Thursday, January 28, 2016

Lift Up Your Heads, O Gates!

It was told King David, “The Lord has blessed the household of Obed-edom and all that belongs to him, because of the ark of God.”[1]

“Obed-edom” is defined as “Serving Edom; servant of Edom; a laborer of the earth.”[2] Now, God had blessed him because of the ark, which we see as the Virgin Mary, which in turn points us to the Incarnation of the Son of God. Of course, we cannot separate the Incarnation and our Lord’s Passion, for it is for this that He became incarnate. The laborers of the earth are those that have the Virgin Mary as their Mother, those who are born again in Christ through Baptism. Since the Mother is the image of her Son, her children are also the image of her Son. Because of this blessing, because they are born again of God, they are His “train,” which we see in Psalm 24:7.

We read in Haydock’s commentary that Psalm 24 is a processional hymn, in which one group of singers calls upon the gates of the old city of the Jebusites to lift up their heads in honor, because the King of Glory is to pass through them to his new sanctuary. We read in A Catholic Commentary on Holy Scripture that the Church has constantly understood this passage of Christ’s ascension, and that the saints in his train address the angels, who appear to be filled with astonishment. Because, in the Mass, heaven and earth come together, we see that we are made holy as our Lord is holy and that we ascend with Him. The commentary tells us that the psalmist is contemplating the ascension of Christ, inviting the angels to receive Him. “The angels express their admiration of the glory with which Christ, in our human nature, was environed; and the prophet replies, that he had overcome all his opponents, and again orders the gates to open. The angels were not ignorant, but gave occasion to a further display of the conqueror’s dignity, and expressed their surprise that men should enter heaven.”[3] How well we can sing with the psalmist, “Who is the King of glory? The LORD, strong and might, the LORD, mighty in battle!” This, of course, is due to our Lord’s Passion, death, and resurrection.

Not only do we shout in exultation, but our Lord praises the Father because of us:
At that time Jesus declared, “I thank thee, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that thou hast hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to babes.[4] Looking around on those who sat about him, he said, “Here are my mother and my brethren! Whoever does the will of God is my brother, and sister, and mother.” [5]

Lift up your heads, O gates! and be lifted up, O ancient doors! that the King of glory may come in. Who is the King of glory? The Lord, strong and mighty, the Lord, mighty in battle! Lift up your heads, O gates! and be lifted up, O ancient doors! that the King of glory may come in. Who is this King of glory? The Lord of hosts, he is the King of glory![6]

Lord, make us the image of You, through Your Word and the Sacraments, especially the Eucharist. Amen.

--Tommy Turner

[1] Catholic Biblical Association (Great Britain), The Holy Bible: Revised Standard Version, Catholic Edition, (New York: National Council of Churches of Christ in the USA, 1994), 2 Sa 6:12.
[2] Stelman Smith and Judson Cornwall, The exhaustive dictionary of Bible names, 1998, 187.
[3] George Leo Haydock, Haydock’s Catholic Bible Commentary, (New York: Edward Dunigan and Brother, 1859), Ps 23:7–10.
[4] Catholic Biblical Association (Great Britain), The Holy Bible: Revised Standard Version, Catholic Edition, (New York: National Council of Churches of Christ in the USA, 1994), Mt 11:25
[5] Catholic Biblical Association (Great Britain), The Holy Bible: Revised Standard Version, Catholic Edition, (New York: National Council of Churches of Christ in the USA, 1994), Mk 3:34–35.
[6] Catholic Biblical Association (Great Britain), The Holy Bible: Revised Standard Version, Catholic Edition, (New York: National Council of Churches of Christ in the USA, 1994), Ps 24:7–10.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

How Does Your Concern Affect Me?

“How does your concern affect me?” This is the rendering from the New American Bible of our Lord’s response to His mother’s statement that they had run out of wine at the wedding feast of Cana. The New Revised Version renders it, “What concern is that to you and to me?” The NAB version is stating that the fact they had no wine concerned Virgin Mary, and Jesus is asking her how this affects Him. In the NRSV rendering, Jesus is asking her why should this concern her and why should it concern Him. He is not saying that she should not be concerning; he is asking her to contemplate upon why it should concern her and Him. I think He asks us the same question. There are things that should concern us. If something concerns us, then it must also concern Christ, for we are part of His Body, the Catholic Church, of which He is the Head. Therefore, I can hear Him implying to our Blessed Mother, “You are right to be concerned; now, why does it concern you, and why should it concern me?”

Why was our Blessed Mother concerned? Why was she anxious, worried, distressed, uneasy, fearful? One common theory we hear of is the embarrassment it would cause the bridegroom. Would we desire that Christ perform a miracle for the sake of saving someone embarrassment? If someone plans improperly, should a miracle be performed to save them embarrassment? Because the steward of the feast called the bridegroom and said to him, “Every man serves the good wine first; and when men have drunk freely, then the poor wine; but you have kept the good wine until now,” one could naturally assume that the steward of the feast, and possibly even the bridegroom, were not aware that the wine had run out. Would one not presume incompetence at least on the part of the steward, and would not the bridegroom go over everything prior to the feast to ensure that all was in order? He would know how many guests were invited, and how much wine was needed.

Let’s pause in order to think. Jesus, at this time, is approximately thirty years old. How much has He revealed to His mother? Did they keep silent regarding spiritual things? That would not be the Mary we have come to know through St. Luke, who tells us she pondered everything. This is not the Mary who has given her life totally to God and, therefore, was told by the Angel that she was full of grace. Given the Mary we have been introduced to, because she knew Who her Son was, were they not conversing on deep spiritual matters?

Was He not also preparing her for the mission He had ordained for her? She knew that her heart was going to be pierced through; therefore, she probably knew that He was going to die for His people. Because she was not present with the other women going to the tomb on the day of Resurrection, it is possible that she was already cognizant of the fact that Jesus was going to rise on the third day. You would think that one of the evangelists would say something about Mary when Jesus rose from the dead; however, all remain silent. Although Jesus may not have told Mary that she was going to be the Mother of all Living, He would have, nonetheless, prepared her for that position. Perhaps, this wedding at Cana was part of that preparation.

Now, let’s return to the wedding feast. Why does what seemingly appear to be incompetence become a concern to the Virgin Mary? According to St. Thomas Aquinas’ “Commentary of the Gospel of St. John,” St. John Chrysostom says that the Blessed Virgin, burning with zeal for the honor of her Son, wanted Christ to perform miracles at once, before it was opportune; but that Christ, being much wiser than His mother, retrained her, for He was unwilling to perform the miracle before the need for it was known; otherwise, it would have been less appreciated and less credible. Therefore, He says, “Woman, what concern is that to you and to me?” As if to say, “Why bother me? My time has not yet come,” i.e. I am not yet known to those present; nor do they know that the wine ran out, and they must first know this because, when they know their need, they will have a greater appreciation of the benefit they will receive. This could very well be true; I would not discount anything the Saints had to say. However, there could also be more to it.

St. John’s gospel is the “spiritual” gospel. Prior to going to the wedding feast, Jesus was probably aware of the fact that there was going to be a shortage of wine; and, perhaps, He desired to prepare the disciples that He was going to appoint to take charge of His Church, His Kingdom. In his Catena Aurea, St. Thomas Aquinas quotes St. Augustine: “What marvel, if He went to that house to a marriage, Who came into this world to a marriage. For here He has His spouse whom He redeemed with His own blood, to whom He gave the pledge of the Spirit, and whom He united to Himself in the womb of the Virgin. For the Word is the Bridegroom, and human flesh the bride, and both together are one Son of God and Son of man. That womb of the Virgin Mary is His chamber, from which He went forth as a bridegroom.” Therefore, Jesus may have been directing the Blessed Virgin to comprehend a deeper meaning in her request. “What concern is that to you and to me? My time has not yet come.”

