Category Archives: Breadth and Length and Height and Depth

Cana Update[1]

I am always brought up short by the strange encounter between Jesus and his mother at Cana. Jesus has already begun His public ministry, He’s been baptized, been to the desert, and is traveling around the country preaching with an entourage of His first disciples. He and his followers arrive at the wedding of friends and as the party is getting going, one of those “Opps” of life happens to the groom, the guests have imbibed all his wine. Mary gets wind of the embarrassment via the guest grape vine and informs Jesus.

Perhaps that all she intended to do, inform Him. Perhaps she hadn’t thought beyond that except that something needed to be done to help her friends. If this is the case, then Jesus enigmatic reply could be interpreted as an invitation to greater belief, to faith: “Woman, how does your concern affect me? My hour has not yet come. [2] [Jn 2:4] In other words, “Does your concern about the embarrassing situation of our friends affect the Kingdom which I have come to establish? Does it pertain to the Father’s will? There is a time and a place Providence has assigned for all things. The hour of my revelation of myself as the Messiah is not now.”

The response He invites from Mary is one of complete faith in God and trust in His guidance of Her. Perhaps this is a Mother-Son moment when He is sincerely asking for Her guidance. Her lesson to Him is that this concern does actually affect Him, as Elizabeth’s need affected her and as the concerns of all affect each of us. She may realize, though perhaps only peripherally, that all concerns need to be His concerns, all needs His needs, not just on a human level, but on His Savior level, His Kingship level, His Divine level. Perhaps this is the “Ah-Ha” moment when she knows He must realize the full import of His being connected with every other human being by virtue of His very Incarnation. Perhaps this is what He later would formulate in His parable on the Last Judgment: whatever you…[do] for one of these least brothers of mine, you…[do] for me. [Mt 25:40] Perhaps He needed to grok the depth and the encompassing reality of the 2nd Great Commandment: Do to others as you would have them do to you, [Lk 6:31] and that this included Him on the Divine level as well as the human level.

Mary’s answer: “Yes, this does affect You both as my Son, a fellow human being, one who is truly empathetic to all the vagaries and vicissitudes of live, the manifestations of the effect of sin in the world, of which lack and need, deprivation, running out of things, is always a sign. Your Father so loved this crazy, mixed up world with all its foibles that He gave us You so that we might believe in You and not perish but have eternal life, [Jn 3:16] Of Him, You will tell us do not worry and say, ‘What are we to eat?’ or ‘What are we to drink?’… Your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom [of God] and his righteousness, and all these things will be given you besides. [Mt 6:31-33] You and the Father are one. [Jn 10:30] Show us the Father’s love here and now. You will talk the talk later, now walk the walk.”

How does she join Him in bringing about His first miracle? This is same way every believer who has ever “preformed” a miracle joins Him. No human actually “performs” a miracle. God does the performing; humans only express their explicit faith and trust in God to do so and thus are instruments through which God chooses to work. Every miracle not performed directly by Jesus is performed through the faith and instrumentality of a person requesting Jesus intercession and believing absolutely that He will intercede. The human person gives him/herself up to God and invites God to work through him/her; she/he transforms her/his self into God’s instrument.

Mary is not trying to override His or the Father’s timing of His hour, but, as with the Finding so many years before, she has explicit faith that, given her explanation, Jesus will do “the right thing.” She doesn’t press Him. She doesn’t define what He is to do, but she has an explicit faith that He will know what to do. Thus, when she says to the servers, “Do whatever he tells you,”[Jn 2:5] she lets go and lets God. Her statement is another way of saying what she says with her whole life, in her dormition, her assumption and even as she is crowned Queen of Heaven and Earth: May it be done to me according to your word. [Lk 1:38]

Obedience, then, comes back to its root meaning, “to listen to.” It’s not so much doing as being, as listening, as following, as joining in the yolk next to Jesus. To hear and let it be done to me, to have faith and trust in God, in whatever His eternal Now brings for my next step. It is to pick up one’s cross daily and to follow the Word, strap on His burden, take on His yolk and walk the world’s roads to the Calvaries of today with Him. It is to listen and hear the Spirit’s whispers of guidance and inspiration, to follow the promptings of one’s true heart, to the love of God and our fellow man to which we are called by our very nature as familial members, not just of the human family but of the very familial Body of Christ. We would not be here if it were not for God’s creation and we would not be human without accepting our place in the family of humankind and thus our relationship to all others.

Jesus obeys, Mary obeys, we obey, I obey. Listen, listen, listen and allow it to be done onto me. This is our calling, this is our “vocation,” this is our purpose in life. Amen. Alleluia!!!


[1] As with all my writings, I explain things in the way they make sense to me. In doing so, I often blindly wander into minefields of explanation into which scholars, saints and angels wisely do not venture. Therefore, take all I write not just with a grain of salt but with a whole mine of it. Please, please, please consider that I am just me, one very finite, very myopic, often very confused and mistaken man. I am often wrong. However, God guarantees the infallibility of the Catholic Church. Thus, if anything that I write contradicts or in any way conflicts with what the One, Holy, Apostolic Catholic Church has stated or defined, I profoundly apologize to my readers for misleading them, to the Church for contradicting our infallible Faith, Scripture and Tradition, and I beg God to have mercy on me, forgive me and write straight the crooked lines your wayward servant has written. I beg the forgiveness of all and ask for your prayers that I might have the guidance and inspiration of the Holy Spirit to see aright once again.

[2] 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. Hereafter, NABRE.

