Monday, April 25, 2016

Jesus and the Holy Spirit--how are they connected?



The Dominican theologian Yves Congar spent years studying and writing about the Holy Spirit. He said toward the end of his life: “If I were to draw but one conclusion from the whole of my work on the Holy Spirit, I would express it in these words: no Christology without pneumatology, and no pneumatology without Christology” (Word and Spirit, p. 1).

That got me thinking. What does that mean for me? Our Founder, Blessed James Alberione, developed devotion to Jesus, our Divine Master, who defined himself by saying, “I am the Way, and the Truth, and the Life.” What is the connection between Jesus Master and the Holy Spirit? I hadn’t thought about that very much before!

In praying the chaplet to the Divine Master that Bl. James wrote, I noticed several connections between Jesus and the Holy Spirit. A central one is this short prayer: “Live in us, Jesus, through the outpouring of your Holy Spirit.”

I started to pray that more often during the day. It’s beginning to help me realize more how Jesus acts in us through the Holy Spirit, and vice versa. (Of course the Father is there too, but that’s a separate topic for development.) Jesus communicates grace to us; he is the source of grace. Yet he gives it through the Holy Spirit, and by sending the Spirit to us. In turn, the Holy Spirit configures us to Jesus, first at Baptism and all throughout our lives.

This time before the feast of Pentecost is a good time to turn more to the Holy Spirit in prayer, asking for an outpouring of grace and spiritual gifts.

“Live in us, Jesus, through the outpouring of your Holy Spirit.”

Friday, April 08, 2016

Pope Francis on Marriage

I'm still reading the new document, which is quite long--about 250 pages! Here's a few initial thoughts:

1. Don't get your impressions of it from headlines, which always distort. Read it yourself, otherwise you won't get a balanced view of it.

2. Surprise--the Pope is Catholic and actually upholds all Catholic teachings on marriage and family, including that of contraception, the indissolubility of marriage, and divorce. Reading some news reports would give you the opposite impression.

3. Francis is pastoral and is looking for ways to help people in messy situations to  get some pastoral help. Chapter 8 of the document speaks to that, and that is the part much media coverage will focus on. But remember that it has to be read in light of the whole thing. Catholic teaching on marriage is clear. But it's not always so clear if individual persons actually contracted a valid marriage. That's where the messiness comes in. It strikes me that some of what he says here is rather vague and so perhaps could be distorted. But he is not in any way changing Catholic doctrine on sacramental marriage, which he couldn't do anyway since it comes from Jesus himself.

4. The most beautiful part of it, I think, is the meditation on St Paul's hymn to love in 1 Cor, ch. 13. Whether married or not, all of us could meditate on that very fruitfully.

5. The document has quite a few references to St. Thomas. I noticed that also in Joy of the Gospel. Pope Francis must like St Thomas even though he might not seem that way. For example, this quote:
“Charity by its very nature, has no limit to its increase, for it is a participation in that infinite charity which is the Holy Spirit. . .  Nor on the part of the subject can its limit be fixed, because as charity grows, so too does its capacity for an even greater increase.”

Monday, April 04, 2016

The Annunciation: Mary the Prudent Virgin



When the serpent slithered up to Eve in the Garden of Eden, he asked a question rooted in a lie: “Did God say, ‘You shall not eat from any tree in the garden’?” (Gen 3:1). God had not forbidden them to eat the fruit of any tree, but only from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Eve’s first mistake was to answer the serpent without stopping to consider where this question was leading. Once she started talking to the devil, he easily persuaded her to sin.
At the Annunciation, on the other hand, Mary paused before responding to the angel’s message. The Gospel tells us: “But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be” (Lk 1:29). At first she didn’t respond at all. Instead, she waited for more information in order to discern what this message was really all about. She pondered. As she did so, she must have been listening to what the Holy Spirit was saying to her. Once Mary was sure the message was from God, she responded quickly with her “yes.”
The Annunciation has so many beautiful aspects to consider that we might easily overlook this one: Mary is the prudent virgin, the one who with great wisdom knew how to reflect before acting.

