What to Call it? Divine Filiation

All-SaintsWe have considered the topic of this web site as it relates to us (holiness, the interior life) and as it relates to the Son and the Holy Spirit (life in Christ, the Spiritual life). Let us now consider our relation to God the Father.

The first thing to say is that God as Father is NOT just a metaphor. In Catholic theology, to call God father is not to say he’s really nice (are fathers a great example of being really nice?), or that his love is unconditional, or that we really look up to him.

Nor is it merely to say that God made us. The difference between begetting and making is at the very heart of Christianity. God made the mountains and the trees and the puppy dogs, but they are not his children, and he is not properly their father. Just as I can make a pizza, but I am only father to my sons and daughters.

To be the son of a father is to receive from him his very nature. Only human beings can be my children; Jesus is Son of God because he is God.

Now, Jesus is the only begotten Son, whereas we are “adopted” sons. (Daughters, too, though sometimes it is emphasized that we are “sons through the Son”: sons and daughters parallel to Jesus’s sonship.) But don’t misunderstand. The Latin ad-optio means that someone has become a son through a later choice: “option.” But you can only adopt someone who possesses human nature: you cannot adopt a dog (at least not as your son).

And the parallel to human adoption is not perfect, because God the Creator can give us a nature we did not have. In fact, the Greek is huiothesia, from huios, son, and thesis, placing or putting. That is, God makes us into sons.


St. Paul tells us, “if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation” (2 Cor. 5:17). God creates us new. He makes us something that we were not. He makes us divine. The early Church used the Greek word theosis: divinization, being made gods. “God became man so that man could become God.” Crazy, I know – some of my students just look confused when I teach this. But this is Christianity.

We don’t have a good word for this in English – “son-ification”? – so we use the Latin, filiation, from filius, son.


Divine filiation, becoming children of God, has contemplative and practical aspects. On the contemplative side, only God can see and fully love God. Filiation means that we are lifted up, given a new, divine nature, so that we can see and know God. “We know that when He appears, we will be like Him, because we will see Him as He is” (1 John 3:2). Only a son of God can enter the contemplation Christianity offers. To say that there is no access to this but through Christ is not a put-down of non-Christians – it is to say what an awesome grace we believe is offered to us in Christ. True contemplation.

But also a life of Christianity. In the Sermon on the Mount, Christ proclaims the Beatitudes – radical! – and tells us to fulfill the Law radically, so that we do not even lust in our hearts. This is humanly impossible, but he says, “be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Mt. 5:48). Indeed: we can only live the life of Christianity if God is truly our father: if we become not merely human, but sons of God.

This is the context of Christian morality. It is impossible, super-human. That’s precisely the point. Every page of the New Testament proclaims that we are to live the life not of mere humans, but of a “new creation,” divinization, divine filiation. That’s what Christian “spirituality” is about.

This is the context, too, for the Catholic understanding of faith and works. No, we do not earn our salvation. To the contrary, the question is how a “new creation” lives: doesn’t quack, not a duck; doesn’t act like a son of God, not a son of God.


Not everyone is a son of God. In Catholic theology – I hate to shock you – we even say that God is not everyone’s father. He becomes our father by grace, by adoption, by our being born again in Baptism, and living that regeneration through the other sacraments. But all are made in the “image of God”: not the same as being like God, but on the way.

The radical dignity of the human person is the possibility of being lifted up into the life of God. The respect Christians owe every human being focuses on that radical possibility.


But what does it mean? How do you see divine filiation in the life of the saints, and in your life?

Click here for the rest of the series on names for the spiritual life.

Leo XIII on America’s Founding

Pope-Leo-XIII-1900And since Thanksgiving is a fine national holiday for America:

A few words from Pope Leo XIII about what is good in America’s founding. We certainly are aware, these days, of many things our forefathers did wrong. But it is good to be thankful for what is good and right.


