Being sanctified in the very ordinariness of life

Hellooooo, my dearest readers!!! I have missed the blogging world very much. We have just finished moving house, and moving eight people’s worth of stuff in two weeks is no mean feat, let me tell you. However, exhausted as I am, we are home, and I am once again at leisure to write down a thought or two.

First of all, I must share with you this gem from Neal Obstat. It is one of the most beautiful encapsulations of seeking holiness in everyday life, the very heart and soul of what Opus Dei is all about. Continue reading

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Could Jesus Self-Destruct? First Friday Link-up December

It’s First Friday Sacred Heart Link-Up time again!! Every first Friday Laura from Catholic Cravings and Ryan from The Back of the World do a link-up on a specified theme. The December theme:

December means one thing for many of us: Christmas. Every year we celebrate the birth of Our Lord, who was very God made flesh in the womb of Mary. This month is also the month of Our Lady’s Immaculate Conception, another miracle of life! So we’d love to know: how does the Sacred Heart help you treasure life and understand the horror of abortion? Does the Sacred Heart have a special role to play in the Pro-Life movement?

Go to Catholic Cravings for more posts! (Previously this was hosted on a separate blog, but this month it’s moving to CC.)

I apologise, this post is MAMMOTH. For your convenience, I’ll put a summary here at the top, and if your interest is piqued, feel free to continue.

1. By some miracle of nature, a mother and child are bonded very, very closely.
2. Thus, Jesus and Mary share a unique, intimate bond.
3. God’s presence in the Old Testament is dangerous for those who sin (ie, everyone)
4. Jesus’ presence in the New Testament is not dangerous.
5. There is a hierarchy of being, with physical stuff the “lowest” level.
6. Paradoxically, the fact that Jesus took on this “lowest” level of being is the very thing that makes it greater than God’s Old Testament presence, since it is of like nature to us, and therefore not life-threatening to us limited human beings.
7. Jesus’ own nature, however, had to be perfect, ie, sinless, lest he obliterate Himself.
8. The intimate union of Jesus and Mary made it necessary that Mary share in this sinlessness.
9. Hence, the Immaculate Conception!
10. Hence, abortion, as a rejection of motherhood, is a tacit rejection of the true motherhood of Mary.

Enjoy!!

One of Michelangelo’s “Madonna and Child”s

Motherhood:

The bond between a mother and her child is extremely close, both emotionally and physically. Physically, although they are separate organisms, the unborn child is united to his mother through the placenta, through which he receives his oxygen and nutrients, as his blood passes through it, from his mother’s blood. What is interesting though, is that it seems that there is often a cross-over of cells. Women have been found to have male cells in their blood and their brains, with one means of their arriving there being through pregnancy.

Implications:

What implications does this have for thinking about Our Blessed Mother? Namely, that is it highly likely that at least one of the two situations occurred: that some of Our Lord’s cells persisted in His Mother’s body, or that some of her cells persisted in His. This renders them permanently inseparable.

Ok, now maybe this doesn’t really sound like a big deal. But, consider this:

God’s Presence in the Old Testament:

Time and time again we see in the Old Testament that unworthily entering God’s presence, violating His holiness, or coming into direct contact with His holiness in some way, without being in the appropriate state or given permission, all result in the same concrete consequence, or that consequence is threatened: death.

Some examples to illustrate:

Exod.19

  1. [12] And you shall set bounds for the people round about, saying, `Take heed that you do not go up into the mountain or touch the border of it; whoever touches the mountain shall be put to death

Num.1

  1. [51] When the tabernacle is to set out, the Levites shall take it down; and when the tabernacle is to be pitched, the Levites shall set it up. And if any one else comes near, he shall be put to death.

Exod.10

  1. [28] Then Pharaoh said to him, “Get away from me; take heed to yourself; never see my face again; for in the day you see my face you shall die.”

2Sam.6

  1. [7] And the anger of the LORD was kindled against Uzzah; and God smote him there because he put forth his hand to the ark; and he died there beside the ark of God.