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Joy

“Joy is the experience of knowing that you are unconditionally loved and that nothing–sickness, failure, emotional distress, oppression, war, or even death–can take that love away.”[1] Joy strikes such a deep resonating cord within each of us. Joy is what we seek in life, our greatest happiness[2], that which makes us rejoice, rejoice in spite of everything, rejoice in spite of anything else. This fundamental, from-the-deepest-ocean-undisturbed-by-the-storms-of-life, joy is what “nothing – not sickness, failure, emotional distress, oppression, war, or even death” can wrest from our grasp. Why? Because it is the knowledge, the experience, the enraptured state of unconditional divine love in which God enfolds me and will never let me go. Nothing I can do, no matter how vile and disgusting, nothing I can say, no matter how foul and cutting, nothing I can think, no matter how insidious, cruel or arrogant, can ever convince God not to love me. Any of these can be and are evidence I do not love God nor my neighbor. But the opposite is not and can never be true; God’s just not “built” that way. As Nouwen continues: “we belong to God and have found in God our refuge and safety and that nothing, not even death, can take God away from us.”

What struck me about this phraseology of this fundamental truth, not just of our faith, but of reality, is that it echoes two of my favorite people: St. Paul and St. Ignatius. Paul says: Rejoice in the Lord always. I shall say it again: rejoice![Phil 4:4] and my favorite quote: Rejoice always. Pray without ceasing. In all circumstances give thanks, for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus, [1 Thes 5:16-18] which sums up for me the whole of Christian life, rejoice, pray and give thanks, demands not just of our thought and speech but also, and perhaps primarily, to be exhibited in our actions, in our lives with others.

Ignatius, in The Principle and Foundation, exhorts us to practice “active indifference.” Far from its common mean of totally not caring, a more apt description of our contemporary society attitude toward our “huddled masses,” “in the Ignatian sense, to be indifferent is to care whole-heartedly towards something, with full desire and hope; but with equally full openness and freedom towards whatever the outcome,” [3] as I quoted in the previous Meanderings but bears repeating. However, it is the examples Ignatius uses to illustrate this point that mirror Nouwen’s description of joy: “as far as we are concerned, we should not prefer health to sickness, riches to poverty, honor to dishonor, a long life to a short life.”[4] While Nouwen cites only the “bad” things, Ignatius cites both them and their “good” counterpart. “As far as we are allowed free choice and are not under any prohibition,[5]” Ignatius points out that our joy, “our one desire and choice should be what is more conducive to the end for which we are created.[6]

What struck me also is that all three agree with Nouwen: “joy does not simply happen to us; we have to choose joy and keep choosing it every day.”[7] Whether by praying, thanking and spreading God’s love and joy or by holding myself in the dynamic tension of active indifference while serving God and man, joy is something at which we have to work and work diligently and constantly, lest we slip down into stagnant familiarity, presumption, lethargy, distraction, disbelief, dismissal, and ultimately, its opposite, despair. It does not come easily. Therefore, Jesus, help me to seek joy in Your love every moment of my life, rejoicing always, knowing that the bedrock of my active indifference is its exact opposite in God, His total consuming and unconditional fascination, desire and love of me. Amen. Alleluia!!!

[1] Fr. Henri J.M. Nouwen, Dutch priest, author, teacher: 1932-1996

[2] “God has determined, unless I interfere with His plan, that I should reach that which will be my greatest happiness. He looks on me individually, He calls me by my name, He knows what I can do, what I can best be, what is my greatest happiness, and He means to give it me. God knows what is my greatest happiness, but I do not. There is no rule about what is happy and good; what suits one would not suit another. And the ways by which perfection is reached vary very much; the medicines necessary for our souls are very different from each other. Thus God leads us by strange ways; we know He wills our happiness, but we neither know what our happiness is, nor the way. We are blind; left to ourselves we should take the wrong way; we must leave it to Him.” Venerable John Henry Newman, Meditations on My Happiness, March 6, 1848

[3] Fr. Glen Chun, S.J. Daily Inspiration from JesuitPrayer.org September 10, 2015

[4] Ignatius of Loyola. The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius: Based on Studies in the Language of the Autograph (Kindle Location 182). Kindle Edition.

[5] Ibid. 181, 182.

[6] Ibid, 183. Ignatius defines that end: “Man is created to praise, reverence, and serve God our Lord, and by this means to save his soul.” Ignatius of Loyola. The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius: Based on Studies in the Language of the Autograph (Kindle Locations 178-179). Kindle Edition.

[7] This quote from Henri J.M. Nouwen is part of a larger quote that is very popular on the internet; I was amazed by the number of people who have cited this quote, from all walks of life and different faith and philosophical backgrounds.

The Perspective of Perfection

Only non-divine entities define perfection. Perfection, by its very nature, is a matter of comparison, if only with a Platonic image in the mind. From God’s perspective, He simply is, without comparison, perfection, and what He “speaks” in creation, each and every leaf, rock, tsunami, fire, hydrocephalic child is perfect, unique, as He knows it, loves it into being.

Not only is each creation perfect in itself, but also somehow, within the perspective of creation as God sees creation, it fits perfectly with all the rest.

It is only when we, with our finite minds, our one location viewpoint, our limited historical vantage, view an individual, that we begin to categorize and lump together and define (from the Latin words for “completely” and “limit or boundary”), that we begin to compare with other similar creations, to contrast with them, to place value judgments based, again, on our limited perspective. We don’t see the whole picture, i.e., the forest is perfect, each tree fitting a unique and irreplaceable niche, even if from our perspective, we may not be able to comprehend the whole picture. We don’t and won’t get it. We don’t and can’t take the infinity necessary to understand the uniqueness of this individual, the myriad of relationships within which this creation rests and the precision of love that placed that creation here and now.

Maybe, then, from our perspective, we should reserve value judgments,….forever.

Amen. Alleluia!!!

