The Greatest Secret

The greatest secret is the Good News of Salvation. It is a secret hidden in plain sight for all to see. It is a secret because many people are blinded by modernity’s philosophy of self-determination and inevitable progress.

Yet those blinded by modernity are constantly asking the inevitable questions of “what is the meaning of life, why are we here, where did we come from, where are we going and is there life after death?”

Scripture is not a science book but it is the (secret) source and answers to all these questions. Questions that science cannot answer.

God has revealed this secret to us in Salvation History as a long but continuous divine pedagogy.

“In times past, God spoke in partial and various ways to our ancestors through the prophets; in these days, he spoke to us through a Son, whom he made heir of all things and through whom he created the universe.”
(Heb 1:1-2)

I don’t know about you, but that is science to my ears!

God’s Providence

A topic that gives us a fresh perspective on evil and a correction on what many people attribute to God’s will. The Basic mistake in the latter is to think that everything that happens, happens according to God’s will, that God willed it. If this were true, then we would have (and the many think they have) an easy explanation for bad things happening to good people. “It was God’s will.”

This is very damaging to the one who is suffering and to whom we might say this thinking it will comfort them. They are probably already angry with God and now their anger is confirmed, “it is God’s fault.”

Within the overarching mystery of God’s Providence is God’s will and his acquiescence, and between the two is the gift of free will in his creatures.

God’s will – free will – God’s acquiescence

Evil is not a something but a lack of something, a lack of good where good ought to be. It is good that a bird can fly because it is part of bird nature to fly. When a bird cannot fly there is a lack of good, therefore an evil, a natural evil. It is not the lack of a good that a human cannot fly, because it is not of human nature to fly.

Now, there are three kinds of evil in the world, natural evil, man made evil and angelic evil, none of which are from God (God is good and can only emanate good.) These three forms of evil come from one source: free will in the nature of rational creatures (humans and angels.)

You might question this, “what about natural evil, storms, disease, earthquakes, birth defects or mental disorder, etc. Read carefully St Paul’s letter to the Romans 8:18-23. In this passage there are three concepts important to our considerations. (1) creation, subjected to corruption, is awaiting the redemption of the children of God . . . the redemption of our bodies (our soul is redeemed on the Cross.) (2) creation will be set free from the slavery of corruption at that time. (3) Creation was not subjected to corruption “of its own accord, but by the one who subjected it to futility.” It is not the nature of creation to be corrupt.

To understand this third concept we must look at a couple verses from Genesis. In 3:17, 18, after the disobedience, God says to Adam, “curse be the ground because of you . . . Thorns and thistles shall it bring forth.” This is not a pronouncement of a punishment, but the announcement of a result of Adam’s disorder (tendency towards self gratification from the material world rather than God) due to the loss of sanctifying grace. Because God created Adam from “the clay of the earth” (i.e. the stuff of the creation,) he has an intrinsic connection to creation. Adam’s disordered human nature due to original sin reverberates in creation. Adam is the one who subjected creation to futility (thorns and thistles, representing all natural evil, bad things in nature.)

Three evils, man made evil and natural evil; a result of Adam’s misuse of his free will; angelic evil, that which comes from the spiritual realm, the result of the misuse of angelic free will. All angels were created good by God, they made a bad decision resulting in eternal disconnect from God (condemnation) and their revenge is upon mankind.

God’s will – human and angelic free will – God’s acquiescence

Why then does God acquiesce? To not allow evil would require the suppression of free will. Without free will we would not be human and we would not be able to freely turn to God in response to His grace and love Him for who He is.

It’s very simple.

A homily that no one will hear

In the first reading for that Sunday we hear Job bemoaning the “life of man . . . a drudgery.” “If in bed I say ‘When will I rise’ the night drags on. I will not see happiness again.”

In the second reading St Paul speaks of the cost and recompense of preaching the Gospel. “I have made myself a slave to all so as to win over as many as possible. To the weak I became weak, to win over the weak. I have become all things to all, to save at least some.”

