissitudes of life. And where, apart from the Divine Maternity, can so great a dignity be found upon earth as that which was conferred on Joseph by the Three Divine Persons of the Most Holy Trinity?”
—Edward Healy Thompson, The Life & Glories of St Joseph

Love,
Matthew

Jun 29 – Solemnity of St Peter & Paul, “You must loose by love what your fear bound”

“This day has been made holy by the passion of the blessed apostles Peter and Paul. We are, therefore, not talking about some obscure martyrs. For their voice has gone forth to all the world, and to the ends of the earth their message. These martyrs realized what they taught: they pursued justice, they confessed the truth, they died for it.

Saint Peter, the first of the apostles and a fervent lover of Christ, merited to hear these words: I say to you that you are Peter, for he had said: You are the Christ, the Son of the living God. Then Christ said: And I say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my Church. On this rock I will build the faith that you now confess, and on your words: You are the Christ, the Son of the living God, I will build my Church. For you are Peter, and the name Peter comes from petra, the word for “rock,” and not vice versa. “Peter” comes, therefore, from petra, just as “Christian” comes from Christ.

As you are aware, Jesus chose His disciples before His passion and called them apostles; and among these almost everywhere Peter alone deserved to represent the entire Church. And because of that role which he alone had, he merited to hear the words: To you I shall give the keys of the kingdom of heaven. For it was not one man who received the keys, but the entire Church considered as one. Now insofar as he represented the unity and universality of the Church, Peter’s preeminence is clear from the words: To you I give, for what was given was given to all. For the fact that it was the Church that received the keys of the kingdom of God is clear from what the Lord says elsewhere to all the apostles: Receive the Holy Spirit, adding immediately, whose sins you forgive, they are forgiven, and whose sins you retain, they are retained.

Rightly then did the Lord after His resurrection entrust Peter with the feeding of His sheep. Yet he was not the only disciple to merit the feeding of the Lord’s sheep; but Christ in speaking only to one suggests the unity of all; and so he speaks to Peter, because Peter is first among the apostles. Therefore do not be disheartened, Peter; reply once, reply twice, reply a third time. The triple confession of your love is to regain what was lost three times by your fear. You must loose three times what you bound three times; untie by love that which your fear bound. Once, and again, and a third time did the Lord entrust His sheep to Peter.

Both apostles share the same feast day, for these two were one; and even though they suffered on different days, they were as one. Peter went first, and Paul followed. And so we celebrate this day made holy for us by the apostles’ blood. Let us embrace what they believed, their life, their labors, their sufferings, their preaching and their confession of faith.” -St Augustine, from the Office of Readings

Love,
Matthew

Sacred Heart: Meekness, Gentleness, Manliness


-by Randall Colton

“On the 100th anniversary of Pope Leo XII’s consecration of the human race to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, John Paul II not only renewed his predecessor’s call for all to consecrate themselves to Christ, but also connected that devotion in a special way to the New Evangelization. From their contemplation of the pierced heart of the Redeemer, he said, Christians come away with a renewed sense of mission.

What, then, can evangelists learn from the Sacred Heart of Jesus? As Pius XII noted in his encyclical letter on the topic, devotion to the Sacred Heart constitutes, “so far as practice is concerned, a perfect profession of the Christian religion” (Haurietis Aquas 106). So, in a way, the evangelist can say, “Everything I really need to know, I learned from devotion to the Sacred Heart.”

In a more specific sense, perhaps the most important thing the evangelist can learn from the Sacred Heart is the virtue of meekness. Christ himself said, in his only direct reference to his heart, “Learn from me; for I am gentle and lowly of heart.” St. Peter later added, “Always be prepared to make a defense to any one who calls you to account for the hope that is in you, yet do it with gentleness and reverence” (1 Pet. 3:15). So it is in gentleness that the evangelist’s heart is most like the heart of Jesus.

What is gentleness? The Greek word translated as “gentleness” is also sometimes translated as “meekness” or “mildness.” For most English-speakers, though, “gentleness” is probably the most frequently used of those terms, and we hear it in a variety of contexts.

Suppose you bring a new baby home from the hospital to meet his siblings. You carefully situate him with his four-year-old sister, and you tell her, “Now, be gentle with him.”

Or suppose your six-year-old son wants to carry your grandfather’s pocket watch over to the window for a better look. You hand it to him with a warning: “Be gentle with it!”

Or perhaps you’ve just worked hard on an elaborate meal for your husband. As you begin, you say, “Tell me what you really think—but be gentle with me.”

We could imagine more scenarios, but perhaps these are enough to notice a certain commonality. Each of these cases features a difference in power or strength. The four-year-old is more powerful, stronger, even bigger than the baby, just as the six-year-old is with respect to the watch. The husband, in the third case, is more powerful than the wife, in the sense that his evaluation of her meal, and especially the way in which he communicates it, has the potential to build her up or to tear her down.

In each of these cases, the stronger must take special pains to ensure that his strength does not endanger the other. He must recognize the vulnerabilities of the other and the ways in which his strength can threaten those weaknesses, even when he bears no malice to the other. The gentle person, then, is one who protects the littleness and weakness of the other from the danger implied by his own bigness and power.

This definition of gentleness, however, fails to mention the one feature that is central to most traditional accounts. St. Thomas Aquinas, for example, teaches that meekness “moderates anger according to right reason” (Summa Theologica II:II:157). This emphasis on anger is common in the tradition, beginning as early as Aristotle.