Visualize a period of silence while our Blessed Mother pondered. Of course, we do not know what went through her mind; however, two thousand years later, what comes to ours? Jesus gave our Mother a hint: “My time has not yet come.” She may have understood that to refer to His Passion. She then may have recalled that her Son was the Messiah and that a feast was associated with Him. Thomas Aquinas informs us: “She says to Him, ‘They have no more wine.’ Here we should note that, before the incarnation of Christ, three wines were running out: the wine of justice, of wisdom, and of charity or grace. Wine stings; and, in this respect, it is a symbol of justice. The Samaritan poured wine and oil into the wounds of the injured man—that is, he mingled the severity of justice with the sweetness of mercy. ‘You have made us drink the wine of sorrow’ (Ps 59:5). But wine also delights the heart, ‘Wine cheers the heart of man’ (Ps 103:15). And, in this respect, wine is a symbol of wisdom, the meditation of which is enjoyable in the highest degree: ‘Her companionship has no bitterness’ (Wis 8:16).

Further, wine intoxicates: ‘Drink, friends, and be intoxicated, my dearly beloved’ (Sg 5:1). And, in this respect, wine is a symbol of charity because of charity’s fervor: ‘Wine makes the virgins flourish’ (Zec 9:17). The wine of justice was indeed running out in the old law, in which justice was imperfect…The wine of wisdom was also running out, for it was hidden and symbolic, because as it says in 1 Corinthians 10:11, ‘All these things happened to them in symbol’…The wine of charity was also running out, because they had received a spirit of serving only in fear. But Christ converted the water of fear into the wine of charity when He gave ‘the spirit of adoption as sons, by which we cry, ‘Abba, Father’ (Ro 8:15), and when ‘the charity of God was poured out into our hearts,’ as Romans 5:5 says.” Hence, our Blessed Mother may have concluded, “The Kingdom has no wine.” Therefore, she said to the servants, “Do whatever He tells you.” Because the Kingdom had no wine, our Blessed Mother was concerned and knew her Son, the Son of God, the Messiah, was concerned, and that He would provide the wine.

There are things that should concern us. If something concerns us, then it must also concern Christ, for we are part of His Body, the Catholic Church, of which He is the Head. Our concerns also should be the Kingdom, the Catholic Church; also, our concerns should be our fellow human being. “We are not fighting against flesh and blood;” we are fighting spiritual beings. The human beings who fight against us, in actuality, are ignorant and taking the things of Satan as being wisdom. Do we hate any human being, our brothers and sisters, so much that we desire to see them perish, to be as Cain and murder our brother? Jesus loves all humans so much that, while on the cross, blood and water gushed from His side, the Wine of Life. If this is our concern, it is also His concern. Lord, give us the grace to do Thy will. Not only give us the grace to do it, guide us also in doing it. Can you hear Him say in reply, “Your concern affects me.”
--Tommy Turner

Friday, January 22, 2016

Joy In Suffering

Our first reading from 14 January 2016, does not fill us with enthusiasm; it, instead, could possibly referred to as depressing:
At that time, the Philistines gathered for an attack on Israel. Israel went out to engage them in battle and camped at Ebenezer, while the Philistines camped at Aphek. The Philistines then drew up in battle formation against Israel. After a fierce struggle Israel was defeated by the Philistines, who killed about four thousand men on the battlefield. When the troops retired to the camp, the elders of Israel said, “Why has the Lord permitted us to be defeated today by the Philistines? Let us fetch the ark of the Lord from Shiloh that it may go into battle among us and save us from the grasp of our enemies.” So the people sent to Shiloh and brought from there the ark of the Lord of hosts, who is enthroned upon the cherubim. The two sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, accompanied the ark of God. When the ark of the Lord arrived in the camp, all Israel shouted so loudly that the earth shook. The Philistines, hearing the uproar, asked, “What does this loud shouting in the camp of the Hebrews mean?” On learning that the ark of the Lord had come into the camp, the Philistines were frightened, crying out, “Gods have come to their camp. Woe to us! This has never happened before. Woe to us! Who can deliver us from the power of these mighty gods? These are the gods who struck the Egyptians with various plagues in the desert. Take courage and act like soldiers, Philistines; otherwise you will become slaves to the Hebrews, as they were your slaves. Fight like soldiers!” The Philistines fought and Israel was defeated; everyone fled to their own tents. It was a disastrous defeat; Israel lost thirty thousand foot soldiers. The ark of God was captured, and Eli’s two sons, Hophni and Phinehas, were dead. [1]
The responsorial Psalm could possibly drive our spirits lower:
But now you have rejected and disgraced us; you do not march out with our armies. You make us retreat before the foe; those who hate us plunder us at will. You make us the reproach of our neighbors, the mockery and scorn of those around us. You make us a byword among the nations; the peoples shake their heads at us. Awake! Why do you sleep, O Lord? Rise up! Do not reject us forever! Why do you hide your face; why forget our pain and misery?
Hence, we cry out, “Rise up, help us!
Redeem us in your mercy.”

God does not desire that we be downtrodden; He desires that we rejoice, be joyful. Therefore, it is necessary that He chastise those that He loves. When sin does no longer bothers us, when we begin to think that particular sins are not bad, He must allow the consequences of those sins to disturb us, to turn us back to Himself, and goodness and happiness. It is through suffering that we are made perfect, just as the Author of our faith, Jesus, was made perfect through suffering, as we are told in the epistles to the Hebrews. If the Head must suffer, the Body must also suffer, including its members. When we “fight” the sin(s) in our earthy bodies, suffering takes place. Also, many times, in many places, the Church suffers outside persecution. This is the Body suffering as its Head suffered. Nonetheless, we must not disparage, for our Hope is “on the other side.” As one early Church Father surmised, “The sooner we live this world, the sooner we escape sin (paraphrasing).

Our Gospel reading is from St. Mark:
A leper came to him [and kneeling down] begged him and said, “If you wish, you can make me clean.” Moved with pity, he stretched out his hand, touched him, and said to him, “I do will it. Be made clean.” The leprosy left him immediately, and he was made clean. Then, warning him sternly, he dismissed him at once. Then he said to him, “See that you tell no one anything, but go, show yourself to the priest and offer for your cleansing what Moses prescribed; that will be proof for them.” The man went away and began to publicize the whole matter. He spread the report abroad so that it was impossible for Jesus to enter a town openly. He remained outside in deserted places, and people kept coming to him from everywhere. [2]
Now, leprosy reminds us of sin, that we are sinners. St. Mark, in his gospel, is telling us that it is His will that we be made clean and that He will make us clean when we come to Him for cleansing. We do have our sins washed away in order to remain empty; we are cleansed and then filled with the Holy Spirit in order that we may do good works, the works of our Father, loving our neighbor as ourselves because of the love we have of Him because of what He has done. Because of the concupiscence that is in us, we still suffer, fighting that tendency to sin. Where our first reading and the responsorial Psalm might be depressing, the Gospel reading shows us how to have joy in that suffering.

All week, we have been in the first chapter of St. Mark. The evangelist begins with Baptism, which is a portrayal of Jesus’ death and resurrection, reminding us that we die with Him and are raised with Him. Therefore, his Gospel begins with Jesus’ death and resurrection and ends with His death and resurrection, and our ascending with Him to the Father. Because we are ascending with Jesus to the Father, we are not saved for our sakes but for the Father’s. This is why we have joy in suffering.

St. Mark, in the first chapter of his Gospel, mentions three miracles. What St. Bede sees in these three miracles is very enlightening. The first miracle was casting out a demon; the second, the healing of the fever of St. Peter’s mother-in-law; and, of course, the third, the healing of the leper in today’s Gospel reading. In his “Catena Aurea – Gospel of Mark,” St. Thomas Aquinas quotes St. Bede as to the first miracle:

“Since by the envy of the devil death first entered into the world, it was right that the medicine of healing should first work against the author of death; and therefore it is said, ‘And there was in their synagogue a man [with an unclean spirit; and he cried out]’…”

As to the second miracle, St. Bede is quoted, “First, it was right that the serpent’s tongue should be shut up, that it might not spread any more venom; then that the woman, who was first seduced, should be healed from the fever of carnal concupiscence. The health which is conferred at the command of the Lord, returns at once entire, accompanied with such strength that she is able to minister to those of whose help she had before stood in need.”