Breadth and Length and Height and Depth, Part 4

Prayer for the Readers Eph 3:14-21

For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that he may grant you in accord with the riches of his glory to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in the inner self, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; that you, rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the holy ones what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. Now to him who is able to accomplish far more than all we ask or imagine, by the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.[1]

and to know the love of Christ

γινώσκω, to know, is used 246 times in the New Testament to mean everything from “come to know” and “feel” to the Biblical sense of “carnal knowledge between a man and woman.” Thus Paul is praying that we come to understand this love that Christ has for us intimately, fully, personally, familiarly, lovingly, and the previous dimensional phrase of breadth and length and height and depth emphasizes just how closely we are to scrutinize, relish and adore this most precious gift of the Father.

How do we know Christ’s love: The way we came to know Christ’s love was that he laid down his life for us. [1Jn 3:16] That life, that Love, we see exhibited throughout His public ministry on both a very personal individual basis as well as for the multitude: healing the sick, raising the dead, feeding the hungry, preaching the Kingdom; casting out demons, and praying for his disciples and us [Mt 14:14; Jn 11:35,38; Mt 15:32; Mk 6:34; Mt 8:16; Jn 17:20-21].

His words also conveyed his love, for example: Jerusalem, Jerusalem,…how many times I yearned to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her young under her wings, but you were unwilling! [Mt 28:37]; As the Father loves me, so I also love you. [Jn 15:9]; As I have loved you, so you also should love one another. [Jn 13:34]; This is my commandment: love one another as I love you. [Jn 15:34]

Even his looks conveyed love: Jesus, looking at him,[and] loved him. [Mk 10:21]; and Jesus’ looks of love at Peter when he was remorseful after the Resurrection [John 21:15-19], but even when He was denying Him: the Lord turned and looked at Peter and Peter remembered the word of the Lord… went out and began to weep bitterly. [Lk 22: 61-62], I have prayed that your own faith may not fail; and once you have turned back, you must strengthen your brothers. [Lk 22:32]

But how about here and now, in my own life: The way we may be sure that we know him is to keep his commandments. Whoever says, “I know him,” but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him. [1Jn 2:3-4]. This is the second part of the proof: The way we came to know Christ’s love was that he laid down his life for us; so we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers. [1Jn 3:16]

and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge,

The Holy Spirit does not desert anyone who is open to Him, to His love, to His grace. However, being open to Him, His love, His grace, is different than being inspired by Him. When I begin to think that I am owed inspiration, that inspiration is the only way to pray, that inspiration is somehow necessary for me to talk to God, then hubris, pride, self-aggrandizement, selfish ego trips have taken over and gotten in the way of learning from Jesus and being meek and humble of heart, of being still and knowing that God is God; of doing what is right, loving mercy and humbly walking with my God. [Mt 11:29; Ps 46:10; Mi 6:8] It is time to do just that.

What knowledge I have is paltry, miniscule, so much straw, as Thomas put it, compared with the experience, the living of Your love, Jesus. Knowledge is not what comprises holiness, righteousness, humility, being meek and humble of heart. God is Love and no matter what else we may think we know about God, no matter how much we may write about Your revelation, no matter how much we want to think we have a handle on You, God, and “understand” You, we are totally blind and ignorant if we do not first experience love.

St. Paul said it best: If I speak in human and angelic tongues but do not have love, I am a resounding gong or a clashing cymbal. And if I have the gift of prophecy and comprehend all mysteries and all knowledge; if I have all faith so as to move mountains but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away everything I own, and if I hand my body over so that I may boast but do not have love, I gain nothing. [1Cor 13:1-3] To have love, to love, one must first experience love, one must allow oneself to be loved, not cut myself off from love. I must open myself to the experience of love, I must be willing to suffer the pain of love as well as the ecstasy, the depth as well as the height. I must find love in the length and breadth of the earth, in places where I never thought it existed, in the barrios of Brazil, in the bullet torn streets of Fallujah, in the pitiable prisons of China, wherever Jesus has moved hearts to reach out beyond the frightened, frail, finitude of one’s humanity and embrace another human being with one’s heart, there is love. That is what surpasses intellectual knowledge, book knowledge, conjecture knowledge.

so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.

The purpose of this exercise, this experience journey of exploring the love of Christ which surpasses all understanding, is not just for the experience itself, albeit amazing, wonderful, joy filled, awesome, inciting adoration. The purpose is so that we may be filled with all the fullness of You, God.

At first blush, this may seem impossible, a finite, miniscule part of the universe, of creation, to be filled with the immensity, the grandeur, the awesomeness of God. But for a God who became man, a God who transformed his body and blood into bread and wine, a God who raised His Son from the dead to everlasting life, filling you and me with His fullness is just a run-of-the-mill miracle. As inlet may be filled from the ocean without diminishing the latter, so I may be filled with God. Better, when the waves of the ocean wash up on the sand, they leave water in the depressions of God’s footprints. I am a footprint of God, there to witness to His presence, to make known His walking among us, to be a sign of His passing by, and then I disappear into the infinitude of His Love.

It is not that I can contain the completeness of God, though hubris and pride may entice me to take over His role and think that I am God. The folly of all sin there lies. But that you and I are each one facet of the infinite diamond that is God, His image and likeness imprinted in flesh. Look around you and reach out and touch the face of God.

With what may we be filled? With God: God is and that “is-ness” is love; so by virtue of our very being, God and love are an integral part of all that is, including me. That is an awesome understanding…that everything not just participates in but is an actual occasion of the love of God, one tiny glimpse of what God is and has in store for us. A blade of grass, a amazing living factory taking the riches of the earth and refashioning them into fiber and chlorophyll, recycling carbon dioxide as clean, fresh oxygen…literally fantastic, and it has been going on and on for millions and billions of years without a single moment of assistance, direction, oversight, management, control or even encouragement from me or any human being. It is this God, who populates the cosmos with being, whose fullness we have all received, [Jn 1:16] this very fullness with which we are filled.

