Ecclesiasticus 4:28

"Fight to the death for truth, and the Lord God will war on your side."

Ora pro nobis,

Most Blessed Virgin Mary, St. Francis de Sales, St. Thomas Aquinas, and St. Dominic. Amen.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

"Hoc est enim Corpus Meum"

"I am the living bread which has come down from heaven.
Anyone who eats this bread will live for ever;
and the bread that I shall give
is my flesh, for the life of the world....
"For my flesh is real food
and my blood is real drink" (John 6:51, 55).
The first and most important truth that we must believe about the Eucharist is precisely that It is Jesus Christ Himself. Every other fact, every other aspect, every belief and devotion surrounding the Blessed Sacrament is centred on this basic reality: that what once was bread and wine, after the words of consecration are pronounced by the priest, have now been substantially changed into the very Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of the risen and glorified Jesus Christ. At the moment when the priest of God invokes the Holy Spirit and prays over the gifts with the words of Christ Himself, "This is My Body...This is My Blood," the bread and wine cease to be, and instead are changed into Jesus Himself.

Substantially Present...
Now, I say that the bread and wine are substantially changed, because, to all outward appearances, what one sees, smells, touches, and tastes is still bread and wine. However, on a deeper level (dubbed "substance" in Aristotelian physics), that which makes bread, bread, and wine, wine, has been done away with, and in its place is the very Substance of the God-Man. This is the fundamental mystery of the Eucharist--that Jesus makes Himself present and yet hides Himself in such an extraordinary way.

This mystery is what the Church officially refers to as "Transubstantiation", a term coined by Hildebert de Lavardin, Archbishop of Tours, (c. 1100), and given a thorough definition by St. Thomas Aquinas. St. Thomas was renouned for how he took the best of Aristotle's philosophical thought and "baptised" it by showing how it was compatible with Catholic theology on many points. His masterpiece, the Summa Theologica, is a great example of this synthesis. So is the concept of Transubstantiation. According to Aristotle's view of the world, things were composed of "substance" and "accidents". "Substance" refers to what a thing is, in and of itself. "Accidents" refer to the particular qualites that make up or describe a particular substance. For example, birds come in all shapes, sizes, colours, and so forth. Yet the substance of "bird" is common to them all, whether the particular bird is black, blue, red, or so forth. A canary and an ostrich share the same substance of "bird" although their accidents are drastically different. On the other hand, an ostrich does not share the substance of "canary" with the canary. The average airspeed of an unladen swallow is an accident, as is whether it is African or European.

If that's even remotely clear (this site might help), what has it got to do with the Eucharist? Well, since the very beginning of Christianity, the Church has taught that Jesus really meant what He said when He said, "This is My body." Christians believed that even though they still saw bread, that it had been transformed into His flesh. It requires a very profound act of faith to embrace something that one's senses clearly reject, and for centuries the Church puzzled over exactly how to understand and explain the mystery of Jesus' bodily presence, yet the appearance of bread and wine. St. Thomas' understanding of Aristotle's categories gave us the notion of Transubstantiation. Unlike most changes in material things, where the accidents change but the substance remains the same; and even unlike other miraculous changes, such as Jesus' turning water into wine, where both the substance and the accidents are changed, in the Eucharist, the accidents of bread and wine remain, but the substance of bread and wine are changed into the substance of Jesus Christ. That is, that underlying reality that makes Jesus, Jesus--typically formulated as His "Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity" become present under the appearances of bread and wine.

...not Physically Present
As a theory of the Eucharistic Mystery, Transubstantiation dated back to the late 11th or early 12th Century, and the term was widely used by the time the 13th Century rolled around, even being used at the Fourth Lateran Council of 1215. However, it was not until Protestant challenges to the doctrine that the term and its Thomistic understanding were officially promulgated at the Council of Trent. Nevertheless, the belief that the term was attempting to describe, namely, that Jesus Christ was truly present, Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity, in the Eucharistic elements, goes all the way back, as I said, to the Early Church. This is illustrated by the fact that one of the earliest and principle accusations against the Early Christians by their persecutors, was the charge of Cannibalism. This charge was indicative that Christians were practicing and proclaiming a belief that went beyond a simple memorial meal with symbolic associations to the Saviour's death. Such memorial meals existed in other, pagan religions. The oddity was the Christians' insistence that this was, indeed, more than simply a symbolic association with Jesus, but that they were, in fact, eating Him.

As such, the initial response that Christians are cannibals seems justified. Even the Jewish hearers of Jesus' preaching reacted with similar disgust and abhorence when Jesus proclaimed that He would indeed give His flesh and blood to His followers to eat, and that by eating it, they would be united to Him, and have eternal life (cf. John 6:51ff.). We'll examine Jesus' words in the Bread of Life Discourse, and other relevant Scripture regarding the Eucharist later in this post. For now I'll simply offer a rebuttal to the charge of cannibalism.

Cannibalism involves the killing and eating of another person in order to gain certain attributes of that person. While on the one hand, we do receive grace from the Sacraments--that is, we receive God's life and strength to enable us to live more holy lives--the difference between consuming the Body and Blood of Christ in the Eucharist lies in the fact that Christ's flesh and blood, while truly and substantially present, are not physically present, in the manner in which they were when Jesus Christ walked the streets of Galilee with His Apostles. This fact is illustrated in the official writings of the Church, which, though stressing the reality of Christ's presence, and that He is present "Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity," they are very careful not to describe this presence with the term "physical". We are not carving up Jesus and devouring Him piecemeal in the Eucharist. Rather, He makes Himself fully present in each and every particle of each and every Host, and in each and every drop of sacramental wine. In fact, on those rare occasions throughout history, known as "Eucharistic Miracles", when the Bread and Wine are actually physically changed into Jesus' flesh and blood, they are not consumed for this very reason--Catholics are not cannibals!

The Witness of Scripture
On my journey into the Catholic faith, I was very invested in what the Bible had to say, having come from a Protestant background that stressed that the Bible alone was our sole authority. While as a Catholic, I no longer believe in Sola Scriptura, I still absolutely believe that it is the inspired Word of God, and as such, is an integral source for knowing and living our faith. Moreover, since many of the people who object to the Church's teaching of the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, are themselves Protestant, it is absolutely important to know what the Bible has to say on this topic.

What never ceases to amaze me, when turning to the Scriptures regarding this topic, is the overwhelming testimony to the truth of the Catholic claims. I say this is amazing, because on the one hand, so many who claim to go "by the Bible alone" reject out of hand the clear teaching of Scripture, and, on the other hand, the Scriptural teaching on the Eucharist just couldn't get any clearer! For the purposes of this article, I will examine three or four passages that speak most clearly about Jesus' Real Presence.

1 Corinthians 10:16
The blessing-cup, which we bless, is it not a sharing in the blood of Christ; and the loaf of bread which we break, is it not a sharing in the body of Christ?
We'll examine 1 Corinthians 10 at greater length in the next article, on the Eucharist as Sacrifice, but foundational to the concept that the Eucharist is Christ's sacrifice re-presented for us is the truth that the Eucharist is truly Christ Himself. And just as in the Old Testament sacrificial system, the people participated in the effects of the sacrifice by consuming the victim (cf. v. 18), so we in the New Covenant participate in the salvific power of Christ's sacrifice by our participation in the Eucharist--by eating the flesh and blood of the Lamb of God.

1 Corinthians 11:23-32 (cf. Matt. 26:26-29; Mark 14:22-25; Luke 22:14-20)
For the tradition I received from the Lord and also handed on to you is that on the night he was betrayed, the Lord Jesus took some bread, and after he had given thanks, he broke it, and he said, 'This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.' And in the same way, with the cup after supper, saying, 'This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Whenever you drink it, do this as a memorial of me.' Whenever you eat this bread, then, and drink this cup, you are proclaiming the Lord's death until he comes. Therefore anyone who eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord unworthily is answerable for the body and blood of the Lord.
Everyone is to examine himself and only then eat of the bread or drink from the cup; because a person who eats and drinks without recognising the body is eating and drinking his own condemnation. That is why many of you are weak and ill and a good number have died. If we were critical of ourselves, we would not be condemned, but when we are judged by the Lord, we are corrected by the Lord to save us from being condemned along with the world.
After his brief discussion of the sacrificial nature of the Eucharist in chapter 10, St. Paul returns to discussing the Eucharist in chapter 11, rebuking the church at Corinth for their lack of reverence and charity when they partake of the Lord's Supper. He goes on to remind them that the Eucharist is not simply a communal meal among believers, but a sacred event. The tradition, he says, was directly revealed to him by Jesus Himself. Either this occurred at some point after his conversion, not recorded in Acts, or perhaps his statement is a testament to the authority of the Church in ordaining him to proclaim the Gospel and celebrate the Eucharist (cf. Luke 10:16). In any case, he emphasises the absolute primacy of this Tradition.

Paul then gives us the oldest account of the Institution Narrative in Scripture (since 1 Corinthians was written earlier than the Synoptic Gospels). Jesus' words of institution again reaffirm the reality of His presence, for He says quite clearly, "This is My body...This is My blood." In order to bring that point home, Paul warns us that partaking of the Eucharist unworthily is tantamount to murdering Jesus: we are "answerable for the body and blood of the Lord" (v. 27)--a legal phrase meaning to be guilty of homicide.

