Pearls of Great Price

27And he gave him power to exercise judgment, because he is the Son of Man. [1]

This is an “and” sentence; in addition to the previous gift of Life which the Father gives the Son, this is an additional gift.  Jesus is laying out what He has received from the Father, not boastfully, but matter-of-factly, realistically, Truthfully, sincerely.  This is revelation at its core, something which would have not been evident or accessible to the human mind had not Jesus told us about it.  Thus, it is not only a gift Jesus possesses, it is a gift to us to be given the glimpse, the appreciation, the understanding of one of the inner workings of the Trinity.  It is a window on the Divine economy, another implicit aspect of the “sending” of the Son made explicit.  We should be overjoyed, ecstatic, overwhelmed, floored, bowled over, with the incredible love, mercy, goodness, trust, love, concern, understanding, insight into His creature’s nature which God has that he would share such secrets.

Paul was in awe of this revelation of the inscrutable riches of Christ,…the plan of the mystery hidden from ages past in God who created all things, [Eph 3:8-9]…and Paul goes on to ponder the fact that the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known through the church to the principalities and authorities in the heavens.[Eph 3:8-9]  So privileged are we that mysteries hidden from the very angels who surround God’s throne in heaven did not know these mysteries, this wisdom of God, until it was revealed by Jesus to his disciples, given as the revealed truth to the church to treasure and to share with the whole world…with anyone who will listen.

“He gave Him.”  A brief, three word phrase, seemingly inconsequential, a “throw-away” introduction, a “stage-setter.”  Yet in reality, as discussed above, a precious revealed Truth…we should not treat such phrases lightly, but ponder them, savor them like a fine wine, admiring the color, inhaling the pungent tantalizing aroma, imbibing only a drop at a time to allow the fruity robust flavor to gently trickle over the tongue.

We are inundated by a tsunami of such promising phrases, such nuggets of hidden wisdom, each time we listen to Scripture being read in Church. This has its salutary purpose of having us hear the Word of God in the context of the Church, the people of God to whom God is preaching. But, in truth, it is like being washed away, drown in the pearls of great price. [Mt 13:46] Repetition breeds irrelevance, boredom, acedia, even contempt…the oh-that-old-rag, the not-again syndrome. We become inured, deadened in the basic sense, to this surfeit of wisdom, of truth; we turn off, hearing only bits here and there.  The priest, the homilist tries to bring to our attention brief little vignettes of its meaning, its application, its relevance, often to naught avail.

This is also why it is critical to take time, other time, away time, contemplation time, meditation time, time to go up on the mountain by…[yourself] to pray. [Mt 14:23]  Only by tenderly examining each and every word uttered from the inspiration of the Spirit can we truly appreciate the great treasure we have been given.

Now to him who can strengthen you, according to my gospel and the proclamation of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery kept secret for long ages but now manifested through the prophetic writings and, according to the command of the eternal God, made known to all nations to bring about the obedience of faith, to the only wise God, through Jesus Christ be glory forever and ever. Amen. Rom 16:25-27

[1] Scripture texts in this work are taken from the New American Bible, revised edition © 2010, 1991, 1986, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Washington, D.C. and are used by permission of the copyright owner. All Rights Reserved. No part of the New American Bible may be reproduced in any form without permission in writing from the copyright owner.

My Body, My Blood: A Corpus Christi Contemplation

Why did Jesus leave us His Body and His Blood to eat and drink?  Perhaps this was the only way to convey to us human beings the reality of and make us pay attention to our Spiritual Life as distinct from, though part of, our physical life.  As Jesus is the God-Man, one person and two natures, so, in a sense, we are one person leading life on seemingly[1] two planes, the temporal and the spiritual plane.

To show us this reality, Jesus became this reality, even more than He already was/is: All things came to be through him, and without him nothing came to be. [Jn 1:3] Taking ordinary bread and ordinary wine, He transforms it, recreates it, changes its essence, its substance, from bread and wine into His Body and His Blood.  Temporal reality becomes eternal reality.  The ordinary becomes, literally, extra-ordinary. The created becomes divine.  The best of both worlds to feed us who are citizens, participants, creatures of both worlds, the people of God, the adopted sons and daughters of the heavenly family.

We are not trapped souls trying to flee our bodies.  Jesus made this very, very, very clear by doing exactly the opposite, taking on our humanity, becoming human.  He is the one who teaches us what it means to be human, how to live the lives we were/are destined to live, how to be ourselves.  And He left us Holy-Makers, i.e. Sacra-ments, to addresses our human needs,

  • cleansing our selves in the sign of cleansing our bodies with water,
  • feeding our selves in the sign of feeding our bodies with His flesh and blood,
  • curing our selves by the forgiveness, the real freedom from our past faults and failings,
  • providing us with a rite of passage into our lives in the world as a sign of our adult commitment in the Spirit,
  • the binding of our family units as a sign before God as well as men,
  • the calling forth of our priesthood as a sign of  His enabling us to offer worthy sacrifice to our Heavenly Father, signed by the obedience and honor we give our earthly father and mother, and
  • the curing of our spiritual ills as a sign at the time when our bodily ills remind us of our journey, our temporary residence here and our permanent residence with Him.

It is not easy for me to be “in the presence” of the Lord. I’m amazed, awe inspired, I worship Him that 2000 years ago He created this sacrifice, this presence so that today, I can be as close to Him as His apostles were at the Last Supper.

But that’s not my problem.  I know He is there, but perhaps that is the point, knowing is not feeling, knowing is not loving, knowing is not desiring, knowing is not resting. Knowing is not comfortable, not relaxed; it is “objectifying,” whether the knowledge is received through the senses or through faith.

