Reflecting on 21 Centuries of Faith

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Reflecting on the Nature of God

When speaking on prayer and meditation teens and adults alike consistently ask, “What can I reflect on during prayer?”  Over the years, I have come to understand that they do not mean, “There is nothing to reflect on” but “What’s new that I can reflect on?”

We live in a society that is always moving and changing.  Technology and scientific advances are moving so fast that it seems that we have to keep up or we become passe like yesterday’s iPhone application.  Rationalism has taught us that if it cannot be empirically proven or the bottom-line doesn’t reflect the effort then it is extraneous – even in relationships.  Consequently, we project that same attitude into our relationships and prayer (correction: relationship is prayer).  If it isn’t exciting – it’s not worth pursuing.  But that is not love!  The question is not how many we love but how deeply we love.  We need to ask every day, “Do I love with the depth of the deepest ocean or do I love like an enormously-wide and shallow puddle?”

Jesus is a person.  Jesus is who He is and God is what He is.  To reflect on His nature is to learn more about His person.  We know this by nature.  You know what or who you love and you love what or who you know.

So let’s take time to get-to-know the Trinity by meditating on the nature of God[1].  here are a few starting points from the Catechism of the Catholic Church:

Six Attributes of God

  1. Power
  2. Majesty
  3. Wisdom
  4. Love
  5. Mercy
  6. Justice

These are traditionally symbolized in the hexagonal base of the chalice.

God’s Omnipotence (CCC #s 268-274)

  1. God’s power is universal.
  2. God’s power is living.
  3. God’s power is mysterious (discerned only by faith).

Four Points of a Person’s Likeness to God

  1. Like God, the person is a spirit (simplicity).
  2. Like God, the person is immortal (immortality).
  3. Like God, the person can reason (intellect).
  4. Like God, the person can choose (free will).

Powers of the Soul

  1. Understanding
  2. Free Will

Five Implications of Faith in One God (CCC #s 222-227)

  1. Becoming aware of God’s greatness and majesty
  2. Living in gratitude
  3. Knowing the solidarity and true dignity of all people
  4. Making good use of creation
  5. Trusting God in every situation

[1] The following lists are summarized and quoted from Klein, Rev. Peter, The Catholic Source Book (Harcourt Religion Publishers, 2000) p. 63-64

Preparing for Judica Sunday

Traditionally, the fifth Sunday of Lent is Passion or Judica Sunday.  The term Judica is taken from the first words of the Introit for this Sunday, “Judge me, O Lord…” from Pslam 43.  Since Vatican II, Passion Sunday has been combined with Palm Sunday though many of the traditions inherent to the separate feasts continue for the clergy and faithful alike.

One of those traditions is the veiling of all crucifixes, statues, and pictures in purple cloth until the Easter vigil.  This practice was to incarnate the last words of the Gospel read on Passion Sunday, “They picked up stones to throw at him, but Jesus hid himself, and went out of the temple” (John 8:59).

The Sacramentary still encourages this noble practice.  In our house, the kids enjoy draping all crucifixes, icons, statues, etc.  It helps them mentally make the transition to this solemn time of year and prepare for Holy Week.  Let’s keep this practice alive in our homes.  The Catechism of the Catholic Church  encourages to orient our lives in accordance with the liturgical year:

The celebration of the Liturgical Year is meant to draw the Catholic faithful into the Mystery of Christ, helping them to experience His divine life more fully and deeply. This includes remembering and celebrating the lives of the saints, especially Mary, the Mother of God: “By keeping the memorials of the saints – first of all the holy Mother of God, then the apostles, the martyrs, and other saints – on fixed days of the Liturgical Year, the Church on earth shows that she is united with the liturgy of heaven. She gives glory to Christ for having accomplished his salvation in his glorified members; their example encourages her on her way to the Father.” (CCC 1195)

My the  preparations for Passion Sunday in your domestic church till the soil of your heart to receive His rain of mercy in your local Church.

Holy Orders: Another Sacrament of Marriage? Part I

Did you ever wonder about the relationship between the Sacraments of Marriage and Holy Orders.  Over the next few blogs, I thought we could reflect on it together.  I need your input to understand if my thinking is sound (in this short amount of space).  Also, I have hyper-linked a few words directing you to references for those who want a deeper study.  Concerning words that are unfamiliar, I would encourage you to look them up (Can’t hyper-link them, sorry!) at Catholic Reference.net.  This also will assist in providing a common lexicon for our discussion.

