Category Archives: Sacraments

Limbo


-by François-Joseph Navez, The Massacre of the Innocents (1824), please click on the image for greater detail.


-by Mathew A.C. Newsome

“Prior to April 2007, many Catholics had probably never heard of the International Theological Commission (ITC), a group of thirty theologians from around the world chosen by the Pope as a kind of advisory committee. But the most recent document by the ITC, published with papal approval on April 19, 2007, got a lot of attention—as well it should. Its subject is a tender one: “The Hope of Salvation for Infants Who Die Without Being Baptized.” To Catholic parents who have lost a child to miscarriage, stillbirth, Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, or some other tragedy prior to baptism, such hope is a healing balm for a wounded heart.

Interest in this recent document is understandable, and most people have learned of it through the news media. While many articles written since the document’s publication summarize its contents accurately, many do not. A Google news search reveals headlines such as, “Pope Changes Church Teaching on Limbo,” and “The Church Abandons Limbo.” Such headlines can easily give the impression that 1) Limbo was a defined doctrine of the Church, and 2) the Pope has the authority to change—even to reverse—defined doctrine. A May 4 Washington Post article by Alan Cooperman included the statement “limbo is a ‘problematic’ concept that Catholics are free to reject.”

Beyond the headlines you encounter even larger problems. An April 21 Associated Press article by Nicole Winfield quotes Fr. Richard McBrien (professor of theology at Notre Dame and noted dissenter) as saying, “If there’s no limbo and we’re not going to revert to St. Augustine’s teaching that unbaptized infants go to hell, we’re left with only one option, namely, that everyone is born in the state of grace . . . Baptism does not exist to wipe away the ‘stain’ of original sin, but to initiate one into the Church.” On the other end of the spectrum, Kenneth Wolfe, columnist for The Remnant, was quoted in Cooperman’s article as saying, “The Vatican is suggesting that salvation is possible without baptism. That is heresy.”

These characterizations notwithstanding, the ITC makes no rulings (and does not have the authority to do so). “The Hope of Salvation” in fact reiterates and builds upon the Catholic tradition. It neither categorically rejects Limbo nor denies the necessity of baptism. Rather, it offers reasons to hope that God may provide a way of salvation to those little ones whose lives ended before baptism was possible.

Augustine: No Middle Ground

Debate regarding the fate of infants who die before baptism dates back to the late fourth century, and the famous conflict between Pelagius and St. Augustine. Pelagius asserted that man is capable of living a perfect moral life by virtue of his natural reason and will alone and is not wounded by original sin.

In opposition to Pelagius, St. Augustine successfully defended the reality of original sin using Scripture and the Tradition of the Church. The Apostolic practice of infant baptism was evidence of the Church’s belief that even these youngest ones stood in need of a Savior. Without original sin, baptism could only affect the forgiveness of our personal sins. Infant baptism makes no sense without original sin. In his teaching against the Pelagian heresy, Augustine affirmed the necessity of this ancient practice. If an infant died unbaptized, he died in a state of sin, and was therefore destined to eternal damnation. He denied the existence, “between damnation and the kingdom of heaven [of] some middle place of rest and happiness . . . For this is what the heresy of Pelagius promised them” (On the Soul and its Origin 1.9).

Augustine’s position is not quite as harsh as it seems. In Contra Julianum 5.11, he writes, “Who can doubt that non-baptized infants, having only original sin and no burden of personal sins, will suffer the lightest condemnation of all? I cannot define the amount and kind of their punishment, but I dare not say it were better for them never to have existed than to exist there” (qtd. in John Randolph Willis, The Teachings of the Church Fathers, 245).

Aquinas: Privation, not Punishment

Later theologians developed Augustine’s thoughts, defining damnation as essentially the deprivation of the Beatific Vision, which does not necessarily involve any positive punishment. Distinctions were made between the pain of sense, describing the torments suffered by condemned sinners, and the pain of loss, which is sorrow over being absent from God’s presence.

By the thirteenth century, the dominant view was that unbaptized infants would suffer only the pain of loss. In 1201 Pope Innocent III expressed this opinion in a letter to the archbishop of Arles. Actual sin, the Holy Father asserted, is punished by the eternal torment of hell; original sin, however, is punished by the loss of the vision of God.

This line of thinking was explored thoroughly by St. Thomas Aquinas. The Angelic Doctor consigned infants who died without baptism to the outermost borders of hell, which he called the “limbo of children.” They died without the grace of God, and would spend eternity without it, but they were not worthy of punishment. St. Thomas insisted that these little ones would know no pain or remorse. He explained this opinion in various ways. In his commentary on Peter Lombard’s Sentences, he stated that no one regrets the lack of something which he is totally unequipped to have (II Sent. , d.33, q.2, a.2). Ten years later (in De Malo, q.5, a.3) he suggested that infants would not be distraught over their loss because they simply would have no knowledge of what they were missing.

Eventually limbo ceased to be spoken of as a “border region” of hell. Hell came to be understood as a place of punishment. Limbo was not. And since it has never been a defined dogma of the Church, various theologians have understood limbo in different ways. Most views, however, would include these common characteristics: Unbaptized infants die in a state of sin and enter neither heaven nor hell but limbo, which is a state of damnation not involving pain of sense or grief of exile; indeed, a measure of natural happiness is possible, with some suggesting that the denizens of limbo enjoy a perfect state of natural happiness.

Trust in the Mercy of God

Although limbo has long been the prevailing theory, some theologians have imagined ways in which God may provide for the salvation of unbaptized infants. St. Gregory of Nyssa, in the fourth century, called the fate of these souls “something much greater than the human mind can g.asp” and found solace in the fact that “the One who has done everything well, with wisdom, is able to bring good out of evil” (qtd. in HS 12).

Cardinal Cajetan, in the sixteenth century, remarked in his commentary on the Summa Theologica (III:68:11), “that children still within the womb of their mother are able to be saved . . . through the sacrament of baptism that is received, not in reality, but in the desire of the parents.” In our own times, Cardinal Ratzinger echoed Cajetan in a 1985 interview with Vittorio Messori. “One should not hesitate to give up the idea of ‘limbo’ if need be,” the future pontiff advised. “[A]nd it is worth noting that the very theologians who proposed ‘limbo’ also said that parents could spare the child limbo by desiring its baptism and through prayer” (The Ratzinger Report 147-8).

None of these positions has been officially proclaimed by the Magisterium. Catholics are free to have varying opinions on this matter. Our present Catechism makes no mention of limbo at all, but has this to say regarding infants who die without baptism:

“The Church can only entrust them to the mercy of God, as she does in her funeral rites for them. Indeed, the great mercy of God who desires that all men should be saved, and Jesus’ tenderness toward children which caused him to say: “Let the children come to me, do not hinder them,” allows us to hope that there is a way of salvation for children who have died without baptism. (CCC 1261)”

The Ordo Exsequiarum (Order of Christian Funerals) contains a special rite for children who die before baptism, during which the child’s soul is entrusted “to the abundant mercy of God, that our beloved child may find a home in his kingdom.” Option D of the opening prayer begins, “God of all consolation, searcher of mind and heart, the faith of these parents . . . is known to you. Comfort them with the knowledge that the child for whom they grieve is entrusted now to your loving care.” In the Prayer of Commendation B, the priest says, “We pray that you give [the child] happiness for ever.”

Lex orandi, lex credendi: As we pray, so we believe.

ITC: Reasons for Prayerful Hope

The default position of the Church then, as expressed in her liturgy, is that of hope. “Hope of Salvation” begins with a reference to 1 Peter 3:15: “Always be prepared to make a defense to any one who calls you to account for the hope that is in you . . .” This, in essence, is the purpose of the ITC document.

It is worth noting at this point that “Hope of Salvation” is not a Magisterial document. It does not require the assent of the faithful, as would a proclamation from a pope or an ecumenical council. It simply expresses the opinion of a respected group of theologians. The fact that Benedict XVI has given it his approval and has decided to publish it publicly gives some weight to the conclusions drawn by the commission. But those conclusions are not dogmatic.

In an interview published by Inside the Vatican.com on April 27, Sr. Sara Butler, one of the authors of the document, said,

“The commission is trying to say what the Catechism . . . has already said: that we have a right to hope that God will find a way to offer the grace of Christ to infants who have no opportunity for making a personal choice with regard to their salvation. It’s trying to provide a theological rationale for what has already been proposed in several magisterial documents since the Council.”