I get antsy, I want “to do” something, anything.  It seems part of the whole Law-vs-Faith syndrome; we cannot act/adhere ourselves into heaven, we must believe ourselves into heaven. This is part of my cross, to realize, to grok in the depth of my being, that while God IS, I am becoming; while God creates, I am being created; while God is in charge, controls, orders all things, practices providence, I am not in charge, I do not control, I receive all things, I am a product of providence.

Again, both Jesus and Mary showed me the reality of my position, of my stance, of my posture, of my response to God’s call: “Be it done UNTO me according to Your word.” [Lk 1:38] “Still, not my will but yours be done.”[Lk 22:42]  One would think that having the examples of the perfect human being and the God-Man stating very clearly exactly what I have to do, that I would get it, that I could sit quietly in His presence and let it be done unto me.  That I could avail myself of this spiritual “radiation therapy,” allowing God’s grace to flow over, around and into me, healing, soothing, calming and comforting me with His constant assurance, “Fear not” [Is 41:10; Mt 14:27; Mk 6:50], you have chosen “the better part” [Lk 10:42] and it shall not be taken from you.

That I may become entirely, totally and fully ready to have You, God, remove these defects of character, these inhibiting habits, these cringing crutches.  Amen. Alleluia!!!

1] “Seemingly,” because the trick is to see them as one, united, together, fused in God. Having eyes but not seeing, ears but not hearing, mouths but not speaking is a constant refrain in Scripture [Ps 135:16; Is 6:10; Jer 5:21; Mk 8:18] We need spiritual eyes to see; tuned in ears to hear, blessed mouths to speak the sacred, the spiritual. Perhaps that why some many blind people were cured by Christ [Mk 8:22-25; Lk 18:35; Jn 9].  Perhaps that is the meaning of the enigmatic dialogue of Jesus with the Pharisees at the end of His curing the blind man in John: Then Jesus said, “I came into this world for judgment, so that those who do not see might see, and those who do see might become blind.” Some of the Pharisees who were with him heard this and said to him, “Surely we are not also blind, are we?” Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you would have no sin; but now you are saying, ‘We see,’ so your sin remains. [Jn 9:39-41] Scripture texts in this work are taken from the New American Bible, revised edition © 2010, 1991, 1986, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Washington, D.C. and are used by permission of the copyright owner. All Rights Reserved. No part of the New American Bible may be reproduced in any form without permission in writing from the copyright owner.

 

The Sine Qua Non: unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood

A meditation for Corpus Christi 

The “that-without-which.” The indispensible, the absolutely required, the necessity: Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you. [Jn 6:53] [1]

Let’s not beat around the bush.  When Jesus says “Take and eat; this is my body,” [Mt 26:26] this substance which looks like bread, tastes like bread, smells like bread…is no longer bread,…is no longer the proverbial duck.  It HAS BECOME Jesus’ body.

And He has instructed us to eat it.  This may initially seem repulsive, even cannibalistic, under the influence of which we may categorize it as unnecessary and optional…but that’s not what Jesus said.  And when Jesus speaks, God speaks.  And we better listen up…when God tells us to do something, we can refuse, but only with explicit and inevitably dire consequences. It is always to our benefit, to our greatest happiness, to listen and obey.

Likewise with the wine: Drink from it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which will be shed on behalf of many for the forgiveness of sins. [Mt 26:28]  If we wish to be part of the New Covenant, part of the new relationship, the new bond, between God and His people, we better “drink from it,” this, His blood which He will/has shed for my sins, His obedience for my disobedience, His forgiveness for my self-serving insolence in the face of God’s goodness.

Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me. [1 Cor 11:25]  Now let’s deal with the Pauline-Lucan version’s “remembrance” issue, perhaps the source of all the misconception that this was a play, a pantomime, a raising the glass to the memory of Jesus and that is that.

How one can be selective in what one believes of Jesus statements is baffling.  Either He’s Truth or He’s not.  Either He’s God or He’s not.  This smorgasbord “take what you like and leave the rest” may work in the Anonymous Programs, but when I deal with God, I am dealing with the one who created the world, who placed the laws of nature, of morality in my heart, in place for me to stumble over and discover, laws which were true when cast in Adam, are true now and will be true eternally, this is not a smorgasbord God, not a “take it or leave it” God, but a “take it because I AM and I say it’s the only real game in town” God.

Certainly there is an element of harkening back to the momentous moment in salvation history when God became present in a new way for the first time.  There is the aura of the impending passion and death woven into the very words of shedding blood.  There is the eminent recollection of the sacrifice that Jesus underwent to liberate us from the guilt burden of our sins.  There is also the priestly template of blessing, breaking, giving which has been passed down from Him to his Apostles, from them to their successors, in an unbroken line, generation to generation, through the laying on of hands and ordination.  And Jesus intended and intends to remind each of us of all of these each time He, through His priest, blesses, breaks and gives once again to us. But, unless we understand that He is really present as both Priest and Sacrifice, as present as He was with His first disciples at the Last Supper [which perhaps is a misnomer, since it became the First Supper] unless we understand the reality of the Offerer, the Victim in the form of the Host, the Food which He gave to His disciples then and which He give to us at each Eucharistic celebration throughout the centuries to today and beyond, then we will have, with excruciating [literally, “from” the “cross”] blindness, missed the whole point.

I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world. [Jn 6:51] Exegetes remind us that the multiple “I am” phrases in John’s Gospel harken back, indeed remind us, of the name God calls Himself, the “I am who am” He told to Moses.[2] [Ex. 3:14]

When God says something that appears to be one thing is another thing, it is. What God speaks, is…it becomes…it is created, no if, ands or buts.  And Jesus is God.  Therefore, when Jesus uses these words, He is not equivocating, but identifying Himself as God…and here as God, the living bread that came down from heaven.  Again, you eat this bread, you will live forever; the implication being that if you do not eat this bread, you do not live forever but die forever.  And, yes, this bread is His flesh for the life of the world.  How many times and how many ways does He have to repeat the same thing before we get it?