With whom may we be filled: Jesus explained that all three Persons of the Trinity wish to abide in me…in ME! For we are the temple of the living God; as God said: “I will live with them and move among them, and I will be their God and they shall be my people.” [2Cor 6:16; Ez 36:27; Jer 32:38] Whoever acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God remains in him and he in God. [1Jn 4:15] 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]

It is amazing how often we are reassured that the Spirit dwells in us; through these, we know the Spirit of God is:

  • He is Life itself: Hasten to answer me, LORD; for my spirit fails me.[Ps 143:7]
  • He is God’s very presence, Holiness itself: Where is the one who placed in their midst his holy spirit. [Is 63:11]; Do not drive me from before your face, nor take from me your holy spirit. [Ps 51:13]
  • He enables us to obey God: I will put my spirit within you so that you walk in my statutes, observe my ordinances, and keep them. [Ez 36:27]
  • He is the proof we are adopted by God: As proof that you are children, God sent the spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying out, “Abba, Father!” [Gal 4:6]
  • That we are living temples of God: Do you not know that you are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?[1Cor 3:16]
  • We have this Gift of the Spirit by which we are God’s: 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?[1Cor 6:19]
  • It is our duty and privilege to keep this sacred trust safe: Guard this rich trust with the help of the holy Spirit that dwells within us.[2Tim 1:14]
  • It is our proof that we live in You, God, as You live in us: This is how we know that we remain in him and he in us, that he has given us of his Spirit. [1 Jn 4:13]
  • Thus, we are not just mortal, just body, but eternal, spirit: But you are not in the flesh; on the contrary, you are in the spirit, if only the Spirit of God dwells in you. [Rom 8:9]
  • We are anointed as holy, priests, prophets and kings, set apart and taught by the Spirit: As for you, the anointing that you received from him remains in you, so that you do not need anyone to teach you. But his anointing teaches you about everything and is true and not false; just as it taught you, remain in him. [1Jn 2:27]
  • If we remain holy through the Spirit dwelling in us throughout our life and unto death, the Father will give us eternal life through the same Spirit: 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]

And that is the fullness of God dwelling in us.

[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.

Breadth and Length and Height and Depth, Part 3

Prayer for the Readers Eph 3:14-21

For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that he may grant you in accord with the riches of his glory to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in the inner self, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; that you, rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the holy ones what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. Now to him who is able to accomplish far more than all we ask or imagine, by the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.[1] 

that you, rooted and grounded in love

We are rooted and grounded in love through the love of the Father who strengthened us in the Spirit and His Son who dwell in our hearts through faith. Rooted in the Holy Spirit, grounded in Christ.

Why both rooted and grounded? The first is a reference from nature: to be rooted, to have established firm roots. This implies that the love which is rooted has grown and become firmly established in the Spirit, who is known by his appearances in the guise of nature, a dove, fire, wind.

Grounded, on the other hand, refers to having laid a firm foundation, make stable, establish. If, indeed, Paul wished to align this with Jesus, it echoes of Jesus own parable of the two houses: Everyone who listens to these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock. The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and buffeted the house. But it did not collapse; it had been set solidly on rock. And everyone who listens to these words of mine but does not act on them will be like a fool who built his house on sand. The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and buffeted the house. And it collapsed and was completely ruined. [Mt 7: 24-27] If we have a true love of Jesus and have experienced His unconditional love of us, we, indeed, have a firm foundation upon which to build our lives.

may have strength to comprehend

Here we come to the crux of the matter; all Paul’s prayers that we be strengthened in the Spirit and have Christ dwell within us have been in order that we may have the strength to comprehend. This raises at least two questions: why do we need strength and why just comprehension?

Comprehension, at least as we normally experience it, is a fairly non-taxing activity; we look at something, figure it out and understand it. No biggie. But here, it seems that Paul is in awe of the undertaking, albeit mental, on which we are about to embark. He calls on the big guns, the Spirit and Jesus, to help us in this matter. He foresees that this exploration is an expedition of enormous proportion, covering the breadth and length and height and depth of all reality, of the entire cosmos, and not just spatially, but temporally, encompassing a panoramic view of creation as a manifestation of God’s gift of love to us from the Big Bang through all of Incarnational History down to the present moment.

Not only that but we will be viewing God, God at work in His universe, His creation, His cosmos. If we hearken back to the vistas of the Hebrew Bible, the encounters with God are not only awe-inspiring, they are fear-filled. From Noah, who moved by fear prepared an ark [Heb 11:7] in the middle of nowhere and was thus saved, to Abraham, who realizes he is only dust and ashes but presumes to plead with God not to be angry with him for asking God to spare Sodom. [Gen 18:16-33] Even Moses who cannot look on God’s face and live [Ex 33:20] and Elijah who braved raging wind, earthquake and fire and yet at the sound of the still small sound of God, hid his face in his cloak. [1Kgs 19:13] It seems that Paul anticipates God hurling at us the same challenge with which He met Job’s folly: Gird up your loins now, like a man. I will question you, and you tell me the answers![Job 40:7] After this little jaunt, Paul expects us to be saying with Job: By hearsay I had heard of you, but now my eye has seen you. Therefore I disown what I have said, and repent in dust and ashes. [Job 42:5-6] More dust and ashes. Obviously, a journey of a lifetime, and literally, we will definitely need strength!