I think a deep insight into anger ties these two definitions together. Aristotle, for example, points out that anger is a kind of pleasant emotion, because it leaves us feeling somehow superior to the object of our passion. If anger is, as Aristotle and St. Thomas believed, an apprehension of another as committing an unjust and undeserved offense against oneself, then to experience it is to see oneself in the right and the object of one’s anger as in the wrong.

And that confers a kind of advantage or relative strength over the offended party: standing on the moral high ground, he enjoys at least a moral superiority to the offender. That superiority can be used in such a way that the vulnerabilities of the offender are protected—or in such a way that they are threatened.

The traditional emphasis on restraint of anger as the defining characteristic of gentleness has a great deal of appeal. Anger, alienation, forgiveness, and reconciliation are at the heart of the moral life; learning to put these emotions and choices in the proper order is essential to any decent life with others. So the value of the virtue of gentleness first shines most brightly precisely in this arena.

But despite the fact that anger and its restraint play such important roles in the relationships among humans and between God and humanity, the moderation of anger does not exhaust the possibilities of gentleness, as our first examples above showed. We must not overlook the fact that gentleness is also called for in many contexts where anger is not the primary factor.

This larger reach of gentleness is not hard to see in the Sacred Heart of Jesus. What greater power differential could there be than that between the Word of God Incarnate, through whom all that exists came into being, and poor creatures like us? Yet the gospel tells us that he would not “break a bruised reed or quench a smoldering wick” (Matt. 12:20). Because his heart is meek, he tells us, his “yoke is easy” and his “burden is light” (11:30)—a burden suited to our weakness and not modeled after his strength.

Peter, as we noted before, urges Christians to imitate the gentleness of Jesus’ Sacred Heart precisely in their role as evangelists. “Always be ready to give an answer for the hope that is within you,” he teaches, “with gentleness and reverence.” Why does the evangelist need gentleness?

Evangelism in Peter’s day required gentleness first because Christians suffered great persecution. The very real possibility of abuse and mistreatment provided the context for this evangelistic admonition. And since innocent Christians could only experience such persecution as the infliction of undeserved harms, their anger would inevitably require shaping and restraining so that it would serve the good of their enemies. In the same way, Christ had allowed his heart to be pierced so that the fountain of his mercy could flow to the worst of his persecutors.

Most of us will not suffer such tribulation. But we can, nonetheless, be treated in unjust ways that arouse our anger. When that mistreatment comes to us because of our commitment to the truth that is Jesus, it is especially important that gentleness restrains our anger and leads us to the forgiveness and kindness we ourselves have already found in the Sacred Heart. Failing to respond gently will not only mean falling short of Jesus’ call to learn of his meek and lowly heart; it will also undercut our evangelistic efforts. How convincing can our proclamation of the truth be if we refuse to embody it in our actions?

Evangelists need gentleness for another reason. Knowledge of the truth is itself a kind of advantage that makes its possessor stronger. Consider, for example, the computer expert. If he intends to help the inexperienced user see the truths about computing, then he has to pursue gentleness, since the demoralization he could otherwise cause is an obstacle to learning.

How much more does the theological, moral, or apologetic “expert” pose a kind of threat to the relatively unlearned! These truths strike much more closely to the heart of a person’s self-understanding. A rough, ungentle approach to learners’ instruction can leave those already committed in some way to these truths feeling not just embarrassed, but positively foolish, as though they do not even understand their own deepest commitments. Such learners are likely to abandon the pursuit of deeper understanding, seeing it at best as an irrelevancy and at worst as a calculated attempt at the evangelist’s self-aggrandizement.

A lack of gentleness threatens to undermine the evangelist’s efforts in another way, too. Since evangelists ultimately strive to bring others to an encounter with Christ that results in conversion of life, the truths they teach touch the center of their hearers’ ways of life. Those who are not already committed to these truths quite reasonably perceive them as a threat to their self-identity. That sense of danger prompts almost impenetrable defenses. And those defenses usually cannot be forced in a frontal assault. Not pyrotechnics, but gentleness wins the day. As the Catholic philosopher Dietrich von Hildebrand noted, “If spoken by the meek, the word of truth which like a sword, severs soul and body, subtly insinuates itself like a breath of love into the innermost recesses of the soul.”

Devotion to the Sacred Heart contains the key to cultivating this necessary gentleness. Gentleness comes from growing in union with the heart of Jesus, as we love, trust, and imitate Him more. Von Hildebrand sees this point well, and his insight captures the true power of gentleness: “For the meek is reserved true victory over the world, because it is not they themselves who conquer, but Christ in them and through them.”

Sacred Heart of Jesus, make our hearts like unto Thine.”

Love,
Matthew

Confirmation

Wisdom, Understanding, and Knowledge. Counsel and Piety. Fortitude and Fear of the Lord.

The virtues of faith, hope, and charity stably equip our intellects and wills to make supernatural movements of knowing and loving. In the gifts, however, we receive stable supernatural perfections that equip us to be moved in a divine mode, in a way that human reason can neither grasp nor initiate. Our acts remain our own, but they exceed our understanding: God Himself moves us according to His wisdom (ST I-II q. 68). The gifts serve as spiritual instincts for the soul, once it is healed and elevated by grace.