With regard to the third miracle: “Again, if we suppose that the man delivered from the devil means, in the moral way of interpretation, the soul purged from unclean thoughts, fitly does the woman cured of a fever by the command of God mean the flesh, restrained from the heat of its concupiscence by the precepts of continence…After that the serpent-tongue of the devils was shut up, and the woman, who was first seduced, cured of a fever, in the third place, the man, who listened to the evil counsels of the woman, is cleansed from his leprosy, that the order of restoration in the Lord might be the same as was the order of the fall in our first parents.” St. Bede, of course, is applying these miracles to the Fall of mankind in the Garden. It needs to be noted that these healings come through Baptism, because of Jesus’ Passion and Resurrection. Joy comes through suffering. Suffering comes as a result of sin, and joy comes from the suffering of dying to sin. When we fail to die to sin because of our frailty, we have the recourse of getting back up and continuing on the Way through the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Joy through suffering.
--Tommy Turner

[1] New American Bible, Revised Edition., (Washington, DC: The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, 2011), 1 Sa 4:1–11.
[2] New American Bible, Revised Edition., (Washington, DC: The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, 2011), Mk 1:40–45.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Things to Do or a Way of Life?

I don’t know about others; I can only speak for myself: Matthew 25:34-40 never even close to being one of the passages of Scripture that I liked. It would cause guilt to rush upon me. Do I have to do all of these? Is doing one okay? How many times do I have to do them? Before going further, let’s read the passage.

“Then the king will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father. Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me.’ Then the righteous will answer him and say, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? When did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? When did we see you ill or in prison, and visit you?’ And the king will say to them in reply, ‘Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me’.”

I do not think the evangelist is trying to impress upon us that our Lord was implying a number to the times we are to do these things or if we only have to do one, two, or three of them. I believe what our Lord is telling us is how to pattern our lives, how to live our lives. What am I referring to?

Let me begin with this: When I was coming into the Catholic Church, I had a very difficult time with our Blessed Mother. One of the things that helped me when I read a book where the author asked, “Should we love those that Jesus love?” Of course. “Does Jesus love His mother?” Of course. Utilizing the same theory, let’s ask the same question: Should we love those that God love? Yes. Who does He love? Everyone. Are we born of God in Baptism? Does Jesus, the Son of God abide in us and we in Him? If so, divine life is in us; therefore, who should we love? Everyone. One may ask, “Well, what about wicked people?” Let me ask in return, “If a person was a thief, an adulterer, and a murderer, would you consider that person wicked?” Now, consider King David. He stole another man’s wife, committed adultery, and murdered her husband. Did God love him? Yes.

God does not separate Himself from mankind; humans separate themselves from God. It is God’s desire that no person should perish. Through the Sacraments, God puts His divine life in us; hence, we love whomsoever He loves. Just as God put Adam into a deep sleep (death) and from his side brought forth his wife, God also brought forth from His Son’s divine side (Jesus is a Divine being) His Bride. Because Jesus is holy, His Bride is holy; and She loves whomsoever her Husband loves. Jesus tells us that a husband and wife becomes one flesh. He was really speaking of Himself and His Bride, the Church.

The passage in Matthew 25 is about a way of life, caring for all those that we meet. It also entails supporting our parish in order that this microcosm of the whole Catholic Church may do likewise. Through supporting our parish, we are loving our neighbor also.
--Tommy Turner

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

The Relevancy of the Sanctus

The Holy Catholic Church proclaims that the Eucharist is the sum and summit of the Mass.  Therefore, it is only practical that there be a preface to allow our minds to eagerly anticipate the Eucharist.  The prelude is an introduction to the Eucharist, consisting in an exhortation to thanksgiving made by the celebrant, in the answers of the minister or choir, and a prayer ending with the Sanctus, in which God is thanked for His benefits.[1]  This should cause our minds to think of what we are being thankful for.

There are times when we might, perhaps, lose focus and miss the Preface as recited by the Priest; therefore, we should know what benefits of God we are so thankful for.  I just do not believe that the one-word answer, “everything,” is a justifiable response.  We do not have much time in the Mass to reflect; therefore, it should be something that is paramount to us:  our redemption and sanctification.

The Preface of the Mass concludes with the Sanctus:

Holy, Holy, Holy Lord God of hosts.
Heaven and earth are full of your glory.
Hosanna in the highest.
Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord.
Hosanna in the highest.

I want to focus on two stanzas:  “Heaven and earth are full of Your glory” and “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord.”

“Heaven and earth are full of Your glory.”  In what way?  Given a good amount of time to contemplate, we could come up with a myriad of answers to this question.  During the Mass, there must be a paramount reason:  Obedience to the will of God.  The angelic response, the first stanza, is recited by the holy angels, those obedient to God’s will.  God is greatly glorified on earth by the obedience of mankind to God’s will, through the Church.  This is confirmed by the stanza, “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord.”

Scott Hahn, in his short book, Come Again? The Real Presence as Parousia, tells us that the Church sees the Eucharist as a “coming” of Christ—not the coming we commonly referring to as the Second Coming.  He states:

“Our Lord promised:  ‘You will not see Me again, until you say, ‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord’—that is, until the [coming, the presence of Christ].  How right it is for the Church to place those words, ‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord,’ on our lips just moments before the Eucharistic consecration in the Mass, just moments before our Lord’s Eucharistic parousia.”

This makes the Sanctus a reality.  We are eagerly anticipating what is about to momentarily occur:  Jesus coming, making His presence known, in the Eucharist.  Listen to this early Church prayer in the Liturgy of the Blessed Apostles:  “How breathes in us, O our Lord and God, the sweet fragrance of the sweetness of Thy love; illumined are our souls, through the knowledge of Thy truth: may we be rendered worthy of receiving the manifestation of Thy beloved from Thy holy heavens: there shall we render thanks unto Thee, and, in the meantime, glorify Thee without ceasing in Thy Church, crowned and filled with every aid and blessing, because Thou art Lord and Father, Creator of all.”[2]  This is going to be fulfilled in the Eucharist.

When I began consideration of the Catholic Church, I went to a few Latin Masses.  It was difficult for me due to my lack of knowledge when it comes to Latin.  However, there was one thing that really intrigued me:  The priest faced away from us.  I found this extremely beneficial because I knew the priest was in the office of Christ.  Therefore, when he faced the same direction as the laity, this was Jesus, the Man, leading us in prayer.  When the priest faced us, it was Jesus, the Son of God, teaching us.  It made the Mass so relevant.  Oh, to have Jesus personally leading us in prayer!  How great it would have been if it had been in English.  It makes the Mass come alive.  Can you imagine Jesus, the angels, the saints in heaven, in purgatory, and on earth singing the Sanctus?  How the whole universe must reverberate!  All of this because of the Sacrifice of the Mass which is occurring continuously!

Here is a great, great benefit of the Eucharist, which we are anticipating, from the words of St. John Chrysostom:

“Therefore that you may not assemble here in vain I shall not cease beseeching you with all earnestness, as I have often besought you before, ‘conduct your brethren to us, exhort the wanderers, counsel them not by word only but also by deed.’ This is the more powerful, teaching,—that which comes through our manners and behaviour—Even if you do not utter a word, but yet, after you have gone out of this assembly, by your mien, and your look, and your voice and all the rest of your demeanour you exhibit to the men who have been left behind the gain which you have brought away with you, this is sufficient for exhortation and advice. For we ought to go out from this place as it were from some sacred shrine, as men who have descended from heaven itself, who have become sedate, and philosophical, who do and say everything in proper measure: and when a wife sees her husband returning from the assembly, and a father his son, and a friend his friend, and an enemy his enemy, let them all receive an impression of the benefit which you have derived from coming here: and they will receive it, if they perceive that you have become milder, more philosophical, more devout."