The first part of “Hope of Salvation” gives a history of Catholic teaching on this subject, and examines the key principles involved, namely: God’s will to save all people; the universal sinfulness of human beings; and the necessity of faith for salvation, along with baptism and the Eucharist (HS 9). After thoroughly examining the issues, the ITC suggests three means by which unbaptized infants who die may be united to Christ (this is not intended to be exhaustive):

  1. “Broadly, we may discern in those infants who themselves suffer and die a saving conformity to Christ in his own death and a companionship with him” (HS 85).
  2. “Some of the infants who suffer and die do so as victims of violence. In their case we may readily refer to the example of the Holy Innocents and discern an analogy in the case of these infants to the baptism of blood which brings salvation . . . Moreover, they are in solidarity with the Christ, who said: ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me’ (Matt. 25:40)” (HS 86).
  3. “It is also possible that God simply acts to give the gift of salvation to unbaptized infants by analogy with the gift of salvation given sacramentally to baptized infants” (HS 87). “God’s power is not restricted to the sacraments” (HS 82).

These are simply some possible ways, proposed by the ITC, in which we may imagine God offering salvation to these little children. There are others. The commission mentions the possibility of baptism of desire (in votum), with the votum offered either by the infant’s parents or the Church. “The Church has never ruled out such a solution,” we are reminded (HS 94).

No Certainties

But while offering these possibilities to us, the commission is careful not to overstep the bounds of Revelation. “It must be clearly acknowledged that the Church does not have sure knowledge about the salvation of unbaptized infants who die . . . [T]he destiny of the generality of infants who die without baptism has not been revealed to us, and the Church teaches and judges only with regard to what has been revealed” (HS 79).

There are some things that have most assuredly been revealed, and these articles of faith must be considered. Original sin is one of them. When contemplating the fate of unbaptized infants who die, one “cannot ignore the tragic consequences of original sin. Original sin implies a state of separation from Christ, and that excludes the possibility of the vision of God for those who die in that state” (HS 3).

“Hope of Salvation” in many places affirms the reality of original sin and the necessity of baptism. “Sacramental baptism is necessary because it is the ordinary means through which a person shares the beneficial affects of Jesus’ death and resurrection” (HS 10). The key phrase is “ordinary means.” In cases of urgency or necessity, God often provides extraordinary means to accomplish his will. Though water baptism is the ordinary means by which God transmits sanctifying grace, the Church teaches that there are other ways. The realities of baptism of blood and baptism of desire are affirmed by the Catechism (CCC 1258). Citing Gaudium et Spes, the Catechism also explains that “Every man who is ignorant of the Gospel of Christ and of his Church, but seeks the truth and does the will of God in accordance with his understanding of it, can be saved” (CCC 1260). It is in this same context that the Catechism offers us the “hope that there is a way of salvation for children who have died without baptism” (CCC 1261).

None of this, however, can be understood to imply that baptism is not necessary, for the Catechism states, “The Church does not know of any means other than baptism that assures entry into eternal beatitude . . . God has bound salvation to the sacrament of baptism, but he himself is not bound by his sacrament” (CCC 1257).

The necessity of baptism is echoed by the ITC. “What has been revealed to us is that the ordinary way of salvation is by the sacrament of baptism. None of the above considerations should be taken as qualifying the necessity of baptism or justifying delay in administering the sacrament” (HS 103). Sr. Butler, in the above-cited interview, puts it bluntly. “If somebody like Fr. Richard McBrien supposes that the ITC document rejects the doctrine of original sin, this is of course a mistake.” Elsewhere in the interview, she comments, “[W]e dare to hope that these infants will be saved by some extra-sacramental gift of Christ . . . We are very clear that the ordinary means of salvation is baptism, and that infants should be baptized; Catholic parents have a serious obligation.”

The conclusions of the ITC are nothing new. The Catechism tells us that it is reasonable to hope that God provides a way of salvation for infants who die without being baptized. It is a hope rooted in Christ, who instructed that we must be like children to enter the kingdom of God and said, “Let the children come to me” (Mark 10:14-15). “Hope of Salvation” simply provides possible theological reasons for this hope. The ITC readily admits that “these are reasons for prayerful hope, rather than grounds for sure knowledge” (HS 102).

What we do know for certain is this: God has a plan. God is perfectly just and perfectly merciful. God is love. We can rest assured that whatever plan God has established for infants who die without baptism, it is more just, more merciful, and more loving than whatever we may imagine, not less.

Hope for Our Simon

It was a Tuesday afternoon in May. I was home from work, watching our three small children while my wife, fifteen weeks pregnant, went for a scheduled doctor’s appointment, then to do some grocery shopping without the kids in tow. I assumed she would be gone for a while, so I was surprised to see her pull into the driveway earlier than expected. As I walked down the driveway to help her bring in the groceries, her gaze met mine. I knew from one look that something was wrong. Really wrong.

She started to cry, so I put my arms around her. That’s when she told me. “They can’t find a heartbeat.” The next several hours were a blur. Lots of tears. Phone calls to our parents. Talking to our kids. More tears. The trip to the hospital. One more ultrasound, just to be sure. The inducement of labor. Lots of prayers. And the final delivery of our small son, whom we named Simon. His umbilical cord had been wrapped multiple times around his neck, depriving his brain of oxygen. “It just sometimes happens,” the nursing staff told us.

We are blessed to have as our pastor a very orthodox and very compassionate priest. He came to the hospital and prayed with us. The doctor who delivered our other children, also a devout Catholic, prayed with us, as well. Of course the subject of baptism came up. There was simply nothing we could do. But I desperately wanted baptism for my son. What bothered me the most about his untimely death was that I never had the opportunity to bring him into the faith, to provide for his salvation.

I knew my catechism. I knew that the Church simply didn’t know what the fate of children like Simon would be. Perhaps because of this, I quickly grew tired of the assurances offered as attempts at consolation. “He’s in heaven now,” we were told by well meaning friends. Sentiments like that rang empty. How can you be so sure of that, I thought, when the Church herself has no such assurances? I cringed whenever I was told that “God needed another angel.” God needs nothing outside of himself. And wherever he is in eternity, my son is a human being, not an angel.

Simon’s funeral Mass was held on that Friday. It was a small service, attended by family and a few friends. Our priest gave a very comforting homily, and he ended by sharing with us that he had been praying his Liturgy of the Hours immediately before the funeral. The antiphon for the midmorning reading that day happened to be adapted from Luke 24:34: “The Lord is risen, alleluia. He has appeared to Simon, alleluia.”

Of course those words were not written in reference to our Simon. Nevertheless, my heart leapt in my chest when I heard them. For our priest expressed the prayer that Christ would somehow make himself present to our little son, in a way known only to him. This is the position of the International Theological Commission: that it is reasonable to “hope that God will save infants when we have not been able to do for them what we would have wished to do, namely, to baptize them into the faith and life of the Church” (HS 103).

Our pastor offered no empty assurances. No, he gave us something much greater than that. He gave us hope.

An Excerpt from “The Hope of Salvation for Infants Who Die Without Being Baptized

“The idea of limbo, which the Church has used for many centuries to designate the destiny of infants who die without baptism, has no clear foundation in revelation even though it has long been used in traditional theological teaching. Moreover, the notion that infants who die without baptism are deprived of the beatific vision, which has for so long been regarded as the common doctrine of the Church, gives rise to numerous pastoral problems, so much so that many pastors of souls have asked for a deeper reflection on the ways of salvation.

The necessary reconsideration of the theological issues cannot ignore the tragic consequences of original sin. Original sin implies a state of separation from Christ, and that excludes the possibility of the vision of God for those who die in that state . . .

However, with regard to the salvation of those who die without baptism, the word of God says little or nothing. It is therefore necessary to interpret the reticence of Scripture on this issue in the light of texts concerning the universal plan of salvation and the ways of salvation. In short, the problem both for theology and for pastoral care is how to safeguard and reconcile two sets of biblical affirmations: those concerning God’s universal salvific will (cf. 1 Tim. 2:4) and those regarding the necessity of baptism as the way of being freed from sin and conformed to Christ (cf. Mark 16:16; Matt. 28:18-19).