“Very rapidly did the light of the Gospel shine upon the savage tribes discovered by the Ligurian [i.e., Christopher Columbus]. For it is sufficiently well known how many of the children of Francis, as well as of Dominic and of Loyola, were accustomed during the two following centuries to voyage thither for this purpose; how they cared for the colonies brought over from Europe; but primarily and chiefly how they converted the natives from superstition to Christianity, sealing their labors in many instances with the testimony of their blood. The names newly given to so many of your towns and rivers and mountains and lakes teach and clearly witness how deeply your beginnings were marked with the footprints of the Catholic Church.

“Nor, perchance, did the fact which We now recall take place without some design of divine Providence. Precisely at the epoch when the American colonies, having, with Catholic aid, achieved liberty and independence, coalesced into a constitutional Republic the ecclesiastical hierarchy was happily established amongst you [that is, we got our first American bishop, John Carroll]; and at the very time when the popular suffrage placed the great Washington at the helm of the Republic, the first bishop was set by apostolic authority over the American Church.

“The well-known friendship and familiar intercourse which subsisted between these two men seems to be an evidence that the United States ought to be conjoined in concord and amity with the Catholic Church. And not without cause; for without morality the State cannot endure-a truth which that illustrious citizen of yours, whom We have just mentioned [George Washington], with a keenness of insight worthy of his genius and statesmanship perceived and proclaimed. But the best and strongest support of morality is religion. Religion, by her very nature, guards and defends all the principles on which duties are founded, and setting before us the motives most powerful to influence us, commands us to live virtuously and forbids us to transgress.

“Now what is the Church other than a legitimate society, founded by the will and ordinance of Jesus Christ for the preservation of morality and the defence of religion? For this reason have We repeatedly endeavored, from the summit of the pontifical dignity, to inculcate that the Church, whilst directly and immediately aiming at the salvation of souls and the beatitude which is to be attained in heaven, is yet, even in the order of temporal things, the fountain of blessings so numerous and great that they could not have been greater or more numerous had the original purpose of her institution been the pursuit of happiness during the life which is spent on earth.”

–Leo XIII, Longinqua, 1895

Thanksgiving and the Mass

van eyck adorationI was recently speaking to a student of mine, an Augustinian Recollect friar from Mexico, about the American feast of Thanksgiving. He remarked what a truly healthy part of our culture it is. For all that is wrong with our world, a feast of family and thanks is pretty nice.

In fact, we can learn a lot about the Mass by reflecting on this feast.


First, the Mass is Thanksgiving. That, of course, is precisely what Eucharist means in Greek, and it is one of the earliest names of the Mass. In the second century, for example, here is how St. Justin Martyr described the Mass: the priest “gives praise and glory to the Father of the universe, through the name of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and offers thanks at considerable length for our being counted worthy to receive these things [i.e., our own good works, salvation, and the bread and wine] at His hands. And when he has concluded the prayers and thanksgivings, all the people present express their assent by saying, Amen.” And then again, the presider “offers prayers and thanksgiving, according to his ability, and the people assent, saying Amen; and there is a distribution to each, and a participation of that over which thanks have been given.”

To receive the Eucharist is to receive the thanksgiving, the “thanksgiving-ed” bread and wine. This is all the more true because, “the food which is blessed by the prayer of His word, and from which our blood and flesh by transmutation are nourished, is the flesh and blood of that Jesus who was made flesh.”

The Eucharist is a meal of Thanksgiving.


In fact, this is what “sacrifice” means in Catholic theology, and in the Bible. We get so focused on child sacrifice that we miss the way it works in the Bible. In the Old Testament, there are “holocausts,” which are completely burned. But most kind of sacrifices are not burned up, they are eaten. The point of sacrifice is not the destruction, but the ritual action.

Our American Thanksgiving, in fact, is remarkably parallel to the most important sacrifice of the Old Testament, the Passover lamb. “They shall take of the blood, and strike it on the two side posts and on the upper door post of the houses, wherein they shall eat it. And they shall eat the flesh in that night, roasted with fire, and unleavened bread; and with bitter herbs they shall eat it. . . . And you shall let nothing of it remain until the morning; and that which remains of it until the morning you shall burn with fire” (Exodus 12:7-10).

