The True Secret of Fatima: The Gospel

o-l-fatima-bust2Tuesday of this week was the feast of Our Lady of Fatima, May 13. On that day in 1917, Our Lady appeared to three shepherd children in a small town in Portugal. She then appeared on the thirteenth of the next five months.

There were miracles, including the bizarre miracle of the sun spinning on October 13, with thousands of people watching. And there were secrets she told the children.

But the way we relate to those “secrets” really gets to the heart of Catholicism.

***

Too often we’re more interested in miracles than in God himself. There are websites full of Fatima conspiracy theories, about the technicalities of what Mary asked to be done, and about what she really revealed to the children.

What these things overlook is how very simple Our Lady of Fatima’s message was: pray, and repent. Or: love God, and act like you love God.

Most centrally, she asked them to pray the rosary, and pray it well.

***

To be sure, there were miracles. There would be little sense in praying to a God who had no power over creation. Such a god would be no god at all.

But we don’t pray to God for miracles. He isn’t our sugar daddy. This, in fact, is a central theme of the Old Testament and the New Testament. Over and over the Psalms condemn Israel for demanding bread in the wilderness: “They spoke against God; they said, Can God furnish a table in the wilderness? Behold, he smote the rock, that the waters gushed out, and the streams overflowed; can he give bread also? Can he provide flesh for his people? Therefore the LORD heard this, and was wroth: so a fire was kindled against Jacob, and anger also came up against Israel; Because they believed not in God, and trusted not in his salvation” (Ps 78:19-22).

And Jesus recapitulates the same theme. “Jesus answered them and said, Verily, verily, I say unto you, You seek me, not because you saw the miracles” (and acknowledged who I really am) “but because you ate of the loaves, and were filled. Labour not for the food which perishes, but for that food which endures unto everlasting life, which the Son of man shall give to you: for him hath God the Father sealed” (Jn 6:26-27).

God doesn’t do miracles so that we’ll be miracle fans. He does miracles so that we will know that he, who can provide bread in the wilderness, is the true bread, the bread of angels, the goodness exceeding all goodness. Instead we say, “hey, do the magic trick again.”

He responds – and our Lady responds, “Do you still not understand?” (Mk 6:52, 8:12, 8:17, 8:21, 9:19).

***

There were prophecies, too. Mary warned them about lowering standards of modesty, and sexual immorality. She warned them about the mess that was arising in Russia. She even showed them a vision that seems to have been the assassination attempt, May 13, 1981, on John Paul II.

But what is the purpose of these prophecies? Anyone who loves Jesus – and who loves Mary, and prays the rosary, so as to love Jesus – could see these things happen. John Paul knew the prophecy, and it didn’t keep him from getting shot. That’s not the purpose of prophecy.

Rather, these prophecies took them deeper into the very simple message at the heart of Fatima: pray! What do we do about these disasters – attacks on the family, on civil society, and on the Church? We pray. Pray for Russia, she said. Yes! Pray! How do we see truly what is happening? Pray! Pray the rosary. Love Mary. Love Jesus.

The same is true, for example, of John’s revelation of the Apocalypse, at the end of the Bible. The point isn’t that we get secret knowledge. The point is that we see what is truly happening: the Pope trudging up the hill of crosses, in the vision of Fatima; the attack of the dragon, in John’s vision; the ultimate triumph of the City of God.

***

But all of this only points us to the true secret of Fatima: the Gospel. Jesus is everything. Without God, there is calamity, and moral disaster. But Jesus can save us from that disaster, and our reward is only Jesus.

The truest “secret” is the tender whispering of Jesus and his saints. At Lourdes, St. Bernadette said much of the vision was just about her intimate relationship with Jesus. The true secret is love.

So yes, pray the rosary, and live like you love God!

Do we let trivial matters obscure our focus on Jesus?

The Gift of Fortitude

Seven-Gifts-Holy-SpiritWe are meditating on the gifts of the Holy Spirit. What does Christ do for us? What happens when God is in our life? Christianity is not just about things that happen outside of us. Christianity is something that happens to us. God intervenes in our interior. He pours his spirit into us to transform us. “I will give them one heart,” he says, “and I will put a new spirit within you; and I will take the stony heart out of their flesh, and will give them a heart of flesh” (Ez 11:19).

