Monday, September 15, 2008

The Humility of the Mother of God

And what matter for surprise is it that God, Who is said and Who is seen to be "wonderful in his saints," has shown Himself still more wonderful in the His Mother? O all ye who are engaged in the married state, look with admiration on the incorruption of the the flesh in corruptible flesh! Ye consecrated virgins, wonder at this alliance of virginity and motherhood! Children of Adam all, imitate the humility of God's mother! And do you, O holy angels, honour the Mother of your King whilst you adore the Child of our Virgin, Him Whom both you and we acknowledge as our Sovereign Lord, Who is the Redeemer of our race and the Restorer of our city. To the Same, with us on earth, let us all unite in showing the reverence which his Majesty requires, and the honour and glory which is due to His condescension both now and forevermore. Amen.
from a "Sermon on the Virgin Mother" by St. Bernard of Clairvaux

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Necessity of the Foundation of Natural Law for Civil Law as the Failsafe of Total Subjectivism

Authority must recognize, respect and promote essential human and moral values. These are innate and "flow from the very truth of the human being and express and safeguard the dignity of the person; values which no individual, no majority and no State can ever create, modify or destroy," (JP II Evangelium Vitae 70). These values do not have their foundation in provisional and changeable "majority" opinions, but must simply be recognized, respected and promoted as elements of an objective moral law, the natural law written in the human heart (cf. Rom 2:15), and as the normative point of reference for civil law itself. If, as a result of the tragic clouding of the collective conscience, scepticism were to succeed in casting doubt on the basic principles of the moral law, the legal strucuture of the State itself would be shaken to its very foundations, being reduced to nothing more than a mechanism for the pragmatic regulation of different and opposing interests.
from Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church by the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace

Society as Spiritual

Human society must primarily be considered something pertaining to the spiritual. Through it, in the bright light of truth men should share their knowledge, be able to exercise their rights and fulfill their obligations, be inspired to seek spiritual values, mutually derive genuine pleasure from beauty of whatever order it be, always be readily disposed to pass on to others the best of their own cultural heritage and eagerly strive to make their own the spiritual achievements of others. These benefits not only influence but at the same time give aim and scope to all that has bearing on cultural expressions, economic and social institutions, political movements and forms, laws, and all other structure by which society is outwardly established and constantly developed.
from Pacem in Terris by Blessed Pope John XXIII

"Poverty or Anxiety?" That is the Question

Left to ourselves, we still remain the prisoner of our own Being. We cannot successfully hide fro long our mysterious Being. If we attempt this, the truth of our Being haunts us with its nameless emissary: anxiety. This becomes the prophet of the repressed mystery of our Being; with its alienation, anxiety takes the place of the scorned poverty. In the final analysis we have one of two choices: to obediently accept our innate poverty or to become a slave of anxiety.
From Poverty of Spirit by Johannes Baptist Metz

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Prayer as the Formator of Hope

St. Augustine, in a homily on the First Letter of John, describes very beautifully the intimate relationship between prayer and hope. He defines prayer as an exercise of desire. Man was created for greatness--for God himself; he was created to be filled by God. But his heart is too small for the greatness to which it is destined. It must be stretched. "By delaying [his gift], God strengthens our desire; through desire he enlarges our soul and by expanding it he increases its capacity [for receiving him]." Augustine refers to St. Paul, who speaks of himself as straining forward to thing that are to come (cf. Phil 3:13). He then uses a very beautiful image to describe this process of enlargement and preparation of the human heart. "Suppose that God wishes to fill you with honey [a symbol of God's tenderness and goodness]; but if you are full of vinegar, where will you put the honey?" The vessel, that is your heart, must be first be enlarged and then cleansed, free from the vinegar and its taste. This requires hard work and is painful, but in this way alone do we become suited to that for which we are destined. Even if Augustine speaks directly only of our capacity for God, it is nevertheless clear that through this effort by which we are freed from vinegar and the taste of vinegar, not only are we made free for God, but we also become open to others. It is only becoming children of God, that we can be with out common Father. To pray is not to step outside history and withdraw to our own private corner of happiness. When we pray properly we undergo a process of inner purification which opens us up to God and thus to our fellow human beings as well. In prayer we must learn what we can truly ask of God--what is worthy of God. We must learn that we cannot pray against others. We must learn that we cannot ask for superficial and comfortable things that we desire at this moment--that meagre, misplaced hope that leads us away from God. We must learn to purify our desire and our hopes. We must free ourselves form the hidden lies with which we deceive ourselves. God sees through them, and when we come before God, we too are forced to recognize them. "But who can discern errors? Clear me from hidden faults" prays the Psalmist (Ps 19:12). Failure to recognize my guilt, the illusion of my innocence, does not justify me and does not save me, because I am culpable for the numbness of my conscience and my capacity to recognize the evil in me for what it is. If God does not exist, perhaps I have to seek refuge in these lies, because there is no one who can forgive me; no one who is the true criterion. Yet my encounter with God awakens my conscience in such a way that it no longer aims at self-justification, and is no longer a mere reflection of me and those of my contemporaries who shape my thinking, but it becomes a capacity for listening to the Good itself.
from Spe Salvi by Pope Benedict XVI