He concludes by explaining just what it means to partake unworthily--that is, they do not recognise the Presence of Christ in the meal, and do not act with charity toward others in the congregation. The two great commandments then find their fullest expression in the Eucharist--and failure to obey them in this setting leads to dire consequences: sickness and death (vv. 29-30). Such dire consequences are hardly appropriate for a symbolic ceremony, but make perfect sense if, in fact, by partaking unworthily, a person is indeed guilty of an equivalent crime to the recrucifixion of Christ!

John 6 (Don't worry, I won't be quoting the entirety here)
After this, Jesus crossed the Sea of Galilee--or of Tiberias--and a large crowd followed him, impressed by the signs he had done in curing the sick. Jesus climbed the hillside and sat down there with his disciples. The time of the Jewish Passover was near...
Then Jesus took the loaves, gave thanks, and distributed them to those who were sitting there; he then did the same with the fish, distributing as much as they wanted...
Jesus answered: 'In all truth I tell you, you are looking for me not because you have seen the signs but because you had all the bread you wanted to eat. Do not work for food that goes bad, but work for food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of man will give you, for on him the Father, God himself, has set his seal.'
Then they said to him, '...Our fathers ate manna in the desert; as scripture says: He gave them manna from heaven to eat.'
Jesus answered them: 'In truth I tell you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, it is my Father who gives you the bread from heaven, the true bread; for the bread of God is the bread which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.'...
'I am the bread of life. Your fathers ate manna in the desert and they are dead; but this is the bread which comes down from heaven, so that a person may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread which has come down from heaven. Anyone who eats this bread will live for ever; and the bread I shall give is my flesh, for the life of the world.'
Then the Jews started arguing among themselves, 'How can this man give us his flesh to eat?' Jesus replied to them: 'In all truth I tell you, if you do not eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Anyone who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I shall raise that person up on the last day. For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood lives in me and I live in that person. As the living Father sent me and I draw life from the Father, so whoever eats me will also draw life from me. This is the bread which has come down from heaven; it is not like the bread our ancestors ate: they are dead, but anyone who eats this bread will live for ever.'
This is what he taught at Capernaum in the synagogue. After hearing it, many of his followers said, 'This is intolerable language. How could anyone accept it?' Jesus was aware that his followers were complaining about it and said, 'Does this disturb you? What if you should see the Son of man ascend to where he was before? It is the spirit that gives life, the flesh has nothing to offer. The words I have spoken to you are spirit and they are life. But there are some of you who do not believe.' For Jesus knew from the outset who did not believe and who was to betray him. He went on, 'This is why I told you that no one could come to me except by the gift of the Father.' After this, many of his disciples went away and accompanied him no more.
Then Jesus said to the Twelve, 'What about you, do you want to go away too?' Simon Peter answered, 'Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the message of eternal life, and we believe, we have come to know that you are the Holy One of God.' (vv. 1-4, 11, 26-28a, 31-33, 48-69)
John 6 is perhaps the clearest and most explicit biblical statement about the Eucharist being the Flesh and Blood of Jesus. The fact is, He couldn't be any more clear. The narrative begins with the story of Jesus feeding the five thousand. Just in case we are tempted to divorce the event from the Eucharist, St. John gives us two pointed indicators. First, in verse four, he seems to randomly point out that it was almost time for Passover, the same feast on which Jesus would institute the Eucharist. Second, when St. Andrew (whose feast we celebrate today) brings the boy who gives Jesus the five loaves and two fish, John describes Jesus distributing them with the Eucharistic formula of "took, blessed, broke, and gave" (cf. Matt 26:26; Mark 14:22; Luke 22:19; 24:30; 1 Cor 11:23-24). This formula is used in every case where Jesus is described as celebrating the Eucharist, and its usage in all the accounts of the feeding of the five thousand led the Early Christians to interpret a Eucharistic significance to that miracle. As such, John is clearly alluding to the connection between Jesus' teaching, and the Blessed Sacrament, as if such pointed "wink, wink; nudge, nudge" behaviour was necessary.

Even after all the signs that Jesus has performed, including feeding the five thousand, the people still demand a sign, and specifically refer to the Manna that came from heaven that their ancestors ate in the desert. This reference to the Manna prompts Jesus' Bread of Life discourse, the first half of which deals with the reference to "coming from heaven" and the second half stressing that the Bread from Heaven who is Jesus is to be eaten. Jesus calls Himself the Bread of Life, the Bread of Heaven, or some such derivitave a total of twelve times, and reiterates that this Bread is His flesh, and must be eaten, a staggering four times. And each time He becomes more emphatic, and His words become more and more obviously literal, and less possible to interpret metaphorically.

And His audience realises this. They begin to complain that His teaching is difficult and His language is intolerable. They know He's not playing word-games. In fact, because of His teaching, they actually stop following Him. Now, at other times in His ministry, when Jesus' hearers misunderstood Him, He took the time to correct them--or at least to set His Apostles straight (cf. Matt 16:5-12). However, now that He's placed eternal life or eternal condemnation on the table, Jesus surely would not let even those considered His disciples to walk away over a simple misunderstanding. But He did let them walk away--because they understood Him perfectly well.

Many, wanting to deny the clear and obvious meaning of this text try to find some way to foist a figurative interpretation onto Jesus' incredibly literal words. They try to compare it to other statements, such as "I am the Vine, and you are the branches" or "I am the Light of the world." The difference, however, is that in those other cases, the figurative meaning makes sense: We do derive all our life and ability to be good from Jesus; and His teaching and His grace does expose and free us from the darkness of sin and error. But the metaphorical meaning of eating one's flesh and drinking one's blood, in ancient Palestine, meant to attack someone. As Fr. John A. O’Brien explains in his book, The Faith of Millions, "The phrase 'to eat the flesh and drink the blood,' when used figuratively among the Jews, as among the Arabs of today, meant to inflict upon a person some serious injury, especially by calumny or by false accusation. To interpret the phrase figuratively then would be to make our Lord promise life everlasting to the culprit for slandering and hating him, which would reduce the whole passage to utter nonsense" (p. 215). The prophet Micah gives a graphic example of this usage:
Then I said,
'Kindly listen, you leaders of the House of Jacob,
you princes of the House of Israel.
Surely you are the ones who ought to know what is right,
and yet you hate what is good and love what is evil,
skinning people alive, pulling the flesh off their bones,
eating my people's flesh, stripping off their skin,
breaking up their bones, chopping them up small
like flesh in the pot, like meat in the stew-pan?' (Micah 3:1-3)
The other "out" that those trying to foist a figurative interpretation on the text try to use is John 6:63, where Jesus says, "It is the spirit that gives life, the flesh has nothing to offer. The words I have spoken to you are spirit and they are life." This, they say, means that eating Jesus' flesh isn't literal, because it would avail nothing. Rather, Jesus' words are "spiritual", which they try to make mean "metaphorical." But holding this view leads to several problems. First, "spiritual" is never used in Scripture to mean "figurative". Second, it would mean that Jesus' Incarnation, Death, and Resurrection meant nothing, for these were all physical acts where Jesus took on flesh, and through that, brought about our redemption! Finally, we'd be understanding the passage to mean that Jesus had just said that it's faith in His teaching, not the Eucharist, that brings life. But what was His teaching? What were His life-giving words? That we must eat His flesh and drink His blood. Jesus' words only bring us life if we obey them (cf. Matt. 7:21-27)! To avoid the clear, literal teaching of John 6 by making it figurative is to reduce the text to an enormous, non-sensical bundle of contradictions.

The fact is, it is the Spirit that gives life--the Spirit of faith. Our fleshly, worldly reliance on human reason can do us no good when we approach the sacred mysteries. While our reason is good, and can lead us to much truth, there comes a time when it reaches the end of its ability, and we must trust in faith on the revelation of Jesus--and the Eucharist is a prime example of just such a time.

The Witness of the Church Fathers
Before I conclude, I wanted to offer a few quotations from the Early Church Fathers, to verify what I said above, that belief in Jesus' Real Presence goes back to the earliest time of Christianity. This seems obvious from the fact that it is so clear in Scripture, and yet reading the unanimous testimony of the Church's Tradition further bolsters our faith in this mysterious Sacrament.

One of the earliest witnesses is St. Ignatius, who himself knew John the Apostle. Writing against certain heretics in AD 110, he says, "Take note of those who hold heterodox opinions on the grace of Jesus Christ which has come to us, and see how contrary their opinions are to the mind of God. . . . They abstain from the Eucharist and from prayer because they do not confess that the Eucharist is the flesh of our Savior Jesus Christ, flesh which suffered for our sins and which that Father, in his goodness, raised up again. They who deny the gift of God are perishing in their disputes" (Letter to the Smyrnaeans 6:2–7:1).

In his First Apology (66), St. Justin Martyr writes about 40 years later, "We call this food Eucharist, and no one else is permitted to partake of it, except one who believes our teaching to be true and who has been washed in the washing which is for the remission of sins and for regeneration and is thereby living as Christ enjoined. For not as common bread nor common drink do we receive these; but since Jesus Christ our Savior was made incarnate by the word of God and had both flesh and blood for our salvation, so too, as we have been taught, the food which has been made into the Eucharist by the Eucharistic prayer set down by him, and by the change of which our blood and flesh is nurtured, is both the flesh and the blood of that incarnated Jesus."

Lest I bore you, dear reader, with the length of this post, I'll limit myself to one more quotation before I conclude. In the most intimate terms, St. Clement of Alexandria writes toward the end of the second century, "'Eat my flesh,' [Jesus] says, 'and drink my blood.' The Lord supplies us with these intimate nutrients, he delivers over his flesh and pours out his blood, and nothing is lacking for the growth of his children" (The Instructor of Children 1:6:43:3).

