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)
I tell you the truth, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood; you have no life in you. (John 6: 53)

Thursday, April 10, 2014

MARY, MOTHER OF GOD

The two truths which stand out like mountain peaks in the chain of revelation concerning Our Blessed Lady, and around which cluster all other truths we hold about her, are her divine maternity and her fullness of grace, both of which are affirmed in the Gospels and in the Councils of the Church.

- Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange,OP - The Mother of the Saviour

Our Lady's greatest title is that of the "Mother of God" and, in view of that, she was created "full of grace". "To be the worthy Mother of God, Mary needed to receive fullness of grace", St Thomas (111a, q.27, a.5 corp. et ad2)

The Privileges of the Mother of God

1. Mary was conceived without stain of original sin (Immaculate Conception).

2. From her conception Mary was free from all motions of concupiscence.

3. In consequence of a Special Privilege of Grace from God, Mary was free from every personal sin during her whole life.

4. Mary was a Virgin, before during and after the Birth of Jesus Christ.

5. Mary conceived by the Holy Spirit without the cooperation of man.

6. Mary bore her Son without any violation of her virginal integrity.

7. Also after the birth of Jesus, Mary remained a virgin.

8. Mary was assumed body and soul into heaven.

from "Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma" by Ludwig Ott

Mary's Splendour

from "The Mother of the Saviour" by Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange,OP - Art IV

"... theologians commonly hold that Mary's initial grace was greater than the final grace of the highest of angels and men ..."

Again:

"Since Mary's first grace prepared her to be the worthy Mother of God, it must have been proportionate, at least remotely, to the divine maternity. But the final consummated grace of all the saints together is not proportionate to the divine maternity, since it belongs to an inferior order. Hence the final consummated grace of all the saints united is less than the first grace received by Mary."

Again:

"... In short, from the time she could merit and pray, Mary could obtain more without the saints than they could without her. But merit corresponds in degree to charity and sanctifying grace. Hence Mary received from the beginning of her life a degree of grace superior to that which the saints and angels united had attained to before their entry into heaven."

Even more amazingly:

Thus Mary, in virtue of the first grace which disposed her for the divine maternity, was worth more in God's eyes that all the apostles, martyrs, confessors, and virgins united, more than all men and all angels created from the beginning."

Our Mother, too

"Mary's role in the sanctification of the Christian has been beautifully described in the writings of St. Louis Mary de Montfort. Here is a synthesis of his teaching:

all Christians are called to perfection and sanctity;

to reach perfection it is necessary to practice and perfect the virtues;

to practice the virtues we need the help of God's grace;

to obtain God's grace it is necessary to receive it through Mary.

The reasons for the last statement are as follows:

1. of all God's creatures, only Mary found grace before God, both for herself and for others;

2. Mary gave birth to the Author of grace and is therefore called the Mother of grace;

3. in giving Mary his only begotten Son, the eternal Father gave Mary all graces;

4. God appointed Mary as dispenser of grace, and by reason of this office she gives grace to whom she wishes and when she wishes;

5. as in the natural order a child must have a father and a mother, so in the order of grace the Christian has God as the father and Mary as the mother;

6. since Mary formed the Head of the Mystical Body, she should also form the members;

7. Mary was and still remains the spouse of the Holy Spirit;

8. as in the natural order the child is nourished by its mother, in the supernatural order Mary nourishes and strengthens her children; and

9. he who finds Mary, finds Jesus, who is with her always."

Jordan Aumann, OP - Spiritual Theology

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

HOMOSEXUAL MARRIAGE

The issue of homosexual "marriage" is a controversial one today.

It is being voted into law, or imposed by courts, across the United States and across the world.

What does the Catholic Church have to say on the subject, and why does it teach what it does?

Here we offer an "interview" with former Pope Benedict XVI that draws on his previous writings on the subject of homosexuality, on giving legal recognition to homosexual unions, and on the duties of Catholic politicians.

Among the topics we'll cover are . . .

• How we should respond to the "powerful forces" that former Pope Benedict saw trying to alter the legal definition of marriage.

• The charge that this is a religious matter which has no place in a modern, pluralistic society.

• Are homosexual unions are on a par with heterosexual ones, only with the genders changed?

• How should people with same-sex attraction be treated?

• Why states shouldn't give legal recognition to homosexual unions.

• Whether the state should split marriage in two so that there are "state" marriages and "church" marriages.

• Whether we have an obligation to oppose "civil unions" that are proposed instead of homosexual marriages. • What are the responsibilities of Catholic politicians on this matter.

And more!

Just click this link to read this fascinating "interview" with Pope Benedict on one of the most divisive issues of our time.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

REAL PRESENCE

The Eucharist and Christ's Real Presence

And as they were eating,
He took bread, and blessed, and broke it,
and gave it to them, and said,
'Take; this is my body.'
(Mark 14:22)  
And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks
he gave it to them, and they all drank of it.
And he said to them,
'This is my blood of the covenant,
which is poured out for many.'
(Mark 14:23-24)

The simplest way to express what Christ asks us to believe about the Real Presence is that the Eucharist is really He. The Real Presence is the real Jesus. We are to believe that the Eucharist began in the womb of the Virgin Mary; that the flesh which the Son of God received from His Mother at the Incarnation is the same flesh into which He changed bread at the Last Supper; that the blood He received from His Mother is the same blood into which He changed wine at the Last Supper. Had she not given Him His flesh and blood there could not be a Eucharist.

We are to believe that the Eucharist is Jesus Christ - simply, without qualification. It is God become man in the fullness of His divine nature, in the fullness of His human nature, in the fullness of His body and soul, in the fullness of everything that makes Jesus Jesus.

He is in the Eucharist with His human mind and will united with the Divinity, with His hands and feet, His face and features, with His eyes and lips and ears and nostrils, with His affections and emotions and, with emphasis, with His living, pulsating, physical Sacred Heart.

That is what our Catholic Faith demands of us that we believe. If we believe this, we are Catholic. If we do not, we are not, no matter what people may think we are.
Father John A. Hardon S.J.

Monday, March 17, 2014

ABORTION - AN AMERICAN HOLOCAUST

AN INTRODUCTION to using graphic photos

THE WOMB is the most dangerous place on earth!

A pro-abortion woman asked a mother who was holding up an anti-abortion sign..."How can you allow children to see those horrible pictures?" The mother rightly responded by asking..."How can you allow children to become those pictures?" When the greatest injustice in our midst is exposed, we need to be ready to respond.

We respond not with cowardice which dismisses the need to expose the injustice, but rather with the courage to learn from social reform movements of the past, and to reject the heresy that "we need to be liked to be successful."

The word ABORTION has lost practically all its meaning. Not even the most vivid description, in words alone, can adequately convey the horror of this act of violence. Abortion is sugar-coated by rhetoric which hides its gruesome nature. What a pro-life person has in mind when he speaks about abortion and what the average American has in mind when he hears the word are two very different things.

One of the key reasons the pro-life movement is not making more progress is that we so often assert before the public that abortion is an act of violence, but do not produce the evidence which would lead people to this conclusion.

Photographic evidence is the most trusted source of information in any discipline. It transcends language and logic, and goes straight to the heart, where people are motivated to take action, instead of merely to the head, where people passively entertain all sorts of concepts without any commitment necessarily following.
People absorb impressions rather than substance. Although a photo is just a slice of reality, if it is the right slice, it captures the distilled essence of an event in a way that nothing else can. A photo is even more powerful than a video, since it is the difference between 30 images per second vs. one image for 30 seconds. Ask any audience around the country whether they have seen any kind of surgery on television. Almost all will raise their hands.

But if you ask that same audience how many have seen an abortion on those same networks, none raise their hands.

Yet abortion is the single most frequently performed surgery in America. Some claim it is legitimate medicine, and in fact an integral part of women's health. But look at it?? Take it out from under the veil of euphemism and abstract language?? No way !!

The First Amendment has a price:

The fact that the use of such images is disturbing does not mean such use is wrong. The free-speech rights guaranteed under the First Amendment apply even to speech which is disturbing, as the Supreme Court has repeatedly upheld (see The Right to Protest, ACLU: Gora et al.).

Such disturbance is part of the price we pay for freedom. People might also be disturbed, annoyed, and upset by the blaring sirens of an ambulance rushing through the neighborhood. Yet the noise serves a purpose: People's lives are at stake, and the ambulance must be given the right of way.

Too many people remain either in ignorance or denial about abortion, and hence too few are moved to do something to stop it. Graphic images are needed. A picture is worth a thousand words -- and in this battle, it can be worth many lives as well.

Graphic images of abortion have saved lives. One example is a letter I have from Violet Sherringford of New Jersey, who went to an abortion facility and found pro-life protesters there.

"The posters they displayed, though very graphic, did succeed in bringing me back to reality and in conveying the horrible mutilation and dismemberment inflicted on the unborn child.... I decided to have the baby. It was the best decision I ever will make."

...It seems to me, furthermore, that if we find it difficult to explain images of abortion to our children we will find it even more difficult to explain why we didn't do more to stop abortion itself. The bottom line is that if graphic images of abortion are too terrible to look at, then the abortions themselves are too terrible to tolerate.

We need to expose the injustice, and then direct our displeasure toward those allowing the injustice to continue, not toward those who speak against it. "There are no charts, no words, that can convey what these photographs can," argued prosecutor Brian Kelberg in a dispute over whether photos of the slashed murder victims could be shown to O.J. Simpson's jurors.

The defense had argued that the photos were too distressing and sickening, and should not be shown. Charts and diagrams were suggested as an alternative. But the judge allowed the photos.

Social evils cannot be addressed unless they are faced. Denial gets us nowhere. "These photographs show what happened to these two people," Mr. Kelberg correctly stated.

It's time more people saw the photos and films of what has happened to some millions of babies by abortion.

Anyone willing to defend abortion ought to be willing to see one, and those who fight abortion ought to be willing to expose it. Only then will enough people feel the appropriate sense of outrage needed to make the sacrifices necessary to end this injustice.