Num.4

  1. [15] And when Aaron and his sons have finished covering the sanctuary and all the furnishings of the sanctuary, as the camp sets out, after that the sons of Kohath shall come to carry these, but they must not touch the holy things, lest they die. These are the things of the tent of meeting which the sons of Kohath are to carry.
  2. [19] but deal thus with them, that they may live and not die when they come near to the most holy things: Aaron and his sons shall go in and appoint them each to his task and to his burden,
  3. [20] but they shall not go in to look upon the holy things even for a moment, lest they die.

Lev.10

[1] Now Nadab and Abi’hu, the sons of Aaron, each took his censer, and put fire in it, and laid incense on it, and offered unholy fire before the LORD, such as he had not commanded them.
[2] And fire came forth from the presence of the LORD and devoured them, and they died before the LORD.

The point? God’s holy presence is life-giving for those who enter it worthily (ie, for those who are clean), and life-endangering for those who enter who are unclean. (I have some more detail on this in an essay I wrote on Leviticus.) Even more, no matter how clean one is, even Moses couldn’t see God face to face without dying. There is something overpoweringly awesome about God’s holiness that is too much for us to bear.

The role of sin in all this:

Sin is the thing that makes a man unclean. There are various other things in the Old Law that we would no longer consider sins but that God ordered for a variety of reasons, and so to disobey His orders in those things rendered them also sins. This was why, in the sacrificial liturgy of the temple, sacrifices of repentance and forgiveness were carried out first, before one could enter God’s presence to eat the holy sacrificial meal with God, so that one would be forgiven of their sin and made clean, and therefore able to safely enter God’s holy presence.

What does this have to do with Mary?

Well, let’s think about this “dangerous” aspect of God for a bit. As we know, God the Son became man, and dwelt among us. Clearly, Jesus walked around among people, and since He spent a lot of time among sinners, and in fact, everyone is a sinner, surely people should have been dropping like flies? And yet instead, we see Jesus touching people, people coming into physical contact with the Lord, and being healed, physically and spiritually. What’s up with that?

Be warned, I’ve never actually heard a clear-cut answer on this, but here’s my theory. Hopefully I avoid heresy. If you find any, please do let me know. 🙂

A Hierarchy of Being:

We tend to think of physical stuff being more really real than the spiritual realm. Many philosophers have actually thought otherwise. Plato, for example, thought that the world of the Forms or Ideas, in which all physical things were participating, was what was really real and true.

Whenever I’ve heard this in the past, I’ve not really understood why they would think this. How on earth could one come to the conclusion that the stuff we can’t see is even more real than the tangible world we live in, can see, touch, taste, smell and hear? But recently I’ve begun to get glimpses of how one might think this. I don’t know if I can really articulate it. I guess it mainly stems from observing the sacraments in actions, and trying to fathom the amazing spiritual riches of grace bestowed on us in them, through what seem to be, by comparison, these seemingly simple, and almost fragile actions, words and substances.

E.g. I recently attended my first ordination, as one of the Franciscan friars at my parish was ordained deacon. There were many beautiful prayers and rituals surrounding the ordination itself, with the actual ordination a simple, silent moment in which the Bishop laid his hands on the friar’s head. Before that moment, he was an ordinary person. After that moment, his soul had taken on a different character, invested with the first level of Holy Orders, able to participate in Christ’s ministry in a special way. Incredible!

I also just finished reading The Agony and the Ecstasy, by Irving Stone, a truly phenomenal book about the life of Michelangelo. What was interesting was looking at the corruption present in the Church of the time so clearly on display, and the extent of it, and wondering how it was possible that the sanctity of the Church survived at all. Where were the successors of the Apostles? It is truly a miracle that this tenuous Apostolic Succession was maintained through Michelangelo’s time, indeed through the whole of the Church’s 2000 years, to survive to today, still bringing us perfectly valid sacraments.

Or as a final example, think about the Eucharist. The priest says some words, and Calvary comes to our altars. There are no words for how incredible this fact is. And yet all that’s involved are some simple words, and humble bread and wine. WHAT EVEN?!