Examples could be multiplied. For a good starting place, I'd recommend reading the Catholic Answers tract, The Real Presence, from which the above quotations were drawn.

Conclusion: An Intimate Encounter
St. Clement's words above reveal something of the intimacy inherent in the Eucharist. Jesus Christ is not only truly present to us in the Eucharist, but we partake of Him, we eat Him, and are nourished by His very life--Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity. There are many, including myself, who have likened this intimate union to the marriage act, but indeed, it goes even deeper than that.

Ultimately, when we partake of the Eucharist, as St. Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 10, we are doing in a fully efficacious way what the Israelites did when they ate the victim of their animal sacrifices. We are uniting ourselves to the Sacrifice of Christ, and appropriating it to our own lives. We are accepting Him as our "personal Lord and Saviour" every time we receive Him. This sacrificial aspect of the Eucharist will be the theme of our next article.

God bless,
Gregory
Feast of St. Andrew, Apostle

(Category: Catholic Distinctives: Sacraments--The Eucharist)

Monday, November 22, 2010

The Source and Summit

In the famous vision of St. John Bosco (depicted in the painting that is the background for this blog), the Catholic Church is seen as a great boat on stormy seas. On all sides it is being attacked by enemies, fignting against the great ship with an array of weapons, ranging from actual armaments such as cannons, to things like books and pamphlets. Indeed, in the world today we see both actual physical violence, and intellectual and psychological weaponry employed in the assault on Catholics and the Church. However, the Pope steers the Barque of Peter toward two giant columns emerging from the stormy sea. The first and larger column has above it a great Eucharistic Host, and a sign saying "Salus Credentium". The second, smaller column has a statue of the Blessed Virgin surmounting it, with the inscription, "Auxilium Christianorum." It is when the Church is safely moored to these two columns that the sea becomes calm and She is victorious over her enemies.

By my recent series of articles on the Blessed Virgin Mary, I hope I helped strengthen that anchor to the smaller pillar, "The Help of Christians." Through my writings on the Blessed Sacrament, I hope to help us acheive a greater knowledge of, and love for, the Eucharist--truly, "The Salvation of the Faithful." And it is no exaggeration to refer to the Eucharist as our salvation, for truly, hidden under the appearances of Bread and Wine is our Saviour, truly present to us, Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity. It is through our act of Holy Communion that we are able to participate in His once-for-all Death on Calvary and appropriate to ourselves the Grace of Redemption which He purchased for us. This is the sacrifice and sacrament of the New Covenant, by which we celebrate with thanksgiving our adoption as Sons and Daughters of God. It is our spiritual Food and Drink, sustaining our souls in sanctifying grace, and making us more like Jesus Himself until we come to inherit the promise of eternal life--as He Himself promised us: "I am the living bread which has come down from heaven. Anyone who eats this bread will live for ever; and the bread that I shall give is my flesh, for the life of the world" (John 6:51, NJB).

As such, the Holy Eucharist truly is the source and the summit of the Christian life. The Catechism of the Catholic Church (nos. 1324-1327) expresses it thus:

The Eucharist is "the source and summit of the Christian life." "The other sacraments, and indeed all ecclesiastical ministries and works of the apostolate, are bound up with the Eucharist and are oriented toward it. For in the blessed Eucharist is contained the whole spiritual good of the Church, namely Christ himself, our Pasch."

"The Eucharist is the efficacious sign and sublime cause of that communion in the divine life and that unity of the People of God by which the Church is kept in being. It is the culmination both of God's action sanctifying the world in Christ and of the worship men offer to Christ and through him to the Father in the Holy Spirit."

Finally, by the Eucharistic celebration we already unite ourselves with the heavenly liturgy and anticipate eternal life, when God will be all in all.

In brief, the Eucharist is the sum and summary of our faith: "Our way of thinking is attuned to the Eucharist, and the Eucharist in turn confirms our way of thinking."
In other words, in the Eucharist, we have the foundation and reason for every other aspect of the Church's life, and the goal to which every action and thought should be oriented as Christians, because in the Eucharist, we have Jesus Christ Himself, and the opportunity for the most intimate union with Him possible this side of Heaven.

The greatest tragedy in the Church, I believe, is that so many either do not realise this great gift, or else they out-and-out deny that it is true. When I was a Pentecostal, the thought that Jesus could be truly present, Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity, in the "Lord's Supper", was preposterous, bordering on blasphemous. It seemed an obvious thing that He was being metaphorical at the Last Supper. Communion was only a commemoration of His sacrifice, and, lest its meaning be diminished through over-frequent celebration, Communion services were relegated to once a month, on the first Sunday of the month--unless, of course, something more important was going on that particular Sunday. This did not serve to preserve the meaning of this sacred act, but truly to further diminish whatever meaning remained after the Greatest of Sacraments was stripped of all but a symbolic significance.

As I related in my Eucharistic testimony, once I discovered the truth of the Bible's teaching on the Eucharist, and found that teaching faithfully preserved in the Catholic Church, I hungered intensely to be able to participate at that Table--so much so that despite the questions and the challenges that Catholicism posed to my faith, I pressed on to literally take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.

And yet, Protestants aren't the only ones who have a diminished understanding of this Blessed Sacrament. While many of them out and out deny the truth, so many Catholics themselves have never properly learned it, or understood it. Many simply find it too hard to accept and so deny it themselves.

As such, in this series of posts on the Eucharist, I want to emphasise, clarify, and explain as best as I can the glorious truth that Jesus loves us so much that He comes to be with us in this Sacrament--that He longs to unite Himself to us and make us more and more like Him. In the Blessed Sacrament of the Eucharist, we truly can enter into an intimate Communion with our Blessed Lord and Saviour.

Paragraph 1323 of the Catechism states,
"At the Last Supper, on the night he was betrayed, our Savior instituted the Eucharistic sacrifice of his Body and Blood. This he did in order to perpetuate the sacrifice of the cross throughout the ages until he should come again, and so to entrust to his beloved Spouse, the Church, a memorial of his death and resurrection: a sacrament of love, a sign of unity, a bond of charity, a Paschal banquet 'in which Christ is consumed, the mind is filled with grace, and a pledge of future glory is given to us'" (quoting Sacrosanctum Concilium 47).
Using this as our jumping-off point, I'll be writing an article dealing with each of the points made: The Eucharist as Jesus' Real Presence; the Eucharist as Sacrifice; the Eucharist as Memorial; the Eucharist as a Sacrament of Love and Unity; the Eucharist as a Vehicle for Grace; and the Eucharist as a Pledge of Future Glory.

God bless
Gregory

(Category: Catholic Distinctives: Sacraments--The Eucharist)

Monday, November 15, 2010

I'm Still Here...

Howdy all.
I feel a brief apology and a slightly less brief explanation for my silence might be in order--in case anyone's still around who cares.

I do apologise for my lack of attention to my blogs lately. I've had a busy sort of year, between new a new shift at work, a new job/promotion, more responsibility, less energy, a mission trip to Haiti, running our recent Halloween for Hunger food drive for our parish, plans for a new Catholic outreach project here in Hamilton, as well as the general throes of life and marriage. On top of all of that, it seems that returning from Haiti, in particular, has caused certain unresolved issues in my past to manifest in a sort of depression, which has played out, by and large, through far too much sleeping and not enough desire to do any of the things I need to do, and that I love to do. This blog, as well as Doubting Thomist, and my art, have all, unfortunately, become the main victims of my busy life and psychological malaise.

That was then,of course, and this is now. And hopefully now will yield something different. I have and am taking steps to put my life back in order. The step, though, that most concerns you, dear reader, was actually taken by my beautiful and loving wife, who as an early Christmas present, bought me an HP Mini laptop with a Rogers Internet Stick, for the express purpose of getting me back to blogging! Because she's just awesome that way! And it is on this very laptop (which even happens to be a wonderful shade of my favourite of hues), that I am currently composing this message to you.

So here's the plan:
As I mentioned, there are various steps I am taking to get my life heading in the way I think God wants it to go. Some of those steps are significantly more immediate than others, and some are significantly more personal than others. In a nutshell, I'm intending to pursue a vocation to the Permanent Diaconate, and will contact the Diocese regarding that by week's end. I'll be old enough to start formation for the Diaconate in May, so it seems an appropriate time to get those ducks in a row. Saturday, Melissa and I are getting formation on becoming Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion, so that we can serve more faithfully and purposefully in that most important aspect of the Christian Faith: the Eucharist. Over the next little while, I plan as well to join the Lay Dominicans, something I've been discerning for quite some time. On top of that, I mentioned a Catholic outreach above that I want to bring to Hamilton. I would love to see that kick off by Lent of next year, but it may wait until the following September, depending on certain details. Hopefully I can keep you more informed in the coming weeks and months.

So in all that hectic business, thanks to my new laptop, I'll have opportunity to blog during various periods of downtime previously unavailable to me: namely, break time at work! That's 45 minutes a day that I truly have nothing better to do than to write about the truth and beauty of the Church that Jesus founded! That's the sure thing, time-wise, on top of any other spare opportunity I get, like now, for example, while I sit in my car waiting for my wife to finish a tutoring session.

So expect new articles here and at Doubting Thomist on a much more frequent basis! Next up for here, we'll be returning to the series I'd begun on the Eucharist. Over at Doubting Thomist, I'll continue to tell you What I Saw in Haiti.

May God richly bless you as he has Melissa and me.

Thursday, August 05, 2010

Sorry for the lack of posting

But you're not going to get anything out of me for a little while.

