Tag Archives: love

Jn 6:29: Jesus answered and said to them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in the one he sent.”

[Prologue: This is a continuation of the Meditations on John’s Gospel one verse at a time.  While there is much on which to meditate, these are the center around which all the others orbit.]

Why the double “answered and said”? Either answered or said alone would have been sufficient. Is there a reason behind the author’s use of a double verb? Perhaps it is similar to Jesus frequent use of “Amen, Amen,” a device to bring attention to the importance of the words? But in this instance, it is not Jesus who is doubling up his introduction to his statement. It is the author who is doubling the narrative words. But the author is under the influence of the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. So, was it the intent of the Holy Spirit to draw attention to the answer? This seems to be the case. This combination is frequently used to bring attention to the pivotal statements which follow stated or implied questions:[2]

  • Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up. [Jn 2:19]
  • Amen, amen, I say to you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above. [Jn 3:3]
  • If you knew the gift of God and who is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him and he would have given you living water. [Jn 4:10]
  • What I am doing, you do not understand now, but you will understand later. [Jn 13:7]
  • I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. [Jn 14:6]

These are major teachings of Jesus on the resurrection, baptism into new life, living water, servant leadership, Himself as the Way to God, the Truth of God and the Life of God.

They are not only answers to questions. They are also statements of profound importance, not only as part of the narrative, not only to the specific individuals to who they were address when Jesus spoke them, but also, and perhaps equally, to all of us who hear them repeated years and centuries later.

This is the same here, Jesus defines the work of God that we are given: belief in Him. Here the crowd has just asked: “What can we do to accomplish the works of God?”[Jn 6:28] This is an eternal question. This was not only this crowd’s question. It is also our question today.

Jesus responds clearly, simply, precisely:“This is the work of God, that you believe in the one he sent.” This is His response then and now.

To put this in context, what had the crowd then been told they had to do to accomplish the works of God…keep the 613 Mitzvot or Commandments plus all the other “man’s laws” the Pharisees have imposed.[See Mk 7:2-15; Mt 15:1-20] No wonder Paul ranted and raved against the law: all who depend on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed be everyone who does not persevere in doing all the things written in the book of the law”[Gal 3:10]…for the law does not depend on faith; rather, “the one who does these things will live by them.”[Gal 3:12]

Not keeping the law means sinning; Paul goes do far as to say: I did not know sin except through the lawwhen the commandment came, sin became alive; then I died, and the commandment that was for life turned out to be death for me. [Rom 7:7.9-10]

Paul realized, he experienced the undeniable fact that it is virtually impossible for anyone to perfectly keep all 613 Mitzvot and all the man’s laws. We are frail, weak, one slip and we fail, we sin. And that is the Catch 22; you have to keep them perfectly or you are cursed and die, but you can’t keep them perfectly, so inevitably you are cursed and die. The point being that it is impossible for sin-prone man to correctly fulfill all the things written in the book of the law.” Living, not being cursed, is based on doing and doing perfectly, an impossibility for imperfect man. For God delivered all to disobedience, that he might have mercy upon all.[Rom 11:32]

But Jesus says: “This is the work of God, that you believe in the one he sent.” With this one phrase, this one declaration, Jesus Christ ransomed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written, “Cursed be everyone who hangs on a tree.”[Gal 3:13] The work of God, He says, is not the perfect keeping of the law; the law is to help us experience our absolute need for faith, for mercy, for forgiveness, for love. What you must do is believe in the one he sent,” believe in Me, Jesus said. Indeed, this is the reason why we have all the eye-witness reports of His miracles, that we might believe in Him: Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me, or else, believe because of the works themselves. [Jn 14:11]

Why the one he sent? Why did not Jesus just refer back to himself as Me? This is the ultimate mystery of the relations of Jesus as the Son with His Father, a relationship based on obedience, grounded in humility, fueled by love. Jesus refers all glory, all power, all that He himself is able to accomplish to the Father.

As Jesus explained to Nicodemus: For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him. [Jn 3:16-17] Here it is very clear: the work of God is the sending of the Son; my response is to believe in His Son that I might not perish but might have eternal life.