Introduction

It is clear that Pope John Paul II has provided us a gift through his Theology of the Body, which offers the Church an opportunity to further reflect on her understanding of theology and how that theology shapes and forms her children.  Among those theological disciplines is Sacramental Theology.  This short reflection attempts to illustrate that the Sacrament of Holy Orders is another type of Marriage in the order of grace.  Specifically, this author would like to look at the goods of marriage (don’t fret, I will define) in relation to Holy Orders to draw a comparison between the two and using the lens of TOB, illustrate that the clergy – in particular the priesthood, could gain a deeper appreciation of their vocation by adopting a bridegroom mentality towards their parishes.

In audience 101:7, Pope John Paul II speaks of marriage, “As the primordial sacrament and at the same time as the sacrament born in the mystery of the redemption of the body from the spousal love of Christ and the Church…”[1] Later in his teaching corpus, John Paul II builds a case in audiences 96 – 98 that marriage is the “prototype”[2] to reveal the spousal love of Christ and the Church as illustrated by St. Paul in Ephesians 5:22-33 (He also explains that this Scripture is the summary form of Genesis 2-3, Song of Songs and the Book of Tobit).  At the center of his argument is that the Sacrament of Marriage not only provides a tangible “form” for the mystery of the Christ’s spousal love for the Church but also receives its identity from that same mystery.

I would propose that one can make the same argument for the Sacrament of Holy Orders.  As John Paul II continues his teaching, the Church comes to understand that the Sacrament of Marriage is a visible signpost directing us to understand our final goal – the wedding feast of the Lamb.  At which time, there will be no giving or taking in marriage and the elect will experience a mystical marriage through participation in the eternal exchange of persons which is the life of the Most Holy Trinity.  John Paul II also teaches that the intermediary sign between marriage and the beatific vision is the eschatological sign of continence for the kingdom, the celibates.[3] If marriage is ordered to the visible and natural order[4] (vivified by grace in the sacramental economy of the new dispensation) could one not make the argument that Holy Orders bridges the gap between “the now and the not yet?”

Scripture: Uncovering the Evidence

To begin to ponder this question, we should ground the terms “Bride” and “Bridegroom” in the understanding of Scripture and the Church.  Typologies for the Bride of Christ are well established in the Old Testament.  Many of the prophets used spousal imagery and themes to preach and even prophetically demonstrate (poor Hosea) how Israel’s sins were an affront to God (cf. Hos. 1-3; Is. 54; Is. 62, Jer. 2-3; Jer. 31; Ez. 16; Ez. 23; Mal. 2:13-17).  We also have the great example of Ruth, who with Tobit, bears witness to the tenderness of spouses and the importance of marriage and fidelity.  The Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) states that, “Tradition has always seen in the Song of Solomon a unique expression of human love, insofar as it is a reflection of God’s love…”[5]

The New Testament likewise reveals our Lord’s own thoughts of how He would relate to the People of God.  In Mark 2:19, Christ refers to Himself as Bridegroom.  “St. Paul speaks of the whole Church and individual members of Christ’s Body as bride ‘betrothed’ to Christ so as to become one with Him” (cf. Mt. 22:1-14; 15:1-13; 1 Cor. 6:15-17; 2 Cor. 11:2).[6]

Bringing the spousal references together, we see in the Genesis 2 imagery of “Two in one flesh” indicates distinctiveness and the mutuality of two persons.  Lumen Gentium 7 illustrates the sacrificial quality and context of this spousal agape love, “Christ loved the Church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her.”[7] Even without touring through the Patristic writings, we can safely rely on the evidence within Scripture and the Magisterium that Christ is the Bridegroom and the Church His Bride.  That being said, how does the priest act as the Bridegroom?

In order for the imagery to work, two important elements must be established.  The first is that the priest must represent Christ and second, the language of the body demands that the alter Christus must be male.  The teaching of the Church firmly establishes that the reception of Holy Orders “configures the recipient to Christ”[8]; and that it “confers an indelible spiritual character and cannot be repeated or conferred temporarily”[9].  To secure the second element and proper matter for the sacrament, the Church teaches that “Only a baptized man (vir) validly receives sacred ordination.”[10] [11] The Magisterium continues that when a priest is performing those duties specific to the ministerial priesthood, he stands in persona Christi capitis.  “If the Church is to be the bride of Christ, the priest within the Church represents Christ the Bridegroom, and in order to complete the symbolism in this respect, the priest must be a man.”[12]