Do we think that Jesus didn’t mean what He said?  That’s certainly not the indication he gives in the Sermon on the Mount where, if anything, he increases the severity and scope of the Pentateuch’s mandates.  Indeed, He calls Himself the Truth…the Word of God…and if you can’t believe God’s Word,…well, to put it another way, are you willing to pit your knowledge and understanding of reality against that of the One who created it?  Anyone who predicts His own gruesome passion and death three times, each time more vividly than before, and then lives out the reality of His prophecy is someone whose statements should be taken as fact…don’t you think?

The choice is ours, God is a stickler in His respect for free will.  If we choose to leave, or its modern day equivalent, consider this simply a bit of play-acting to remind us of Jesus, a nice memorial service to think back on the “good times” and not get tied up with reality, a charade where we don’t really have to eat Flesh and drink Blood, we’ll just substitute grape juice and crackers…mustn’t get our hands dirty, after all…we will follow those who left before: As a result of this, many [of] his disciples returned to their former way of life and no longer accompanied him. [Jn 6:66]

 In the end, Jesus says to me and to you, “Do you also want to leave?”I pray we all have the faith and the courage to answer with Peter: “Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. [Jn 6:67-68]

[1] Scripture texts in this work are taken from the New American Bible, revised edition © 2010, 1991, 1986, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Washington, D.C. and are used by permission of the copyright owner. All Rights Reserved. No part of the New American Bible may be reproduced in any form without permission in writing from the copyright owner.

[2] For an excellent explication of the different types of  42 “I am” statements in John’s Gospel, see Fr. Felix Just, S.J.’s “I AM” Sayings in the Fourth Gospel, http://catholic-resources.org/John/Themes-IAM.htm

God’s Household Management: Economy of the Trinity

God’s Household Management

Traditionally, there have been two ways to look at the Trinity, theologically and economically.  By “economically,” we delve back into the Greek origin of the word, Oikonomia, which is a fusion of two words, “house” and “manage,” thus “household management.”  This description of the function actually derived etymologically from the descriptive title of the person, the household manager or steward.  What a great way to describe God; reminds me of the Good Shepherd, but applied to the cosmic family home.

Theologically, of course, we can get into all the processions of the Son from the Father and the Spirit from the Son and Father, the relations of the Father to the Son and Son to the Father, and the Father and Son to the Spirit and the Spirit to the Father and Son, but, to be honest, this leaves me more confused than concerned, more intellectually bewildered and bemused than viscerally moved to awe and love.  So, while it is an important tool to explain, apologetically, the inner mystery life of the Trinity, other than enabling us to know that these three persons are the ultimate loving “family,”[1] that template and unit upon with all others are patterned and built, practically speaking, I am much more interested about how they “expanded” the family unit and determined to spread existence, spread love, spread life, spread relationships “beyond” themselves to all creation.

This economy, of course, is the story of creation, of the relation of God outside Himself with creation and in particular, with humankind, from our being brought into self-reflective existence, through our willful decision that God was not as important to us as we were to ourselves, to His acknowledgement of our redefinition of our relationship and our realization of the lie of which we had partaken and been a part and our acknowledgement of our change in status, our seeing through the lie we had been told and told ourselves and each other which was physically reflected in our realizing our nakedness before God and ourselves, and God’s providential plan of salvation initiated at the very onset of our reluctant repentance before Him, a plan which continues to this very day in both “macroly,” in the totality of creation, of the world and minimally, in the lives of each of us and will continue until its completion, its summation and evaluation in each of us at the end of time.

[1] It has been wisely pointed out that our words, our concepts, even our mental constructs concerning God are but very feeble kindergarten scribbling attempting to capture the beauty of the universe.  Thus, when I use words that are really, really an analogical stretch, I will try to place them in quotes so that I know they are only a humbling attempt of description and not a true reflection, even darkly, of the glorious reality that is.

Why can’t you stay? The Ascension: Other Implied Points: Prayer, Indwelling, Presence, Agape, the Cross, Persecution and Resurrection

The reality of prayer

Then there is the question of prayer.  If Christ was on earth humanly present, why pray to heaven, to a God we cannot see, when He has been manifested here on earth. After all, Jesus himself said: Whoever sees me sees the one who sent me. [Jn 12:45].[1]  The problem is, as explained above, Jesus whole ministry was directed to obedience to the Father.  It is to the Father that He directs us to pray; it is the Father that He commands that we love with all our heart, with all our being, with all our strength, and with all our mind. [Lk 10:27; Deut 6:5]  It is the Father to whom He himself prays, glorifies, pleads, and offers His obedience in atonement for our sins.  While we do not know for what to pray, [Rom 8:26] we are urged to pray unceasingly, particularly that we watch and pray that you may not undergo the test. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak. [Mt 26:41].

Absence makes the heart grow fonder.  It also makes the heart and mind be raised to You, Father, as Your Son bid us to do, for You so loved the world that You gave You only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life. [Jn 3:16].  Help us to love You back, for that is the only sacrifice which You desire, the only purpose for our existence, the only way to eternal life with You.  Amen. Alleluia!!!

The reality of the Father and I will come and we will dwell with you.

The reality of the indwelling of the Trinity boggles the mind.  If Jesus were still present in human form, this might seem an impossibility. But the Ascension enabled us to grasp the miracle that God Himself, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, are in every single human being that is in the state of grace.  They are right here…in you and I. Whoever loves me will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our dwelling with him. [Jn 14:23]  Jesus likens Himself to a guest at the door: “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, [then] I will enter his house and dine with him, and he with me. [Rev 3:20].  Through this, we have the Divine life within us: If the Spirit of the one who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, the one who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also, through his Spirit that dwells in you. [Rom 8:11]

Do you not know that your body is a temple of the holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you have been purchased at a price. Therefore, glorify God in your body. [1Cor 6:19-20] The indwelling was gained for us at the price of the Cross.  Our response should and must be to hold sacred all that we do, say and think, for God is not only enabling me to do all I do, but, by recognizing this and extolling Him for His graces and generosity in instilling in us not only physical but divine life, we praise Him…we give Him the recognition, the appreciation, the glory He deserves.