Prudence must be used in all things, but prudence also involves enduring discomfort in order to root out evil. Just ask Violet…."

Frank Pavone National Director Priests For Life

Sunday, March 9, 2014

CHRISTIAN UNITY

Howdy, Michael!

Christian unity is very, very important. It was important to Jesus himself, who prayed at the Last Supper that Christians would be united--so we ignore his wish at our peril!

Unfortunately, over the centuries, Christian unity has been broken by heresy and schism.

Former Pope Benedict, in the footsteps of recent popes, worked to restore Christian unity.

The effort to restore full unity among the different groups of Christians in the world is known as "ecumenism." There has been a great deal of work done toward this goal in recent years. Some of it has been good; some of it has been bad.

Pope Benedict gave a speech in which he explained his thoughts on ecumenism.

Let us learn from his wisdom by putting his remarks in a Q & A or "interview" format.

Here's what we'll learn:

1. Why former Pope Benedict thought ecumenism is important.

2. How it relates to the "Year of Faith" he called for in 2012-2013.

3. The dangers we must avoid in ecumenism.

4. Why the issue of authority, including the Magisterium, is so important in ecumenism.

5. Whether we should shy away from controversial issues.

6. What to make of ecumenical documents that haven't been approved by Rome.

7. How the global assault on Christian morality affects ecumenism.

CLICK HERE TO LEARN WHAT POPE BENEDICT HAS TO SAY!

When you're done reading what former Pope Benedict wants us to know about ecumenism, be sure to use the share icons at the bottom of the "interview" to let your friends know! (As always with the Secret Information Club, whisper as loudly as possible!)

Your pal,

Jimmy Akin

Secret Info Club Poobah

www.SecretInfoClub.com

Thursday, February 20, 2014

SATAN'S MASTER PLAN

THE MASTER PLAN OF THE DEVIL. THE DEVELOPMENT OF MODERN ERRORS...

For approximately seventeen centuries men acknowledged that authority comes only from God, and temporal rulers sought the approval and the blessing of their bishops who, by divine right, ruled in their dioceses as successors of the Apostles. Then came the Philosophists. As always, the Power of Darkness used pride to achieve his aims, the pride of human reason. As always he called the Light, Darkness and the Darkness, Light (Isaiah 5:20). That is why the Medieval times are now referred to as the "Dark Ages"; (in fact, the Dark Ages were pre-Medieval), and why Philosophism is referred to as "Enlightenment".

As always, the Devil acted with subtlety: he did not bring in Communism immediately, he brought in Modern Democracy first, knowing that the one would lead to the other. The lures inherent in the first would more easily lead to the destruction of man by the second. The Devil acted with cunning. So shrewd is he that even Christians were deceived. To make a thorough job of it he instilled into modern minds the myth of historical inevitability. "We must march with the times" we are told, as if the times were not what we are making them!

A SUBTLE AND GRADUAL PROCESS...

The present state of the world is not due to chance, it is the outcome of the everlasting struggle between good and evil. The Devil knows that his fight against God has to be gradual if it is to have any chance of success. Therefore, he began his fight in the 16th century by dividing Christianity.

When the first battle had been won, the Devil moved from the religious field into the philosophical field, and conceived Rationalism, which put human reason before Revelation.

Christians being already divided, there was no single front to defend the primacy of Divine Revelation. The interpretation of Divine Revelation being divided against itself, it could not resist the claim of the so-called primacy of human reason. Human reason appeared more reliable, and so the new philosophy installed itself. It naturally followed that man began to think about an earthly paradise.

Hence Rationalism begot Human Messianism (i.e. Humanism). It was then logical that man should not want to be impeded by standards of moral conduct. He had to be free from all restraints, and his reason alone was going to tell him how to act and behave.

Thus came into being the doctrine of Liberalism. Almost immediately, this doctrine extended to every field of human activity, especially economics, politics and science. From being philosophical, it became practically a way of life, the philosophical origin of which, most people do not suspect nowadays.

AN UNHOLY TRINITY...

After this, Human Messianism combined with Liberalism to set up CAPITALISM, an economic system based on greed and usury, which paves the way for Communism. Rationalism and Liberalism combined to give birth to the principle of POPULAR SOVEREIGNTY, being free and reasonable, every human being was to make all decisions.

Rationalism, and Human Messianism, combined to give birth to SCIENTISM (or the cult of Technology, the worship of the work of man, i.e. TECHNOLATRY) whereby we expect salvation from better and higher production, an error which was observed by Pius XII in his 1952 Christmas message. We speak of "Progress" in terms of industrialisation, completely unaware of "the undeniable advantages of an economy based chiefly on agriculture". (Pius XII)

DIABOLICALLY LOGICAL...

Thus, the unholy trinity, that is, Rationalism, Human Messianism, and Liberalism, laid the ground-work for all the evils which are destroying modern society. Observe how gradual the process has been:

a) Difference in religious views (affecting the soul).

b) Alteration in philosophical thinking (affecting the intellect).

c) Organisation and purpose of the physical world (affecting the will).

Observe how logical the development:

a) REFORMATION (dividing Christianity to weaken Divine Revelation).

b) RATIONALISM (doubting that man can rely on Divine Revelation).

c) HUMAN MESSIANISM (asserting that man can rely on himself).

d) LIBERALISM (trusting man wholly).

e) CAPITALISM (Human Messianism plus Liberalism).

f) DEMOCRACY (Rationalism plus Liberalism).

g) TECHNOCRACY (and Technolatry) - (Nationalism plus Human Messianism).

These developments are too gradual and logical to leave any doubt that there is an Intelligence behind it. This Intelligence is that of the Power of Darkness.
A number of Saints have said that, in the Latter Days, evil will be done by men of good will. There is no doubt that many Catholics believe in good faith that we are living in an age of progress, and that Modern Democracy IS Progress. The superficial advantages which it presents hide from many its intrinsic nature, the errors on which it is based, and the evils which accompany it.

The deception of the Devil has worked.

Author Unknown...

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

JUDAS ISCARIOT

The name "Judas" is a dark one. Mystery surrounds the enigmatic figure of Judas Iscariot. Here are seven things we can learn from former Pope Benedict concerning a man who was both an apostle of Jesus Christ--and the man who betrayed him!

1. The Name "Iscariot"

"The meaning of the name 'Iscariot' is controversial: The more common explanation considers him as a 'man from Kerioth,' referring to his village of origin situated near Hebron and mentioned twice in Sacred Scripture (Gn. 15:25, Am. 2:2). Others interpret it as a variant of the term 'hired assassin,' as if to allude to a warrior armed with a dagger, in Latin, sica.

Lastly, there are those who see in the label a simple inscription of a Hebrew-Aramaic root meaning: 'the one who is to hand him over.' This designation is found twice in the gospel: after Peter's confession of faith (Jn. 6:71) and then in the course of the anointing at Bethany (Jn. 12:4)."

2. An Apostle Who Betrays Jesus?

"The Evangelists insist on the status as an apostle that Judas held in all regards: He is repeatedly called 'one of the twelve' (Mt. 26:14, 47; Mk. 14:10, 20; Jn. 6:71) or 'of the number of the Twelve" (Lk. 22:3)."

"He is therefore a figure belonging to the group of those whom Jesus had chosen as strict companions and collaborators. This brings with it two questions in the attempt to provide an explanation for what happened. The first consists in asking how is it that Jesus had chosen this man and trusted him. In fact, although Judas is the group's bursar (Jn. 12:6b; 13:29a), in reality he is called a 'thief' (Jn. 12:6a)."

"The mystery of the choice remains, all the more since Jesus pronounces a very severe judgment on him: 'Woe to that man by whom the Son of man is betrayed!' (Mt. 26:24)."

3. His Fate

Jesus' choice to make Judas an apostle "darkens the mystery around his eternal fate, knowing that Judas 'repented and brought back the 30 pieces of silver to the chief priests and the elders, saying, "I have sinned in betraying innocent blood"' (Mt 27:3-4). Even though he went to hang himself (Mt. 27:5), it is not up to us to judge his gesture, substituting ourselves for the infinitely merciful and just God."
4. Why Judas Chose Evil

"Why does he betray Jesus? The question raises several theories. Some refer to the fact of his greed for money; others hold to an explanation of a messianic order: Judas would have been disappointed at seeing that Jesus did not fit into his program for the political-militaristic liberation of his own nation."

"In fact, the Gospel texts insist on another aspect: John expressly says that 'the devil had already put it into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon's son, to betray him' (Jn. 13:2). . . . In this way, one moves beyond historical motivations and explanations based on the personal responsibility of Judas, who shamefully ceded to a temptation of the Evil One."

"The betrayal of Judas remains, in any case, a mystery. Jesus treated him as a friend (Mt. 26:50); however, in his invitations to follow him along the way of the beatitudes, he does not force his will or protect it from the temptations of Satan, respecting human freedom."

5. Our Own Fate

We, too, have free will, and we, too, may choose the path of Judas in betraying Christ.

"The possibilities to pervert the human heart are truly many. The only way to prevent it consists in not cultivating an individualistic, autonomous vision of things, but on the contrary, by putting oneself always on the side of Jesus, assuming his point of view. We must daily seek to build full communion with him."

"Let us remember that . . . after his fall Peter repented and found pardon and grace. Judas also repented, but his repentance degenerated into desperation and thus became self-destructive."

"For us it is an invitation to always remember what St. Benedict says at the end of the fundamental Chapter Five of his Rule: 'Never despair of God's mercy.'"

6. Fighting Judas Today!

"We draw from this a final lesson: While there is no lack of unworthy and traitorous Christians in the Church, it is up to each of us to counterbalance the evil done by them with our clear witness to Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior."

7. How You Can Learn More

Pope Benedict has more to say about Judas Iscariot. To drink deeply from his wisdom, be sure to check out the general audience he gave on the subject, from which the above quotations are taken. General Audience on Judas Iscariot and Matthias, Oct. 18,2006.

