Saturday, October 13, 2012

Her Immaculate Heart Will Triumph

Today is the 13th day of October, the day that Our Lady of Fatima made her final appearance to the humble shepherd children Lucia, Francisco, and Jacinta, the day that a reported 70,000 people witnessed the "Miracle of the Sun." At that time, 1917, the world was suffering horribly in the slaughter of so many millions of people in World War I and our Lady warned of even worse horrors and death in a war that was to follow. Nevertheless, with a call for prayer and penance, she promised that her Immaculate Heart would triumph in the end. This is a very important thing to keep in mind as we engage in the New Evangelization.

People have generally interpreted this warning of a greater war as referring to World War II, but since the "third secret" of Fatima was disclosed, we can understand the warning in even broader terms, that is, in long-term historical and eschatological terms, especially with respect to the Church and the faithful. Sister Lucia reports this third part of the vision, which had been revealed to her on July 13, 1917, in these words:
After the two parts which I have already explained, at the left of Our Lady and a little above, we saw an Angel with a flaming sword in his left hand; flashing, it gave out flames that looked as though they would set the world on fire; but they died out in contact with the splendour that Our Lady radiated towards him from her right hand: pointing to the earth with his right hand, the Angel cried out in a loud voice: ‘Penance, Penance, Penance!'

And we saw in an immense light that is God: ‘something similar to how people appear in a mirror when they pass in front of it' a Bishop dressed in White ‘we had the impression that it was the Holy Father'. Other Bishops, Priests, men and women Religious going up a steep mountain, at the top of which there was a big Cross of rough-hewn trunks as of a cork-tree with the bark; before reaching there the Holy Father passed through a big city half in ruins and half trembling with halting step, afflicted with pain and sorrow, he prayed for the souls of the corpses he met on his way; having reached the top of the mountain, on his knees at the foot of the big Cross he was killed by a group of soldiers who fired bullets and arrows at him, and in the same way there died one after another the other Bishops, Priests, men and women Religious, and various lay people of different ranks and positions.

Beneath the two arms of the Cross there were two Angels each with a crystal aspersorium in his hand, in which they gathered up the blood of the Martyrs and with it sprinkled the souls that were making their way to God.
Blessed Pope John Paul II was shot, yet saved from death, on May 13, 1981, the anniversary of the first apparition. He famously attributed his survival of the shooting to Our Lady of Fatima, saying that one hand fired the gun, but another one guided the bullet.

As with interpreting the warning of a greater war to mean World War II, people have generally interpreted John Paul II as being the bishop dressed in white who is shot. But again, we can understand it in a broader sense. "We would be mistaken to think that Fatima’s prophetic mission is complete," Pope Benedict said during a visit to Fatima on May 13, 2010. Rather, humanity will continue to endure great hardship and suffering, hence the urgent need of the Church to offer people hope and proclaim "Repent and believe the Good News" of Jesus Christ (Mk 1:15). The faithful of the Church especially will suffer hardships, persecutions, and even martyrdom in professing Christ, as promised by Jesus Himself and as made clear in the Book of Revelation.

Although the whole purpose of the New Evangelization is to try to find more effective ways to proclaim the Gospel and spread the faith, starting with ourselves, so that we might help the Lord in the work of salvation, converting repentent hearts to His Love and Truth, the fact is that the world is often resistant to the light of love and truth. We are often resistant to it ourselves. And many times the response to our proposal is not merely polite rejection, but persecution. So we ought not be discouraged if we are rebuffed, but instead expect that such things will happen, and we must avoid the temptation of looking for immediate "success" in large numbers.
If you belonged to the world, the world would love its own; but because you do not belong to the world, and I have chosen you out of the world, the world hates you. Remember the word I spoke to you, "No slave is greater than his master." If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. (Jn 15:19-20)

They will hand you over to persecution, and they will kill you. You will be hated by all nations because of my name. And then many will be led into sin; they will betray and hate one another. Many false prophets will arise and deceive many; and because of the increase of evildoing, the love of many will grow cold. But the one who perseveres to the end will be saved. (Mt 24:9-13)
We ought to expect persecution in response to the New Evangelization. Indeed, hardships are already imposed upon the faithful throughout the world because of that faith -- the 20th century saw more Christian martyrs than any century before it -- and here in the United States, we might not be facing death, but most certainly we are afflicted with persecution of economic, legal, and political natures.

Yet, "blessed are you when they insult you and persecute you and utter every kind of evil against you falsely because of [Jesus]." (Mt 5:11) We have hope, real hope, which makes it possible to even rejoice in persecution and suffering.
Let us now examine more closely the single images [of the vision in the third secret of Fatima]. The angel with the flaming sword on the left of the Mother of God recalls similar images in the Book of Revelation. This represents the threat of judgment which looms over the world. Today the prospect that the world might be reduced to ashes by a sea of fire no longer seems pure fantasy: man himself, with his inventions, has forged the flaming sword.

The vision then shows the power which stands opposed to the force of destruction — the splendour of the Mother of God and, stemming from this in a certain way, the summons to penance. In this way, the importance of human freedom is underlined: the future is not in fact unchangeably set, and the image which the children saw is in no way a film preview of a future in which nothing can be changed. Indeed, the whole point of the vision is to bring freedom onto the scene and to steer freedom in a positive direction. The purpose of the vision is not to show a film of an irrevocably fixed future. Its meaning is exactly the opposite: it is meant to mobilize the forces of change in the right direction. (Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, Theological Commentary on Fatima)
There is great hardship and suffering in the world. Yet, we do not despair because Jesus came to save us from death and destruction. Evil and suffering, while common throughout human history, will not have the last word. It is not set in stone that mankind will forever suffer. We have hope. Not the "hope" of wishes and grasping at straws, but of trustworthy confidence and assured expectation of salvation. (Spe Salvi)