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

A Point on the Way to Beatitude

Today is the Franciscan feast of St. Bonaventure.  I was really hit by the selection chosen by the bishops for the office of readings so I figured I'd share it with you.
"Christ is both the way and the door.  Christ is the staircase and the vehicle, like the throne of mercy over the Ark of the Covenant, and the mystery hidden from the ages.  A man should turn his full attention to this throne o mercy, and should gaze at him hanging on the cross, full of faith, hope, and charity, devoted, full of wonder and joy, marked by gratitude, and open to praise and jubilation.  Then such a man will make with Christ a pasch, that is, a passing-over.  Through the branches of the cross he will pass over the Red Sea, leaving Egypt and entering the desert.  There he will taste the hidden manna, and rest with Christ in the sepulchre, as if he were dead to thing outside.  He will experience, as much as is possible for on who is still living, what was promised to the thief who hung beside Christ: Today you will be with me in paradise.
For this passover to be perfect, we must suspend all the operation of the mind and we must transform the peak of our affection, directing them to God alone.  This is a sacred mystical experience.  It cannot be comprehended by anyone unless he surrender himself to it; nor can he surrender himself to it unless he longs for it; not can he long for it unless the Holy Spirit, who Christ sent into the world, should come and inflame his innermost soul.  Hence the Apostle says that this mystical wisdom is revealed by the Holy Spirit.
If you ask how such things can occur, seek the answer in God's grace, not in doctrine; in the longing of the will, not in the understanding; in the sighs of prayer, not in research; seek the bridegroom not the teacher; God and not man; darkness not daylight; and look not to the light by rather to the raging fire tat carries the soul to God with intense fervour and glowing love.  The fire is God, and the furnace is in Jerusalem, fired by Christ in the ardour of his loving passion.  Only he understood this who said: My soul chose hanging and my bones death.  Anyone who cherishes this kind of death can see God, for it is certainly true that: No man can look upon me and live.
Let us die, then, and enter into the darkness, silencing our anxieties, our passion and all the fantasies of our imagination.  Let us pass over with the crucified Christ from this world to the Father, so that, when the Father has shown himself to us, we can say with Philip: It is enough.  We may hear with Paul: My grace is sufficient for you; and we can rejoice with David, saying: My flesh and my heart fail me, but God is the strength of my heart and my heritage forever, and let all the people say: Amen.  Amen!"
from The Journey of the Mind to God by St. Bonaventure