Thus, I think I understand a little better that spiritual realities are where it’s really at, that they’re so much more intensely real than the physical, which is mere shadows by contrast. I leave you with St Paul:

For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall understand fully, even as I have been fully understood.
(1 Cor. 13:12)

So, to summarise: there is a hierarchy of being, with God as existence itself, followed by the spiritual realm, and finally the physical being the “lowest” form of being.

Back to Jesus. Actually, back to the Old Testament. God’s presence in the temple, of what sort was it? I think I would propose that it was primarily a localised and intense spiritual one, physically manifested in various ways. So physical things happened around His presence, but were not inherently united to it, in the same way as in the Incarnation. Otherwise, the Incarnation would not have been so completely unique and unthinkable, that God could be in physical form. The times God appears in the Old Testament, whether in a cloud, or a gentle breeze, or in thunder, lightning and earthquakes, these I think are meant to announce, herald or indicate His holy presence, but do not in themselves constitute His presence, in the same that encountering the person of Christ is an encounter with God.

Perhaps you have spotted the same problem that I just noticed… if that’s so, then according to the hierarchy of being I just mentioned, wouldn’t that mean that the Old Testament appearances of God were “more real”, or greater, than Jesus’ coming? Hmmm. I think perhaps in some ways this could be true. By this I mean that God became man so that He could save us, and so that we could approach Him safely. Since it is not possible to see God “Face to face” in the Old Testament, but it is possible with Christ, it is paradoxically true that in humbling Himself to take on our poor flesh, which is “lower” than the spiritual manifestation, it is precisely in that humble state that we are able to encounter Him fully. It is God stooping down to our level, making Himself available to us, according the limits of our human nature.

We’re getting there! Well done if you’re still with me.

So, to return to the question posed above: how can people be touching Jesus, or even near Him, and live to tell the tale? The answer, I think, is that He has taken on human flesh, which is what we are also made of, “hiding” or veiling in a certain sense His Divinity, so that we can be near Him safely.

Now, what of His own humanity? Obviously this would have to be pretty special, if a Divine Person is to be united to it. Keep in mind the role of sin I mentioned above. It is one thing for a fallen, sinful person to touch Jesus, but quite another for the very human nature that God the Son will be united to to be sinful. Thus, rightly, the Church has always understood Jesus to be sinless, and, overall, Perfect Man. [Thought experiment: If Jesus had ever sinned, would He have self-destructed?? Hence the impossibility!]

FINALLY, we get back to Mary. Recall my first brief comments on motherhood, the inseparability, the profound unity, of a mother and child. Apply this to Jesus and His Mother. If such a unity is inherent to motherhood, and if Jesus’ own human nature had to be sinless, surely we must thereby conclude that hers also must be sinless? And thus we arrive at the Immaculate Conception, that great feast day we celebrate on Monday.

The Ark of the New Covenant:

I think this makes even more sense if we consider Mary as the Ark of the New Covenant. Shameless Popery has a super article on that here. If people could die just from touching the Ark of the Covenant, which was merely the vessel for God’s presence, then how much more should the New Covenant Ark, who is a person, be unable to defile herself by sin?

The Sacred Heart and Abortion:

Since this is the actual topic of this month’s link-up, I should stop digressing and talk about this a bit. Notice how I worked my way from motherhood in general, to understanding the relationship between Christ and His Mother? I think this points to an important truth: it is only by having an authentic understanding of motherhood that we are able to understand the mysteries of Christ and Mary. If we imagine the little Sacred Heart of Our Lord, beating away inside His Mother, being nourished by her, and possibly taking on part of her, as she possibly took on part of Him (possibly even in her own Immaculate Heart (see the article linked at the beginning)), this beautiful thought can only come about if we understand and treasure the gift of motherhood, the gift of all children. Abortion is a symptom of a flawed understanding of motherhood, and while we hold onto that flawed idea, we cannot grasp the importance of Mary.