Belief in Jesus is our task on earth. No less, no more.[3]

  • It is a discerning task: See that you not be deceived; many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am he,’ and ‘The time has come.’ Do not follow them! [Lk 21:8]
  • It is a difficult task: If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. [Lk 9:23]
  • It is a dangerous task: 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 pagans. [Mt 10:17-18] The hour is coming when everyone who kills you will think he is offering worship to God.[Jn 16:2]
  • It is a deadly task: For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. [Lk 9:24]
  • It is a dedicated task: The way we came to know love was that he laid down his life for us; so we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers.[1Jn 3:16]
  • It is a glorious task: Everyone who has given up houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands for the sake of my name will receive a hundred times more, and will inherit eternal life. [Mt 19:29]

So I have my marching orders, simple, clear, direct. The work of God is to believe in the one He sent, Jesus, as the Christ, the Messiah, the Anointed One. Such a message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God…For since in the wisdom of God the world did not come to know God through wisdom, it was the will of God through the foolishness of the proclamation to save those who have faith…We proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are called, Jews and Greeks alike, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God….I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified. [1Cor 1:18,21,23-24; 2:2] Everything else stems from that.


[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] Matthew also uses this device [Mt 17:11; 24:4].

[3] While “no less” is the task of a lifetime, “no more” is a very bold statement. It means that such a belief in the one he sent is active, not passive. It subsumes within itself all that Jesus taught, all that He lived, all that He suffered and died for, all that He rose for, all that is the message of Jesus, the message of the Kingdom, all that Jesus meant when he said: 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. [Mt 28: 19-20a] It requires a total response, a commitment, a life. This “no more” reminds one of Augustine’s audacious statement: “Love and do what you will.” [Homily 7 on 1 John 4:4-12, Sect 8. http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/170207.htm%5D

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Learning from Judas…and Jesus…

Jesus answered them, “Did I not choose you twelve? Yet is not one of you a devil?” He was referring to Judas, son of Simon the Iscariot; it was he who would betray him, one of the Twelve.[1] [Jn 6:70-71] What must it have been like for Jesus to know throughout His entire ministry that Judas, one of the Twelve, would betray Him? What was it like when Jesus first met Judas, perhaps a young idealist who dreamed of the restoration of Israel to its former glory, of freedom from the tyranny of all the oppressors who had taken away their freedom, from Rome, the last and subtlest, whose iron fist in a velvet glove type of rule by proxy through pseudo-Jewish puppets who lulled the masses into somnambulant acquiescence or at least compliance. Jesus read his heart; He did not need anyone to testify about human nature. He himself understood it well. [Jn 2:25] He knew from the beginning that His attempt to enable Judas to see what type of Messiah He intended to be, what type of Savior His Father sent Him to be, was for the whole of humanity, not just Israel, would be futile. Though He would enter Jerusalem hailed as the Messiah, he came, humble, and riding on a donkey, [Zach 9:9] Judas wanted a conquering hero on a rampant, defiant, charging war horse.

But Jesus took a chance. He chose him as an Apostle anyway. He knew Judas was a bad apple, his misguided fanaticism might infect the others. But that was exactly what Jesus came to repair, to call His followers to resist, to draw them away from eating the serpent’s apple. And maybe, just maybe, but continually nurturing him, welcoming him, befriending him, keeping him close, maybe Judas might change.

Why did Jesus keep Him on? Why did He promote him to the inner circle? Why did He trust Judas with the group’s funds [Jn 13:29] even though Judas was known to be a thief, [Jn 12:6] at least by some? Perhaps because Jesus shared His Father’s unconditional Love and eternal optimism, the Father who loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life [Jn 3:16]…And His Son agreed to go! Maybe it was because His Father did not send…[Jesus] into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him. [Jn 3:17] And that world included Judas…and everybody who was like Judas. Though Judas might condemn himself by his choices, Jesus was there to save him, not condemn him.