The Power of the Pause

In pausing first before speaking, Mary gave herself some time to consider what this was all about. It was quite a remarkable circumstance, having an angel appear to her. No wonder she was taken aback and greatly troubled by it.
We can surmise that in that brief moment, Mary took a little time to pray. She must have asked God to give her the light to know what to say and how to respond.
Her first response was to listen more. The angel continued his explanation and his request. Then Mary asked a question: “How can this be, since I know not man?” (Lk 1:34) The angel explained that the power of the Holy Spirit would come upon her to bring about this miraculous event.
Then Mary said, “Behold the handmaid of the Lord; may it be done unto me as you have said” (Lk 1:38)

Though the visit of the angel was unexpected, Mary was prepared. She continually lived in union with God, so much so that her will was always perfectly aligned with God’s will.

So what lesson can we draw from this for our own lives?

1. Live in a spirit of continual prayer, always attuned to God.

2. When something happens that might disturb us, first pause. Take some time to pray and reflect. Don’t just react. Ask the Holy Spirit for guidance. At times it is useful to ask counsel from a wise person.

3. Then in peace make your decision as best you can according to the light God is giving you.

Note: this concerns decisions that are about things where we have legitimate options to choose one or the other, for example, to take this job or that, to move to one place or another, etc. Discernment is never about sin, because sin must always be rejected.

O Mary, Virgin most prudent, pray for us!

Sunday, March 27, 2016

The Easter Candle and the Cross

Fr Hugo Rahner was an expert in patristics (he was the brother of Karl Rahner). In his book Greek Myths and Christian Mystery, Fr . Hugo explains the meaning of the Easter candle in a very beautiful way. The symbolism has to do with the cross, the baptismal water, and the Church.

He cites many quotations from the Fathers, for example:
“What is water without the cross of Christ?” Ambrose asks his newly baptized, and answers, “an ordinary element.”
A post-Augustinian sermon: “Through the sign of the cross you are conceived in the womb of your holy mother, the Church.” Rahner says, “It is only by the procreative power of the cross that the church is fructified.”
He explains that ultimately the symbolism is based on Paul’s Letter to the Romans, with its relation of baptism to the cross. “Baptism is 'the mystery of the wood in the water.’” (P. Lundberg)

The main point is that the mystery of the Lord’s baptism is closely related to the mystery of the cross. Rahner says, “In this baptism of Christ there was symbolically enacted all that became reality upon the cross, all that in the mystery of baptism passes back its effects from that cross to man.” St Ignatius of Antioch voiced the same idea in saying, “Jesus Christ was born and was baptized, so that he might sanctify the water by his passion.”

Rahner points out that Christian artists began to depict the cross in the river Jordan. There was also a cross put up in the river itself. In Eastern liturgies a wooden cross is dipped in the water during the consecration of the baptismal water, intended to signify the same thing as the cross in the river.

He continues, “This cross symbolizes the fact that the baptismal water has through the death of Christ been made a bestower of life—it is the tree of life.” Then he mentions another important element, that the wooden cross is also a giver of light. The same fire bursts forth from it that was associated with Jesus’ baptism:
The cross is also a bringer of light, and when men seek to express this mystery in explicit liturgical form, they do so by lowering a burning candle into the baptismal font as a sign that, by the power of the cross, the water is a source of the lux perpetua, the everlasting life of light. In a word the cross is both the tree of life and the light bringer and both symbols represent Christ himself who “by his Passion sanctified the water” by giving to it the doxa, the glory which he had won upon the cross, the power of the Holy Ghost.


Rahner mentions an inscription found on a baptismal font at St. Paul’s Basilica in Rome:
A tree bears fruit. I am a tree but I bear light.
Christ is risen. Such is the gift that I bring.


So according to Rahner, the Easter candle is a symbol of the cross of Christ. We can see this also from the five grains of incense that are put into the candle in the shape of the cross. And the candle represents not only the cross, but the light that comes from the cross. 

Fire, light, water--all these symbols come together at the Easter vigil in a very beautiful way. That is why from now until Pentecost the Easter candle will continue to burn during every celebration of Mass.
The Candle and the Cross

Fr Hugo Rahner was an expert in patristics. In his book Greek Myths and Christian Mystery, he explains the meaning of the Easter candle in a very beautiful way. The symbolism has to do with the cross, the baptismal water, and the Church.