But why only comprehension? Why not grokking through involvement? Experience? Immersion? Maybe it does include all of these. καταλαμβάνω, here translated “to comprehend,” is used by Paul in a number of places: to seize the prize in the race [1Cor 9:24]; to achieve a goal [Rom 9:30]; to possess/be possessed by Christ [Phil 3:12]; to be overtaken by [1Thes 5:4]. Thus, at least in his mind, there is a through grasping, mentally and physically, of the object in question. Our English “comprehension” alludes to this totality, to completely lay hold of, seize, engulf. To be so tenacious, we must indeed be strengthened, since the object we are attempting to grasp is the breadth and length and height and depth of God’s Love, which is coextensive with God Himself, for God is, as we know, Love.

with all the holy ones

This is an interesting phrase to throw in the middle of this preparation for the examination of God. It reflects Paul’s ever present consciousness of the community, the Body of Christ, the unity of Christians into one family of adopted sons and daughters of God, the Father. And, unlike the connotation of holy ones today to refer specifically and only to those who are in heaven, Paul refers to the members of the Church as the saints, the holy ones, and he uses it in every letter except 1Thes and Galatians.

This indicates that all the holy ones are to contemplate this mystery; it is a requisite. It reminds me of the sensus fidei, the infallible sense of the faithful referred to in the Vatican II documents and some of the Papal documents which followed. It is a type of group discernment of Truth, of the absoluteness of the reality under examination.

Finally, it discards as ridiculous it passing hubris that I, in my finitude, with my limited mental capacity, my temporally and spatially confined experience, would think that I could achieve even a modicum of comprehension of this mystery on my own! Absurd!!! It is as if I, standing in my back yard in Vermont and looking up at the sky, had the chutzpah to think that I could not only see the entire universe, some, if not much of the light from which may not even have arrived here yet, but could understand it in all its physical immensity, complexity, infinitude. Ah, the revelries of a fool. Better, with Francis, to stick with Brother Sun and Sister Moon and pray with them to Father God.

what is the breadth and length and height and depth

We come to the centerpiece of our meditation, the puzzlement of the ages. Paul does not specify what we are intended to measure. Scott Hahn and Curtis Mitch comment, “Many connect these dimensions with the limitless scope of Christ’s love, which [in the next phrase, Paul notes] surpasses understanding.[3:19] Others see a reference to the untraceable vastness of God and his wisdom (Job 11:7-9) or to the cubic proportions of the heavenly Jerusalem (Rev. 21:16) St. Gregory of Nyssa, in On the Three Days, states: ‘The four dimensions are the four extensions of the Cross. By height is meant heaven, by depth the underworld, by length and breadth the cosmic order in between. In each of these realms, devotion to the Lord is rendered.’”[2] Other scholars agrees that the reference is unclear. One points out other possibilities, the Jerusalem Temple (Ezek 42, 47, 48) or God plan for salvation, but all seem to agree that the more likely is the love of Christ.[3]

While giving a nod to other possibilities, the probability of the love of Christ seems substantiated not only by the immediate subsequent reference in the following phrase, but also in Paul’s iteration of a very similar theme in his Letter to the Romans: For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. [Rom 8: 38-39] Here he is more specific in his references, but again, all with reference to the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. In Ephesians, we were just to comprehend with all the holy ones; here we are invited to share Paul’s certainty that none of these extremes will be able to separate us from the love of God.  

Having said that, I feel cheated somewhat if I am not able to reflect on these enigmas myself, so, with your indulgence, I will venture where angels and exegetes do not offer clear conclusions.

First, while height and depth certainly bring to mind heaven and hell, length and breadth has been subsumed into popular parlance and attached to measuring “the land.” In a sense, not only is God’s reality found in creation, but creation is tangible evidence of God’s love. Thus, the length and breadth can be seen to measure “the actual world itself, a sacramental universe that is right in front of you and everywhere, as opposed to the ideal, the churchy, or the mental.”[4]

Second, by giving us four dimensions, Paul seems to want us to confront a measurable object, yet both God and God as Love are immeasurable. On the other hand, the cross, as pointed out in the text and footnotes, conveniently has four extensions corresponding to the four measurements. But the cross, in and of itself, is an instrument of torture; it is lovable only by reference to Jesus who hung on it; alone it horrifies and repulses. Thus, we come to something we can all get our arms around, Jesus, our Christ, our Leader, our Shepherd. It is He who is ultimately and intimately lovable, it is He to whom we can all relate, He who made the immeasurable measurable, He whom encapsulates and focuses all the other possibilities of interpretation, even the Temple by which He meant His Body, the True Temple of God, and the Heavenly Jerusalem, His Father’s house, yet as created, which seems likely since it is to hold creations like ourselves, brings us back to Christ since all things came to be through him, and without him nothing came to be. [Jn 1:3]

Third, Paul gives us another clue on that “measurable object” a few chapters later in Romans, where he exclaims: Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How inscrutable are his judgments and how unsearchable his ways! [Rom 11:33] In the Ephesians’ quote, he applies depth to the love of Christ; here he applies depth to the riches, wisdom and knowledge of God. Since, in God, all attributes are interrelated and united in the One, we conclude that we are always dealing with Love, here under the aspect of being known in His various judgments and…ways.

Again, depth is often applied to feeling or commitment. We “measure” our attachment to another person by our depth of feeling for that person. The same is true of God: “Every time we make the Sign of the Cross, we are reminded of the depth of love Jesus demonstrated and to which we are called.”[5] Of course, simply stating it is a far cry from truly experiencing God’s love and responding to it. That is the ultimate goal of any life.

Indeed, fourth, even the approach to that goal, in climbing the far flung foothills of God’s Love is to attain a great height. Like a mountain, ascending this peak is arduous, challenging, exhausting, fraught with chasms of sin which seem to lure us to our spiritual death with their false promises, hypnotically mesmerizing us to take just one more step towards our ultimate eternal demise. We must rely on Jesus and the Holy Spirit as our guides to show us the Way to the Father.