. . . [W]hile knowing that the normal way to achieve salvation in Christ is by Baptism in re, the Church hopes that there may be other ways to achieve the same end. Because, by his Incarnation, the Son of God “in a certain way united himself” with every human being, and because Christ died for all and all are in fact “called to one and the same destiny, which is divine,” the Church believes that “the Holy Spirit offers to all the possibility of being made partners, in a way known to God, in the paschal mystery.”

Love, & the glorious mystery of God’s love for each of us,
Matthew

Catholic marriage & Mt 19:9


-by Karlo Broussard

“The Church teaches that marriage is indissoluble. Thus, the Catechism teaches that while spouses are living, a new marital union “cannot be recognized as valid, if the first marriage was” (1650). Those who attempt civil remarriage after divorce, therefore, “find themselves in a situation that objectively contravenes God’s law.” The Church bases this teaching on Jesus’ words in Mark 10:11-12: “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another, commits adultery against her; and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.”

Many Protestants critique this teaching for not taking into consideration what Jesus says in Matthew 19:9: “Whoever divorces his wife, except for unchastity, and marries another, commits adultery; and he who marries a divorced woman, commits adultery.” Since Jesus inserts the clause “except for unchastity,” it’s argued, a man who divorced his wife and married another wouldn’t be committing adultery if his wife were guilty of infidelity.

Is the Catholic Church contradicting Jesus? It seems the Church is telling divorced people they can’t remarry when Jesus says they can. [There are several points to support the Church’s teaching in light of this Gospel passage.]

One is to point out that porneia/πορνεία—the Greek word for unchastity in this verse—isn’t part of the group of words Matthew uses for adultery in his Gospel.

Porneia/πορνεία, translated as “unchastity” or sometimes “fornication” or “sexual immorality,” is different from the Greek word for adultery (moichaō/μοιχάω). In its broadest sense, porneia/πορνεία means unlawful sexual intercourse, so it can include adultery, but Matthew never uses the word that way in his Gospel. Instead, he uses moichaō and related words. For example, in the same verse of the porneia/πορνεία clause, Matthew uses moichaō/μοιχάω twice to refer specifically to adultery: “Whoever divorces his wife, except for unchastity, and marries another, commits adultery [Gk. moichatai/μοιχάω]; and he who marries a divorced woman, commits adultery [Gk. moichatai/μοιχάω].” In 5:27, Matthew uses moicheuō/μοιχάω to refer to the literal act of adultery, in 5:28 to broaden the concept of adultery to include lust, and in 5:32 in reference to the husband making his wife an “adulteress” by divorcing her.

If Matthew thought Jesus was talking about adultery providing an exception to his teaching on divorce, why didn’t he use the word he always used for adultery? As Bible scholar John P. Meier argues, “If Matthew wishes to name adultery as a reason for divorce, he would be almost forced to employ some form of moicheia/μοιχάω [noun] to express the concept.”

Since Matthew doesn’t use any form of the Greek word that he commonly uses for adultery, it’s reasonable to conclude that Matthew doesn’t think Jesus was referring to spousal infidelity when he spoke of “unchastity.”

A second strategy focuses on the disciples’ reaction to Jesus’ teaching: “If such is the case of a man with his wife, it is not expedient to marry” (Matt. 19:10).

At the time of Jesus, there were two rabbinic schools of thought as to what constituted legitimate grounds for divorce. The Hillel school, which followed the Jewish leader Hillel, believed that practically anything could be grounds for divorce. It could be something as simple as burnt food or a prettier woman. The school of Shammai, on the other hand, believed that only sexual immorality was cause for divorce.

Given this background, the disciples’ reaction that it would be better not to marry would be unintelligible if Jesus were allowing for divorce and remarriage in cases of adultery or sexual immorality. The disciples already were accustomed to divorce and remarriage, as the Hillel and Shammai schools attest. Their strong reaction suggests that they understood Jesus to be giving a new and different teaching.

For our third strategy, we can point to how Jesus’ teaching stands alone amid the thought of the age. His teaching about divorce and remarriage in verse 9 is part of his response to a question posed by the Pharisees: “Is it lawful to divorce one’s wife for any cause?” (v. 3). Notice the phrase “for any cause.” It seems the Pharisees were testing Jesus to see which school of thought he would side with: Hillel or Shammai.

But Jesus’ response indicates that he sides with neither. He appeals to God’s original design for marriage and says, “What therefore God had joined together, let not man put asunder” (vv. 4-6; see also Gen. 2:24). In other words, it’s not that Moses allowed divorce for any cause, but “from the beginning” (v.8) it was only adultery-justified divorce. Rather, from the beginning there was no divorce: “it [divorce] was not so” (v.8). This proves that he sides with neither the Hillel nor the Shammai view on divorce and remarriage.

This context excludes the interpretation that porneia/πορνεία refers to adultery; in fact, it excludes reference to sexual immorality of any manner within marriage. For if Jesus intended the porneia/πορνεία clause to refer to any of these alternative interpretations, he would have been siding with either the Hillel or Shammai school. Instead, he gave a more radical teaching: that marriage is indissoluble. Therefore, we must conclude that Jesus didn’t intend the porneia/πορνεία clause to refer to sexual immorality within the context of the marriage bond, whether adultery or some other kind of immoral conduct.

Jesus underscores his radical view by saying no man can marry a divorced woman without committing adultery: “He who marries a divorced woman, commits adultery” (v.9; see also Matt. 5:32). This implies that no deed for which the woman is divorced, including adultery, renders her free to marry another man.

One last strategy: There are good reasons to think porneia/πορνεία instead refers to forms of sexual immorality that took place before or at the time of the attempted union, rendering it unlawful (invalid).

The Jews understood that certain sexual relationships rendered a union unlawful, meaning null and void—such as relationships of close consanguinity and affinity (Lev. 18:1-20). Only the Jewish community would know about the Levitical law concerning unlawful unions, and thus only the Jewish community would raise the question about whether these unions are an exception to Jesus’ teaching against divorce and remarriage. And Matthew, who is writing to a Jewish audience, is the only Gospel that records this exception clause.

As for porneia/πορνεία, the word is used twenty-five times in the New Testament. For only two of these do scholars even suggest it’s used for adultery: the passages that include the debated porneia/πορνεία clause concerning divorce and remarriage (Matt. 5:32, 19:9). Every other time, porneia/πορνεία refers to some sort of sexual immorality outside the lawful bounds of marriage: fornication (Matt. 15:19; Mark 7:21; John 8:41; Gal. 5:19; Eph. 5:3; Col. 3:5; Rev. 17:2, 17:4, 19:2), incest (Acts 15:20,29, 21:25; 1 Cor. 5:1;), general sexual immorality (1 Cor. 6:13,18, 7:2; 2 Cor. 12:21; 1 Thess. 4:3; Rev. 2:21, 9:21), and metaphorical impure passions (Rev. 14:8, 18:3).

Since we know from above that porneia/πορνεία can’t refer to adultery in Matthew 19:9, and every time porneia/πορνεία is used in the New Testament, it refers to sexual immorality outside the boundaries of the marital bond, it’s likely that the “porneia/πορνεία exception” in Matthew refers to sexual immorality that took place before and at the time of the attempted union, invalidating it.

We can support this interpretation by considering two things. First, it adequately explains why in these cases a man who “puts away his wife” and marries another doesn’t commit adultery. If he was never in a lawful union to begin with, he would be free to marry. This is the basis for Catholic teaching on annulments: allowing marriage for civilly divorced persons whose first “marriage” was judged not to have been valid.

Matthew’s intention in including the porneia/πορνεία exception is to clarify for his Jewish audience that Jesus was concerned with lawful marriages. His prohibition of divorce didn’t apply to those unions contracted before Christian baptism because they weren’t lawful to begin with. You can’t divorce if you were never married!

The great irony here is that rather than the Catholic Church telling people they can’t remarry when Jesus says they can, the view that the challenge implies tells people they can remarry when Jesus says they can’t. It’s not the Catholic Church that’s contradicting Jesus’ teaching. It’s the view that spousal infidelity dissolves a valid marital bond and gives grounds to divorce and remarry.

Unlike the many Christian groups that have caved to the pressures of modern society, the Catholic Church’s doctrines remain faithful to Jesus’ teaching on marriage, echoing Christ’s words: “What therefore God has joined together, let no man put asunder.”

