Category Archives: Christology

Flee to Jesus


-“Crucifixion”, by Duccio di Buoninsegna (1308-11), Museo dell’Opera del Duomo, Siena, Italy


-by Br Luke VanBerkum, OP

“Flee to Jesus.

In the spiritual life, we are often tempted to adopt a “fix-it-myself” attitude. “If I just work really hard and overcome this habitual sin, then I’ll be holy enough to approach Jesus in prayer.” This attitude fundamentally misses the point.

In the first moment of temptation or in the realization of having committed a sin, we must flee to Jesus. There’s no need to do anything else first.

Where do we find Jesus? On the cross. It is hard to contemplate the cross, but that is where He awaits us. Jesus is on the cross, and He is there because of me. This can be taken in two ways.

First, we must face up to the reality that He is there because of me – Jesus is on the cross because of my sins. Facing the cross, we see exteriorly what the evil of sin truly looks like interiorly. Sin destroys, mutilates, shames. Fixing our eyes on the cross, we see how our sins are a true death, how we cannot heal our own wounds and, no matter how hard we try, cannot bring ourselves back to life. We cannot, however, merely call ourselves “sinners.” We must be “sinners who flee to Jesus,” for He is the one who heals us.

Thankfully, He is there because of me – Jesus is on the cross because He loves me. Dying on the cross, Jesus knew every sin that every person would commit and, in turn, merited each and every grace that He wishes to bestow on us. He died once for all two millennia ago, yet we must approach Him right now to receive that grace by which we are healed and restored to life. The cross is the source of life for us. When we approach Jesus on the cross, we find that the grace needed to heal a particular sinful habit or weakness has already been won for us.

Encountering the cross daily, then, is more than gracefully enduring those hardships that come our way unprovoked, whether at the hands of others, (our own), or because of physical ailments. Encountering the cross daily entails holding these two aspects of the cross together – the shame and disorder that our own sins cause as well as the love of Jesus. When we examine ourselves and accept in humility our complete inability to heal our weakness and sins, we find that we are truly contemplating the cross of Christ and seeking it for the life it bestows. As sinners who flee to Jesus, the very acknowledgment of our sinfulness and brokenness of heart is the action by which we find ourselves at the foot of the cross, the source of life. Try as hard as we might, we cannot fix ourselves.

We must flee to Jesus.”

Flee to Jesus; rest in His loving arms; rest, flee to Jesus. Lord, I rest/trust only, truly in You.
Matthew

Why is the Sacred Heart aflame?

“To Jesus Heart All Burning” traditional Catholic hymn


-by Stephen Beale, is a freelance writer based in Providence, Rhode Island. Raised as an evangelical Protestant, he is a convert to Catholicism. He is a former news editor at GoLocalProv.com and was a correspondent for the New Hampshire Union Leader, where he covered the 2008 presidential primary. He has appeared on Fox News, C-SPAN and the Today Show and his writing has been published in the Washington Times, Providence Journal, the National Catholic Register and on MSNBC.com and ABCNews.com. A native of Topsfield, Massachusetts, he graduated from Brown University in 2004 with a degree in classics and history. His areas of interest include Eastern Christianity, Marian and Eucharistic theology, medieval history, and the saints.

“Images of the Sacred Heart meticulously recount key details of the crucifixion. The wounded heart itself, the crown of thorns, and the cross itself all appear. Some depictions even include the lance that pierced the side of Christ penetrating His heart.

But there’s one detail that seems out of place. There was no fire at the crucifixion, yet the Sacred Heart is often shown with flames. Why?

A burnt offering. Recall that Christ’s sacrifice on the cross was mean to recapitulate and supersede all the sacrifices of the Old Testament. What was a common feature of these sacrifices? Fire. Think of the fire that devoured the sacrifices offered by Elijah and the fire that Abraham would have set had an angel not intervened (see 1 Kings 18 and Genesis 22). In ancient Israel, a burnt offering was the supreme form of sacrifice, it symbolized a total commitment to God—particularly the death of the victim animal and the all-consuming nature of the fire.  The burning Sacred Heart reminds us that this sacrifice too was incorporated into Christ’s supreme offering of Himself on the cross.

Symbol of divinity. Of course, fire is also a familiar Old Testament symbol of God. We encounter God’s fiery presence at Sinai and in the account of Ezekiel (see Ezekiel 1). This symbolism carries over into the Old Testament, where the Holy Spirit descends upon the heads of the apostles as tongues of fire. Perhaps it’s especially fitting that the Sacred Heart is burning given that from it poured water and blood, symbols of the sacraments of baptism and the Eucharistic wine, both the work of the Holy Spirit.

Symbol of the divine Incarnate. The fire burns, but the Sacred Heart is not consumed. Does this sound familiar? It recalls Moses’ first encounter with God, in a bush that burned but was not consumed. This foreshadowed the Incarnation, in which God assumed human nature, without his divinity extinguishing the humanity that had been assumed: Christ was fully man and fully God. It is fitting that at this climactic moment of the Incarnation that its deepest reality is reaffirmed in such an acute way.

Jesus’ passion for us. In the context of the gospels, the Passion refers to the suffering of Christ. But, in our society, we usually use the word passion to refer to something or someone that drives our enthusiasm, interest, desires, and commitments. Is this meaning still valid for the Sacred Heart? I think so. There is evidence in the gospels that a burning heart signified intense emotions. One clear example of this is the two disciples who encountered Christ on the road to Emmaus and afterwards remarked that their hearts had been burning. (cf Luke 24)  So yes, the flames on the Sacred Heart are a true reminder of God’s burning love for us.

Light of the World. Fire does two things. First, it consumes that which it burns. Second, it gives off light. This second aspect is certainly relevant to the symbolism of the Sacred Heart, given that Christ is the true light of the world. Remember that during the crucifixion, darkness descended upon the land (see Mark 15:33). In the darkest hour, the Sacred Heart burned bright with hope.”