"Consider what privileges you enjoy who hast been initiated into the mysteries, with what company thou offerest up that mystic hymn, with what company thou criest aloud the ‘Ter sanctus.’ Teach ‘them that are without’ that thou hast joined the chorus of the Seraphim, that thou art ranked as a citizen of the commonwealth above, that thou hast been enrolled in the choir of Angels, that thou hast conversed with the Lord, that thou hast been in the company of Christ. If we regulate ourselves in this way we shall not need to say anything, when we go out to those who are left behind: but from our advantage they will perceive their own loss and will hasten hither, so as to enjoy the same benefits themselves. For when, merely by the use of their senses, they see the beauty of your soul shining forth, even if they are the most stupid of men, they will become enamoured of your goodly appearance. For if corporeal beauty excites those who behold it, much more will symmetry of soul be able to move the spectator, and stimulate him to equal zeal."

"Let us then adorn our inward man, and let us be mindful of the things which are said here, when we go out: for there especially is it a proper time to remember them; and just as an athlete displays in the lists the things which he has learned in the training school: even so ought we to display in our transactions in the world without the things which we have heard here.”[3]

Is this not a paramount reason for communing with Christ?  Is this not discerning Christ in the Eucharist?  If this is not enough, let us hear the words of St. Ambrose:

“’Dost thou wish to eat and to drink? Come unto the feast of wisdom, who invites all with a loud voice, saying, Come, eat my bread, and drink the wine which I have mingled for you. Fear not lest, in the feast of the Church, there be wanting either grateful perfumes, or sweetmeats, or varied drinks, or noble guests, or suitable garments. What more noble than Christ, who, in the banquet of the Church, is both the minister and the ministered. Recline close by the side of this guest, and join thyself to God.’ … He (Christ) is a rich treasure; His is the bread of fatness, and truly of fatness, since he who shall eat thereof cannot hunger.

This bread He gave to the Apostles to be distributed to the multitude of believers; and at this day He gives it to us, which Himself the priest daily consecrates with his own words. Therefore has this bread become the food of saints. We can also receive the Lord Himself, who gave us His own flesh, as Himself says, I am the bread of life: your fathers did eat manna in the desert and are dead; but this is the bread of life which cometh down from heaven, that if any man eat thereof he may not die.… He receives that proveth himself; and he who receives shall not die the death of the sinner, for this bread is the remission of sins’…‘Oh blessed wood of the Lord which crucified the sins of all men; oh blessed flesh of the Lord which ministered food to all men.’…‘Attend diligently to these things; understand them prudently; sedulously seek after them. Not cursorily are these things declared to thee, but to thee the divine mysteries are made known...’Let not thy faith fail. For though thou art weak, Christ who fails not is solicitous for thee."

"He says to His disciples, Give you them to eat, lest they fail by the way. Thou hast the apostolic food; eat it, and thou wilt not fail. Eat it first, that thou mayest afterwards come to the food of Christ, to the food of the body of the Lord, to the banquets of the sacraments, to that cup wherewith the affections of the faithful are inebriated; so as to be clothed with gladness on account of the remission of sins, and so as to put off the cares of this world, the fear of death, and anxieties. Thus inebriated the body staggers not, but rises again; the mind is not confounded, but hallowed’.”[4]

Is it not with great exultation that we sing the Sanctus?

Holy, Holy, Holy Lord God of hosts.
Heaven and earth are full of your glory.
Hosanna in the highest.
Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord.
Hosanna in the highest.

[1] McGovern, J. J. (Ed.). (1906). In Catholic Pocket Dictionary and Cyclopedia (p. 159). Chicago: Extension Press.
[2] Roberts, A., Donaldson, J., & Coxe, A. C. (Eds.). (1886). The Liturgy of the Blessed Apostles. In J. Donaldson (Trans.), Fathers of the Third and Fourth Centuries: Lactantius, Venantius, Asterius, Victorinus, Dionysius, Apostolic Teaching and Constitutions, Homily, and Liturgies (Vol. 7, p. 561). Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company.
[3] John Chrysostom. (1889). To Those Who Had Not Attended the Assembly. In P. Schaff (Ed.), W. R. W. Stephens (Trans.), Saint Chrysostom: On the Priesthood, Ascetic Treatises, Select Homilies and Letters, Homilies on the Statues (Vol. 9, pp. 227–228). New York: Christian Literature Company.
[4] Berington, J., & Kirk, J. (1885). The Faith of Catholics: Confirmed by Scripture and Attested by the Fathers of the First Five Centuries of the Church. (J. Waterworth & T. J. Capel, Eds.) (Second Edition., Vol. 2, pp. 280–293). New York; Cincinnati: Fr. Pustet & Co.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

The Scribes of the Pharisees Saw, and They Said...

In the second chapter of St. Mark, we have the scribes hearing Jesus and then questioning in their hearts; then they see Jesus sitting with tax collectors and sinners, and said… I do not dislike the scribes and Pharisees; as a matter of fact, I empathize with them, for I see myself in them. Not only do I see myself in them, I see the majority of humanity in them, especially Christians. We hear, and think, questioning in our minds; we see, and we say. We do this without truly knowing the truth, nevertheless approving and disapproving as we see fit, dependent upon, many times, a relative truth inside of us. This is exactly what the scribes and Pharisees were doing: reacting in accordance with what they believed to be true.

The Pharisees were “a religious sect or party within Judaism that flourished from the second century b.c. to the first century a.d. In the early first century a.d., there were over six thousand Pharisees, according to Josephus (Ant. 17.42). The name is linked to the Hebrew term meaning ‘separated ones,’ because they separated themselves from all forms of religious and ceremonial uncleanness. They were known for their strict observance of ritual piety, purity, and tithing, and for their determination to prevent the Jewish faith from being contaminated by foreign religious practices, to which end they insisted on strict separation from the Gentiles…The Pharisees were laymen, in contrast to the Sadducees, who were the priestly party. The Pharisees were allied closely to the scribes, those learned members of the community who studied and interpreted the Law. They enjoyed influence among the masses in Palestine during the NT period, but were openly contemptuous of the ‘people of the land’ who were ignorant of the Law and failed to adhere to the Pharisaic observances.

The doctrines of the Pharisees deviated from those of the Sadducees in a number of ways. The Sadducees acknowledged only the Torah as having full religious authority, whereas the Pharisees also used, in addition to the Hebrew Scriptures, oral traditions that were designed to reinforce the observance of the Law (Matt 15:2; Mark 7:5). The oral traditions served as a crucial guide in the interpretation of the Law and a protection against violations. The Pharisees believed in angels and demons and upheld the doctrines of the Resurrection and the future life, all of which were rejected by the Sadducees.”[1] They wanted to please God; they tried to be holy, and saw themselves as being head and shoulders above the average person who was just trying to survive and support their families. They probably looked down upon them, not trying to be mean but just seeing the average person as not being as holy as themselves.

Anyone that has been in the military and has been overseas knows that there are many bars outside the bases, with many young women working in them, with some giving themselves over to prostitution. Many of them were not bad; they were just trying to make a living. In some cases, their parents would send them to work in the bars because they couldn’t earn enough money to survive. In some countries, many of them are Catholics. They just do not know what else to do. Deep down, I do not believe any parent holding a beautiful little baby in their arms, nursing it to keep it alive, desires to see her/him to grow up to be a prostitute, a drunk, or a drug addict, or homeless. It is easy to disparage them; however, we do not know the circumstances of how they came to be in the state that they are in. They are fallen human beings. We should not aid their abuse; however, we should give to organizations that minister to them. If they are hungry, we should buy them food.

Why would a Jew become a tax collector? Perhaps, there were some who were just plain greedy; however, on the other hand, maybe the majority of them were attempting to support their families the best way they could. We know that prostitutes followed Jesus. Perhaps, these were among the “sinners” of which we read about in Verse 15. I don’t know who the “sinners” were comprised of. What we do see is the compassion of mercy of Jesus: Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick; I came not to call the righteous, but sinners. Because we are the Body of Christ, born of Him, in Him, and He in us, it is incumbent upon us to administer the same compassion and mercy. We largely do this through supporting our parishes. Which one of us is righteous? Which one of us is not sick due to sin? Which one of us is not broken, in need of healing? Which one of us do not desire that Christ eat with us, feeding us His Word and His body, blood, soul, and divinity in the Eucharist? Which one of us does not need the Catholic Church? Which one of us does not need to be made holy by God, through the Catholic Church?