We are asked to help Jesus in the work of salvation, which means enduring the Passion, it means embracing the Cross, but it is through the Passion and the Cross that suffering and death are transformed to joy and eternal life. In walking the way of the Cross with Him, taking upon ourselves what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ and suffering with Him (Col 1:24), we are comforted by being accompanied by our Blessed Mother, just as she accompanied her Son in sorrow. Mary points to her Son, exhorting people to pray and repent, to "do whatever He tells you" so that your hardship might be turned to joy. (Jn 2:5)
Let us now consider the individual images which follow in the text of the "secret." The place of the action is described in three symbols: a steep mountain, a great city reduced to ruins and finally a large rough-hewn cross. The mountain and city symbolize the arena of human history: history as an arduous ascent to the summit, history as the arena of human creativity and social harmony, but at the same time a place of destruction, where man actually destroys the fruits of his own work. The city can be the place of communion and progress, but also of danger and the most extreme menace. On the mountain stands the cross—the goal and guide of history. The cross transforms destruction into salvation; it stands as a sign of history's misery but also as a promise for history.

At this point human persons appear: the Bishop dressed in white ("we had the impression that it was the Holy Father" [Sister Lucia later said]), other Bishops, priests, men and women Religious, and men and women of different ranks and social positions. The Pope seems to precede the others, trembling and suffering because of all the horrors around him. Not only do the houses of the city lie half in ruins, but he makes his way among the corpses of the dead. The Church's path is thus described as a Via Crucis, as a journey through a time of violence, destruction and persecution. The history of an entire century can be seen represented in this image. Just as the places of the earth are synthetically described in the two images of the mountain and the city, and are directed towards the cross, so too time is presented in a compressed way. In the vision we can recognize the last century as a century of martyrs, a century of suffering and persecution for the Church, a century of World Wars and the many local wars which filled the last fifty years and have inflicted unprecedented forms of cruelty. In the “mirror” of this vision we see passing before us the witnesses of the faith decade by decade. . . .

In the vision, the Pope too is killed along with the martyrs. When, after the attempted assassination on 13 May 1981, the Holy Father [Pope John Paul] had the text of the third part of the "secret" brought to him, was it not inevitable that he should see in it his own fate? He had been very close to death, and he himself explained his survival in the following words: "... it was a mother's hand that guided the bullet's path and in his throes the Pope halted at the threshold of death" (13 May 1994). That here "a mother's hand" had deflected the fateful bullet only shows once more that there is no immutable destiny, that faith and prayer are forces which can influence history and that in the end prayer is more powerful than bullets and faith more powerful than armies.

The concluding part of the "secret" uses images which Lucia may have seen in devotional books and which draw their inspiration from long-standing intuitions of faith. It is a consoling vision, which seeks to open a history of blood and tears to the healing power of God. Beneath the arms of the cross, angels gather up the blood of the martyrs, and with it they give life to the souls making their way to God. Here, the blood of Christ and the blood of the martyrs are considered as one: the blood of the martyrs runs down from the arms of the cross. . . .

Therefore, the vision of the third part of the "secret," so distressing at first, concludes with an image of hope: no suffering is in vain, and it is a suffering Church, a Church of martyrs, which becomes a sign-post for man in his search for God. (Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, Theological Commentary on Fatima)
As in Revelation, the ultimate message of Fatima is this: Humanity will necessarily suffer great hardship in this world, but God has not abandoned us.

The Lady in white, clothed as with the sun, asks us to help her Son in the work of salvation, including prayer, penance, and redemptive suffering, not merely for ourselves, but for the salvation of others, for their conversion away from sin to embracing holiness. The faithful will suffer and even be hated and persecuted for this, but all this is beatitude (Mt. 5:3-10). We can expect a degree of suffering and persecution if we dare to engage with the world in the New Evangelization. Yet, in the end, notwithstanding all of the great evils that are thrust upon us, her Immaculate Heart will triumph.

The Immaculate Mother of God walks with us and with her pure Virgin heart, a heart full of the love and grace of God, she guides us to her Son. Our Lady of Fatima is Our Lady of hope, with her we have the comfort and assurance that good will prevail, that Love and Truth will triumph.
The Heart open to God, purified by contemplation of God, is stronger than guns and weapons of every kind. The fiat of Mary, the word of her heart, has changed the history of the world, because it brought the Saviour into the world—because, thanks to her Yes, God could become man in our world and remains so for all time.

The Evil One has power in this world, as we see and experience continually; he has power because our freedom continually lets itself be led away from God. But since God himself took a human heart and has thus steered human freedom towards what is good, the freedom to choose evil no longer has the last word. From that time forth, the word that prevails is this: "In the world you will have tribulation, but take heart; I have overcome the world" (Jn 16:33). The message of Fatima invites us to trust in this promise. (Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, Theological Commentary on Fatima)

The 13th Day (2009) a film by Ian and Dominic Higgins
In a world torn apart by persecution, war and oppression, 3 children were chosen to offer a message of hope to the world. Based on the memoirs of the oldest Seer, Lucia Santos, and many thousands of independent eye-witness accounts, The 13th Day dramatizes the TRUE story of three young shepherds who experienced six interactive apparitions with a “Lady from Heaven” between May and October 1917, which culminated into the final prophesized Miracle. . . . Stylistically beautiful and technically innovative, writer-directors Ian & Dominic Higgins use state-of-the-art digital effects to create stunning images of the visions and the final miracle that have never before been fully realized on screen. Shot on location in Portugal and in the UK, 13th Day Films worked with a cast of over 250 to re-create the scenes of the 70,000 strong crowds, and 3 Portuguese children play the iconic roles of the Seers. Witness the greatest miracle of the 20th Century, and experience the incredible, emotionally-charged and often harrowing world of three young children whose choice to remain loyal to their beliefs, even in the face of death, would inspire thousands.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Credo Domine, adauge nobis fidem!

Credo Domine, adauge nobis fidem!
(I believe, Lord, increase our faith)
Official Hymn for the Year of Faith
Pilgrims we, full of expectation,
searching in the darkness.
Lord, you come, revealing the Father,
You for us are Son of the Most High.
Credo Domine, credo!
With the saints who are walking with us,
O Lord, we ask:
Adauge, adauge nobis fidem!
Credo Domine, adauge nobis fidem!