Love, may the divine furnace of His love consume us,
Matthew

Attributes of the Sacred Heart


-Catholic holy card depicting the Sacred Heart of Jesus, circa 1880. Auguste Martin collection, University of Dayton Libraries, please click on the image for greater detail.


-by Stephen Beale, is a freelance writer based in Providence, Rhode Island. Raised as an evangelical Protestant, he is a convert to Catholicism. He is a former news editor at GoLocalProv.com and was a correspondent for the New Hampshire Union Leader, where he covered the 2008 presidential primary. He has appeared on Fox News, C-SPAN and the Today Show and his writing has been published in the Washington Times, Providence Journal, the National Catholic Register and on MSNBC.com and ABCNews.com. A native of Topsfield, Massachusetts, he graduated from Brown University in 2004 with a degree in classics and history. His areas of interest include Eastern Christianity, Marian and Eucharistic theology, medieval history, and the saints.

“The Sacred Heart is among the most familiar and moving of Catholic devotional images. But its symbolism can also be strange. As we mark the Feast of the Sacred Heart, here is a look at the explanation behind some of the features of the Sacred Heart.

The flames

The Sacred Heart most obviously brings to mind the Passion of Christ on the cross. There is the crown of thorns, the cross, usually atop the heart, and the wound from the spear that pierced His side. But why is the Sacred Heart always shown as if it’s on fire? That certainly did not happen at the crucifixion.

There are three reasons behind this. First, we have to remember that Christ’s self-offering on the cross was the one-time perfect consummation of all the sacrifices of the Old Testament. This necessarily includes burnt offerings, which were the highest form of sacrifices in ancient Israel, according to The Jewish Encyclopedia. An early form of such sacrifices was what Abraham set out to do with Isaac, hence the wood he had his son collect beforehand.

Second, fire is always associated with the essence of divinity in the Old Testament. Think back to the burning bush that spoke to Moses, the cloud of fire that settled on Sinai, and the flames from above that consumed the sacrifice of Elijah. This explanation fits with the gospel account of the crucifixion, in which the piercing of Christ’s side revealed His heart at the same time that the curtain of the temple was torn, unveiling the holy of holies where God was present.

Finally, the image of fire associated with heart represents Christ’s passionate love for humankind. One 19th-century French devotional card has these words arched above the Sacred Heart—Voilà ce Cœur qui a tant aimé les hommes, which roughly translates to: “Here is the heart that loved men so much.” One traditional exclamation is, “Sacred Heart of Jesus, burning with love of us, inflame our hearts with love of Thee.” We see this actually happen in the gospels, where the disciples on the road to Emmaus realized that their hearts had been “burning” after their encounter with Jesus.

The rays of light

Look closer at the image of the Sacred Heart. There is something else framing it besides the flames. They are rays of light. In John 8:12, Christ declares that He is the “light of the world.” In Revelation 21:23, we are told that in the new Jerusalem at the end of times there will be no light from the sun or moon because the Lamb of God—that is, Jesus—will be its source of light. Light, like fire, is a symbol of divinity. Think of the Transfiguration and the blinding light that Paul experienced on the road to Damascus. As the light of the world, Christ is also the one who “enlightens” us, revealing God to us. The Sacred Heart constitutes the climax of divine self-revelation, showing us the depths of God’s love for us.

The arrows

The crown of thorns and the spear make sense. But sometimes the Sacred Heart is also depicted with arrows. Again, that’s not something we find in the gospels. One explanation is that the arrow represents sin. This is reportedly what our Lord Himself said in a private revelation to St. Mary of St. Peter.  The arrow could also draw upon an ancient Roman metaphor for love, which, according to ancient myth, occurred when the god Cupid shot an arrow through the hearts of lovers.

The crown of thorns

Unlike the arrows, the crown of thorns is reported in the gospels. But in traditional images it encircles the Sacred Heart, whereas in Scripture the crown was fixed to Jesus’ head. One traditional account offers this interpretation, describing those who are devoted to it: “They saw the crown transferred from His head to His heart; they felt that its sharp points had always pierced there; they understood that the Passion was the crucifixion of a heart” (The Heart of the Gospel: Traits of the Sacred Heart by Francis Patrick Donnelly, published in 1911 by the Apostleship of Prayer). In other words, wrapping the crown around the heart emphasizes the fact that Christ felt His wounds to the depths of His heart.

Moreover, after the resurrection, the crown of thorns becomes a crown of victory. Donnelly hints at this as well: “From the weapons of His enemy, from cross and crown and opened Heart, our conquering leader fashioned a trophy which was the best testimony of His love.” In ancient gladiatorial contests, the victor was crowned. In the Revelation 19:12, Christ wears “many crowns” and believers who are victorious over sin and Satan will receive the “crown of life” (Revelation 2:10).

Finally, according to St. Margaret Mary Alacoque, the seventeenth French nun who helped start (continued the tradition) the devotion, the points of the thorns are the many individual sins of people, pricking the heart of Jesus. As she put it in a letter, recounting the personal vision she had received, “I saw this divine Heart as on a throne of flames, more brilliant than the sun and transparent as crystal. It had Its adorable wound and was encircled with a crown of thorns, which signified the pricks our sins caused Him.”

The cross

Like the thorns, the cross is both rooted in the gospels but also displayed in a way that does not follow them in every detail. There is almost an inversion of the crucifixion. In the gospels, Christ hung on the cross, His heart correspondingly dwarfed by its beams. But in images of the Sacred Heart, it is now enlarged and the cross has shrunk. Moreover, rather than the heart being nailed to the cross, the cross now seems ‘planted’ in the heart—as St. Margaret Mary Alacoque put it—if to say to us that the entire reality of the crucifixion derives its meaning from and—cannot be understood apart from—the heart of Jesus. As Donnelly wrote, “The Heart [is] … forever supporting the weight of a Cross.” Truly, it is the heart of Jesus that makes the cross meaningful for us today.”