It is, if we be honest, the greatest high to which we can aspire and achieve. To know, to experience that I have reached “out and touched the face of God,”[6] that in turn I have been touched by God’s love is the ultimate hope, the ultimate dream of existence. All other pseudo highs are just that, pseudo, imitation, fake, limited, not going anywhere, without substance. They might effect us physically, even alter our mental state, but when we have been grounded in God’s love, nothing compares, nothing can touch that experience which, unlike our induced euphoric states, lasts forever.

[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] Note for Eph 3:18, The New Testament: The Ignatius Catholic Study Bible RSV 2nd Catholic Edt (San Francisco, Ignatius Press, 2010), 349.

[3] Paul Kobelski, Note on Eph 3:18 width and length… The New Jerome Biblical Commentary, Edts. R. Brown, J. Fitzmyer, and R. Murphy (Upper Saddle River, Prentice Hall, 1990), 888. See also: Ephesians 3:18, “The Letters of St. Paul,” The Navarre Bible, Reader’s Edition (New York, Scribners, 2003), 388: “St Paul asks God to give Christians understanding of the ‘mystery of Christ’, which essentially is the outcome of his love. In referring to the vast dimensions of this mystery he uses an enigmatic phrase—‘the breadth and length and height and depth’. These and similar terms were used by Stoic philosophy to designate the cosmos as a whole. Here they express the immense scale of the ‘mystery’ which embraces the entire plan of salvation, the actions of Christ and the activity of the Church. St Augustine interpreted these words as referring to the cross, the instrument of salvation which Christ used to show the full extent of his love (cf. De doctrina Christiana, 2,41). St Paul may indeed be trying to sum up all the richness of the “mystery” of Christ in a graphic way—in terms of a cross whose extremities reach out in all four directions seeking to embrace the whole world. The blood which our Lord shed on the cross brought about the Redemption, the forgiveness of sins (cf. Eph 1:7). It did away with hostility, reconciling all men and assembling them into one body (cf. Eph 2:15-16), the Church. Therefore the cross is an inexhaustible source of grace, the mark of the true Christian, the instrument of salvation for all. When, through the action of Christians, the cross of Christ is made present at all the crossroads of the world, then is that “mystery” implemented whose purpose it is to “unite all things in Christ” (cf. Eph 1:10).

[4] R. Rohr, Daily Meditation, Depth, Breadth, and Process, Sun, Jun 21, 2015

[5] Meditation text, “Being of Service,” 3 Minute Retreat for June 23, 2015, LoyolaPress.com.

[6] John Gillespie Magee, Jr, “High Flight,” Great Aviation Quotes: Quotable Flyer: Pilot and Flying Quotations, http://www.skygod.com/quotes/highflight.html

Breadth and Length and Height and Depth, Part 2

Prayer for the Readers Eph 3:14-21

For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that he may grant you in accord with the riches of his glory to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in the inner self, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; that you, rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the holy ones what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. Now to him who is able to accomplish far more than all we ask or imagine, by the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.[1]

that he may grant you

I don’t often stop to consider how much God grants me in the course of a single day, a single minute. Consider existence, life itself, creation, breath, blood, vision, hearing, mobility, the grass, the sky, the cattle, the sunrise, the plants, the clock, the computer, hands. And then there is thought, faith, hope, unconditional love, angels, devils, Christ in me, being a temple of the Holy Spirit, having God as my Father, the communion of saints.

Jesus tried to remind us of this many times:

  • Look at the birds in the sky; they do not sow or reap, they gather nothing into barns, yet your heavenly Father feeds them. [Mt 6:26]
  • Learn from the way the wild flowers grow. They do not work or spin. But I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was clothed like one of them. [Mt 6:28-29]
  • The eyes of all look hopefully to you; you give them their food in due season. You open wide your hand and satisfy the desire of every living thing. [Ps 145:15-16]
  • Are not two sparrows sold for a small coin? Yet not one of them falls to the ground without your Father’s knowledge. [Mt 10:29]
  • Even all the hairs of your head are counted. [Mt 10:30]
  • But seek first the kingdom (of God) and his righteousness, and all these things will be given you besides. [Mt 6:33]
  • Do not worry about tomorrow; tomorrow will take care of itself. [Mt 6:34]

His conclusion to all these reassurances? Follow me![2] Take up your cross daily and follow me! [Lk 9:23] Indeed, Jesus says don’t worry about His plan for others: “What concern is it of yours? You follow me.” [Jn 21:22]

May:

not probability with only possibility of fulfillment but likelihood by removing obstacles. Paul kneels to intercede for us, to act as our advocate, to plead for us, to increase the assurance that God will answer his prayer and grant us that for which Paul prays.

in accord with the riches of his glory

Paul uses the exact same phrase two other times:

  • My God will fully supply whatever you need, in accord with his glorious riches in Christ Jesus. To our God and Father, glory forever and ever. Amen. [Phil 4:19-20] Here, again, God is fulfilling a need in accord with the riches of his glory.
  • This was to make known the riches of his glory to the vessels of mercy, which he has prepared previously for glory, namely, us whom he has called, not only from the Jews but also from the Gentiles.[Rom 9:23-24] Here the riches are equated with that which is made known to us.

Jesus is the refulgence of his glory. [Heb 1:3] For God who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to bring to light the knowledge of the glory of God on the face of [Jesus] Christ. [2Cor 4:6] This is iterated in Jesus prayer to the Father in John: “Father, glorify your name.” And the Father answers Him is John’s Theophany: Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it and will glorify it again.” [John 12:28]

What are the riches of God’s glory? The question is better posed: Who is the riches of God’s Glory: Jesus: For from him and through him and for him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.[Rom 11:36]

To be strengthened with power through his Spirit in the inner self.