To be sure, anyone who has charity (love) has all seven gifts of the Spirit (ST I-II q. 68, a. 5). And yet God, in His wisdom, activates these gifts differently in the life of each individual saint: “The wind blows where it wills . . . so it is with every one who is born of the Spirit” (John 3:8). The Spirit gave to the martyrs the courage to confess Christ, to St. Dominic an outstanding sensitivity to our fallen condition, to St. Catherine a piercing insight into the truths of faith, and to St. Thomas a sweeping vision of the things of God. Only God, in his provident knowledge, could understand and foreknow the surprising ways that He drew each saint to Himself.

Only someone who grasps the apparently dry truth that the gifts “as to their essence” remain in heaven (ST I-II q. 68, a. 6) could write this book’s finale, which so forcefully conveys the splendor of heavenly glory. All of us are called to this glory.

The gifts of the Spirit, unlike the virtues, are not ours to direct as we will. We wait upon God, Who Himself is the wind who fills our spiritual sails. At the same time, however, we pray for God to activate in us His seven gifts, and the more we know about these gifts individually, the more we can ask for them specifically, according to our daily needs. Thus may the Spirit, as He does for every saint, govern us firmly and sweetly the whole of our lives.

Love,
Matthew

The Church & NOT the Bible (which didn’t exist) defined the Trinity 262 AD


-Trinity, Andrei Rublev (1425)

-by Noel Ethan Tan

CCC 234: “The Most Holy Trinity is the central mystery of Christian faith and life. It is the MYSTERY OF GOD in Himself. It is therefore the source of all the other mysteries of faith, the light that enlightens them. It is the most fundamental and essential teaching in the “hierarchy of the truths of faith.”

Just let that sink in – the Holy Trinity is the MYSTERY OF GOD Himself.

In Matthew’s Gospel, he beautifully opens up with the Emmanuel Prophecy when the Angel told Mary that her son would be called Emmanuel (God is with us). At the end of the Gospel, Jesus fulfills this by literally telling us that He (God) WILL be with us, forever till the end of time! Many people miss this, but Matthew’s Gospel concludes on Jesus’s Divinity.

It is in this context that Jesus reveals His Triune Divinic nature when He commands all His followers to Baptize in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. For Catholics, we do this every day when we make the sign of the cross. We must not forget this Great Commission whenever we call upon the Holy Trinity.

I’d like to close with a fun fact: the word ‘Trinity’ is NOT found in the Bible. Instead, the Doctrine of the Trinity was written and declared infallibly by Pope Dionysius:

“The most sacred proclamation of the Church of God, making of it the Trinity, as it were, three powers and three distinct substances subsisting in one being… [Some heretics] proclaim that there are in some way three gods, when they divide the sacred unity into three substances foreign to each other and completely separate.” (A.D. 262)

Today, (thank God for this) all Christians accept this Sacred Tradition, which was hard fought for. The Doctrine of the Trinity is a prime example of why we need to recognize the Church as an infallible interpreter and why we can’t just rely on the Bible alone. After all, Jesus did leave us a Church, not a book!”

Love & truth,
Matthew

Left Behind, please!


-by Karlo Broussard

“Do you want to be left behind? For those of you familiar with Tim LaHaye’s Left Behind series, you’re probably thinking, “Heck no! I don’t won’t to be left behind.”

Well, I’m here to tell you, “You do want to be left behind.”

The question is prompted by Jesus’ teaching about his coming at the end of time, which he compares to the days of Noah:

As were the days of Noah, so will be the coming of the Son of man . . . they did not know until the Flood came and swept them all away, so will be the coming of the Son of man . . . Two men will be in the field; one is taken and one is left. Two women will be grinding at the mill; one is taken and one is left” (Matt. 24:37-41).

Some Christians think Jesus is saying that at the end of time, before the final tribulation, he’s going to secretly snatch believers up to himself (“one is taken”)—hence the term “rapture”—and leave behind (“one is left”) the wicked to experience the final push of evil wrought by the Antichrist, after which he will come and establish the new heaven and new earth.

This “pre-tribulation” rapture doctrine originated and was developed in the early to mid-1800s by John Nelson Darby, an early leader of a Fundamentalist movement that became known as Dispensationalism. This view has influenced the thinking of not only many Fundamentalist Christians, but also Catholics. Even Catholics don’t want to be left behind.

But, like I said above, this isn’t the right answer. You do want to be “left behind.” You don’t want to “taken.” (This isn’t a Liam Neeson movie!)

Note first that Jesus compares his coming to “the days of Noah.” Well, who was swept away, or taken away, in the Flood? It was the wicked. Noah and his family, the righteous ones, were left behind on earth to experience a new creation. As smelly as it probably was, I assume you would have wanted to be left behind on that ark.

Now, someone might counter, “But couldn’t we interpret Jesus the other way just as easily: the wicked were left behind to be destroyed by the Flood, and Noah and his family were swept away?”

One problem with this reading is that Matthew explicitly identifies the wicked as the ones being “swept away” in the Flood: “For as in those days before the Flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage . . . and they did not know until the Flood came and swept them all away” (Matt. 24:38-39). If it’s the wicked that were taken away in the Flood, then it’s the wicked that will be taken away at Jesus’ coming.

Another problem with the idea that it’s the wicked that are left behind is that it doesn’t jibe with the parable of the wicked servant that follows in verses 45-51. Again, the motif of “being taken away” is present, and it’s the wicked servant who is taken:

If that wicked servant says to himself, “My master is delayed,” and begins to beat his fellow servants, and eats and drinks with the drunken, the master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he does not know, and will punish him, and put him with the hypocrites; there men will weep and gnash their teeth (vv. 48-50).

