Bread of Life

BREAD OF LIFE
 this is the bread that comes down from heaven so that one may eat it and not die. (john 6: 50)
The miracle of God’s physical presence to us at every Mass is the truest testament to Christ’s love for us and His desire for each of us to have a personal relationship with Him. Jesus Christ celebrated the first Mass with His disciples at the Last Supper, the night before He died. He commanded His disciples, “Do this in remembrance of me” (Luke 22:19). The celebration of the Mass then became the main form of worship in the early Church, as a reenactment of the Last Supper, as Christ had commanded. Each and every Mass since commemorates Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross through the Holy Eucharist. Because the Mass “re-presents” (makes present) the sacrifice on Calvary, Catholics all around the world join together to be made present in Christ’s timeless sacrifice for our sins. There is something fascinating about continuing to celebrate the same Mass—instituted by Christ and practiced by the early Church—with the whole community of Catholics around the world…and in heaven.

THE REAL PRESENCE

Why does the Catholic Church believe Christ is really present in the Eucharist?
The Catholic doctrine of the Real Presence is the belief that Jesus Christ is literally, not symbolically, present in the Holy Eucharist—body, blood, soul and divinity. Catholics believe in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist because Jesus tells us this is true in the Bible:

“I am the bread of life. Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread which comes down from heaven, that a man may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread which came down from heaven; if any one eats of this bread, he will live for ever; and the bread which I shall give for the life of the world is my flesh." The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, ‘How can this man give us his flesh to eat?’ So Jesus said to them,

"Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you; he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is food indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him” - John 6:48-56
Furthermore, the early Church Fathers either imply or directly state that the bread and wine offered in the celebration of the Lord’s Supper is really the body and blood of Jesus Christ. In other words, the doctrine of the Real Presence that Catholics believe today was believed by the earliest Christians 2,000 years ago!

This miracle of God’s physical presence to us at every Mass is the truest testament to Christ’s love for us and His desire for each of us to have a personal relationship with Him.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

COMFORT CATHOLICISM

Comfort Catholicism Has to Go; It is Time to Prepare for Persecution

We are at war for our own souls and the souls of people we love. We are at war for the soul of this culture and nation. And like any soldier, we must train to fight well.

BY MSGR. CHARLES POPE

Jean-Léon Gérôme, “The Christian Martyrs’ Last Prayer” (c. 1863-1873)

There is a growing consternation among some Catholics that the Church, at least in her leadership, is living in the past. It seems there is no awareness that we are at war and that Catholics need to be summoned to sobriety, increasing separation from the wider culture, courageous witness and increasing martyrdom.

It is long past dark in our culture, but in most parishes and dioceses it is business as usual and there is anything but the sober alarm that is really necessary in times like these.

Scripture says, Blessed be the Lord, my rock, who trains my hands for war, and my fingers for battle (Psalm 144:1). Preparing people for war — a moral and spiritual war, not a shooting war — should include a clear setting forth of the errors of our time, and a clear and loving application of the truth to error and light to darkness.

But there is little such training evident in Catholic circles today where, in the average parish, there exists a sort of shy and quiet atmosphere — a fear of addressing “controversial” issues lest someone be offended, or the parish be perceived as “unwelcoming.”

But, if there ever was a time to wear soft garments, it is not now.

The Church of the 1970s-1990s was surely well described as the era of “beige Catholicism” (a term coined by Bishop Robert Barron, and not by way of flattery either). Those of us who lived through that era, especially in the 1970s, remember it as a time when many parish signs beckoned people to “come and experience our welcoming and warm Catholic community.”

Our most evident desire was to fit in and be thought of as “normal.” Yes, Catholics were just like everyone else; and we had been working very hard to do that, at least since the early 1960s when John F. Kennedy was elected. Catholics had finally “made it” into the mainstream; we had been accepted by the culture.

Church architecture and interiors became minimalist and non-descript. Music and language in the liturgy became folksy. Marian processions, Corpus Christi processions, many things of distinctive and colorful Catholicism all but disappeared.

Even our crucifixes disappeared, to be replaced by floating “resurrection Jesus” images. The emphasis was on blending in, speaking to things that made people feel comfortable, and affirming rather than challenging.

If there was to be any challenge at all it would be on “safe” exhortations such as not abusing the environment or polluting, not judging or being intolerant, and so forth.

Again, if there ever was a time to wear soft garments, it is not now. It is zero-dark-thirty in our post-Christian culture. And while we may wish to blame any number of factors for the collapse, we cannot exclude ourselves.