His love,
Matthew

Sacred Heart: Hos 11:8-9 & Ezek 36:26

My heart is overwhelmed,
my pity is stirred.
I will not give vent to my blazing anger,
I will not destroy Ephraim again;
For I am God and not a man,
the Holy One present among you;
I will not let the flames consume you.
—Hosea 11:8–9

I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.
—Ezekiel 36:26


Erin Cain

“The Heart of Jesus, pure and tender, feels all human emotions more intensely and yet is not ruled by them. His Sacred Heart is not hardened or cold like our own, and so the feelings He experiences are powerful and raw: love, anger, joy, pity, solace, grief.

When Jesus faced His crucifixion and brutal death, He knew that this was the Father’s will for the salvation of the world, but that doesn’t mean that He didn’t feel distressed or afraid or angry about what was to come—in fact, He felt all those things even more acutely than you or I would. His perfect Heart felt everything more distinctly, and yet He was able to feel those emotions without allowing them to dictate His actions. Jesus stayed the course and persevered for our sake, even as His Heart was filled with dread.

Sometimes, when our emotions distract us from carrying out our plans, we try to numb our hearts and stop feeling anything at all. But our hearts are a gift, to be nurtured and cherished, and if we lose touch with them we will find ourselves without meaning or purpose. So how can we persevere in God’s will as Jesus did without making ourselves numb to those inner cries of joy and anguish?

Only when we are connected to the Sacred Heart of Jesus will we perceive the immense graces that come from being in tune with our emotions and aware of how God formed our hearts. They are a compass for us as we discern His plans and seek to understand who He created us to be. We will see the beauty of our human emotions, even when they make it harder for us to do what is right. We will find the mysterious grace of sharing in Jesus’s sorrow, knowing that He walks alongside us in our pain. We will remember His Passion amidst our greatest joys and His Resurrection amid our deepest sorrows, and everything will be offered up to Him. Jesus will grant us the heavenly perspective that will allow us to press onward through all the ups and downs of this life, knowing that this is not the end.

Jesus invites each of us into His Sacred Heart. He has sacrificed for our redemption and cleansed us through Baptism, that we might enter into His Love and not be destroyed by the flames. May we offer Him our whole heart, holding nothing back, so that He might transform it like unto His own.”

Love, O Sacred Heart of Jesus, we place our trust in Thee!,
Matthew

Sacred Heart – Returning love for love

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

Presence of God – O Jesus, You have loved me so much; enable me to repay Your love.

MEDITATION

In the Encyclical Annum Sacrum, Leo XIII declares, “The Sacred Heart is the symbol and image of the infinite charity of Jesus Christ, the charity which urges us to give Him love in return.” Indeed, nothing is more able to arouse love than love itself. “Love is repaid by love alone,” the saints have repeatedly said. St. Teresa of Jesus wrote: “Whenever we think of Christ, we should remember with what love He has bestowed all these favors upon us … for love begets love. And though we may be only beginners … let us strive ever to bear this in mind and awaken our own love” (Book of Her Life, 22).

The Church offers us the devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus in order to stir up our love. After reminding us, in the Divine Office proper to this feast, of the measureless proofs of Christ’s love, this good Mother asks us anxiously, “Who would not love Him Who has loved us so much? Who among His redeemed would not love Him dearly?” (Roman Breviary). And in order to urge us more and more to repay love with love, she puts on the lips of Jesus the beautiful words of Holy Scripture: “I have loved thee with an everlasting love; therefore have I drawn thee, taking pity on thee”; and again, “Fili, praebe mihi cor tuum,” Son, give Me thy heart (Roman Breviary). This, then, is the substance of true devotion to the Sacred Heart: to return love for love, “to repay love with love,” as St. Margaret Mary, the great disciple of the Sacred Heart, expresses it; “to return love unceasingly to Him who has so loved us,” in the words of St. Teresa Margaret of the Heart of Jesus, the hidden but no less ardent disciple of the divine Heart.

COLLOQUY

“Awake, O my soul. How long will you remain asleep? Beyond the sky there is a King Who wishes to possess you; He loves you immeasurably, with all His Heart. He loves you with so much kindness and faithfulness that He left His kingdom and humbled Himself for you, permitting Himself to be bound like a malefactor in order to find you. He loves you so strongly and tenderly, He is so jealous of you and has given you so many proofs of this, that He willingly gave up His Body to death. He bathed you in His Blood and redeemed you by His death. How long will you wait to love Him in return? Make haste, then, to answer Him.

“Behold, O loving Jesus, I come to You. I come, drawn by Your meekness, Your mercy, Your charity; I come with my whole heart and soul, and all my strength. Who will give me to be entirely conformed to Your Heart, in order that You may find in me everything You desire?

“O Jesus, my King and my God, take me into the sweet shelter of Your divine Heart and there unite me to Yourself in such a way that I shall live totally for You. Permit me to submerge myself henceforth in that vast sea of Your mercy, abandoning myself entirely to Your goodness, plunging into the burning furnace of Your love, and remaining there forever ….

“But what am I, O my God, I, so unlike You, the outcast of all creatures? But You are my supreme confidence because in You can be found the supplement or rather, the abundance of all the favors I have lost. Enclose me, O Lord, in the sanctuary of Your Heart opened by the spear, establish me there, guarded by Your gentle glance, so that I may be confided to Your care forever: under the shadow of Your paternal love I shall find rest in the everlasting remembrance of Your most precious love” (St. Gertrude).

His love,
Matthew

Sacred Heart & Jn 19:34 – June is the month of the Sacred Heart


-by Rev. Dr. Bevil Bramwell, OMI, PhD

“The feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus was celebrated this past Friday, but the entire month of June is dedicated to the Sacred Heart. This devotion deserves much wider exposure because it gets to the core of the mystery of our redemption. The overflowing of God’s love through the humanity of Jesus Christ, represented by the sacred heart of Jesus, is a mystery – which by definition means a reality that exceeds our ability to explain – but that shines brightly in our faith.