He cites many quotations from the Fathers, for example:
“What is water without the cross of Christ?” Ambrose asks his newly baptized, and answers, “an ordinary element.”
A post-Augustinian sermon: “Through the sign of the cross you are conceived in the womb of your holy mother, the Church.” Rahner says, “It is only by the procreative power of the cross that the church is fructified.”
He explains that ultimately the symbolism is based on Paul’s Letter to the Romans, with its relation of baptism to the cross. “Baptism is “the mystery of the wood in the water.’” (P. Lundberg)

The main point is that the mystery of the Lord’s baptism is closely related to the mystery of the cross. Rahner says, “In this baptism of Christ there was symbolically enacted all that became reality upon the cross, all that in the mystery of baptism passes back its effects from that cross to man.” St Ignatius of Antioch voiced the same idea in saying, “Jesus Christ was born and was baptized, so that he might sanctify the water by his passion.”

Rahner points out that Christian artists began to depict the cross in the river Jordan. There was also a cross put up in the river itself. In Eastern liturgies a wooden cross is dipped in the water during the consecration of the baptismal water, intended to signify the same thing as the cross in the river.

He continues, “This cross symbolizes the fact that the baptismal water has through the death of Christ been made a bestower of life—it is the tree of life.” Then he mentions another important element, that the wooden cross is also a giver of light. The same fire bursts forth from it that was associated with Jesus’ baptism:

The cross is also a bringer of light, and when men seek to express this mystery in explicit liturgical form, they do so by lowering a burning candle into the baptismal font as a sign that, by the power of the cross, the water is a source of the lux perpetua, the everlasting life of light. In a word the cross is both the tree of life and the light bringer and both symbols represent Christ himself who “by his Passion sanctified the water” by giving to it the doxa, the glory which he had won upon the cross, the power of the Holy Ghost.


Rahner mentions an inscription found on a baptismal font at St. Paul’s Basilica in Rome:
A tree bears fruit. I am a tree but I bear light.
Christ is risen. Such is the gift that I bring.


So according to Rahner, the Easter candle is a symbol of the cross of Christ. We can see this also from the five grains of incense that are put into the candle in the shape of the cross. And the candle represents not only the cross, but the light that comes from the cross. - See more at: http://thomasfortoday.blogspot.com/2010/11/wood-in-water-what-does-easter-candle.html#sthash.iJSILlWd.dpuf
The Candle and the Cross

Fr Hugo Rahner was an expert in patristics. In his book Greek Myths and Christian Mystery, he explains the meaning of the Easter candle in a very beautiful way. The symbolism has to do with the cross, the baptismal water, and the Church.

He cites many quotations from the Fathers, for example:
“What is water without the cross of Christ?” Ambrose asks his newly baptized, and answers, “an ordinary element.”
A post-Augustinian sermon: “Through the sign of the cross you are conceived in the womb of your holy mother, the Church.” Rahner says, “It is only by the procreative power of the cross that the church is fructified.”
He explains that ultimately the symbolism is based on Paul’s Letter to the Romans, with its relation of baptism to the cross. “Baptism is “the mystery of the wood in the water.’” (P. Lundberg)

The main point is that the mystery of the Lord’s baptism is closely related to the mystery of the cross. Rahner says, “In this baptism of Christ there was symbolically enacted all that became reality upon the cross, all that in the mystery of baptism passes back its effects from that cross to man.” St Ignatius of Antioch voiced the same idea in saying, “Jesus Christ was born and was baptized, so that he might sanctify the water by his passion.”

Rahner points out that Christian artists began to depict the cross in the river Jordan. There was also a cross put up in the river itself. In Eastern liturgies a wooden cross is dipped in the water during the consecration of the baptismal water, intended to signify the same thing as the cross in the river.

He continues, “This cross symbolizes the fact that the baptismal water has through the death of Christ been made a bestower of life—it is the tree of life.” Then he mentions another important element, that the wooden cross is also a giver of light. The same fire bursts forth from it that was associated with Jesus’ baptism:

The cross is also a bringer of light, and when men seek to express this mystery in explicit liturgical form, they do so by lowering a burning candle into the baptismal font as a sign that, by the power of the cross, the water is a source of the lux perpetua, the everlasting life of light. In a word the cross is both the tree of life and the light bringer and both symbols represent Christ himself who “by his Passion sanctified the water” by giving to it the doxa, the glory which he had won upon the cross, the power of the Holy Ghost.