The Passover Lamb is a sacrifice, the truest sacrifice – the one, in fact, that Jesus connects with his own death on the Cross – not because it is destroyed, but because it is received from God, and offered in thanksgiving to God. The thanksgiving turkey, in fact, is a sacrifice in the truest sense, if we are practicing Thanksgiving as a feast of thanks to God.

“A sacrifice,” says Augustine, “is the visible sacrament or sacred sign of an invisible sacrifice. . . . He does not desire the sacrifice of a slaughtered beast, but he desires the sacrifice of a contrite heart. Thus, that sacrifice which he says God does not wish, is the symbol of the sacrifice which God does wish. God does not wish sacrifices in the sense in which foolish people think He wishes them, namely, to gratify His own pleasure. . . . But he goes on to mention what these signify: ‘Offer unto God the sacrifice of praise.’ . . . God does not requires these sacrifices for their own sakes; He does require the sacrifices which they symbolize.”

What makes the Lamb, the turkey, or even Jesus himself a true sacrifice is that it is a sign, a physical manifestation, of our hearts turned to God in thanksgiving.


Finally, thanksgiving makes family. We come together around a common table. We share a common meal. And the more heartfelt is our entrance into that meal, the more heartfelt is our entrance into the family gathered there.

After the goofiness of the 1970s and ‘80s, Catholics are loath to say that the Mass is a community meal. But it is! It is just that it is a community meal rooted in the presence of Christ, and Christ’s perfect act of thanksgiving to the Father. Christ makes us true family. In fact, Christ’s body makes us into his body: from the Eucharistic communion is born the communion of the Church.


Do you experience Thanksgiving as a sacrifice of praise? Do you experience the Eucharist that way?

First Sunday of Advent: Let Us Go Up!

our lady of millenium

IS 2:1-5; PS 122: 1-2, 3-4, 4-5, -7, 8-9; ROM 13:11-14; MT 24: 37-44

“Come, let us climb the mountain of the Lord!” Advent begins with a bang. We are on a journey, a pilgrimage, on our way up. We are going to the mountain of the Lord’s house, to the place of instruction, to learn from him, who is meek, and who beats swords into plowshares.

This beautiful reading from Isaiah fills us with a sense of movement. Our life is not about “being” a Christian in any static way. To be a Christian is to be alive, to be moving, to be on our way: to be loving the Lord, and seeking his face. O house of Jacob! Come! Let us walk!


Love is the principal of movement. To sit still is to be satisfied. To move is to be filled with desire.

The Psalm beautifully emphasizes both the movement and the impulse that drives it. “I rejoiced when they said to me, let us go up to the house of the Lord!” Yes, I want to go! I want to seek him. We long for the peace of Jerusalem, for its compact unity, for our brothers and friends. We long for the God to whom we give thanks, who makes this house of peace for us.

Advent, it is sometimes said, is a time of waiting. Perhaps it is better to say it is a time of longing. Longing for the coming of Christ, and longing for the peace he brings, the passionate love among neighbors that he exemplifies and pours into our hearts. Expectation is not expectation if we just sit around twiddling our thumbs. To long for Christ is to prepare for him: make him room, straighten the paths, level the mountains.


The New Testament readings give us different angles on the same story. “As it was in the days of Noah,” says Jesus. We can skip over that too quickly. In the days of Noah, there were two kinds of people. Most were not preparing; a few were. Noah was not just “waiting” for the rains to come, he was working, making his house fair as he was able.

Jesus goes on to say, “Two men will be out in the field; one will be taken, and one will be left.” But we must interpret this in light of the days of Noah. On the one hand, no, we don’t prepare for the Lord by building an ark – or stockpiling canned food, or guns, or whatever. In fact, we prepare for the Lord through our ordinary lives: out in the field, grinding at the mill, living our lives.

On the other hand, we might read the two men out in the field as if the coming of Christ is random. No, the “one who will be taken” is the one who has prepared his heart for Jesus, who has looked forward for him, longed for him – and lived like he longs for him.

Thus he closes the series of metaphors with the master of the house, staying awake. “A thief in the night” is a strange description for Jesus. But the point is, we will miss him if we are not watching. Christ passes by every day; we miss him if we are not watching. Stay awake!