At the Last Supper, Jesus made numerous attempts to get Judas to change his mind. Amen, amen, I say to you, one of you will betray me, [Jn 13:21] was certainly heard loud and clear by Judas as pointing to himself. Even when Judas tries to cover up his thoughts and plans and asks Jesus in turn: “Surely it is not I, Rabbi?” He answered, “You have said so.” [Mt 26:25] So Judas knows without a doubt that Jesus knows his plan. Even then, Jesus is implying, “Change your mind, repent, come back to Me,” to transform the subterfuge, Surely, it is not I into a declaration of fidelity.

Even when Peter speaks for all there is again a direct reference to Satan wanting to have his way with all the disciples. Simon, Simon, behold Satan has demanded to sift all of you like wheat, but I have prayed that your own faith may not fail; and once you have turned back, you must strengthen your brothers.[2][Lk 22:31-32] Was this the difference between Peter’s betrayal and Judas’?

In a direct way, Jesus prays for Judas. If prayer is dialogue, a conversation, between God and man, certainly Jesus, the God-Man had much self-initiated dialogue with Judas. So he dipped the morsel and [took it and] handed it to Judas, son of Simon the Iscariot.[Jn 13:26] How closely this action parodies Communion, Jesus giving a morsel of bread. But it is the horrible parody of Communion. This is not Jesus Body and Blood but an identification of a betrayer. Jesus reaches out, feeding Judas, symbolically urging him to come back from the brink, to eat His true body and drink His true blood and be saved, [Jn 6:53]. But after Judas took the morsel, he has not received Jesus, but Satan entered him.[Jn 13: 27] Evil and hatred, not goodness and love are the outcome.

But even in Jesus final words during the Last Supper to Judas, “What you are going to do, do quickly,” [Jn 13: 27] with Satan standing there at the door of choice, Jesus forces it to be left open. A “halfhearted commitment to the faith is nauseating to Christ;”[3] indeed, because you are lukewarm, neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth. [Rev 3:16] Judas still has a sliver of a chance, either ask Jesus for forgiveness and help or go and betray him. Here Jesus is saying, “Time is preciously short. Make a choice. Whatever you are going to do, do it now!”

So he took the morsel and left at once. And it was night. [Jn 13: 30] The word translated here as so can also be translated as “wherefore, consequently, accordingly, these things being so.”[4] In other words, the choice having been set before him, Judas chose to refuse the morsel of repentance and take the morsel of betrayal and leave.

Without commentary, we might think that Jesus did not grasp to its essence the enormity of the betrayal; on the contrary, he understands that non-existence would have been better. The Son of Man indeed goes, as it is written of him, but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed. It would be better for that man if he had never been born.[Mt 26:24] But, in spite of it all, He still loved him.

The real kicker in this scenario is that all the Apostles would have their faith shaken for it is written: ‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be dispersed.” [Mt 26:31; Zech 13:7] And, when push comes to shove: all the disciples left him and fled.[Mt 26:56]

Even after Judas left, Jesus does not condemn him. When Judas betrayed him with a kiss, Jesus once more reaches out to him and calls him “Friend…” [Mt 26:50] Had he repented, if he had wept bitterly [Lk 22:62] like Peter, even then when it was too late to save Jesus from persecution and death, Jesus would have told Him: “Your sins are forgiven you.”[Lk 5:20; 7:48; Mt 9:2] He would have prayed to the Father: “Forgive…[him] for…[he knows] not what…[he is] doing.”[Lk 23:34] Jesus would even have told the others, just as He says to me, reminding us of our betrayal: Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone. [Jn 8:7] And finally, He would have turned to Judas and said: “Neither do I condemn you. Go, [and] from now on do not sin any more.” [Jn 8:11]

It is speculated that Judas was frustrated that Jesus had not become the conquering Messiah of his expectations, throwing off the yoke of Rome and returning Israel to its heyday. Judas thought that by having Jesus arrested, he would back Jesus into a corner and force him to finally show His might and power.