We who are supposed to be the light of the world, with Christ shining in us, have preferred to hide our light under a basket and lay low. The ruins of our families and culture are testimony to the triumph of error and the suppression of the truth.

Monday, August 15, 2016

SEEING IS BECOMING

The Mirror of Contemplation in St Gregory of Nyssa’s Commentary on the Song of Songs

By Fr. Matthew Baker in The Sounding

St. Gregory of Nyssa’s Commentary on the Song of Songs offers a profound contemplative theology in which the category of vision occupies a central place. To see correctly for Gregory involves a process in which exegesis and askesis, a proper interpretation of scriptural images and the purification of the soul’s eye, are inseparable, having as their common goal the vision of God.

All vision is tied to imitation, and subject to the free direction of the will. Human nature is mimetic through and through: a person becomes what he beholds. This spiritual insight is expressed most powerfully by Gregory’s use of the image of the mirror.

“Beauty” is perhaps for Gregory the most summary characteristic of God. Much as in his Homilies on the Beatitudes, in his commentary on the Song of Songs Gregory regards the vision of this divine beauty given to those who are purified as taking place not directly, but as reflected in “the mirror of our souls.”

Even a man perfect in virtue is unable to look at the sun; “rather he sees it within himself.” A reflective vision of God is made visibly manifest in the life of virtue, from which we obtain a knowledge of the good and an image of the beauty of the divine archetype. Read rightly, the Song of Songs is an instruction on the way towards the restoration of this beauty, which is that of the divine bridegroom, to the bride.

For Gregory, the “bride” of the Song of Songs is at once the individual soul and collectively the whole Church. To see the Church truly is to see, as in a mirror, a face with the very same features as Christ. By giving herself to the beloved bridegroom, the bride receives the beauty of her beloved.

The restoration of divine beauty — the return to the original divine likeness given in creation — takes place through the free and uncompromising pursuit of virtue. “The end of a life of virtue is likeness to God.” Human nature has an inherent capacity to reflect divine beauty; it is like a mirror, which “takes on different appearances according to the impressions of free will.” As Gregory elaborates:

“If gold is held up to the mirror, the mirror assumes the appearance of gold and reflects the splendor of gold’s substance. If anything abominable is held up, its ugliness is impressed on the mirror… Thus the mirror represents in its own being whatever is placed before it. So too the soul, when cleansed by the Word from vice, it receives within itself the sun’s orb and shines with this reflected light.
St Gregory’s analogy of the mirror underscores that the life of Christian virtue by which the soul is restored to divine beauty is not only active, but equally contemplative. This life consists of a continual looking to Christ alone: “How can one behold a beautiful sight in a mirror unless the mirror has reflected the image of a beautiful form? Human nature is also a mirror, and it was not beautiful until it drew near to Beauty and was transformed by the image of the divine loveliness.”

As we have shown, Gregory accords great power to sight, for both good and ill. According to him, the eyes are the most honorable part of the body. Commenting on the verse, “Your eyes are doves” (Song of Songs 1:5), he writes:

“Persons skilled in studying natural phenomena say that the eye sees by receiving the impression of images emanating from visible objects. For this reason the beauty of the bride’s eyes is praised since the image of a dove appears in her pupils. Whenever a person gazes upon an object he receives in himself an image of that object.”
In Gregory’s interpretation, the “dove” here represents the impression of the Spirit upon the one who is purified of carnal vision, an impression which enables one to behold the beauty of the bridegroom Jesus Christ.

As this example suggests, Gregory holds that it is the object seen, according to its own intelligible form, that enables vision: “Images of visible reality striking the purity of the eye’s pupil effect the act of seeing, that is, a form impresses itself upon the eye like a mirror.”

Seeing has a mimetic, formative character, under the sway of whatever is seen. “Those who gaze at the true God receive in themselves the properties of the divine nature.” And contrariwise, “those who attend to the vanity of idols are changed into what they behold and become stone instead of men.”

A crucial place is occupied also by the human will in the act of seeing. The soul is not only a mirror, but “a living mirror possessing free will,” which must thus prepare itself morally for vision. Only the pure in heart see God, and virtue purifies the eyes. Conversely, however, Gregory underscores that it is the vision of God itself that purifies and gives virtue.

This delicate balance – in reality, an asymmetric play of divine grace and human free will – gives a dynamic character to Gregory’s theology of divine vision. And here it is Moses, who “sought God as if he had never seen Him,” who is Gregory’s prototype of the God-seer.

Divine vision begins with the visible images of Scripture, but passes beyond this to darkness, and finally to spousal union. The purified eye penetrates into the future. Yet the restoration to the beauty of the divine likeness must pass through conformation to the likeness of Christ’s death.