In his encyclical “On Devotion to the Sacred Heart” (Haurietis aquas), Pope Pius XII pointed to the moment in Jesus’ life where He says: “If any man thirst, let him come to Me, and let him drink he who believes in Me. As the Scripture says: ‘Out of His heart there shall flow rivers of living waters.’ Now this He said of the Spirit which they should receive who believed in Him.” (John 7:37-39) The pope specifically focused on the fact that Jesus describes himself as the source of living water, a symbol of the fountain of life that is the Holy Spirit.

This wondrous phenomenon has renewed importance just now because our current mood resembles the pessimistic and agitated mood in the 1950s during the Cold War when the encyclical was promulgated. The pandemic, the violent protests, and the social polarization are exerting pressure on us all. Yet in the midst of everything – even as many all over the world are dealing with serious illness and death – Christ stands as the infinite source of comfort, love, and peace.

The words that most touched me in the encyclical were Pius XII’s use of a passage from Saint Paul: “Now to Him who is able to accomplish far more than all we ask or imagine, by the power at work within us, to Him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.” (Ephesians 3:20-21)

In other words, in their devotion to the Sacred Heart, the faithful are not living merely within their own limitations. The prayer to the Sacred Heart calls upon the Spirit of God, which moves us in ways we would not discover solely on our own: “the Spirit too comes to the aid of our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit itself intercedes with inexpressible groanings.” (Romans 8:26)

So, whatever we are feeling because of what is happening around us, if we can gather ourselves enough to actually form a prayer in our hearts, God does the rest in His providential care. Or as Pius XII put it: “The Sacred Heart of Jesus shares in a most intimate way in the life of the Incarnate Word and has been thus assumed as a kind of instrument of the Divinity.”

This is not just some pious thought or theological abstraction. The pope hearkens back to another specific moment in Jesus’ life: “What is here written of the side of Christ, opened by the wound from the soldier, should also be said of the heart which was certainly reached by the stab of the lance, since the soldier pierced it precisely to make certain that Jesus Christ crucified was really dead.”

What are the effects of the wounding of Jesus’ sacred heart? It fired up the apostles and the martyrs to witness to their faith right to the end. It inspired the doctors of the Church with tireless zeal to teach the faith. It drove the “confessors” to develop virtues both for themselves and as an example to others. It motivated virgins “to a free and joyful withdrawal from the pleasures of the senses and to the complete dedication of themselves to the love of their heavenly Spouse.”

The marvelous focus of our adoration on the Sacred Heart shows it to be the source of divine love but also the example of all of the virtues. He is the living presence of our salvation radiating from the heart of the Church, which after all is His Body. (Romans 12:5)

That was the main point of the encyclical: because the wounded Sacred Heart achieves so much as its divine charity overflows into the world, it should be paid due honor. It is something far beyond anything that we can imagine: “The Heart of Christ is overflowing with love both human and divine and rich with the treasure of all graces which our Redeemer acquired by His life, sufferings, and death, it is, therefore, the enduring source of that charity which His Spirit pours forth on all the members of His Mystical Body.”

As a result, we may be confident that there will be more apostles, martyrs, doctors, confessors, and virgins. This glorious tradition will continue until the end of time. Perhaps some of us may even be inspired to join their ranks.”

Love, O Sacred Heart of Jesus, we place our trust in Thee!! (favorite McCormick family prayer)
Matthew

Explaining the Sacred Heart to Protestants

“Catholisplain”? 🙂 LOL


-by Michelle Arnold, Catholic Answers

“As the Easter season comes to a close and Ordinary Time opens, we encounter a slew of feast days during the liturgical “transition” period—Trinity Sunday, Corpus Christi, and finally the feasts of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Immaculate Heart of Mary. The Church usually celebrates the feasts of the Two Hearts on the Friday (today) and Saturday following the Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ (Corpus Christi).

Both feasts have theological roots and expressions of popular devotion that go back to the earliest centuries, but the feasts themselves were established more recently in Church history. The feast of the Sacred Heart was placed on the universal calendar of the Latin Church in 1856; the Immaculate Heart became a universal feast in 1944.

Devotion to the Sacred Heart focuses on God’s self-sacrificial love for humankind. For God the Son so loved the world that he allowed a spear to pierce his human heart, from which flowed blood and water for the salvation of the world (John 3:16, 19:34). The popular devotions to the Sacred Heart that are commonly practiced today were inspired by the visions of Christ reported by St. Margaret Mary Alacoque, a seventeenth-century nun. Among other things, Christ asked for reception of Communion on First Fridays and for holy hours before the Blessed Sacrament.

The Immaculate Heart of Mary devotion focuses on the love of the Blessed Virgin Mary for God, and on how our own imperfect love for God, though marred by sin, can become perfected when offered to God in union with Mary’s perfect human love for him. Popular devotions associated with the Immaculate Heart are the Miraculous Medal, which was inspired by visions of the Blessed Virgin given in the nineteenth century to St. Catherine Labouré, and the reparations made for sin on First Saturdays. Interestingly, the Church initially was reluctant to establish a feast day for the Immaculate Heart, rejecting early efforts by St. John Eudes in the seventeenth century to gain approval for the feast.

Protestants sometimes object to Catholic devotions like the Sacred and Immaculate Hearts, and not only out of discomfort with Marian veneration. They also tend to see such devotions as accretions that mar the original purity of the Christian faith. They not only ask where such observances can be found in the Bible—they ask why the early Christians didn’t seem to know anything about them. Given the later origins of the Sacred and Immaculate Hearts devotions, this objection might seem to have merit.