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

The Meaning of the Paschal Mystery

If God himself has lived out this ultimate experience of this world, a world which, through human freedom, has the possibility of withdrawing obedience from God and so of losing him, then he will no longer be a God who judges his creatures from above and from outside.  Thanks to his intimate experience of the world, as the Incarnate One who knows experientially every dimension of the world's being down to the abyss of Hell, God now becomes the measure of man.  The Father, as Creator, grants to the Son as Redeemer 'all judgement' (John 5:22; cf. Enoch 51), which henceforth will mean:
  • Behold, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, every one who pierced him, all the tribes of the earth will wail on account of him ... (he who is) the Alpha and the Omega ... who (as the Pierced One) is, and was and is to come (Apocalypse 1:7-8; John 19:37; Zechariah 12:10-14).
The cross (Matthew 24:30) or, better, the Crucified, is therefore, the term to which all human existence, whether personal or social, tends.  It is a term which is final judgment and redemption, 'as through fire' (1 Corinthians 3:15).  We must show how, in all this, the fundamental prophetic charge of the Old Testament is brought to its fulfillment.  But above all, if we can speak in one breath of these four points, we should say that, in this happening, not only is the world enabled by God to reach its goal (compare the term 'soteriology'), but God himself, in the moment of the world's very perdition, attains his own most authentic revelation (compare 'theology') and glorification (compare 'doxology').
from Mysterium Paschale by Hans Urs Von Balthasar

Thursday, July 3, 2008

The Christian is Obedient to the Obedient One

Therefore, in Christian life obedience is something essential; it is the practical and necessary turning-point in accepting the lordship of Christ.  There can be no lordship in action without man's obedience.  In baptism we accepted a Lord, a Kyrios, but an 'obedient' Lord, one who became Lord precisely because of his obedience (cf. Ph 2:8-11), one whose lordship, so to say, consists in obedience.  Obedience, from this point of view, is not so much subjection as likeness.  To obey such a Lord is to be like him, because he, too, obeyed.  We find a splendid confirmation of the Pauline thought on this point in Peter's First Letter.  The faithful - the Letter tells us at the beginning - 'have been chosen in the foresight of God the Father, to be made holy by the Spirit, obedient to [= in order to obey] Jesus Christ' (1 P 1:2).  Christians were chosen and sanctified 'to obey;' the Christian calling is a call to obedience!  A little further on in the same Letter, the faithful are defined rather suggestively as 'sons of obedience:' 'Do not allow yourselves to be shaped by the passion of your old ignorance, but as obedient children' (tekna hypakoes) (1 P 1:14).  It is not sufficient to translate this expression 'obedient son' (as if we were dealing with a simple hebraism), because here, as the context clearly shows, the reference is to baptism.  'Sons of obedience' which immediately follows in the text (cf. 1P 1:22).  The context is not, therefore, ascetic, but mysteric; the Apostle is talking about 'a new birth from the word of God' (cf. 1 P 1:23).  Christians are children of obedience, because they are born as such from the obedience of Christ and from their own decision to obey Christ.  Like little fish born in water who cannot survive out of water, so Christians, born in obedience, can live spiritually only through obedience, this is, in the state of constant and loving submission to God, in contact with the Paschal Mystery of Christ.  The sacramental link with Christ's obedience does not end, in fact, with baptism, but is daily renewed in the Eucharist.  When celebrating Holy Mass, we recall, - and more than recall - the obedience of Christ unto death.  We put on obedience as a mantle of justice and thus arrayed we present ourselves to the Father as 'children of obedience.'  In receiving the Body and Blood of Christ, we nourish ourselves with his obedience.
from Obedience: The Authority of the Word by Fr. Raniero Cantalamessa