The reality of two or three gathered in my Name

For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them. [Mt 18:20]  Would we believe this is Jesus were still humanly physically present. This verse follows  and is explained by a most extraordinary verse concerning the efficacy of prayer: Again, [amen,] I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything for which they are to pray, it shall be granted to them by my heavenly Father. [Mt 18:19] NABRE’s note on the Mt 18:20 comments:

“the presence of Jesus guarantees the efficacy of the prayer. This saying is similar to one attributed to a rabbi executed in A.D. 135 at the time of the second Jewish revolt: ‘…When two sit and there are between them the words of the Torah, the divine presence (Shekinah) rests upon them’ (Pirqê ’Abôt3:3).”

This echoes what Jesus said earlier in his ministry: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives; and the one who seeks, finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened. [Mt 7:7-8]  John puts is slightly differently, tying it in with dwelling in Christ and obeying Him; If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask for whatever you want and it will be done for you. [Jn 15:7]  Jesus can’t seem to emphasize this basic faith in His care and concern enough: And whatever you ask in my name, I will do, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask anything of me in my name, I will do it. [Jn 14: 13-14]

Mark reiterates what was quoted from Matthew, prayer is the key: Therefore I tell you, all that you ask for in prayer, believe that you will receive it and it shall be yours. [Mk 11:24] John sums it all up: And we have this confidence in him, that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. And if we know that he hears us in regard to whatever we ask, we know that what we have asked him for is ours.  [1Jn 5:14-15]

Father, help me have faith in You that when I say “give us this day our daily bread,” You hear us.  Jesus, deepen my trust in You that when we offer You in Your holy sacrifice to the Father, that You carry us with you and hear our prayers.  Holy Spirit, help me to believe that, though my prayers lack the fervor, the attention, even the appropriateness at times of my request, You will make things right: You come to the aid of our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit itself intercedes with inexpressible groanings. And the one who searches hearts knows what is the intention of the Spirit, because it intercedes for the holy ones according to God’s will. [Rom 8:26-27]

The reality of whatever you do to the least of my brothers.

What if Jesus were right here in human bodily form…would this “least of my brothers” thing still hold.  Well, yes, but…now we are thrown on our own.  He’s not here to rescue us as He did the disciples when the father complained: I brought him to your disciples, but they could not cure him. [Mt 17:16]  If His disciples could not cure the boy when Jesus was among them, what chance do we have now?

His answer, I believe, lies, as it always does, in deeper faith. Jesus said in reply, “O faithless and perverse* generation, how long will I be with you? How long will I endure you? Bring him here to me.” [Mt 17:17]  It seems that being with us longer is not the answer. “Why could we not drive it out?”  He said to them, “Because of your little faith. Amen, I say to you, if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.” [Mt 17:19-20]

You might protest: But that’s not how Mark tells the story.  You’re absolutely right.  This is one of the few instances where Mark has a much longer version of the pericope or vignette than either of the other two Synoptics.  In his version, the challenge to greater faith is exacerbated by the father’s statement: But if you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.” One can sense the palpable exasperation which wells up in Jesus in His reply: “‘If you can!’ Everything is possible to one who has faith.”

Then comes my most favorite verse of the whole Scripture…for it so encapsulates my existential dilemma: Then the boy’s father cried out, “I do believe, help my unbelief!” [Mk 9:22-24]  I am an incessant pendulum…swinging crazily between belief and unbelief, faith and doubt, ardent love and tepid acknowledgement.  Elusive faith is there and then it’s not there or hiding or out gallivanting…I don’t know!  Yes, I believe…but achieving even this mustard seed bit is, seemingly beyond my ken, beyond my reach, beyond my existential grasp.

Paul states: For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not from you; it is the gift of God. [Eph 2:8] and we know from Jesus himself that at least understanding that comes through faith is a direct gift:For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father. [Mt 16:17]  But, perhaps simultaneous with and synchronized to growth in the Spirit considered in the meditation on Pentecost[2], faith needs to be nurtured and grow: “Hear then the parable of the sower. The seed sown on the path is the one who hears the word of the kingdom without understanding it, and the evil one comes and steals away what was sown in his heart. The seed sown on rocky ground is the one who hears the word and receives it at once with joy. But he has no root and lasts only for a time. When some tribulation or persecution comes because of the word, he immediately falls away. The seed sown among thorns is the one who hears the word, but then worldly anxiety and the lure of riches choke the word and it bears no fruit. But the seed sown on rich soil is the one who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and yields a hundred or sixty or thirtyfold.” [Mt 13:18-23]…which brings us back to the mustard seed: The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that a person took and sowed in a field. It is the smallest of all the seeds, yet when full-grown it is the largest of plants. It becomes a large bush, and the ‘birds of the sky come and dwell in its branches.’ [Mt 13:31-32] and now I can see that, through faith, the kingdom of heaven grows in me.

Finally, how can I grow in faith: First, I need to realize that at least I am in good company:  And the apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith.” [Lk 17:5]  If we go back to the lack of faith that could not expel the demon from the body, Jesus’ explanation is that  “this kind can only come out through prayer.” [Mk 9:29][3]

The question is, am I in a “catch-22”: Whatever you ask for in prayer with faith, you will receive, [Mt 21:22] that is, if I need to ask for faith in prayer, and if I need to pray with faith in order to receive that for which I asked, how can I ask and how can I increase in faith. “What is impossible for human beings is possible for God.” [Lk 18:27]  As we saw above, faith is a gift from God.