In the Gospel Jesus heals Peter’s mother-in-law, many people gather around the house and he heals them and drives out demons. Then He goes out into the desert to pray. Peter comes to Him and says “Everyone is looking for you.” [What a great understatement.] Jesus tells Peter, “Let us go to the nearby villages that I might preach there also. For this have I come.”

My thoughts:
In the writings of Blessed John Henry Newman we find a fundamental idea that underlies much of his preaching and teaching. In the “Grammar of Assent” Newman describes two ways of understanding, “Notional apprehension and Real apprehension.” An example would be the idea of our own death. We all know that someday we will die. This acknowledgement of truth has a distance between us and it, it is “out there” somewhere. This is the notional understanding. If we were to get a terminal diagnosis however, our death would become real in the sense that it is now immediately before us. This example is not Newman’s. Newman applies the two ways of understanding truth to our faith. We believe in God, we believe in all the proposition that are presented to us by Christianity. [Notional] God and all these truths are “out there” somewhere, but I’m living in the here and now. My day to day (existential) life is what is immediately before me. Newman encourages us to transition from a notional faith to a real faith. With a personal relationship with Jesus Christ and a day to day application of the truths of faith to the “here and now.” Our prayer life should include questions like “what does it mean to me here and now, that Christ is the Incarnate Word of God, the union of divine and human nature. Love God and Love my neighbor as my self, how do I live this out today, this day? I believe in God, Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, all that is visible and invisible; how is that real to me at 3:15 pm Jan 20, 2015? Meditating on any given article of faith, we make it real by living it, not just acknowledging it.

If we look back at the Sunday readings above, the three main readings are connected by the Psalm and the Gospel acclamation. In the Psalm 147, the refrain is “Praise the Lord, who heals the brokenhearted.” The connecting verses are:

He heals the brokenhearted
and binds up their wounds.
He tells the number of the stars;
he calls each by name.

Great is our Lord and mighty in power;
to his wisdom there is no limit.
The LORD sustains the lowly;
the wicked he casts to the ground.

We are His stars, he knows us by name. He heals our broken hearts, sustains the lowly and casts out the wicked. This a personal loving God, with us here and now, at the moment of our broken hearts, if we bring him in from afar (from the notional to the real.)

We all know the story of Job and may be surprised at this particular passage. Job was the just man, the faithful man. This is what got him in trouble. God allowed the devil to afflict him with suffering and we know that Job remained faithful and just. But here in this brief moment of his suffering he is focused on his suffering and without losing his faith, he released God back to the “out there”, only a notion that seemingly has nothing to do with his “here and now.” The Psalm reminds us (and Job) that God is with us, he is close at hand to heal us.

St Paul on the other hand, enters into suffering, becomes a slave, so that he might save at least one. For Paul God is real, close at hand, working through him for the salvation of souls, which he understands as vastly more important than the wounds of the body. Salvation itself, being in the presence of God, is here and now, for Paul and he wants it to be so for those to whom he preaches the Gospel.

The Gospel acclamation: “Christ took away our infirmities
and bore our diseases.” Much like the Psalm, Christ is in the midst of our suffering, again, here and now, for us just as he was at the house of Peter’s mother-in-law.

If we look closely at the Gospel we see, just as with Paul, Christ at work for the benefit of the body and soul, healing and driving out demons, but also, and foremost, is his mission to preach the Gospel. It is in this movement of his mission that he seeks to lead souls to eternal life beyond their afflictions.

In all of this, from Newman, Job, St Paul, and Christ, the here and now is united with the here after. The God who is an idea out there is the same God with us, Emmanuel. We should go forth in a living faith, an existential faith, that enhances our daily life and sustains us through troubled times. A living faith that goes beyond an acknowledgement of God, and allows him to walk with us.

“Praise the Lord, who heals the brokenhearted, He took away our infirmities and bore our diseases.” He walks with us here and now and leads us to salvation with the Father in the here after.

Hail Mary, gratia plena

And the angel, coming in, said to her, “Hail, gratia plena, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women.”  (Luke 1:28)

With the exception of the Douay Rheims edition, English translation Bibles render this verse “Hail, O favored one . . .” and most (except the King James) leave out the phrase “blessed art thou among women.”  The Latin Vulgate, translated directly from the original Greek by St Jerome in the 3rd-4th century (340-420) has Luke 1:28 as “et ingressus angelus ad eam dixit have gratia plena Dominus tecum benedicta tu in mulieribus”  Mulieribus being either “among women” or “of famous women.”