Jesus doesn’t just demand a change of heart. He gives us a new heart. Or rather, his Spirit breathes within our heart, to bring it back to life.

Much of this is about a change in perspective, and so the first three gifts, wisdom, understanding, and counsel, are all about how we see. The Holy Spirit blows through our eyes and our minds, driving us to see more deeply, and to see the Father at work in our lives. It’s not only that he changes how we act. More deeply, he changes how we see. It’s not just that he gives us the oomph to get through life. Heaven itself will be an extension of our powers so that we can see the invisible God, and delight in his goodness.

***

But a full transformation cannot just be about perspective. It also seeps down into our ordinary life.

The tradition distinguishes different “sets” within the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit. Wisdom and understanding are about contemplation: just knowing God. The other five are about living life in this world. Both are essential, and they are inseparable. When the Holy Spirit comes, he gives us all seven gifts together: contemplation and action. He transforms and enlivens our heart in its entirety, which includes both.

Within the active life, there are the ordinary moments, and the difficult ones. We need counsel and fortitude to help us deal with difficult times. But the Holy Spirit isn’t only there during difficult times. The generic gift of “knowledge” shows that we know God’s presence in all things, not just the “important” ones, and piety (which we will discuss in time) is an attitude that marks all our actions. Fear of the Lord, finally, is about our most basic sense of values, what we hope for and fear to lose.

The Holy Spirit is in all of these things.

***

Fortitude is, in a way, the easiest gift to understand. There are times that we struggle. Sometimes love demands more of us than we have to give. God does not abandon us at those times. He gives us his strength. Fortitude is the strength to get through: “strength” would also be a fine translation of the word.

It’s really impossible to think about Catholic morals without the gift of fortitude. God does demand the impossible of us. The Church doesn’t teach that the moral life is easy. And – please never forget this – the authentic teaching of the Catholic Church does not teach that you just have to try harder on your own.

Catholic moral teaching (which we might call the doctrine of the difficult parts of the active life, the parts governed by Counsel and Fortitude) is about what the Holy Spirit can accomplish in us. We are not meant to do it on our own, because at the heart of Catholicism is the belief that we don’t have to do it on our own. God helps. He gives us the strength to do what we could not do ourselves. It is the Holy Spirit who makes us heroes.

***

Christianity puts us in impossible situations. Martyrdom is the classic example. No one has the natural strength to be willing to die. All of our strength is ordered to keeping ourselves alive. Christianity calls us beyond the ordinary, to be willing to suffer what no one is willing to suffer.

Martyrdom literally means, not death, but “witness.” Martyrdom is a witness not just to our values, but to the power of the Holy Spirit in our lives. How, people should ask, is that person able to handle such difficulties? There must be something divine going on!

But this is the theme of all our lives. Catholic motherhood is a martyrdom. Celibacy is a martyrdom. Honestly, even being just, in a world that is not just, is a martyrdom. We can do it – we can embrace the true good, come what may – because Jesus has not left us as orphans.

“Hitherto you have asked nothing in my name: ask, and you shall receive, that your joy may be full” (Jn 16:24).

***

Do I expect God to help me with the hard things in my life?

Pope Benedict on Evangelistic Parishes

Below is an excerpt from an address by Pope Benedict XVI to parishes in Rome. It’s important to think about the practical aspects of our faith: how we pray, how we evangelize, how we organize our parishes.

I like the practicality of this, on two sides. First, we need to be practical about forming structures that will really work. Second, we need to realize that the structures that work are the structures that meet practical needs: the need for “places” of encounter, in the places where people are.

POPE“The spiritual and apostolic growth of the community then leads to its extension through a convinced missionary action. Strive, therefore, in every parish as at the time of the City Mission, to restore life to the small groups or counselling centres for the faithful who proclaim Christ and his word, places where it is possible to experience faith, to put charity into practice and to organize hope. This structuring of the large urban parishes by the multiplication of small communities allows the mission a larger breathing space, which takes into account the density of the population and its social and cultural features which are often very different.