Paul’s words give me hope: If we hope for what we do not see, we wait with endurance. In the same way, the Spirit too comes to the aid of our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit itself intercedes with inexpressible groanings. And the one who searches hearts knows what is the intention of the Spirit, because it intercedes for the holy ones according to God’s will. [Rom 8: 25-27]

Lord, help me “wait with endurance” for the Holy Spirit to pray that I may have greater faith so that I may love the least of my brothers as You love me.

The reality of taking up the cross and following Him.

Would we really take this seriously if Jesus were still among us in human physical form.  I would be tempted to say: “What cross?  He’s risen.  He’s here. Let’s forget the passion and death and simply rejoice.”  But, as we are all aware, that doesn’t reflect real life.  And, if anything, Jesus came to tell us that being real human beings with all that entails, good and bad, birth and death, Cana and Lazarus, Transfiguration and Crowning with thorns, the Baptism and the water and blood pouring out His side.  Thus, the reality of His existence, His Incarnation, His humanity puts our lives in perspective.  Indeed, Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. [Mt 16: 24-25]

A critical word here is “take.” The cross is not an option, something we may take or leave.  While I cannot avoid the cross, at times I can and do choose to ignore it. I try to cast it away, only to have it dragging behind me as if it were some loathsome and despicable offal.

We all have those aspects of our lives that burden and haunt us, terrorize us and frighten us, inflict mental and physical anguish on ourselves.  Part of this are the vagaries of human existence, pain, suffering, death, disappointment, injustice, ridicule, boredom and ennui.  These, of themselves, can make my life miserable, even tortuous.

But the other part is the evil I would not do that I do [Rom 7:19], the ego that erupts and, like Vesuvius, buries us under our sinful selves.  It is in this very state of degradation, of denial, of misery, of remorse, of despair, that Jesus sees me: For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save what was lost. [Lk 19:10]

Jesus, by seeking and saving us, accepts us as we are and enables us to freely choose to also accept ourselves as we are.  John, in the beginning of his 1st Letter, starts out by contrasting Jesus as the Son of God and the Word of Life and us as inveterate sinners: If we say, “We are without sin,” we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we acknowledge our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from every wrongdoing. If we say, “We have not sinned,” we make him a liar, and his word is not in us. [1 Jn 8-10]  As the NABRE’s note on this section states: “Denial of the condition of sin is self-deception and even contradictory of divine revelation; there is also the continual possibility of sin’s recurrence.”

Those who are healthy do not need a physician, but the sick do. [Lk 5:31]  Our sinfulness is a chronic condition.  His saving grace, by His forgiving our sins, by His feeding us on His Body and Blood, what He enables us to not only live with our chronic illness, but to overcome its debilitating effects.

The Cross is a choice. At the same time we pick up our daily bread from the Father, we are faced with the decision to reject or pick up our cross, lives as they are.   Jesus, enable me to follow You with, through and in Your healing grace.  Amen.  Alleluia!!!

The reality of faith in Him in the face of persecution.

If Jesus were still physically present in his human body, we would probably have a much different mindset of how we were to act in the face of persecution.  Yes, we would have seen Him endure the passion and cross in obedience to His Father’s will, but if we were persecuted, as He prophesied that we would be, we would have turned back to Him on earth and pleaded for, even demanded His intervention and help…He was beyond their torments, therefore He must be able to abolish their torments…Our sentiments would be that His miracles alleviated suffering before; He can and should relieve it now.

But that is not the case.  We would not truly hear, truly heed His words: Amen, amen, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces much fruit. Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will preserve it for eternal life.[Jn 12:24-25]

We have a very difficult time “getting it”: No disciple is above his teacher, no slave above his master. It is enough for the disciple that he become like his teacher, for the slave that he become like his master. [Mt 10:24-25]  There is no “duh” moment when Jesus that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer greatly from the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed and on the third day be raised. [Mt 16:21]  Instead, we are like Peter; even today we take Him aside and rebuke Him: “God forbid, Lord! No such thing shall ever happen to you.[Mt 16:22] Not today!!! Not in our world of amorphous identities, untruth tolerance and aborted non-entities.”

Indeed, we are taken aback when Jesus gets so bent out of shape and scolds us, “Get behind me, Satan! You are an obstacle to me. You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do.” [Mt. 16:23] And we are in denial and totally ignore His next words: “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. [Mt 16:24]

If we didn’t believe that what happened to Him will happen to us, He predicts it: But beware of people, for they will hand you over to courts and scourge you in their synagogues, and you will be led before governors and kings for my sake as a witness before them and the pagansBrother will hand over brother to death, and the father his child; children will rise up against parents and have them put to death. You will be hated by all because of my name, but whoever endures to the end will be saved. [Mt 10:17-18, 21-22]

Jesus, help me endure to the end.

The reality of the resurrection of my body.

The problem with the resurrection of my body, if Jesus were still physically humanly present, is that (a) we’d have to differentiate between the Lazarus/the daughter of Jairus/the son of the widow of Nain/Tabitha type of resuscitation and eternal resurrection, and (b) having done that, we would be faced with the fact that only Jesus would be walking around truly resurrected.  While Paul’s 1 Cor 15 arguments about faith in the resurrection would still hold, there would be questions in my mind about time passing and nothing happening…and the argument that only the Father, not even the Son, knows in Mt 24:36 would certainly not be reassuring in most senses.

People would be pleading with Jesus to resuscitate their loved ones, even multiple times.  The Assumption of Mary, body and soul, into heaven would be questioned.  And one would wonder why we should look to the future resurrection since Jesus is still here.