Here we have a parable about Jesus’ coming. And it’s the wicked who are taken away.

Jesus’s comparison of his coming to the days of Noah immediately precedes this parable, and Jesus says some will be taken away. It doesn’t make sense that Matthew would put these two parables together if Jesus meant to mix the referents of those being taken away: the righteous in one (the coming compared to the days of Noah) and the wicked in the other (his coming compared to the master finding his servant being unfaithful). Given this context, it’s more reasonable to interpret the ones being taken from the field at his coming as a reference to the wicked.

So far, our evidence has been restricted to Matthew’s Gospel. But when we look at Luke’s version of this teaching (Luke 17:26-37), we find that there’s more.

Like Matthew, Luke records the bit about one being taken and another being left behind. The only difference is that where Matthew talks about two in the “field,” Luke speaks of two in “bed” (Luke 17:34).

After Jesus tells the apostles that some will be taken away, Luke records the apostles asking Jesus, “Where, Lord?” Clearly, the question is directed to where the people are taken, since the apostles know where they’re left behind—namely, “in the bed” (v. 34) and “grinding at the mill” (v. 35). And in response to the question, Jesus says, “Where the body is, there the eagles will be gathered” (v. 37).

If the rapturist view were correct, then the place where these individuals are taken would have to be heaven. But Jesus’ response doesn’t quite match up.

The Greek word for “eagles” is aetoi (plural of aetos). It generally refers to a large carrion-eating bird, like an eagle or a vulture. Sometimes it’s used in a sense simply to refer to the bird without any focus on the decaying-flesh-eating activity, as evidenced in Revelation 4:7, where it speaks of one of the four living creatures as an “eagle”—the same Greek word, aetos, is used.

Here in Luke, though, the emphasis seems to be on the flesh-eating aspect of the bird. The New American Bible translation concurs, as it translates aetoi as “vultures.”

Notice that Jesus says, “Where the body is, there will the aetoi gather.” If Jesus were simply referring to the bird as such, then why emphasize the “body”? It appears that what Jesus is saying is that the place where these individuals are taken is a place where decaying flesh is picked by flesh-eating birds.

That doesn’t sound like heaven!

So, rather than the righteous being taken away and the wicked being left behind, it’s the opposite: the righteous are left behind, and the wicked are taken away. The wicked are taken away to experience torment, and the righteous stay behind to experience the new heaven and the new earth, like Noah and his family.

So, next time you get asked the question, “Do you want to be left behind?” get ready for a look of confusion when you answer, “Yes! How about you?”

Love & truth,
Matthew

Purgatory consoles


-by Karlo Broussard

“Some Protestants criticize the doctrine of purgatory by saying it’s “bad news” in contrast to the “good news” of salvation revealed in the Bible.

But that’s not so at all. The Catholic doctrine of purgatory is indeed good news.

The joyful truth is that purgatory provides consolation for believers. It does so in a variety of ways.

1. Purgatory consoles believers concerning loved ones who die without the perfect holiness required for heaven.
Purgatory gives us the assurance that even though our loved ones die without the perfect holiness required for heaven, we know they’re not forever excluded from there. The late Marian scholar Fr. Martin Jugie puts it beautifully:

They who mournfully follow the coffin, are consoled with thoughts of the mercy of God; of the expiation of venial sin and the cleansing of the wounds, left by mortal sin, after death; of extenuating circumstances which may have rendered certain sins venial for the dear deceased one. The anguished heart, torn with dread about the fate of the loved one, clings to this last hope, and there finds solace and some peace.

That’s good news!

2. Purgatory consoles believers in knowing that the relationship with our loved ones can continue after death even though they have not yet attained the beatific vision in heaven.
The doctrine of purgatory provides consolation for a believer because it offers hope that our loved ones who die with imperfection aren’t forever excluded from heaven. But a believer might still be disheartened by the thought that if his loved one isn’t in heaven yet, then he can’t have a relationship with that person in the present moment. He would have to wait.

Nothing could be farther from the truth. In fact, the doctrine of purgatory entails that we can assist our loved ones in purgatory by offering the Mass, prayers, indulgences, almsgiving, and other works of love for them. This is based on the Christian belief in the communion of saints, which includes the souls in purgatory.

The holy souls are still members of the mystical body of Christ. Death did not separate them from us. As St. Paul writes, “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall . . . [the] sword? . . . I am sure that neither death . . . nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 8:35, 38-39).

From this it follows that we are not separated from our loved ones in purgatory. We are still united to them by grace. Consequently, our relationship with them can continue. We don’t have to wait until they get to heaven. That provides a believer great consolation. That’s definitely not bad news.

Some Protestants say we’re blurring the real distinction between the visible (Christians on earth) and invisible (Christians in purgatory) dimensions of the one body of Christ. Just because there’s one body, so it’s argued, it doesn’t follow that our relationship with each dimension is the same.

It’s true that our relationship with our loved ones in purgatory is not the same as our relationship with them here on earth. But the relationship we have with them by grace is the same. In fact, it’s even better because they’re confirmed in grace without the possibility of falling from it. From this it follows that the relationship with them is secure, on condition that we stay in grace.