“If this pastoral method is also to be applied effectively in workplaces, it would be important to evangelize them with a well thought-out and adapted pastoral ministry since, because of the high social mobility, it is here that people spend a large part of their day.

“Lastly, the witness of charity that unites hearts and opens them to ecclesial belonging should not be forgotten. Historians answer the question as to how the success of Christianity in the first centuries can be explained – the ascent of a presumed Jewish sect to the religion of the Empire – by saying that it was the experience of Christian charity in particular that convinced the world.

Living charity is the primary form of missionary outreach. The word proclaimed and lived becomes credible if it is incarnate in behaviour that demonstrates solidarity and sharing, in deeds that show the Face of Christ as man’s true Friend. May the silent, daily witness of charity, promoted by parishes thanks to the commitment of numerous lay faithful continue to spread increasingly, so that those who live in suffering feel the Church’s closeness and experience the love of the Father rich in mercy.

“Therefore be “Good Samaritans”, ready to treat the material and spiritual wounds of your brethren. Deacons, conformed by ordination to Christ the Servant, will be able to carry out a useful service in promoting fresh attention to the old and new forms of poverty.

-Benedict XVI, at the Diocese of Rome’s Ecclesial Convention, 26 May 2009

As It Was In the Beginning

PFA83070The second half of the Glory Be connects the profession of faith in the Trinity with all of time.

On the most basic level, remember, the Glory Be is a profession of faith. Equal honor to the Son as to the Father, it says, and to the Holy Spirit too. As a profession of faith, the second half pushes back against theories that say the Trinity is anything less than the very nature of God.

One way to say that the Son is less than really God is to say that he came to be late in time. It’s not that there was God (the Father) hanging out for a long time, and then he began to have a son when Jesus was begotten in the womb of Mary. No, the Son was eternal, from the beginning, in God.

Nor is it that the one God sort of acts differently at different times: at one time Father, at another time Son, at another time Holy Spirit. No, he is always Father-Son-Holy Spirit. So much so that though we say the Son is begotten, we cannot say that in any sense he came “after” the Father.

The Athanasian Creed, a deceptively dry meditation on the Trinity, reminds us, “In this Trinity, no one is before or after, greater or less than the other; but all three persons are in themselves coeternal and coequal.” And Jesus “is God, begotten before all worlds from the being of the Father.”

“As it was in the beginning” is part of our profession of the full divinity of Father and Son. It’s a reminder, too, that though it’s fine for pious people to change the prayer to “Give glory to the Father,” the deeper glory is eternal, not what we give. This is about discovering that God is God.

***

There are three important “beginnings” in Scripture. The Old Testament begins, in Genesis, with “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” The Gospel of John – the last Gospel, after we’ve discovered Jesus, but as we ponder who he truly is – echoes Genesis with “in the beginning was the Word . . . all things were made through him.” In Latin these are “In principio,” just as in the Glory Be: our prayer intentionally echoes these phrases.

The Glory Be encourages us to think about these things. Perhaps what’s most important about the Glory Be is that this simple little prayer reminds us that we really should think about eternal things. And you don’t have to be a theology professor to do it. The Glory Be is the simplest prayer – when my kids are feeling lazy, they argue over who gets to say this for their bedtime prayer, since it’s shorter than the Our Father or the Hail Mary – but it encourages us to meditate on the most profound things.

We should think about “the Beginning.” We should think about who God is, who he “was” even before the universe existed. It’s not out of our reach to occasionally ponder that God’s glory, and his Trinity of love, “predates” even the beginning of time. Genesis takes us to “the beginning” of time – but John urges us to think about “the beginning” as a who: the triune God who was already there, and made that beginning come to be.

It’s okay to go there. It’s a prayer children can pray, but it’s worth taking a moment or two, frequently, to ponder who God was before time began.

***

We should think, too, about the beginning of time. With Genesis, we can meditate on the reality that this world came to be by an act of God – the glorious triune God. To think of that “beginning” is to think of everything coming forth from God’s love. You could say “as it was in the beginning” as you look at the trees, or the fields, or the sky, and say, all of this comes forth from the glorious love of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

This points us to our third “beginning,” one that St. John Paul II urged us to think of: the beginning of man. Jesus says, “from the beginning it was not so.”