The seven sacraments: baptism, confession, eucharist, confirmation, holy orders, extreme unction, and…martyrdom. 🙂 I’m in trouble now! Actually, I’m always in trouble, no matter what, cuz I’m a man.

Love,
Matthew

Mercy given, mercy received


-Lecrae (left) and Akon (right) at the 2013 Billboard Music Awards




-by Fr. Joseph Gill

Lecrae Moore grew up on the wrong side of the tracks. Single mom, drug abuse, the gangsta lifestyle – the whole nine yards. He was headed down a path to nowhere when two unexpected doses of mercy brought him a whole new life.

He had just been arrested for dealing drugs and was sitting in the back of a police car, waiting to be hauled off to jail, while the officer was searching his car for more drugs. After a minute, the officer came back, holding a Bible. The officer asked why the Bible was in this drug dealer’s car.

Lecrae admitted that it was just a good-luck charm that he got from his devout grandmother, and said, “Yeah, I need to start living by it.”

The office responded, “If you promise me you will start reading your Bible and start living it, I’ll let you go.”

Lecrae was stunned – he quickly agreed, and the officer let him go.

But change didn’t happen all of a sudden. He still struggled with his own wounds and addictions and sins. He was reading his Bible, but then would go out and party and deal drugs and hook up with women. It took one more act of mercy to change his heart…

He happened to be invited by a friend to go to a Christian retreat, where God’s grace touched his heart. From the depths of his soul, he prayed, “God, if You are real, get me out of this [sinful lifestyle] – do whatever You need to do, but don’t kill me.” A short while later, he was driving down the highway and lost control of his car, which flipped and got totally destroyed. He was wearing no seatbelt, but somehow emerged from that wreck completely unscathed. This was the (rather abrupt!) answer to his prayer, and he completely changed his life and gave it fully to Christ. Two acts of mercy – one from the police officer, and one directly from God – made him one of the best Christian rap artists in the world: multi-platinum, Grammy-winning, a powerful force for Christ.

Aquinas defined “justice” as giving to each one what we owe them. But mercy can be defined as giving someone what we do not owe them. A second chance, forgiveness with no strings attached, an undeserved kindness, a surprise gift. We are not owed these things – but they are small mercies that can change the entire trajectory of a life.

In fact, mercy can change the entire trajectory of the world. Ever since Genesis, the world needed a re-start, a do-over. And the Resurrection is that re-start. Notice what John says – “On the first day of the week…” What happened on the first day of the week? Creation began. Now on this “first day”, we see a New Creation. No longer do we see a mortal man in Adam, now we see an immortal and glorified Man in Jesus. When He encounters His disciples, how does He greet them? “Peace” – in Hebrew, “Shalom”. Shalom means far more than just peace – it means wholeness, completeness, right order. After all the disorder that we introduced into the world through sin, on Easter Sunday Christ comes to put it back in order, to undo the chaos, sin, and death. Act 1 of human history, an act written as a tragedy, is over. Act 2 has now begun, an act written by mercy.

Mercy is what allows us to participate in Act 2. Mercy doesn’t mean that our sins don’t matter; it means that our sins matter, and they are forgiven. I have found, as a priest, that people have one of two reactions when I talk about sin and mercy. Some people think their sins are too big, too horrible to be forgiven, and they fear approaching Jesus out of shame. Other people think they don’t sin at all – they say they are “pretty good people”. But both are errors to avoid. As Jesus revealed to St. Faustina, “The greater the sinner, the greater the right they have to My Mercy” – we put limits on God’s power if we don’t believe He can forgive our sins!

At the same time, St. John writes, “If we say we are without sin, we are a liar” for “all have sinned and are deprived of the glory of God.” In fact, it says in Scripture that “the righteous man sins seven times a day.” And that’s a good man! Sin isn’t just the breaking of a rule, but falling-short of the standard of living like Christ. And none of us live like Him perfectly. We’re not as holy as we should be. So mercy is for all of us – people with huge sins, and people with daily faults who strive to be more like Jesus. That is why all of us should go to Confession, monthly if you can. Don’t wait until next Lent!

But to accept the mercy of God requires two things. First, once we have become a new creation through His mercy, we must live like we are a new creation. Mercy is not a license to sin. Sometimes we think, “Oh, I’ll commit this sin, and I’ll just go to Confession on Saturday.” My friends, that is the sin of presumption – presuming that God will give you the grace of forgiveness. No, if we wish to have mercy, we must “go and sin no more,” as Our Lord told the adulterous woman.

Second, we must extend that mercy to others. In the famous book Les Miserables, the homeless ex-criminal Jean Valjean was given lodging at the home of a bishop. He repaid such a kindness by stealing the bishop’s silverware. When police caught him, the bishop pretends that he gave him the silverware, and tells him to take the silver candlesticks he “forgot”. Moved by such an undeserved mercy, Jean Valjean becomes an honest man and uses his life to help others.

God wants mercy to come to others through us. Notice that in the Gospels He gives His Apostles (the first bishops) the power to forgive sins. He could have made it so that we pray to God directly for forgiveness, but He wants mercy to flow through human beings. That is true, not only in Confession, but also in the daily mercy that we show to others. We hold our tongue and don’t criticize our spouse for their small faults; we don’t get back at our siblings who offended us; we assume the best of others, even if they don’t deserve it. A great way to give mercy is to perform the “Works of Mercy” – feeding the hungry, sheltering the homeless, and the like. Daily we have the opportunity to show mercy to those around us.

How many times have we received mercies undeserved? Too many to count – especially the confidence that all our sins are forgiven, every time we walk out of the Confessional. Mercy has turned the page, and given us a second chance. We have received it – now we must give it.”

Love, Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner,
Matthew

Hope to Die: The Body as Sacrament

(Ed. sacrament = a visible sign of God’s grace.)

St. Athanasius explains:

‘What else could he possibly do, being God, but renew His image in mankind? And how could this be done save by the coming of the very Image Himself, our Savior Jesus Christ? Men could not have done it, for they are only made after the Image; nor could angels have done it, for they are not the images of God. The Word of God came in His own Person, because it was He alone, the Image of the Father, Who could recreate man made after the Image.’
-Athanasius, On the Incarnation, 39–41

Zoe/Ζωή, in many ways, is the ultimate gift of the Incarnation. It is the ultimate reason for the Incarnation. It’s the why behind Jesus coming. But, unlike the new dignity all bodies take on through the Incarnation, zoe/Ζωή isn’t imparted to all people automatically. It’s imparted through Baptism.

In Baptism, we are born anew, receiving what Adam lost—the gift of divine life—into our souls once more. It’s easy to dismiss Baptism as a mere symbol, but when you understand the difference between bios/βιο and zoe/Ζωή and between physical death and spiritual death, it becomes clear that the Sacrament of Baptism is more than figurative or symbolic. There is an ontological reality to our resurrection.

In the waters of Baptism, we die and rise by being united to Christ’s resurrected body. The divine life is restored to us so that the newly baptized person is more resurrected than Lazarus was. Lazarus got his natural, physical life back after four days. But in Baptism, we get our supernatural and divine life back, the life that Adam lost in the very beginning of time.

Baptism makes it possible for us to live the life for which God made us—a life that is more than natural—that is, in fact, supernatural. It also makes it possible for us to live a more fully human life, to enter more deeply into those things that make this earthly life worth living and have richer, more intimate connections with family and friends.

But Baptism doesn’t just affect our souls; it affects our bodies, too.

In all the sacraments, sanctifying grace—God’s own life— comes to us through our bodies. In Baptism, in Confirmation, in Marriage, in Holy Orders, and above all, in the Eucharist, God’s life enters into these bodies of ours through matter—water, wine, oil, a bishop’s hands, a spouse’s body— restoring the divine life that was lost by Adam and strengthening it within us. That grace divinizes our bodies. It makes them holy. It makes them temples. “Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?” asks Paul in 1 Corinthians 3:16.

In every single baptized person who is not in a state of mortal sin, God lives. He dwells within us. All human life is sacred because it is a gift from God and because man is made in the image of God. But the bodies of the baptized have a holiness that comes from the sanctifying grace abiding within them. As C. S. Lewis once remarked in his famous lecture, “The Weight of Glory”:

‘Next to the Blessed Sacrament itself, your neighbor is the holiest object presented to your senses. If he is your Christian neighbor, he is holy in almost the same way [as the Blessed Sacrament], for in him also Christ vere latitat—the glorifier and the glorified, Glory Himself, is truly hidden.’
-C. S. Lewis, “The Weight of Glory,” The Weight of Glory and Other Addresses (New York: Macmillan, 1980), 19.