Monday, October 8, 2012

Cardinal Wuerl: “The New Evangelization is the opportunity for everyone to speak on their love of Christ, to speak the message to everyone around them and to invite them back to the experience of Christ and His Church.”

One of the tasks of the Synod of Bishops is to determine exactly what is meant by "the New Evangelization." As noted in the posts below, the term has been used in slightly different ways through the years, but much of that difficulty, if there is a difficulty, is because so many of the various elements of the transmission of the faith are interrelated -- given the mission of the Church, to re-evangelize ourselves is necessarily to prepare us to evangelize to others, each having a greater or lesser degree of openness to the Good News. Cardinal Wuerl spoke on this preliminary question during his address at the opening session of the Synod and, thanks to the diligent efforts of Rocco Palmo, we have early access to his remarks.

Report of Donald Cardinal Wuerl
Relator General for the Synod on the New Evangelization
Opening Session, 8 October 2012
It is a great honor for me to serve as the Relator General at this Synod and I am grateful to our Holy Father for this privilege. As we begin our deliberations on the New Evangelization for the Transmission of the Christian Faith, I want to touch on a number of points that I hope will help focus our discussion and provide some themes for reflection. . . .

In my observations, I include the following points:
(1) What or Who it is we proclaim – the Word of God;
(2) recent resources to help us in our task;
(3) particular circumstances of our day that render this Synod necessary;
(4) elements of the New Evangelization;
(5) some theological principles for the New Evangelization;
(6) qualities of the new evangelizers; and finally,
(7) charisms of the Church today to assist in the task of the New Evangelization.

Pope Benedict Addresses the First Session of the Synod on the New Evangelization

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Opening Mass of the Synod of Bishops on The New Evangelization

Homily of His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI
Opening Mass of the Synod of Bishops
7 October 2012
With this solemn concelebration we open the thirteenth Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops on the theme The New Evangelization for the Transmission of the Christian Faith. This theme reflects a programmatic direction for the life of the Church, its members, families, its communities and institutions. And this outline is reinforced by the fact that it coincides with the beginning of the Year of Faith, starting on 11 October, on the fiftieth anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council. . . .

The readings for this Sunday’s Liturgy of the Word propose to us two principal points of reflection: the first on matrimony, which I will touch shortly; and the second on Jesus Christ, which I will discuss now. We do not have time to comment upon the passage from the Letter to the Hebrews but, at the beginning of this Synodal Assembly, we ought to welcome the invitation to fix our gaze upon the Lord Jesus, “crowned with glory and honour, because of the suffering of death (2:9). The word of God places us before the glorious One who was crucified, so that our whole lives, and in particular the commitment of this Synodal session, will take place in the sight of him and in the light of his mystery. In every time and place, evangelization always has as its starting and finishing points Jesus Christ, the Son of God (cf. Mk 1:1); and the Crucifix is the supremely distinctive sign of him who announces the Gospel: a sign of love and peace, a call to conversion and reconciliation. My dear Brother Bishops, starting with ourselves, let us fix our gaze upon him and let us be purified by his grace.

I would now like briefly to examine the new evangelization, and its relation to ordinary evangelization and the mission ad Gentes. The Church exists to evangelize. Faithful to the Lord Jesus Christ’s command, his disciples went out to the whole world to announce the Good News, spreading Christian communities everywhere. With time, these became well-organized churches with many faithful. At various times in history, divine providence has given birth to a renewed dynamism in Church’s evangelizing activity. We need only think of the evangelization of the Anglo-Saxon peoples or the Slavs, or the transmission of the faith on the continent of America, or the missionary undertakings among the peoples of Africa, Asia and Oceania.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Donald Cardinal Wuerl on the "Tsunami of Secularism" and the New Evangelization

Donald Cardinal Wuerl, Archbishop of Washington, has been appointed to the very important position of Relator General for the upcoming Synod of Bishops on The New Evangelization for the Transmission of the Christian Faith. He explains, in the video above, what a synod is generally, and what the Church hopes to accomplish in the upcoming synod on the New Evangelization.

What is a relator? John Allen presents this useful summary:
In every synod, the key figure is the relator, or general secretary, who organizes the work, supervises preparation of all the documents, and delivers two key reports before and after the synod deliberations. The first one sets the tone, while the second sums everything up.

It's a much-watched job, in part because the last two popes in a row first came to prominence as a synod relator. Cardinal Karol Wojtyla of Poland held the job for the 1974 synod on evangelization, and Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger of Germany did so for the 1980 synod on the family, a performance that sealed John Paul II's determination to bring him to Rome as his doctrinal czar.

This time around, the relator is Wuerl, 72, himself frequently mentioned as a candidate for a senior Vatican job. In 2010, Wuerl published a pastoral letter on the new evangelization said to have left a very positive impression on Benedict XVI.

Beyond Salvation: Becoming One with the Lord

I know we have spoken at length about this (although John Paul II took over 100 general audience talks and multiple documents to fully set out the teaching, which George Weigel famously called "a kind of theological time bomb set to go off with dramatic consequences, sometime in the third millennium of the Church," that is, as part of the New Evangelization (Witness to Hope, p. 343)), but before concluding our consideration of the kinds of relationship we ought to have with Jesus, certain questions arise with respect to this notion of a "spousal relationship" with the Lord:

Why? What's the purpose in that? And isn't the idea more than a bit disrespectful and arrogant, if not blasphemous, seeking to drag the Almighty God down to our low level rather than our getting on our knees and bowing down in worship as we should, not even daring to raise our eyes to look upon His majesty?

Let me answer these questions with another question: Why did God become man?

To save us, of course, to reconcile us to God following the Original Sin of Adam and Eve. The name Jesus (Joshua or Yeshua in Hebrew) means "God saves." Jesus is our Savior, but redemption and salvation are not the only reasons for God becoming man.