I've been a bit absent lately as I prepare to go on a mission trip to Haiti. My team is leaving tomorrow, and we'll be back on the 13th. So yeah, needless to say, I won't be posting for a little bit--but when I get back, I'll let you all know how it went, over at Doubting Thomist.

Please pray for Fr. Bill Trusz, Nassrin Msiss, Daniel D'Souza, Mark Drotar, and I, as we go to be with the Haitien people of Beau-Sejour, a remote mountain village, as they slowly rebuild from the earthquake, as we offer our compassion and solidarity with them, and teach them First Aid to help equip them to better take care of themselves.

God bless
Gregory

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Body of Christ



Image © 2010 Gregory Watson

Pencil Sketch, 5 1/2" x 8 1/2".

I know I don't typically post my artwork here at Barque of Peter. That's what Doubting Thomist is for (and the image is posted there, too), but it just seemed to fit so perfectly with my recent and ongoing writings on the Eucharist, that I thought I'd put this sketch up here, too.

It's the value drawing of a painting I plan to do in the not too distant future. The image was inspired by an experience I had this past February or March. I was sponsoring someone through the RCIA process at my parish, and on one of the Rites of Welcoming, we happened to be in the front pew during Communion. At the time, we had a seminarian with us doing his internship, Deacon (now Father) Jeff Oehring, who happened to be distributing the Host directly in front of where I was kneeling after receiving the Eucharist. I looked up from prayer, and right in front of my face was the ciborium that he was holding, and reflected in it, I could see myself, and the entire church behind me. Immediately, I knew I had to paint it.

Hence the image here, depicting, in a slightly different way, the scene that I saw. I say slightly different because that's not technically me in the foreground of the ciborium. It was intentionally a generic blurry person. Also, the structure of the church is decidedly more traditional and Gothic than my parish. Finally, I had intended to depict reception of the Eucharist kneeling and on the tongue (of course, the image doesn't depict the actual communicating, so it's a bit ambiguous that way, which is good in its way because it's applicable to a wider range of Catholic experience then).

The title, "Body of Christ", is as multi-layered as is the term in Catholic theology, which is what made me want to make this image. Obviously, first and foremost, it refers to the Eucharistic Host, in which Jesus is truly present, His Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity. The moment captured is right when the priest or other minister of Holy Communion would say, "The Body of Christ" before administering the host to the communicant. However, the priest's hands are also a part of the meaning of "Body of Christ", since we hold that the priest is himself an alter Christus--by virtue of the sacrament of Holy Orders, the priest has the authority to act in persona Christi for us, a tangible sign and example of Christ's presence among us.

Finally, the reflection of the Church in the ciborium brings out a third dimension to "Body of Christ", in that we, the Church, is the Body of Christ, and we, individually, are members of it. It is through Communion that we become that Body, as St. Paul writes, "The blessing-cup, which we bless, is it not a sharing in the blood of Christ; and the loaf of bread which we break, is it not a sharing in the body of Christ? And as there is one loaf, so we, although there are many of us, are one single body, for we share in the one loaf" (1 Corinthians 10:16-17).
God bless
Gregory

Sunday, July 04, 2010

Journeying Into His Real Presence

Sorry for the long delay in new posts. Had to deal with a comment on an old Open Forum, turned it into an article unto itself for Doubting Thomist, and then had to deal with the slew of comments it generated--as well as actual, you know, life stuff.

Anyway, before I delve into the strictly apologetical writing on the Eucharist, I wanted to write a personal post and give a testimony of sorts about how I came to believe that Jesus is truly present, Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity, in the Eucharist.

As anyone who's been around this blog for any length of time--or who's read the blurb below my name in the right hand sidebar, or, for that matter, has read my Conversion Story--knows, I grew up in the Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada. Despite having a deep and lively faith, believing that Jesus could in the Bible, and still did today work miracles of all sorts, and believing that we should be filled with the Spirit and have Jesus alive in our hearts, we deplored the notion that sacraments had any efficacious power. While the Baptism of the Holy Spirit could cause one to speak in tongues and prophesy, baptism in water was simply a symbolic action (for adults and children old enough to decide on their own). While miraculous healings were claimed all the time, the clear biblical instruction to anoint with oil in the sacrament of the anointing of the sick was by and large overlooked. While the sanctity of marriage was stressed, the sacrament of marriage was never mentioned. Ordination was outright denied, within the ceremony itself, to have any power to confer any unique authority to the newly ordained pastor. Confession was supposed to be to God alone, because the Temple Veil had been torn open at the Crucifixion, and "confirmation" was when someone said something, or some sign was perceived, as verifying a thought that you had that you weren't sure was from God or not.

And, of course, we celebrated the "Lord's Supper", because He commanded us to do so, after all. But while, "Do this in memory of Me" was taken literally, "This is My body...This is My blood..." was most certainly not! And while the Book of Acts was used to argue that every time someone was baptised in the Holy Spirit, they spoke in tongues, and therefore tongues had to be the initial evidence of the baptism in the Spirit, apparently the clear example of Acts that the early Christians met together daily to "break bread" was not in any way an instruction on how often the Lord's Supper was to be celebrated. In an effort to keep this memorial meal from losing its meaning and impact, it was celebrated on the first Sunday of every month, instead--with saltine crackers and Welch's grape juice.

Now, to be fair, Communion in the Pentecostal Church really is just a symbol of that Last Supper. The cracker and grape juice one receives really is only a token of Jesus' Body and Blood. Not having anything even resembling Holy Orders in the Pentecostal Assemblies, let alone valid Apostolic Succession, there is no one capable of consecrating the bread and wine so that it would actually become the Body and Blood of Christ, even if they believed that it should.

Despite this rather impoverished view of the Eucharist, we still managed to take it rather seriously in my family. I remember one morning saying to my mother as a little boy, "I'm glad we're having communion today, Mommy, because I'm hungry!" This comment greatly disturbed her, and she wouldn't let me partake, understanding, even as a Pentecostal memorialist, that this was no ordinary food.

I remember, as a boy, very in tune to the love of God and attracted to the mystical things in life, staring at the cup of grape juice (it was a little clear plastic "shot glass", more or less), and seeing the sparkle from the ceiling lights reflecting in the deep purple of the juice, and listening to the words, "This is My blood, the blood of the new and everlasting covenant. Drink this, in memory of Me." I "knew" Jesus was being metaphorical when He said those words, but even so, I felt that it was something. At the time, I didn't even know what the Catholic Church was, let alone what it taught about the Eucharist. I just knew Pentecostalism, and the various Protestant denominations I encountered at private Christian school growing up. Nothing in my upbringing even suggested that Jesus might have actually meant what He said. Even so, I had a glimmer.

During high school, I undertook to actually read through the whole Bible, cover to cover. I actually made it, too (after stalling out repeatedly in Leviticus). Actually going through the text, cover to cover (even with a Protestant Bible, missing its seven-plus books, and containing very dispensationalistic footnotes), really makes you sit up and say, "Hey, I've never heard of this before!" I'd been going to church all my life--memorising Bible verses since I was six years old or younger. But they never covered everything, cover-to-cover. I quipped to a friend of mine recently that the rule of faith for Protestants is not the Bible, but the Bible Alone. What I meant by that rather glib statement, was what I began to learn when I actually read the Bible through for the first time: There's a heckuva lot in there that never gets touched. And I'm not talking about obscure Old Testament prophecies. I mean a good chunk of everything between 2 Thessalonians and Revelation.

This included certain fascinating (and eventually life-altering) tidbits such as St. Peter's statement in his first epistle, "Baptism now saves you" (1 Peter 3:21). That one made me sit up and say "huh?" As I said above, I believed baptism was nothing more than a symbol of our new life in Christ--not the thing that actually gave us new life in Christ! What on earth could Peter be talking about?! This small portion of a verse eventually revolutionised my thinking about baptism--but that's another article. But a similar phenomenon happened as I read through 1 Corinthians. I saw St. Paul building up an argument, from at least chapter 10, and culminating in chapter 11, that took "the Lord's Supper" far beyond anything I'd understood before. I couldn't articulate it then, and didn't know how to ask what I wanted to ask, let alone who to ask it of. So, beyond offering confirmation of those glimmers I'd had in childhood, I pocketed this idea as "something to investigate" later.

Later ended up being Bible College (where so many things are investigated). In a class on Worship, taught by a former Catholic, we discussed at some length the centrality of the Eucharist (I believe Bible College was the first time I'd heard the term) and its centrality in the Christian life. That it was central was news to me, honestly. I could never understand why so much time was devoted to it in classical art, since it was only celebrated once a month! Of course, I found out that there's a spectrum among Protestants--from once a year (or not at all), to quarterly, to monthly, to weekly. Those of us who celebrated no more regularly than monthly, like myself, viewed weekly celebration as ritualistic, and tending to take the meaning out of the Eucharist. That was, after all, the justification for less frequent celebrations. Of course, the sad irony is that it's those who celebrate it less who think it means less.

We further discussed different interpretations of the Eucharist--from Zwinglian Memorialism, to a Calvinist view of a "Spiritual Presence", to Lutheran "Consubstantiation", and finally, Catholic "Transubstantiation." That someone would actually believe that the Eucharist was really Jesus boggled my mind. However, my previous experiences and study of Scripture had already convinced me that a purely memorialist understanding of the Lord's Supper was insufficient. Calvin's "middle of the road" approach seemed very much in keeping with what I was discovering. I talked to a friend of mine about all of this, because it was so new to me. I figured most common sense people would believe in a memorialist understanding, and that this new "Spiritual Presence" concept was somewhat "out there". But I was challenged by it, and wanted to see where others stood. I still remember my shock when my friend told me he agreed with the notion of Consubstantiation--that Jesus was truly and bodily present with the bread in the Eucharist. It was enough of a shock that someone could believe such a thing--it was augmented by the fact that my friend believed it. I resolved to research this further.

