Saturday, May 29, 2010

God’s Desire for Human Happiness

From the third Psalm of Sunday’s Office of Readings;
They are happy, whose God is the Lord,
the people he has chosen as his own.
From the heavens the Lord looks forth,
he sees all the children of men. (Psalm 33)
As people consider their relationship with God, many think only of their obligations and duties. (We can blame this on the philosopher Kant but that is a different subject).  Such thinking begins to focus the spiritual life around feelings of guilt, or fulfilling obligations in a legalistic or minimalist way.  If we look in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, it is interesting to point to point out that the moral section begins not with the duties of the Commandments but with a discussion of happiness.  What unfolds in the Catechism is not a morality of duty but of excellence.
True happiness comes from God.  This is not the fluffy happiness of self indulgence, but finding life’s deepest meaning.  God desires our integral human fulfillment.  I think that if we could even taste this happiness even for a moment we would pursue nothing else in our life.  On the surface a morality of happiness and excellence might look the same as a morality of duty, but the underlying motivation for a morality of excellence is love. It is love that give energy to our souls and provides the motive for our interior life. “They are happy, whose God is the Lord.”

The Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity

02_trinity 

In this Sunday’s Gospel reading Jesus reminds his disciples;

I have much more to tell you, but you cannot bear it now.  But when he comes, the Spirit of truth, he will guide you to all truth. He will not speak on his own, but he will speak what he hears, and will declare to you the things that are coming.

Jesus has promised that he will guide the Church into all truth.  Although individual members of the Church may reveal their sinfulness or even at time cause scandal, the teaching office of the Church is protected by a charism of truth in the area of faith and morals. 

The Catechism refers to this point quoting from Second Vatican Council (LG 25);

Divine assistance is also given to the successors of the apostles, teaching in communion with the successor of Peter, and, in a particular way, to the bishop of Rome, pastor of the whole Church, when, without arriving at an infallible definition and without pronouncing in a "definitive manner," they propose in the exercise of the ordinary Magisterium a teaching that leads to better understanding of Revelation in matters of faith and morals. To this ordinary teaching the faithful "are to adhere to it with religious assent" [religioso animi obsequio adhaerere debent ]422 which, though distinct from the assent of faith, is nonetheless an extension of it. CCC 892

Holy Mother Church, on her pilgrimage through the ages, has been infallibly guided by divine assistance in her magisterial teachings.  This assistance is the work of the Holy Spirit.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

In the Image of Christ

Roma-Jan-05-013 Today in the Office of Morning Prayer the intercessions remind us;

You made man in your image and renewed him in Christ

--mold us into the likeness of your Son.

Not only did God create us in the image and likeness of himself but knowing full well that our first parents would fall he created us in the image of His Son.  God’s plan of love extends from the first moment of human existence into all eternity.  As St. Paul reminds us, God “chose us in him, before the foundation of the world.” (Ephesians 1:4).

Who can fathom the wonder of God’s love?

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Friends with a Blameless Heart

augustine1Today as I recited Psalm 101 during Morning Prayer I was struck with the theme of friendship.

The psalmist writes;

I will walk with blameless heart

within my house;

I will not set before my eyes

whatever is base.

I will hate the ways of the crooked;

they shall not be my friends.

The false-hearted must keep far away;

the wicked I disown.

Who we keep as our friends says a great deal about as. In our modern “facebook” world we tend to treat the notion of friendship lightly. The Psalmist desires to have friends with integrity who are trustworthy.  Our friends can lead us up or tear us down.

St. Augustine notes;

I would warn you never to link yourself in friendship with those shadows of the realm of darkness, and to break off without delay whatever friendship may have been begun between you and them.

Monday, May 24, 2010

The Greatness of God --Morning Prayer Week IV Monday

God_FromCreation_of_the_Sun_and_Moon I was struck in today’s Morning Prayer by the grander of God in creation. As the suggested Hymn for the office puts it;

I sing the mighty power of God,

That made the mountains rise;

That spread the flowing seas abroad,

And built the lofty skies. (Issac Watts, 1715)

In Psalm 135 the Psalmist writes;

For I know the Lord is great,

that our Lord is high above all gods,

The Lord does whatever he wills,

in heaven, on earth, in the seas. (Psalm 135:6)

This is the biblical basis for the aphorism that “God can do what ever God wants to do.”  This may seem strange to us because we fear acts that are capricious but this quality of God is held in balance with all his other attributes.  God is loving and slow to anger.  He is patient with us and desires to give good gifts to his children.