This is what He grants: that we be strengthened, κραταιόω, “strong in spirit” from the root meaning “the mighty power of God.” This same word is used by Luke to describe the maturation of John the Baptist: The child grew and became strong in spirit, and he was in the desert until the day of his manifestation to Israel, [Lk 1:80] and Jesus: The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of God was upon him.[Lk 2:40] Paul wishes to emphasize the fact that it is a spiritual strengthening, so he adds with power through his Spirit in the inner self, but, in one sense, he has said it all in κραταιόω.

Not that we should give short shrift to the Holy Spirit. To put this in context, the entire Scripture and particularly the New Testament covertly, but overtly from Pentecost on, is a narration, a testament to the works of the Holy Spirit in individuals and in the Church. Here Paul prays for that to continue in the faithful in Ephesus as it has in the whole Church.[3]

Finally, note that the power through his Spirit is directed to and located in the inner self. This iterates the emphasis of Jesus on avoiding external power, lording it over other, and making one’s authority over them felt, a particularly poignant point in this time of social, corporate, political and military pressure, coercion and intimidation. Rather, whoever wishes to be great among you will be your servant; whoever wishes to be first among you will be the slave of all. [Mk 10:42-44]

and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith;

We don’t really notice it, but in all Scripture, where you find Jesus, you find the Spirit; from His conception to His baptism to His temptations to His ministry to His last words on the Cross to His first blessing after His Resurrection to Pentecost, their ministries, their missions from the Father are intertwined, complimenting and manifesting the other.

So here also, Paul first prays that we be strengthened with power through his Spirit in the inner self, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. Notice the parallels, not only Spirit and Christ but also the inner self and in your hearts and power and faith. Complimentary and cooperating by combining into forming a true redeemed one, an adopted child of the Father.

The indwelling of Christ in the inner self of the Spirit is an experience of which I only recently became aware, the fact that Jesus is in me and I am in Him, not just metaphorically, not just theologically, not just theoretically, but actually, really, and continuously.

It took me aback to realize that the Divine Son of God actually wants to spend time with me, be with me, walk with me, be yoked with me [Mt 11:30]. My first reaction is to panic, run around inside myself like a chicken with its head cut off, trying to clean up my mess, to be tidy and ship-shape for my Guest. That phase paralleled my life…the external conformity stage which lasted at least 40 years, give or take. It’s the “Doing” phase; the “I have to” phase; the “Law” phase. If I didn’t get it right, He won’t come, I’m sunk, that’s the end.

Only recently am I gradually, with the prompting of my Spiritual Director, my Confessor and particularly the Holy Spirit, entering the internal faith and love stage: graduating into the “Being” phase, the “Do unto me” phase, the “Prophets” phase.[4]

It in interesting that, in this stage, one’s perception of sin is changed. Whereas in the conformity stage, I battled sin and bad habits endlessly and without much success. It is somewhat like trying to denying the fact that all have sinned and are deprived of the glory of God. [Rom 3:23] If we say, “We are without sin,” we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us…If we say, “We have not sinned,” we make him a liar, and his word is not in us. [1Jn 1:8,10] I did not accept the fact that, while I could be cleansed of sin and reconciled with God through Confession, I was still a sinner.

This “new” phase incorporates that acceptance and the realization that Jesus, the Father, the Holy Spirit, love me anyway unconditionally, particularly without my ill conceived lies of which I tried to convince myself that (a) I was not a sinner; and (b) I could only be lovable if I was not a sinner. For Christ, while we were still helpless, yet died at the appointed time for the ungodlyBut God proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us… Indeed, if, while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son, how much more, once reconciled, will we be saved by his life. [Rom 5:6,8,10] Indeed, God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him. [Jn 3:17]

So now I just say “Hi” to Jesus each morning, pick up my cross with all my sins hanging off it in glorious array, for He has forgiven them and trudge with Him, after Him, following Him. We are justified freely by his grace through the redemption in Christ Jesus, whom God set forth as an expiation, through faith, by his blood, to prove his righteousness because of the forgiveness of sins previously committed, through the forbearance of God—to prove his righteousness in the present time, that he might be righteous and justify the one who has faith in Jesus. [Rom 3:24-26]

[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] Indeed, this seems to be a favorite expression: Mt 8:22; 9:9; 10:38; 16:24; 19:21; Mk 2:14; 8:34; 10:21; Lk 5:27; 9:23; 9:59; 18:22; Jn 1:43; 10:27; 12:26; 13:36; 21:19,22.

[3] An exegetical conjecture without backing or proof: The fact that the whole first section of this letter, Chapters 1-3, is a prayer [“which was begun in 1:15-20, taken up again in 3:1 only to be interrupted in 3:2-13 by the description of Paul’s role in revelation” Kobelski, Note on Eph 3:15, TNJBC, 888] of which this section is the conclusion interrupted by exposition at least hints at the possibility that this was a prayer of the Church which Paul knew and may have been adapted to apply especially to the Ephesians at this time a la the Christological Hymns he incorporated in Philippians 2:6-11 and Colossians 1:15-20. For a substantiated exegetical interpretation, see Kobelski, Note on “Thanksgiving and Prayer of Intercession (1:14-23), THJBC, 887.

[4] While the prophets certainly upheld the Law, they also urged its Spirit including a spirit of repentance and redemption after being unable to keep the law perfectly: My sacrifice, O God, is a contrite spirit; a contrite, humbled heart, O God, you will not scorn. Ps 51:19] See also Ps 40:7; 50:8; Am 5:21–22; Hos 6:6; Is 1:11–15.