This relationship we have with them by grace is what allows us to continue expressing love toward them, even though it’s not the same kind of expressions of love as when they were on earth. We can’t hear or see them when we talk to them. We can’t give them a hug. But we can pray for them and will what’s good for them—namely, the removal of any impediments to entrance into heaven.

The relationship might not be the same. But it is a relationship nevertheless!

3. Purgatory consoles believers in knowing that the souls in purgatory can pray for us.
We have good reasons to think the souls in purgatory pray for us. The Catechism teaches, “Our prayer for them [souls in purgatory] is capable not only of helping them, but also of making their intercession for us effective” (958).

One rationale for this is that the souls in purgatory are perfected in charity. Since charity involves not only love of God, but also love of neighbor, and love of neighbor is expressed in intercessory prayer, it seems reasonable to conclude that the souls in purgatory would express their love by interceding for us.

That our loved ones in purgatory are praying for us is a consoling thought. Their prayer for us, and our private request for their prayers, is one way by which we keep a relationship with them.

It’s good news to know we have friends who can’t waver in charity and are constantly praying for us. For St. James says, “The prayer of a righteous man has great power in its effects” (James 5:16).

4. Purgatory consoles believers in knowing that our prayers console our loved ones in purgatory.
The consolation that we can provide the holy souls in purgatory in turn brings us consolation. St. Thomas Aquinas teaches that love is “to wish good to someone,” “just as he wills good to himself.”

It follows from this definition of love that the good the souls in purgatory experience by having their impediments to heaven removed is experienced as our own good. That means that their consolation is our consolation; their source of joy is our source of joy. As the late Frank Sheed writes, “there is a special joy for the Catholic in praying for his dead, if only the feeling that there is still something he can do for people he loved upon earth.”

Love,
Matthew

Binding & Loosing – Mt 16:19 & 18:18


-by Suan Sonna, a Baptist convert to Catholicism

“Let’s address one of the most common prooftexts cited against Catholicism: Matthew 18:18. In this verse, Jesus bestows the power to “bind and loose” upon the apostles and thereby sets a pattern for local churches. The objection, according to Orthodox and Protestants, is that Matthew 18:18 nuances Peter’s authority in Matthew 16:19, where he is given the keys of the kingdom and the power to bind and loose. What initially seems like a bestowal of monarchical power onto Peter is softened into perhaps a more collegial system – or a pure democracy!

The first problem with this objection is that it’s a non sequitur: the conclusion does not follow from the premises. Strictly speaking, Jesus says that Peter (16:19) and the apostles including Peter (18:18) have the power to bind and loose. This fact alone does not reveal the authority dynamic among them. What’s the relationship between Peter’s binding and loosing and the other apostles’ authority? Matthew 18:18 notwithstanding, why, in Matthew 16:19, is there a unique commission to Peter if his power is no different from the others?

The second, and I think principal, issue is that the objection engages in special pleading. It ignores relevant facts about Peter and the surrounding context such that 18:18 looks unexpected for Catholicism only if we consider it in isolation.

A clarification should be made: Peter as an apostle would have shared certain privileges with the other apostles. They all possessed the power to bind and loose, which was originally the power of the Jewish leaders to discipline the community by declaring what is forbidden (bound) and allowed (loosed). The apostles could also discipline any church or speak on behalf of the entire church, because they were all directly receiving divine revelation. It therefore makes perfect sense that the apostles, including Peter, would have identical powers in this regard, given their shared office—just as a circuit judge and the chief justice of the supreme court are both judges.

The better question is whether Peter individually possessed any unique authority. Acts 5 is one of the best places to investigate. It is mysteriously made known to Peter that Ananias and Sapphira hoarded their property from the Jerusalem church. Some scholars argue that Peter continually received direct revelation from God. Evangelical scholar Eckhard J. Schnabel puts it this way: “Luke describes Peter as the spokesman of the apostles, who have just received Ananias’s gift. He also describes Peter as having the gift of prophecy, which allows him to see into Ananias’s heart—something only God can do (cf. Heb. 4:13).”

This is remarkably similar to how Jesus revealed in Matthew 16:17 that God the Father, and not any human source or power, helped Peter identify Jesus as the Messiah. We also see the Church moved by Peter’s dream to loosen Jewish dietary restrictions—another direct revelation from God to the one apostle (Acts 10:9-16).

Peter’s rebuke to Ananias and Sapphira in Acts 5 inflicts death through divine action. This is significant, as there are only two other times in the New Testament where God kills someone: Acts 12:23, where he strikes down Herod for setting himself up as a god, and 1 Corinthians 11:29-30, where St. Paul notes that many have brought death on themselves by unworthily consuming the Eucharist. Acts 5 is the only time, however, that God does so through an apostle’s rebuke.

Peter’s actions here fall under his binding and loosing power, as F.F. Bruce (among others) explains:

“Binding” and “loosing” were idiomatic expressions in rabbinical Judaism to denote the promulgation of rulings either forbidding or authorizing various kinds of activity. The authority to bind or loose given to Peter in the present context is given to the disciples as a body in Matthew 18:18, in a saying of Jesus similarly preserved by this evangelist only. Again, the record of Acts provides an illustration. Where church discipline is in view, Peter’s verbal rebuke of Ananias and Sapphira received drastic ratification from heaven (Acts 5:1-11).

It is true that “the authority to bind and loose given to Peter” is “given to the disciples as a body in Matthew 18:18.” But authority can come in various degrees. All 100 senators are given the authority to write and vote on legislation, but the Senate majority leader can do more with that authority than his colleagues can, being privileged to bring legislation to a vote as well.