It’s a tenuous Sacred Heart link, but no matter! Let me know your thoughts, if you made it this far. 😉

And don’t forget to check out other people’s (surely better, and more on-topic) posts on the Sacred Heart!

+AMDG

BXVI: The Narrative of the Inclusive Kingdom

I thought I’d share this tidbit from Pope Benedict’s first volume of Jesus of Nazareth that I read this morning, regarding the secularist reinterpretation of the Kingdom (p. 53)(paraphrased). It tells the narrative of how the evolution of the notions of “tolerance”, “unity” and “inclusiveness”, given ever-wider definitions, have led to the climate of religious and political ideas that we see today amongst certain academic circles in Catholic Theology specifically, but that obviously coincides a great deal with ideas prevalent in wider society as well.

It was claimed that prior to Vatican II the dominant position was “Ecclesiocentrism“, where the Church was presented as the centre of Christianity, interpreted as being somehow in place of Christ, or Christ and His Church as being in competition. This kept us separate from other Christians, for as long as we claim to be the True Church, it implies others are not, and thus is divisive.

Then post-Vatican II there was a shift to “Christocentrism“, yet this did not solve the question of division, for Christ belongs exclusively to Christians.

‘Jesus of Nazareth’ by Pope Benedict XVI

Hence the next transition to “Theocentrism“, which allegedly brought us closer to other religions (which is apparently our goal). However, even God can be a cause of division between religions and people.

Therefore, the move was made (or is in the process of being made) to “Regnocentrism“, the centrality of the Kingdom. Apparently we have finally gotten to the heart of Christ’s message, and it is this position that will help us finally harness mankind’s positive energies and direct them toward the world’s future. Here the “Kingdom” simply means a world governed by peace, justice and the conservation of creation. Working together to attain such a world is the true goal of religions. They are free to live in their respective traditions, each bringing them to bear on the common task of building the “Kingdom”, where peace, justice and respect for creation are the dominant values.

This sounds good, but it leaves a number of questions: how do we figure out what justice actually means, and how we acheive it?

Furthermore, in this “Kingdom”, God has disappeared. “Man is the only actor left on stage.” Religion now matters only insofar as it can be directed towards to political goals of the organisation of the world.

Sound familiar?

+AMDG

Test your consistency!!!

Is your thinking consistent? Find out with this fun little test:

BATTLEGROUND GOD

Can your beliefs about religion make it across our intellectual battleground?

In this activity you’ll be asked a series of 17 questions about God and religion. In each case, apart from Question 1, you need to answer True or False. The aim of the activity is not to judge whether these answers are correct or not. Our battleground is that of rational consistency. This means to get across without taking any hits, you’ll need to answer in a way which is rationally consistent. What this means is you need to avoid choosing answers which contradict each other. If you answer in a way which is rationally consistent but which has strange or unpalatable implications, you’ll be forced to bite a bullet.

Some warnings:

  • Don’t be tricked by them calling God “she”, and so saying those statements are false. I dunno why they’ve done it, but oh well.
  • If you’re like me and have done a bit of philosophy, you’ll realise you want them to make many of the statements clearer/ more nuanced, before you could definitely answer true or false… it’s not perfect, and you have to pick something eventually, but it’s a fun exercise anyway.

I got the “TPM medal of distinction”, which is apparently their “second highest award for outstanding service on the intellectual battleground”, for taking one hit. Might reveal on which one in a bit, after some of you have done it.

So, how consistent are YOU? 😉

+AMDG

His Sacred Heart Longed for The Mass: First Friday Link-up!

The excellent Laura from Catholic Cravings and Ryan from The Back of the World have a blog dedicated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Every first Friday they do a link-up on a specified theme. Laura has been begging me to contribute something for ages, and this is finally my first meagre attempt. 🙂 The November theme:

With these two feasts, we remember those who have fallen asleep in the hope of the Resurrection – the Church Triumphant in Heaven and the Church Penitent in Purgatory. In light of this, we would love to see posts with the following theme: “The love of the Sacred Heart is stronger than death.”