Pope Benedict also has an awesome book on Judas--and the rest of the apostles. It's called Jesus, the Apostles, and the Early Church. Finally, if I may make my own small contribution, I have a book on the subject of salvation--a subject with which Judas is intimately connected. The title of the book is The Salvation Controversy.

ORDER YOUR COPY OF THE SALVATION CONTROVERSY TODAY!

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

WHAT REALLY HAPPENS AFTER AN ABORTION

The Catholic Church has always condemned abortion as a grave evil. Christian writers from the first-century author of the Didache to Pope John Paul II in his encyclical Evangelium Vitae ("The Gospel of Life") have maintained that the Bible forbids abortion, just as it forbids murder. This tract will provide some examples of this consistent witness from the writings of the Fathers of the Church.

As the early Christian writer Tertullian pointed out, the law of Moses ordered strict penalties for causing an abortion. We read, "If men who are fighting hit a pregnant woman and she gives birth prematurely [Hebrew: "so that her child comes out"], but there is no serious injury, the offender must be fined whatever the woman’s husband demands and the court allows. But if there is serious injury, you are to take life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot" (Ex. 21:22–24).

This applies the lex talionis or "law of retribution" to abortion. The lex talionis establishes the just punishment for an injury (eye for eye, tooth for tooth, life for life, compared to the much greater retributions that had been common before, such as life for eye, life for tooth, lives of the offender’s family for one life).

The lex talionis would already have been applied to a woman who was injured in a fight. The distinguishing point in this passage is that a pregnant woman is hurt "so that her child comes out"; the child is the focus of the lex talionis in this passage. Aborted babies must have justice, too.

This is because they, like older children, have souls, even though marred by original sin. David tells us, "Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me" (Psalm. 51:5, NIV). Since sinfulness is a spiritual rather than a physical condition, David must have had a spiritual nature from the time of conception.

The same is shown in James 2:26, which tells us that "the body without the spirit is dead": The soul is the life-principle of the human body. Since from the time of conception the child’s body is alive (as shown by the fact it is growing), the child’s body must already have its spirit.

Thus, in 1995 Pope John Paul II declared that the Church’s teaching on abortion "is unchanged and unchangeable. Therefore, by the authority which Christ conferred upon Peter and his successors . . . I declare that direct abortion, that is, abortion willed as an end or as a means, always constitutes a grave moral disorder, since it is the deliberate killing of an innocent human being.

This doctrine is based upon the natural law and upon the written word of God, is transmitted by the Church’s tradition and taught by the ordinary and universal magisterium. No circumstance, no purpose, no law whatsoever can ever make licit an act which is intrinsically illicit, since it is contrary to the law of God which is written in every human heart, knowable by reason itself, and proclaimed by the Church" (Evangelium Vitae 62).
The early Church Fathers agreed. Fortunately, abortion, like all sins, is forgivable; and forgiveness is as close as the nearest confessional.

MORE

Sunday, January 26, 2014

THE RESURRECTION OF JESUS; AN ERUPTION OF LIGHT

Homily of Pope Benedict XVI at the Paschal Vigil
The Church Sings the Song of Thanksgiving of the Saved

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

The Mystery of Resurrection

Saint Mark tells us in his Gospel that as the disciples came down from the Mount of the Transfiguration, they were discussing among themselves what "rising from the dead" could mean (cf. Mk 9:10). A little earlier, the Lord had foretold his passion and his resurrection after three days. Peter had protested against this prediction of death. But now, they were wondering what could be meant by the word "resurrection".

Could it be that we find ourselves in a similar situation? Christmas, the birth of the divine Infant, we can somehow immediately comprehend. We can love the child, we can imagine that night in Bethlehem, Mary's joy, the joy of Saint Joseph and the shepherds, the exultation of the angels.

But what is resurrection? It does not form part of our experience, and so the message often remains to some degree beyond our understanding, a thing of the past. The Church tries to help us understand it, by expressing this mysterious event in the language of symbols in which we can somehow contemplate this astonishing event. During the Easter Vigil, the Church points out the significance of this day principally through three symbols: light, water, and the new song - the Alleluia.

Light

First of all, there is light. God's creation - which has just been proclaimed to us in the Biblical narrative - begins with the command: "Let there be light!" (Gen 1:3). Where there is light, life is born, chaos can be transformed into cosmos. In the Biblical message, light is the most immediate image of God: He is total Radiance, Life, Truth, Light. During the Easter Vigil, the Church reads the account of creation as a prophecy. In the resurrection, we see the most sublime fulfilment of what this text describes as the beginning of all things.

God says once again: "Let there be light!" The resurrection of Jesus is an eruption of light. Death is conquered, the tomb is thrown open. The Risen One himself is Light, the Light of the world. With the resurrection, the Lord's day enters the nights of history. Beginning with the resurrection, God's light spreads throughout the world and throughout history.

Day dawns. This Light alone - Jesus Christ - is the true light, something more than the physical phenomenon of light. He is pure Light: God himself, who causes a new creation to be born in the midst of the old, transforming chaos into cosmos.

Lumen Christi

Let us try to understand this a little better. Why is Christ Light? In the Old Testament, the Torah was considered to be like the light coming from God for the world and for humanity. The Torah separates light from darkness within creation, that is to say, good from evil. It points out to humanity the right path to true life.

It points out the good, it demonstrates the truth and it leads us towards love, which is the deepest meaning contained in the Torah. It is a "lamp" for our steps and a "light" for our path (cf. Ps 119:105). Christians, then, knew that in Christ, the Torah is present, the Word of God is present in him as Person. The Word of God is the true light that humanity needs. This Word is present in him, in the Son.

Psalm 19 had compared the Torah to the sun which manifests God's glory as it rises, for all the world to see. Christians understand: yes indeed, in the resurrection, the Son of God has emerged as the Light of the world. Christ is the great Light from which all life originates.

He enables us to recognize the glory of God from one end of the earth to the other. He points out our path. He is the Lord's day which, as it grows, is gradually spreading throughout the earth. Now, living with him and for him, we can live in the light.

Fire

At the Easter Vigil, the Church represents the mystery of the light of Christ in the sign of the Paschal candle, whose flame is both light and heat. The symbolism of light is connected with that of fire: radiance and heat, radiance and the transforming energy contained in the fire - truth and love go together. The Paschal candle burns, and is thereby consumed: Cross and resurrection are inseparable.

From the Cross, from the Son's self-giving, light is born, true radiance comes into the world. From the Paschal candle we all light our own candles, especially the newly baptized, for whom the light of Christ enters deeply into their hearts in this Sacrament. The early Church described Baptism as fotismos, as the Sacrament of illumination, as a communication of light, and linked it inseparably with the resurrection of Christ.

In Baptism, God says to the candidate: "Let there be light!" The candidate is brought into the light of Christ. Christ now divides the light from the darkness. In him we recognize what is true and what is false, what is radiance and what is darkness. With him, there wells up within us the light of truth, and we begin to understand.

On one occasion when Christ looked upon the people who had come to listen to him, seeking some guidance from him, he felt compassion for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd (cf. Mk 6:34). Amid the contradictory messages of that time, they did not know which way to turn.

What great compassion he must feel in our own time too - on account of all the endless talk that people hide behind, while in reality they are totally confused. Where must we go? What are the values by which we can order our lives? The values by which we can educate our young, without giving them norms they may be unable to resist, or demanding of them things that perhaps should not be imposed upon them? He is the Light.

The baptismal candle is the symbol of enlightenment that is given to us in Baptism. Thus at this hour, Saint Paul speaks to us with great immediacy. In the Letter to the Philippians, he says that, in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, Christians should shine as lights in the world (cf. Phil 2:15). Let us pray to the Lord that the fragile flame of the candle he has lit in us, the delicate light of his word and his love amid the confusions of this age, will not be extinguished in us, but will become ever stronger and brighter, so that we, with him, can be people of the day, bright stars lighting up our time.

Water

The second symbol of the Easter Vigil - the night of Baptism - is water. It appears in Sacred Scripture, and hence also in the inner structure of the Sacrament of Baptism, with two opposed meanings. On the one hand there is the sea, which appears as a force antagonistic to life on earth, continually threatening it; yet God has placed a limit upon it.

Hence the book of Revelation says that in God's new world, the sea will be no more (cf. 21:1). It is the element of death. And so it becomes the symbolic representation of Jesus' death on the Cross: Christ descended into the sea, into the waters of death, as Israel did into the Red Sea. Having risen from death, he gives us life. This means that Baptism is not only a cleansing, but a new birth: with Christ we, as it were, descend into the sea of death, so as to rise up again as new creatures.

The other way in which we encounter water is in the form of the fresh spring that gives life, or the great river from which life comes forth. According to the earliest practice of the Church, Baptism had to be administered with water from a fresh spring. Without water there is no life. It is striking how much importance is attached to wells in Sacred Scripture. They are places from which life rises forth.

Beside Jacob's well, Christ spoke to the Samaritan woman of the new well, the water of true life. He reveals himself to her as the new, definitive Jacob, who opens up for humanity the well that is awaited: the inexhaustible source of life-giving water (cf. Jn 4:5-15). Saint John tells us that a soldier with a lance struck the side of Jesus, and from his open side - from his pierced heart - there came out blood and water (cf. Jn 19:34).

The early Church saw in this a symbol of Baptism and Eucharist flowing from the pierced heart of Jesus. In his death, Jesus himself became the spring. The prophet Ezekiel saw a vision of the new Temple from which a spring issues forth that becomes a great life-giving river (cf. Ezek 47:1-12).

In a land which constantly suffered from drought and water shortage, this was a great vision of hope. Nascent Christianity understood: in Christ, this vision was fulfilled. He is the true, living Temple of God. He is the spring of living water. From him, the great river pours forth, which in Baptism renews the world and makes it fruitful; the great river of living water, his Gospel which makes the earth fertile.