Finally, Paul gives us his same take on this in Romans. Jesus said, “You do not know on which day your Lord will come.” But Paul says, “You do know”: “You know the time; it is the hour now for you to awake from sleep!” We don’t know when Jesus will come; we do know that we should watch. Watch! Prepare! Be alive!

Paul runs with the metaphor; we need not dig too deep into the imagery to understand the point. “The night is advanced, the day is at hand. Let us then throw off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light; let us conduct ourselves properly as in the day.”

The imagery of Isaiah (let us go up!) and Jesus (the days of Noah) are more romantic – and we should romance with them. But Paul takes us to the point. The way we go up, the way we prepare, the way we watch, is simply by living upright lives. Our only armor is the armor of light: not to sneak around in darkness, doing things we are ashamed of, but doing what we know is right, in the plain light of day.

The secret of Jesus, the secret of Advent, is that we fill our ordinary life with extraordinary longing, extraordinary love.


How do you prepare your heart for Jesus?

Leo XIII on Evangelizing the Poor

Today Pope Francis released a major new document, the biggest so far of his pontificate, on Evangelization. He has a lot to say about poverty and our response to it. Perhaps this is a good time to share an interesting passage from a papal document from 130 years ago.

Something I have noticed in my study of papal teaching is what seems like a great distance between our pastoral strategies and priorities today and more traditional ones. Today it feels like we assume the only people worth evangelizing are the rich and powerful. We are very interested, for example, in campus ministry (according to the US Census, about 16.5% of Americans over the age of 25 have attended some college; about 7.7% have graduated), but not so interested in the inner city or blue-collar people. Outreach to lawyers is alive and well; the parish Holy Name Society is completely neglected. Good priests go to rich parishes. Catholic labor unions are less than a distant memory. That, I believe, is a rejection of Catholic tradition.

I like the following paragraphs from Pope Leo XIII because of all the forms of communities he names. Concrete pastoral ideas for a Church that cares about people who aren’t rich and powerful. I only add that there are an awful lot of ideas like this, including in more recent papal documents – we just choose to ignore them:


“Awaken the sleeping, stimulate the hesitating; by your example and your authority train them all to fulfill with constancy and courage the duties which are the Christian life in action.

And in order to maintain and develop this revived courage, means must be taken to promote the growth, multiplication, harmony, and fruitfulness of Associations the principal object of which should be to preserve and excite zeal for the Christian faith and other virtues. Such are the associations of young men and of workmen; such are the committees organized by Catholics, and meeting periodically; such are the institutions destined to relieve poverty, to protect the sanctification of festival days, to instruct the children of the poor, and several others of the same kind.”

-Leo XIII, Etsi nos, 1882

Pray for Us Sinners

Hail Mary Image

Part 11 in our series on the “Hail Mary.”

We now reach, in a sense, the punchline of the Hail Mary. What do we ask of Mary? Pray for us! In fact, the veneration of the saints always includes two elements: we look to their example, and we ask them to pray for us. The first, earlier, Biblical half of the Hail Mary looks to her example. But the second half, and the entire prayer, as it now stands, concludes by asking for her prayers.

It is nice that the Hail Mary does not specify what she should pray for: just “pray for us.” On the one hand, there is the opening for us to add our particular desires. For faith, for hope, for love; for this particular need; this particular person. On the other hand, there is the opening for us not to add our particular desires. You know our needs better than we do: pray for us.


Intercession emphasizes the power of God. To ask God for something is to recognize that he can do what I cannot.

But this is even further emphasized by asking someone else to pray for us. The deepest temptation of the spiritual life is Pelagianism – the Pride that thinks everything begins with me, not with God. The danger is, we can think this even with our prayers. “Lord, please help me to be strong in this situation” so easily slides into “Me! I can do it!” We so easily turn our gaze from him to ourselves, and can even turn our prayer into self-affirmation.