Now, to be fair, it’s not exactly the same phrase: the Greek word for “beginning” is the same, but it’s not technically “in the beginning.” Nonetheless, the point is that the Trinity is the source of man, too, made in God’s image. We smear that image almost beyond recognition, but the glorious Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is what our own creation is all about, too. To know man truly you must know God.

***

Do you allow yourself to think about God? Could a “Glory Be” here and there give you a little space to do that?

Fourth Sunday of Easter: The Gate

grunewaldchrisre

ACTS 2:14a, 36-41; PS 23:1-2a, 3b-4, 5, 6; 1PT 2:20b-25; JN 10:1-10

This Sunday’s readings present Jesus to us as the Good Shepherd and as the gate to the sheepfold.

The reading from Acts is short, the end of Peter’s preaching on Pentecost and the people’s reply. The people ask him, “What are we to do?” Peter says, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins.”

At the Easter Vigil we heard Paul say, “Are you unaware that we who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were indeed buried with him through baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might live in newness of life” (Rom 6:2-4).

Peter tells them that the proper response to his preaching is to be plunged into the death of Christ.

The conclusion of his preaching, by which “they were cut to the heart,” said, “Let the whole house of Israel know for certain that God has made both Lord and Christ this Jesus whom you crucified.” Last week, too, we saw that he began his preaching by saying, “This man, delivered up by the set plan and foreknowledge of God, you killed, using lawless men to crucify him.” You killed him!

But for Peter, this is not just accusation. It is a call to repentance. The people repent, and he says, if you have repented, then be plunged into his death. His death becomes your healing.

He says, “you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is made to you and to your children.” You who have crucified him, you to whom he gave himself to be crucified, are the ones he promises to raise. The Cross becomes the tree of life. Christ comes so near that our sin becomes the place of our repentance and our being reborn with him.

***

The reading from Second Peter gives a practical view of the same mystery. “By his wounds you have been healed” because “He himself bore our sins in his body upon the cross.” It is his very closeness to our sin, his willingness to suffer from our sin, to meet us while we are yet sinners, that makes him the place of our rebirth.

Perhaps the key is when Peter says, “When he was insulted, he returned no insult; when he suffered, he did not threaten” – and so he tells us, too, “If you are patient when you suffer for doing what is good, this is a grace before God.” It is in our recognition of sin that we find the way out. We repent – and are baptized, entering into Christ’s total vulnerability, his willingness to stay with us no matter what, and always to be willing to suffer for doing good. It is only in this total identification with Christ – even to the receiving of his own spirit – that we can be freed.

***

The Gospel tells us about the Good Shepherd and his sheep. “The sheep follow him, because they know his voice.” This is the heart of the sheep analogy, throughout Scripture. What differentiates sheep from the other animals is above all that they follow. Their obedience is a kind of intelligence. “They recognize his voice. But they will not follow a stranger.”

But this week the main analogy is not that Jesus is the shepherd – that comes later in the tenth chapter of John, and elsewhere in the Lectionary. Here he says, “I am the gate for the sheep. . . . Whoever enters through me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture.”

The identification goes deeper than just obedience. We are called to enter into Jesus. To be plunged into his Baptism. To be identified with him. That’s the real point of hearing his voice: not just blind obedience, but being so identified with him that we go where he goes, and are driven, not, like cows, by sticks, but by his Spirit, and the sheep’s love for its master.

***

The Psalm is “The Lord is my shepherd.” But now we can see more deeply into it. I shall not want. He refreshes my soul. When the three thousand repented and were baptized at Pentecost, they saw that Jesus offers everything. There is no need to be the persecutor, because to die with Jesus is to possess everything. He may lead us into the dark valley, he may correct us with rod and staff, he may set a table for us in the sight of our enemies, but our cup overflows.

Do we really trust that dwelling in the house of Jesus will satisfy us?

The Easter Joy of Our Lady 

Christ appears to his Mother, Rogier van der  Weyden

Christ appears to his Mother, Rogier van der Weyden

Queen of Heaven rejoice: alleluia!
For he whom you merited to bear: alleluia!
Has risen as he said: alleluia!
Pray for us to God: alleluia!
Rejoice and be glad, Virgin Mary: alleluia!
For the Lord is truly risen: alleluia!