Importantly, the holiness of the baptized body doesn’t end with death. Grace continues to linger in the bodies and bones of those united to Christ. That’s why Catholic cemeteries are considered holy ground. The bodies of the baptized are buried there. And those bodies are the seed of the resurrected body.

Jesus promises to transform our resurrected bodies, to glorify them, to deify them. “As was the man of dust, so are those who are of the dust,” writes St. Paul, “and as is the man of heaven, so are those who are of heaven. Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven” (1 Cor 15:48–49).

This promise of resurrection is our hope. It is that on which we stake our life. It is what enables us, as Christians, to face death with courage and joy.”

Love & Resurrection,
Matthew

Prayers for Priests in Purgatory

“All who die in God’s grace, but still imperfectly purified, are indeed assured of their eternal salvation; but after death they undergo purification, so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven (CCC 1030).”

“Our Lady of the Sacred Heart, pray for the souls of priests and religious brothers and sisters.”

“Eternal Father, we offer you the most Precious Blood of Jesus, for the souls of priests who in purgatory suffer the most and are the most abandoned.”

“Oh Lord Jesus Christ, Eternal Priest, Who during Your earthly life generously cared for every poor person who was afflicted and abandoned, I beg You, look with favor on the souls of priests in purgatory who suffer most atrociously and who are abandoned and forgotten by everyone. Look at how these Holy Souls, tormented by the voracity of the flames and with an agonizing voice plead for pity and help.

Oh most merciful heart of Jesus, Who in the Garden of Olives, in the midst of bitter solitude, victim of most cruel spiritual torments and bloody agony, begged: “Father, if it is possible take this chalice away from Me! Yet let not Mine, but Your will be done.” By this, Your submission and painful passion and agony, I beg you to have pity on the Holy Souls for whom I am praying to You and to relieve their suffering and to console them in the midst of their abandonment, as Your Celestial Father consoled You by sending you an angel. Amen.

Our Lady of Suffrage, Mother of Mercy, we favorably invoke you for our own sake and for the sake of the souls in purgatory. I would like to escape from that tremendous prison, by living a just life, avoiding sin, and doing everything with the fervor of a holy soul. But what can I do, without the help of heaven?

Dear Mother, cast your glance upon me and obtain for me the grace that the last day of my mortal life may be the first day that I will begin to enjoy the glories of heaven. Hope and Mother of the afflicted, run to the aid of those in purgatory. Be merciful towards my relatives, my friends, my benefactors, the souls who love Jesus and who love you and toward the abandoned souls.

Oh Mary, by the Cross on which Jesus died, by the Most Precious Blood with which He redeemed us, by the chalice which every day is offered up to the Eternal Father during the Mass, obtain grace and liberation for all of the souls in purgatory. Listen to the sighs of your sons & daughters in purgatory and opening the doors of this painful prison, let them all ascend into Heaven with you today. Amen.

– Our Lady of Suffrage, pray for us and the souls in purgatory. Eternal Rest grant unto them, oh Lord and let perpetual light shine upon them. Amen.”

Love & prayers for our professed and ordained, certainly God will grant the grace you seek to do His will on earth,
Matthew

Baptist discovers the early Church & Mass


-by Steve Ray, a convert to the Catholic faith

“Time for Mass rolls around, and I am usually entangled in things like catching up on emails, writing an article, planning a pilgrimage trip, playing with the grandkids, or reading. It is hard to break away, hard to step out into the heat or cold to get the car started and hard to shift gears in my mind and heart.

But once I step into the sacred space of a Catholic church, the world melts away, and I am swept up into reality of heaven. The presence of God fills the church, while heaven comes down to earth on the altar. I am swept away to another world, one more real than the one where my feet are planted.

Why was I fortunate enough to discover this euphoria? How did this great joy become a reality for humans bound to a planet spinning around a star in one of billions of galaxies?

Sundays as a Baptist

Before explaining my profound discovery of the liturgy and sacraments of the Catholic Church, I must first to take a step back in time to my delightful Baptist childhood.

Before I ever read the Bible for myself, I was well aware of my Baptist tradition, which permeated every aspect of my childhood and teen years. I was reminded constantly that Baptists reject many of the teachings of the Catholic Church. We rejected infant baptism and taught that anyone baptized as an infant had to be baptized again, or re-baptized as an adult—and this by full immersion.

We also rejected the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist and that there was any sacrifice involved. This was Catholic heresy that originated in the “traditions of men.” We did not use the words Mass or Eucharist. For us, the correct terminology was the Lord’s Supper or communion. Since Jesus was crucified once and for all on the cross, there is no way that the Lord’s Supper could have anything to do with the sacrifice of Christ. It actually did nothing, and changed nothing. It was simply a meal we shared to commune spiritually with our Lord and to remember what he did for us on the cross.

The door of our Baptist church opened, and the early arrivers stepped in with well-worn Bibles under their arms. (I still have my dad’s marked up and notated King James Schofield Reference Bible on my desk. The date in the cover reminds me of his conversion from pagan to Christian in 1954, the year I was born.) Boys with cute bow ties and girls in frilly dresses were dropped off at Sunday school. Women adjusted their hats and smiled at their friends.

It was always the same: We entered the church with chattering friendliness accompanied by the organ or piano. Everyone took their place in the padded pews. The pastor stepped up to the front and welcomed everyone, especially any visitors. Then we all stood as he opened with a solemn and often lengthy prayer. A number was called out, and we all grabbed our hymnal and proved we were real Christians by belting out the hymn—and not just the first verse, but every verse.

Then came announcements, the doxology, and the collection while a soloist sang. I remember at one church they even passed a credit card machine up and down the pews.

Then we were enriched by nearly an hour of preaching with the exercise of flipping from one end of the Bible to the other. I don’t recall us ever reading any lengthy selection of Scripture in context. It was usually a thematic study, using verses out of context from one passage then another.

It usually concluded with an altar call—a passionate, heartfelt appeal to come forward to receive Jesus as your personal Lord and Savior. I always wondered about this, since I assumed everyone there had already done that at least once, if not many times. No one ever came forward except in the yearly revivals, when flocks came forward just to make sure. Then came the closing prayer and another complete hymn followed by a reminder of the Sunday service at 7:00 p.m.

It never dawned on me (and probably not on any other person sitting in the pews) to ask what the very first Christians did on Sunday mornings. After all, Christians have been gathering on Sundays for more than 2,000 years. Jesus and the apostles set something in motion, and their immediate disciples followed them in their manner of worship on Sundays.

They certainly had a structure to their “worship service,” as is clear from the New Testament and the writings from the first and second century. The apostles certainly taught them what to do and how to do it, if only by their example.

The Lord’s Supper

In my Baptist congregation (and later in other churches we attended, such as Reformed, non-denominational, Methodist, Calvary Chapel, Presbyterian, New Testament Assembly, Plymouth Brethren, etc.) we had the “Lord’s Supper.” Once every three months or so it was tacked on to the end of a regular church service.

Broken crackers were distributed on a silver tray, followed by the grape juice in individual mini-glasses (like shot glasses used for whiskey). We were clear that nothing happened to the crackers and grape juice during the ceremony. Only the heretic Catholics believed that unseen magic took place. The crackers and grape juice were mere symbols to remind us of the body of Jesus that was nailed to the cross and the blood that resulted from the nails.

Jesus had ordered us to do this, so we obeyed, calling it not a sacrament but an ordinance. The ceremony did nothing but remind us of the crucifixion. It was simply a “meal”—meager as it was—to remind us of our Lord’s death. We were always anxious to get out of church and to our real meal at the diner on the way home.

Jesus said, “As often as you do this”—but in our Baptist church, this was interpreted as, “As infrequently as you do this.” No one seemed concerned that the apostles and the early Christians celebrated this ceremony often and that it was more than just sharing crackers and grape juice. St. Luke informed us that the very first Christians “devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers” (Acts 2:42).