Judas was not alone in this hope. When Peter was ready to fight and drew his sword and struck the high priest’s servant, cutting off his ear. Then Jesus said to him, “Put your sword back into its sheath, for all who take the sword will perish by the sword. Do you think that I cannot call upon my Father and he will not provide me at this moment with more than twelve legions of angels? The way of unbelievable might and power is available to Jesus; if one angel of death can slaughter all the firstborn of Egypt in a single night, what overwhelming odds would 60,000 such heavenly warriors provide. All He has to do is ask. But as Jesus is keenly aware, then how would the scriptures be fulfilled which say that it must come to pass in this way?” How would His Father’s will be fulfilled; how would His perfect obedience make up for the disobedience of Adam, Eve and all of us, their offspring; how would infinite mercy and forgiveness show up vengeance and violence for the evil and distortion they truly are?

Even after the Resurrection, when Jesus had been with the Apostles for forty days and they were now convinced of His reality, the true implications of the crucifixion had not yet penetrated their understanding. They were back to their old way of thinking: Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel? [Acts 1:6] They hadn’t quite got the real, the true picture yet. Jesus, however, knows that they do not yet get it and that it will take the Advocate, the holy Spirit that the Father will send in my name—…[to] teach you everything and remind you of all that [I] told you. [Jn 14:26] Concerning their question He replies: It is not for you to know the times or seasons that the Father has established by his own authority. [Acts 1:7]

Judas’ plan is underway. He keeps tabs as it evolves. However, things don’t go the way his thought they would. The Sanhedrin condemns Jesus and Judas sees that Jesus does nothing, absolutely nothing. Worse than nothing, He makes things worse by spouting off about His Heavenly coming: The high priest said to him, “I order you to tell us under oath before the living God whether you are the Messiah, the Son of God.” Jesus said to him in reply, “You have said so. But I tell you: From now on you will see ‘the Son of Man seated at the right hand of the Power’ and ‘coming on the clouds of heaven.’” [Mt 26:63-64] That was the kicker; that put that last nail in the coffin. Then the high priest tore his robes and said, “He has blasphemed! What further need have we of witnesses? You have now heard the blasphemy; what is your opinion?” They said in reply, “He deserves to die!” [Mt 26:65-66]

This is not the way according to Judas that it was suppose to work out. Jesus was suppose to triumph, bursting forth as the military Messiah Judas craved, wielding a flaming sword, striking down the blind Sanhedrin, terrorizing and demolishing the imperious Romans.

Finally realizing that Jesus was not going to rise up a conquering hero, that he was not even going to defend himself, that he was a totally different type of Messiah, a innocent Messiah, a just Messiah, an obedient Messiah, Judas deeply regretted what he had done. He returned the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and elders, saying, “I have sinned in betraying innocent blood. They said, “What is that to us? Look to it yourself.” Flinging the money into the temple, he departed and went off [Mt 27:3-5a][5] But Pandora’s box could not be closed; history could not be rewritten. Judas’ betrayal scene was over, the Sanhedrin’s condemnation had begun. Try as he might, Judas could not put Satan’s evil genii back in the bottle. The fate of Jesus was out of his hands.

Unlike Peter, he did not weep for his sins, did not realize the love bond he had with Jesus was still there from Jesus side, did not accept the mercy of the Father even then, but he seems to have despaired of being forgiven and hanged himself.” [Mt 27:5b][6] I say “seems” because no one knows what demons, literal and figurative, drove him to do what he did. And no one on earth has plumed the depths of the love and mercy of God who is patient with…[us] , not wishing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance. [2Pet 3:9]

What can I learn from Judas? What can I learn from Jesus? First, I can learn to love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you. [Mt 5:44] Jesus was serious about this with Judas as with the chief priests with the scribes and elders who mocked him [Mt 27:41] on the cross, I must echo Jesus plea: Father, forgive them, they know not what they do. [Lk 23: 34] If I really want to follow Jesus, if I am totally committed to patterning my life after His, if I am given the strength and the courage to pick up my cross day after day after day, then I have to reach out in love to the Judases in my life, not just those who are overtly hostile to me, but to those who are betrayers among my friends and family, then I can and must do this. Then, like Jesus, I need to continually offer love and forgiveness, even though the traitor be my other self, my comrade and friend, you, whose company I enjoyed, at whose side I walked in the house of God. [Ps 55:14-15] Only then will I be a child of my heavenly Father, for he makes his sun rise on the bad and the good, and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust. [Mt 5:45]