Sometimes Catholic apologists can get so caught up in trying to demonstrate that non-apostolic traditions—the lower-case “t” traditions that are not part of the deposit of the faith—are in harmony with Scripture and the practices of the early Church that we neglect to challenge the Protestant assumption that later developments in Christian piety are, by that fact, necessarily to be rejected.

One way to demonstrate to Protestants that the development of pious practices throughout Christian history can be acceptable, so long as those practices don’t contradict Christian dogma, is to point out modern Protestant pieties that were unknown in the early centuries of the Church (and that, we may note to ourselves, can appear to be improvised substitutions for lost sacraments). Let’s look at a few of them.

  • Infant baptism is one of the theological issues on which Fundamentalist Christians disagree with Catholics. They believe that baptism is only for adults, or at least for those who have reached the age of reason and are able to make “a decision for Christ.” But there seems to be a universal human need for ceremonies that welcome newborns into human society (especially spiritual society) , and thus many Fundamentalist churches offer dedication ceremonies in which new parents present their baby to the Christian community and pledge to raise the child for Christ.
  • Altar calls are a staple in many Evangelical churches. At some point during Sunday services, the preacher will invite anyone present who hasn’t yet made a personal commitment to Jesus to come forward to the altar and accept Jesus into his life as his “personal Lord and Savior.” Evangelicals consider this commitment central to the Christian life, to the point that a person’s eternal salvation is in doubt if he does not experience this moment of conversion. For Catholics, the central action of Sunday services is the Mass, and the place for a declaration of a personal need for Christ’s saving power is in the confessional.
  • At a Catholic nuptial Mass, the Eucharist is a symbol not just of the congregation’s communion in Christ but also of the newly married couple’s union in Christ. Although many Protestant communities no longer consider marriage or the Eucharist to be sacraments—calling them instead “ordinances,” things that Christ ordained to be done but that don’t actually impart grace to believers—they still feel a need to insert a ritual into the ceremony that symbolizes the couple’s unity. That’s one reason why the unity candle, in which the newly-married couple lights a candle together, has become ubiquitous in Protestant weddings (and, unfortunately, has been imported into many Catholic weddings as well).
  • Perhaps one of the more difficult aspects of Catholicism for Protestants to appreciate is that it is a layered religion that has grown and developed over centuries. Protestant apologists argue that such growth obscures the original purity of Christianity, that the development of pious customs such as devotion to the hearts of our Lord and our Lady are like barnacles on the barque of Peter—something to be scraped away.  [Ed. see St John Henry Newman‘s Essay on the Development of Doctrine]

But these pious customs are natural growth, as healthy for Christ’s mystical body as height, weight, and new muscles are for a human being who is maturing from infancy to adulthood. Christ told His apostles that his Church would grow in this way, although He used the image of the mustard seed that grows from a seed to a tree, in which “the birds of the air made nests in its branches” (Luke 13:19).

The devotions to the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Immaculate Heart of Mary, at least in their modern forms, may not have begun during apostolic times, but they are a couple of the “nests” of piety in which Catholics have been spiritually nourished for centuries.”

Love, “O Sacred Heart of Jesus, we place our trust in Thee!!” (said at grace for dinner at McCormick household since childhood)
Matthew

Only what is done for Christ shall last

San_Francisco_de_Borja
San Francisco de Borja, 1624, by Alonzo Cano, 189 × 123 cm (74.4 × 48.4 in), oil on canvas, Museum of Fine Art Seville, Spain. Please click on the image for greater detail.


-by Mark A. McNeil, a former Oneness Pentecostal, was received into the Catholic Church in 1999.

“With more unstructured and unfilled time on our hands during the Covid-19 outbreak, many are searching for ways to stay active and entertained. On social media, for example, some are challenging “friends” by posting videos of workouts. Others are producing memes that highlight the challenge of working from home all day with school-aged children or a spouse.

Clearly, many are struggling with boredom, anxiety, and emptiness.

In his remarkable book, Man’s Search for Meaning, Victor Frankl reflected on his experience in a Nazi concentration camp and lamented a growing problem in the Western world: a widespread “existential vacuum,” or a strong and persistent feeling that something very important is missing in our souls. He undoubtedly would have seen our generation as validation of his mid-twentieth-century concerns.

One of the ways this deep sense of emptiness expresses itself, he wrote, was in “Sunday neurosis,” a term for the acute sense of boredom and emptiness that his psychological patients reported experiencing on Sundays, the day when they were free of work, shopping, and, in general, “doing.”

I am just old enough to remember when most businesses were closed on Sundays and “Blue Laws” were generally honored. All this changed during my childhood when malls and other stores began opening for limited hours. It has only accelerated since then: with the astonishing technological developments of recent decades, we have limitless opportunities for entertainment and distraction. We have an endless supply of images, information, entertainment, and stimulation at our fingertips.

Yet, despite all of this, the symptoms of Sunday neurosis persist. The flow of things to which we cling and with which we fill our lives never really satisfies. They are mere temporary distractions from the true yearnings of the human spirit. St. Augustine, profoundly aware of the transitory character of the material world, wrote that “I found no place in which I might rest” (Confessions VII.7).

Catholic saints and spiritual writers have long recognized the futility of human attempts to ground our contentment and peace in the illusory things of this world. Some have likened these efforts to a river that flows into an ocean with the same waters of the ocean flowing back into the river (Eccles. 1:7). Trying to obtain true and lasting peace from transitory things is a vicious cycle. There is no rest in such things because the soul is yearning for something qualitatively different.

Our problem is not a lack of access to pleasure. If Frankl, Augustine, and many others are correct, our problem is the vicious cycle of returning repeatedly to a source that turns out to be merely a temporary distraction.

If you go to a hardware store expecting to find Italian food, you’re going to be disappointed. To become aware of this is to find a path along which we may find peace, even in the face of our most perplexing questions.