During the Easter Season, the Church turns us to the joy of Mary.

It is said that St. John XXIII’s favorite part of being Patriarch of Venice, before he was elected Pope, was an Easter morning tradition.  At daybreak, an old Monsignor would enter the Archbishop’s apartment and announce, “Christ is risen, our Lady rejoices!  Let us go to Mary to share in her joy!”  Then they would go to the altar of Our Lady in the Cathedral of St. Mark and pray to enter into Mary’s joy.

On one level, this is just a pious meditation.  It’s a way of thinking more seriously about the resurrection.  The resurrection is no abstraction.  Christ was a real human being, something nowhere more evident to us than in thinking about his mother, who was naturally most deeply attached to that humanity.

His dying was real sadness, and so we join Our Lady of Sorrows in thinking about that sadness.  But his rising was real joy, and it’s hard to think of a better imaginative way to enter into that joy than to think of how his mother’s heart would have pounded when she saw him alive again.  These are things that happened in his humanity, and it is right to experience the human emotions of sorrow and joy by meditating on his human mother’s responses.

***

But of course this goes deeper than just a pious imagination, because it points to the reality of the Incarnation, to hard doctrinal truths.  In 431, the Council of Ephesus, the third great ecumenical Council, proclaimed that you cannot embrace the truth of who and what Christ really is without actively embracing the truth that Mary is Mother of God.

These pious meditations help us enter into the reality of his humanity.  This is no illusion, no vague idea.  It is a real man, with a real mother, who died and rose again.  “If Christ has not been raised,” says Paul, really, truly raised, in the flesh, the real humanity born of Mary, “then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain” (1 Cor 15:14) – because if his flesh cannot be raised, neither can ours.  Death would still be the end for us.

Pious meditations on Mary’s Easter joy help us think seriously about the reality of the incarnation and the resurrection.

***

But in fact it is even more important to come to grips with Mary’s joy.  Without joy, life without end is no good news.  The truth of the Gospel is not just that we will rise from the dead.  The heart of the Gospel is joy itself.

Always there are these two poles: the truth about Jesus, and the truth about what Jesus does for us.  The deeper resurrection is not the resurrection of the body.  The deeper resurrection is the resurrection of the soul: the restoration of friendship, of love of God and neighbor.  In heaven we will have bodies, yes, but this is the least of heaven’s joys.  In heaven we will also have risen from the death of sin, and of all that impedes love and joy.

***

The Hail Mary takes us into the roots of this joy.  “Hail,” remember, means rejoice.  It is good, especially in this Easter season, to dig into that word, to spend a few seconds now and then lingering on Mary’s joy: “Rejoice, Mary!”

And then to let those opening words lead us through the rest of the prayer.  Hail, rejoice!  Because you are full of God’s grace: because he has healed you, and lifted you up, and made you all beautiful.  Because he has filled you with his presence: the Lord is with you, and you are with him!  Rejoice!

You are blessed, blessed as an ordinary woman, but also lifted up by his grace, above the ordinary.  You are blessed as he is blessed.  And how blessed is he, the fruit of your womb!  How blessed is that life that has been united to yours!

Holy Mary, so close to God, pray for us, that we too may enter in that joy.

***

This is the joy that carries Mary – and us – even through the Cross.  But it is good to linger in it in this season of Easter joy.

 

 

The Gift of Counsel 

Seven-Gifts-Holy-SpiritThe third gift of the Holy Spirit in Isaiah’s list is called Counsel.

Here we turn the corner from the contemplative life to the active life.  At the heights of life in the Spirit, and at the origin of everything else, is contemplation.  Wisdom is a simple gaze on God, and seeing everything in relation to him.  The gift of Understanding supports this contemplative gaze by helping us to penetrate the mysteries especially of Scripture and the liturgy.  The Holy Spirit helps us go from reading God’s Word to an awareness of God himself.

Notice that there are no visions here.  Normal life is not left behind.  Rather, the Holy Spirit extends our normal abilities, takes us deeper – though much deeper – into the natural process of reading (or listening to the liturgy) and seeing how it all fits together.