In a discourse during the Feast of Tabernacles, though, Jesus prophesied something still greater: "Whoever believes in me out of his heart shall flow rivers of living water" (Jn 7:38). In Baptism, the Lord makes us not only persons of light, but also sources from which living water bursts forth. We all know people like that, who leave us somehow refreshed and renewed; people who are like a fountain of fresh spring water.

We do not necessarily have to think of great saints like Augustine, Francis of Assisi, Teresa of Avila, Mother Teresa of Calcutta and so on, people through whom rivers of living water truly entered into human history. Thanks be to God, we find them constantly even in our daily lives: people who are like a spring. Certainly, we also know the opposite: people who spread around themselves an atmosphere like a stagnant pool of stale, or even poisoned water. Let us ask the Lord, who has given us the grace of Baptism, for the gift always to be sources of pure, fresh water, bubbling up from the fountain of his truth and his love!

The Alleluia

The third great symbol of the Easter Vigil is something rather different; it has to do with man himself. It is the singing of the new song - the alleluia. When a person experiences great joy, he cannot keep it to himself. He has to express it, to pass it on. But what happens when a person is touched by the light of the resurrection, and thus comes into contact with Life itself, with Truth and Love? He cannot merely speak about it. Speech is no longer adequate. He has to sing.

The first reference to singing in the Bible comes after the crossing of the Red Sea. Israel has risen out of slavery. It has climbed up from the threatening depths of the sea. It is as it were reborn. It lives and it is free. The Bible describes the people's reaction to this great event of salvation with the verse: "The people believed in the Lord and in Moses his servant" (Ex 14:31).

Then comes the second reaction which, with a kind of inner necessity, follows from the first one: "Then Moses and the Israelites sang this song to the Lord " At the Easter Vigil, year after year, we Christians intone this song after the third reading, we sing it as our song, because we too, through God's power, have been drawn forth from the water and liberated for true life.

There is a surprising parallel to the story of Moses' song after Israel's liberation from Egypt upon emerging from the Red Sea, namely in the Book of Revelation of Saint John. Before the beginning of the seven last plagues imposed upon the earth, the seer has a vision of something "like a sea of glass mingled with fire; and those who had conquered the beast and its image and the number of its name, standing beside the sea of glass with harps of God in their hands.

And they sing the song of Moses, the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb " (Rev 15:2f.). This image describes the situation of the disciples of Jesus Christ in every age, the situation of the Church in the history of this world. Humanly speaking, it is self-contradictory. On the one hand, the community is located at the Exodus, in the midst of the Red Sea, in a sea which is paradoxically ice and fire at the same time. And must not the Church, so to speak, always walk on the sea, through the fire and the cold? Humanly speaking, she ought to sink.

But while she is still walking in the midst of this Red Sea, she sings - she intones the song of praise of the just: the song of Moses and of the Lamb, in which the Old and New Covenants blend into harmony. While, strictly speaking, she ought to be sinking, the Church sings the song of thanksgiving of the saved. She is standing on history's waters of death and yet she has already risen. Singing, she grasps at the Lord's hand, which holds her above the waters.

And she knows that she is thereby raised outside the force of gravity of death and evil - a force from which otherwise there would be no way of escape - raised and drawn into the new gravitational force of God, of truth and of love. At present she is still between the two gravitational fields.

But once Christ is risen, the gravitational pull of love is stronger than that of hatred; the force of gravity of life is stronger than that of death. Perhaps this is actually the situation of the Church in every age? It always seems as if she ought to be sinking, and yet she is always already saved.

Saint Paul illustrated this situation with the words: "We are as dying, and behold we live" (2 Cor 6:9). The Lord's saving hand holds us up, and thus we can already sing the song of the saved, the new song of the risen ones: alleluia! Amen.

Friday, January 17, 2014

HELL

"HERE YOU SEE HELL..."

As Our Lady spoke, she opened her lovely hands, disclosing beneath a sea of fire; and plunged in this fire were the demons and the souls, as if they were red-hot coals, transparent and black or bronze colored; with human forms, which floated about in the conflagration, borne by the flames which issued from it with great clouds of smoke, falling on all sides as sparks fall in great conflagrations -- without weight or equilibrium, among shrieks and groans of sorrow and despair which horrify and cause to shudder with fear.

The devils were distinguished by horrible and loathsome forms of animals frightful and unknown, but transparent like black coals that have turned red-hot.

"Here you see Hell, where the souls of poor sinners go," she said at length. "To save them God wishes to establish in the world the devotion to my Immaculate Heart. If they do what I will tell you, many souls will be saved, and there will be peace.
For many years now, the Modernists have been busy suppressing the doctrine of Hell and eternal punishment. Despite Our Lady's warnings at Fatima, they have succeeded, for the most part, in convincing lax Catholics that they "mustn't frighten the children by talking about Hell". Now the Modernist notion that Hell is merely a bad state of soul is quite common.
Obviously the words and actions of the Mother of God do not fall in with the Modernist ideal, for she, who is the Seat of Wisdom, not only talked about Hell to the three young shepherds, but actually showed them its inhabitants the demons and the damned. True, the children were frightened, and greatly so, but it was with that healthy fear which produced salutary effects in their souls -- amendment of life, zeal for the conversion of sinners, and detachment from worldly pleasures. It is of the utmost importance for us to produce these effects in our souls, by frequent and serious meditation upon the teachings of the Church and her theologians concerning the eternal punishment of the damned.

St. Alphonsus tells us that the Last Things ought to be among the principal subjects of our meditations: "He who often meditates on the four last things -- namely, death, judgement, and the eternity of Hell and Paradise, will not fall into sin. But these truths are not seen with the eye of the body, the soul only perceives them. If they are not meditated on, they vanish from the mind; and then the pleasures of the senses present themselves, and those who do not keep before themselves the eternal truths are easily taken up by them; and this is the reason why so many abandon themselves to vice, and are damned."

Let us consider first the pain of sense. Theologians tell us that all the senses and powers of the damned shall have their appropriate torment; and the more a person has offended God in any particular sense, so much the more shall he be tormented in that sense: "By what things a man sinneth, by the same also he is tormented" (Wisdom 11:17). St. Basil explains that the sight will be tormented by darkness: "The Lord will divide the fire from the light, so that this fire will only perform the office of burning, and not of giving light." St. Thomas says that there will only be sufficient light allowed to to the damned to torment them the more: "Just sufficient to see those things which can torment them."

As for smell, St. Bonaventure says that if the body of one of the damned were driven from Hell, the stench would be enough to destroy all men. And yet some fools say: "If I go to Hell, I shall not be alone." Miserable beings! the more there are in Hell, the more they suffer.

The hearing shall be tormented by the continual howling and wailing of those despairing wretches. The appetite shall be tormented by hunger: "They shall suffer hunger as dogs" (Psalms 58:15): but never shall they taste even a crumb of bread. So great will be their thirst, that the water of the ocean would not suffice to quench it. The glutton asked for one single drop; but never yet has he obtained it, and never, never shall he have it.

Sacred Scripture repeatedly makes mention of the fires of Hell, which shall be the greatest of the pains of sense: "Depart from Me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire" (Matthew 25:41). The fire of this world is created for our use; but the fire of Hell is created by God expressly to torment. St. Vincent Ferrer says that in comparison with it, our fire is cold. Moreover, the damned shall be sent into the fire; he will be in fire like a fish in water. His body will become all fire, so that the bowels within him will burn, his heart will burn in his bosom, his brain in his head, his blood in his veins, even the marrow in his bones: "Thou shalt make them as an oven of fire."

Abbot Marmion says, furthermore, that the lost soul is given over to the power of the demons. "In Hell, where the damned, abandoned by God, are given entirely into their power, into this exterior darkness, the devils have free play. They cast themselves upon their prey to plague them without respite, to inflict upon them indescribable evils."

But all these pains are as nothing in comparison with the pain of loss; the pain that makes Hell is the pain of having lost God. Abbot Marmion explains it: "The damned soul is torn by two forces: its nature tends, with irresistible passion, towards God, the last end for which it was created, and on the other side, its will, fixed in opposition, rejects God, blasphemes Him and finds its satisfaction in this aversion. Who can describe the torture of this despair?" And St. Thomas says: "The pain of the damned is infinite, because it is the loss of an infinite good."

On account of this eternal loss, the damned prey on themselves by remorse. Have we then, will they say, for such trifling, transitory, and poisonous gratifications, lost Heaven and God, and condemned ourselves to this prison of torments forever? St. Alphonsus tells us: "In many ways will conscience gnaw the heart of the reprobate; but the three most grievous things will be, to reflect upon the trifles for which they have lost their souls; the little they were required to do to be saved; and finally, the great good they have lost."

The eternity of Hell is of faith; it is not a simple opinion, but a truth attested to by God in so many places in Scripture: "And these shall go into everlasting punishment" (Matthew 25:46). "What madness would it be in a man", exclaims St. Alphonsus, "Who, in order to enjoy one day of amusement, should condemn himself to be shut up in a pit for twenty or thirty years! But it is not a question of thirty, of a hundred, of a thousand, nor of a hundred thousand years; it is a question of eternity, of suffering forever the same torments."

A devil who dwelt in one obsessed, being asked how long he would have to remain in Hell, replied, in a rage, beating his hand against a chair, "Forever, forever!" So great was the terror thus inspired, that many youths of the Roman Seminary, who were there present, made a general confession, and changed their lives at this great sermon of two words -- "forever, forever!" Another devil was asked, since when had he been in Hell, and he replied, "Yesterday -- yesterday!" They exclaimed, "Thou hast been damned for above five thousand years, and thou sayest yesterday!" Again he replied: "Oh, if you did but know what eternity means, you would well understand that five thousand years are, by comparison, not even a moment."

Blessed shall we be, if after these considerations we reap the fruits of zeal for souls, patience, contrition for our sins, amendment of life, and perseverance in the True Faith. St. Teresa tells us of her vision of Hell: "I am not afraid to repeat that this is one of the most exceptional graces that the Lord has granted to me. It has been of the utmost profit to me." We too, if we realize the terrors of Hell, shall profit and shall make use of the means of salvation.