Indeed, F.F. Bruce uses Peter’s binding and loosing authority as a paradigmatic example of church discipline. This event shows that Peter could bind and loose without always having to go through his fellow apostles. Moreover, Bruce could be using “authority” here similar to how we would ordinarily use “power” or “capacity.” This interpretation makes sense of how he can say the authority (or simply “power”) to bind and loose can be given both to Peter and “the disciples as a body” while also using Peter as a unique example without contradicting himself. Peter and the entire apostolate received the same power to bind and loose but with different degrees of authority.

Finally, notice that Acts 5 is referenced as a “drastic ratification from heaven” of “Peter’s verbal rebuke.” Peter’s actions—a uniquely Petrine binding and loosing—shake the entire Church: “and great fear seized the whole church and all who heard of these things” (v. 11). His individual exercise of binding and loosing authority is the only one feared in this way. Although all of the apostles were respected afterwards, the people specifically laid the sick in Peter’s presence so that his shadow could touch and heal them (v. 15).

The popular objection from Matthew 18:18 fails to account for the nuance between having the same power or capacity to bind and loose and having the same degree of authority attached. Although the other apostles can bind and loose, command any church, and teach infallibly, we can only say that Peter is the chief spokesman of the apostles, rebukes with the utmost divine wrath backing him, and can shake the entire Church as in Acts 5. And so the biblical data show that Peter, even in his binding and loosing power, is pre-eminent.”

Love,
Matthew

Why the Ascension?


-detail of the Ascension, Saint Dié manuscript

-Eastern France (Saint-Die) manuscript, 1504-1514

-by Joseph Heschmeyer, a former lawyer and seminarian, he blogs at Shameless Popery.

“It’s not hard to understand why we would celebrate Good Friday (Jesus atones for our sins on the Cross) and Easter Sunday (Jesus rises again, conquering death). But Ascension Thursday commemorates Jesus’ ascension into heaven. Why, from the perspective of one of those “left behind” on Earth, is that something to celebrate?

It’s easy to misunderstand the Ascension, as if Christ were abandoning his disciples. But he promised that this wouldn’t happen, saying “I will not leave you desolate” (John 14:18) and “I am with you always, to the close of the age” (Matt. 28:20). Similarly, we misunderstand the Ascension if we imagine that Jesus is returning to heaven, as if he ever left heaven in the first place. As St. Augustine points out, Jesus “did not leave heaven when he came down to us; nor did he withdraw from us when he went up again into heaven.”

Instead, Christ’s ascension is really his enthronement in heaven. One of the final prophecies Jesus makes before His death is that “from now on the Son of Man shall be seated at the right hand of the power of God” (Luke 22:69). That prophecy remained unfulfilled on Easter morning, as we know from His words to Mary Magdalene: “I have not yet ascended to the Father, but go to My brethren and say to them, I am ascending to My Father and your Father, to My God and your God” (John 20:17). Instead, the prophecy is fulfilled in the Ascension, which is how St. Stephen, “full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God” (Acts 7:55), and why St. Paul says that this is now “where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God” (Col. 3:1; see also Heb. 8:1, 12:2; Rev. 4).

If Jesus, in His divinity, was in heaven the whole time, what is it that ascended? His humanity. And this is near the heart of why the Ascension matters. For many people, Christianity has become too disembodied—that we think of it as good news for our souls, but not for our bodies (or worse, as a sort of mission rescuing us from our captivity in our bodies).

N.T. Wright, in his book Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church, reported that “a survey of beliefs about life after death conducted in Britain in 1995 indicated that though most people believed in some kind of continuing life, only a tiny minority, even among churchgoers, believed in the classic Christian position, that of a future bodily resurrection.” In America, a 2006 poll similarly found that only thirty-six percent of respondents answered “yes” to the question: “Do you believe that, after you die, your physical body will be resurrected someday?” Perhaps most shockingly, even self-described Christians overwhelmingly rejected the idea of bodily resurrection: only thirty-eight percent of Catholics and forty-four percent of Protestants answered “yes.” The situation was slightly, but only slightly, better for regular churchgoers: half of them reported believing in the bodily resurrection.

As bad as these numbers are, the reality is likely worse. Both the U.S. and U.K. studies are now decades old, and it’s hard to imagine that the situation has improved since then. Moreover, as Wright points out, “I often find that though Christians still use the word resurrection, they treat it as a synonym for ‘life after death’ or ‘going to heaven’ and that, when pressed, they often share the confusion of the wider world on the subject” (p. xii). Even many of the people who answered “yes” probably think of “resurrection” in non-physical terms.

That’s a problem, because Christianity makes little sense if the body doesn’t have dignity, or isn’t made to last forever. After all, why does the Church care about a “theology of the body,” or about tending to the bodies of even the dead? Because Christianity is good news for the body as well as for the soul. The Catechism quotes Tertullian to the effect that “the flesh is the hinge of salvation,” commenting, “We believe in God Who is creator of the flesh; we believe in the Word made flesh in order to redeem the flesh; we believe in the resurrection of the flesh, the fulfillment of both the creation and the redemption of the flesh” (CCC 1015).