Second, when I face the depths of despair like Judas, no matter what I have done, no matter what evil I have committed, Jesus is always there, reaching out, giving me another chance to grab onto Him, to accept His love, to recognize Him as the only one who can restore me to sanity, to look at Him and see the face of the mercy of God. I have the same choice as Judas, falling headlong [Acts 1:18] into despair and killing myself, spiritually if not physically, or looking up and crying out: “Lord, save me!” If I do, I know in my heart of hearts, that each and every time, without fail immediately Jesus [will stretch] out his hand and catch me. [Mt 14:30b-31a] 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] Robert J. Karris, OFM, commented on this passage in TNJBC, p. 716: “31: Satan…Luke contrasts the effects of Satan’s attacks have on Judas and Peter. Jesus’ efficacious prayer saves Peter from the fate of Judas (see Acts 1:15-19). you all: The Greek here is pl. whereas in v 32 it is sg. Peter is representative of Satan’s sifting (see Amos 9:9) of all. 32. The implicit Christology is deep, and the church is consoled that its Lord can save it too from the power of Satan. turned back, converted: The Gk espitrepsas does not mean locomotion, but moral conversion (see 17:4; Acts 3:19; 9:35; etc.). your fellow Christians As Acts 15:23,32, show, this is the translation of aldelphous, I lit., “brethren.” Examples of Peter’s strengthening of the church can readily be seen in Acts 1-11,15.

[3] NABRE note on Rev. 3:15-16.

[4] Lexicon :: Strong’s G3767 – oun; Blue Letter Bible, http://www.blueletterbible.org/lang/ lexicon/lexicon.cfm?Strongs=G3767

[5] According to Benedict Vivlano, O.P., commentator on Matthew in TNJBC, the story about Judas’ death “probably began as an etiological legend to explain how the potter’s field came to be called ‘the field of blood.’” P. 671.

[6] According to Benedict Vivlano, O.P., commentator on Matthew in TNJBC, the story about Judas’ death “probably began as an etiological legend to explain how the potter’s field came to be called ‘the field of blood.’” P. 671.

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!!!

Why One? Commentary on Eph 4: 1-6

Why One? A challenging question. Intuitively, mystics from all religions have come to the realization of our oneness with God, each other and creation. Does this mean we are somehow absorbed in a single amorphous entity and loose our identity? Obviously not. Nor are we God. Very obviously not.

But neither are we isolated, without relationships; we are members of various communities from the human race to our families and friendships. We are one humanity. We are dependent on one another from our conception, birth, and nurturing to our familial and social relationships. We become one body with our spouse [Gen 2:24;Mk 10:8] and form one family unit. Thus, we are faced with that continuously reoccurring phenomenon of both/and; the answer is that I am both me and simultaneously one with others.

As this stemmed from the reading: I, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to live in a manner worthy of the call you have received, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another through love, striving to reserve the unity of the spirit through the bond of peace: one body and one Spirit, as you were also called to the one hope of your call; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.[1] [Eph 4:1-6] we’ll start there.

In looking at the reading, the rational reasons for oneness are start with the last [whereas the intuitive insight, as Paul states it, starts with the first.].

One God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.

Our oneness begins with God, who is one, who is Creator of all, and is the one and only Father of the one family He created [which, when viewed this way, includes all creation, angels and men, spiritual and material]. Thus, He is certainly over all. And since He is all that is, oneness also stems from not only our being created in the image and likeness of God [Gen 1:26, 27] but everything else being a reflection of the One who is one. But He is also in all, continually creating and sustaining all being; He is existence itself. Finally, it is though all being, facets of His image and continuing creation that He makes Himself known: Ever since the creation of the world, his invisible attributes of eternal power and divinity have been able to be understood and perceived in what he has made. [Rom 1:20]