It was around this time that I'd been introduced to Catholicism--in no small part by the worship class I mentioned, but also through history classes and theology and others. I'd met the Early Church Fathers while researching papers, and found that these giants were startlingly Catholic in their beliefs. At first, I easily dismissed their Catholicism as somehow being "leftover paganism" (or, more sinisterly, "pagan syncretism"). I would read St. Augustine and say, "He sure makes some amazingly good points here, but about this, he's way off," until one day I realised the arrogance of supposing that I, a Bible College undergrad, knew more about theology than one of the people who essentially wrote the book on it. Around this time I also started dating the woman who would become my wife, herself a cradle Catholic. I started attending Mass with her, and experiencing (though merely as a spectator) the Eucharistic Liturgy for myself. I studied the Fathers, I studied contemporary Catholic sources like the Catechism and websites like Catholic Answers and Biblical Evidence for Catholicism. And I studied the Scriptures--I intensely scrutinised what the Bible had to say about the Eucharist. What I didn't study, awkwardly, was my Bible College course load. It's a strange irony to learn more about your faith than ever before, and fail the courses trying to teach it to you.

I remember sitting in History class, hearing the professor disparage various Catholic beliefs saying, "And then the Catholics started believing such and so on this or that date. How ridiculous is that?" Transubstantiation definitely received such attention, the belief being attributed to St. Thomas Aquinas as if no one had ever taught or heard of such a thing as Jesus transforming the Eucharistic elements into His flesh and blood. I remember thinking, "I could probably put together a thoroughly biblical defence of that doctrine in 10 minutes--and I don't even believe in it!" It was, perhaps, the overwhelming bias of my history professor that led me to really pursue an investigation of what the Catholic Church actually taught.

So I investigated Scripture (the conclusions of which will make up the next few articles, so I won't go into great detail here). As I said, 1 Corinthians had made an impact. Being the earliest-recorded account of the Eucharist, St. Paul's thoughts had particular interest to me. I knew from childhood that one wasn't to partake "unworthily", but what did that mean? In the context of chapter 11, Paul writes rather clearly, that "a person who eats and drinks without recognising the Body is eating and drinking his own condemnation" (v.29). Earlier, in verse 27, he writes that eating and drinking unworthily makes us "answerable for the body and blood of the Lord" (v. 27), which, I found out, was a juridical term in Paul's day, meaning, "You're guilty of murdering that person." Now that's a fancy claim to make about a symbol! And it was so serious that many who were guilty of this were getting sick, and even dying, at the Corinthian Church! This was certainly serious business! Something more was going on than a symbolic memorial. Something seemed to be going on even beyond a "spiritual presence." If I'm to recognise a body, there must be a body to recognise!

Could Jesus have really meant what He said, when He said, "This is My body"? Instinctively, I said, "That's cannibalism!"--which, incidentally, is what the pagan Romans accused the early Christians of. Hmmm. I said, "How can this Man give us His flesh to eat?"--which is what the unbelieving Jews said in John 6.

So I read through John 6. At first, I wanted to isolate it from the notion of the Eucharist. But St. John doesn't allow that. In verse 4, he lets us know that Jesus said everything in the context of the Jewish Passover--the same Feast He was celebrating with His disciples the night before He died. The insinuation was clear. And Jesus said, in no uncertain terms, "I am the living bread which has come down from heaven. Anyone who eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I shall give is my flesh, for the life of the world" (v. 51). That's staggering enough, but then He repeats this four different times in four different ways--each and every time getting more specific and more literal. "Spiritualising" John 6, or taking Jesus figuratively, is completely impossible. This is clearly seen in the fact that he let the multitudes leave Him because they couldn't accept this teaching. Had it been a metaphor, He could have--and should have--corrected their misunderstanding. But the Jews, and even His disciples, knew exactly what He meant, and that He meant it. And because they couldn't accept it, they walked away from Him.

I realised, at this point, that because the Reformers, and their successors, couldn't accept it, they rewrote their theology.

It seemed to me that changing my theology to not recognise the Body was exactly the same thing as walking away from Jesus. I didn't want to walk away from Jesus, and I knew what He meant in John 6. I knew what He meant in that Upper Room. I knew what Paul meant about "recognising the Body". I recognised the Body, and I hungered for Him.

However, because I still struggled with other Catholic beliefs, I remained outside the Catholic faith. I attended Mass every week for three years as I struggled to believe in these other things, believing all the while that "This is the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world. Happy are those who are called to His supper."

I remember thinking, and praying, during this time, that I wish I could be called to that supper. I had heard about mystics in the middle ages who, for whatever reason, were barred from receiving Jesus, but He Himself brought them the Host. I wished, I longed for such an experience--that when I responded with the prayer, "Lord, I am not worthy to receive You, but only say the word, and I shall be healed," that maybe, just maybe, Jesus would work just such a miracle, and say that Word. That miracle never came, and my "Eucharistic Hunger" (as my priest called it) continued to grow--often to unbearable peaks. This itself was the miracle, the word of healing for which I prayed. My hunger for Jesus in the Eucharist was the impetus--often the only impetus--for continuing to struggle with the other doctrinal issues keeping me from faith in the Catholic Church. Finally, I was able to surrender in faith to the Catholic Church, and really recognise the other "Body of Christ".

I remember, that Easter Vigil night, when I was to be Confirmed and receive my First Holy Communion, that a diabolical doubt overtook me. "What if I'm wrong? What if it really is just bread and wine? What if this 'Eucharistic Hunger' I've built up over more than three long years finds its culmination in an anti-climactic let-down of a lie?"

For two hours I sat, enveloped by the beauty of the liturgy--from the lighting of the candles through the Scripture readings that outlined God's plan of salvation, up until that Great Alleluia and the proclamation of the Gospel, and Jesus' Resurrection, and on through the homily, the baptisms, the confirmations, and right up until the Eucharistic Liturgy with this nagging doubt, this awkward "What if...?"

I recognise that feelings are not what we should base our faith on. I recognise that Grace is not something we can perceive with our emotions or our senses. But God is faithful, and when I came up to receive our Precious Lord for the first time, He did not disappoint! I felt such an overwhelming sense of His Presence going through me that I was compelled to let out a little of my inner Pentecostal. I returned to the pew speaking in tongues (as quietly as possible, so as not to freak out any of my fellow new converts), and could not stop the entire time the packed church's parishioners filed up for their own encounter with the Risen Lord.

I will not say that this experience is normative, or that every time I receive Communion I'm caught up into ecstacy. But I know in my knower (as my mother would say) that this truly is Jesus, the Lamb of God. Despite bad music, sloppy liturgies, and even, occasionally, faithless priests, Jesus is still present, truly and completely, Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity in the Eucharist, waiting for us to come to Him and imbibe on Him, so that He may come into us and dwell with us in a manner more intimate than anything else we can experience.

It's deeper than sex.
It's better than chocolate!

Jesus Himself ardently desires your presence at the altar. Don't wait three long years as I did. Run to Him, and let Him fill your soul so that you become, literally, what you eat--until you become another Christ.

Amen.


(Category: Catholic Distinctives: Sacraments--The Eucharist)

Monday, June 07, 2010

Procession

I'm not sure why--whether it's a cultural thing here in Canada, or if the practice simply died out in past years due to the post-Vatican-II confusion, or if other reasons were at work--but Corpus Christi processions aren't that common here. Last year, the Legion of Mary wanted to renew the practice of Corpus Christi processions, and picked our parish, St. Margaret Mary, to host it. We had a great turnout and Fr. Bill Trusz, our pastor, thought it would be a good tradition to maintain and develop in future years. I heartily agree! So this year, we had our second annual Corpus Christi procession.
It is a wonderfully inspiring thing to see Catholics taking their faith to the streets in a public witness. Through rosaries prayed on the way, to meditations at three outdoor altars set up for the occasion, with litanies and Gospel readings, we announced the Gospel of Jesus--that He loves us and comes to be with us, desiring a relationship with us. He died for us and rose again to save us, and remains present with us in the Eucharist--through which we can experience intimate Communion with Him.

It had poured rain the entire night before, and was supposed to rain all weekend. It was even drizzling in the morning for Mass. But the skies cleared up in time for the procession, although the parks were a bit flooded. Nevertheless, the procession went off without a hitch, thanks to the careful planning of Laurie Jasvac.


It was fascinating to see the people on the streets and in the parks, and their varied reactions to the procession. Especially the children, who stopped their playing to gape and ask questions about what was going on--many of whom ended up tagging along (and "shh-ing" their friends!). There was a group of four girls, who had simply been playing in the park by one of the altars, who had a yellow ribbon. They had been twirling around with it when we arrived. After stopping and listening for a while, they began to dance innocently with the ribbon as we sang the Tantum Ergo (the last two stanzas of the hymn with which I closed yesterday's post). Now, you might not be a fan of liturgical dance during Mass. I'm not either. But this wasn't Mass. It wasn't even in the Church. And most importantly, these children weren't from the Church (so far as I know. They weren't part of the procession, anyway). They simply were responding in innocence to the Innocent One before them.

It reminded me of the reading Fr. Bill read to open the radio show I was a guest on (you can listen to that here), from St. Thérèse of Lisieux's autobiography, about her own childhood recollections of Processions when she was growing up. The wonder, innocence, and wholesomeness of the scene was very moving.