In Eden, there was an intimate union between God and earthly creation, symbolized by “the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day” (Gen. 3:8). This union between heaven and earth was ruptured in sin. And that rupture was healed first through the Incarnation (in which the heavenly God took on earthly humanity) and then the Cross (in which he offered his flesh “for the life of the world”—John 6:51), and then the Resurrection (in which Christ rose again with a glorified body), and then the Ascension (in which he rose physically to be enthroned at the right hand of the Father in Heaven). Prior to the Ascension, heaven was a purely spiritual realm.* No more.

And so Ascension Thursday is only the beginning. Christ has the first body in heaven, but not the last. He is followed soon after by His mother, which is why we celebrate the Assumption. And someday, God willing, we will all join Him. It’s why the angel’s message on Ascension Thursday is forward-looking: “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, Who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as You saw him go into heaven” (Acts 1:11). The union between heaven and earth has begun, and it is irrevocable. Our journey now is to prepare for that union to be completed within us.

*I’ll prescind here from the thorny question of what Elijah and Enoch experienced prior to Christ’s ascension.”

Love,
Matthew

Unity: Eucharist & Four Marks of the Church

-by Jan Wakelin

“We often speak of the four marks of the Church: one, holy, catholic, and apostolic. Yet during our apologetical endeavors, it would be a missed opportunity not to bring the argument to a climax by unveiling the Eucharist as the mark of Christ’s Church par excellence. The Eucharist is the ultimate mark of Christ’s Church, for the Eucharist not only is a visible sign of each mark, but has the power to maintain the essence of what each mark of the Church represents.

First, the Church is one through the Eucharist. In October 2004, John Paul II graced the Year of the Eucharist with the apostolic letter Mane Nobiscum Domine. In it, the Holy Father recounted several instances in Scripture where Christ was leading His disciples to an understanding of a Church united in him through the Eucharist. In John 6:55, Jesus says, “My flesh is food indeed, and my blood is drink indeed.” This was shocking to those who heard it—so much so that many left. Jesus asked the Twelve if they too would go away. Peter, speaking for the Twelve, said, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” In other words, those who understood, though they were shocked by the reality of the words just spoken, refused to abandon Christ’s teaching because they would be abandoning Christ himself.

St. Cyril of Alexandria understood the Eucharist’s ability to unite us with Christ. He said, “As two pieces of wax fused together make one, so he who receives Holy Communion is so united with Christ that Christ is in him and he is in Christ.”

The Eucharist is, therefore, the sign and cause of unity because the Eucharist is Christ. It was instituted by Christ as a means of drawing us to himself. The Eucharist expresses our unity and also brings it about when we receive him worthily. The fact that we share the same body and blood makes us sisters and brothers in Christ. Even at the natural level we realize that sharing the same blood forms a family bond. Those who are too ill to participate in the Eucharistic celebration are often brought the Eucharist both as a sign of unity and to provide them with spiritual food. Blessed Theophane Venard wrote of the Eucharist, “When the body is deprived of food it languishes and dies; and it is the same with the soul, without the Bread that sustains life.”

By receiving this spiritual nourishment, we, Christ’s body, are equipped to give of ourselves to each other and to him in a more perfect way. The visible structure of the Church maintains the succession of priests who can offer the sacrifice of the Mass and consecrate bread and wine into Christ’s body and blood. “Just as the Church ‘makes the Eucharist’ so the Eucharist builds up the Church” (Dominicae Cenae 4).

The Eucharist also unites heaven and earth. Many who have lost a loved one may experience closeness to that person after receiving Communion or while in adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. These feelings may be a result of a deep theological awareness that those who died in grace are alive in Christ; thus, our nearness to Christ in the Eucharist brings us nearer to them as well.

Another way of seeing this fusion of heaven and earth is to realize that when Christ instituted the Eucharist at the Last Supper, its sacrificial dimension was revealed. Throughout history, Christ offers himself for the salvation of all mankind—but why? So we can live with him eternally. As one family, we, who share the same divine body and blood, will share in the heavenly banquet together—perfected in love and united in that love.

Augustine said of the Eucharist, “O sacrament of love! O sign of unity! O bond of charity! He who would have life finds here indeed a life to live and a life to live by.”

Second, the Church is holy through the Eucharist. The greatest commandments are to love God and neighbor, and the greatest expression of this love is found in the Eucharist. The Eucharist is Christ, and it recalls the love he has for us—a love so great that he was willing to become one of us, suffer incredible physical and spiritual pain, and die a human death. Consuming Christ in the Eucharist has the capacity to make us more like him—and thus more holy. “For the partaking of the body and blood of Christ has no less an effect than to change us into what we receive” (Eucharisticum Mysterium 7).

Such thoughts help us to understand St. Teresa of Avila’s words that “Christ has no body on earth but yours, no hands but yours, no feet but yours. Yours are the eyes through which Christ’s compassion for the world is to look out, yours are the feet with which he is to go about doing good, and yours are the hands with which he is to bless us now.”

Third, the Church is catholic through the Eucharist. Christ’s presence in the Church makes it catholic, or universal. He is wherever the Church is, and wherever the Church is, there is the Eucharist.

As a universal Church, we have the responsibility of being Christ to others. This means that not only must we say what he said, but we also must do what he did. Jesus admonished sinners, showed mercy, asked for repentance, and demonstrated compassion and forgiveness. He also fed the hungry, healed the sick, and encouraged the poor. He did not deny anyone because of race, sex, age, or state in life. Just as we are to be Christ to others, so we must see Christ in others. He can be found in everyone. When we see Christ in others, we find ourselves. In this way, the Church is also universal.