We often pose such questions based on how we think the world should be like rather than the way that it is. “Why can’t I see God?” The answer is deceptively simple: we can’t see God because our power of sight is far too weak. We can see effects of God and know them as such, but we are blinded in the presence of God’s infinite radiance. As Aquinas said, “Our knowledge of God is like the light of the sun to the eye of the owl.” We speak of God in the night of this pilgrim journey, not in the day of heavenly union.

“Why does God let bad things happen in this world, like the coronavirus?” The answer again is deceptively simple. God lets bad things happen in this world because this world is not heaven. When we appreciate this life as a pilgrim journey, we can accept the fact that we cannot find our true rest in it. This realization does not remove the temptation to try, but it does help us when we experience the inevitable pain that comes when we suffer loss.

Maybe you have seen an image of Francis Borgia, the sixteenth-century Jesuit saint, holding a skull. One of the wealthiest men of his time, he saw the decomposing remains of the Empress Isabella, and, shaken to his core, determined to serve God alone rather than earthly, temporary, fading authorities. Perhaps a similar lesson may be gleaned in our time of precariousness and isolation. As was true of such times past, we may cling to Christ, God’s extended hand from eternity into time.

Many years ago, a friend shared with me a couple lines from an old poem that hold up well: “Only one life, ‘twill soon be past. Only what is done for Christ will last.””

800px-Sant_Francesc_de_Borja_màscara_mortuòria
-deathmask of St Francis Borgia, SJ, please click on the image for greater detail.

Love, joy,
Matthew

Coronavirus/COVID-19 & the healing touch of Jesus

“I AM the Life and the Resurrection…Do you believe this?” -cf Jn 11:25

“I AM the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End.” -Rev 22:13

“Peter said to Jesus in reply,
“Lord, it is good that we are here.
If you wish, I will make three tents here,
one for You, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.”
While he was still speaking, behold,
a bright cloud cast a shadow over them,
then from the cloud came a voice that said,
“This is My beloved Son, with Whom I am well pleased;
listen to Him.”
When the disciples heard this, they fell prostrate
and were very much afraid.
But Jesus came and touched them, saying,
“Rise, and do not be afraid.”
And when the disciples raised their eyes,
they saw no one else but Jesus alone.” -Mt 17:4-8


-by Fr. Hugh Barbour, O. Praem., a convert from Episcopalianism

“Jesus came and touched them, saying, ”Do not be afraid.”

Delight is the full compliment of our powers of soul and body, for when we take pleasure in any thing or experience or person, when we have joy in these, then our powers have reached fulfillment. The sense of touch is the most fundamental power in us that can experience delight, and as we move up the scale of our appetites of soul and body we finally reach the delight of our spiritual appetite: the direct contact of our mind and will with Goodness itself, with God as He is in Himself, in the vision of heaven that we call beatific, which is Latin for “happy-making.”

Now in all our earthly experiences of delight, there is always an element making that delight imperfect. This element is fear. No matter how great our joy or pleasure or delight in this life, we know we can lose that which causes it. Something bad can take our happiness away.

There is only one delight that cannot be lost, and this is the possession of God as He is in Himself, in the vision of heaven. Anything else can and will be lost—at least for a time, if we count the loss of this earthly life in death before our resurrection. So in every earthly happiness there is still some fear to cast a shadow on our joys.

In this magnificent Gospel scene, we find the apostles rejoicing in the surpassingly beautiful sight of Jesus transfigured with His ordinarily hidden divine splendor; so much so that Peter wished in his ecstasy to be able just to stay and live on the mountain of Tabor! And we find the eternal Father declaring His delight in His beloved Son Who always dwells in Him. This last pleasure is unmixed with fear, but the apostles are about to find out that their joy can still suffer a fearsome jolt.

They are blinded, so they cannot see the surpassing beauties that they saw just a moment before. That which enchanted them is now and suddenly hidden, and they have no more power to find Him again than they had to make Him appear.

Notice how Jesus Our Loving Savior comes to their aid. He approaches them and He touches them, and He tells them not to be afraid. He begins to restore the delight they had just lost, starting with the most basic level of human experience and the most basic source of human delight: touch. This is a touch that drives away fear, like a sacrament of loving reassurance. As the Beloved Disciple, who had received this touch here on Mount Tabor and in the Cenacle on Mount Sion, says in his epistle, “Perfect love casts out fear.”

In our own lives together, certain great joys get snatched away. How can we reassure and console those closest to us? Following Jesus’ example, we might gently touch them. Nowadays this can be viewed as risky business, but common sense and charity will show us a chaste and loving way to console the frightened and the sorrowful. Certainly at least in the circle of our own families we should not omit to embrace and comfort with touch those whom we love and who need to be freed from fear.

Right now, they are telling us not to touch at the sign of peace at Holy Mass so as not to catch a disease; well, a far worse disease is indifference to the struggles of others. Even when touch is impractical, let us never fail at least to smile warmly to our neighbors, as if to say, “Do not be afraid.”

What an amazing faith we have that combines the heights of mystical enlightenment with the simplicity of child-like caresses. This is why the Son of God became man: to restore all things in Himself. Let us fearful creatures await His freeing (Ed. and healing) touch and give it to others!  (Ed. With hand sanitizer bought on the black market.  Any other ideas for obtaining?  Don’t forget disinfectant wipes and toilet paper while shopping on the black market.  Two day expensive delivery.) 🙂  (Not to make light.  Gallows humor?)

Love, health, joy in this life, and certainly in the next,
Matthew

The Consistency of Catholicism & Christian unity


-St Peter’s square, please not the circular arms of colonnades, evoking the symbolism of embracing the whole world. Please click on the image for greater detail.