To ask someone else to pray for us, to add a further intermediary between ourselves and God, is to realize that it is not all about me. There really is a God, there really is a spiritual world beyond myself. I realize that my prayers are not the beginning of all spiritual strength, that I draw strength from outside of myself. That my prayers, in fact, are pretty weak – but he is strong.

To ask Mary to pray for us is simply to realize that we need help. We need help, above all, from God. But we need help in even asking for help, because we are so tempted to rely on ourselves.


But in addition to being a recognition of God’s power, intercession is also a recognition of communion.

Communion, first, with God. We realize that all strength comes from our closeness to God. Even to ask God for things ourselves is to acknowledge that strength comes through friendship with God.

But then to ask others to pray for us is, again, to intensify the point. You don’t ask people to pray for you if they don’t pray. You ask people who do pray, people who know God. And so you realize that it is all founded in that relationship.

All the more so when we ask Mary to pray for us. Such a juxtaposition: Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners. No, I am not close to God. I am only close enough to know that I am far off, close enough to know I am a sinner, and to ask someone holier to pray for me. The primary one I ask to pray for me is the one who is most holy, full of grace, but also just plain closest to Jesus: Mother of God. Mary is a good intercessor, because she is the one closest to the mystery of God-with-us, the one who knows him most personally.

There is a real doctrinal point here. Strength through relationship – but relationship through the Incarnation, through Jesus. Not some vague God in the sky, but the God who lived in a house in Nazareth. Of course the person we ask to pray or us is Mary! (St. Joseph, too.)


Finally, intercession also emphasizes communion among people. We can only ask someone to pray for us if we know them, and we can only hope they will pray for us if they know us. God wants us to have this closeness with one another. “Where two or three are gathered.” “Lay down your life for your friend.” “Love your neighbor.” “Behold, your mother!” Closeness with one another is essential to our closeness with God.

Mary loves us: loves us because Jesus loves us, loves us because she lives in the mystery of his love. And we too should love Mary, for the same reasons. Friendship with God and friendship with one another are inseparable.

What a beautiful way to express that friendship: to ask for prayers, and to trust that she will pray for us!


What does the intercession of the saints mean to you? How do you experience Mary as your mother?

Click here for the entire series on the “Hail Mary.”

What to Call it? Life in Christ

All-SaintsWe continue our series on names for the topic of this web site. We have considered sanctity, the interior life, and the spiritual life. Today let us consider “life in Christ” or “the Christian life.”

We could say “the imitation of Christ”; indeed, one of the greatest works on the spiritual life is the fourteenth-century Imitation of Christ by Thomas à Kempis.

An interesting element of U.S. history: a scholar told me, though I have not confirmed, that a Protestant version of the Imitation was the most popular book (after the Bible) in America at the time of the Revolution. Casts a different light on our founding fathers, doesn’t it? Whatever Thomas Jefferson thought, the foot soldiers of the Revolution seem to have been a profoundly Christian people. It should be noted, however, that the Protestant version removed the fourth and final part of the book: “On the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar.”

To imitate Christ is to live the Beatitudes: poverty of spirit, meekness, sorrow, hunger for justice, mercy, purity of heart, and making peace. And the culminating beatitude: to be persecuted. To imitate Christ is to be meek and humble of heart, to seek and save the lost, to lay down our life for others. And to offer our life, even to the Cross, as a sweet sacrificial offering to the Father.

Beautiful. Radical.


Another way to say the same thing is that “he will come again to judge the living and the dead.” He: Jesus Christ. Finally, we will be judged on nothing else but how we stand before Jesus. The most direct teaching Jesus himself gives on this is in Matthew 25, where he says we will be judged for how we treated him in the hungry, the thirsty, the foreigner, the naked, the sick, and the imprisoned.

We will look on him whom we have pierced, and our final judgment is nothing more nor less than how we stand in that comparison.


But to say that much – to speak only of the imitation of Christ – is not enough. Because with man all of this is impossible! We cannot be judged by Christ’s standard. We cannot fulfill the Beatitudes. We cannot stand under the pressure of this radicalism.