The Lord is also Emmanuel, God with us. It seems that He became man also because He loves us and wanted to join us to Him more fully for its own sake. In other words, we are all called to a spousal-type of relationship with the Lord. Each of us is called to be joined with the Bridegroom Emmanuel. This is not to drag God down into the gutter with us, but to raise us up out of the muck to the sanctity which He always intended for us.

Pope Benedict speaks of the Annunciation as a marriage proposal --
This scene is perhaps the pivotal moment in the history of God’s relationship with His people. During the Old Testament, God revealed Himself partially, gradually, as we all do in our personal relationships. It took time for the chosen people to develop their relationship with God. The Covenant with Israel was like a period of courtship, a long engagement. Then came the definitive moment, the moment of marriage, the establishment of a new and everlasting covenant. As Mary stood before the Lord, she represented the whole of humanity. In the angel’s message, it was as if God made a marriage proposal to the human race. And in our name, Mary said, Yes. (Angelus, World Youth Day 2008, 20 July 2008)
There is much to consider in the Pope's words here -- that Jesus wanted to "marry" humanity. God wanted to establish, not merely a parental relationship with us, but a spousal relationship as well, the fullness of love in a communion of persons that is by its nature both unitive and fruitful. In love, He wanted to join fully with humanity, not merely spiritually, which is only partially, but in the fullness of our being, spirit and body, two become one, wholly apart from the issue of salvation. (See also CCC 456 et seq.)

We have need of a savior, of course, because of mankind rejecting God. Early on, Adam and Eve, not satisfied with being mere creatures, ate the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge because they wanted to be like gods themselves. It was this Original Sin that ushered in death -- real death, not merely death of the physical body, but eternal death -- because the very nature of sin is to separate us from God, who is Life itself. Consequently, because He loves us, God sent us His only Son, Jesus Christ, who is the salvation of the world.

The irony of Adam and Eve sinning by wanting to be like gods (which ultimately is the root of every sin that we commit) is that it didn't have to be that way. It did not have to be a sin. The irony is that God Himself wants us to be like gods! (CCC 460)

As St. Athanasius wrote, "The Son of God became man so that we might become God." (De Incarnatione Verbi Dei 54, 3: PG 25, 192B) Likewise, St. Thomas Aquinas wrote, "The only-begotten Son of God, wanting to make us sharers in his divinity, assumed our nature, so that He, made man, might make men gods." (Opusc. 57, 1-4)

The problem is that we (mankind) wanted and want to be gods on our own terms. We want to be gods by our own will, by our own doing. We want our divinity to be self-actualized, without the involvement of He who is already God.

God does want us to be "gods," but He wants us to be gods on His terms, He wants us to be gods by His doing. Not because He is a "jealous God" who can't bear to have competition, but because He is Truth. He is the One and only God, thus, only He can make us like "gods."

For us to be gods on our own, by our own doing (or for us to be our own saviors, to attain salvation all by our own merits) would not be consistent with truth, it would be a lie, it would be contrary to the very idea of God. No, to be true, man can become gods only by the action of the God who is Truth.

We can become gods only by God joining us to Himself, by Him taking us unto Himself in the entirety of our being -- our soul joined to His Spirit, our body joined to His Body -- so that we are in Him and He is in us to such a degree that we truly are a loving communion of persons, no longer separate and apart, but two become one, not merely in a symbolic or poetic sense, but in a very real, authentic and true sense. In other words, since the word "marry" means to combine or join two things together so as to become one, we can become gods only by being so in and through Him, by God "marrying" us to Himself, by our having a "spousal" relationship with the Lord.

This is the eschatological destiny of the faithful. (Rev 19:7-9, 21; Eph 5:31-32) "Heaven is the blessed community of all who are perfectly incorporated into Christ." (CCC 1026) Beyond salvation is sanctification, being made pure and holy so that we might be perfectly incorporated into the Lord, joined as one with He who is pure and holy Love and Truth and Life.

"Be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect," Jesus said. Only God is perfect, but by joining fully in communion with Him, in allowing ourselves to be truly sanctified by the Spirit of Sanctification, one with Him, we can be made perfect as commanded by Jesus. The Lord does not demand the impossible of us, He makes the "impossible" possible. He makes us imperfect humans perfect -- the Bridegroom and only the Bridegroom, by joining us to Him, makes us like gods.

This is the ultimate eternal relationship with the Lord that we are called to, a relationship whereby
"totality embraces us and we embrace totality . . . 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." (Spe Salvi 12)

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Having a Parent-Child Relationship with God

Below we discuss Having a Spousal Relationship with Christ, borrowing heavily from Blessed Pope John Paul II's theology of the body. All of us -- men and women, those with a vocation to human married life, both those who have already married and those single people who have not yet married, those with a vocation to the religious life, and even those persons with a same sex attraction -- are called to have a spousal-type of love and relationship with the Lord, especially in the eschatological destiny of the faithful.

But what are some of the other relationships that we can have or should have with the Lord?

In addition to our having a personal spousal relationship with the Lord, individually and in communion with the whole Church as the Bride, since the other faithful have a spousal relationship with Him, we are also often described as wedding guests, where we rejoice at the nuptial union of the Lamb and His Bride.

One of the most obvious forms of relationship, of course, is the parent-child relationship, the relationship that Jesus invites us to have with God by calling Him "Father." Indeed, in the original Aramaic, Jesus uses the more affectionate and intimate word used by children of "Abba". Related to this very intimate paternal relationship is the more formal relationship of Creator and creature, the Omnipotent and the limited, dependent, and lowly. We are His children, His creation.