Monday, June 30, 2008

Concupiscence, True Communion, and Friends

It does not correspond to the personal union or 'communion' to which man and woman have been reciprocally called 'from the beginning,' in fact, it is contrary to it, that one of the two persons should exist only as a subject of satisfaction of sexual urge and that the other should become exclusively the object for such satisfaction.  Further, it does not correspond to this unity of 'communion'--in fact, it is contrary to it--that both the man and the woman should mutually exist as objects for the satisfaction of sexual urge, and that each of them on his or her own part should be a subject of such satisfaction.  Such a 'reduction' of the rich content of reciprocal and perennial attraction among human persons in their masculinity and femininity does not correspond to the 'nature' of the attraction in question.  Such a 'reduction,' in fact, extinguishes the meaning proper to man and woman, a meaning that is person and 'of communion,' through which 'the mane will... unite with his wife and the two will be one flesh' (Gen 2:4).  'Concupiscence' removes the intentional dimension of the reciprocal existence of man and woman from the personal perspective 'of communion,' which are proper to their perennial and reciprocal attraction, reducing this attraction and, so to speak, driving it toward utilitarian dimension, in whose sphere of influence one human being 'makes use' of another human being, 'using her' only to satisfy his own 'urges.'
from Man and Woman He Created Them: A Theology of the Body by Pope John Paul II
Friends was one of the big sitcoms in the 90's.  It had a lot of influence especially on my generation.  This quote from John Paul II puts forward the basic weakness of the series.  There is a total reduction of relationship between man and woman to sexual satisfaction.  The two friends who ended up marrying each other.  Their relationship started with sex.  When they hid the 'relationship' from the other friends, they where hiding them having sex.  To my knowledge, which is limited finite, and possibly wrong, they didn't go out on a 'date' until it was public knowledge that they were dating.  A relationship which ended in marriage was based and grounded upon sexual intercourse (sand).  This is what my generation saw each week.  This is what John Paul II called the utilitarian dimension, where the person of the opposite sex is an object for sexual gratification.  The ideal in this dimension is mutual sexual gratification, which to many nowadays means a basis for a solid marriage.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

The Power of the Incarnation

Today is the memorial of St. Irenaeus, bishop and martyr, so, I figured I put something up from one of our great Western Church Fathers.
"The glory of God gives life; those who see God receive life.  For this reason God, who cannot be grasped, comprehended or seen, allows himself to be seen, comprehended and grasped by men, that he may give life to those who see and receive him.  It is impossible to live without life, and the actualization of life comes from participation in God, while participation in God is to see God and enjoy his goodness.  Men will therefore see  God if they are to live . . . 
God is the source of all activity throughout creation.  He cannot be seen or described in his own nature and in all his greatness by any of his creatures.  Yet he is certainly not unknown.  Through his Word the whole creation learns that there is one God the FAther, who holds all things together and gives them their being.  As it is written in the Gospel: No man has ever seen God, except the only-begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father; he has revealed him.
From the beginning the Son is the one who teaches us about the FAther; he is with the Father from the beginning.  He was to reveal to the human race visions of prophecy, the diversity of spiritual gifts, his won ways of ministry, the glorification of the FAther, all in due order and harmony, at the appointed time and for our instruction.  Where there is order, there is also harmony; where there is harmony, there is also correct timing; where there is correct timing, there is also advantage.  
The Word became the steward of the Father's grace for the advantage of men, for whose benefit he had made such wonderful arrangements.  He revealed God to men and presented men to God.  He safeguarded the invisibility of the Father to prevent man from treating God with contempt and to set before him a constant goal toward which to make progress.  On the other hand, he revealed God to men and made him visible in many ways to prevent man from being totally separated from God and so to cease to be.  Life in man is the glory of God; the life of man is the vision of God.  If the revelation of God through creation gives life to all who life upon earth, much more does the manifestation of the Father through the Word give life to those who see God."
from Adversus haereses by St. Irenaeus of Lyon

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Compassio and Immutability of God

God, then, has no need to 'change' when he makes a reality of the wonders of his charity, wonders which include the Incarnation and, more particularly, the Passion of Christ, and, before him, the dramatic history of God with Israel and, no doubt, with humanity as a whole.  All the contingent 'abasements' of God in the economy of salvation are forever included and outstripped in the eternal event of Love.  And so what, in the temporal economy, appears as the (most real) suffering of the Cross is only the manifestation of the (Trinitarian) Eucharist of the Son: he will be forever the slain lamb, on the throne of the Father's glory, and his Eucharist - the Body shared out, the Blood poured forth - will never be abolished, since the Eucharist it is which must gather all creation into his body.  What the Father has given, he will never take back.
from the preface to the second edition of Mysterium Paschale by Hans Urs von Balthasar

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Obedience as Union with the Will of the Father