***

But of course for this love of God to penetrate all the way into the human person, it must extend to our actions, too.  The gift of Counsel is the beginning of that process.

Here, too, human nature is not left behind, but elevated.  In fact, Counsel might be the nicest place of all for thinking about what it means to say that grace perfects, and does not destroy or replace, nature.

St. Thomas points out the significance of Isaiah using the word Counsel.  The gift of the Spirit is not “command.”  Sometimes, perhaps, we imagine that it would be, that now and then we will be walking around and hear a voice telling us what to do.  And perhaps sometimes that may happen.  But it is not the ordinary working of the Holy Spirit, and indeed it is not the deepest penetration of the Spirit into our humanity.

A command leaves your own mind out of the discussion.  Don’t ask questions, just obey!  But that is not at all what “counsel” means.  When we take counsel, it is we who are in charge.  We go to a friend, and we ask our friend to help us think things through.  But it is we who ultimately work things out.

The counselor’s job is not to tell us what to do, but to point out what we might not have noticed, or to draw our attention to important details in the discussion.  This is how the gift of Counsel works.  It does not replace our human prudence, does not keep us from thinking things through, or knowing why we make a choice.  Like the contemplative gifts we considered above, Counsel merely extends our own ability to think.  It means we notice the key points for our decision making, pick out the significant details.

***

Counsel is a key part of being human.  I think sometimes the very modern view of spiritual “direction” held by many devout Catholics today misses this.  Properly, there really isn’t much place for anyone to give us “directions” in the spiritual life.  The word comes originally, I think, from Ignatian retreats, where someone tells you what is the next step in a certain regime of exercises.

But that isn’t life.  In our prayer, we should have the freedom and love to play, to read Scripture, enter into the liturgy, and know God.  In our active life, we should deal with our own lives.  Only we can ultimately make the decision what makes sense in our life – though sometimes a superior may tell us what is required of us for our role within a certain community.

But the Christian life, at least in the Catholic Tradition, is not about being “directed,” not about obedience, in the deepest things, to human authority.  It’s about embracing the reality before us, by making wise decisions.  We don’t really need a “director.”

We do, however, desperately need good counsel, to help us see beyond our blind spots.  We need friends, or we will often make poor decisions.  It is even a good idea – and here’s the root of the “spiritual director” thing – to have people we talk to who are a good deal wiser than us, and deeper into the spiritual life.  But what we ask for is counsel: not the replacement of our personality, but the enlightenment of it.

***

That is what the Holy Spirit offers us in the gift of Counsel.  He doesn’t overcome us, doesn’t push our own minds out of the way.  He enlightens us, so that we ourselves can think clearly.  And, more deeply, so that we ourselves can connect our spiritual aspirations with all the details of our life.  The work of the Holy Spirit in us is deeply personal, deeply human.

Can you think of a time you didn’t take responsibility for your own prudence?  Do you see how that separates your spiritual life from your active life?

Pope Francis on Solidarity with the Poor 

pope francisToday let us pause from our considerations of the Holy Spirit and consider what Scripture, the Tradition, and the Magisterium all insist is a central expression of true Catholic spirituality: love of the poor.  There are no saints who did not actively love the literal poor.

Francis makes two important points here.  The first is about a change of mindset: you cannot be truly Catholic without this change of mindset – but we cannot hope for a society that cares for the poor without this conversion of heart.  Structures matter, but they are the result of changed hearts.

Second, in the last paragraph below, he nicely makes a key point about private property.  The Church has always condemned socialism. Private property is necessary – so that fields will be well cultivated, so that we can truly care for our neighbor.  In that one sentence is a world of Catholic social thought.  But it also expresses what we said in the previous paragraph: it’s not about eliminating property, it’s about changing hearts, creating Christians who use their property to love their neighbors.

 

Let us recall also how bluntly the apostle James speaks of the cry of the oppressed: “The wages of the labourers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, cry out, and the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts” (5:4).

The Church has realized that the need to heed this plea is itself born of the liberating action of grace within each of us, and thus it is not a question of a mission reserved only to a few: “The Church, guided by the Gospel of mercy and by love for mankind, hears the cry for justice and intends to respond to it with all her might”. In this context we can understand Jesus’ command to his disciples: “You yourselves give them something to eat!” (Mk 6:37).