While it is true that the Oriental Churches have married priests – and there are exceptions in the Western Church, “The bridal imagery of the celibate priest indicates that, representing Christ, he is ‘wedded’ to the Church, and this is expressed in the symbolism of the Episcopal ring.”[13] Additionally,

“The ecclesiological dimension of this mystery is that celibacy enables the man endowed with the sacerdotal dignity to symbolize a bridegroom totally entrusted to the Church which is the eternally dedicated bride of Christ.  Priestly celibacy also reflects an eschatological dimension prefiguring the state of the kingdom of heaven, where ‘at the resurrection men and women do not marry’ (Mt. 22:30).[14]

Understanding that the priest stands as the Bridegroom in his sacerdotal duties, briefly comparing the Sacraments of Marriage and Holy Orders should assist in showing the strength of the image.  Naturally, we see that both include a bride and bridegroom.  The question I am posing is, “Does Holy Orders really share in the imagery of the Bridegroom by sharing in the ‘goods’ of the Sacrament of Marriage?”

To be continued tomorrow…thoughts so far?  Are you with me still?


[1] John Paul II, Man and Woman He Created Them: A Theology of the Body, (Boston, MA: Pauline Books & Media 2006) 100:7

[2] Ibid., 98:2

[3] Ibid. 76:4

[4] Ibid. 87

[5] Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2nd (Citta del Vaticano: Libreria Editrice Vaticana 1997), §1611

[6] Rev. Paul F. deLadurantaye, Images of the Church, Ecclesiology lecture, October 27, 2007.

[7] Cf. Ephesisans 5:25-26, 29; Dogmatic Constitution: Lumen Gentium 7

[8] Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2nd (Citta del Vaticano: Libreria Editrice Vaticana 1997), §1581

[9] Ibid. §1582

[10] Ibid., §1577

[11] Cf. John Paul II, Mulieris Dignitatem 26-27; Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), declaration, Inter Inisniores: AAS 69 (1977) 98-116.

[12] Rev. Paul Haffner, The Sacramental Mystery, (Leominster, Herefordshire Great Britain: Gracewing 2008) 224

[13] Ibid.

[14] Ibid.

Sins against the Holy Spirit

The Catholic Catechism of the Catholic Church in paragraph 1864 sites Mark 3:29 and then explains that the mercy of God has no limits save hardness of heart which ultimately does not acknowledge sin and thus need for repentance.  This is a rejection of salvation and a direct sin against the Holy Spirit.  It says:

“Therefore I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven men, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven.”[1] There are no limits to the mercy of God, but anyone who deliberately refuses to accept his mercy by repenting, rejects the forgiveness of his sins and the salvation offered by the Holy Spirit.[2] Such hardness of heart can lead to final impenitence and eternal loss.

Traditionally, six sins are attributed to sinning against the Holy Spirit.  They include:

  1. Despair of one’s salvation (of God’s mercy)
  2. Presumption of saving oneself without merit
  3. Resisting the known truth
  4. Envy of the graces received by others
  5. Obstinacy in one’s sins
  6. Final impenitence

May Justice guard our hearts from these sins so we may always yield to the gift of the Holy Spirit.

Lord, send your Spirit of Repentance that we may be transformed into the image of your love.


[1] Mt 12:31; cf. Mk 3:29; Lk 12:10.

[2] Cf. John Paul II, DeV 46.

The Sentinel at the door of our Heart

Raphael gives us a beautiful example of the Virtue of Justice through art.

In his painting, the personification of Justice is holding, as her symbols, weighing scales and a sword. Her eyes are directed at the fresco below, The Virtues, in which Fortitude, Prudence, and Temperance are portrayed in the form of three women. Taken together, all four personifications represent the Cardinal Virtues. Justice’s prominent position is explained by the fact that Justice was said by Plato to play a decisive role among the virtues. Two putti are holding the inscription with the words of Emperor Justinian, “She gives Justice to all.”

The Catholic Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) in paragraph 1807 describes Justice as:

Justice is the moral virtue that consists in the constant and firm will to give their due to God and neighbor. Justice toward God is called the “virtue of religion.” Justice toward men disposes one to respect the rights of each and to establish in human relationships the harmony that promotes equity with regard to persons and to the common good. The just man, often mentioned in the Sacred Scriptures, is distinguished by habitual right thinking and the uprightness of his conduct toward his neighbor. “You shall not be partial to the poor or defer to the great, but in righteousness shall you judge your neighbor.”[1] “Masters, treat your slaves justly and fairly, knowing that you also have a Master in heaven.”69[2]

In its most basic form, Justice can be described as given one their due.  As the CCC states, this includes God and our neighbor. Most times when we think of Justice it is how it is expressed to the outside world but what relation does it have to our internal world?