Rahner mentions an inscription found on a baptismal font at St. Paul’s Basilica in Rome:
A tree bears fruit. I am a tree but I bear light.
Christ is risen. Such is the gift that I bring.


So according to Rahner, the Easter candle is a symbol of the cross of Christ. We can see this also from the five grains of incense that are put into the candle in the shape of the cross. And the candle represents not only the cross, but the light that comes from the cross. - See more at: http://thomasfortoday.blogspot.com/2010/11/wood-in-water-what-does-easter-candle.html#sthash.iJSILlWd.dpuf
The Candle and the Cross

Fr Hugo Rahner was an expert in patristics. In his book Greek Myths and Christian Mystery, he explains the meaning of the Easter candle in a very beautiful way. The symbolism has to do with the cross, the baptismal water, and the Church.

He cites many quotations from the Fathers, for example:
“What is water without the cross of Christ?” Ambrose asks his newly baptized, and answers, “an ordinary element.”
A post-Augustinian sermon: “Through the sign of the cross you are conceived in the womb of your holy mother, the Church.” Rahner says, “It is only by the procreative power of the cross that the church is fructified.”
He explains that ultimately the symbolism is based on Paul’s Letter to the Romans, with its relation of baptism to the cross. “Baptism is “the mystery of the wood in the water.’” (P. Lundberg)

The main point is that the mystery of the Lord’s baptism is closely related to the mystery of the cross. Rahner says, “In this baptism of Christ there was symbolically enacted all that became reality upon the cross, all that in the mystery of baptism passes back its effects from that cross to man.” St Ignatius of Antioch voiced the same idea in saying, “Jesus Christ was born and was baptized, so that he might sanctify the water by his passion.”

Rahner points out that Christian artists began to depict the cross in the river Jordan. There was also a cross put up in the river itself. In Eastern liturgies a wooden cross is dipped in the water during the consecration of the baptismal water, intended to signify the same thing as the cross in the river.

He continues, “This cross symbolizes the fact that the baptismal water has through the death of Christ been made a bestower of life—it is the tree of life.” Then he mentions another important element, that the wooden cross is also a giver of light. The same fire bursts forth from it that was associated with Jesus’ baptism:

The cross is also a bringer of light, and when men seek to express this mystery in explicit liturgical form, they do so by lowering a burning candle into the baptismal font as a sign that, by the power of the cross, the water is a source of the lux perpetua, the everlasting life of light. In a word the cross is both the tree of life and the light bringer and both symbols represent Christ himself who “by his Passion sanctified the water” by giving to it the doxa, the glory which he had won upon the cross, the power of the Holy Ghost.


Rahner mentions an inscription found on a baptismal font at St. Paul’s Basilica in Rome:
A tree bears fruit. I am a tree but I bear light.
Christ is risen. Such is the gift that I bring.


So according to Rahner, the Easter candle is a symbol of the cross of Christ. We can see this also from the five grains of incense that are put into the candle in the shape of the cross. And the candle represents not only the cross, but the light that comes from the cross. - See more at: http://thomasfortoday.blogspot.com/2010/11/wood-in-water-what-does-easter-candle.html#sthash.iJSILlWd.dpuf
The Candle and the Cross

Fr Hugo Rahner was an expert in patristics. In his book Greek Myths and Christian Mystery, he explains the meaning of the Easter candle in a very beautiful way. The symbolism has to do with the cross, the baptismal water, and the Church.

He cites many quotations from the Fathers, for example:
“What is water without the cross of Christ?” Ambrose asks his newly baptized, and answers, “an ordinary element.”
A post-Augustinian sermon: “Through the sign of the cross you are conceived in the womb of your holy mother, the Church.” Rahner says, “It is only by the procreative power of the cross that the church is fructified.”
He explains that ultimately the symbolism is based on Paul’s Letter to the Romans, with its relation of baptism to the cross. “Baptism is “the mystery of the wood in the water.’” (P. Lundberg)

The main point is that the mystery of the Lord’s baptism is closely related to the mystery of the cross. Rahner says, “In this baptism of Christ there was symbolically enacted all that became reality upon the cross, all that in the mystery of baptism passes back its effects from that cross to man.” St Ignatius of Antioch voiced the same idea in saying, “Jesus Christ was born and was baptized, so that he might sanctify the water by his passion.”