My point is not to show that the “Hail Mary” prayer comes to us from the Gospels, although given Luke 1:42 where Mary’s relative Elizabeth greets her with the same words of the angel “blessed are thou among women,” and adds “blessed is the fruit of thy womb,” the prayer is certainly there in form.

What I would like to focus on instead is gratia plena, “full of grace.”

The angel Gabriel’s words can be read as a poetic greeting, but as with all of the literary genres of Sacred Scripture there is an underlying significance to our faith.  In the context of “faith seeking understanding” (St Anselm’s definition of theology) I would like to explore the angel’s greeting of gratia plena in relation to the Incarnation.  In St Luke’s account of the encounter between Mary and St Gabriel, the scene concludes with “And the angel answering, said to her: “The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the most High shall overshadow thee. And therefore also the Holy which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God” (v36) . . . and Mary said: “Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it done to me according to thy word.” And the angel departed from her (v38.)  Verse 39 begins Mary’s journey to visit Elizabeth.

The great mystery of our faith happens between verse 38 and 39, in the space of a textual space ‘ ‘ between two sentences, the supernatural event that the angel announced, that the Holy Spirit would come upon her and the power of the Most High would overshadow her, happened.  The Divine Person, the Son of God, united divine nature and human nature and the “visible image of the invisible God” (cf. Col 1:15) Jesus Christ was conceived in the virgin womb of Mary.

The Incarnation (take a deep breath) unites us, in a real and substantial way, to God through the union of the two natures in the one Divine Person of Christ.  He is one with us (consubstantial) in our common human nature just as He is (consubstantial) One with the Father and the Holy Spirit in the common Divine Nature of the Holy Trinity.  This means that there is no distance between us and Jesus, just as there is no distance between Him and the Father and the Holy Spirit and no distance between you and I, and, by the Incarnation, through Christ there is no distance between us and the Trinity.  He sits and the Right Hand of the Father in Divine and human nature, Body and Blood Soul, and Divinity.  The Sacred Heart of Jesus, of which we have great devotion, is a human heart living and beating in the bosom of God.  The union of Divine and human nature is a metaphysical bond (real and substantial) that goes beyond an association by our assent of faith (“I believe.”)  But “how can this be” (to paraphrase Mary’s words.)  “Nothing is impossible with God” says the angel, and so do we.  The answer to the question is simple, yet our faith seeks understanding so we press on.

In the work of Matthias J. Scheeben, a 19th century theologian (~1862) we get a glimpse of this mystery.  First a concept that, although we say “I know that”, is often under estimated in understanding what we believe.  The concept comes to us in a locution in which God says to St Catherine of Sienna, “I am God and you are not.”  He is God and we are not; He is the Creator and we are His creatures in His creation; He is Divine and we are human; He supernatural, we natural; in simple form, God is totally other.  Scheeben begins with a simple premise based on this concept.  In speaking of the relation of Divine and human nature, that one is not the other, we want to understand, not only that the two are different, but they are opposed, and yet, in the Incarnation, they are united.  Difference, opposition, and union.

Consider this for a moment.  My simple analogy.  We have all experienced the joy of blowing bubbles from a soapy liquid through a plastic ring on a stick.  When the fun begins the bubbles come in contact with the surfaces around us and they pop and sometimes two bubbles come together in the air and become a double bubble, or even a triple bubble.  The bubbles are consubstantial, the bubbles and the surfaces are not.  After a while however, those surfaces become coated with the soapy liquid from the residue of the popped bubbles and the later bubbles come to rest on the coated surfaces a remain intact.  The bubbles and the dry surfaces are different, opposed, and yet union is eventually achieved.  They are different and opposed  by nature, but by applying some of the nature of the one to the other union is possible.  “All things are possible with God.”

Scheeben reminds us that Grace is a substance of Divine nature, it is the “stuff of God.”  The young girl, Mary, redeemed of Original Sin by her Son before her conception in the womb of her mother St Ann, was full of grace, gratia plena.