The apostles and their disciples met frequently to “break bread,” which was the earliest term for the Eucharist or the Lord’s Supper. This was shared no less than weekly (cf. Luke 24:30; Acts 2:46, 20:7). The daily bread of the Israelites in the wilderness of Sinai was called manna. The manna prefigured the Eucharist, and we are taught likewise to pray for the Father to provide us with our “daily bread,” which certainly refers to the Eucharist as well as our daily provisions.

Beyond the book of Acts and St. Paul’s epistles, do we have any idea what the apostles did on Sunday mornings when they gathered together? Did the early Christians leave a record of what they did on Sunday? Was it similar to the typical Baptist church service?

A historical record

We are fortunate. The early Christians did leave us a record of what they did, as taught by the apostles. It would serve us well to read their testimonies.

Why? Well, who can provide us with the best and most accurate idea of what the apostles taught, practiced, and expected the Church to do on Sundays than those who actually learned it from the apostles?

There is an old axiom that tells us the water is always cooler and clearer the closer you get to the source.

Justin Martyr (c. A.D. 100-165) was a pagan philosopher who converted to Christianity. He became a celebrated defender of the Christian faith and was beheaded as a martyr in Rome in A.D. 165. This was only 65 years after the death of the Apostle St. John in Ephesus.

St. Justin wrote to Emperor Marcus Aurelius, who was a persecutor of the Christians. He tried to explain to the emperor what the Christians believed and practiced. Maybe, he reasoned, if the Emperor understood Christianity he would stop killing the Christians.

It would do well for modern Protestants to look beyond their own relatively recent traditions to see what the first Christians did on Sunday morning.

Justin Martyr’s voice can still be heard ringing clearly down through the centuries, for our ears:

“And on the day called Sunday, all who live in cities or in the country gather together to one place, and the memoirs of the apostles or the writings of the prophets are read, as long as time permits; then, when the reader has ceased, the president verbally instructs, and exhorts to the imitation of these good things.

Then we all rise together and pray, and, as we before said, when our prayer is ended, bread and wine and water are brought, and the president in like manner offers prayers and thanksgivings, according to his ability, and the people assent, saying Amen; and there is a distribution to each, and a participation of that over which thanks have been given, and to those who are absent a portion is sent by the deacons (quoted in The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 1; Roberts, Donaldson, and Coxe, eds., p. 186).”

This is the earliest description we have of the Sunday morning worship service, as Protestants usually refer to it. Catholics refer to it as the Mass, or the Eucharistic liturgy.

Notice first of all that Christians gathered on Sunday mornings. This was something that was expected and even required. They gathered! Second, they all gathered in one place. Today, in Anytown, USA, Sunday morning is the most segregated time of the week. Christians do not gather in one place but in multiple, sometimes competing, locations—Baptists, Lutherans, Pentecostals, Nazarenes, Methodists, Presbyterians, so-called non-denominational denominations, and a host of others.

An ancient form

In the early centuries Sunday morning began with reading lengthy selections of Scripture, including the Old Testament and the developing New Testament (though the final collection was not codified for another two hundred years or so). They read the Gospels—the words of our Lord.

The readings were extensive and in context. Afterward, the presider or the priest would exhort the Christians to follow and imitate what Scripture taught. Then they stood together and prayed, usually ending with “Lord, hear our prayer,” just as we offer our petitions to God in the Catholic Church today.

After the homily and prayers of the faithful, “bread and wine and water [were] brought” to the front of the church. The priest then “offer[ed] prayers and thanksgivings, according to his ability, and the people assent[ed], saying, ‘Amen.’”

This is exactly what happens in every Catholic Church in the world today, 2,000 years later. After the Eucharistic prayers the people say “Amen” and arise to receive the Body and Blood of Christ. Then the deacons take the Eucharist to those who were absent. A collection is taken to help the poor and to help support the Christian community.

Is this the Catholic liturgy or the Baptist service? St. Justin Martyr’s voice pierced the noise of modern religious confusion and reached my ears with a clear and clarion call: “Steve, wake up—open your eyes, abandon sectarian novelties and man-made traditions and listen to us who followed the actual teachings and practices of the apostles. We are still living and teaching and preserving what we learned from the apostolic Fathers. Their words are still ringing in our ears, their liturgy still vivid before our eyes.”

Justin Martyr again:

“And this food is called among us Εὐχαριστία [the Eucharist], of which no one is allowed to partake but the man who believes that the things which we teach are true, and who has been washed with the washing that is for the remission of sins [water baptism], and unto regeneration, and who is so living as Christ has enjoined.

For not as common bread and common drink do we receive these; but in like manner as Jesus Christ our Savior, having been made flesh by the word of God, had both flesh and blood for our salvation, so likewise have we been taught that the food which is blessed by the prayer of His word, and from which our blood and flesh by transmutation are nourished, is the flesh and blood of that Jesus who was made flesh. For the apostles, in the memoirs composed by them, which are called Gospels, have thus delivered unto us what was enjoined upon them; that Jesus took bread, and when He had given thanks, said, “This do ye in remembrance of Me, this is My body” (quoted in The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 1, p. 185).”

So, what did the earliest Christians do on Sunday morning? The same thing Catholics do today.

Time machine experiment

I’ve always wanted to perform an experiment. I want to invent a time machine and drop a first-century Christian into a modern Baptist church on Sunday morning. Would he know where he was, or what is going on?

No, he would not. It would be foreign to him.

Next, I would like to take that same apostolic Christian and set him down in a modern-day Catholic Church. Then would he know where he is and what is going on?

Yes, because it is precisely what he was doing in the first or second century—every Sunday for his whole life since his conversion from paganism.

Except for the cultural differences—language, style of dress, type of instruments accompanying the songs, architecture—the “blueprint” and structure of the liturgy, as well as the teaching and belief in the Eucharistic mystery, are the same.

Where did my former Baptist tradition come from? Not from the Bible or the early Church. It came from man-made traditions begun by Martin Luther and a host of other schismatics. The Baptist tradition is usually traced to English Separatist John Smyth in 1609 who in Amsterdam, after his own novel interpretation of the New Testament, decided that infant baptism was invalid and that only believing adults could be baptized. After baptizing himself, he baptized others of his new sect.

But back to this past Sunday. I again sat at church with tears in my eyes. It has been seventeen years since my family and I converted to the Catholic Church. Yet I still am amazed, enchanted, overjoyed, overwhelmed, and profoundly grateful.

We are proud of the Catholic Church for keeping the blueprint and living in obedience to our Lord and his apostles. I sat and listened to more Scripture read, sung, and prayed than I had ever experienced in any hour in a Baptist church. I ate the Body and drank the Blood of our Lord. I am still transported.

Heavenly continuity

My wife, Janet, and I sat in Mass this weekend again swept away by the beauty of the liturgy—not because the music was soaring or the homily profound but because it was the same Sunday morning worship that was given to the Church by Jesus and his apostles, and it has been celebrated uninterrupted for the last 2,000 years. It was the same liturgy loved by Justin Martyr, Ignatius of Antioch, Clement of Rome, Peter and Paul, Andrew, James . . .

The Catholic Church is ancient, yet ever young. We partake of the same Body and Blood of Jesus as did the first Christians. We are one body in Christ not only across the surface of the earth but throughout all of time. The Mass is timeless, vital, essential. It is life and light for those who have eyes to see and ears to hear.

As St. Ignatius of Antioch, another first century Christian wrote—not of himself but as a disciple of the apostles, with their words still ringing in his ears—“Obey the bishop and the presbytery with an undivided mind, breaking one and the same bread, which is the medicine of immortality, and the antidote to prevent us from dying, but [which causes] that we should live forever in Jesus Christ” (quoted in The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 1, p. 57).

The first Christians lovingly reached through two millennia and gave me the sign of peace saying, “Welcome home!”

I am proud and happy to be a Catholic.”

Me, too. Although, the sinners, full of them, like me, drive me nuts. But, He is there. And, that is all that is needed, desired, possibly hoped for.  Praise Him, Church!!!!!  Praise Him!!!!
Love,
Matthew

O Sacrum Convivium

One of my favorites….

O sacrum convivium!
in quo Christus sumitur:
recolitur memoria passionis eius:
mens impletur gratia:
et futurae gloriae nobis pignus datur.
Alleluia.