Rahner points out that Christian artists began to depict the cross in the river Jordan. There was also a cross put up in the river itself. In Eastern liturgies a wooden cross is dipped in the water during the consecration of the baptismal water, intended to signify the same thing as the cross in the river.

He continues, “This cross symbolizes the fact that the baptismal water has through the death of Christ been made a bestower of life—it is the tree of life.” Then he mentions another important element, that the wooden cross is also a giver of light. The same fire bursts forth from it that was associated with Jesus’ baptism:

The cross is also a bringer of light, and when men seek to express this mystery in explicit liturgical form, they do so by lowering a burning candle into the baptismal font as a sign that, by the power of the cross, the water is a source of the lux perpetua, the everlasting life of light. In a word the cross is both the tree of life and the light bringer and both symbols represent Christ himself who “by his Passion sanctified the water” by giving to it the doxa, the glory which he had won upon the cross, the power of the Holy Ghost.


Rahner mentions an inscription found on a baptismal font at St. Paul’s Basilica in Rome:
A tree bears fruit. I am a tree but I bear light.
Christ is risen. Such is the gift that I bring.


So according to Rahner, the Easter candle is a symbol of the cross of Christ. We can see this also from the five grains of incense that are put into the candle in the shape of the cross. And the candle represents not only the cross, but the light that comes from the cross. - See more at: http://thomasfortoday.blogspot.com/2010/11/wood-in-water-what-does-easter-candle.html#sthash.iJSILlWd.dpuf

Sunday, March 06, 2016

In defense of the older son

At Mass this Sunday we had the parable of the prodigal son, and I suddenly felt a lot of compassion and empathy for the older son. He always seems to get a raw deal from preachers. He takes the blame because he got angry that his father welcomed the younger son with a great feast. The older son makes a great scapegoat because he seems self-righteous, angry, and self-centered.

When he says to his father, "You never gave me even so much as a kid goat..." I felt bad for him because it's not that he cared about a goat, but he was asking for the love of his father. And for whatever reason, he didn't feel the father's love. He couldn't receive it, so he felt unloved.
The father seems to have been very loving toward both his sons--or was he? Maybe he took the older son's devotion and hard work for granted. The older son was dutiful, responsible, knew how to manage the estate, and did all the hidden dirty work. If he felt angry that his spendthrift brother had run away with his share of the inheritance and squandered it all, I don't blame him. I would feel angry too.
The irony though is that in their own ways, each son was acting like a hired hand and not a son. The younger son was irresponsible with his sense of entitlement: "Give me what's coming to me! It's mine and I want it now!" When he came to his senses he said "I will tell my father to treat me like one of the hired hands."
But the older son had in effect been acting like a hired hand, thinking that he had to earn his father's love by being dutiful and responsible. He even said to his father, "For years I have slaved for you..."
Jesus starts the parable by saying, "A man had two sons..." And while the prodigal gets most of the attention, in reality the message of the older son is just as important. Both were sons. Their sonship was a reality. The younger escaped sonship by being irresponsible, while the older escaped it by being overly responsible. The father did love both of them, shown by his going out to the older son when he was upset and inviting him in to the feast.
In the end, being a son (or a daughter) is not so much about responsibility but about love. If the younger son realized that, he wouldn't have insulted his father by demanding his inheritance even before the father was dead. If the older son realized that, he wouldn't have thought that he could have his father's love only by being dutiful and responsible.
So it is in our own relationship with God. When we realize God's love for us, we won't even want to sin because we won't want to do anything to run away from that love. And we will not think that God loves us because of the good we do, but that we can do good because God loves us first. To God we are not hired hands, but beloved sons and daughters.