In fact, the classical Protestant solution – above all, the theology of Luther, and also of Calvin – takes more seriously the Imitation of Christ than do many Catholics, when it says: therefore, we must give up. Luther says, obviously I cannot be Christ, therefore I accept salvation from him, and give up even trying to imitate him. Luther has a point.

The true Catholic response – real Catholic theology, which is infinitely deeper than the semi-Pelagian gruel that most modern Catholics starve on – says, “with man it is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” The imitation of Christ is only possible if we are in Christ.

Or to put it another way, to truly imitate Christ is above all to imitate Christ’s dependence. He was not a mere man; he could only be Christ by the power of God. We too. The saints are not saints by their own strength, but by relying on God. Thus what we said last week about the Holy Spirit is operative here too: you cannot imitate Christ without the spirit of Christ. You cannot live the Christian life without being in Christ, relying on the power of Christ.


How do we do that? Well, first, we discover the reality of the Church, which is truly the Body of Christ. No Christian becomes a hero except by being truly part of Christ’s body, with Christ’s blood pumping through him, vivified by Christ’s spirit. “I am the vine, you are the branches; He that abides in me, and I in him, he shall bring forth much fruit; for without me you can do nothing” (John 15:5).

To put the same thing a different way, the only way to be a Christian is through the sacraments of Christ. Baptism is true incorporation into Christ, entering truly into his death and resurrection. Confession is casting our sins on him, and receiving the spirit of true repentance from him. The Eucharist is the true Body and Blood of Christ, true food and drink for the soul. Only his sacramental Body can make us truly part of his Body, truly living by his life.

That fourth part of The Imitation of Christ turns out to be the most important part of all. We cannot imitate unless we enter in.


Concretely: How do you practice the imitation of Christ? How do you receive life from Jesus?

Pope Benedict on Personal and Liturgical Prayer

Another fine passage from Spe Salvi:

For prayer to develop this power of purification, it must on the one hand be something very personal, an encounter between my intimate self and God, the living God. On the other hand it must be constantly guided and enlightened by the great prayers of the Church and of the saints, by liturgical prayer, in which the Lord teaches us again and again how to pray properly. Cardinal Nguyen Van Thuan, in his book of spiritual exercises, tells us that during his life there were long periods when he was unable to pray and that he would hold fast to the texts of the Church’s prayer: the Our Father, the Hail Mary and the prayers of the liturgy. Praying must always involve this intermingling of public and personal prayer. This is how we can speak to God and how God speaks to us. In this way we undergo those purifications by which we become open to God and are prepared for the service of our fellow human beings.

We become capable of the great hope, and thus we become ministers of hope for others. Hope in a Christian sense is always hope for others as well. It is an active hope, in which we struggle to prevent things moving towards the “perverse end”. It is an active hope also in the sense that we keep the world open to God. Only in this way does it continue to be a truly human hope.

Pope Benedict XVI, Spe Salvi

The 34th : Imagining Christ the King

St Dominic with Bible

This reflection refers to the readings for Sunday, November 24.  For last week’s reflection, click here.

2 SM 5: 1-3; PS 122: 1-2, 3-4, 4-5; COL 1: 12-20; LK 23: 35-43

This Sunday we come to the end of the Church’s year, with the Feast of Christ the King. This is a feast that engages our imagination, and our affections. We are meant to associate the end of time with the reign of the Good King. Obviously there are imperfections in the analogy: Jesus is not exactly like the kings we know. But let us try to exercise our imaginations.


The Church, like the New Testament, draws her images from the Old Testament. The Old, say the Fathers of the Church, is full of “types”: images that find their perfection in Christ. On the one hand, when the new comes, the old passes away, and we no longer need the figures. On the other hand, looking back at those images helps us to better appreciate who Christ is.

It is like the best of novels (or movies), where the end has a clear punchline. Ah: that is what this whole book was about. Jesus is what the whole book is about. But that doesn’t make the rest of the book uninteresting. It makes you want to reread the book, because now you know what all those things were pointing to.


Our first reading very quickly sketches the image of King David. It is simple enough to verge on uninspiring. But we see the people begging for a king: “a shepherd and a commander.” That is, a shepherd who gently guides the life of his people at home, and a commander who leads them in battle against the enemy.