The “shadow” of Christ’s body acts as mediator of divine light for us who live in darkness. In “looking to above” to behold the form of God and his divine goodness, Gregory reminds us, the soul’s mirror must reflect that form of a servant which Christ the mediator assumed in becoming man.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

THE GLORY OF GOD HIDDEN IN HIS CREATURES

From The Roots of Christian Mysticism; first published in English 1993 by New City. Translated by Thedore Berkeley O.C.S.O.

by Olivier L. Clément

Darkness and Light, God's House, Inward Birth

We have said that the 'descent' into the heart corresponds to Moses's 'ascent' of Sinai. Moses penetrated then into the darkness where God was. Likewise we, in so far as we are personal existence in relationship, by going beyond any vision of the mind οf the body, penetrate into the divine Darkness.

It is the symbol and the experience of a presence that cannot be grasped, a night in which the Inaccessible presents himself and eludes us at the same time. It is the nocturnal communion of the hidden God with the person who is hidden in God.

This darkness does not deny the glory that flows from it. It is nοt the absence of light: rather it is 'more than luminous'. Or again, cοincidentia oppositorum, the coincidence of opposites (which in their very unity remain opposites): the darkness is simultaneously both the brightest light, dark through excess of brightness, and the blackest obscurity because it is 'transluminous'. -

Likewise the darkness does not deny the Word but reaches the Silence in the very heart of the Word.

The divine darkness is entered by 'closing the eyes', that is by renouncing a gaze that is diffusive, objectifying, possessive, and by learning to look inward -or simply with the eyes shut, as in the state of loving abandon.

«At first the revelation of God tο Moses is made in light. Then God speaks to him in the cloud. Finally, by climbing up higher, Moses contemplates God in the darkness.

See what we learn from this. The passage from darkness to light is the initial separation from lying and erroneous views about God.

The more attentive awareness of hidden objects, guiding the soul by means of visible things to invisible reality, is like a cloud obscuring the whole perceptible world, leading the soul and accustoming it to the contemplation of what is hidden.

Finally the soul, which has travelled by these ways towards the things that are above and has abandoned everything that is accessible to human nature, penetrates into the sanctuary of the knowledge of God that is wrapped οn all sides in darkness. There, as everything perceptible and intelligible has been left outside, there remains for the soul's contemplation οnly what cannot be grasped by the intellect.

It is there that God dwells according tο the words of Scripture: 'Moses drew near to the thick darkness' (Exodus 20.21).» Gregory οf Nyssa Life of Moses (PG 44,376-7) «Superessential Trinity, more than divine and more than good, thou that presidest over divine Christian wisdom, lead us nοt οnly beyond all light, but even beyond unknowing, up tο the highest peak of the mystical Scriptures, tο the place where the simple and absolute and incorruptible mysteries of the godhead are revealed, in the more-than-luminous darkness of the Silence.

For it is in that Silence that we learn the secrets of the Darkness that shines with the brightest light in the bosom of the blackest obscurity and, while remaining itself utterly intangible and utterly invisible, fills with a brightness more beautiful than beauty the minds that know how to shut their eyes.» Dionysius the Areopagite Mystical Theology, I, 1 (PG 3,997)

Darkness indicates the ultimate meeting, when the human being, in a state of ontological poverty, becomes pure movement towards God, who comes down infinitely lower than his οwn transcendent state, retaining nothing of himself but the poverty of love. All 'essence' is surpassed, by God in a 'trans-descent', by the human being in a 'trans-ascent'. There is nοw οnly an inexpressible communion of persons.

Exercise yourself unceasingly in mystical contemplation; abandon feelings; renounce intellectual activities; reject all that belongs tο the perceptible and the intelligible; strip yourself tοtally of nοn-being and being and lift yourself as far as yοu are able to the point of being united in unknowing with him who is beyond all being and all knowledge.

For it is by passing beyond everything, yourself included, irresistibly and completely, that yοu will be exalted in pure ecstasy right up to the dark splendour of the divine Superessence, after having abandoned all, and stripped yourself of everything.» Dionysius the Areopagite Mystical Theology, I,1(PG 3, 997-1000)

Instead of speaking of darkness it is equally possible to speak of light, provided that we specify that it is uncreated light issuing inexhaustibly from the Inaccessible. It is more-than-dark light from the hidden God that makes it possible to share in him: energy of the essence that comes from the Father through the Son in the Holy Spirit.