However, Jesus is the Son of God. So, if He is the Son and we are also children of God, then that would indicate a fraternal relationship with the Lord, one of brother-brother and brother-sister. Beyond the intimacy of a familial relationship, there is also the close relationship of friends, with Jesus famously teaching that there is no greater love than to lay down one's life for a friend. (Jn 15:13-15)

Then there are the other relationships described in scripture, such as master-servant, with we faithful being workers in the vineyard of the Lord. When He was not called "master," by the Apostles and other disciples, Jesus was often called "Rabbi," demonstrating a teacher-student relationship. At times, Jesus goes beyond mere teaching and instead He takes on the character of teaching with authority, that is, acting as lawgiver. This would also be related to the relationship of Judge and accused, whereby we will stand before Jesus in judgment of our lives, as well as Jesus being Christ the King, with us as His faithful subjects.

One of the obligations of a good sovereign king, of course, is the protection of the kingdom and the people, so we see also the relationship of Good Shepherd and His sheep. If we stray from the flock and become lost, then Jesus the Shepherd will come and find us. Related to His taking care of the sheep is the physician-patient relationship, whereby Jesus not only performed many medical healings during His ministry, but He seeks to heal us as well from our injuries and diseases of sin and suffering. As the Bread of Life and the Eternal Living Water (Jn 6:35 and 4:10-14), he sustains us who are hungry and thirsty.

So which of these is the relationship that we ought to have with Jesus? The right answer is all of them. Our relationship with Jesus Christ ought to encompass all good and right kinds of relationship. We can see this illustrated in our postures at Mass. At times, we stand as a sign of respect in our prayers. During the period of instruction, when listening to the scriptures and the homily, we sit (standing, of course, in respect for the Gospel). While Jesus is always present in Spirit, when He enters the Mass in the Blessed Sacrament, His Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity, it is right and proper that we should kneel. Each of these postures indicate the various types of relationship with Him, some of them rather close, some of them maintaining a respectful distance.

However, the Mass culminates with what kind of posture? Our receiving His Body into our own. A more intimate encounter you cannot describe, to have one person literally inside another. This is the kind of intimate touching that you see in only two relationships -- the spousal and the maternal.

Which brings us to the one other relationship that I would like to focus on in particular, and that is the parental-child relationship. By this I am not referring to the Father-children of God relationship, but the relationship that Mary, the Virgin Mother of God, has with the Lord.

If you were to picture Jesus appearing before you right now, what would He look like? Most people who answer that question say that He would be rather muscular, with dark hair and a beard, some might say He looks suspiciously like Jim Caviezel. But most everyone always describes a fully-grown adult Jesus. Throughout the year, when we think of Christ, we invariably think of Him during His ministry, Passion, Resurrection, or reigning up there in heaven. A couple of times during Advent and Christmastime, we speak of "baby Jesus," but there is often still a disconnect -- we think that the "real" Jesus is the adult whose words we know.

But there is great value in reflecting upon Jesus the baby. Just as there is great value in reflecting upon Jesus as the God/Man, fully God, yet fully a man, there is also great value in reflecting upon Jesus as the God/Baby, fully God, yet fully a tiny, defenseless, needy baby.

And there is value in a pregnant woman looking down to see the baby in her own womb, or a man looking upon the womb of his wife, putting themselves in the places of Mary and Joseph, embracing the not-yet-born Jesus with their hands. And, later, holding the newborn Jesus in their loving arms.

Especially for the New Evangelization, this is the Jesus we should reflect upon, in addition to reflecting upon the usual waiting for the (adult) bridegroom/master/king to arrive. As all-powerful as the Creator of the Universe is, Jesus the God/Baby teaches us that it is part of His plan to need our help, that He is relying on us to help Him, to feed Him, to clothe Him, to protect Him, to love Him. This is implicit in the whole idea of the Church - whose mission is to help Him - but the Baby Jesus places it in stark, tangible form. The Almighty makes Himself a baby so that we might welcome Him and love Him, and thereby love others.

Likewise, it is appropriate and helpful to consider the Baby Jesus in the context of our new life in the Faith by virtue of the Holy Spirit in the Sacrament of Confirmation, by which we receive the many graces we will need to engage in this work of evangelization. Whereas Baptism is about personal redemption and initiation into the Church, Confirmation is about sanctification and joining in the Church's mission of being a witness for Christ, that is, loving Him and helping Him. Having received the fullness of the Holy Spirit in Confirmation, we are now better prepared to take the precious baby into our arms, to love and nurture Him and, like the shepherds and magi who will appear later, to make a gift to Him of ourselves.

And so, where do we see Christ at this moment? Yes, He is the King, but He is also the Baby. Right now, He is the baby in the womb, the God who is literally drawing on the human flesh and life of Mary for His own (human) survival. The baby who needs her, the baby who needs us.

As with the spousal relationship, which we are invited to now, but looks forward to our eschatological destiny in the New Jerusalem, we ought to focus our attention in the New Evangelization on a child-parent relationship, where we become like Mary and Joseph, allowing ourselves to be filled with the Holy Spirit so as to become pregnant with Jesus in the wombs of our hearts, and to thereafter carry Him in our arms wherever we go, so that others might come to know Him when we visit them, as so that they might hear Him speak to them, as Elizabeth and John the Baptist "heard" Jesus "speaking" from the womb of Mary at the Visitation.

God Comes to Us as a Baby in Need of Our Help
Homily of Pope Benedict XVI
Midnight Mass, Christmas 2006
“Be not afraid, for behold, I proclaim to you glad tidings of great joy that will be for all the people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” (Lk 2:10-11)

Nothing miraculous, nothing extraordinary, nothing magnificent is given to the shepherds as a sign. All they will see is a child wrapped in swaddling clothes, one who, like all children, needs a mother’s care; a child born in a stable, who therefore lies not in a cradle but in a manger. God’s sign is the baby in need of help and in poverty. . . .

God’s sign is simplicity. God’s sign is the baby. God’s sign is that He makes Himself small for us. This is how He reigns. He does not come with power and outward splendor. He comes as a baby, defenseless and in need of our help. He does not want to overwhelm us with His strength. He takes away our fear of His greatness. He asks for our love: so He makes Himself a child. He wants nothing other from us than our love, through which we spontaneously learn to enter into His feelings, His thoughts and His will – we learn to live with Him and to practice with Him that humility of renunciation that belongs to the very essence of love. God made Himself small so that we could understand Him, welcome Him, and love Him. . . .