O sacred banquet!
in which Christ becomes our food,
the memory of his Passion is renewed,
the mind is filled with grace,
and a pledge of future glory to us is given.
Alleluia.


-by Br Linus Martz, OP

“If the Eucharist is “the source and summit of the Christian life” (CCC 1324), then it matters how we think and pray about it.  Repeated prayers, such as the Our Father, teach us how to pray (cf. Luke 11:1) through the repetition of familiar words and postures. And so, several times a day, the friars recite the above antiphon, kneeling before the Blessed Sacrament. How might these words of Saint Thomas Aquinas teach us?

O Sacred Banquet. The banquet is a common image, ideally calling to mind the Wedding Feast in Revelation 19.  In the Mass itself, the priest says, “Blessed are those called to the supper of the Lamb.” Still, given present circumstances, we might balk at this opening. It seems too much talk of a meal among friends could reduce the altar of sacrifice to a table, the Sacrament to a symbol, and the supernatural reality to a self-enclosed communion of attendees. Since last year’s poll projected that only a third of U.S. Catholics believe in transubstantiation, we urgently need clear Eucharistic teaching. Haven’t we heard enough about banquets and tables?

First, the O Sacred Banquet seems designed to teach; it’s a mini-creed of Eucharistic faith. In four steps, it clarifies what (or Who) this Sacred Banquet is:

Christ becomes our food. Aquinas writes: “The effect of this sacrament [here, grace] ought to be considered, first of all and principally, from what is contained in this sacrament, which is Christ” (ST III q.79 a.1). Only the doctrine of transubstantiation accounts for Christ’s sermon at Capernaum (John 6:22-59) and his unqualified words: “Take, eat; this is my body” (Matt 26:26). The memory of his Passion is celebrated. The Mass is a re-presentation, in an unbloody mode, of the One Sacrifice on Calvary, when the same “blood of the covenant” was “poured out” for our sins (Matt 26:27-28). The soul is filled with grace. Through the sacraments the Holy Spirit makes us “partakers of the divine nature” (2 Pet 1:3-4), even in this life. But the pledge of future glory is given to us: while we await “the glory that is to be revealed” (Rom 8:18), we possess here a foretaste of Heaven.

Notably, the O Sacred Banquet puts all four of its verbs in the present tense: through the unique efficacious signs instituted by Christ, past, present, and future are signified, now, for our sanctification (ST III q. 60 a. 3). Again, there’s a whole theology in this one prayer.

Lastly, the “sacred banquet” language is not just a cliché.  Aristotle famously wrote that human friendship takes a certain amount of “eating salt together,” that is, of time and familiarity around a shared table (Nicomachean Ethics VIII.3). But when the Church speaks of the supper of the Lamb, she means primarily our communion with God, which is the basis for (and inseparable from) our communion as believers.

This idea, divine friendship, seemed foolish to the Philosopher. He thought there was such inequality between gods and men that they cannot be friends, and “do not even expect to be so” (Ethics VIII.7). True: God and human beings are not equals. But Jesus has revealed a new vocation for us: “No longer do I call you servants … but I have called you friends” (John 15:15). This charity which He offers, this “friendship of man for God” (ST II-II q.23 a.1), fulfills all true communion in the one Body of Christ.

Because the Eucharistic gift of divine friendship is the source of our human friendship in religious life, we friars need to turn to our Lord with these words throughout the day. But, in today’s world, a more widespread use of this devotion could “teach us how to pray.” It would be a constant reminder of the con-vivium, the life shared between God and man, given to us in this Sacred Banquet.”

Love, and His grace,
Matthew

Truly His Body & His Blood

Here is one of the best explanations I have ever read.


-by Karlo Broussard

“Catholics argue that when Jesus said at the Last Supper, “This is my body . . . This is my blood” (Matt. 26:26, 28), He literally meant for bread to become His Body and wine His Blood.

But a Protestant might object: “Wait a minute. If we take the bread and wine to be really Jesus’ body and blood because He says, ‘This is My body . . . This is My blood,’ then we’re gonna have to say Paul meant the rock that followed the Israelites in the wilderness to be really Jesus, since he says, ‘the Rock was Christ’ (1 Cor. 10:4). But most Christians don’t believe the rock really was Jesus, like Catholics believe the consecrated host really is Jesus’ Body. Therefore, we shouldn’t take Jesus to mean that the bread and wine really became His Body and Blood because He says, ‘This is my body . . . This is my blood.’”

What should we make of this objection?

First, the appeal to 1 Corinthians 10:4 doesn’t show that Jesus’ use of “is” must be taken figuratively. It only shows that the verb “is” can be taken figuratively. As such, this argument only gets as far as saying a figurative interpretation, like in 1 Corinthians 10:4, is possible.

But this is a moot point, because Catholics could agree that Jesus’ words “This is my body . . . This is my blood” taken by themselves can be interpreted literally or figuratively. There’s nothing in the words themselves that determines one interpretation over the other. So, Catholics need have no qualms with saying these words could be taken figuratively when they’re considered in isolation from other evidence.

Second, the objection demands that a Catholic should interpret Jesus’ use of the verb “to be” at the Last Supper like it’s used in 1 Corinthians 10:4—figuratively, the reason being that it’s supposedly obvious that bread and wine can’t be Jesus’ body and blood. However, such a demand would be common only on the supposition that Jesus is not performing a miracle.

For example, I might hold up a picture of my father and say, “This is my father,” and you know that the picture is not literally my father but a figure of him. But—and here’s the key—your conclusion would be based on the assumption, and a true one at that, that I’m not performing the miracle of making my father substantially present under the form of ink and paper.

Similarly, to interpret Jesus’ use of “is” at the Last Supper figuratively would be natural if we already knew he’s not performing a miracle. But if there is evidence that what Jesus is doing at the Last Supper is miraculous, then a literal interpretation would be a viable option, and even a more probable one.

And there is an abundance of such evidence. Due to the limited space here, however, we’re only going to consider some of the evidence.

When Jesus first made the promise to give His Flesh to eat in John 6:51-52, He did so against the backdrop of the manna of old: “Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread which comes down from heaven, that a man may eat of it and not die . . . the bread which I shall give for the life of the world is My Flesh.”

This bread that God gave in the wilderness was not ordinary bread. It was miraculous bread:

  • It was bread that rained from heaven (Exod. 16:4).
  • It appeared every day with the coming of the “dew” (Exod. 16:13)
  • It never lasted more than a day, except on the Sabbath. When the Israelites didn’t obey the instruction to leave none until the next day, it “bred worms and became foul” (Exod. 16:19-20).
  • It didn’t appear on the Sabbath. And the amount they gathered on the sixth day did not breed worms and become foul (Exod. 16:22-26).
  • It appeared every day for forty years, and only stopped upon the Israelites entering the promised land (Exod. 16:35; Joshua 5:10-12).
  • A jar with an omer’s worth was kept in the Israelite’s sanctuary “throughout the generations” (Exod. 16:31-34)

As bible scholar Brant Pitre argues in his book Jesus and the Jewish Roots of the Eucharist, to say the Eucharist at the Last Supper, the New Manna, is merely a symbol, we’d have to conclude that the Old Manna in the wilderness was superior to the New, since miraculous bread is clearly greater than ordinary bread. But that’s a no-go in biblical theology. The New Testament fulfillment is always greater than the Old Testament type.

Therefore, the Eucharist at the Last Supper couldn’t have been ordinary bread, which is what it would have to have been on the view that Jesus was speaking metaphorically. Rather, there’s something supernatural to it. And that supernatural quality allows for us to interpret literally the words of institution (“This is my body . . . this is my blood”), meaning that the bread and wine became his body and blood.

That the Eucharist is supernatural is further confirmed by Jesus’ teaching that faith is required to accept His command to eat His Flesh and drink His Blood. Jesus prefaces His revelation that His Flesh is the bread of life by saying, “No one can come to Me unless the Father Who sent Me draws him” (v.44). Then, after giving His discourse about eating His flesh and drinking His blood, He says, “There are some of you that do not believe . . . This is why I told you that no one can come to Me unless it is granted Him by my Father” (v.64-65). If Jesus begins and concludes His remarks about eating His Flesh and drinking His Blood with faith, a gift that only the Father can give, then Jesus is revealing that faith is required to accept His teaching.