It is true that the two things - 'not to do one's own will' and 'to do the will of God' - are strictly interdependent.  They are not, however, identical an neither do they have the same limits.  Not to do one's own will is not always, in itself, a saving factor, whereas doing the will of God is.  The positive reason for obedience goes much further than the negative one.  God can ask things not wit aim of making us deny our own will, but to test and increase our faith and charity.  The BIble defines the act that led Abraham to immolate his son as obedience (cf. Gn 22:18), even if the aim was not to make Abraham deny his will, but to test his faithfulness.  The aim of all is in fact to get human freedom to return freely to adhering to God, so that only one will, God's will, may reign again in the universe as was the case before sin appeared.  Through obedience we have, in some way, 'the return of creature to God.'  At the head of all biblical motivations for obedience, higher than faith itself, there is charity.  Obedience is the nuptial 'yes' of the creature to the Creator, in which the final union of the two wills, the essence of eternal bliss, is, however imperfectly, already at work.  'It is through obedience,' a Father of the desert said, 'that we are not only in the image of God but like to God.'  We are in the image of God through the very fact of our existence, but through our obedience to Him we are like to Him, as through obedience we conform ourselves to his will and, through our free choice, become what he is by nature.  We are like to God because we want what he wants.
from Obedience: The Authority of the Word by Fr. Raniero Cantalamessa

The Seed of Hope

"Death is, then , no cause for mourning, for it is the cause of mankind's salvation."  Whatever precisely St. Ambrose may have meant by these words, it is true that to eliminate death or to postpone it more or less indefinitely would pace the earth and humanity in an impossible situation, even for the individual would bring no benefit.  Obviously there is a contradiction in our attitude, which points to an inner contradiction in our very existence.  On the one hand, we do not want to die; above all, those who love us do not want us to die.  Yet on the other hand, neither do we want to continue living indefinitely, nor was the earth created with that in view.  So what do we really want? Our paradoxical attitude gives rise to a deeper question: what in fact 'life?'  And what does 'eternity' really mean?  There are moments when it suddenly seems clear to us: yes, this what true 'life' is--this what it should be like.  Besides, what we call 'life' in our everyday language is not real 'life' at all.  St. Augustine, in the extended letter on prayer which eh addressed to Proba, a wealthy Roman widow and mother of three consuls, once wrote this: ultimately we want only on things--'the blessed life,' the life which is simply life, simply 'happiness.'  In the final analysis, there is nothing else that we ask for in prayer.  Our journey has no other goal--it is about this alone.  But then Augustine also says: looking more closely, we have no idea what we ultimately desire, what we would really like.  We do not know this reality at all; even in those moments when we think we can reach out and touch it, it eludes us. 'We do not know what we should pray for as we ought,' he says, quoting St. Paul (Rom 8:26).  All we know is that it is not this.  Yet in not knowing, we know that this reality must exist.  'There is therefore in us a certain learned ignorance (docta ignorancia), so to speak,' he writes.  We do know what we would really like; we do not know this 'true life;' and yet we know that there must be something we do not know towards which we feel driven.
I think that in this very precise and permanently valid way, Augustine is describing man's essential situation that gives rise to all his contradictions and hopes.  In some way we want life itself, true life, untouched even by death; yet at the same time we do not now the thing towards which we feel driven.  We cannot stop reaching out for it, and yet we know that all we can experience or accomplish is not what we yearn for.  This unknown 'thing' is the true 'hope' which drives us, and at the same time the fact that it is unknown is the cause of all forms of despair and also of all efforts, whether positive or destructive, directed towards worldly authenticity.  The term 'eternal life' is intended to give a name to this known 'unknown.'  Inevitably it is an inadequate term that creates confusion.  'Eternal,' in fact, suggests to us the idea of something interminable, and this frightens us; 'life' makes us think of the life that we know and love and do not want to lose, even though very often it brings more toil than satisfaction, so that while on the one hand we desire it, on the other hand we do not want it.  To imagine ourselves outside the temporality that imprisons us and in some way sense the eternity is not an unending succession of days in the calendar, but something more life the supreme moment of satisfaction, in which totality embraces us and we embrace totality--this we can only attempt.  It would be like plunging into the ocean of infinite love, a moment in which time--the before and after--no longer exists.  We can only attempt to grasp the idea that such a moment is life in the full sense, a plunging ever anew into the vastness of being, in which we are simply overwhelmed with joy.  This is how Jesus expresses it in St. John's Gospel: 
I will see you again and your hearts will rejoice, and non one will take your joy from you' (16:22).  We must think along these lines if we want  to understand the object of Christian hop, to understand what it is that our faith, our being with Christ, leads us to expect.
from the Encylical Letter Spe Salvi by Pope Benedict XVI