"God made His Word short, He abbreviated it" (Is 10:23; Rom 9:28). The Fathers of the early Church interpreted this in two ways. The Son Himself is the Word, the Logos; the eternal Word became small – small enough to fit into a manger. He became a child, so that the Word could be grasped by us. In this way God teaches us to love the little ones. In this way He teaches us to love the weak. . . .

And so we come to the second meaning . . . The Word which God speaks to us in Sacred Scripture had become long in the course of the centuries. It became long and complex, not just for the simple and unlettered, but even more so for those versed in Sacred Scripture . . . Jesus "abbreviated" the Word – He showed us once more its deeper simplicity and unity. Everything taught by the Law and the Prophets is summed up, He says, in the command: "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind… You shall love your neighbor as yourself" (Mt 22:37-40). This is everything – the whole faith is contained in this one act of love which embraces God and humanity. . .

God is no longer distant. He is no longer unknown. He is no longer beyond the reach of our heart. He has become a child for us, and in so doing He has dispelled all doubt. He has become our neighbor, restoring in this way the image of man, whom we often find so hard to love. For us, God has become a gift. He has given Himself. He has entered time for us. He who is the Eternal One, above time, He has assumed our time and raised it to himself on high. . . .

And so, finally, we find yet a third meaning in the saying that the Word became "brief" and "small". . . . Man, in order to live, needs bread, the fruit of the earth and of his labor. But he does not live by bread alone. He needs nourishment for his soul: he needs meaning that can fill his life. Thus, for the Fathers, the manger of the animals became the symbol of the altar, on which lies the Bread which is Christ Himself: the true food for our hearts. Once again we see how He became small: in the humble appearance of the host, in a small piece of bread, He gives us Himself.

Fr. Barron on Seven Great Qualities of a New Evangelist

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Having a Spousal Relationship with Christ

In the post below on St. Thérèse and marriage and family, we show that Blessed Pope John Paul II, in his theology of the body, which was discussed in a series of Wednesday Audiences, as well as various encyclicals, apostolic letters, and homilies, advanced the remarkable insight of "marriage as primordial sacrament." That is, in the outward visible sign of human marriage between man and woman, we see the primary model for the Triune God's plan for humanity.

The spousal meaning revealed in the human body by God, and the spousal imagery used in His divine pedagogy throughout Salvation History as recorded in scripture, shows that we are called, not to a mere generic kind of love of God, but most especially to have a spousal kind of love for Him, a complete gift of self in a dynamic loving communion of persons in one Body. The name Jesus (Joshua or Yeshua in Hebrew) means "God saves." Jesus is our Savior, but redemption and salvation are not the only reasons for God becoming man. The Lord is also Emmanuel, God with us. It seems that He because man also because He loves us and wanted to join us to Him more fully for its own sake. We are all called to this spousal-type of relationship with the Lord. Each of us is called to be a "bride" of the Bridegroom.

We are all called, each and every one of us?? I can understand how a woman might see herself as called to be a bride of Christ, I can even understand how a cloistered virgin nun, such as St. Thérèse, might see herself as being a bride, but men too? Isn't that confusing things a bit too much, isn't this a bit like the secular world out there which denies any sexual differences in favor of an androgynous society, not to mention sounding a bit like "same-sex marriage"? Isn't this taking the spousal analogy a bridge too far?

Yes, it cannot be denied that the secular world, with its dictatorship of relativism, has been quite successful in taking the truth of the human person and twisting and distorting that truth for various ideological purposes. So we must readily recognize that understanding the spousal analogy is now a bit more challenging. But included in this concept of "bride" are men as well, not just women. Perhaps we can get beyond our discomfort if we focus first on just exactly what a spousal love, or a spousal-type of love if you prefer, entails -- a full and complete gift of self, a fullness and purity of love that is so full and so pure that two are able to become one, that we are able to become one in and with God Himself.

Apostolic Letter Mulieris Dignitatem (1998)
Blessed Pope John Paul II
23. In [the Letter to the Ephesians,] the author expresses the truth about the Church as the bride of Christ, and also indicates how this truth is rooted in the biblical reality of the creation of the human being as male and female. Created in the image and likeness of God as a "unity of the two", both have been called to a spousal love. . . .

Since the human being - man and woman - has been created in God's image and likeness, God can speak about himself through the lips of the Prophet using language which is essentially human. In the text of Isaiah quoted above [Is 54:4-8, 10], the expression of God's love is "human", but the love itself is divine. Since it is God's love, its spousal character is properly divine, even though it is expressed by the analogy of a man's love for a woman. . . .

25. In the Letter to the Ephesians we encounter a second dimension of the [spousal] analogy which, taken as a whole, serves to reveal the "great mystery". This is a symbolic dimension. If God's love for the human person, for the Chosen People of Israel, is presented by the Prophets as the love of the bridegroom for the bride, such an analogy expresses the "spousal" quality and the divine and non-human character of God's love: "For your Maker is your husband ... the God of the whole earth he is called" (Is 54:5). The same can also be said of the spousal love of Christ the Redeemer: "For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son" (Jn 3:16). It is a matter, therefore, of God's love expressed by means of the Redemption accomplished by Christ. According to Saint Paul's Letter, this love is "like" the spousal love of human spouses, but naturally it is not "the same". For the analogy implies a likeness, while at the same time leaving ample room for non-likeness. . . .

Christ has entered this history and remains in it as the Bridegroom who "has given himself". "To give" means "to become a sincere gift" in the most complete and radical way: "Greater love has no man than this" (Jn 15:13). According to this conception, all human beings - both women and men - are called through the Church, to be the "Bride" of Christ, the Redeemer of the world. In this way "being the bride", and thus the "feminine" element, becomes a symbol of all that is "human," according to the words of Paul: "There is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus" (Gal 3:28).