Rev Dwight Longenecker, Fr. Dwight Longenecker is an American who has spent most of his life living and working in England.
Fr Longenecker was brought up in an Evangelical Protestant home in Pennsylvania. After graduating from the Fundamentalist Protestant Bob Jones University with a degree in Speech and English, he went to study theology at Oxford University. He was eventually ordained as an Anglican priest and served as a curate, a school chaplain in Cambridge and a country parson on the Isle of Wight. Realizing that he and the Anglican Church were on divergent paths, in 1995 Fr. Dwight and his family were received into the Catholic Church. In December 2006 he was ordained as a Catholic priest under the special pastoral provision for married former Anglican clergy. He now serves as parish priest of Our Lady of the Rosary parish in Greenville, SC.

“Many non-Catholics—indeed, it could be argued, all Protestants—are cafeteria Christians, picking individual moral and theological viewpoints which happen to suit them. Often they are unaware that the different doctrines can be linked and unified. A non-Catholic Christian might hear Catholics talk about Catholic unity and think it means that Catholics all believe the same thing and are united in following the pope. But when a Catholic talks about unity its not just unity of faith and practice, but also the internal cohesion between all the different parts of Catholic belief. For Catholics, the different beliefs support and complement each other as the different parts of one body.

There are three particular areas that must be seen as a unity: Christology (what the Church teaches about the person of Jesus Christ), ecclesiology (what she teaches about the Church), and sacramental theology (what she teaches about the Eucharist). The “Body of Christ” is a three-fold but united concept—Incarnation, Church, and Eucharist are interrelated. To understand who Jesus really was, God has given us the Church and the sacraments. When our views on the person of Christ, the Church, and the Eucharist don’t support and reflect one another, heresy creeps in. Error in one area of belief soon infects the other areas.

So, for example, most Bible Christians uphold an orthodox Christology. They believe that Jesus really is the God-Man. But when it comes to sacramental theology, they say the bread and wine are merely natural things used to prompt our memory. Likewise, the visible church is a “human institution.” The Bible Christians’ view of the church and the sacrament match: Both are merely natural. But if you transfer what they believe about the church and the sacrament to the person of Christ, there is a clash. Apply their lack of supernatural qualities to Jesus Christ and you have Ebionism, an early heresy that denied the divinity of Christ and taught that he was merely human.

The traditional Lutheran subscribes to an orthodox view of Jesus Christ: that he is God and Man joined in a mysterious, hypostatic union. But the classic Lutheran view of the sacrament is consubstantiation—that the presence of Christ is “with or beside” the bread and wine. Luther’s view of the church is similar. He didn’t reject a visible church entirely, but thought it existed wherever the true gospel was proclaimed. In other words, like consubstantiation—the church exists “with or beside” the proclamation of the gospel. But use consubstantiation to explain the person of Christ and you end up in a heresy called Nestorianism. Nestorians taught that the divine and the human in Jesus remained separate, the divine Christ only coming “beside or with” the human Jesus.

Another non-Catholic view of the Eucharist is expressed as ‘real presence’, in contrast to the Catholic meaning of “Real Presence“.  This mostly Anglican view seems very close to Catholic teaching. “Real Presence” is the position that the bread and wine are vehicles for a real spiritual presence of Christ. The bread and wine are not substantially transformed, but they become channels for the real presence of Christ. Likewise, for many Anglicans the church carries a real spiritual presence of Christ. The church is visible and identifiable, but the presence of Christ is never more than spiritual; the institution of the church is still only a human institution. But once again, if you use their ecclesiology and sacramental theology to explain the nature of Christ you end up with a Christological heresy—this time it is Apollinarianism. Apollinarius taught that Jesus Christ was human, but that the Divine Logos replaced his human spirit. In other words, Jesus Christ was a vehicle for divinity.

A fourth view on the sacraments and the church is called receptionism. Many Anglicans and Lutherans, as well as some Methodists and Presbyterians, hold receptionism. According to receptionism, the bread and wine “become” the body and blood of Christ only to those who receive them faithfully. Likewise, the church consists of all true believers who are gathered together in Christ’s name at a particular place and time. Receptionism is subjective and open-ended, and it is very popular today among Protestants, but when it is applied to Christology another heresy is revealed—Adoptionism, the view that Jesus took on, or adopted, divinity as and when it was needed.

A final view on the Eucharist and the Church is also popular among both Catholics and Protestants: Confused and disturbed by theological wrangling, they refuse to define what they really believe about the church or the sacraments. So they say, “I accept that the Church is ‘the Body of Christ’ and that the bread and wine are a ‘sharing in the body of Christ,’ but what that really means I’m not sure. I don’t want to go any further than the Scriptures do.” But when this form of well-meaning agnosticism is applied to Christology, we find another heresy. This time it is the Homoean heresy. When the Church of the third century was debating the nature of Christ, the Homoeans were those Christians who tried to avoid conflict by saying no more than, “the Son is like the Father—according to the Scriptures.”

In each one of these five views the ecclesiology and sacramental theology parallel each other, but they are not integrated with the professedly orthodox Christology. It is only the Catholic view that most fully expresses the unity between Christ, the Church, and the Eucharist. Of all the Christian concepts of Eucharist, the Catholic doctrine of transubstantiation reflects most closely the mysterious relationship between the divine and human in Jesus. We believe that the Church is a visible, historical institution, but it is also the mystical Body of Christ. Its historical and physical reality is not separate from its identity as the Body of Christ. As God “subsists” in the historical Christ, so the Body of Christ “subsists” in the Catholic Church. Thus the church, as Vatican II teaches, is the “sacrament of salvation.”

But does it matter if a Christian holds an ecclesiology and a sacramental theology that don’t reflect their view of Christ? I would argue that it does. To have the fullest understanding of the God-Man Jesus Christ, it is vital to understand how the Church and the sacrament support and complement that full Christology. So a recent teaching document of the Catholic bishops of Britain and Ireland says, “No individual thread of Catholic doctrine can be fully understood in isolation from the total tapestry. Catholic faith in the Eucharist and Catholic faith in the Church are two essential dimensions of one and the same mystery of faith.” Furthermore, “this faith embraces the making present of Christ’s saving death and resurrection, the real presence of Christ in the Blessed Sacrament, and the inseparable bond between the mystery of the Eucharist and the mystery of the Church.” In other words, a unified Christology, ecclesiology and sacramental theology are vital for the fullest expression and experience of Christ’s saving work.