But Jesus ascended.  And we are here.  And Jesus left us “alone,” a gentle, loving parent who knows when it is time to say “good-bye.”   Not that we are truly alone; his promise to be with us always, even to the end of the world [Mt 28:20] He has fulfilled in being physically present, not just in one place but in tabernacles all over the world, on altars at every Eucharist, in our very selves every time we eat His body and drink His blood.  He is present in the Church, guiding it through the Holy Spirit.  He is present whenever two or three are gathered in His Name [Mt 18:20].  And He is with us even when we just love Him, when the Father and He come and dwell in us. [Jn 14:23]

So we are not alone.  And he promised to prepare a place for us and to return to take us to be with Him [Jn 14:3].  And He has given us His mother, who was indeed assumed, body and soul, and continually cares for us and commends us to follow Him, to do whatever He tells you. [Jn 2:5]. And we believe in and look forward to “the resurrection of the body and life everlasting.” [Apostle’s Creed]

Summary:

Jesus left us for many reasons, not the least of which was to send the Spirit: “When the work which the Father gave the Son to do on earth was accomplished, the Holy Spirit was sent on the day of Pentecost in order that He might continually sanctify the Church, and thus, all those who believe would have access through Christ in one Spirit to the Father. He is the Spirit of Life, a fountain of water springing up to life eternal. To men, dead in sin, the Father gives life through Him, until, in Christ, He brings to life their mortal bodies. The Spirit dwells in the Church and in the hearts of the faithful, as in a temple. In them He prays on their behalf and bears witness to the fact that they are adopted sons. The Church, which the Spirit guides in way of all truth and which He unified in communion and in works of ministry, He both equips and directs with hierarchical and charismatic gifts and adorns with His fruits. By the power of the Gospel He makes the Church keep the freshness of youth. Uninterruptedly He renews it and leads it to perfect union with its Spouse. The Spirit and the Bride both say to Jesus, the Lord, ‘Come!’” Lumen Gentium 4

Now it is our responsibility to get to work, doing the job He gave us to do as He left us: “All power in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.” [Mt 28:18-20]

Now, pray to the Spirit that He enable us to utilize the personal gifts He gives each of us for the building of the Body of Christ: “It is not only through the sacraments and the ministries of the Church that the Holy Spirit sanctifies and leads the people of God and enriches it with virtues, but, ‘allotting his gifts to everyone according as He wills, He distributes special graces among the faithful of every rank. By these gifts He makes them fit and ready to undertake the various tasks and offices which contribute toward the renewal and building up of the Church, according to the words of the Apostle: “The manifestation of the Spirit is given to everyone for profit’. These charisms, whether they be the more outstanding or the more simple and widely diffused, are to be received with thanksgiving and consolation for they are perfectly suited to and useful for the needs of the Church. Extraordinary gifts are not to be sought after, nor are the fruits of apostolic labor to be presumptuously expected from their use; but judgment as to their genuineness and proper use belongs to those who are appointed leaders in the Church, to whose special competence it belongs, not indeed to extinguish the Spirit, but to test all things and hold fast to that which is good.” Lumen Gentium 12

Oh, yes, the Ascension, Christ’s departure to the Father was and remains extremely important.  Amen.  Alleluia!!!

[1] Scripture texts in this work are taken from the New American Bible, revised edition © 2010, 1991, 1986, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Washington, D.C. and are used by permission of the copyright owner. All Rights Reserved. No part of the New American Bible may be reproduced in any form without permission in writing from the copyright owner.

[2] Two Pentecosts: John, Evangelist Of The Spirit, June 10, 2014

[3] Some manuscripts add, “But this kind does not come out except by prayer and fasting”; this is a variant of the better reading of Mk 9:29.[3]

 

Why can’t you stay? The Ascension: First Implied Points

There are a myriad of less obvious reasons, other truths that Jesus wanted to hammer home, which He could not do if He were still with us.  Perhaps the most obvious is

 

The reality of the Eucharist

Think about it; if the physical Jesus was here, many would be tempted to say, “Why bother with this Bread and Wine when we have the real person right here.”  They/we would not have paid attention to Jesus’ statement: I am the bread that came down from heaven. [Jn 6:41] [1]

Nor His mandate: Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you. [Jn 6:53]

Nor His promises: Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him. Just as the living Father sent me and I have life because of the Father, so also the one who feeds on me will have life because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven. Unlike your ancestors who ate and still died, whoever eats this bread will live forever. [Jn 6:54-58]

Do you really think we would be carrying out His directive: Do this in memory of me [Lk 22:19; 1Cor 11:24] if we had “the real thing” right here on earth, particularly these days when He would probably be viewed 24/7 on His own channel, streaming live on your cell phone.

  • We needed to be weaned off the created real and fed the adult food of the Divine Real.
  • We needed to grok the fact that Jesus is indeed not only spiritually still with us, but now physically present with us…and
  • We need to understand that He is no longer limited by His personal physical body to one location, but He is simultaneously PHYSICALLY PRESENT ALL OVER THE WORLD in the perfect form for simultaneously feeding us physically and spiritually.

And, while this could have been done if He stayed among us, how much faster did we “get it” after He rose into heaven.  For immediately after Pentecost, we witness this understanding already realized in the daily life of the earliest Christian community: They devoted themselves to the teaching of the apostles and to the communal life, to the breaking of the bread and to the prayers.[Acts 2:42]

Thus, today, through His ordained priests, we can say: “This, indeed, is my body that is for you. This cup is, indeed, the new covenant in my blood. Do this in remembrance of me.” Indeed, as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the death of the Lord until he comes. [1Cor 11:24-26, amended]

 

The reality of the Holy Spirit

The Spirit was definitely active in the disciples during the ministry of Jesus as exemplified when He summoned the Twelve and gave them power and authority over all demons and to cure diseases, and he sent them to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal [the sick] [Lk 9:1-2].

But, for the most part, they were still frightened, and Jesus predicted that “All of you will be scandalized in me, for it is written: ‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be dispersed.’”[Mt 26:31], nor, even after his resurrection, did they fully understand: When they saw him, they worshiped, but they doubted [Mt 28:17] and even asked: “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” [Acts 1:6].