I’ll be upfront: I’m going with the theme, but not in direct connection with the feast days. I might link them in somehow, but we’ll see. My claim today is this:

Jesus longs for and institutes the Mass precisely because His love is such that it shoves death aside. Like a boss.

The Love of the Sacred Heart tramples death in the Holy Eucharist

The latin for “heart” is cordis, whence “core”. So the heart is the core of the person. If Jesus is Love Incarnate, and His heart is the core of His Being, what an intense concentration of love the Sacred Heart must be!! I imagine it to be like the density of a neutron star. Check this out:

A neutron star contains a few solar masses of material squeezed into a radius of only 20 km. This means the matter is so compressed that a thimble full of it would weigh millions of tonnes on Earth.

Unpacking the jargon a bit for the unscientific of you: Imagine a distance of 40km. For Sydney-siders, that’s about the distance from Bondi Beach to Blacktown. Now think of all the matter that makes up the sun. Now think of a few suns. Squish ALL that matter into a space about 40km wide.

… yeah. HECTIC.

And the Love of the Sacred Heart is even more “dense” than that!! I pray with St Paul that the immensity of this sinks in a bit:

“That you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have power to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fulness of God.” (Eph. 3:17-19)

At this point, we could probably say, “Well, shoot, of course what chance does death have up against that?!” But that’s not heaps theological. So we press on.

This is the Heart that longed for the Mass. Why did He long for it?

Because Love seeks union. And so to effect the union of the Bridegroom with His Bride, He instituted a means to remain with us, in a true communion. This means is the Eucharist, through which He remains incarnationally with us, and thus when we receive Him, we are united with our Bridegroom in the most intimate way possible. We become nigh inseparable from Him, with only our rejection of Him able to drive a wedge between us:

For I am sure that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Rom. 8:38-39)

But what of death?

Jesus’ self-sacrifice of love is one and the same with the sacrifice of the Mass. There is but one Mass, which we all participate in. In our participation, we receive life:

“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you; he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day… He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him. As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so he who eats me will live because of me. This is the bread which came down from heaven, not such as the fathers ate and died; he who eats this bread will live for ever.” 

Furthermore, death is defeated because precisely by dying, Christ took on our deaths, and redeemed them in the Resurrection. We participate in that through baptism, as we are baptised into His death, so it is as though we have died. And by making death the means to life, the love of Christ has thwarted death.

And what of the Communion of Saints? Well, recall that the Mass is one. Therefore, every time we go to Mass, we’re joining with everyone who’s ever gone to Mass, and who ever will, and are participating in the heavenly liturgy which those who have gone to sleep in Christ are already present at! We join the ranks of Mary, the Apostles, St Thomas Aquinas, St Thomas More, (soon to be) St John Paul II, St Augustine… everyone!! Kind of daunting in some ways (like, can these prayer-masters hear how pathetic and distracted my prayers are? how embarrassing!! But good for humility I guess…), but supremely awesome overall.

This isn’t quite the post I set out to write, but it will have to suffice.

Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, have mercy on us.

Click above for posts by other bloggers!

+AMDG

The Virtues and the Gifts and Fruits of the Holy Spirit

I’m planning to write a bit about the connection between the virtues and the gifts and fruits of the Holy Spirit, as it’s not something I’ve thought about in great depth before. For today, the important points from the Catechism, well worth the read:

“Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”62

A virtue is an habitual and firm disposition to do the good. It allows the person not only to perform good acts, but to give the best of himself. The virtuous person tends toward the good with all his sensory and spiritual powers; he pursues the good and chooses it in concrete actions.

The goal of a virtuous life is to become like God.63

THE HUMAN VIRTUES

Human virtues are firm attitudes, stable dispositions, habitual perfections of intellect and will that govern our actions, order our passions, and guide our conduct according to reason and faith. They make possible ease, self-mastery, and joy in leading a morally good life. The virtuous man is he who freely practices the good.

The moral virtues are acquired by human effort. They are the fruit and seed of morally good acts; they dispose all the powers of the human being for communion with divine love.