When the scribes of the Pharisees saw Jesus sitting and eating with tax collectors and sinners, they said, “Why,” accusing Jesus. Due to concupiscence, we are scribes and Pharisees at heart; however, because of the grace of God given to us through the Sacraments, we have compassion and mercy, saying with Jesus, our Head, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick; [Jesus] came not to call the righteous, but sinners [of which we are chief].” May God have mercy upon us, bless us, and keep us. Amen.

--Tommy Turner
Ant. Jewish Antiquities [1] Scott Hahn, Ed., Catholic Bible Dictionary, 2009, 703–704.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Toiling in the Midst of the Sea

“Immediately he made his disciples get into the boat and go before him to the other side, to Beth-saida, while he dismissed the crowd. And after he had taken leave of them, he went up on the mountain to pray. And when evening came, the boat was out on the sea, and he was alone on the land. And he saw that they were making headway painfully, for the wind was against them. And about the fourth watch of the night he came to them, walking on the sea. He meant to pass by them, but when they saw him walking on the sea they thought it was a ghost, and cried out; for they all saw him, and were terrified. But immediately he spoke to them and said, “Take heart, it is I; have no fear.” And he got into the boat with them and the wind ceased. And they were utterly astounded, for they did not understand about the loaves, but their hearts were hardened.”[1]

The preceding is the Gospel reading for 6 January 2016.  Although the multiplication of the loaves is not included in the reading itself, it is alluded to at the end of the passage.  Jesus had just finished feeding the five thousand, a pre-figuration of His passion, death, and resurrection portrayed in the Eucharist, which makes us grow in His likeness after Baptism.  Immediately, He compels His disciples to get into the boat to go to the other side, which Origen astutely interprets as our goal, which we commonly refer to as “heaven.”  Jesus compelled the disciples to leave lest they should be carried away by the misguided enthusiasm of the crowds who wanted to make him king (Jn 6:14).  The entering the boat is our entering the Catholic Church in order to complete our pilgrimage here on earth, our “wilderness.”

Jesus had known that, upon the miraculous feeding with the loaves, the people would see the Messianic promised alluded to. The miracle just performed by Christ was of the spectacular kind which, according to popular expectation, would mark the coming of the Messiah.[2]  He knew they would desire to force Him to be king.  Although it was not the time for that to occur, nonetheless it was time for Him to teach and prepare not only the Twelve but all of His disciples, including us, for all the hardships and sufferings we must undergo in order to “go to the other side.”  We must count the cost if we desire Jesus to be King in our lives.

Although the miraculous feeding prefigures the Eucharist, in this in instance Jesus is not feeding the five thousand with His body, blood, soul, and divinity.  This is a message, primarily, for His disciples.  We cannot look at this miracle and surmise that the Eucharist is open to everyone, regardless of what they believe.

Jesus feeds all His disciples with Himself, the Bread of Life, the manna from heaven, the Eucharist, and straightway sends them off.  This occurs to every individual when he partakes of the Eucharist.  We cannot partake of the Body and Blood of Christ and then make ourselves invisible, hide within ourselves.  Christ, through the Eucharist, is transforming us in order that He may send us out into the world to transform others.  Jesus did not send the others to the other side for they were not yet His disciples.  Their desire for Him to be king was to enhance their temporal, daily lives.

After the miraculous feeding and sending the disciples and the crowd away, Jesus went upon the mountain to pray.  This portrays His Ascension.  Although He has ascended, nevertheless He continuously is interceding for us.  When evening came, the boat was in the midst of the sea, and Jesus was alone on the land.  For us, the evening is the waning hours of the day, with night rapidly approaching, the nearness of the end of the day.  To the Jews, however, the evening is the beginning of the day.

Mystically, when we are “born again” in Baptism, we see dimly because of concupiscence, because we have not yet suppressed the “old man,” the old Adam, inside of us.  In order to see clearly, we must become blind (represented by the night, the darkness).  After Baptism, we still “see” mostly by the senses, seeing mostly the world.  We must become “blind” to the world, dying to living sensually, living only by the senses.  We must unite ourselves to God’s will, invoking the “Our Father,” praying, “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”  The “earth” is us, and “in heaven” refers to the angels and Saints.  St. Alphonsus de Liguori, in Uniformity with God’s Will, tells us:  “We must unity ourselves to God’s will not only in things that come to us directly from his hands, such as sickness, desolation, poverty, death of relatives, but likewise in those we suffer from man—for example, contempt, injustice, loss of reputation, loss of temporal goods and all kinds of persecution. On these occasions we must remember that while God does not will the sin, He does will our humiliation, our poverty, or our mortification, as the case may be.

It is certain and of faith that whatever happens, happens by the will of God: ‘I am the Lord forming the light and creating the darkness, making peace and creating evil.’  From God come all things, good as well as evil.  We call adversities evil; actually they are good and meritorious, when we receive them as coming from God’s hands.”  Iron sharpens iron.  The Saint goes on to say that “St. John of Avila used to say, ‘One ‘Blessed be God’ in times of adversity is worth more than a thousand acts of gratitude in times of prosperity’.”  Only in this way will we be able to gain our sight, seeing clearly.  Darkness comes before sunrise.  For this purpose, our Lord sends His disciples out in the boat, in order that we may be in the middle of the sea when evening comes.

As mentioned previously, the boat is a portrayal of the Catholic Church.  We cannot endure to be in the “midst of the sea” in the evening as individuals; we must be with the rest of the Body, whether in the Church Triumphant, the Church Suffering, or the Church Militant.  We must be working in unity, working together.  His is why we invoke the Saints to aid us.  We are not subtracting from the glory due God; we are revealing it more clearly by loving our neighbor, helping one another.

The sea represents the world and all those of the world.  The world is ever changing, and those of the world, necessarily, are ever changing because they live by their passions and emotions, which change constantly.  Contrary to the world, the boat, the Catholic Church, is constant because God is constant.  Because the Head is constant, they Body must also be constant.  Some may charge that the Church has changed, especially after Vatican II; however, that is not the case.  Although it is true that disciplines have changed, the Church’s doctrines and dogmas do not change.  We see an example of this in St. Paul:  “To the Jews, I became as a Jew, in order to win the Jews; to those under the law I became as one under the law—though not being myself under the law—that I might win those under the law.  To those outside the law, I became as one outside the law—not being without law toward God but under the law of Christ—that I might win those outside the Law.  To the weak, I became weak, that I might win the weak.  I have become all things to all men, that I might by all means save some.  I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.”  Although St. Paul changed his disciplines, he never changed his teachings.

Throughout the evening and the night, it is necessary that the Catholic Church be buffeted, to undergo persecutions.  This is necessary for our salvation and our sanctification.  The road to hell is wide and easy; the road to heaven is narrow, with many pitfalls, many dangers.  It was necessary that our Head suffer for our salvation; hence, it is also necessary that the Body also suffer.  Once again, St. Paul instructs us:  “Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I complete what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of His body, that is, the Church…”  It is not that anything is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for our salvation; what is lacking is the sufferings for the Church’s sake.  Christ has ascended Satan cannot afflict Him; however, Christ’s Body, the Catholic Church, is on earth, and Satan can afflict Her and her members.

Although our Lord has ascended, He has not left us alone.  He is the Bread of Life; therefore, He is constantly with His Church, wherever She is in the universe.  When we commune, the Bread of Life is in us; and we become bread of life for others, transforming them through our faith, which has transformed us.  Many times it appears to us that God is not near to us, that He in essence is a far-away God.  However, our passage reassures us that He is constantly watching over us and is near us.  As St. August correctly surmises, Jesus often seemingly is passing us by in order that we call out to Him.  It is He who gets us to “the other side.”