“Hail Mary, gratia plena, the Lord is with Thee.  Blessed art thou among women.”

“The Holy Spirit shall come upon thee, and the power of the most High shall overshadow thee.  And therefore the Holy One which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God” . . . and Mary said: “Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it done to me according to thy word.”

And the angel departed from her.

Difference, opposition, union, by the Grace of God.

Body and Soul – We are unique among God’s Creatures

This often overlooked aspect of understanding our self in the context of truth and faith (is that redundant?) is that we are a composite of spirit and matter, soul and body. The human person is the only creature that God created this way. We are rational creatures because we have a rational soul, meaning that our soul can function, think, conceptualize ideas without input from the five senses, without input through the body. This does not mean the body is less important than the soul, the body and soul together makes up the whole person. That the soul does not require input through the body is the theology that explains the immortality of the soul. We are not eternal, we have a beginning, but we are immortal, will have no termination. Angels and humans are the only creatures with a rational soul, but the angels were not created as a body/soul combination. Angels don’t have bodies, never did, never will. (Oh, by the way, angels are not humans that have died and gone to heaven, I’ll have to tell a story about that another time, maybe in a comment to this post.)

Now with all that said, we ask the question “what about when the soul goes to heaven and is separated from the body?” The body/soul composite is not inseparable, but it is what makes for a whole person. The separation of the body from the soul is what is known as death. The soul during the intermediate time, between death and the Second Coming of Christ, in which soul will be reunited with body, the soul awaits with eager anticipation to be whole again. St Bernard of Clairvaux gives us a wonder idea of this in his work “On Loving God.” The soul, St Bernard tells us, even in the presence of God in the Beatific Vision, yearns to be reunited with the body.

Part of this overlooked aspect of our faith is that when we recite the Creed, we might not realize what we are saying when we say, “I believe in the resurrection of the body” or “resurrection of the dead.” We might think, as I did for many years, that we are professing belief in the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, but in 1st Corinthians chapter 15 St Paul answers the question that the community at Corinth had been arguing about when he says, “If the dead are not [to be] raised then neither has Christ been raised, and we are pitiful fools in our faith.” (cf. vv 12-18)

We do profess belief in the resurrection of the dead. At the same time there is a popular way of thinking today that says, “I am not my body.” This is the root foundation of the age old heresy, Gnosticism. It is popular today in the form of New Age Spirituality and other forms of atheistic/spiritual belief.

Here’s a good article, “friendly” theology, on person as body and soul by Mark Shea who writes for National Catholic Register (not to be confused with National Catholic Reporter, please.) In this article Mr. Shea makes some good points about how this Gnosticism gives justification to arguments against life issues. He asks an interesting question and gives a good answer in the form of a question, “When does a human being begin life?” Response, “When did the Son of God become the Son of Man.” Answer to both, at the moment of conception in the womb of the mother.

I hope you enjoy the article and take these ideas into you spiritual life in meditation and prayer. The beginning of Contemplative Prayer, says St Bernard, is contemplating our own soul, by reflecting on, getting in touch, with our soul is the stairway to heaven.

Connecting the Dots: The conclusion to the Register series on the corporal works of mercy.

Political Correctness – What is that really?

I think about these things a lot and I read about them and I’m sure that it is because within each of us, as human persons, there is a natural affinity for humanity. In all of this there is a conundrum. It begins with the post-modern fragmentation of humanity and takes on a form of movement in the modern term “tolerance.” In the Enlightenment the emphasis was on the individual as self-determining and detached from any external authority. Beauty and truth is in the eye of the beholder became the banner cry. From there the individual (the subjective) is liberated from authority (the objective.) At that point humanity is at a precarious juncture. Like a puppy that has broken free of its leash and finds itself in the wide wide world but does not know where to go or what to do. So it does what any free spirit does, it begins to run around aimlessly with no purpose but that it is not on the leash anymore.