 

Growth in the spiritual life involves becoming holy.

baptism detail Pentecost Sunday

Growth in the spiritual life involves becoming holy. Originally the term “holy” meant simply something set apart for worship. For example, “You are to distinguish between the holy and the common, and between the unclean and the clean” (Leviticus 10:10). In the Sacred Scriptures the term holiness takes on a deeper significance by implying that the person “set apart” would be made special by becoming like God in a moral sense. “For I am the LORD your God; consecrate yourselves therefore, and be holy, for I am holy” (Leviticus 11:44). The Lord himself becomes the definition of holiness. In essence, the word holy is a technical term for moral excellence.

The Church teaches that every baptized Christian is called to a life of holiness. Since we are all called to holiness, Christians in every walk of life should desire to be holy. Our first intuition upon thinking about becoming holy is to dismiss the thought by saying, “True holiness is for priests or religious, but not for ordinary folks in the midst of the world.”

Following up on the vision of Sacred Scripture and the later intuitions of many of the Fathers of the Church, the Second Vatican council affirmed that there is a universal call to holiness based on our baptismal vocation which results in an apostolic outlook toward the world around us (Lumen Gentium 30-36).  By calling this vocation “universal” they are underscoring that this is a common vocation for all baptized faithful of the Church.

In one sense the task of attaining holiness is beyond our power. Holiness is the work of the Holy Spirit. Pentecost Sunday is a special day in the Church’s liturgy when we are reminded that we are to be friends with the Holy Spirit. The graces we receive in the Sacraments and the intimate life we enjoy in our prayer are all the result of the Holy Spirit calling out in our hearts, “Abba, Father” (Romans 8:15).

Because we are each totally unique, the manner in which the Holy Spirit acts to give inspirations to us varies from person to person. As each of us attempts to correspond to this calling, God deals with us in a distinctive way. We must attempt to let God have his way, to become disciples in the school of the Holy Spirit.

This does not imply that we are entirely passive. Certainly the path to holiness will require effort on our part, but it is important that the effort is directed at the right end. We must struggle to open ourselves fully to God’s grace. By means of our baptism we have received the gifts of the Holy Spirit which make our soul capable of submitting to the motions of God. These inspirations of grace should be the object of our prayer and intense desire. Although God will grant these inspirations in greater or lesser degrees, they are not an optional extra for the Christian life but the secret to holiness and the decisive means for spiritual progress.

Our life in the Spirit begins at the depth of our being. We are created in “the image and likeness” of God. The human heart was created with a God-shaped hole in it. Like the first man we are alone, like a lover seeking our beloved. When we find our beloved we break forth in spontaneous praise and thanksgiving. God has created human love to be a reflection of his own divine love. Has our love for our beloved grown cold? Let us fan the flames of this love with praise and thanksgiving in the intimacy of our prayer and in the great thanksgiving, the Eucharist.

The second principle would be to genuinely ask for holiness. Pray to God and ask Him with a sincere desire to be made holy. Invoke the intercession of the saints and of your guardian angel that you might find the path to holiness. In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus says, “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened to you” (Matt 7:7). St. James writes, “You do not have because you do not ask” (James 4:2b). Let us ask God for this marvelous gift.

Finally we must renounce our tendency to manage ourselves. We might call this docility to God’s will or docility to the Holy Spirit. As we pray the words, “Come Holy Spirit,” this Sunday let us be like our Blessed Mother as we learn to trust and open ourselves up to the wonderful plan God has for our life. With her we must cry, “Lord, let it be done to me, according to your word.”

Monday, May 17, 2010

The Feast of the Ascension, May 16, 2010


The Feast of the Ascension commemorates the Ascension of Christ into heaven. There is evidence that this feast has been celebrated at least since the fourth century. St. Augustine says the feast is of apostolic origin. The longest scriptural account of the Ascension is found in our first reading from Acts 1:1-11, and this year our Gospel is taken from St. Luke’s account in Luke 24:46-53.

The Feast of the Ascension commemorates the Ascension of Christ into heaven. There is documentary evidence that this feast has been celebrated at least since the fourth century. St. Augustine says the feast is of apostolic origin. The longest scriptural account of the Ascension is found in our first reading from Acts 1:1-11, and our Gospel is taken from St. Mark's account in Mark 16:15-20. The Latin ascensio signifies that Christ was raised up by his own powers. The Feast of the Ascension ranks with Easter and Pentecost as the most solemn on the church calendar. The feast was originally celebrated as a vigil followed by an octave (the feast day and seven days following it) in anticipation of Pentecost. The feast falls on a Thursday exactly 40 days after the Resurrection of Christ on Easter Sunday. In the US this feast is a Holy Day of Obligation but it has been transferred to Sunday, May 16th.