By participating in the Eucharistic celebration, we are reminded that the loving sacrifice that he made for us, he also made for everyone. All activities of the Church to spread the kingdom of God are linked with the Eucharist and are directed back to it. St. Peter Chrysologus said, “The Eucharist is the link that binds the Christian family together. Take away the Eucharist and you have no brotherliness left.”

Fourth, the Church is apostolic through the Eucharist. The Church is apostolic because her mission in and to the world is a continuation of the work of the first apostles, a mission given to them by Christ. Because this mission will go on until the end of time, the apostles had to make provisions for others to succeed them. Guided by the Holy Spirit, the bishops, who are the successors to the apostles, continue to teach and guide the Church today. All the members of the mystical body of Christ share in this mission and are called to activities that further God’s kingdom. This means they are to spread the gospel of Christ through works of love in their state of life. “But charity, drawn from the Eucharist above all, is always ‘as it were, the soul of the whole apostolate’” (Catechism of the Catholic Church 864).

The Church is governed by spiritual fathers representing God. Throughout the Old Testament, genealogies had great importance because they identified individuals as part of a succession of people who shared the same blood and, thus, were part of the same family. Christ continued this linkage by appointing apostles to succeed him, and he gave us the Eucharist so we could all share in the same blood that our brothers and sisters in faith also shared.

So you see how Christ’s body and blood factor into each mark of the Church. The Eucharist both symbolizes the oneness of Christ’s Church and causes and sustains it. Christ is God, who alone is perfectly holy. Christ is present within the Church for which he dies, making it holy. The Church has been entrusted with the Eucharist, and therefore it has the means to make men holy by partaking in Christ. Christ’s Church is universal because he died for each and every one of us wherever we are, whoever we are, and whenever we lived.

St. John de Brebeuf, a Jesuit who was martyred bringing the Catholic faith to the natives of North America, contemplated the mystery of the Eucharist’s universality, saying,

The only external sign of our holy religion that we have is the Blessed Sacrament of the altar. . . . It seems, moreover, that God supplies what we lack and rewards us with grace for having transported the holy sacrament beyond so many seas and having found an abode for it in these poor cabins.

By bringing the Eucharist to the New World, continents were spiritually united. The Eucharist is a memorial of Christ’s sacrifice for all men, and it keeps in our mind the dignity of all men because of Christ’s love for them. The Church’s ability to trace its roots to the apostles assures us that the successors to Peter are part of our family tree and that it is the true Church. The power to consecrate bread and wine has been passed on within the family as our spiritual treasure that keeps each mark of the Church present and its identity authentic.

The reason, therefore, why the Eucharist is the ultimate mark of the Church, the mark par excellence, is that the Eucharist is Christ, Who remains in the Church; sustains it; and, through its members, draws others to himself. Because of the Eucharist, the Church maintains its marks and grows in unity, holiness, catholicity, and apostolic works. The Eucharist was instituted because of the Church, and the Church is sustained and grows because of the Eucharist.

Articulating this truth to non-Catholic Christians would resonate in many hearts and draw them into this great mystery of our faith: Christ’s real presence among us. St. John Henry Newman said, “A true Christian may almost be defined as one who has a ruling sense of God’s presence within him.” How much more within us can he be than through the partaking of the Eucharist?”

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, Cong. Orat., "Encounter, not confrontation; attraction, not promotion; dialogue, not debate." -cf Pope Francis, “You will not see anyone who is really striving after his advancement who is not given to spiritual reading. And as to him who neglects it, the fact will soon be observed by his progress.” -St Athanasius, "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, “Also in some meditations today I earnestly asked our Lord to watch over my compositions that they might do me no harm through the enmity or imprudence of any man or my own; that He would have them as His own and employ or not employ them as He should see fit. And this I believe is heard.” -GM Hopkins, SJ, "Only God knows the good that can come about by reading one good Catholic book." — St. John Bosco, "Why don't you try explaining it to them?" – cf St Peter Canisius, SJ, Doctor of the Church, Doctor of the Catechism, "Already I was coming to appreciate that often apologetics consists of offering theological eye glasses of varying prescriptions to an inquirer. Only one prescription will give him clear sight; all the others will give him at best indistinct sight. What you want him to see—some particular truth of the Faith—will remain fuzzy to him until you come across theological eye glasses that precisely compensate for his particular defect of vision." -Karl Keating, "The more perfectly we know God, the more perfectly we love Him." -St Thomas Aquinas, OP, ST, I-II,67,6 ad 3, “But always when I was without a book, my soul would at once become disturbed, and my thoughts wandered." —St. Teresa of Avila, "Let those who think I have said too little and those who think I have said too much, forgive me; and let those who think I have said just enough thank God with me." –St. Augustine, "Without good books and spiritual reading, it will be morally impossible to save our souls." —St. Alphonsus Liguori "Never read books you aren't sure about. . . even supposing that these bad books are very well written from a literary point of view. Let me ask you this: Would you drink something you knew was poisoned just because it was offered to you in a golden cup?" -St. John Bosco " To teach in order to lead others to faith is the task of every preacher and of each believer." —St. Thomas Aquinas, OP. "Prayer purifies us, reading instructs us. Both are good when both are possible. Otherwise, prayer is better than reading." –St. Isidore of Seville “The aid of spiritual books is for you a necessity.… You, who are in the midst of battle, must protect yourself with the buckler of holy thoughts drawn from good books.” -St. John Chrysostom