In conclusion, it is by virtue of our Lord giving us Himself in the Eucharist and sending us out to toil in the midst of the sea that we and others are saved.  In the midst of the sea, we must love one another, working together, strengthening one another.  Through this toiling and loving, Christ draws the others that He sent away, but not to “the other side.”  He has not given up on them; He is drawing them through us.

--Tommy Turner

[1] Catholic Biblical Association (Great Britain), The Holy Bible: Revised Standard Version, Catholic Edition, (New York: National Council of Churches of Christ in the USA, 1994), Mk 6:45–52.
[2] J. A. O’Flynn, A Catholic Commentary on Holy Scripture, 1953, 916.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Sing a New Song This New Year

Our responsorial Psalm for 17 January of this new year of our Lord, 2016, commands us to “sing a new song to the Lord,” which we shall come back to. First, the command to sing a new song to the Lord begets a question: Why should we sing a new song? Answer: “for He has done marvelous deeds.” Question: What marvelous deeds? Answer: “His right hand and holy arm have won the victory.”

St. Augustine tells us that God’s right hand and holy arm is one, Jesus Christ, our very salvation. We are in the Christmas season, still celebrating the birth of Jesus; why are we speaking of the Cross now? Our Blessed Mother and Saint Joseph saw their salvation in the babe while in the womb of the Virgin, and the shepherds saw their salvation in the baby. St. Simeon saw his salvation in the Baby, for he exclaims, “Lord, now let Thou Thy servant depart in peace, for mine eyes have seen Thy salvation.”

Now, “for us men and for our salvation, [Jesus] came down from heaven, and by the Holy Spirit was incarnate of the Virgin Mary, and became man.” This is done for the sake of the Father, not for the sake of mankind. If salvation was for the sake of mankind, the glory would end with man; however, because the salvation of mankind is for the sake of the Father, the glory returns to the Father. If man is redeemed for his sake, he returns to sin. Because the salvation of mankind is for the sake of the Father, man becomes and remains an image of the Son. Allow St. Augustine to clarify:

“What is the Lord's holy Arm? Our Lord Jesus Christ. Hear Isaiah: ‘Who hath believed our report, and to whom is the arm of the Lord revealed?’ His holy arm then, and His own right hand, is Himself. Our Lord Jesus Christ is therefore the arm of God, and the right hand of God; for this reason is it said, ‘hath He healed for Him.’ It is not said only, ‘His right hand hath healed the world,’ but ‘hath healed for Him.’ For many are healed for themselves, not for Him. Behold how many long for that bodily health, and receive it from Him: they are healed by Him, but not for Him. How are they healed by Him, and not for Him? When they have received health, they become wanton: they who when sick were chaste, when cured become adulterers: they who when in illness injured no man, on the recovery of their strength attack and crush the innocent: they are healed, but not unto Him. Who is he who is healed unto Him? He who is healed inwardly. Who is he that is healed inwardly? He who trusteth in Him, that when he shall have been healed inwardly, reformed into a new man, afterwards this mortal flesh too, which doth languish for a time, may in the end itself even recover its most perfect health. Let us therefore be healed for Him. But that we may be healed for Him, let us believe in His right hand.”

In our first reading from 1 John 2, we are told: “Who is the liar? Whoever denies that Jesus is the Christ. Whoever denies the Father and the Son, this is the antichrist.” What does it mean to deny that Jesus is the Christ? If we believe the Baby Jesus is the Son of God, is God, then we will obey Him. To infer that it is not necessary to be the image of the Son is to state that we are not born of God. That is to assert that God saved man for the sake of man, and not for His sake. This is denying the Son. To confess the Son is to be an image of the Son.

“The Lord has made His victory known, has revealed His triumph in the sight of the nations.” How do we know this in Baby Jesus? If we believe that He is the promised Messiah, the true King, then all the other prophecies have also come to pass in the Baby. For this reason, the shepherds, the kings, and St. Simeon rejoice. For this reason, we rejoice this Christmas season. We see this triumph also in the Catholic Church, because she comes from His side. Because she comes from His side, she is “flesh of [His] flesh and bone of [His] bone,” His image. Because we are Catholic, we must be His image.

St. Jerome, in his comparison of the Catholic Church and Noah’s ark, makes a sobering assertion: “It is not the sheep only who abide in the Church, nor do clean birds only fly to and fro there; but amid the grain other seed is sown, ‘amidst the neat corn-fields burrs and caltrops and barren oats lord it in the land.’ What is the husbandman to do? Root up the darnel? In that case the whole harvest is destroyed along with it. Every day the farmer diligently drives the birds away with strange noises, or frightens them with scarecrows: here he cracks a whip, there he spreads out some other object to terrify them. Nevertheless, he suffers from the raids of nimble roes or the wantonness of the wild asses; here the mice convey the corn to their garners underground, there the ants crowd thickly in and ravage the corn-field. Thus the case stands. No one who has land is free from care. While the householder slept the enemy sowed tares among the wheat, and when the servants proposed to go and root them up the master forbade them, reserving for himself the separation of the chaff and the grain. There are vessels of wrath and of mercy which the Apostle speaks of in the house of God. The day then will come when the storehouses of the Church shall be opened and the Lord will bring forth the vessels of wrath; and, as they depart, the saints will say, ‘They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would no doubt have continued with us.’ No one can take to himself the prerogative of Christ, no one before the day of judgment can pass judgment upon men. If the Church is already cleansed, what shall we reserve for the Lord? ‘There is a way which seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death.’ When our judgment is so prone to error, upon whose opinion can we rely?”[1] When our judgment is so prone to error, it must be the Catholic Church upon which we rely. It is in the Catholic Church that “the Lord has made His victory known, has revealed His triumph in the sight of the nations.” It is through the Catholic Church that He shows us that “He has remembered His mercy and faithfulness toward the house of Israel.” It is in the Catholic Church that “all the ends of the earth have seen the victory of our God.” The “earth” can also refer to the baptized that are seeing more and more their victory over sin, accomplished through the works of Jesus. “Shout with joy to the Lord, all the [Baptized, those of mankind born of God]; break into song; sing praise.”

In conclusion, returning to “sing a new song to the Lord:” We sing a new song to the Lord when we no longer live in the image of the old Adam, but when we live in the image of the new Adam. When we see how God is making a new creation out of us, one created unto good works, we rejoice. We can sing praise because we know that He will finish what He has begun. What He has done last year, He continue to surpass this year. Sing a new song this new year.
--Tommy Turner
[1] Jerome, St. Jerome: Letters and Select Works, 1893, 6, 331–332.

Trinitarian Monotheism

I. Starting Point: The Beginning Search Among Bishops and Scholars on How to Formulate the Earliest and Continuing Statement of the Church's Trinitarian Dogma.

II. The First Inquiry and Debate Starts in the East: The Eastern Orthodox bishops first debated (actually they mostly argued) over how to reach a consensus of opinion over what the Church's dogma as to the meaning of the Trinity should be, both then and there in the early Church, and for the future of the Church ending at no less a date than Jesus' Second Coming. Regardless of dates they knew they were undertaking a solemn task, namely defining the central dogma of Christian theology. In formulating a consistent belief among themselves Eastern Orthodox Bishops engaged in much squabbling over their differing deliberations. Such deliberations were unfortunately accompanied with each other for the supremacy of their pet doctrinal statement versus other bishops' competing statement. The bishops were racked by the back-and-forth slipping and sliding of the constantly changing statements of what they thought the expression of Trinitarian theology should be.

     When weighed against the many revolving, competing and proposed doctrinal statements competing for the Eastern bishops' eventual acceptance, the majority Greek party at last reached a very tentative agreement on the one true and lasting expression of the dogma of the Trinity. Their belief translated Trinitarian dogma into a short formula that was based on what had been long periods of study, preaching and writing. The majority of Greek bishops said that the Trinity is God in one nature, or hypostasis, and consisting of three indivisible persons. However, this definition ran into a stone wall in Rome. The western bishops, plus a minority of Greek bishops, tranlated hypostasis to mean, not nature, but substance, and hypostases to mean personas, or "persons." The westerners and the minority party in the East thus argued that the majority of Greek bishops, by using hypostasis for nature actually were saying that God had three different natures. Hence the western bishops and the minority party in the East accepted the western interpretation of hypostases, in Latin, as personas. But the Greek majority party translated personas one step further by saying that the Latin personas was equivalent to the Greek word prosopon, meaning "face" or "mask." Thus the Greeks were split over translating the Latin persona. The majority of Greek bishops argued that when the westerners used persona they actually meant "mask," and thus in reality were saying that God wore the three masks of Father, Son and Spirit.