It means working to eliminate the structural causes of poverty and to promote the integral development of the poor, as well as small daily acts of solidarity in meeting the real needs which we encounter. The word “solidarity” is a little worn and at times poorly understood, but it refers to something more than a few sporadic acts of generosity. It presumes the creation of a new mindset which thinks in terms of community and the priority of the life of all over the appropriation of goods by a few.

Solidarity is a spontaneous reaction by those who recognize that the social function of property and the universal destination of goods are realities which come before private property. The private ownership of goods is justified by the need to protect and increase them, so that they can better serve the common good; for this reason, solidarity must be lived as the decision to restore to the poor what belongs to them.

These convictions and habits of solidarity, when they are put into practice, open the way to other structural transformations and make them possible. Changing structures without generating new convictions and attitudes will only ensure that those same structures will become, sooner or later, corrupt, oppressive and ineffectual.

-Pope Francis, Evangelii Gaudium

And to the Holy Spirit

PFA83070Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit. Do we mean anything when we say these words? Do they enrich our spiritual life, or are they a meaningless formula? Does the Trinity have anything to do with us?

We have seen, first, the value of glory, of thinking of the grandeur and beauty of God. Last week, we saw that God is Father and Son, a relationship of love, and of giving and receiving. We do well, sometimes when saying this prayer, to pause for each significant phrase. Glory. To the Father and to the Son. That is not two phrases, it is one, in which the two parts, Father and Son, reveal one another. But now we come to the the third phrase. What is the Holy Spirit?

We said that names matter: all that we know about the Trinity is in these names. Father and Son are names that point out a relationship. But Holy Spirit is a challenge. God is holy. God is a spirit. Holy Spirit, then, is what Father and Son have in common. But why name it a third thing?

We see deeper into the doctrine of the Trinity if we realize that, in some sense, Father and Son is all there is to it. Holy Spirit does not name a third kind of relationship: not wife, or mother, or anything else. It all comes down to the Father and the Son. Why then say the Holy Spirit is a third thing? (Or “person,” which, remember, is a word that in this context means nothing but “what there are three of.)

***

We can understand why we think about the Holy Spirit as a third “person” if we think a bit about the Christological debates of the fourth century, in which these things were first hashed out.

The original question was not about the Holy Spirit and not about the Trinity. The question was about Christ. In fact, all of this is just about naming who Christ is and what he does.

The theme was that Christ is our mediator, the one who unites God and man. Now, there are Scriptural arguments driving all of this, and I feel bad not giving them, but we will have to stick to the level of doctrine. On the doctrinal level, the point is that Christ cannot unite God and man if he is not God and man himself. If he wasn’t really man, what good would he be to us who are? But if he were not really God, he could not get us to God. The bridge has to reach all the way to both sides of the chasm. Christ unites God and man because he unites them in his own person.

***

The first point, then, is that Christ himself, the “Son,” really is God.

But then a second question arises, how Christ unites us to God. The Biblical answer is that he pours out his Spirit on us. The Son becomes incarnate as Another man, somehow who is not me. But then he unites me to himself through the Holy Spirit.

The logic is again the same. If the Holy Spirit were less than God, the Holy Spirit could not unite us to God. Glory to the Holy Spirit, coequal with the Father and the Son!

But see that this is not as abstract and obscure as it sounds. “God became man so that man could become God,” said the fourth-century Church Fathers, and the Church has echoed it ever since. The Holy Spirit that he pours into our hearts is God himself, and he lifts us up into the life of God.

That’s obscure in the sense that it’s hard to think about. But it is the very Gospel. He didn’t just come and preach some nice little thoughts. He didn’t just lift us up so we could be slightly higher than those around us. In fact, it’s not about being higher than anyone. It’s about entering into the life of God. That’s crazy. And it’s the Catholic doctrine of grace. That’s the Holy Spirit we receive. That’s the offer.

***

When we say, “Glory to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit,” first we imagine the glory of God. Then we realize that in that glory is love, and giving, and thanksgiving: Father and Son. And then we affirm that the Spirit is given to us precisely so that we can enter into that relationship of love, and giving, and thanksgiving.