Jesus knew the Apostles had not absorbed and understood all that He had revealed to them; I have told you this while I am with you. The Advocate, the holy Spirit that the Father will send in my name—he will teach you everything and remind you of all that [I] told you.[Jn 14:25-26] He said this in reference to the Spirit that those who came to believe in him were to receive. There was, of course, no Spirit yet, because Jesus had not yet been glorified. [Jn 7:39]

Indeed He admits that He had “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.” [Jn 16:12-13] After His resurrection, He explicitly gave His Spirit to them:And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the holy Spirit. [Jn 20: 22]  But it seems still a limited outpouring…explicitly for the forgiveness and retention of sin.

While the Spirit could have been outpoured fully as He was on Pentecost if Jesus had not ascended, but remained here on earth, we would have never come to rely on the Spirit as Jesus wished us to do. And they were all filled with the holy Spirit and began to speak in different tongues, as the Spirit enabled them to proclaim. [Acts 2:4] While these tongues given the Apostles on Pentecost were very practical, i.e. they we the languages of those who gathered outside and heard the word of God in their native speech, Peter, in his explanation to the crowd what has happened, refers to the prophecy of Joel: I will pour out a portion of my spirit upon all flesh. Your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your young men shall see visions, your old men shall dream dreams. [Acts 2:17; Jl 3:1-5], where glossolalia, or the prophesying or “praying in tongues” was foretold.[2]

More to the point, the Spirit is our defense lawyer before the world; instead of He being our “mouthpiece,” we are to be His as He proclaims the Truth of God in the face of opposition: When they hand you over, do not worry about how you are to speak or what you are to say. You will be given at that moment what you are to say. For it will not be you who speak but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you. [Mt 10:19-20]

Throughout the Book of Acts, we witness the action of the Spirit in our midst, bringing more and more believers into the community, organizing the community and allocating particular jobs within the Church, infusing the Apostles and even Peter’s shadow with the power to heal, passing judgment through them on evil doers in their midst, demonstrating the changes in “the Law” of what is clean and unclean, both in food and in affiliation, stopping Paul from going some places and beckoning him to come to others, even saving shiploads from drowning and shaking off vipers with immunity.

In particular, we might not have come to understand that the Spirit’s imprimatur is even greater than the Church’s, guiding the sensus fidelium, the sense of faith of the entire people of God within the Churchwith infallible Truth: “The entire body of the faithful, anointed as they are by the Holy One, cannot err in matters of belief. They manifest this special property by means of the whole peoples’ supernatural discernment in matters of faith when “from the Bishops down to the last of the lay faithful” they show universal agreement in matters of faith and morals. That discernment in matters of faith is aroused and sustained by the Spirit of truth.” Lumen Gentium, 12.

It would be very sad if, because Jesus was still physically present on the earth, we would be frightened to exercise our universal and individual charisms, those special gifts of the Holy Spirit give to each Baptized individual to be used for the benefit of the entire Church, the entire Body of Christ.  We might have been tempted to be lax in their exercise, sloughing off our responsibilities as the Father’s adopted sons and daughters with the excuse that “He here; let Him do it.”

We are held to a high standard of performance, not only in quality but in actual exercise of our gifts.  Lord, grant us each the grace to know our gifts, to appreciate our gifts and to use them to take Your message with us, wherever we go.

 

The reality of the Church

Under the guidance of the Spirit, the Church devoted themselves to the teaching of the apostles and to the communal life, to the breaking of the bread and to the prayers…they would sell their property and possessions and divide them among all according to each one’s need. Every day they devoted themselves to meeting together in the temple area and to breaking bread in their homes. They ate their meals with exultation and sincerity of heart, praising God and enjoying favor with all the people. And every day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved. [Acts 2:42, 45-47]

While Jesus was among them after His resurrection and before His Ascension, He was the one who nurtured and taught them, whose personal charisma kept them together. Now that He has Ascended and the Spirit has taken charge, Christ is in their midst because they are two or three gathered together and (He is) there in the midst of them [Mt 18:20], and they are functioning as a community.

As the Church grew, the Apostles appointed deacons and they all went out from Jerusalem to preach, teach and baptize. And Peter was taught by the Spirit of the universal nature of the call of Christ [Acts 10] and that no one is to be excluded. And Jesus calls Paul to carry His message to the Gentiles…and the word spreads throughout Asia Minor, Africa, Greece and on to Rome.

The Church is no longer simply where Jesus is humanly present, but becomes world wide in its presence. The Church recognizes leaders and a focal home, first in Jerusalem, and then in Rome. While all followers take up the mandate to teach all nations, there is a unified structure, a shared Good News, a growing tradition, a learning curve of those things bound and those things loosed…and all this under the guidance of the Spirit while carrying Jesus with them in the Word, in the breaking of the Bread, in the common faith, in the love for one another.

When Jesus was present, even then and, perhaps especially then, there were squabbles about who is the greatest in the kingdom, who will sit at Jesus right and left hand, and they became indignant….Jesus summoned them and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and the great ones make their authority over them felt. But it shall not be so among you. Rather, whoever wishes to be great among you shall be your servant; whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave. [Mt 20:24-27]

But this didn’t take hold until after Jesus ascended, had left them, and the Spirit comes; He will teach you everything and remind you of all that [I] told you.[Jn 14:26].  And his disciples remembered that he had said this, and they came to believe the scripture and the word Jesus had spoken:[Jn 2:22] the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many. [Mt 20:28]…and they finally get it. That’s what the Church is, we finally got it…but it took His leaving and the Spirit coming to make that happen.

[1] Scripture texts in this work are taken from the New American Bible, revised edition © 2010, 1991, 1986, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Washington, D.C. and are used by permission of the copyright owner. All Rights Reserved. No part of the New American Bible may be reproduced in any form without permission in writing from the copyright owner.