Breadth and Length and Height and Depth, Part 1

Breadth and Length and Height and Depth

Prayer for the Readers: Eph 3:14-21

For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that he may grant you in accord with the riches of his glory to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in the inner self, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; that you, rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the holy ones what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. Now to him who is able to accomplish far more than all we ask or imagine, by the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.[1]

A puzzling paragraph….As one does with a masterpiece of art, examining each portion of the painting reveals depths never seen if one simply takes it all in at once and moves on.  This paragraph has spoken to me my whole life.  It needs examining, close examining phrase by phrase.  We can take our time, we have all eternity.  We can wander through the fields of wisdom the Holy Spirit has given us and enjoy the wonder of, the inspiration of, the glory of just these few words of Scripture.

For this reason: This seems to be referring to the previous paragraph where Paul gives this reason: to preach to the Gentiles the inscrutable riches of Christ, and to bring to light [for all] what is the plan of the mystery hidden from ages past in God who created all things, so that the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known through the church to the principalities and authorities in the heavens.

To preach,…to bring to light…the manifold wisdom of God. It reminds me of There is nothing hidden that will not be revealed. There is nothing kept secret that will not come to light which all three Synoptics quote. [Mt 10:26; Lk 8:17; Mk 4:22] or of Jesus telling the disciples that 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]

I kneel before the Father: It would seem that, if we are preaching the inscrutable riches of Christ, it should be Christ before whom Paul is kneeling, a’la Thomas’ My Lord and my God. [Jn 20:28]. But it is the overwhelming realization that it is the Providence and plan of the Father, the God who created all things, this infinitely orchestrated plan of the mystery hidden from ages past, conceived in every minute detail before Creation itself, that brings Paul to his knees. It is manifold wisdom of the Father, this 360° reality of Salvation unfolding in real time and space known before the foundation of the world but revealed in the final time [1Pet 1:20] that will now be made known through the church to the principalities and authorities in the heavens.

From whom every family[2] in heaven and on earth is named: Naming plays an important role in Scripture and in the lives of the ancients. Naming something gave one some control, some power over that thing. “God, the creator of all the families of beings, established his power and control over all creation in the act of naming them (He numbers the stars, and gives to all of them their names. [Ps 147:4]; Lift up your eyes on high and see who created these: He leads out their army and numbers them, calling them all by name. [Isa 40:26]; cf. Gen 2:19-20).”[3]

This is borne out also in the first days of creation when God names those things that are beyond the immediate use by and control of man, the Cosmos, the sky, the earth, the sea: God called the light “day,” and the darkness he called “night.” God called the dome “sky.” God called the dry land “earth,” and the basin of water he called “sea.” (Gen 1:5, 8, 10) However, then, in both the Elohim (Gen 1-2:3) and the Yahweh (Gen 2:4-3:24) versions of Creation, there is a distinct break where the LORD stops naming things and, in both versions, gives that responsibility over to man:

  • Let us make human beings in our image, after our likeness. Let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, the birds of the air, the tame animals, all the wild animals, and all the creatures that crawl on the earth. [Gen 1:26]
  • So the LORD God formed out of the ground all the wild animals and all the birds of the air, and he brought them to the man to see what he would call them; whatever the man called each living creature was then its name. (Gen 2:19)

Thus, God gives man power over the creatures with which he would interact, use and control, at least to some degree. And in the latter version, this power is established by man naming the creatures.

How does this relate to God from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named? One could point to God’s renaming of the first Patriarch and his wife: No longer will you be called Abram; your name will be Abraham, for I am making you the father of a multitude of nations….As for Sarai your wife, do not call her Sarai; her name will be Sarah. (Genesis 17:5,15) But this renaming, while symbolic, doesn’t seem to come up to Paul’s every family, particularly since the meaning of the names did not change.[4]

The more plausible explanations are (a) that the Father is the ultimate father, i.e. of the Trinity, His eternal family, and the archetype of all families, and (b) that the same Father both providentially foreordained each family and then created them, thus exhibiting his power over or naming every family in heaven and on earth.

In passing, it is interesting to note that Paul includes families in heaven. Since Jesus pointed out that human, at the resurrection…neither marry nor are given in marriage but are like the angels in heaven [Mt 22:30], one must look for a different definition of family. Jesus provides that when asked about his family: For whoever does the will of my heavenly Father is my brother, and sister, and mother. [Mk 3:35; Mt 12:49; Lk 8:21] Here, our heavenly Father is tied directly in to all families, beyond the ties of blood and heritage to the ties of the Kingdom and obedience and love. It is perhaps in this context that every family in heaven and on earth is named by God as his adopted sons and daughters: I will be a father to you, and you shall be sons and daughters to me, says the Lord Almighty. [2 Cor 6:18; cf. Eph 1:5].

(To be continued)

[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] “The term (Gk. patria) refers to a group of related individuals who trace their origin to a common father or forefather and is linguistically related to the word Father (Gk. pater) in the preceding verse. Because God is the supreme Father of men and angels, his life-giving paternity is the reality of which created fatherhood and family life are only a reflection. (CCC 239, 2214)” Note for Eph 3:15, Scott Hahn and Curtis Mitch, The New Testament: The Ignatius Catholic Study Bible RSV 2nd Catholic Edt (San Frncisco, Ignatius Press, 2010), 349

[3] Note on Eph 3:15, Paul Kobelski, “The Letter to the Ephesians,” The New Jerome Biblical Commentary, Edts. R. Brown, J. Fitzmyer, and R. Murphy (Upper Saddle River, Prentic Hall, 1990), 888.

[4]“Abram and Abraham are merely two forms of the same name, both meaning, “the father is exalted”; another variant form is Abiram (Nm 16:1; 1 Kgs 16:34). The additional -ha- in the form Abraham is explained by popular etymology as coming from ab-hamon goyim, ‘father of a multitude of nations.’”…“Sarai and Sarah are variant forms of the same name, both meaning ‘princess.’” NABRE Notes on Gen 17:5 and 17:15.