St. Alphonsus exhorts us, "Pray, pray, never cease to pray; for if you pray, your salvation will be secure; but if you leave off praying, your damnation will be certain." And let it be far from us to ignore the plea of Our Blessed Mother Herself, at Fatima: "Pray -- pray very much. Make sacrifices for sinners. Many souls go to Hell because no one is willing to make sacrifices for them."
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Sunday, January 12, 2014

POPE BENEDICT ON PURGATORY

Everyone will end up in either heaven or hell. But many who die in God's friendship are still entangled with sin in some way at the time of their deaths. God will purify these people. They will experience the final purification that the Church calls "purgatory." Here are seven things former Pope Benedict wanted you to know about it.

1. Jewish Roots

"This early Jewish idea of an intermediate state [between our death and resurrection] includes the view that these souls are not simply in a sort of temporary custody but, as the parable of the rich man illustrates, are already being punished or are experiencing a provisional form of bliss. There is also the idea that this state can involve purification and healing which mature the soul for communion with God. The early Church took up these concepts, and in the western church they gradually developed into the doctrine of purgatory."

2. Who Needs Purifying?

"With death, our life-choice becomes definitive--our life stands before the Judge. Our choice, which in the course of an entire life takes on a certain shape, can have a variety of forms."

While some may be totally closed in on themselves in selfishness and evil and while others may be totally open to God, "for the great majority of people--we may suppose--there remains in the depths of their being an ultimate interior openness to truth, to love, to God. In the concrete choices of life, however, it is covered over by ever new compromises with evil--much filth covers purity, but the thirst for purity remains, and it still constantly re-emerges from all that is base and remains present in the soul."

While some may be totally closed in on themselves in selfishness and evil and while others may be totally open to God, "for the great majority of people--we may suppose--there remains in the depths of their being an ultimate interior openness to truth, to love, to God. In the concrete choices of life, however, it is covered over by ever new compromises with evil--much filth covers purity, but the thirst for purity remains, and it still constantly re-emerges from all that is base and remains present in the soul."

3. Scriptural Basis

St. Paul "begins by saying that Christian life is built upon a common foundation: Jesus Christ. This foundation endures. If we have stood firm on this foundation and built our life upon it, we know that it cannot be taken away from us even in death.

"Then Paul continues: 'Now if any one builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw--each man's work will become manifest; for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. If the work which any man has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. If any man's work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire' (1 Cor. 3:12-15).

"In this text, it is in any case evident that our salvation can take different forms, that some of what is built may be burned down, that in order to be saved we personally have to pass through 'fire' so as to become fully open to receiving God and able to take our place at the table of the eternal marriage-feast."

4. What Purgatory's Fire Might Be

St. Paul uses "images which in some way try to express the invisible, without it being possible for us to conceptualize these images--simply because we can neither see into the world beyond death nor do we have any experience of it."

"Some recent theologians are of the opinion that the fire which both burns and saves is Christ himself, the Judge and Savior. The encounter with him is the decisive act of judgment. Before his gaze all falsehood melts away. This encounter with him, as it burns us, transforms and frees us, allowing us to become truly ourselves. All that we build during our lives can prove to be mere straw, pure bluster, and it collapses. Yet in the pain of this encounter, when the impurity and sickness of our lives become evident to us, there lies salvation."

5. Will It Hurt?

"His gaze, the touch of his heart, heals us through an undeniably painful transformation 'as through fire.' But it is a blessed pain, in which the holy power of his love sears through us like a flame, enabling us to become totally ourselves and thus totally of God. In this way the interrelation between justice and grace also becomes clear: The way we live our lives is not immaterial, but our defilement does not stain us forever if we have at least continued to reach out towards Christ, towards truth, and towards love. Indeed, it has already been burned away through Christ's Passion. At the moment of judgment we experience and we absorb the overwhelming power of his love over all the evil in the world and in ourselves. The pain of love becomes our salvation and our joy."

6. Helping Those Being Purified

"Early Jewish thought includes the idea that one can help the deceased in their intermediate state through prayer (see, for example, 2 Macc. 12:38-45; first century B.C.). The equivalent practice was readily adopted by Christians and is common to the Eastern and Western Church."

by Jimmy Akin

"The souls of the departed can, however, receive 'solace and refreshment' through the Eucharist, prayer, and almsgiving. The belief that love can reach into the afterlife, that reciprocal giving and receiving is possible, in which our affection for one another continues beyond the limits of death--this has been a fundamental conviction of Christianity throughout the ages and it remains a source of comfort today. Who would not feel the need to convey to their departed loved ones a sign of kindness, a gesture of gratitude, or even a request for pardon?"

"In the interconnectedness of Being, my gratitude to the other--my prayer for him--can play a small part in his purification. And for that there is no need to convert earthly time into God's time: in the communion of souls simple terrestrial time is superseded. It is never too late to touch the heart of another, nor is it ever in vain."

7. Learning More

The above quotations are taken from Pope Benedict's encyclical on Christian hope, Spe Salvi. There are more things he would like you to know about purgatory, though, so be sure to check out sections 45-48 of the document.

You can read it online here.

Also, if I may make my own small contribution to the discussion, I've written a book that deals with the subject of salvation more broadly and which goes into greater detail on the scriptural underpinnings of the Church's teaching on purgatory, indulgences, etc. The book is called The Salvation Controversy, and I hope you'll get a copy.

ORDER YOUR COPY OF THE SALVATION CONTROVERSY TODAY!

Pope Benedict's Big Surprise! (Hint: About St. Paul)

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

HEALING YOUR PAINFUL MEMORIES

by M. Elaine Dillhunt, O.S.B.

A husband walks out on wife and family, a drunken driver kills a child, a mother mistreats her children, an uncle sexually abuses a young niece, a teenager insults her mother. Someday all these events will likely become the material of memories that need healing.

We are all hurt as we journey through this life. Sometimes we are able to let go of the hurts, no matter how severe. At other times, we hold on to them and let them blot out the joy and beauty of other life experiences. The unfaithfulness of a spouse, the injustice of an employer, the abuse of a parent, the rejection by a friend are examples of hurts that can cling and sting years after they're experienced.

A 20-year-old woman says, "A teacher gave me an F once on a test because she thought I'd cheated. Years later I saw her and very deliberately and with pleasure snubbed her." A middle-aged man says, "I saw the guy who fired me 20 years after it happened and I wanted to punch him in the nose."

A 60-year-old widow says, "I never forgave my mother for being drunk all the time while we were growing up. I left home when I was 18 and never saw her again even though I heard later that she had quit drinking."

Why try to heal life's hurts?

To continue carrying hurts is to choose to continue to hurt. Just as we would seek help and healing immediately if we suffered a gunshot wound or a dog bite, we need to seek healing when we suffer equivalent wounds to our emotions. Not doing so can damage our spiritual, emotional and even physical well-being. Holding on to hurts is like carrying red-hot coals inside us that can be fanned into flames at the least expected moment.

Jesus tells us to let go of our grudges and do good to those who hate us. Psychologists today give us similar advice. They tell us that we have the power to lighten the burdens we carry and that forgiving is one way of doing that.

Some medical scientists say that feeding the wounds of emotional hurts precipitates heart disease, cancer, digestive problems, high blood pressure and mental breakdown. Some doctors see a link between cancer and the tendency to hold resentment and nurse hurts.

Studies show that the human mind and the immune system are closely linked. If you are holding on to memories of hurtful—perhaps evil—experiences in your life, you could very well be hampering your body's ability to fight infection and disease (causing disease in the body's normal functioning).

Our spiritual lives are affected too when we allow past hurts to be part of who we are. Because people have hurt us, we keep our distance from those who could love us—and from those who need our love. When hurts are not healed, we find it difficult to see Christ in those around us and to be Christ for those around us. Relationships are overshadowed with memories of past hurts and, in blocking relationships with others, we block Christ who wants to relate to us through others.

Each of the Church's sacraments begins with a brief rite of reconciliation; unless we are reconciled (healed), the sacrament cannot be fully effective.

In this Update we offer you seven suggestions for the healing of those memories that keep you from living life fully today.

1) Admit that you hurt.

Often it's hard to admit we're hurting. "I'm O.K.," we stoically tell ourselves. "She can't hurt me," we tell others, and "Big boys and girls don't cry."

Admitting you're hurting is one of the first steps toward healing. Running away from pain is the source of all emotional illness, says M. Scott Peck in The Road Less Traveled. To be emotionally healthy, we must embrace the pain of life's hurts.

"The more we are in touch with reality and cope with it, no matter how painful it may be," says Father Martin Padovani (in Healing Wounded Emotions), "the better mental and emotional well-being we enjoy...."

Jesus says, "Pick up your cross and follow me." The hurts of our life are crosses to pick up, to face and to embrace. Denying our hurt feelings is the way to give them control over us and our behavior.

Part of taking a realistic look at our hurt is looking at the "payoff" we get from holding on to it. Does it allow us to maintain a false "poor me" stance? Is it a protective shield saying, "Don't touch; I'm fragile"? Is it a way of escaping the risks of ever loving again?

A friend once told me, "If I let go of the anger and bitterness that have filled me for so long, I'm afraid there will be nothing left but an empty shell. That anger is all I have to let me know I'm alive."

But the wisdom Jesus offers us is that, when we let go of hurts, there's something better that can fill the void—something that is life-giving and sustaining. lt's what sustained him when people he loved turned away, when those he trusted betrayed him, when he hung alone on the cross. It's God's healing, unconditional, overflowing love for each of us.

2) Know you are loved.

The second step in healing a hurt is becoming aware of how much you are loved. Dennis and Matthew Linn, who have coauthored eight books on healing life's hurts, conduct healing retreats and workshops all over the country. Before one of their retreats in the Midwest recently, I talked with them about their personal experiences with healing and what they tell others as they travel around the country.