Back to humanity, newly freed in the enlightenment, the individual in the vast world of individualism finds itself in and amongst other individuals, running free and trying to be them self. But they soon notice that there are some people who did not take advantage of the liberation and cling to the objective, fools they seem to the free. (This is no longer the hypothetical puppy, but real progression of human society in the past 300 years.) Soon this free society comes together, and begin acknowledging their freedom within the group, even though each individual is not about to conform to any group agreement. So the only thing to do is to agree to remain free individuals, tolerating (here’s the key word of conundrum) each other in the others freedom, but there are those “out there” who foolishly think there is objective truth that binds all human beings. Now, there is something to rally around. “Let’s get together and force them to tolerate us. They must be intolerant of us or they would be with us, as we are our self among others “selfs.” We cannot tolerate this intolerance!” Now at this point, we see the circular self-contradiction of modernity gone post-modern. By its very charter, it will always come to a self-contradiction, the unfortunate things is they don’t even recognize the self-contradiction. If there is no objective truth, then this statement declares itself false, or is it true, no I think it is false . . .

So we find ourselves, all of us (humanity: we are all part of that group,) now in the reality of the 21st century in a tug of war between intolerance of intolerance, which demands tolerance and will not tolerate anything else.

Here’s the conundrum. If there is a movement to solve a problem and the problem needs solving, but the movement has bad methodology, when we speak out against the methodology, we are accused of not wanting to solve the problem. I reaches a point that this becomes an intentional tactic. One side deliberately proposes bad methodology to solve a universal problem knowing the other side will complain about the methodology and is immediately open to accusation. On and on it goes. It is a conundrum because there is little we can do to overcome the double wall bound together with ideological glue. Shoot at one you are going to hit the other because they are made to be “one” for the shooting gallery.

The conundrum remains until we can find a way to speak into the double layer of method and problem, and that has not happened yet. In the culture struggle with same-gender “marriage” for example. The greatest of scholars came to the forefront armed with the Natural Law argument which for all prognosticators was a sure win. What we forgot or had not learned yet was that post-modernity, in its fragmentary individualism, is a moving target.

Confronted with the Natural Law argument, post-modernity simply stepped aside and said, “that doesn’t apply to me.” But it applies to all human beings, we shouted, it is the essence of human nature. Again the response was simple and effective: “that doesn’t apply to me, human nature is a construct of the authoritative overlord that you continue to cling to. We broke free of that years ago. There is no such thing as human nature, I am an individual, liberated, self-determining person; not bound to a nature or any such laws. I am free!

So goes or went the short lived debate against same-gender “marriage.” We lost. We lost the dodge-ball match because we thought they were supposed to stand still. Now, we find ourselves an easy target for accusation of intolerance, again. What are we to do? That is the conundrum!

If you say the Muslim religion is based on violence in the name of Ala, they respond, “I’ll kill you for saying that!” We are surrounded by a fragmented humanity with, each fragment demanding subjective tolerance from the objective position. The problem is objectivity, by definition takes a stand, where as subjectivity has the advantage of moving around, disappearing and reappearing, re-inventing itself, grouping together or standing as one, it’s just not a fair game. Our only hope is in the end game.
– – – – –
Psalm 73
I was envious of the arrogant when I saw their prosperity. For they suffer no pain; their bodies are healthy and sleek.
They are free of the burdens of life; they are not afflicted like others. Thus pride adorns them as a necklace; violence clothes them as a robe.

They scoff and spout their malice; from on high they utter threats. They set their mouths against the heavens, their tongues roam the earth.
Is it in vain that I have kept my heart pure, washed my hands in innocence?

For I am afflicted day after day, chastised every morning.

Had I thought, “I will speak as they do,” I would have betrayed this generation of your children.

Though I tried to understand all this, it was too difficult for me, Till I entered the sanctuary of God and came to understand their end.
– – – – –

We must continue to take our stand in the fortress of objective truth, beauty and goodness. We must gather our young into our fold and comfort them with the blanket of truth. The struggle is within our ramparts even as we send out warriors to proclaim the truth to the arrogant, and that we must. The truth is our defense as well as a sanctuary for lost souls. It is what it is, even as it is scoffed with the age old question, “Truth, what is truth?” When arrogance speaks to Truth, the argument is won in silence.