The virtues and grace

Human virtues acquired by education, by deliberate acts and by a perseverance ever-renewed in repeated efforts are purified and elevated by divine grace. With God’s help, they forge character and give facility in the practice of the good. The virtuous man is happy to practice them.

It is not easy for man, wounded by sin, to maintain moral balance. Christ’s gift of salvation offers us the grace necessary to persevere in the pursuit of the virtues. Everyone should always ask for this grace of light and strength, frequent the sacraments, cooperate with the Holy Spirit, and follow his calls to love what is good and shun evil.

THE GIFTS AND FRUITS OF THE HOLY SPIRIT

The moral life of Christians is sustained by the gifts of the Holy Spirit. These are permanent dispositions which make man docile in following the promptings of the Holy Spirit.

The seven gifts of the Holy Spirit are wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety, and fear of the Lord. They belong in their fullness to Christ, Son of David.109 They complete and perfect the virtues of those who receive them. They make the faithful docile in readily obeying divine inspirations.

Let your good spirit lead me on a level path.110For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God . . . If children, then heirs, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ.111
The fruits of the Spirit are perfections that the Holy Spirit forms in us as the first fruits of eternal glory. The tradition of the Church lists twelve of them: “charity, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, generosity, gentleness, faithfulness, modesty, self-control, chastity.”112

I’ll leave you with this thought, which has been the source of much reflection for me of late:

“The virtuous life and the happy life are synonymous.” ~ Fr Emmerich Vogt

Sts Simon and Jude, pray for us!

+AMDG

Jesus’ Longing for the Mass

In my reflections on the Fifth Luminous Mystery of the Rosary, the Institution of the Blessed Eucharist, I have of late been struck by our Lord’s words to His Apostles:

“I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer.” Lk. 22:15 (RSV)

The Last Supper

This is also sometimes rendered as:

“‘I have ardently longed to eat this Passover with you before I suffer.” (New Jerusalem)

It has struck me because I cannot imagine making sense of this statement if the Last Supper was just the first of many symbolic meals, as many non-Catholics would claim.

I think we have two options:

  1. Either He is longing for this particular Supper in itself, as a unique and precious event with His Apostles.
  2. Or He is only longing for it insofar as it means that His suffering is near, and He longs for His suffering because He longs to save us, the sheep He loves so dearly.
  3. [Or a combination of both]

Regarding 1:

Think about it. The the pure longing, desire, craving, yearning that Our Lord expresses here, does that match up with an understanding of the Lord’s Supper as mere symbol and remembrance (in the shallow sense of the word)? I don’t think so. If the bread and wine remain as bread and wine, and we “remember” in the sense that we just “think about” what Jesus did for us, then Jesus hasn’t really changed the Passover all that much. The meal is still just a meal, and we just think about a different saving act of God, albeit an amazing one.

Regarding 2:

This is possible in one sense, because surely it is true that in His divinity Christ did have a longing to do whatever necessary for our salvation. I think certainly this reading could be part of what He meant.

However, in seeking His primary meaning, I don’t think it fits. Notice what He says:

“I have ardently longed to eat this Passover with you before I suffer.”

The key is in that second part. What has longed to do? To eat this particular Passover. With who? His Apostles, currently gathered with Him. And when? Before He suffers. This I think separates the Passover and the suffering, in terms of what He’s referring to. His longing has been specifically for this pre-suffering moment, the sharing of this particular meal, which is a Passover meal, with His Apostles.

Furthermore, we mustn’t forget that He was God incarnate. As such, He was speaking of eating, which He does in His humanity, so it is reasonable to think also that He is longing in a human sense also, which brings me to this point:

He is approaching His death. Immediately after this event He goes to the garden where His trepidation, anxiety and stress about what is coming are quite evident. I think its fairly safe to say it didn’t just suddenly appear at that moment, but rather He was masking it rather well, and only towards the end does He allow His suffering to begin to manifest itself. Thus, I think it unlikely that He meant to say that He was longing for the meal as a kind of marker or signpost of the fact that His suffering was imminent.

Stay tuned for the more likely explanation!!!

+AMDG