Growing up in the Evangelical Protestant world, vocal and public expressions of faith in order to evangelise are very much a part of my worldview. I recognise their need and their importance in the saving of souls. "How shall they hear without a preacher?" (Romans 10:14). Yet here was a type of preaching that I'd never encountered in my Evangelical days. Here, just as Jesus is present to us in the Church, we simply made Jesus, and the Church, present in the neighbourhood. We prayed, we sang, we heard the Gospel--and we adored our Eucharistic Lord.

Blessed be God.
Blessed be His holy Name.
Blessed be Jesus Christ, true God and true Man.
Blessed be the Name of Jesus.
Blessed be His Most Sacred Heart.
Blessed be His Most Precious Blood.
Blessed be Jesus in the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar.
Blessed be the Holy Spirit, the Paraclete.
Blessed be the great Mother of God, Mary most holy.
Blessed be her holy and Immaculate Conception.
Blessed be her glorious Assumption.
Blessed be the name of Mary, Virgin and Mother.
Blessed be St. Joseph, her most chaste Spouse.
Blessed be God in His angels and in His saints.
Amen. (The Divine Praises)
Thanks to Brian Bolt for taking the pictures for me, while I was busy being an acolyte!


(Category: Catholic Distinctives: Sacraments--The Eucharist;
Catholic Devotions: Eucharistic Devotions)

Sunday, June 06, 2010

Corpus Christi

Today is the Feast of the Body and Blood of the Lord, or, as it's traditionally known, the Feast of Corpus Christi. Today we celebrate the most precious gift of Jesus Himself, truly present, Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity, within the Eucharistic elements. This mysterious truth requires a great deal of faith to believe, but God does not leave us without help to believe it--He has confirmed it through other miracles throughout history that help bolster our faith in the Eucharist.

This video from Youtube documents one such miracle--a very recent one, in fact--and gives scientific evidence for what has taken place. Please watch it--you'll be glad you did!



For the next however long (until I'm done, really), I'm going to be writing about the Eucharist, which the Church calls the Source and Summit of our Faith. I can attest to this being the case in my own faith life--Jesus' real presence in the Eucharist is the reason I became a Catholic. I will write about that aspect of my journey in my next post. As soon as I can, I'll also post pictures from this years annual Corpus Christi Procession at my parish of St. Margaret Mary, Hamilton, ON.

After that, I will expound on the various dimensions of theological teachings about the Eucharist--the Real Presence and Transubstantiation, Communion with Christ, the Sacrifice of the Mass, etc.

Then I will recount other instances of Eucharistic Miracles throughout history, in order to inspire our faith further.

And I will conclude our series by advocating greater devotion to Jesus in the Eucharist through not only frequent participation in the Mass, but also through the custom of Eucharistic Adoration.

I leave you now with the words to that great Eucharistic Hymn, written by St. Thomas Aquinas for the Feast of Corpus Christi--The Pange Lingua Gloriosi:

Pange, lingua, gloriosi
Corporis mysterium,
Sanguinisque pretiosi,
quem in mundi pretium
fructus ventris generosi
Rex effudit Gentium.

Nobis datus, nobis natus
ex intacta Virgine,
et in mundo conversatus,
sparso verbi semine,
sui moras incolatus
miro clausit ordine.

In supremae nocte coenae
recumbens cum fratribus
observata lege plene
cibis in legalibus,
cibum turbae duodenae
se dat suis manibus.

Verbum caro, panem verum
verbo carnem efficit:
fitque sanguis Christi merum,
et si sensus deficit,
ad firmandum cor sincerum
sola fides sufficit.

Tantum ergo Sacramentum
veneremur cernui:
et antiquum documentum
novo cedat ritui:
praestet fides supplementum
sensuum defectui.

Genitori, Genitoque
laus et jubilatio,
salus, honor, virtus quoque
sit et benedictio:
Procedenti ab utroque
compar sit laudatio.

Amen. Alleluia.
God bless,
Gregory
On the Feast of Corpus Christi


(Category: Catholic Distinctives: Sacraments--The Eucharist)

Saturday, June 05, 2010

The Trinity: Letters to Eric (Part 13)

This is the conclusion to my series of letters to Eric on the subject of the Trinity. As I said in the Edit of the first post, apparently, he and I really agreed about the Trinity all along. Where we disagree is in the necessity of a Christian believing in the Trinity. The misunderstanding has led to some frustration, but I hope the exchange itself might be profitable nevertheless for someone who has doubts or questions about the Triune Nature of God.

I admit to more extensively editing this letter than the previous ones, for the sake of maintaining the pertinent subject matter (the Trinity) at the fore of the discussion, and as well to keep the various trains of thought together; in case Eric reads this and wonders why this letter is rather different than the one I initially sent him. I hope Eric continues to strive to apprehend the truth. Our conversation is still ongoing, but the topic has switched back to something he seems more comfortable discussing--namely, what's wrong with the Catholic Church. I'm sure our conversation will find its way to the blog sooner or later.


Dear Eric,
The beginning of your last letter gladdened my heart. That is, you wrote that you can honestly say you agree. Of course, you didn't specifically say with what you agreed, but I'll assume that you agree with me about the Doctrine of the Trinity.

I'll reciprocate, and declare that I agree with you that someone who simply has an erroneous belief about the Trinity out of genuine ignorance or stupidity is not thereby damned for it. However, some people do choose to be wilfully ignorant, and many others outright reject the truth. These folks are indeed culpable for their lack of faith.

I am also very glad to hear that God has given you a desire to continue to search out the truth regarding His triune nature. I'm interested in hearing this deeper understanding that you feel God has given you once you can formulate it, but if, like Pelagius (whom you keep mentioning in surprisingly positive tones), your understanding is in error, I'll be sure to critique it for you and try to demonstrate why the error is error. Of course, it may very well be that you've hit on the truth, for which I will rejoice with you exceedingly.

In your letter, you made some rather disparaging remarks about the Catholic faith, which I would like to address before I close.

You claim, pertaining to dogma, that the Catholic Church has added dogmas that either weren't present in the early Church, or which render the Gospel weak or obsolete. I vehemently deny that this is the case. Every teaching of the Catholic Church today can be traced back, generation by generation, right to the Apostles. Now, of course, over time our understanding of the Church's teaching has grown and matured, but it was certainly present in seed form.

As for your claim that the Church adds other planks to salvation, I assure you that it teaches nothing regarding salvation that isn't in Scripture and which hasn't been handed down by the Apostles themselves. And I'm more than willing to have that discussion with you, as well as the discussion about dogmas rendering the faith obsolete. But, as you admitted, that is another discussion.

You again reference Pelagius, saying that you're somewhat reticent to elaborate on your new found understanding of the Trinity because if, like Pelagius, it differs from Catholic dogma, you'll be branded a heretic. This gives you some rancor, because you claim that if the Church is wrong, taking such an attitude will prevent it from ever coming to the Truth.

The thing is, if you don't hold the Church's line, like Pelagius, you are a heretic. Pelagius was indeed wrong--teaching that we could save ourselves without God's grace. He was right to be condemned.

As to whether the Church, holding to such a dogmatic position, can therefore be wrong, and, if wrong, whether it can then find the truth, first we have to ask whether Jesus did give us a Church that could authoritatively pronounce what is true and what is false in matters of Dogma. If there is no such Church, then His statements in Matthew 16:16-19 and Matthew 18:18 are meaningless, as is 1 Timothy 3:15. If there is a Church with such authority, then we are called to obedience to it, since as Jesus said, "He who hears you, hears Me, and he who rejects you rejects Me, and the One who sent Me" (Luke 10:16).

If the Church was wrong since the beginning, then the ultimate conclusion, the only one possible, is that Jesus couldn't keep His promise. That's not a conclusion I'm very willing to entertain.

The beautiful reality is, though, that Jesus did promise and deliver us a Church, guided by His Holy Spirit into all truth. He promised that this Church would never be overcome by error, but would proclaim the truth to the whole world. If we can trust Jesus, then we can trust the Church which He founded, which is His bride and His body. And no other Church out there can adequately make the claim to be that Church--no Church except the Catholic Church.

May God bless you, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
Amen.


It is here, of course, that our conversation on the Trinity came to an end, and our discussion of the Church and the Sacraments was taken up, and is still ongoing. Coming up next here, I'll be beginning a series on the Eucharist, starting tomorrow, the Feast of Corpus Christi. When my discussion with Eric of the Church and the Sacraments is over, I'll be sure to post it here.
God bless.
Gregory



(Category: Theology Proper: The Holy Trinity.)

Friday, June 04, 2010

The Trinity: Letters to Eric (Part 12)

Dear Eric,
Sorry for my delay in replying. This past week [May 2-9] has been pretty busy. Wednesday was my wife's birthday. Saturday was my own. Sunday was obviously Mother's Day. I'm starting a new shift at work this week, so hopefully that will give me more time and energy--rather than nights all the time...

Anyway, you wrote in your last letter, first, affirming that you agree with me that the Mormons and the Jehovah's Witnesses make a false claim to a relationship with Jesus, but then you ask "What if their claim was true? What then?"

First of all, I'm not sure what relevance the question has, since we both don't believe their claims. "What if" questions like this are usually attempts at sophistry. However, I'll give you the benefit of the doubt and answer your question.