This reading is almost like a placeholder, or a little pointer: a reminder of the abundance of images in the Old Testament about king, shepherd, battle. All the romance of the Old Testament is wrapped into this one brief description of King David. Even the prophets, another kind of shepherd, and the battles fought before there was a king, all come together in the figure of David. It’s not so much that he himself is the most inspiring guy as that he sums up the aspirations of Israel.


I rarely have space to comment on the Psalm, but here I can’t resist: Jerusalem! Ah, so key to the Old Testament’s images. It is there that the tribes go up, the tribes of the Lord. There where the aspirations of Israel come together: the unity of the people, their joining together in praise in the Temple of God! The earthly Jerusalem passed away – but it is an image that is meant to engage our affections, to make us sigh, and long to “go up” to the heavenly Jerusalem!


Our New Testament readings, of course, modify these images – or deepen them. The great hymn from the first chapter of Colossians tells us of a king greater than our wildest imaginings. He delivered us not only from the neighboring tribes, but from the power of darkness! Led us not just to the earthly Jerusalem, but the kingdom of perfect light. He is the ultimate, the true prince: not just some guy, like David, but the image of the invisible God, the first born of all creation, the first to triumph over death itself.

Our feast of Christ the King, and the first reading, let us clothe this doctrinal magnificence with an image that can really engage us. This is our King! This is our David! This is our Kingdom! The true Jerusalem.


But then the Gospel reveals yet another face of the True King: a crucified face. The shepherd and commander of Israel, the establisher of Jerusalem, is more meek and humble than ever we could imagine. He rules over his city with a Crown of Thorns. He suffers for his people. He redeems even the thief dying on a cross. “This is the King of the Jews.”

The power and majesty of Colossians is so great that he can stoop down to our lowliness. The true shepherd does not just stand on high, but descends to the depths of our misery.

And our captain, our commander in battle, does not stand back and watch us fight. As we struggle with sin and suffering, he hangs on the Cross at our side. As we experience the injustices of this world, we see the Good Shepherd despised and rejected, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.

None of this leaves behind the glory of David and Jerusalem. It just takes us infinitely deeper. It lets us reread the Old Testament and rediscover its true romance, the romance of Christ the King.


Do you sigh for Jerusalem? Does the romance of the Old Testament come alive for you? Do you earnestly pray “Thy Kingdom come”? What does that look like in your spiritual life?

Pope Benedict on Prayer as an “Exercise of Desire”

Pope Benedict’s encyclical on hope, Spe Salvi, contains many beautiful passages on prayer. I have broken the following into paragraphs, and added some bold face, to make it a little easier to read:

“Saint Augustine, in a homily on the First Letter of John, describes very beautifully the intimate relationship between prayer and hope. He defines prayer as an exercise of desire. Man was created for greatness—for God himself; he was created to be filled by God. But his heart is too small for the greatness to which it is destined. It must be stretched. “By delaying [his gift], God strengthens our desire; through desire he enlarges our soul and by expanding it he increases its capacity [for receiving him]”. Augustine refers to Saint Paul, who speaks of himself as straining forward to the things that are to come (cf. Phil 3:13).

He then uses a very beautiful image to describe this process of enlargement and preparation of the human heart. “Suppose that God wishes to fill you with honey [a symbol of God’s tenderness and goodness]; but if you are full of vinegar, where will you put the honey?” The vessel, that is your heart, must first be enlarged and then cleansed, freed from the vinegar and its taste. This requires hard work and is painful, but in this way alone do we become suited to that for which we are destined.

“Even if Augustine speaks directly only of our capacity for God, it is nevertheless clear that through this effort by which we are freed from vinegar and the taste of vinegar, not only are we made free for God, but we also become open to others. It is only by becoming children of God, that we can be with our common Father. To pray is not to step outside history and withdraw to our own private corner of happiness. When we pray properly we undergo a process of inner purification which opens us up to God and thus to our fellow human beings as well.”

–Benedict XVI, Spe Salvi