One Lord, one faith, one baptism

Here I have to make the leap of faith that the Jews had to do with Jesus, from the One God to Jesus as One with God the Father and the Holy Spirit, the only begotten Son. I have to recognize Him and accept Him as the Messiah. He is Our One Lord, the same for you, for me, for everybody. In believing in Him, we share one Faith; “It follows that all men and women who are saved share, though differently, in the same mystery of salvation in Jesus Christ through his Spirit.”[2] And there is one Baptism, though in the forms of water, of blood, and of desire: “For, since Christ died for all men, and since the ultimate vocation of man is in fact one, and divine, we ought to believe that the Holy Spirit in a manner known only to God offers to every man the possibility of being associated with this paschal mystery.”[3]

As you were also called to the one hope of your call

Israel’s hope rested in Yahweh: My soul, be at rest in God alone, from whom comes my hope. [Ps 62:6], it is realized in Jesus life, death and especially his resurrection: the hope of eternal life that God, who does not lie, promised before time began. [Titus 1:2] As Paul explains elsewhere: But when the kindness and generous love of God our savior appeared, not because of any righteous deeds we had done but because of his mercy, he saved us through the bath of rebirth and renewal by the holy Spirit, whom he richly poured out on us through Jesus Christ our savior, so that we might be justified by his grace and become heirs in hope of eternal life. [Titus 3:4-7] It is to this salvation that we have been called through the preaching of the Good News: God chose you as the firstfruits for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in truth. To this end he has [also] called you through our gospel to possess the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. [2Thes 2:13-14]

One body and one Spirit

There is but one Spirit of God, one Holy Spirit. He who hovered over the waters during the creation is the same as He who lead the Israelites out of Egypt with a cloud and fire; who caused prophetic ecstasy in David, who came upon Mary, who filled Elizabeth, who inspired Simeon, who appeared as a Dove, who drove Jesus into the desert to be tempted, who blows where he wills, who appeared as a cloud, whom Jesus promised to send as our Advocate, whom Jesus breathed upon the Apostles, who came as wind and tongues of fire on Pentecost, who fell upon Cornelius and his household, who convicts the world of sin and righteousness and condemnation, who gives life and who has given different gifts to each one of us….why, to equip the holy ones for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of faith and knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the extent of the full stature of Christ. [Eph 4:12-13] For as in one body we have many parts, and all the parts do not have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ and individually parts of one another. [Rom 12:4-5]

striving to reserve the unity of the spirit through the bond of peace

This unity, this oneness, was not lightly purchased. It took the Son of God to show us that we are one in Him, that He is our one and only Savior, that He suffered for sins once, the righteous for the sake of the unrighteous, that he might lead you to God [1Pet 3:18] and that if we believe that Jesus died and rose, so too will God, through Jesus, bring with him those who have fallen asleep. [1Thes 4:14]

We retain this faith, this belief, as one Body, one Church. Contrary to what we witness in our Christian Community, all believing their own interpretation of Christ’s message and claiming that their interpretation is the true faith, they cannot all be right. There is only one church that has all the elements of the faith in it, the one, holy, catholic and Apostolic Church, which possesses both the Scripture and Tradition since the beginning, which has one valid priesthood under bishops who trace their line back to Peter and the Apostles, which has seven cherished sacraments, which had the true Eucharist, the true presence in every tabernacle throughout the world and which can unequivocally claim to preach the truth as guaranteed by the unity of the spirit.

This unity was not only not lightly purchased by God, it is also not easily preserved by us, claiming the blood of martyrs, witnesses to validate its claims, insisting on belief in things unseen alluded to in written Scripture and mandating adherence to moral rectitude that the world deems ludicrous, stifling and archaic.

bearing with one another through love

As pointed out above, though the origin of our oneness is the family of God, this familial, brotherly and sisterly bond is constantly being tested, torn, ripped, shredded, violated through sin. By refusing to obey our one Father, we rebel against our very essence, our image and likeness, just as our first parents did. And we alienate ourselves from the rest of the family, our sisters and brothers in God, in Christ, in the human/divine family.