     The majority Greek bishops' party choosing which formula for the definition of the Trinity they adopted said they were guided principally on the belief that they had the guidance of the Holy Spirit as to which formula they would favor. But there were different factors as well. For example, younger bishops might be drawn toward the reputation of an older, definitely orthodox bishop and his writings and teachings. This in fact happened, as the leading figure in the Council of Nicaea, St. Athanasius (296-373), Bishop of Alexandria, was far and away the most prestigious, spiritually imposing figure in professing his reasons for the eventual choices he taught as God in one nature, and three persons. Also, poor Athanasius was exiled four different times by four different decisions of emperors. This too led bishops voting in council to accept Athanasius' teachings as similar to the suffering of Jesus as savior of mankind from their sins. Athanasius came to be thought of as subject to an "agony" similar to Jesus' "agony in the garden."

III: Toward an eventual definition:

     Unfortunately for the strong desire in both the West and East to put the war over words to rest, and despite Athanasius' position as the "father of the Creeds," disputes among the Eastern bishops continually resulted in a sad picture. Oral, sometimes in shouting matches, and fighting in denunciatory written manifestos with each other over various and different positions for the formula by which to define the Trinity, did not cool off, but heated up even more. Something of a knock-down, drag-out argumentation between certain Greek bishops who attended the Council of Nicaea led to hurt feelings all the way around. And there were a total of four more ecumenical councils and one synod of bishops at which the bishops could profess their choice for a formula. The four ecumenical councils plus the one synod were as follows: (1) the Council and Creed of Nicaea(325), (2) the Council and Creed of Constantinople(381), (3)the Council of Ephesus (431)(without issuance of a Creed), (4)the Council and Creed of Chalcedon (451), and (5) the Second Council of Constantinople (553)--which in actuality was merely an Eastern synod.

IV. First Constantinople, 381 A.D. The Council and Creed of "First Constantinople" occurred 56 years after Nicaea, in 381. Although the Council of Nicaea was regarded as the "father of all councils," the decision to convene five post-Nicene councils was based on an attempt to negate the Nicene Creed and to pass new ecumenical Creeds. The Nicene Council came under attack from a new generation of bishops, including many more western bishops, some 150 of them. The impetus for convening First Constantinople was called for by another emperor, just as Nicaea had been promoted and run by Emperor Constantine (d. 337).

     However, the new emperor, Theodosius I, who served in the East as emperor from 379 to 392, was far different than Constantine, who had belligerently run the whole show at Nicaea, at times terrifying the bishops with commands to accept his personal views on theology. Theodosius had already converted to Christianity and had a deep personal devotion to the Lord Jesus. He obviously was peacefully open to letting the bishops run their own council. He, more than any other emperor can be said to have been the one who eventually established and safeguarded the Christian Church in the degenerating Roman Empire.

     Further, he led the Roman Empire and the Byzantine state toward a peaceful and conciliatory discussion for settling the formula to define the Trinity that everybody had been fighting over ever since the Council of Nicaea had ended. Theodosius, passed out to the bishops in advance, conciliatory written agendas in both Latin and Greek, stressing his pre-Council personal belief in the Trinity(i.e. whom he believed to have a single nature in three divine persons. In other words, the agenda for the Council was to read and accept Theodosius' pronouncement that eventually became the major decision at the Council formula by which the Church was to define the dogma of the eternal, Trinitarian--monotheistic God. That is, the Council overwhelmingly defined the Trinity according to the emperor's position as one supreme God in His nature (hypostasis) (and, with a nod toward the Roman bishops, likewise in His (substance)), but comprised of three divine persons: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. It could be said that God had finally persuaded the bishops to allow Himself to be divine in two of the world's greatest languages.

     And contrary to Nicaea's limp statement on the Holy Spirit, which was not even a sentence, but a five-word phrase, "And in the Holy Spirit," Theodosius persuaded the bishops to correct the weak-kneed pronouncement on the Holy Spirit left over from Nicaea. The bishops at First Constantinople had purposely convened to eliminate the phrase and make a more definitive statement on the Holy Spirit: Just as Nicaea had corrected the Arian belief that Christ was a "lesser God" than the Father, so too the bishops at First Constantinople corrected and elaborated on the Nicene definition of the Holy Spirit, as follows:
[We define] the Holy Spirit as the Lord and life- giver, Who proceeds from the Father, Who with the Father and the Son is together worshiped and together glorified, Who spoke through the prophets...]. (Creed of the First Constantinopalian Council, 381 A.D.)
     Gone was the Nicene Creed's lonely, five-word phrase, "And the Holy Spirit," which was not actually understood as a firm definition of the Holy Spirit, or persuasive as establishing the Holy Spirit as one of the Three Persons in the Trinity. The bishops therefore greatly expanded and revised the Nicene Creed, as shown by the above quoted language, particularly to bring the Nicene Creed up to date with the recent developments in the theology of the Holy Spirit. However, Christians erroneously labeled the creed of 381 as the "Nicene Creed.," and still do so to this day. The Creed which serves as the "Profession of Faith" in Catholic liturgies today is actually the Creed of First Constantinople, and not the Nicene Creed. With the bishops' formal, official statement of the Trinity as the one-nature, three-person God of the universe, and now having accepted the Holy Spirit into the Trinity, the bishops trudged onto different concerns that are not related to the Trinity -- most importantly the Christological definition of Christ in his deity and his humaninty. Such matters are beyond the scope of this article.

     However, it is interesting to note that the bishops at the Council of Chalcedon in 451, 124 years after Nicaea, had evidently used First Constantinople's definitional success over the formula for the Trinity, to define the Christological Creed concerning the unified definition of Jesus' human and divine nature:
[We] all with one voice teach that it should be confessed that our Lord Jesus Christ is one and the same God, the Same perfect in Godhead, the Same perfect in manhood, truly God and truly man...begotten of the Father before ages as to his Godhead, and in the last days, the Same, for us and for our salvation, of Mary the Virgin, Theotokos as to his manhood. (Creed of Council of Chalcedon, 451 A.D.)
     Thus, finally, the Creed-making bishops had brought into the fullness of their formulations, Mary, the mother of Jesus. The bishops at Chalcedon were faced with the problem of Bishop Nestorius of Constantinople, condemning his flock for speaking of Mary as "Mother of God," (in Greek,"Theotokos," which literally means "God-Bearer.") However the Christians in Nestorius'diocese had been speaking of Mary for years as the Mother of God and rebelled at Nestorius' personal whim and threw him out of his office and position. He became something of a festering sore for bishops involved in thorny debates in councils over the Trinity, and they wanted nothing to do with Nestorius.

     Eventually, Emperor Theodosius banished Nestorius, and the bishops convened a synod at Ephesus in 431 A.D. simply to condemn Nestorius and send him to Egypt in exile. With Nestorius out of their hair, and passing no creed, the Council of Ephesus made it an orthodox doctrine to use "Mother of God" for all references to the Virgin mary in the Church. Here was a case of sensus fidei, or an understanding of the faith based entirely on the day-to-day beliefs of the "little people" in the pews. Vatican II reaffirmed sensus fidei as the basis for arriving at doctrines in special cases.

