Jan 18, 2016

Second Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C

“As a bridegroom rejoices in his bride so shall your God rejoice in you.” The Sacred Scriptures and the Church Fathers, following the Sacred Scriptures, find no better imagery to express the love of God towards humanity and the depth of the union which he desires with us than the imagery of Holy Matrimony. Even the Incarnation, the taking up of our flesh into union with the Divine Person, is described in nuptial imagery by St. Augustine: “When the Word was made flesh he was like a bridegroom who found himself a bridal chamber in a virgin’s womb. Once wedded to human nature he came forth from that purest of all rooms, humbler in mercy than all others, stronger than all in majesty.” Even the Cross is replete with nuptial imagery. In the book of Genesis God put Adam into a sleep so that he might fashion for him a suitable partner and so Eve was born from the side of the first man. Just so on the Cross, our Savior permitted his sacred side to be pierced and the Church was born from the heart of our Redeemer.

This is the mystery presented to us in the Gospel. The mystery of marriage given as a gift to humanity in the Garden of Eden was not lost on account of original sin. It was not washed away in the flood. And it was chosen by our Divine Savior as the setting for the first of his miracles. At the Wedding Feast of Cana, he “revealed his glory and his disciples began to believe in him.” What came before in the natural gift of marriage is now raised in dignity to a sacrament, a covenant of love, through which God gives us grace. The new blessing is even greater than the original blessing – he has kept the good wine until now. Yet somehow we have lost a sense of the beauty of the gift. We have reduced our estimation of marriage to something that we may choose to do and to undo. We think that the gift is at our disposal – to decide in what it consists, or in what manner it may be entered, or whether and when it should be fruitful. We reduce it to a mere human institution and such institutions grow decrepit, forget their purposes and change their meanings. Soon it can no longer bear the weight of the Divine Glory, and so we miss the loveliness and the faithfulness of God’s desire to be united with us.

God desires you for himself. And he promises eternal faithfulness to you. In the Song of Songs, the bride says of the bridegroom: “My beloved is mine and I am his.” And the language is stronger than the translation expresses it. “My beloved belongs to me, and I to him in such a way that I no longer know where I begin and he ends or where he begins and I end. God is, so to speak, enraptured with you. Anything that is his, he would give you to capture your heart. He would go to the ends of the earth to prove his love for you. He would come down from heaven, become your servant, even die for you: all so that you may possess his own glory – the gift of his Holy Spirit. The communion of the Holy Spirit, the word for communion is koinonia, another way to translate it is “intimacy.” It is this intimacy with God through the Holy Spirit that is expressed in the fruitfulness of the gifts, some of which St. Paul lists: wisdom, knowledge, faith, healing, mighty deeds, prophecy, discernment, varieties of tongues and their interpretation.

And our sins are not stronger than his love: for his love is stronger even than death. No matter how often or how far from him we go, he will seek us out. He will call out to us from his heart with mercy, grace, faithfulness and love. Today renew your covenant with him in Holy Communion, seek new intimacy and deeper union with him. Invite him into your hearts. Receive the gift of his own heart. Listen carefully for the sounds of his love: “This is my body which will be given up for you; This is the chalice of my blood, the blood of the new and eternal covenant.” And then tell him that you love him, for that is what he best likes to hear.

Jan 10, 2016

The Baptism of the Lord, 2016

In order to understand Baptism as a sacrament, and a necessary one at that, we must reflect upon the meaning of the Lord’s baptism. The ancient fathers of the Church are all in agreement. St. Ambrose, St. Augustine, St. John Chrysostom, St. Gregory Nazianzen, and St. Maximus the Confessor, just to name a few, and among the greatest of the Western and Eastern fathers, they all teach that Jesus was in no need of baptism. Rather, he underwent the baptism of John in order to sanctify the waters of baptism for us, to show us the necessity of our own baptism, and to lead us as our head so that we might follow him. Likewise, he was not without the Spirit, but always was full of the grace and truth of the Holy Spirit in his adorable divine person. The voice announced the reality that we might know the truth. The manifestation of glory which accompanied his baptism was for our sake and not at all for his.

Preachers may sometimes say foolish things. And in our modern era it is sometimes asserted that Jesus stood in need of having his identity as the Son of God revealed to him. As if he did not know who he was before he heard the Father’s voice. The preachers who say such things have forgotten the text of the finding of Jesus in the Temple, which is proclaimed on the Feast of the Holy Family. He said, in response to his Mother, “Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” You see, he already knows who his Father is, and, therefore, who he is as well.