Thursday, March 03, 2016

Mary at Cana

Last night I went to a talk at Boston College about the wedding at Cana. I had thought it was going to be about how Jewish wedding customs might help us understand better what was going on in the dialogue between Jesus and Mary. It turned out to be something different and I felt somewhat disappointed. But it did get me thinking more about Cana and what it reveals about Jesus and Mary. It's a very rich topic and it's provoked a lot of discussion because of the seemingly harsh response that Jesus gives to Mary.
Why did Jesus call Mary "woman"? The speaker said that there's no precedent for that in any of the ancient literature; it's quite unique. While she thought it shows a certain rudeness on Jesus' part, I don't think that is the case. Actually the word is very evocative and can be seen in relation to two other biblical accounts.

One is the text in Genesis where God forms Eve out of the open side of Adam, from his rib. He exclaims, "This one will be called 'woman'..." The other text is from John's Gospel. Just before Jesus dies on the cross, he entrusts the beloved disciple to Mary by saying, "Woman, here is your son." (Jn 19:26).

Jesus dies right after that, and then the soldier pierces Jesus' side, and blood and water flow out. That blood and water is highly symbolic; the Fathers of the Church endlessly reflected on how it represents the sacraments, especially baptism and the Eucharist. They also reflected on Mary being there and how Jesus was entrusting to her a special role in the Church.
The parallel between Eve and Mary goes back to the second century. Eve, "the mother of all the living," (Genesis) is compared to Mary, the woman standing beneath the cross who is not only Jesus' mother but now becomes the mother of all disciples, represented by the beloved disciple. Just as Eve was formed from Adam's side, Mary's new role is formed in her by the grace flowing from the side of Jesus as he hangs on the cross, as shown in the blood and water.

So what does this have to do with Cana? At the wedding Jesus miraculously changes water into an abundance of wine. The symbolism of wine is also very rich and was used by the prophets to look forward to the messianic age:

On this mountain the LORD of hosts
       will provide for all peoples
A feast of rich food and choice wines,
        juicy, rich food and pure, choice wines.
On this mountain he will destroy
       the veil that veils all peoples,
The web that is woven over all nations.
He will destroy death forever.   (Isaiah 25:6-8)

 The wine that Jesus provides at the wedding feast at Cana looks forward to "his hour," which in John's Gospel is the hour of his passion, death, and resurrection, the hour of his glory, when Jesus will "destroy death forever." By calling Mary "woman," Jesus is hinting at the new role that Mary will take on. She becomes the new "mother of all the living" through the spiritual motherhood she exercises in the Church.

There's a lot more that could be said about this but for now these are just a few thoughts.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Martyrdom of St Polycarp

This page has links to the full text of the Martyrdom of Polycarp (his feast day is today.) He was the bishop of Smyrna in Asia Minor and was martyred around 155 AD.

The text of his martyrdom is a great read in which Polycarp's humanity shines out. For example, the policemen sent to apprehend him were so taken by his courtesy that they regretted they had to do it:

"So when he [Polycarp] heard that they [the police] were come, he went down and conversed with them, the bystanders marvelling at his age and his constancy, and wondering how there should be so much eagerness for the apprehension of an old man like him. Thereupon forthwith he gave orders that a table should be spread for them to eat and drink at that hour, as much as they desired. And he persuaded them to grant him an hour that he might pray unhindered;
and on their consenting, he stood up and prayed, being so full of the grace of God, that for two hours he could not hold his peace, and those that heard were amazed, and many repented that they had come against such a venerable old man."

He must have had a good sense of humor, as this part shows (the Christians were accused of being atheists):

"When Polycarp was brought before him, the proconsul inquired whether he were the man. And on his confessing that he was, he tried to persuade him to a denial saying, 'Have respect to thine age,' and other things in accordance therewith, as it is their wont to say; 'Swear by the genius of Caesar; repent and say, Away with the atheists.' Then Polycarp with solemn countenance looked upon the whole multitude of lawless heathen that were in the stadium, and waved his hand to them; and groaning and looking up to heaven he said, 'Away with the atheists.' "

That wasn't what the proconsul intended!

But the most beautiful part comes when Polycarp testifies to his faith in Jesus: "But when the magistrate pressed him hard and said, 'Swear the oath, and I will release thee; revile the Christ,' Polycarp said, 'Fourscore and six years have I been His servant, and He hath done me no wrong. How then can I blaspheme my King who saved me?'"

St Polycarp, pray for us!

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