That is Good News, mind-blowing Good News. Settle for nothing less.

***

Do you recognize the greatness of the Gospel? That God gives his own Spirit to you?

Third Sunday of Easter: “In accordance with the Scriptures”

grunewaldchrisreDear Readers: Sometimes work takes over. A major issue arose Thursday night and kept me busy all Friday. My apologies for the delay on this post.

***

ACTS 2:14, 22-33; PS 16:1-2, 5, 7-8, 9-10, 11;  1PT 1:17-21; LK 24:13-35

The readings during Easter introduce us to the Acts of the Apostles and the Apostolic preaching. We find a driving concern with Jesus as the fulfillment of the Old Testament.

Our first reading is Peter’s sermon at Pentecost. He preaches on the Psalms – on Psalm 16, which will be our responsory Psalm this Sunday. He finds that this beautiful Psalm of trust is only fulfilled in Jesus.

The Psalms speak of their original situation, sometimes that of David. But they are also prophecies of Jesus, the Son of David. And so too they can speak of us, members of Christ’s Body and conformed to Christ.

When the Psalm says “You will not abandon my soul to the netherworld,” Peter says, “David died and was buried . . . . But since he was a prophet, and knew that God had sworn an oath to him, that he would set one of his descendents upon the throne, he foresaw and spoke about the resurrection of Christ.”

This prophetic strand in the Old Testament reminds us of “the set plan and foreknowledge of God,” and that “God worked through Jesus.” All is in the Father’s hands.

***

Our short second reading, from the second letter of the same Apostle Peter, makes the same point. What was “revealed in the final time for you” is what “was known before the foundation of the world.” It’s all in God’s hands.

Peter also gives us a key for thinking about the Old Testament, one we find also in the Gospels. We might miss it if we don’t know our Bible. It’s always good to look at the footnotes!

Peter begins, “If you invoke as Father him who judges impartially according to each one’s works.” He is quoting Deuteronomy, the last of the first five books of the Bible, and the central book of promises for the people of Israel. We invoke as Father the God of the Old Testament.

We are “ransomed from your futile conduct, handed on by your ancestors.” The key problem, then, is that they didn’t do what the Old Testament taught them.

But the solution is that we are “ransomed” or “redeemed” – “with the precious blood of Christ as of a spotless unblemished lamb.” That’s a reference to Passover. Christ, the “Lamb of God,” is our true passover, the one who sets us free from Pharoah and brings us to the promised land, the land of true worship, of God’s provision, and of life according to God’s law.

***

The Gospel is Luke’s story of the road to Emmaus. It’s such a beautiful reading, there are many things we can draw from it. For now, let’s stick with our theme.

The two disciples are fleeing Jerusalem, and they speak of what happened there, in David’s city. When Jesus asks them what has been happening, they say, “we were hoping that he would be the one to redeem Israel”: the long-awaited, the fulfillment of the Old Testament.

After listening to them, Jesus says, “How slow of heart to believe all that the prophets spoke! Was it not necessary” that all these things happen. He says, yes, it all happened exactly according to prophecy!

“Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them what referred to him in all the Scriptures.” Moses speaks about Christ. The Prophets speak about Christ. They reveal what really happened. They give us the way to interpret both his experience and ours.

Later, “he took bread, said the blessing, broke it, and gave it to them. With that their eyes were opened and they recognized him.” This is a reference, obviously, to the Eucharist. But it is also a deeply Jewish action, a fulfillment of the Passover. And it leads the disciples to say, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he spoke to us on the way and opened the Scriptures to us?” The Eucharist does not replace Scripture, it opens it up, fulfills it, leads them back into it. The Old Testament should make our hearts burn for Jesus.

***

We can take away two key points from this discovery of Jesus in the Old Testament.

First, we learn that God is master over history. This teaches us about both God and history. God is wise, and provident, and powerful, the one kind of being who can plan out history itself. And history – every detail of human history – is in his provident hands. Even the worst things are somehow part of his plan.

Second, we learn that the Old Testament is food for prayer. For the Apostles and the Catholic tradition, all of Scripture is a privileged meeting place with Jesus. We should seek him where he can be found.