V. Summing Up St. Augustine's Input to the Era Under Review

     If you have found that "Trinitarian Monotheism" has a somewhat difficult and contradictory name, don't feel so bad. St. Augustine (354-430), the first Doctor of the Catholic Church par excellence, set in motion the Church's formal and most accurate theology of the Trinity as God, with a single nature but with three persons -- Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Augustine was not so easy to understand when he wrote about Trinitarian Monotheism. Further, the Eastern Orthodox Church shunned Augustine's Trinitarian teaching on Catholic theology because he wrote too late, i.e., namely after the First Council of Nicaea (325 A.D.). The doctrine giving rise to the two-Church Christian argument after Nicaea caused a deplorable conflict between Roman Catholic theologians and Eastern Orthodox theologians.

     We'll see why, long after St. Augustine's authentic teaching on the Trinity, the Church Councils became the battlefield for the Christian dispute over the Trinity. Augustine had said in the early 400's that the Trinity was not meant to be understood with the mind, but was something only capable of being believed as a mystery, and then only with one's surrender to God's grace for belief. Augustine's imprimatur became subordinated to the Creeds produced by a number of Church councils either contradicting Nicaean teaching on the Trinity or buttressing it. The Conciliar movement gave the two Churches more fodder for disagreement, with vitriolic bishops from each side of a resulting "Christian" Council metaphorically "slapping their opponents'faces" -- but with the turning of the opposite cheek to their foe engaged in only by a few saintly bishops.

     Yet, fundamentally, a doctrine did not became orthodox because a council said it was. Rather, a council was orthodox, and therefore binding, because the pre-existing doctrine it confessed was orthodox. St. Augustine's reputation as the fountain of orthodoxy thus trumped the doctrines of councils degrading him, although the unfortunate Augustine had the fault of being born and then converted ill-timed to the holding of councils. This was to lead to more confusing and bellicose "council-making." There were seven ecumenical councils first tackling the issue of the Holy Spirt as God, and second the concept of christology, which took up in great discussion the nature and personhood of Jesus.

VI. The Church's Memories of Its 500-year Growth Toward Maturity Much praise of and belief in the result at the first council of Nicaea in 325 lingered for centuries. Yet, the Creed of Nicaea had focused almost entirely on the consubstantiality between God the Father and God the Son. The Holy Spirit was left by the wayside at Nicaea. After confirming in their Creed the death of the Arian position holding that the Son was a "lesser God," finally settling that issue and prohibiting any further proclamation of Jesus as of less divinity than the Father, the bishops at the council, eager to get out of the place where such argumentation had taken place under the eyes of Emperor Constantine, proclaimed lamely on the Holy Spirit in the Nicene Creed simply the short non-sentence, "And in the Holy Spirit." Who knew what that meant? No one.

     Therefore, a second ecumenical council was convened to profess another creed, settling the problem caused by the bishops at Nicaea by virtually ignoring the Holy Spirit as a person of the Trinity. While at Catholic liturgies to this day it is thought that the recited creed during Mass emanates from Nicaea and is called the "Nicene Creed." Nothing could be further from the truth. The Nicene Creed dealt almost entirely with the relationship between the Son and Father, and, perhaps while they were sprinting out the door of the auditorium, the bishops shouted back, "And in the Holy Spirit." But at the Second Ecumenical Council, held in Constantinople in 381, under the promotion of a new Emperor, Theodosius (379-392), the bishops this time said they believed in the "Holy Spirit, the Lord and life-giver, Who proceeds from the Father, Who with the Father and the Son is together worshiped and together glorified, Who spoke through the prophets." The Holy Spirit had finally found a place in the Trinity and the Church.

--Tony Gilles

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Healed Through the Faith of Others

This passage from St. Mark is one of my favorite passages in Holy Scripture:

“And when he returned to Capernaum after some days, it was reported that he was at home. And many were gathered together, so that there was no longer room for them, not even about the door; and he was preaching the word to them. And they came, bringing to him a paralytic carried by four men. And when they could not get near him because of the crowd, they removed the roof above him; and when they had made an opening, they let down the pallet on which the paralytic lay. And when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, ‘My son, your sins are forgiven.’ Now some of the scribes were sitting there, questioning in their hearts, ‘Why does this man speak thus? It is blasphemy! Who can forgive sins but God alone?’ And immediately Jesus, perceiving in his spirit that they thus questioned within themselves, said to them, ‘Why do you question thus in your hearts? Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise, take up your pallet and walk’? But that you may know that the Son of man has authority on earth to forgive sins, he said to the paralytic—‘I say to you, rise, take up your pallet and go home.’ And he rose, and immediately took up the pallet and went out before them all; so that they were all amazed and glorified God, saying, ‘We never saw anything like this!’” [1]

First, one of the main things that is so magnificent about this passage is at the beginning in which the evangelist gets us to focus more on the friends of the paralytic than upon the paralytic himself with the usage of the pronoun, “they.”  As a result of the pronoun, he gives us the impression that Jesus is healing the paralytic on the grounds of the faith of the friends and not on the faith of the paralytic.  Now, one may correctly infer that the paralytic had faith also, but that would, in a sense make the passage awkward, for this reason:  Then it would give the impression that are times when one’s faith is not enough; it requires the faith of multiple people.  How many?  This would hinder our faith, not increase it.  With the evangelist telling us that Jesus healed the paralytic as a result of the faith of the friends, this invigorates us to pray for the salvation of others, especially of our children and are relatives.  When I was a Protestant, this is one of the passages that caused me to believe in infant baptism.

This is not a solitary passage in which we find Jesus healing someone on the faith of another, e.g. the centurion, the Syro-Phonician woman, the man with a demon-possessed son, etc.  St. James tells us, “The prayer of a righteous man has great power in its effects.”

Secondly, in our times of trials and temptations, times when, perhaps, our faith seems weak, or times of spiritual dryness, we can have confidence when we ask others to pray for us.  This is especially true when we pray that the Saints intercede for us.  We are allowing others, including the Saints, to enlarge their love of neighbor by having them pray for us.

Another part of the passage that projects itself into my mind is when our Lord refers to Himself as “Son of man.”  Jesus knew that, when He tells the paralytic, “Your sins are forgiven,” the scribes would think, “This is blasphemy; no one can forgive sins but God alone.”  Now, one may surmise that Jesus was telling them that He was the Son of God.”  Although it is possible that He might have been telling them that, because it is true that God alone can forgive sins, He did not say, “That you may know that the Son of God has authority on earth to forgive sins,” etc.; He said to them, “That you may know that the Son of man has authority on earth to forgive sins,” etc.

One has to wonder, “What was going through the minds of His audience when they heard those words?”  Did they equate “Son of man” with “Son of God”?  Actually, I think the majority of them probably perceived Jesus only as a great prophet.  They, probably, also were questioning in their minds why this prophet would say, “My son, your sins are forgiven.”  Not only regarding the audience of Jesus at the time, what about the people the evangelist was writing to at the time, and what about us today?  They knew, and we know, that Jesus is the Son of God and Son of man because He has two natures.  Therefore, is this superfluous, especially to us today, because we believe in the Creed?  No, it is not.

It is not superfluous because we know that the Catholic Church is the Body of Christ.  We know that the Catholic Church is the Kingdom of God.  Hence, when Jesus referred to Himself as “Son of man” in our passage, He is reminding us that He is giving authority to His Body, the Church, to forgive sins, through the Bishops, who delegate that authority to the priests.  He reiterates this through St. John when He says, “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”  This invigorates our confidence when we go to Confession that our sins are truly forgiven when the priest absolves us, for it truly Christ and not the priest who is forgiving our sins.

This passage, for those reasons, and more, give me much comfort.  This passage causes me to love Christ more because He keeps Himself three-dimensional for us through the Catholic Church.  We are three-dimensional beings, and He keeps Himself three-dimensional to increase our faith and our love for God and neighbor.  He keeps Himself “real” for us.  This also causes me to love the Catholic Church more.  If we love Jesus, we have to love His Body, the Catholic Church.  Because of the Mass (the prayers of others:  Jesus, Mary, Joseph, the Saints and angels, the Church Suffering, and the Church Militant), we are healed by the faith of others.
--Tommy Turner

[1] Catholic Biblical Association (Great Britain), The Holy Bible: Revised Standard Version, Catholic Edition, (New York: National Council of Churches of Christ in the USA, 1994), Mk 2:1–12.