These ruptures, rivalry, jealousy, fury, selfishness, slander, gossip, conceit, and disorder. [2Cor 12:20], these self-inflicted wounds, can only be healed through forgiveness. Even within our own community, there are disagreements, strife, contentions, and the bond of peace must constantly be striven for, purchased daily only at the cost of patience, understanding, acceptance and love, bearing all things, believing all things, hoping all things, enduring all things. [1Cor 13:7]

with all humility and gentleness, with patience

In this passage, Paul outlines how Love is manifested in oneness: patience, humility, gentleness. Patience harkens back to bearing with one another, enduring all things. Patience comes from the same Latin root as passion, “to suffer, to endure.” Oneness requires a huge amount of patience on the part of each of us, of passion in both senses of that word, the fire of love enabling one to endure and to suffer the other. For life with the other is not a bed of roses, there will be misunderstandings, conflicts, confusion, rivalries, disagreements, anger, tempers. Love suffers, endures through, beyond and above all of these.

How does one take up that Cross, the other, and suffer in patience. By realizing one’s littleness and the continual unveiling of God’s providence. By humility, being precisely whom God made us to be, no less but no more. And by gentleness, by imitating God’s mercy and care of me, and doing to the other as was done to me by God.

live in a manner worthy of the call you have received

By do this, by love, patience, gentleness, humility, we will indeed live in a manner worthy of the call of God, not just to our baptism into the one faith, the one Church, the one Body of Christ, the one Spirit, but that vocation, that calling to be one with the One Lord, to be a temple of the Father, to be Christ’s hands, Christ’s feet, Christ’s voice, Christ’s touch in my unique and inimitable way, and to support and encourage you to be His hands, His feet, His voice, His touch, in your special way. For only by all of us being Christ each in our own way can we hope together with our head, to be one with Christ as He is.


Oneness in Scripture

From God’s point of view:

  • One God: Yhwh: I am who I am. [Ex 3:14]
  • One Father of all: The LORD is our God, the LORD alone: other possible translations are “the Lord our God is one Lord”; “the Lord our God, the Lord is one”; “the Lord is our God, the Lord is one. [4] [Deut 6:4]
  • One Source and Creator of all being, yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom all things are and for whom we exist. [1Cor 8:6]
  • One Son: one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things are and through whom we exist. [1Cor 8:6]
  • One Savior and Redeemer of all: For there is one God. There is also one mediator between God and the human race, Christ Jesus, himself human, who gave himself as ransom for all. [1Tim 2:5] And when I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw everyone to myself. [Jn 12:32]
  • One Spirit For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, slaves or free persons, and we were all given to drink of one Spirit. [1Cor 12:13]
  • One Way, one Truth, one Life: I am the way and the truthand the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. [Jn 14:6]
  • One Love of all: God is love…In this is love: not that we have loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as expiation for our sins. [1Jn 4:8b,10]
  • One Providence: We know that all things work for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose. [Rom 8:28]
  • One Plan of Salvation for all This is good and pleasing to God our savior, who wills everyone to be saved and to come to knowledge of the truth. [1Tim 2:3-4]
  • One Body: We, though many, are one body in Christ and individually parts of one another [Rom 12:5]
  • One Faith …everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life [Jn 3:16
  • One Spirit, many Gifts: There are different kinds of spiritual gifts but the same Spirit; [1Cor 12:4]
  • One Lord, different service: there are different forms of service but the same Lord; [1Cor 12:5]
  • One God, different effects/manifestations of power: there are different workings but the same God who produces all of them in everyone. [1Cor 12:6]
  • Father is in the Son; the Son in the Father: Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me. [Jn 14:10,11]

The Father, Son and Holy Spirit dwell in me, in you; They are one with us and we, through Them, with each other.

  • The Father and the Son will live in me: 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]
  • The Spirit in You: the Spirit of truth, which the world cannot accept, because it neither sees nor knows it….remains with you, and will be in you. [Jn 14:17]
  • I am in Jesus, Jesus is in me: On that day you will realize that I am in my Father and you are in me and I in you. [Jn 14:20]
  • We are one with and in the Father and Jesus: they may all be one, as you, Father, are in me and I in you, that they also may be in us, that the world may believe that you sent me. [Jn 17:21]