Pope Pius XII taught, in his encyclical Mystici Corporis Christi, speaking about the knowledge of Jesus: “[T]he most loving knowledge of this kind, with which the divine Redeemer pursued us from the first moment of the Incarnation, surpasses the diligent grasp of any human mind; for by that beatific vision which He enjoyed when just received in the womb of the Mother of God, He has all the members of the Mystical Body continuously and perpetually present to Himself, and embraces them with salvific love... In the manger, on the Cross, in the eternal glory of the Father, Christ has all the members of the Church before Him and joined to Him far more clearly and far more lovingly than a mother has a son on her lap, or than each one knows and loves himself.” This is the teaching of the fathers and the Magisterium. The contrary, that somehow Christ the Savior came to a gradual understanding of his identity as the Son of God or stood in need of having it revealed to him was a notion rejected by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, under Pope Paul VI, in 1966, following the Second Vatican Council.

Jesus underwent John’s baptism for our sake. We are born into this world under a twofold darkness: sin and ignorance. Of course, we are not born under personal sin for which we are personally accountable, but rather the condition of original sin. The human person was created to reflect the glory of God, to be radiantly filled with God’s grace. Due to the sin of our first parents, they were unable to hand on the gift of this light to their descendants. The sacrament of baptism restores this light in us, making it possible to share that light in our world and to stand one day basking in the eternal beauty of God illumined by the ray of his love. We are also born with ignorance about our Creator and about ourselves. Although, by the light of natural human reason, we can come to know with certainty the existence of a God who created us, we cannot, apart from revelation, come to know him as a Triune God. And we only partake of his own inner life when we have been justified by his grace. Through baptism God gives to us the image of his Only Begotten Son, the indwelling of his Holy Spirit, so that we may know that we are God’s own beloved children – more than just merely his creatures. Baptism is the necessary remedy for our condition. And it was personally instituted by our Savior, and given as a command to his Apostles as their mission into the world, and, therefore, it is also necessary because he wills it to be so. It is the means by which the love of his Sacred Heart devised to unite all of humanity to himself.

At that brings us to a couple practical points. Firstly, there has arisen a kind of indifference in our modern age to the baptism of children. Even among Catholics, albeit probably not faithfully practicing, there is a more frequent delay in the baptizing of their children. Some even propose the absurd notion of not baptizing their children at all, but allowing them to choose as an adult. The law of the Church (canon 867) is clear: “Parents are obliged to see that their infants are baptized within the first few weeks. As soon as possible after the birth, indeed even before it, they are to approach the parish priest to ask for the sacrament for their child, and to be themselves duly prepared for it.” In no other necessity for life would a parent delay giving to their children whatever was needed. We would not allow our children to grow up without learning to speak under the false impression that they should be able to choose their own natural language. We would not delay proper nutrition, schooling, discipline or any of the many other necessary means of providing for them a proper life. And any parent that would refuse the basic necessities to their children would be morally culpable for it, and criminally so. And yet, with this most necessary sacrament, the importance of which exceeds any other necessity, precisely because it concerns the supernatural life in the here and now, and eternal life hereafter, many parents fail in their serious moral obligation to tender to their children this most precious gift of our Savior.

Secondly, some parents are upset to find out that there exist rules governing whether a child ought to be baptized or who may be the godparents. The law of the Church requires (canon 868) that the parents of the child, or at least one, give their consent to the baptism, and that there is a realistic hope that the child will be brought up in the catholic religion. In order to be considered for the role of godparents (canon 874), the godparents must be appointed by the parents or the parish priest or minister (of the sacrament), and they must be a catholic who has been confirmed and has received the blessed Eucharist, and who lives a life of faith which befits the role to be undertaken. Both parents and godparents proffer a solemn promise to God during the ritual of baptism to guard and foster the light of faith in the soul of the child – a promise for which they will be held accountable on the Day of Judgment. This is so because of the importance and necessity of the sacrament as instituted by Christ himself. It is not merely a custom, or a cultural affair. And this gift is to be protected in the soul of the child by every means possible.

So today, I invite you during Holy Communion, to pray in thanksgiving for your parents, if they procured so precious a gift for you. And to remember the priest or deacon, or other minister, who bestowed this gift upon you. I also invite you to pray to Jesus in the Most Holy Sacrament for the gift of grace for those who have not yet received baptism, that they may seek it out, and for those parents who have not completed their moral duties towards their children, that they may no longer keep their children from the loving embrace of their holy Redeemer. For our Savior also said, “Let the children come to me and do not prevent them; for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.”