The importance of this feast flows from its connection to the Paschal mystery. As the Catechism notes the Paschal mystery is fully understood as Christ's passion, crucifixion, death, burial, descent into hell, resurrection and ascension (CCC 512). Thus the ascension is the culmination of the Paschal mystery. In the Second Vatican Council Constitution on Sacred Liturgy the council Fathers note that the purpose of the liturgy is to make present the fullness of the Paschal mystery. The council Fathers point out; "For well-disposed members of the faithful, the liturgy of the sacraments and sacramentals sanctifies almost every event in their lives; they are given access to the stream of divine grace which flows from the Paschal mystery of the passion, death, the resurrection of Christ, the font from which all sacraments and sacramentals draw their power" (SC 61).

Jesus' solidarity with all humanity in the mystery of the Incarnation is brought to completion by the substitution of his own obedience for our disobedience in the Paschal mystery (CCC 615). Because Christ is one person in two natures, everything Christ does as a man is also an act of God. By his glorious ascension, Christ has "opened the gates of heaven to receive his faithful people" (Preface for Easter II). Christ has inaugurated a New Creation (2 Corinthians 5:17) and has become a New Adam (Romans 5:18).

The Fathers of the Church have used different scriptural images to reflect on how this solidarity with Christ takes place. Fathers of the East such as St. Gregory of Nyssa (330-395), and St. John Chrysostom (347-407) used the Old Testament image of the "firstfruits" to explain this mystery. By offering the first of the fruits and the firstborn of the herds and flocks, it was understood that the whole was contained in the part that was offered. St. John Chrysostom observes;

As it happens in a field full of corn, when a man takes a few ears of corn and makes a small sheaf and offers it to God, he blesses the whole cornfield by means of this sheaf, so Christ has done this also, and through that one flesh and firstfruits has made our race to be blessed. But why did he not offer the whole of nature? Because that is not the firstfruits if he offers the whole, but if he offers a little, preparing the whole to be blessed by the smaller amount. (Sermon on the Ascension PG, 50:441-52)

By his bodily ascension into heaven Christ becomes the firstfruits which are accepted as a representative of the whole human race. In effect Jesus becomes the font and origin of ascended and glorified life which comes to us through the Sacraments.

In the West this same truth was highlighted by St. Augustine who emphasized our communion with Christ by meditating on the image of the Body of Christ. St. Augustine comments on the deeper significance of our oneness or communion with Christ in his commentary on Psalm 26. He notes that the practice of anointing in the Old Testament was normally reserved for either the king or the priest. But Christ now holds both offices as both Priest and King in virtue of his anointing or literally being the Messiah or Anointed one. Speaking of Christ, St. Augustine observes, "But not only was our Head anointed; but his body was too, we ourselves. . . . From this it is obvious that we are the body of Christ, being all anointed. In him all of us belong to Christ, but we are Christ too, because in some sense the whole Christ is Head and body" (Exposition 2 of Psalm 26). St. Augustine comments on John 3:13, "Nobody has gone up to heaven, except the one who came down from heaven." Our ability to be reborn and to go up to heaven occurs by the grace of God and through our communion with Christ who is the Head of his Body. The risen and ascended Christ is the font and origin of our sacramental participation in his grace. The Son of man is "one person in both natures" he is both "the Son of God equal to God" and "the Son of man taking to himself a human soul and human flesh" (Sermon 294). St. Augustine notes,

If you want to go up, be in the body of Christ. If you want to go up, be a member of Christ. For just as in one body we have many members, but all the members of the body, though they are many, are one body; so also is Christ (1 Corinthians 12:12); because Christ is head and body (Sermon 294).

St. Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) highlights three aspects which are accomplished through Christ's bodily Ascension (Summa Theologiae 3a, q. 57-59). First, by his ascension Christ prepared a way for us to heaven. Second, the presence of Jesus' human nature in heaven allows him to intercede for us. Thirdly, Christ's enthronement in heaven as God and Lord, allows him to shower his divine gifts upon us (Eph. 4:10). The second reading for this Mass emphasizes this very point. "But grace was given to each of us according to the measure of Christ's gift." (Ephesians 4:7). Christ's bodily ascension allowed him to give the Church gifts of the Spirit "for building up the body of Christ" (Ephesians 4:12). The fullness of our participation in the Paschal mystery is made present in the Church through Christ's ascension and glorification in heaven. By our sacramental communion with Christ we become partakers in his divine life. Baptism (Romans 6:2-4); Confirmation (Ephesians 1:7-13) and Holy Eucharist (1 Corinthians 11:26) are all tied to the Paschal mystery. This is the central mystery of our faith which leads the eyes of our hearts be enlightened, in order that we might know what is "the hope that belongs to his call" (Ephesians 1:18).

Holy Mary, Gate of Heaven, pray for us.