If the Mormons and the Jehovah's Witnesses actually had a true relationship with Jesus, then I would have a false one. Only one of us can be right (it's also important to remember that the Mormons would disagree as much with the Jehovah's Witnesses about Jesus as they would with you or me). That's why it's important to seek and to know the Truth, so that we're not led astray by every wind of doctrine, as Ephesians 4 tells us. And Ephesians 4 also gives us the antidote to being so tossed about: the Church--namely, the leaders, Apostles, Prophets, Evangelists, Pastors and Teachers. Each serves in their own role the function of preserving, proclaiming, and clarifying the Faith for the people, so that we can be sure of the Truth, so that when someone comes up with a new cockamamie concept of God, we can say "This is not true, because it does not line up with the historic faith handed down from the Apostles until now, faithfully and without change." Nowhere is such a consistent tradition preserved except in the Catholic Church. Every other Christian denomination, and every cult that has split off from Christianity, has changed their beliefs in some radical way since their inception. I'm not trying to sound arrogant or prideful in saying this--it's a matter of historical record.

You then state that if a particular dogma doesn't accurately describe the one with whom we are seeking a relationship--namely, God--then that dogma should be clarified so that it more truthfully describes the relationship, and not partially or incompletely.

If a Dogma doesn't fit the relationship, then yes, the Dogma should be clarified. But clarification doesn't equal rejection or change to the Dogma. What the Dogma says, if it's True, is True. But the fact that it's True doesn't mean it's easily understood. The role of the Pastor and Teacher of Ephesians 4 is precisely to help explain the Dogma so that, on the one hand, more people can easily understand it, while on the other hand, the truth of the Dogma is not lost. It's a very difficult tension to maintain. And, frankly, sometimes it's not the explanation that needs further simplification, but it's a matter of the learner becoming more educated.

When St. Thomas Aquinas wrote his Summa Theologica, it was written in such a way that those in the 13th Century who read it could easily understand it, even if they were only beginning to study theology. Now, some 800 years later, even with modern translations, it takes some effort to figure out. That's not because Thomas failed to make his Summa easily understandable, but because our society, quite frankly, doesn't have the same level of education in theological and philosophical matters as they did in the 1200s. So, on the one hand, we can seek to simplify the Summa even further, but there comes a point where we simply have to try to educate its readers.

But stepping back a second, this is why, even though Dogma doesn't change, it nevertheless develops. From the Early Church until now, the faith once for all handed down to and through the Apostles is the same as taught today in the Catholic Church. But what we believe today has expanded upon and clarified what the Early Christians believed in seed form. Even the dogma of the Trinity took many hundreds of years to really describe properly, avoiding one heresy on the left and the other on the right. But the core truth of the Trinity was believed by the very first Christians, even if it wasn't fully explained at that time.

This is why we can attempt to puzzle through the mystery of how there can be One God subsisting in three Persons, and seek to better explain and understand this mystery; and it's why we cannot and must not deny that there is One God subsisting in three Persons, either by saying there are actually three gods, or that there is only One God and He expresses Himself in three modes or representations. Neither of these is true, even if they are easier to understand.

The very incomprehensibility of One Being in Three Persons itself speaks to the truth of the doctrine of the Trinity. If infinite God could be truly comprehended, He wouldn't be infinite. In the end, if we can really fully understand God, it's because He isn't actually God.

May the God who is greater than anything we can conceive, richly bless you beyond all that you can ask or imagine.
Gregory


(Category: Theology Proper: The Holy Trinity.)

Thursday, June 03, 2010

The Trinity: Letters to Eric (Part 11)

Dear Eric,
I'm afraid that I just can't agree that the Doctrine of the Trinity isn't all that important. I think that not only is the doctrine important, but is absolutely foundational to Christianity. Moreover, I don't believe that attempting to correctly understand the doctrine and to avoid serious errors about it can be constituted "over-analysing" it at all. For one thing, we are made as rational beings--possessing intellect. It's a part of what makes us the image of God. Now, the goal of the intellect is Truth. Since God is absolute Truth, we can hardly be accused of being overly analytical when it comes to trying to understand that Truth--even though here and now we may never fully succeed. We would be denying one of the very fundamental parts of what it means to be human if we didn't try.

That is not to say that everyone is equally equipped to plumb the depths of theological mysteries. I do think one can have a wonderful relationship with Jesus without ever delving deeply into the mystery of the Trinity (so long as he believes in It despite never "over-analysing" It). However, the problem is when someone offers an erroneous understanding of the Trinity. It can lead to significant problems in the rest of his theology. It can be a slippery slope between worshipping Jesus without thinking too deeply about Who He is, and ending up worshipping the wrong Jesus. A Mormon or a Jehovah's Witness could make a similar claim to yours, that they have a relationship with Jesus without ever thinking too deeply or "over-analysing" Who He is--but Mormons and Jehovah's Witnesses are wrong precisely because they deny the Trinity. The relationship that a Mormon or a Witness has with Jesus, is with the wrong Jesus.

As to your point about Saul, my point was that the "evil spirit" may very well not have been what we associate with "evil spirits" such as Jesus cast out of people in the Gospel. Even if it was, though, the point is that God did not send it to cause Saul evil, but to bring him to an ultimate good. That is, because of this evil spirit, Saul was ministered to by David, upon whom God's Spirit rested. Saul had the choice to accept David and find healing, but eventually he rejected even this gift from God.

It's similar to 2 Corinthians 12:7ff, where Paul writes about his "thorn in the flesh". It is described as being a "messenger from Satan", but it was sent for Paul's good--namely, to keep him humble, and to teach him about the all-sufficiency of God's grace. So even though it seemed "evil" to Paul, it really was good for him. Again, seeking one's good doesn't always mean doing nice things for them. The only reason that God allows evil is so that a greater good can result.

I completely agree with you that true is always true and false is always false. I would never, ever deny that. It's what I've built my life around. The problem is that you preface this maxim with the disclaimer that you're open to any understanding of God, even if that were polytheism. Yet you desire to argue so vociferously with my attempt to provide you with the historical, traditional teachings of the Church on the Holy Trinity. On the one hand, you claim to seek the truth, and on the other, you act utterly resistant to "prejudicing [your] mind" as you call it, by being humble and teachable enough to learn the truth from those whom Jesus entrusted with the task of passing it on to us.

You claim that your goal is a relationship. That's my goal, as well. That's what the Catholic Faith is all about--leading us deeper into that relationship with Jesus. That's why it bothers me so when people suggest that the Church stands in the way of a relationship with Jesus. The very opposite is the case. Since becoming Catholic, I've only experienced my relationship with Jesus grow stronger and more intimate.

But dogma is not antithetical to relationship, as you seem to think. A dogma is just an expression of truth about the one with whom we are in relationship. Just like there are true things and false things about my wife, and it's important that I know them, so there are true things and false things about God, and it's important to know them, too.

If someone came up to me and tried to assert that my wife was blonde, blue-eyed, and from Norway, I would know instantly that they've got the wrong lady, because their description is not true. If we view the dogmas about God as being like a physical description of my wife--that is, identifiers to make sure we've got the right Person, then we see why we need to at least have an understanding of the basics of dogmas, and know who has the authority to proclaim them. Just as I know my wife more intimately than anyone else on earth, so the Church, the Bride of Christ, knows Him more intimately than anyone else. The intimate details that I know about my wife are just like the Church's dogmas. They were revealed by the Holy Spirit to the Apostles and passed on down to the bishops throughout every age, through a relationship with Jesus.

And just as a person who doesn't know my wife's hair colour (for example) can't claim that they really know her or have even met her, so a person who has contradictory teachings about Jesus than His Bride, cannot really claim to be in a relationship with Him, can they?

Yours truly,
Gregory


(Category: Theology Proper: The Holy Trinity.)

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

The Trinity: Letters to Eric (Part 10)

Dear Eric,
As I reread your last letter, I noticed that there was yet more that you said to be concerned about. So I am writing one more letter in response to it.

In your last comments in that letter, you claim that you're not negating the Trinity, but then you go on in the next sentence to claim that a Modalistic understanding of God is much more "palpable". That is, you claim that the Son and the Spirit are merely "representations" of God, and that such an understanding is easier to see and understand.

I wholeheartedly deny that Jesus and the Holy Spirit are only manifestations of God. Again, that would destroy the possibility for God to be in relationship before He created us--which would necessitate His changing, and thus His not being God. The very fact that we image God by being in relationship--and not simply with God, but with others of our own kind--demonstrates that God, whom we image, is eternally in relationship--with His Own Kind. Now, God is One. There are no other Gods for Him to be in relationship with His own kind, unless God is Trinity--three persons in that One God, who are each in a loving relationship with the others. Only if this is true can God be Love, and be unchanging, and be perfect from all eternity. Only if this is true can we be said to image God by our relationships.

Obviously, only in heaven will we see God as He truly is; but by saying that the Son and the Spirit are only representations of God, you are indeed negating the Trinity. The Trinity is indeed more plainly seen (palpable) when you look at it in its entirety. However, as you point out, we'll never do that until Heaven. In the meantime, though, through the use of right reason, we can see a glimpse of God's triune nature in His revelation to us, and by examining the logical consequences of competing understandings of who God is--which I've tried at length to explain to you. Simply denying the Trinity because it is difficult to understand does not make it more palpable.

You go on to make a comparison of the Trinity's "palpability" as understood in this modalistic sense by claiming that when one understands Sola Scriptura in its entirety, it is much more "palpable" as well.

In reply, I assert that I've seen it in its entirety. I lived and breathed it for twenty-four years, and all it's good for is breeding dissension and division in the Christian Church. Sola Scriptura is the reason why there are more than 20,000 Christian denominations in the world today. That's the palpable reality of Sola Scriptura, when seen in its entirety.