From a linguistic viewpoint we can say that the analogy of spousal love found in the Letter to the Ephesians links what is "masculine" to what is "feminine", since, as members of the Church, men too are included in the concept of "Bride". . . . In the sphere of what is "human" - of what is humanly personal - "masculinity" and "femininity" are distinct, yet at the same time they complete and explain each other. This is also present in the great analogy of the "Bride" in the Letter to the Ephesians. In the Church every human being - male and female - is the "Bride", in that he or she accepts the gift of the love of Christ the Redeemer, and seeks to respond to it with the gift of his or her own person.

Christ is the Bridegroom. This expresses the truth about the love of God who "first loved us" (cf. 1 Jn 4:19) and who, with the gift generated by this spousal love for man, has exceeded all human expectations: "He loved them to the end" (Jn 13:1). . . . At the same time Christ emphasized the originality which distinguishes women from men, all the richness lavished upon women in the mystery of creation. Christ's attitude towards women serves as a model of what the Letter to the Ephesians expresses with the concept of "bridegroom". Precisely because Christ's divine love is the love of a Bridegroom, it is the model and pattern of all human love, men's love in particular. . . .

27. In the context of the "great mystery" of Christ and of the Church, all are called to respond - as a bride - with the gift of their lives to the inexpressible gift of the love of Christ, who alone, as the Redeemer of the world, is the Church's Bridegroom.
For a man to be a "bride" is not meant to emasculate him or to detract from his manhood, but to see that manhood in the proper light of placing himself in the position of servant. Far from holding themselves to be superior to women, men are called to raise themselves up to the dignity and "genius" of woman in their thoughts and actions of love (and, conversely, women are likewise called to recognize and live up to their own inherent dignity and genius as intended by God). Men, in addition to women, are called to give themselves to Christ "as a bride," not only in order to become one with the Bridegroom, but because it is from the "bride" that new life is born. Men too are called to become like the Blessed Virgin Mary, allowing themselves to become "pregnant" with Jesus in the "wombs" of their hearts so that they take Him with them in all their encounters with others. Filled with His Spirit, men too must help produce for Him new children of God through the Church's mission of witness and evangelization.

If you still do not like the term "spousal," if Blessed John Paul's explanation above isn't satisfactory, since he notes that it is a term of analogy and imagery, perhaps you would prefer to speak of having a Trinitarian-type of love, that we love Him as He Himself loves? God is Love and God is Truth. He is, by His nature, a relationship in loving communion of three persons in one divine being, the Father loves the Son and the Son loves the Father and this Love which proceeds from the Father and the Son is Himself the person of the Holy Spirit, a Trinity of three in one. And man -- male and female -- is made in the likeness and image of this divine Trinity. We are made to love as the Triune God loves within His being. This is what is meant by "spousal-type of love."
7. The fact that man "created as man and woman" is the image of God means not only that each of them individually is like God, as a rational and free being. It also means that man and woman, created as a "unity of the two" in their common humanity, are called to live in a communion of love, and in this way to mirror in the world the communion of love that is in God, through which the Three Persons love each other in the intimate mystery of the one divine life. The Father, Son and Holy Spirit, one God through the unity of the divinity, exist as persons through the inscrutable divine relationship. Only in this way can we understand the truth that God in himself is love (cf. 1 Jn 4:16). . . .

Being a person means striving towards self-realization (the Council text speaks of self-discovery [Gaudium et Spes 24]), which can only be achieved "through a sincere gift of self". The model for this interpretation of the person is God himself as Trinity, as a communion of Persons. To say that man is created in the image and likeness of God means that man is called to exist "for" others, to become a gift.

This applies to every human being, whether woman or man, who live it out in accordance with the special qualities proper to each. . . .

29. The passage from the Letter to the Ephesians already quoted (5:21-33), in which the relationship between Christ and the Church is presented as the link between the Bridegroom and the Bride, also makes reference to the institution of marriage as recorded in the Book of Genesis (cf. 2:24). This passage connects the truth about marriage as a primordial sacrament with the creation of man and woman in the image and likeness of God (cf. Gen 1:27; 5:1). The significant comparison in the Letter to the Ephesians gives perfect clarity to what is decisive for the dignity of women both in the eyes of God - the Creator and Redeemer - and in the eyes of human beings - men and women. In God's eternal plan, woman is the one in whom the order of love in the created world of persons takes first root. The order of love belongs to the intimate life of God himself, the life of the Trinity. In the intimate life of God, the Holy Spirit is the personal hypostasis of love. Through the Spirit, Uncreated Gift, love becomes a gift for created persons. Love, which is of God, communicates itself to creatures: "God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us" (Rom 5:5). (Mulieris Dignitatem)
Understood in this Trinitarian way, any objection to the idea of a man having a spousal love of God should disappear. It means that that purity of love that is the longing of a husband to be in the presence of his wife, it means the fullness of love that is a complete gift of self, even to the point of laying down his life. This is the pure fullness of love that a man should have for the Lord, a love that is so pure and so full that it is both unitive, it creates communion with Him, two become one, and it is dynamic and fruitful -- from the fullness of such love with the One who makes all things new, new life bursts forth.

See also, Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on the collaboration of men and women in the Church and in the world, Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, Prefect)

Monday, October 1, 2012

St. Thérèse and Our Relationship with the Lord

In the discussion following the first episode of Fr. Barron's Catholicism, where we noted that Christianity is primarily about establishing a relationship with Jesus Christ, and not merely adopting His ideas, we asked what type of relationship (or relationships) is that supposed to be? There are many types of relationships, many models to follow, but there is one in particular that we should consider, the one whereby we become one with the Lord, a fruitful loving communion of persons in one Body.

Today is the feast day of St. Thérèse of Lisieux, Thérèse of the Child Jesus and of the Holy Face. Last year, Cinema Catechism showed the film Miracle of St. Thérèse in connection with our exploration of the theme of Marriage and Family. This is a theme that is just as timely now, perhaps more so given that this is election season, with marriage and family continuing to be under assault.