Dennis Linn is convinced that we can face hurts only to the extent that we feel loved. Oftentimes, he says, people have not allowed expressions of love to enter their awareness. "We have all been loved and cared for or we wouldn't be alive," he says. And we need to let these experiences soak in.

In my own personal experience, I have found that, if we have a day in which we get four or five affirmations and one cutting remark, most of us tend to remember (and feel hurt about) the cutting remark and forget the affirmations. Sometimes when I give workshops on human relations, I ask participants to recall and list some of the ways they've been loved, to experience again how it felt to be hugged by a grandson, or surprised by friends with a birthday party, or told, "I love you."

If we let the light of the realization that we are loved shine through the darkness of our hurts, we can begin to let go of the hurts. God values us "more than many sparrows," Scripture says, and carries us as an eagle carries its young. In love, God offers us Jesus in order to be united with us. As we let this awareness in, we allow new healing tissue to form around life's wounds. As we open our eyes to the many ways God's love is manifested in the life-giving beauty and events of our lives, and in the love that others have for us, we begin to risk living in a present awareness of love instead of with past hurts.

I sometimes think the primary task of this life is to become convinced of God's great love for us. Perhaps that's the resurrection, the rebirth that awaits us.

3) Don't automatically blame yourself for the things you suffer.

If Jesus taught us anything, he taught us that pain, suffering and death precede resurrection and freedom from pain. He was mocked, scourged, spit upon—through no fault of his own—and we can expect the same.

Some of our healing is dependent upon knowing that usually it's not our fault when tragedy strikes or when others hurt us. If we have enough self-esteem, we won't take on blame, for example, if another person treats us cruelly. I've found in my teaching experience that people hurt others because they've been hurt—usually by someone other than their victim. Pseudo-healers are all too quick to ask what you did to "cause" or incite the hurt. Feeling guilty about another's behavior or even about a health problem is not a way to heal your hurts—nor is telling yourself that you "shouldn't" feel hurt or angry.

It's O.K. to be angry at misfortune or with someone who has hurt you. When slapped by the guard of the high priest, Jesus confronted him for the injustice: "Why do you strike me?" (John 18:23). The Linn brothers say that feeling anger at being emotionally hurt is as healthy a reaction as feeling pain from a physical hurt. Those who love themselves, they say, get angry when they're hurt emotionally, whereas people who don't love themselves assume the passive victim role, get depressed and even suicidal. So it's helpful when you're hurting to remember that Jesus before you was an innocent victim and yet was not everybody's doormat.

4) Share your story of hurt.

Tell the story of your hurt in the warm presence of a trusted friend or a journeying companion as a way of healing the wounded emotion. In The Wounded Healer, Father Henri Nouwen describes the healing power of a person who knows what it's like to be hurt, a person who has been wounded. If you can tell your story to a "wounded healer" and allow yourself to be comforted by that person, it's another step toward letting go of it.

We all know some people who sound like a "broken record" as they neurotically repeat and relick their wounds. They may need to control this habit. Here, however, we are talking to those who don't share their hurts at all. If you are one of these, know that it is not healthy to keep it all inside.

The Sacrament of Reconciliation (Penance) fits beautifully into this picture. This sacrament is a source of healing grace for many Catholics and an opportunity to unload the pain of hurt. In telling our story to a priest, being repentant about our failure to forgive the one who offended us, and expressing a desire for reconciliation—even with those who may have died since they hurt us—we find healing. God's loving forgiveness of us expressed in this sacrament enables us to forgive those who have hurt us, to understand the pain that may have motivated their treatment (or mistreatment) of us, and to release finally the hurt that has enslaved us. By taking our hurt to this sacrament, we open the way for God to do the healing.

There are other ways of promoting healing by walking with trusted companions in a supportive climate. For example, more and more people today are finding peace of mind through spiritual direction or psychological counseling. Many rely on help in the form of psychotherapy or by joining support groups as a way of getting in touch with and healing their life's hurts. In cases where our hurts have been suppressed for a long time, it may be helpful to seek out a qualified therapist to help us bring them to consciousness so that healing can begin.

5) Turn to Jesus for healing.

For Christians, Jesus is the greatest healer we know and the most trustworthy friend we have. He is the healer of wounds par excellence. Throughout the Gospels we see him healing people over and over again. The physically, spiritually, emotionally wounded go to him for his healing touch, word, glance, prayer. "What do you want?" he asks.

"If you want to, you can heal me."

And Jesus answers, "Of course, I want to." Of course, Jesus wants to heal us: We have only to ask. Since he came that we might "have life and have it to the full," we are assured that he desires our healing.

When I go to Jesus for healing, I've found it effective first to share with him how I feel: how I hurt, how I may even harbor feelings of revenge, how awful it is carrying the hurt alone. Jesus does not judge or scold; he listens with compassion and empathy. When you use this method, you allow Jesus to hurt with you, to be angry at the sin with you.

Next, you go back to the experience of the hurt with Jesus at your side. Relive the terror, the fright, the confusion, the pain, the panic in Jesus' presence. Ask him to be with you as you experience the angry words, the aching heart, the dull stare of the hurt again. Walk through the agony with Jesus.

Then begin to listen to what he has to say to you. Review Jesus' own response to abuse and suffering. Perhaps he'll speak to you through Scripture; perhaps in the quiet of your heart. If you're open to his word, knowing that he is the great healer, Jesus will tell you what you need to know or do to be healed.

Once when I was using this method of healing and was at this stage, Jesus said, "You know I love you." That felt good. Then Jesus said, "And I love her, too" (the person who had hurt me).

"If you love the likes of her," I cried, "I don't want your love." I thus became aware of how hard it is at times for me to forgive.

Sometimes Jesus needs to make us aware of our own sinfulness before he can heal us. This was an opportunity for me to remember how much God loves me—even when I'm at my worst. In so doing, I came to forgive the person who had hurt me.

6) Be patient and persistent.

Healing takes time. We need to have the persistence of the Canaanite woman whom Jesus first ignored and then refused to respond to after her plea to heal her daughter (Matthew 15:21-28). She wouldn't take no for an answer and through a mixture of wit and boldness convinced Jesus to heal the child. Or consider the patience of the blind man (Mark 8:22-26), whom Jesus asked after his initial attempt to heal him: "Do you see anything?"

"I see people looking like trees and walking."

Jesus' second laying on of hands restored his sight completely.

Or emulate the humility of Peter. Three times he answered Jesus' question, "Do you love me, Peter?" (John 21:15-17) until his endurance paid off.

Sometimes Jesus might want us to take a more active role—more responsibility—for our own healing as in the story of the man born blind (John 9). "He wants me to go wash in the pool of Siloam? What kind of healer is this?" the man must have asked himself. But he did what Jesus said and was healed.

I find that sometimes by hanging in there and letting go of little hurts it becomes easier to let go of the big ones. Once I prayed and prayed to be free of a hurtful memory with seemingly no results. Then I experienced a lesser hurt for which I was planning retaliation. When the opportunity came, I chose instead to speak a kind word to the person who had hurt me. Soon after that I realized I had been healed of the hurt I'd been carrying for years.

Proverbs (25:22) tells us we can heap red-hot coals on our enemies' heads by loving them. A student of mine once interpreted this as an invitation to vengeance. "By being nice to the people who have hurt me I'll make them squirm," he said. "I'll make them sorry they ever hurt me."

I think, rather, we "destroy" the enemy in the sense that we no longer have an enemy when we remove the self-diminishing red-hot coals of hatred and bitterness we've carried for so long. The rest of the passage from Proverbs says, "And the Lord will reward you." The Lord rewards loving behavior, not vengeance.

Because it's not always easy to let go of deep-seated feelings or grudges, it's good to recall that love is often a decision more than a feeling. We can make decisions that transcend our feelings and trust that in time our feelings will fall in line.

"How can we love someone who has hurt us?" we ask. If we behave as if we love the person, says spiritual writer Father John Powell, someday we'll discover that we do love them. By behaving as if we love our enemy (even though all the while we may be remembering the hurt), someday we'll discover that we have been healed.

7) Discover the healing power of centering prayer.

Another action that can heal hurts is of a very different nature—a more passive yet intense kind of action. It is to practice the kind of prayer in which we let go of everything (words, thoughts, prayer techniques, images, everything) and simply go very quietly to the center of our being where God is. In this healing prayer we are simply aware of our oneness with God. It's called centering prayer. Father Thomas Keating says there are some hurts that are so deep that only this kind of prayer can heal them.

Keating uses the analogy of a surgeon putting us to sleep to fix what needs fixing. So God uses centering prayer (in which we are so unaware of anything except the nearness of God that it's similar to sleep) to heal some of our deepest—perhaps even unconscious—hurts.

As we put aside all hurts, concerns, hopes, fears, joys, plans, thoughts and feelings, we are in intimate union with God and God's healing presence at the core of our being. If we take the time (perhaps 20 minutes once or twice a day) to be with God in this kind of "centering" prayer, we will find that our life is happier, our burdens are lighter, our hurts are healed.

How do you know when you're healed?

Most spiritual writers say that when you are grateful for the experience that hurt you, you know that you're healed. Not that you would ever be grateful for the untimely death of a child or for having suffered physical abuse, but, rather, you are grateful for the growth, the greater capacity to love and understand and to feel with others.

When you can think of the hurt with feelings of gratitude, peace and even joy rather than with feelings of anger and pain, you know you are healed. "When we can forgive our offender as completely and unconditionally as God forgives us, then we no longer experience the past hurts as painful times but as times of growth," say the Linn brothers in their book Healing Life's Hurts.

God brings good out of evil: We know that from the life of Jesus. God is waiting and wanting to bring good out of the hurt you've experienced.

Forgetting is not one of the signs of being healed. You may be healed of the hurt, but still remember it. Whoever said that "to forgive is to forget" was oversimplifying.