I eagerly await your reply,
God bless
Gregory


(Category: Theology Proper: The Holy Trinity.)

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

The Trinity: Letters to Eric (Part 9)

Dear Eric,
In my last letter, I mentioned that your last letter to me contained some worrisome ideas which I intend to address; namely, the meaning of "Good" and whether or not God is "mandated" to do good. I devoted my last letter to discussing the very concept of Good, and explored Genesis to gain some clues as to what our good is, and to see what we learn about God, whom we image. In this letter, I wanted to address that comment in your last letter which most concerned me--whether God is mandated to do Good.

When you wrote to me that you don't think God is necessarily mandated to do good to you, but that He could do evil to you and still be God, you make it sound as though God is forced to do good by some external source. But God is the ultimate source of Good. He is not constrained by something beyond Himself, but since He is good by nature, He cannot but do good. In fact, if God were to violate His goodness, He would absolutely cease thereby to be God. In other words, it is impossible for God to do something evil.

That's a different thing than saying that we'll always understand or perceive God's actions to be Good. Many times we'll wonder why He allowed, or even caused, sickness or suffering to afflict us, as we view suffering as "evil". But in God's omniscience, He knows that such suffering will bring us closer to our ultimate goodness--if we, through the exercise of our free will, allow it to. We can, of course, reject God's goodness in the face of such suffering, and thus the good effects of suffering will not take effect in us. But that does not make the gift and purpose of God any less good.

You argue against God's necessary goodness by pointing to the case of King Saul, whom God allowed an "evil spirit" to afflict (1 Samuel 16-18). In understanding this passage, though, we must keep in mind several things.

First of all, Saul had rejected God's goodness and his relationship with God, and so the evil spirit was a punishment and consequence of that rejection.

Second, as with any suffering, it can either bring us to our senses (as with the Prodigal Son) or it can harden our hearts against God. It is our choice.

Third, the term for evil, "ra`" in Hebrew, doesn't necessarily mean "evil" in the sense that we use it. It has a range of meanings from "sad" to "troubling" to "hurtful" to "worse than..." If we take 1 Samuel 16:14 in this last sense, we see that God's Spirit departs from Saul and a "worse spirit" takes His place. The Bible isn't teaching that God caused the devil to possess Saul, per se.

Fourth, the Hebrew conception of spirits was much less developed than ours, or that of the New Testament. Revelation was given to the Hebrews gradually, and we can actually watch it develop over time reading the Old Testament. Ideas such as life after death, Satan, and many other things are later developments in Scripture. So foisting a contemporary understanding of "evil spirits" onto 1 Samuel 16ff is somewhat inaccurate. This again is why not just anyone can pick up a Bible and interpret it for himself. There are subtle nuances and things that can only be discerned through much study--and not everyone has time or money for such study. If an unstudied person tries to interpret the Bible without knowledge of the languages, cultures, etc. they end up being very confused.

That's all that I'll say about King Saul for now. I hope it provides some food for thought. Ultimately, though, the point I'm making is that God is good, and cannot be or do anything else. Even the suffering and "evil" He permits is always and only for the achieving of a greater good, as St. Paul tells us, "We are well aware that God works with those who love him, those who have been called in accordance with his purpose, and turns everything to their good" (Romans 8:28).

This truth is plainly seen in every Crucifix--wherein we are reminded that the greatest evil ever perpetrated by mankind, the murder of God, is the very source and cause of our Redemption--the greatest Good.

God bless,
Gregory


(Category: Theology Proper: The Holy Trinity.)

Monday, May 31, 2010

The Trinity: Letters to Eric (Part 8)

Dear Eric,
I must say that there are a few things in your recent letter that disturb me about your understanding of God, such as your statement that "doing good" is rather vague in your mind, and that you don't think that God is required to do good in order to be God. I'm going to address the first point in this letter, and consider whether God must do good in my next letter.

First of all, I think you're confused about what I mean when I define love as "seeking the good of another." You're equating that with "doing good", which, it seems, you're defining as "doing nice things". That's not what I'm saying. I defined "good" above according to philosophical ideas. "Goodness" is to be understood, as I use it above, as the extent to which something conforms to the purpose and end for which it was created. A paintbrush is "good" to the extent that it applies paint to a canvass, or a wall, or whatnot. A "bad" paintbrush is one, then, that does not apply paint to something. There are obviously degrees of the goodness of a paintbrush, in how effective it is at applying paint. There are also, of course, degrees of suitability--I wouldn't use a roller-style brush for wall-painting to paint details in a portrait. It would be a "bad" paintbrush for portrait painting, even if, objectively, it was a good wall-painting brush.

When I say that love is defined as seeking the good of another, I mean good in the sense that true love always seeks to enable a person to fulfil the purpose and the end for which he is made. This doesn't always mean that we do nice things for that person. Sometimes, for a person to fulfil his God-given purpose, he needs a good swift kick in the ass. Ass-kickings aren't always nice, but they can be good for a person if it succeeds in giving him the needed motivation to do what he needs to do to be good--that is, to fulfil his purpose or achieve his ultimate end.

So it is with God's love for us. He isn't always doing nice things to or for us, but He is always doing things that are good for us.

Now, we can begin to see what constitutes our "good" when we look at how we were originally created--that is, at Adam and Eve in the Garden.

When we look at the end of Genesis 1, we see that, first and foremost, our purpose is to be the image of God. Thus, we are good insofar as we reflect God's image. The degree to which we fail to image God is the degree to which we are not good.

The first way Genesis reveals that we image God is in relationship. That is, God, immediately in the expression of creating us in His image, creates us as Male and Female (Gn 1:27). In Genesis 2, the alternative account of the creation, we see God creating Man first, and then saying "It is not good that the man should be alone" (v. 18). Thus, God creates Woman to be his companion. That is, if Man is good insofar as he is the Image of God, and it is not good for Man to be alone, then the conclusion is that Man does not properly image God when he is alone.

Now, Adam was on intimate terms with God Himself, and in that way was not alone. Further, he was given care of all the animals, and in that sense, also was not alone. Yet God still regarded Adam as being alone. Why? Because there was no other according to Adam's own kind. Adam's goodness, his imaging of God, is dependent on his being in relationship with another human being. More, it is through the life-giving relationship between a male and a female--Adam and Eve--in which their goodness is expressed in relationship to each other--it is expressed in each seeking the other's good in that love relationship--and it is expressed in being fruitful within that relationship.

Now, we could continue to examine Genesis 1 and 2 to find other points of purpose and ultimate ends which we as humans are created for, and thus are "good" when we live out, but that would get us way off track. I will highlight only one more--and that is that we are created to be in relationship with God Himself. None of us can be good if we are not in relationship with God. Now, I'm not advocating by saying this some sort of Calvinistic "total depravity", that human beings are thoroughly bad by nature. Rather, simply because we have been created by God we are good, inherently. However, the full consummation of that goodness is only realised when we are in relationship with God.

But let's back up a second. So far, we've seen from Genesis two points of what makes Man good. In fact, both of these points of goodness are branches from one tree, if you will. The "tree" is the Image of God. The first branch is relationship with other human beings, and the second is relationship with God Himself. (I put them in this order not because I think that relationships with others are more important than relationship with God, but because that's the order I laid them out above in this message. Please don't make more of it than it is.)

Now, of course, if we image God through relationship, then God, whom we image, must exist in relationship. As we've both agreed on, God doesn't change. Therefore, the relationship that God has must exist from all eternity. This is why the Doctrine of the Trinity is so crucial--because if God was not Trinity, then there would be no one for Him to be in relationship with. If God was simply solitary, He would be alone from all eternity in precisely the same manner in which He declared that it was not good for Adam to be.

In other words, again, if God was solitary, then He would lack something. He would have had to create us to have that lack, that need, fulfilled by us. But God, as we both agree, lacks nothing. He did not create us because He needed anything, but simply because He wanted to.

Thus, God cannot be solitary. He must have, within Himself, a relationship. Hence, we see that the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit are all the One God, but are themselves distinct persons, able to be in relationship with one another. Thus, the One God exists, from all eternity, as a family of Love. And it is that Love Relationship that is fruitful, and out of which springs all Creation--just as the relationship of Man and Woman in love was designed to image God by being fruitful through procreation.

As for God's love seeking the good of another, the Father seeks the good of the Son, the Son of the Father, and the Holy Spirit of each, and each of the Holy Spirit. But, of course, God is perfect, lacking nothing. The seeking of the good of the other is not meant to indicate that this good is lacking in God. Rather, God is the very source of Good. In seeking the good in the context of the Trinity, each member is entering deeper and deeper into the infinite love of the others. God is eternal union and love of the Three Persons of the Trinity. In the same way, we must ultimately seek our good in God, who is the source of all goodness. God's love for us is always engaged in seeking our good--namely, ultimately, intimate relationship with Him. Everything that God does in the world is designed to bring us into that relationship.

However, I should mention that one aspect of our imaging God is our freedom--our free will. God, who is an utterly free agent, made man to be free, albeit in a more limited and contingent way. God will never violate our freedom in order to make us good. If He did, we would be good in all other respects except for freedom, and since freedom is an essential attribute of our goodness, if God violated our free will to save us and bring us into right relationship with Him, we would still not be good, because we would not be free.

That's enough for now. As I said, in my next letter, I'll discuss whether God can do evil and still be God.

God bless
Gregory


(Category: Theology Proper: The Holy Trinity.)