Although she remained in the cloister, St. Thérèse is the patron saint of missionaries, so in the New Evangelization, it is right that we should look to her example in how to better understand and spread the Good News of Jesus Christ with respect to the truth of marriage and the human person.

Marriage and Family: St. Thérèse and the Vocation to Love
originally posted October 7, 2011

This season of Cinema Catechism, we are exploring the theme of Marriage and Family, and the film for October is Miracle of St. Thérèse.

St. Thérèse?? OK, I can see what Thérèse Martin has to do with the family part -- she came from a very devout and pious Catholic family, her parents are both beatified, her four surviving siblings all went on to become nuns. But Thérèse was a cloistered nun, what does she have to do with marriage?

Quite a lot actually. True, she did not enter into a earthly human marriage with a man, but she did have a spouse. She loved with a spousal love in a spousal relationship. And to understand that, we must first understand the idea of "marriage as primordial sacrament," in the words of Blessed Pope John Paul II.

A "sacrament" is an outward visible sign of a mystical nonvisible reality. And in the marriage of man and woman, we see the primary model for God's plan for humanity.

Indeed, there is a spousal meaning revealed in the human body, as shown both in natural observation of the human body and as explained in the opening chapters of Genesis. "Man," male and female, made in the image of the Trinity, is by "his" nature a social being, made for relationship. It is not good that man should be alone -- in solitude, he is missing an essential element, he is incomplete. Man is made for relationship; hence he (singular) is made both male and female (plural). Thus, it is not just any relationship man is made for, where they (plural) are male and female (plural), but he is specifically oriented toward a spousal relationship, a loving communion of persons become one that is fruitful, just as the Trinity is a loving communion of three persons in one divine being who is procreative. Again, in the human marriage of man and woman, we see the primary model for God's plan for humanity.

In scripture, in the story of Salvation History, we can plainly see God's relationship with humanity in general, and Israel in particular, described in spousal terms. The Annunciation to Mary has often been described as a kind of marriage proposal by God to her, with Mary saying "yes" on behalf of all mankind. The first miracle Jesus performed was at a wedding, and many of His parables involved marital imagery. Jesus is, of course, the Bridegroom, having taken as His virginal Bride, the Church. And in the eschatology of the Book of Revelation, life after the resurrection of the body is described in the spousal terms of the wedding banquet of the Lamb. So, marriage is clearly the model by which to understand God's plan for us.

There is a spousal meaning to the human body, every human body. Since we all have a human body, we are all made for a "spousal" relationship of some sort, we are made to love and be loved in that pure and complete fullness of love that is both unitive and procreative, that involves a communion of persons that bears many fruits. This might manifest itself in the human marriage of the flesh, the marriage of a male and female, especially in the Sacrament of Matrimony, resulting in physical children. But it also manifests itself in the spousal relationship that a priest has, in the manner of Jesus, with His Bride, the Church, whereby, in that virginal marriage, there is a loving communion of persons that is fruitful, that results in spiritual children. Likewise, this spousal relationship might manifest itself in a spiritual marriage with Jesus, as we see with Sister Thérèse and other consecrated women religious.

But what about the rest of us? Those who are still "single," who have yet to discern their vocation (marriage or religious life) or who have discerned that they are called to marriage, but, for some reason, it has not happened? Or what about those with a same-sex attraction?

Single people have a vocation too, but it is not a vocation to solitude. It is not good that man should be alone -- in solitude, he is missing an essential element, he is incomplete. Each of these single people also has a spousal meaning in his or her very body. They too are called to that vocation which is the primary vocation of all -- the vocation to love. They too are called to love and be loved in a relationship of pure and complete love, the fullness of love with the Lord that is communion with Him and is fruitful. So, if they cannot enter into a human marriage, for whatever reason -- if, for example, they have not found anyone who wants to marry them or because they are same-sex attracted -- they are still called to a relationship of spousal love. If they wish to be true to the person that are made to be, even if they do not pursue the consecrated religious life, they should still seek to love the Lord and His Bride as a spouse loves his or her beloved, fully and completely, in a dynamic and fruitful loving communion of persons.

The Story of a Soul
St. Thérèse of Lisieux
Chapter 8
It was the Nativity of Mary. What a beautiful feast on which to become the Spouse of Jesus! It was the little new-born Holy Virgin who presented her little Flower to the little Jesus. Everything was little on that day except for the graces I received and the joyful peace I felt as I gazed at the stars in the evening sky and thought that I should soon ascend to heaven and be united with my divine Spouse in eternal happiness.

On September 24, I took the veil. . . . Eight days after I took the veil, our cousin, Jeanne Guérin, married Doctor La Néele. Some time later, as we were talking in the parlour, she told me of all the care she lavished on her husband. Her words stirred me and I said to myself: “It’s not going to be said that a woman will do more for her husband, a mere mortal, than I will do for my beloved Jesus.” I was filled with fresh ardour and made greater efforts than ever to see that all I did was pleasing to the King of kings who had chosen me as His bride.

When I saw the letter announcing Jeanne’s marriage, I amused myself by composing an invitation which I read to the novices to make them realize what had struck me so forcibly: how trifling are the pleasures of an earthly union compared to the glory of being the bride of Jesus.
Creator of Heaven and Earth
Supreme Sovereign of the Universe
Queen of the Court of Heaven
Announce to you the Spiritual Marriage of their august Son
Little Thérèse Martin
now Princess and Lady of the Kingdoms of the Childhood of Jesus and His Passion, given to her as a dowry by her divine Spouse from which she holds her titles of nobility OF THE CHILD JESUS and OF THE HOLY FACE.

It was not possible to invite you to the wedding feast held on the Mountain of Carmel, September 8, 1890, as only the heavenly Court was admitted, but you are nevertheless invited to the At Home tomorrow, the Day of Eternity when Jesus, the Son of God, will come in the clouds of heaven to judge the living and the dead in the full splendor of His majesty.

The hour being uncertain, you are asked to hold yourself in readiness and to watch. . . .


Read the rest of the original post and more from The Story of a Soul here.