Simply holding an orthodox view of the person of Christ is not enough to guarantee the fullest experience of his Incarnation. It is only as the mystery of Christ’s Incarnation, death, and Resurrection are applied in the Eucharist that the Body of Christ becomes most fully real to the Christian. Only as we affirm his real and substantial presence in the Eucharist can we fully affirm God’s real and substantial union with Jesus in the Incarnation. Similarly, only as one experiences Christ’s presence in the Church can one enter into the fullest understanding of Christ’s Incarnation in the world.

The necessary unity between Christ’s Incarnation, the Church, and the Eucharist is best expressed in the New Testament phrase “the Body of Christ.” Jesus first referred to the bread as his body at the Last Supper. It is no coincidence that Paul uses the same term for both the Eucharistic bread and the mystery of the Church. Paul echoes Jesus when he says the believer must “discern Christ’s body” in the bread of the Eucharist (1 Cor. 11:29). He also refers to the church as the “Body of Christ.” When he does so in 1 Corinthians 12, it might seem that he is only using this as an analogy to explain how Christians must all live in harmony. But in Ephesians 1:22–23, Paul says that God has appointed Christ head over all things for the Church which his body. He says the Church is “the fullness of him who fills everything in every way.” Then, in Ephesians 5:29–31, Paul calls the church the “bride of Christ.” Just as in marriage man and wife “become one flesh,” so Christ is one in a mystical union with the Church.

The summary of Paul’s understanding of the term “body of Christ” occurs in 1 Corinthians 10:16–17: “Is not the cup of thanksgiving which we bless a sharing in the blood of Christ? And is not the bread we break a sharing in the body of Christ? Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body for we all partake of the one bread.” So Paul teaches that full unity with Christ is intimately linked with sharing the “one bread” of his body. And union with the “one bread” of his body is also linked with a full communion with his Body, the Church.

Beyond Paul’s words, there are four main Scripture pictures that convey the mystical and integral unity between Jesus Christ, the Eucharist and the Church. The first picture is the Last Supper. Here Christ establishes the Eucharist in union with his apostles. That moment in time becomes an icon of the unity between Christ, his Church, and the Eucharist. As the whole nation of Israel resided in the twelve sons of Jacob, so the whole Church dwells in seed form within the twelve apostles. The apostles gathered in a fellowship meal with Christ comprise a picture of the Church in unity with her Lord.

Two other Scripture pictures complement the scene at the Last Supper. It is no mistake that the gospel writers set these other two scenes in the same upper room. The setting indicates a unity between the three scenes. The second scene occurs after Jesus has been crucified. Once again the apostles are gathered for a meal in the upper room. Suddenly two other disciples burst in. They have seen the Lord while on a journey to Emmaus. As they speak to the Twelve, the risen Lord appears. He shares their food, reassures them, and promises to clothe them with power from on high (Luke 24:33–49). Here as he did at the Last Supper, Christ becomes one with them as they share a meal.

In the third scene a few others join the apostles in the same upper room. Mary, the mother of the Church is also there. Under Peter’s leadership they have been meeting regularly for prayer—waiting for the promised gift of Christ’s presence. Suddenly there is a rushing wind and tongues of flame descend filling the apostles with Christ’s power to preach the gospel. The church is established, and we are told that the new Christians all devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, to the breaking of the bread, and to prayer.

In all three upper room stories the infant Church makes Christ’s presence real through the fellowship meal celebrated in unity. In each picture a different element of this threefold mystery of Christ’s body is emphasized. In the first—on the eve of his passion—the emphasis is on the unity between Christ’s body and blood and the bread and wine. In the second, the emphasis is scriptural and sacramental. It focuses on the risen Lord’s presence through Scripture and in the breaking of the bread. In the third, the focus is on the unity between Christ and his body, the Church.

A fourth Scripture picture confirms and validates the mystical interpretation of the first three Scripture pictures. In the Book of Revelation we see the marriage banquet of the Lamb in heaven. In the center of the worshiping multitude is the “lamb looking as if it had been slain.” On thrones around the Passover Lamb sit the twenty-four elders—the twelve apostles as Christ promised (Matt. 19:28) along with the twelve patriarchs of Israel (Rev. 4:4, 5:6). Together they stand for the whole people of God. Then the multitude of angels and saints and every creature in heaven and on earth falls down before the lamb singing, “To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be praise and honor glory and power for ever and ever.” Here Christ’s unity with his Church and the sacramental meal reaches its ultimate fulfillment: Christ the Lamb of God and Bread of Heaven is enthroned and worshiped by the Church led by the apostle elders.

Perhaps it seems like this insistence on a unified Christology, ecclesiology, and sacramental theology is theological nit-picking. It might seem like we Catholics are focusing on division when we ought to be concentrating on getting together with our fellow Christians. But an internal unity between these doctrines is essential because real outer unity can’t exist unless an inner unity of faith first exists. Doctrines that are dissonant within themselves cannot be the unifying force for a harmonious body of believers.

Because of this, and because all Catholic apologetics must be motivated by a passion for Christian unity, it is essential that our discussions of Eucharist and Church reflect back to what we believe about Christ himself. We should be encouraged that we share an orthodox understanding of our Lord’s incarnation with most non-Catholic Christians. It is from this point of agreement that we will most successfully move on to discuss sacraments and the church. If we can show the importance of an inner unity between Christ, the Church, and the Eucharist then we will help to move forward that unity for which Christ so passionately prayed.”

Love, unity, truth,
Matthew