We need to remember. To remember our pain and healing is to remember that God brings good out of evil. Remembering helps us know we really are capable of loving our enemies. Remembering puts us in contact, again, with the healing Jesus. We want to exchange these Spirit-filled memories for the destructive memories that kept the hurting wound open. Embracing these new memories is like embracing the risen Jesus who tells us that after the pain there's new life.

M. Elaine Dillhunt, O.S.B., is a Benedictine from St. Walburg Monastery in Covington, Kentucky. She has been writing for the Catholic press for more than 10 years. She teaches in the Communications Department at Northern Kentucky University.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

RAGING AGAINST GOD

One thing that happens frequently is an individual begins to rage against God when something unexpectedly painful and unjust occurs. Commonly, when someone whom one loves is tragically taken because of accident or illness, the surviving spouse or family member begins to become angry at God. Some even lose their faith that God exists. Typically, the thought, “Why would God let this happen?” is raised with vigor.

The usual answer that is given is, “God doesn’t make bad things happen. We humans have free will and choose things that lead to death and pain. Look at the Garden of Eden and what happpened there.”

This answer usually ends up only upsetting the grieving person even more, even though there is truth to it. The person is angry at God and sees death as an act of omission by God who, if he is all-good, would never allow such tragedy to occur. Often, that is as far as the conversation goes, with no resolution for either party.

The problem here is in our understanding of God, who he is and how he is. This is exactly why God as Trinity is so important to consider. Three Persons, one God. One of those persons, Jesus Christ the Son of God, assumed human nature and became irrevocably one of us. Not only that, he chose death out of love for us, and his death was tragic. His Father did not prevent it. The Father, instead, cried in grief and loved intensely for the Father and the Son and the Spirit, one God in eternal communion and relationship, never separated but worked in all ways together. In his death, Jesus, God the Son, did not rage against his all-loving Father but embraced his Love for him and for all the world. The Father and the Spirit, one God, rejoiced it the love of Jesus’ sacrfice.

The reason we humans often rage against God when we experience tragedy is because our pain keeps us from recognizing God’s never-ending presence in our lives and his willingness to share our pain. Pain can blind us to God’s presence. It is pain that we see. It is a thick curtain, a foggy mirror, an eclipse of the sun, that will rob us of our vision if we allow it.
Those who rage against God in their grief don’t need theological truth as much as they need recognition of their pain and a human presence in its midst that will lead them back to faith, to clear vision, to another experience of God in their lives.

Some times, this takes years. May God assist all of us who minister to them. This entry was posted in General Interest on August 29, 2012.

Monday, December 16, 2013

THE UNFORGIVABLE SIN

by James Akin

“[A] blind and dumb demoniac was brought to him, and he healed him, so that the dumb man spoke and saw. And all the people were amazed, and said, ‘Can this be the Son of David?’ But when the Pharisees heard it they said, ‘It is only by Beelzebul, the prince of demons, that this man casts out demons.’

“Knowing their thoughts, he said to them, ‘Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, and no city or house divided against itself will stand; and if Satan casts out Satan, he is divided against himself; how then will his kingdom stand?

“‘And if I cast out demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your sons cast them out? Therefore they shall be your judges. But if it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.

“‘Or how can one enter a strong man’s house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man? Then indeed he may plunder his house.

“‘He who is not with me is against me, and he who does not gather with me scatters. Therefore I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven men, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. And whoever says a word against the Son of man will be forgiven; but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come” (Matthew 12:22-32).

  The unforgivable sin is a scary thing. It is so scary that in the Summa Theologiae Aquinas devoted a special question with four articles to this form of blasphemy alone. Today virtually every Christian counseling manual contains a chapter on the sin to help counselors deal with patients who are terrified that they have already or might sometime commit this sin.

Unfortunately, much of the things one reads in Protestant literature on this subject is way off base. My favorite idiotic reading of Jesus’ discussion of the unforgivable sin is one which says that no one today can commit the unforgivable sin because this sin was to attribute the work of Jesus to demons and no Christian can do this since Jesus is no longer on earth. Aside from the fact that Jesus explicitly says in the very same verse that every blasphemy against him will be forgiven (Matt. 12:32a). However, it is more obviously false because Jesus does not have to be on earth to attribute his work to demons.

While most interpretations of the passage do not go to the extreme of saying that nobody today can commit the sin, many American Protestant readings (at least those written by Calvinists and Baptists) make the mistake of assuming that no Christian can commit the sin. This is because the authors of these interpretations are theologically boxed in to saying that no true Christian can lose his salvation. This is, of course, a grotesquely unbiblical view. However, this need not detain us because even though they have mistakenly assumed no Christian can commit the unforgivable sin, they have correctly identified its nature — final impenitence.

The identification of the unforgivable sin as final impenitence — dying in a state of unrepentance — can be shown to go back at least to the time of Augustine. In fact, in the Summa Aquinas gives a nice little catalogue of Augustine’s passages dealing with the subject:

“Augustine says . . . (Enchiridion lxxxiii) that ‘he who dies in a state of obstinacy is guilty of the sin against the Holy Ghost,’ and (De Verb. Dom., Serm. lxxi) that ‘impenitence is a sin against the Holy Ghost,’ and (De Serm. Dom. in Monte xxii), that ‘to resist fraternal goodness with the brands of envy is to sin against the Holy Ghost,’ and in his book De unico Baptismo (De Bap. contra Donat. vi, 35) he says that ‘a man who spurns the truth, is either envious of his brethren to whom the truth is revealed, or ungrateful to God, by Whose inspiration the Church is taught,’ and therefore, seemingly, sins against the Holy Ghost” (ST 2b:14:2, Sed Contra).

This interpretation of the text is shown by an exegesis of the text in question. Matthew’s account of the saying is the longest and most detailed and, consequently, the one which elaborates this scary doctrine the most and the one which should be used as the basis for interpretation.

In Matthew 12, Jesus’ opponents among the Pharisees try to refute the people’s speculation that Jesus might be the Messiah (v 23) by suggesting he is casting out demons with Satan’s permission–that he is doing pretend exorcisms in order to play a demonic hoax on the people and lead them to falsely believe he is the Messiah. Jesus refutes this charge in vv 25-29.

Beelzebul is another form of the name Baal-Zebul (“Prince Baal”), one of the names of the ancient pagan god Baal. Earlier, Jews had mocked Baal-Zebul by referring to him as Baal-Zebub (“Baal Fly” or, less literally, “Lord of the flies”). He is referred to in the Old Testament as the God of the city of Ekron (2Ki 1:6, 16). Here he is presented as the prince of demons. It was a common belief among Jews and Christians that pagan gods were actually demons masquerading as divinities.

In response, Jesus makes a series of statements, of which only one deals with the blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. First he says:

“Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, and no city or house divided against itself will stand; and if Satan casts out Satan, he is divided against himself; how then will his kingdom stand?” (12:25-26).

Jesus’ first argument for why he is not casting out demons by Satan is that it would pit Satan’s own forces against himself and tear apart his kingdom of darkness. Satan and his demons are psychologically incapable of voluntarily letting go a person they have possessed. Only God’s grace will deliver such a person. If Satan were to order a demon to strategically remove from a person, his kingdom would be torn apart by civil war. Jesus’ critics are therefore ignorant of the psychology of demons.

For his second statement, Jesus says:

“And if I cast out demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your sons cast them out? Therefore they shall be your judges. But if it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you” (12:27-28).

Here Jesus acknowledges that some Jews in his day had the power to exorcise demons, however Jesus’ own exorcisms were greater since he was able to cast out spirits of dumbness, which Jews were not able to do (9:32-33) since part of the Jewish exorcism involved getting the demon’s name and using it to drive him out, and of course a spirit of dumbness would not/could not give its name. Jesus, however, could do this surprising feat, as this passage indicates (12:22). Thus if Jesus’ miracles are greater than those of the Jews and his opponents reject the greater miracles, they will have to reject the lesser ones also (a fortiori). Jesus’ opponents are thus in the dilemma of either having to deny the validity of their sons’ exorcisms or acknowledging that in Jesus and his exorcisms the kingdom of God has arrived. Thus the members of their own group will condemn them on judgment day for not recognizing the godly exorcisms performed in their midst.

For Jesus’ third argument, Jesus states:

“Or how can one enter a strong man’s house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man? Then indeed he may plunder his house” (12:29)

Jesus presents himself as plundering the house of “the strong man” (Satan) be delivering those who are in the power of the devil. But in order to plunder Satan’s house, it is first necessary to bind Satan in such a way that he cannot stop people from being delivered from his clutches. Thus, while Satan may still be active in some ways, he is bound in such a way that he cannot stop Jesus’ ministry of exorcism.

Jesus thus shows he cannot be driving out demons by Satan’s permission, because Satan would never permit his captives to be stolen from him if he were able to stop it. He regards them as his property and would use force to keep them from being taken from him, just as any homeowner would protect his belongings, but Jesus is too strong for him and is able to powerfully deliver them from satanic oppression.

The parable of the strong man is also applicable to evangelism, and this is the theme brought out by Jesus’ next statement:

“He who is not with me is against me, and he who does not gather with me scatters. Therefore I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven men, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. And whoever says a word against the Son of man will be forgiven; but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come.” (12:30-32)

Much of the confusion over the blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is caused by the fact that people do not recognize that this statement is only one in a series that Jesus makes and because they do not recognize that it begins with the word “therefore,” which connects it to the preceding statement. In fact, the connective force between 12:30 and 12:31 is stronger than “therefore.” In Greek, Jesus says, dia touto or “through this.” This is even more forceful in relating v. 30 to v. 31. He gives the general statement about the necessity to ally oneself with him or else be decisively separated from him and then says, “through this I tell you that you won’t be forgiven . . . ”

In the preceding verse, Jesus asserts (v 30) that one must ally with him or be opposed to him and “through this” he tells us (v 31) that the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. Blaspheming the Spirit is thus a failure to repent and ally oneself with Jesus. Since this can always be done during one’s life (cf. 20:1-15), blasphemy against the Holy Spirit must be a final refusal to repent, or final impenitence.