There’s something else that Jesus says which reveals the requirement of faith: “It is the Spirit that gives life, the flesh is of no avail; the words that I have spoken to you are Spirit and Life” (v.63).

“The flesh” is a New Testament phrase that is often used to describe human nature apart from God’s grace (Mark 14:38, Rom. 8:1-14, 1 Cor. 2:14-3:1). What Jesus means is that without God’s grace, and in particular the grace of faith, acceptance of Jesus’ command to eat his flesh and drink his blood is impossible. If his disciples are to believe his teaching, they must avail themselves of that grace.

Jesus’ statement about his words being “spirit and life” mean that his teaching is of the Spirit and therefore can be accepted only by the power of the Spirit. This makes sense of why Jesus’ command to eat his flesh and drink his blood is bookended by his teachings about faith (v.44, 65).

Since what Jesus says in John 6 is a promise of what will be fulfilled at the Last Supper, and he teaches that faith is required to accept what he says, it follows that faith would also be required when confronted with the words at the Last Supper: “This is my body . . . This is my blood.”

Now, what need would there be for faith if the bread and wine at the Last Supper were intended by Christ to merely represent or signify his body and blood? Faith would not be needed to believe that bread and wine serve as a symbol of Jesus’ body and blood. But faith would be needed if the bread and wine became his body and blood, which, of course, would be miraculous.

Since Jesus teaches that faith is required to accept what He says about the bread and wine being His body and blood, it follows that there is a supernatural dimension to the Eucharist. And if the Eucharist is supernatural, then we have good reason to not automatically take Jesus’ words to be metaphorical. The supernatural nature of the Eucharist makes the literal interpretation a viable option.

Given the supernatural nature of the Eucharist, there’s no need for a Catholic to give up his literal interpretation of Jesus’ use of the verb “is” in favor of a figurative interpretation as we see in 1 Corinthians 10:4. The two cases are disanalogous, and thus cannot be read in light of each other. Catholics, therefore, don’t have to settle for the ridiculous claim that Jesus became a rock in the wilderness in order to keep our literal interpretation of the words of institution: “This is My Body . . . this is My Blood.”

Love,
Matthew

Sacrilege: two truths & a lie

https://www.wect.com/story/38641433/transformation-underway-at-property-where-nuns-actors-and-a-large-wild-animal-spent-the-night/

Don’t even think of asking a priest about your own confession, or even alluding to it outside of the seal of the sacrament. It’s rude as it puts the priest in an untenable situation. He will likely look away, change the subject abruptly. They are trained that way. Priests are trained when it comes to confession, “it never happened”, and the penalty of latae sententiae “automatic” excommunication for breaking the seal of the confessional in which a priest would have to stop any sacramental ministry and assume a life of prayer and penance under the direction of his bishop.  So, don’t do it.  Be polite.  You should know “it never happened”, too.  Since God does not remember.  And, the devil never lets us forget.  One of the many ways you can tell them apart.  Even if the devil looks like God, but no wounds, since the devil cannot, by definition, suffer for others.


-by Br Jordan Zajac, OP

“There’s a hotel in Wilmington, North Carolina located on the grounds of a former convent, where nuns used to live and pray. The convent had been closed some years ago, and recently it was converted into this hotel.

As a way of acknowledging the history of the property, the owners decided to get “creative,” turning one part of the old convent into an amenity for their guests. No clear explanation for it is given on the hotel website’s FAQ page. It’s not even mentioned when you check-in. Instead, it’s just listed on a hotel map for guests to discover themselves. It involves a modified confessional. What you do is enter the confessional with your key card, sit down, and take up a keyboard that’s there. What’s next? Well, you’re encouraged to type in your deepest, darkest secret. It’s completely anonymous, but your answer gets recorded in the system. To compensate your candidness, upon the wall it will then randomly select and display what a previous guest typed in. You reveal your darkest secret—the worst choice you’ve made—and you get to learn about someone else’s.

This amenity seizes upon something fundamental to the fallen human condition, but at the same time it twists it. You could say this hotel confessional contains two truths and a lie.

The first truth is: when it comes to the things we have done that we’re not proud of, the natural instinct is to hide them. Hide them from others, from God, even from ourselves. We try to ignore them, but we carry them with us.

A second truth is that we all have a desire to be free. Freed from what we keep hidden. From what we’re ashamed of.

The lie is this: that we can somehow get rid of the things we’re not proud of all by ourselves. You can just type it in anonymously and leave it there. As if learning someone else’s deepest sin can free you from yours. It’s a false form of forgiveness. You walk into this hotel confessional with all your sins, and when you walk back out they’re all still there. Something has been recorded, but nothing has been deleted.

If I stayed at this place, I would ask for a refund.

Yet even then, I would still be stuck with all my baggage. “I remained to myself a place of unhappiness,” says St. Augustine about his life of sin, “in which I could not abide, yet from which I could not depart” (Confessions, Bk 4, ch. 7).

Confession is about freedom. It marks a departure and a new beginning in which to abide. A beginning where all has been forgotten. When the priest says the words of absolution, it’s like those sins get erased and the eternal hard drive is wiped clean (cf. Ps 51:11). Properly speaking, it’s inaccurate to suggest the omniscient, immutable Creator can forget something—or anything, ever. But at the same time, He wishes to inspire deep confidence in the reality of His mercy and the relationship with Him that’s restored by His forgiving the guilt of our sins.

When St. Margaret Mary Alacoque first started receiving visions of Christ, Who asked her to promote devotion to His Most Sacred Heart, she of course had a hard time finding people who believed her. No priest wanted to be her spiritual director or confessor. The first time she met Father Claude de la Colombière, SJ, he was also dismissive. He told her, “If Jesus appears to you again, you go back and ask Him what the last mortal sin was that I confessed. If you can tell me that, then I’ll be your spiritual director.”

Our Lord did indeed appear to her again, and she asked Him. Jesus looked at her and all he said was, “I don’t remember.”

Love,
Matthew

Marriage – heroic virtue

Dr. David Anders, PhD

“I could not have imagined the effect that Catholic faith would have on my marriage. I could not have imagined how I would come to regard my wife with so much more dignity.”

…Catholicism might look good on paper, [my wife, a Catholic revert] thought, but it never worked out in real life. And there is real truth in this criticism. There are many Catholics who do not cooperate with grace, who do not have faith, and who make little attempt to follow Church teaching. I have had fellow Catholics who advised me to avoid confession, to disbelieve Church teaching about marriage and sex, and even to divorce my wife.

There were many times in my marriage when what sustained me most of all was the example of my parents. Though my parents were not Catholic, they lived the most important Catholic truth about marriage better than many Catholics do: They were dead set against divorce, no matter what. Burn your parachute; hang on like mad; and do whatever it takes to stick in there. Without that example, I do not know if I would have made it.

Inspired by my parents, I had to look deeper and deeper to find the grace necessary to live that demand. Ultimately, that search led me and my wife to the Catholic Church. It is no credit to me; I really credit my wife with having the courage and conviction to take up the Faith with both hands, to plunge into the depth of the sacraments, to embrace the Cross, and to strive for a life of contemplative prayer. She cooperated with grace, and the result was the transformation of everything.

There has been a lot of conversation recently about the Catholic doctrine on marriage, including about how strictly pastors should insist on the Church’s “hard teachings.” But let me tell you this: The hard teachings saved me. I did not know about nuance or mitigating circumstances. I did know that I had a moral obligation to save my marriage or die trying. Had I really believed there was any other permissible option, my marriage would not have survived — and I am so glad that my marriage survived.

Why does Christ call Christian couples to such a high standard of fidelity, even to the point of embracing the cross of suffering? The reason is that Christian marriage is no mere human contract. It is a mystical participation in the sacrificial, self-giving love of Christ for His Church (Eph. 5). It is a special vocation to holiness, an ecclesial state in the same way that priesthood or religious life is an ecclesial state. Christian marriage participates in the sacramental mission of the Church to bring Christ to the world.

Spouses are therefore the permanent reminder to the Church of what happened on the Cross; they are for one another and for the children witnesses to the salvation in which the sacrament makes them sharers.41

Anders, Dr. David. The Catholic Church Saved My Marriage: Discovering Hidden Grace in the Sacrament of Matrimony (p. 162-163). Sophia Institute Press. Kindle Edition.

Love,
Matthew

41 Familiaris Consortio, no. 13.