Light like this is inseparable from fire. The chariot by which a person speeds into glory is a heart οn fire. (Ιn Jewish mysticism also one finds this identification of the burning heart with the chariot of fire by which the prophet Elijah was taken up.) As the icons suggest, the whole person becomes vision, filled with the light that issues from the face of the transfigured Christ.

The 'food of the Spirit' and the 'water of life' refer to the inner content of the 'mysteries' -mysteries of the Name of Jesus, of Scripture, of the Eucharist, of the baptismal garment of light. Tο enter into the inner content of these mysteries is to find immortal life already here below.

If yοu have become the throne of God, and the heavenly driver has used yοu for his chariot, and your whole soul has become spiritual vision and total light, if yοu have been fed οn the food of the Spirit, if yοu have drunk the water of life and put οn the garments of indescribable light, if your inner personality has been established in the experience and the perfection of all these things, then indeed you are truly living eternal life.» Pseudo-Μacarius First Homily, 12 (PG 34,461)

Like the strange 'living creatures' (cosmic and angelic) in Ezekiel's vision the soul becomes all eye, meaning pure translucence. (According to the ancients the eye could οnly see because it was itself light.) The soul is filled with the light of Christ, such light as can almost be identified with the Hοly Spirit. All eye, and so all face -a sign at once of the meeting with God who for us has given expression tο himself, and of an unbounded welcome for one's neighbour.

The soul that has been judged worthy to share in the Spirit in his light, and has been illumined by the splendour of his ineffable glory becomes all light, all face, all eye, and nο part of it remains any longer that is not filled with spiritual eyes and light. That means that it has nο longer anything dark about it but is wholly Spirit and light.

It is full of eyes, nο longer having a reverse side but showing a face all round, for the indescribable beauty of Christ's glory and light have come to dwell in it.

Ιn the same way as the sun is the same all round and does not have any reverse side or lower part but is wholly and completely resplendent with its light ... so the soul that has been illumined with the ineffable beauty and the glorious brightness of Christ's face and has been filled with the Holy Spirit, the soul that has been found worthy to become the dwelling and the temple of God, is all eye, all light, all face, all glory and all Spirit, since Christ is adorning it in this way, moving it, directing it, upholding it and guiding it, thus enlightening it and embellishing it with spiritual beauty.» Pseudo-Μacarius First Homily, 2 (PG 34,45Ι)

Another profoundly evangelical theme is the 'abiding' or 'indwelling' of God in us. His 'indwelling' makes us temples of God. We not οnly listen to the words of Jesus but we welcome his silence into our hearts, the mysterious presence of the Father and of the Spirit.

It is better to keep silent and tο be, rather than to speak but not to be. One who truly possesses Christ's words can also hear his silence in order tο be perfect ... Nothing is hidden from the Lord but our very secrets are close to him. Let us do everything in him who dwells in us so that we may become his temples.» Ignatius of Antioch Epistle to the Ephesians, 15,1-3 (SC 10, p. 84)

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Monday, August 1, 2016

TRUE AND FALSE SELF

Thomas Merton on our True v our False Self

“Mental health is an ongoing process of dedication to reality at all costs.”

— M. Scott Peck, from “The Road Less Traveled,” pp. 51

Every one of us is shadowed by an illusory person: a false self.

This is the person that I want myself to be but who cannot exist, because God—because Truth, Light—knows nothing about him. And to be unknown to God is altogether too much privacy.

My false and private self is the one who wants to exist outside the reach of God’s will and God’s love— outside of reality and outside of life. And such a self cannot help but be an illusion.

We are not very good at recognizing illusions, least of all the ones we cherish most about ourselves—the ones we are born and raised with and which feed the roots of sin.

For most of the people in the world, there is no greater subjective reality than this false self of theirs, which cannot exist. A life devoted to maintaining and expanding this false self, this shadow, is what is called a life of sin.

All sin starts from the assumption that my false self, the self that exists only in my own egocentric desires, is the fundamental reality of life around which everything else in the universe is ordered.

Thus I use up my life in the desire for pleasures and the thirst for experiences, for power, honor, knowledge, feeling loved, in order to clothe this false self and construct its nothingness into something objectively real.

And I wind experiences around myself and cover myself with pleasures and glory like bandages in order to make myself perceptible to myself and to the world, as if I were an invisible body that could only become visible when something visible covered its surface.

To be a saint means to be my true self. Therefore the problem of sanctity and salvation is in fact the problem of finding out who I truly am and of discovering my true self, my essence or core.

Trees and animals have no problem. God makes them what they are without consulting them, and they are perfectly satisfied.