Thus the official stand of the Catholic Church’s, following Augustine and a whole host of subsequent moral theologians, is that the blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is final impenitence. Pope John Paul II writes:

“Against the background of what has been said so far, certain other words of Jesus, shocking and disturbing ones, become easier to understand. . . . They are reported for us by the Synoptics in connection with a particular sin which is called ‘blasphemy against the Holy Spirit.’ . . . Why is blasphemy against the Holy Spirit unforgivable? How should this blasphemy be understood? Saint Thomas Aquinas replies that it is a question of a sin that is ‘unforgivable by its very nature, insofar as it excludes the elements through which the forgiveness of sin takes place’ (ST 2b:14:3). According to such an exegesis, ‘blasphemy’ does not properly consist in offending against the Holy Spirit in words; it consists rather in the refusal to accept the salvation which God offers to man through the Holy Spirit, working through the power of the Cross. If man rejects the ‘convincing concerning sin’ which comes from the Holy Spirit and which has the power to save, he also rejects the ‘coming’ of the Counsellor . . . If Jesus says that blasphemy against the Holy Spirit cannot be forgiven either in this life or in the next, it is because this ‘non-forgiveness’ is linked, as to its cause, to ‘non-repentance’, in other words to the radical refusal to be converted. . . . Blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, then, is the sin committed by the person who claims to have a ‘right’ to persist in evil–in any sin at all . . . [T]he Church constantly implores with the greatest fervor that there will be no increase in the world of the sin that the Gospel calls ‘blasphemy against the Holy Spirit.’ Rather, she prays that it will decrease in human souls” (Encyclical Letter Dominum et Vivificantem ["The Lord and Giver of Life"] 46-47).

With this in mind, let us look at a couple of verses in Hebrews that are often thought (wrongly) to pertain to the blasphemy against the Holy Spirit — Hebrews 6:4-6 and 10:26-29.

Hebrews 10:26-27 is often translated like this: “For if we sin deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there remains no sacrifice for sins, but a fearful prospect of judgment, and a fury of fire which will consume the adversaries.”

As is often pointed out, the sin being spoken of in this context is apostasy back to Judaism, and so long as one continues to sin by remaining in Judaism after having once accepted the Messiah, there is no sacrifice for one’s sins besides the one Messiah offered. (Though there is also a more general truth here about apostasy from Christianity in general, such as going back to secularism, Buddhism, etc., as well as a more general truth about a continuous failure to repent, a continuous practice of mortal sin.)

However, if this is all the work done with the verse, it leaves the impression that those who go back to Judaism (or whatever) cannot be saved. This is of course false.

The verb “sin” in this verse is present tense (as are the verbs “remains” and “will consume”). Since present tense in Greek typically indicates an ongoing, continuous action, the passage can better be translated as: “For if we continuously sin deliberately, after having once received the knowledge of the truth, there continuously remains no further sacrifice for sins, but a fearful prospect of judgment, and a fury of fire which will continuously consume the adversaries.”

So if one ceases to continuously sin by remaining apart from the Messiah, then Messiah’s sacrifice for one’s sins becomes operative again. It is now available for one since one has stopped the continuous sin of apostasy and can now be united with Christ. (Note the parallelism of the continuous sinning with the continuous remaining of no further sacrifice; when the former vanishes, the latter does as well–and the same is true of a person who continuously fails to repent of sin in general.) Thus if an apostate (to Judaism or whatever else) ceases to be an apostate, he can be saved. There is no unforgivable sin taught in this text.

Hebrews 6:1-6 reads like this:

“1 Therefore let us leave the elementary teachings of Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again the foundation of repentance from acts that lead to death, and of faith in God, 2 instruction about baptisms, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment. 3 And God permitting, we will do so.

“4 It is impossible for those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, who have shared in the Holy Spirit, 5 who have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the coming age, 6 if they fall away, to be brought back to repentance, because to their loss they are crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting him to public disgrace.”

The first two verses tell us about “the elementary teachings of Christ”–that is, the basic truths of the Christian faith. This is important because it will set us up for the discussion of apostasy.

Note that they walk us through an ordo salutis–the stages of the Christian life: repentance, faith, baptism, laying on of hands (i.e., confirmation), resurrection, and judgment. Two truths preceding Christian initiation (repentance and faith), two truths at initiation (baptism and confirmation), and two truths at the end of the Christian life (resurrection and judgment).

The author says he won’t go over the basic teachings of Christ again because it is impossible to renew to repentance those who have fallen away. This is often a very problematic verse (especially for those who believe it is impossible to lose one’s salvation), and is often thought to pertain to the unforgivable sin. However, this is not the case.

To see why, we must first eliminate a dodge that is often used to render this verse a counterfactual hypothetical. As it appears in many English translations, v. 6 is often opened with the clause “if they fall away.” However, this is not an accurate rendering of the Greek text, as even eternal securitists (such as Kendall) will admit. The Greek is simply kai parapesontas, which of course means “and (kai) have fallen away (parapesontas)”–parapesontas being an aorist–just like in the other four clauses in the preceding two verses, of which this clause is the final link in the chain of parallel aorist clauses identifying the apostates. The passage, correctly translated, thus reads:

“It is impossible for those who (a) have once been enlightened, (b) have tasted the heavenly gift, (c) and have been made partakers in the Holy Spirit, (d) and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the coming age, (e) and have fallen away, to be brought back to repentance, because to their loss they are re-crucifying the Son of God and subjecting him to public disgrace.”

Or more shortly:

“It is impossible for those who have once been enlightened . . . and have fallen away, to be brought back to repentance, because to their loss they are re-crucifying the Son of God and subjecting him to public disgrace.”

The Greek of the passage presents the falling away as an accomplished fact, not a hypothetical possibility. (Thus an eternal securitist would have to say that they were never inwardly a Christian to begin with, only outwardly.)

Nevertheless, the passage does not pertain to the unforgivable sin. Many have misread the passage, being misled by the hypothetical (“if . . .”) translation of v 6, and have argued: “If a person did fall away then they could not come back because they would have to re-crucify Christ, and that is impossible since he died only once!”

But this is simply not what the passage says. It does not say that if one tried to come back one would have to re-crucify Christ. It does not present the re-crucifixion as something that would need to happen if someone came back. It presents the re-crucifixion as a present reality. Just read the text: “because to their loss they are re-crucifying [present tense, active voice in both Greek and English] the Son of God and subjecting him to public disgrace.” The text says that the apostates are re-crucifying Christ now, not that they would need to if they came back.

This is where understanding the Jewish context (and content) of the letter is so important. By returning to Judaism, the apostates are declaring that Jesus was a false Messiah (else they would not leave faith in him as the true Messiah). But by declaring Jesus to be a false Messiah, they are declaring that he deserved what he got when he was crucified–because it is axiomatic that every false Messiah deserves death and public humiliation. They, like the fox in Aesop’s fable “The fox and the grapes,” are having an attack of sour grapes and were running around saying: “Well, he wasn’t the real Messiah. He deserved what he got. He deserved to be crucified and put to public humiliation. As it says in the Torah, ‘Cursed is every man who is hung upon a tree!’”

Thus the re-crucifixion and humiliation of Christ was something the apostates were doing while they were maintaining their rebellion against the Messiah they had once accepted. This indicates an enormous hardness of heart, which is why the author tells us, “It is impossible for those . . . to be brought back to repentance.” The hardness of their hearts prevents it.

This is, of course, a practical rule rather than a dogmatic (absolute) rule. Because of the hardness of heart the Jewish apostates are displaying by publicly denouncing Jesus, declaring that he deserved crucifixion and humiliation, it is as a practical matter impossible to renew them to repentance and faith in Christ. This does not in any way mean it is an absolute impossibility to renew them to repentance, for “With men it is impossible, but not with God; for all things are possible with God” (Mark. 10:27).

One must be aware in Scripture of the difference between practical and dogmatic statements. Failure to recognize this is often what generates cults. A cult will pick a statement and absolutize it, when in reality it may only be expressing a practical truth. For example, some absolutize Jesus’ statements in Matthew 6 about not doing one’s righteous acts in front of men, and ignore his statements in Matthew 5 about the need to let our light shine before men so they may see our good deeds and glorify our Father in heaven. The fact is that neither the Matthew 5 or the Matthew 6 statements are absolute rules, but practical rules to be observed on different occasions (i.e., bearing in mind whether doing a good deed publicly would lead people to glorify or curse God or whether I would be doing it just to gain praise for myself).

In the same way, the statement “It is impossible for those . . . to be renewed to repentance” is simply a practical rule. It is only because of their hardness of their hearts that it is a waste of time to argue with them. It is more prudent, as a matter of evangelism, to talk to people who aren’t that hostile toward Christ and who are more likely to give you a hearing.

This special animus against the person of Christ would not be present in those who were not Jews and who thus would not resent him as much as a false Messiah upon returning to their former religions. Thus a person today who went back to secularism, for example, would not hate Jesus as a Messianic pretender and would not say, “He deserved what he got!” the way a first century Jew would. In fact, an apostate to secularism might still even admire Jesus in a kind of nebulous way as a good and wise teacher.

Thus modern apostates are much easier to reclaim from there repudiation of the faith than first century Jewish apostates were. In fact, this has been the case throughout history. For example, those who had denied the faith during the persecutions of the early centuries often came back to the Church and were received back into membership (after a period of penance) once the persecution stopped. The practical rule that it is impossible to renew an apostate to repentance is thus a general rule only for the early Jewish apostates the book of Hebrews was discussing, not later ones (though of course an individual later apostate may be so hard of heart he will never come back, but this does not apply to later apostates as a group).

Apostasy, contrary to some interpretations, is not the unforgivable sin. Like the parallel sins against faith — infidelity, schism, and heresy — it only becomes an unforgivable sin if one dies in it. Until death it is always possible, God willing, for an infidel to convert, for a schismatic to return from his schism, for a heretic to renounce his heresy, and for an apostate to re-embrace the faith of Christ.