[2] See Paul on the proper use of glossolalia: 1 Cor 14:6-19

Why can’t you stay? Part 2: Positive Benefits from the Ascension Section A: Stated Points

So what are the positive benefits of the Ascension. What do we gain from His Ascension? Jesus states some points and implies others:

The stated points are clustered in John 14.  There, Jesus points out three major gifts:

(1) In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places...And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back again and take you to myself, so that where I am you also may be. [Jn 14:2-3]. [1]  This absence is temporary.  He will come again.  He will take us with Him.  We will live in places He has prepared for us.  [In other translations, “houses” or “mansions” are used for “places.”  It is interesting that Jesus the earthly carpenter/builder carries His trade with Him into heaven.]

(2) And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate to be with you always, the Spirit of truth, which the world cannot accept, because it neither sees nor knows it. But you know it, because it remains with you, and will be in you. [Jn 14:16-17] The Advocate, the holy Spirit that the Father will send in my name—he will teach you everything and remind you of all that [I] told you. [Jn 14:26] But I tell you the truth, it is better for you that I go. For if I do not go, the Advocate will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you. [Jn 16:7; see Jn 16:8-14] He will give us a Defender, a companion, the Spirit of truth.  Jesus must go to send the Spirit.  The Spirit will teach us everything we need to know.

(3) I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you. In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me, because I live and you will live. On that day you will realize that I am in my Father and you are in me and I in you. [Jn 14:18-20] I am with you always, even to the end of the age. [Mt. 28:20]  Though He will seem to have left us, He has not left us.  He is always with us.

Then Jesus adds another reason. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give it to you. Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid. You heard me tell you, ‘I am going away and I will come back to you.’ If you loved me, you would rejoice that I am going to the Father; for the Father is greater than I. And now I have told you this before it happens, so that when it happens you may believe. [Jn 14:27-29]  The final reason Jesus gives is difficult to understand; if we love Jesus, we are to be happy that He is going to the Father.  Why? First, we are to be happy that He is reunited with His Father and our Father.  This is a good thing for relationships are most important.  Jesus will also be able to plead our case before the Father, having had personal experience being human.

While this is true, Jesus gives a more profound reason: for the Father is greater than I. It was absolutely necessary for Jesus to ascend to the Father so that our attention would be focused where His attention was always focused, on the Father.  The purpose of His entire existence on earth was to do His Father’s will.  And He calls us to follow His example. We are here to love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your being, with all your strength, and with all your mind. [Deut. 6:5; Lk 10:27; Mt 22:37; Mk 12:30] We are to recognize that Jesus must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet...When everything is subjected to him, then the Son himself will [also] be subjected to the one who subjected everything to him, so that God may be all in all. [1Cor 15:25-28] This is why Jesus prays.  This is why we pray: “Our Father.”  Not “Our Jesus,” but as Jesus Himself prayed, “Father,” [Mt 11:25-26; Jh 11:44; 12:27; 17:1-26], even that the Father’s cup be taken from him, [Lk 22:41 et al.], and on the Cross, we have His most poignant prayers to his Father, asking forgiveness for all, for they do not know what they do, [Lk 23:34, et al.] praying the ultimate Psalm of trust in the darkness of defeat, My God, My God, why have You forsaken me, [Ps 22; Mt 27:46] and ultimately, putting His life in His Father’s hands: Father, into Your hands I commend my spirit.”[Ps 31; Lk 23:46]

The implied reasons for the Ascension can be teased out of Jesus’ final words in Matthew: Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age. [Mt 28: 19-20]

Jesus tells us we have a job to do. Would we leave him if he stayed? If Jesus had stayed with us, we would never get it. We would still be on the Mount of Olives with the other disciples, dumbfounded, mouths gaping, wondering when He will return…no wonder He sent angels to shock us back to reality: Men of Galilee, why are you standing there looking at the sky? [Acts 1:11] A true “duh” question, the implication being, “He gave you a job to do.  Get with it.”

We would always be reporting back, not trusting in ourselves to be Him in the world in which we find ourselves.  By ascending, He kicked us out of the nest of discipleship, of learners, and into the pasture of apostleship, of teachers.  We are sent as messengers, “apostolos,” “sent from” Jesus to all nations, all the world.

We are sent as shepherds who have the smell of the sheep [Pope Francis I]. We are to teach by word and example all that He has commanded us.  Now that He has ascended, Teresa of Avila, great doctor of the Church, has described our status in the world:

Christ has no body but yours, No hands, no feet on earth but yours, Yours are the eyes with which he looks Compassion on this world, Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good, Yours are the hands, with which he blesses all the world.  Yours are the hands, yours are the feet, Yours are the eyes, you are his body…Christ has no body now on earth but yours.[2]

And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age. He knew we couldn’t do it alone; He never intended that we do it alone. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for your selves. For my yoke is easy, and my burden light. [Mt 11:29-30] A yoke is a wooden beam normally used between a pair of oxen or other animals to enable them to pull together on a load when working in pairs.  When we get in yolk with Jesus, we can do anything.

But there is even another Divinely Providential motive for the Ascension. Jesus came to show us the Father: If you know me, then you will also know my Father. From now on you do know him and have seen him. [Jn 14:7]  Not that we get it…we still echo Philip: “Master, show us the Father, and that will be enough for us.” Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you for so long a time and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?”[Jn 14:8-9]

[In Section Two: Some thoughts on the implied points, e.g. Eucharist, Church, etc.]

[1] Scripture texts in this work are taken from the New American Bible, revised edition © 2010, 1991, 1986, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Washington, D.C. and are used by permission of the copyright owner. All Rights Reserved. No part of the New American Bible may be reproduced in any form without permission in writing from the copyright owner.

[2] http://www.journeywithjesus.net/PoemsAndPrayers/Teresa_Of_Avila_Christ_Has_No_Body.shtml