With us it is different. God leaves us free to be whatever we like.

We can be ourselves or not, as we please. We are at liberty to be real, or to be unreal. We may be true or false, the choice is ours. We may wear now one mask and now another, and never, if we so desire, appear with our own true face.

But we cannot make these choices with impunity.

Causes have effects, and if we lie to ourselves and to others, then we cannot expect to find truth and reality whenever we happen to want them.

If we have chosen the way of falsity we must not be surprised that truth eludes us when we finally come to need it and that confusion reigns.

– Thomas Merton, abridged and adapted from “New Seeds of Contemplation

Saturday, July 23, 2016

WHY BE A CATHOLIC?

The Fall

It is difficult — it has always been difficult, I think—to find a worldview that makes perfect sense. For example, if we believe the universe is created and governed by an all - loving God, we have trouble explaining natural and moral evils.

But if we believe we are not created and there is no God, we have trouble explaining our own sense of right and wrong, our innate fear of judgment, and our yearning for something that transcends nature and endures beyond it.

In Orthodoxy, G. K. Chesterton wrote that he accepted the traditional claims of orthodox Christian doctrine because that doctrine fit perfectly into all the openings, chasms, protrusions and fissures he found in examining the world. It all interlocks, he said, like a vast and exquisitely designed machine. Only when coupled with Christian doctrine does the universe make a complete and intelligible whole.

These ideas led him into the Catholic Church. The great John Henry Newman also reflected on his own experience of the world. To him, it was impossible to explain the constant conflict between human aspirations and human failures—the deep sense everyone has that there is a great deal wrong which ought to be right— unless man is somehow fallen from an ideal state which is still embedded in his consciousness. Newman too became a Catholic.

For both Chesterton and Newman, then, Catholicism presented a worldview which fit reality. Catholicism required them neither to deny their deepest aspirations (as does secularism), nor to make a monster out of God (as do Deism and Islam).

Rather, Catholic teaching takes things as they really are, including taking ourselves as we most deeply perceive ourselves to be (when we aren't engaging in special pleading to satisfy our flesh or our egos), and then Catholic teaching explains exactly what is right and what is wrong, and why, through the doctrine of Original Sin.

The Church teaches that we were created for God and designed to live in close union with Him. But through rebellion against him, we have lost the perfect integrity that comes from living in that unity. The results are plain to see

Happily, this Fall was not sufficient to thwart our destiny. Rather, it stimulates us to a sort of divinely inspired frustration with our weaknesses and limitations, and a divinely inspired dissatisfaction with all the natural and moral problems in the world.

Our sense of frustration and dissatisfaction causes us to look again to God for the means to restore our unity with Him — a means that we can find only in Jesus Christ. There is a sort of inescapable logic in this account of fall and redemption. It may not always speak perfectly to what we’d like to believe or like to do at any given moment, but it does speak perfectly to what we most deeply perceive of reality when we’re being honest with ourselves.

To Deists and some simplistic Christian sects, because the hand of Providence guides things perfectly, it follows that whatever is is right; those who fail to accept this are justly doomed. To secularists, by contrast, whatever is is wrong; insofar as we can engineer something better, especially to ensure our own temporal satisfaction, we must do

It is not surprising that many secularists regard religious people as a threat, because religious people don’t place much confidence in man’s ideas about how to make a perfect world. They are likely to keep trying to help others, one by one, out of love; they are not likely to trust programs to end all programs, or wars to end all wars.

For the deeply religious person, and in particular the person who has tuned in to the Catholic vision of reality, everything is right with God but human sin has mucked up the world

Christian doctrine fits what we see of the universe as a hand fits a glove, or as the hand of God fits the world He created. Therefore, it makes sense to the Catholic to seek first the Kingdom of God, and to expect that everything else will follow (Mt 6:33).

At bottom, in the recesses of our hearts, I suspect all of us know we need something more to save us than the plans of the intelligent, the rich, the famous and the powerful. This is because we know we need someone to save us not just from this or that situation but from ourselves. Initially we perceive the goal but dimly, because we are fallen, but that we are fallen becomes increasingly obvious as we mature.

The fundamental mission, the only mission that will work, is to restore man’s lost integrity. This integrity can exist only in union with God, without Whom perfection is impossible. But if the problem is that we are fallen, then who can lift us up? Only the Son can draw us back to union with the Father.

Only Jesus Christ can restore our integrity, and with it the integrity of the entire universe. Only Jesus Christ, the Son of God, can honestly say the words we most yearn to hear: “Behold, I make all things new” (Rv 21:5).

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Originally published February 2, 2010.
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