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Correct Understanding of Obedience

Furthermore, from the word of God we learn that the virtue of obedience is more positive than negative.  Here too, with the passing of time and with the prevailing ascetic interest over the mysteric and kerygmatic, obedience is above all seen as a negative virtue or one of denial.  Its pre-eminence among the virtues is derived from the importance of the good that is renounced through it, that is, one's own will.  This good is greater than all the exterior things one renounces through poverty, greater than one's body, renounced through chastity.  But in biblical terms, the positive aspect - to do the will of God - is more important than the negative aspect - not to do one's own will.  Jesus says: 'Not my will but thine be done' (the emphasis being on the second part); 'My food is to do the will of the Father!' and, again, 'Here I am!  I am coming to do your will' (HEB 10:2).  Salvation, in fact, comes from doing the will of God, not from not doing one's own will.  In the 'Our Father' we ask that 'Thy will be done'; we are asking for something positive.  In the Scriptures we read that God wants obedience, not sacrifice (cf. 1 S 15:22; Heb 10:5-7).  We know, nonetheless, that he also wants to sacrifice in the case of Christ and that he wants it from us too... The explanation lies in the fact that of the two things, one is the means, the other is the end.  God wants obedience for itself whereas he wants sacrifice only indirectly, in relation to the first.  The sentence therefore means: what God seeks, in sacrifice, is obedience!  The sacrifice of one's won will is the means for conforming to the divine will.  To those who were scandalized at how God could find pleasure in the sacrifice of his Son Jesus, St. Bernard rightly replies: 'It was not the death that pleased him but the will of him who spontaneously died!'  It is not so much therefore the death of Christ that saved us, as his obedience unto death."
From Obedience: The Authority of the Word by Fr. Raniero Cantalamessa

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

The Obedience of Christ

"The obedience of Jesus Christ to the Father is carried out above all through obedience to the written word.  When Jesus was tempted in the desert, his obedience consisted in recalling the word of God and keeping to it.  'It is written!'  God's words, under the present action of the holy Spirit, become vehicles of the living will of God and reveal their 'binding' nature as orders from God.  Herein lies the obedience of the new Adam in the desert.  After the last 'It is written' said by Jesus, Luke goes on to tell us that the 'devil left him' (Lk 4:12) and that Jesus returned to Galilee 'filled with the Holy Spirit' (Lk 4:14).  The Holy Spirit is given to those who 'obey God' (Ac 5:32).  St James says: 'Give in to God, resist the devil, and he will run away from you' (Js 4:7).  That is what happened when Jesus was tempted.  Jesus bases his obedience, in a particular way, on the words written about him and for him 'in the law, in the prophets and in the psalms,' which he, as man, gradually discovers as he advances in understanding and fulfilling his mission.  The perfect concord that exists between the prophecies of the Old Testament and the acts of Jesus, as seen in the New Testament, cannot be explained by saying that the prophecies depend on the acts (that is, that the prophecies were later applied to the acts already carried out by Jesus) but by saying that the acts depend on the prophecies: Jesus 'fulfilled' in perfect obedience what was written of him by the Father.  When his disciples want to oppose his capture, Jesus says: 'But then how would the scriptures be fulfilled that say this is the way it must be? (Mt 26:54).  The life of Jesus seems to be guided by an invisible luminous treail formed of the words written for him; it is from the Scriptures that he takes the 'must be' (dei) which governs hi whole life."
from Obedience: The Authority of the Word by Fr. Raniero Cantalamessa