We are “brought to perfection as one” in Christ

  • We are brought to perfection as one: And I have given them the glory you gave me, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may be brought to perfection as one, that the world may know that you sent me, and that you loved them even as you loved me. [Jn 17:22-23]
  • Unity of mind, love, heart, thinking: If there is any encouragement in Christ, any solace in love, any participation in the Spirit, any compassion and mercy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, with the same love, united in heart, thinking one thing. [Phil 2:1-2]
  • Think in harmony and praise with one voice: May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to think in harmony with one another, in keeping with Christ Jesus, that with one accord you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. [Rom 15:5-6]
  • Be of the same mind and purpose: I urge you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree in what you say, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and in the same purpose. [1Cor 1:10]
  • Christ is one: For it has been reported to me about you, my brothers, by Chloe’s people, that there are rivalries among you. I mean that each of you is saying, “I belong to Paul,” or “I belong to Apollos,” or “I belong to Cephas,” or “I belong to Christ.” Is Christ divided? [1Cor 1:11-13]
  • We are one in Christ: There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free person, there is not male and female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. [Gal 3:28]
  • We have the same Lord: For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; the same Lord is Lord of all, enriching all who call upon him. [Rom 10:12]
  • We all have the same Spirit: For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, slaves or free persons, and we were all given to drink of one Spirit. [1Cor 12:13]
  • Christ is all and in all: Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcision and uncircumcision, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all and in all. [Col 3:11]

We are all one Body

  • We are all one body: As a body is one though it has many parts, and all the parts of the body, though many, are one body, so also ChristNow you are Christ’s body, and individually parts of it. [1Cor 12:12,27] Col 1:18, 24.
  • Christ is head of the body, the Church: He is the head of the body, the church. [Col 1:18]
  • We are one body and individually parts of one another: For as in one body we have many parts, and all the parts do not have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ and individually parts of one another. [Rom 12:4-5]
  • Together as one body, we support one another and the Church grows: Rather, living the truth in love, we should grow in every way into him who is the head, Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, with the proper functioning of each part, brings about the body’s growth and builds itself up in love. [Eph 4:15-16]
  • The peace of perfection comes from being one: And let the peace of Christ control your hearts, the peace into which you were also called in one body. [Col 3:15]
  • Different ministries but unity of faith and knowledge: And he gave some as apostles, others as prophets, others as evangelists, others as pastors and teachers, to equip the holy ones for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of faith and knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the extent of the full stature of Christ. [Eph 4:11-13]
  • Without unity and maturity of faith and knowledge, we are individual infants: infants, tossed by waves and swept along by every wind of teaching arising from human trickery, from their cunning in the interests of deceitful scheming. [Eph 4:14]
  • If we go off on our own, we are not connected with Christ in his body: Let no one disqualify you, delighting in self-abasement and worship of angels, taking his stand on visions, inflated without reason by his fleshly mind, and not holding closely to the head, from whom the whole body, supported and held together by its ligaments and bonds, achieves the growth that comes from God. [Col 2:18-19]

We are one because we all receive the same Jesus

  • The loaf is one; Jesus is one; we are one: Because the loaf of bread is one, we, though many, are one body, for we all partake of the one loaf. [1Cor 10:17]

Jesus is one with my neighbor.

  • The criteria of our judgment: ‘Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.’ [Mt 25:40]
  • Jesus identifies himself with the persecuted: “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” He said, “Who are you, sir?” The reply came, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. [Acts 9:4-5; 22:7-8; 26:14-15]
  • The Second Great Commandment: For the whole law is fulfilled in one statement, namely, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” [Gal 5:14; see Lev 19:18; Mt 19:19; 22:39; Mk 12:31; Lk 10:27; Rom 13:9; Jas 2:8]

[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] Pontifical Council For Inter-Religious Dialogue And The Congregation For The Evangelization Of Peoples, Instruction Dialogue and Proclamation, 29: AAS 84 (1992), 424.

[3] Vatican II, Pope Paul VI, Pastoral Constitution On The Church In The Modern World, Gaudium Et Spes, December 7, 1965, Vatican, History of the Councils, Vatican II, http://www.vatican.va/archive/hist_councils/ii_vatican_council/documents/vat-ii_const_19651207_gaudium-et-spes_en.html, No. 22.

[4]NABRE note on Deut 6:4.

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.