As discussed previously, the Virtue of Prudence is the primordial virtue that is the “charioteer” of all other virtues – without it, we have no other virtue.  The Virtue of Justice though, is the Sentinel standing guard at the door of our heart and governs our internal life.  When virtue lives in the soul, the Virtue of Justice is the governor.  Peter Kreeft said it best:

“The human body has a structure that is inherent, not socially changeable, and the laws of its health are equally inherent and unchangeable, objective. The same is true of the soul. Virtue is simply health of soul. Justice, the overall virtue, is the harmony of the soul, as health is the harmony of the body. Justice is not just paying your debts, not just an external relationship between two or more people, but also and first of all the internal relationship within each individual among the parts of the soul.

The harmony is hierarchical, not egalitarian. When World follows Man, when within Man Body follows Soul, when within Soul Appetites follow Will and Will follows Reason (Wisdom), we have justice. When the hierarchy is inverted, we have injustice. Will leading Reason is rationalization and propaganda; Appetites leading Will is greed; Body leading Soul is animalism; World leading Man is unfreedom.

Justice is individual before it is social. Robinson Crusoe alone on his desert island before Friday shows up can still be just or unjust. We are just or unjust to ourselves before we are just or unjust to others. Justice is rightness, righteousness. Justice is beauty of soul, soul-art, soul-music.”[1]

In order for the Virtue of Justice to reign, we must be avid pursuers of the truth.  Justice’s scales must have a rule to measure by and the Father, in His great love, provided us with a Magisterium and Natural Law to assist us decorating the soul with the jewels of virtue.

As with all virtue, Justice too has its enemies.  They include:

The Virtue of Justice has a number of expressions and enemies.  In this limited space, we will address those virtues that are most common with the individual include:  religion (religio), piety (pietas), respectfulness (observantia), gratitude (gratitudo), vindication (vindicatio), truthfulness (veritas), friendliness (amicitia), liberality (liberalitas), and equity (epieikeia).  The following are a list of each virtue and its corresponding enemy including:

  1. Religion: in itself, its interior and exterior acts, and the opposed vices
    1. The interior acts of religion
      1. Devotion (devotio)
      2. Prayer (oratio)
    2. The exterior acts of religion
      1. Adoration (adoratio)
      2. Sacrifices (sacrificia)
      3. Oblations (oblationes) and first-fruits (primitia)
      4. Tithes (decimae)
      5. Vows (promises to God) (vota)
      6. Oaths (invoking God as a witness to confirm the truth of a declaration or promise) (iuramenta)
      7. Taking God’s name by way of adjuring another (adiuratio)
      8. Taking God’s name by way praising Him
    3. The vices opposed to religion
      1. Superstition (superstitio)
      2. Superstition that involves worshipping the true God
      3. Idolatry (idolatria)
      4. Divination (Fortune-telling) (divinatio)
      5. Superstitious observances
      6. Tempting God (tentatio Dei)
      7. Perjury (periurium)
      8. Sacrilege (sacrilegium)
      9. Simony (simonia)
      10. Piety
  2. Respectfulness (reverence for those in positions of dignity)
    1. The parts of respectfulness and an opposed vice
      1. Respect for those in a higher position (dulia)
      2. Obedience (obedientia) and the opposed vice, disobedience
  3. Gratitude and the opposed vice, ingratitude
  4. Vindication
  5. Truth (truthfulness) and the opposed vices
    1. Lying (mendacium)
    2. Dissimulation (simulatio) and hypocrisy (hypocrisis)
    3. Boasting (iactantia)
    4. Belittling onself (ironia)
  6. Friendliness (affability) and the opposed vices
    1. Flattery (adulatio)
    2. Quarreling (litigium)
  7. Liberality and the opposed vices
    1. Avarice or covetousness (avaritia)
    2. Prodigality (prodigalitas)
  8. Equity

Lord, during this Lenten season help us to allow our hearts to rest in the assurance that Justice reigns for your greater glory.

Q: What is the most challenging aspect of living out the Virtue of Temperance?


[1] Kreeft, Peter. “Justice, Wisdom, Courage, and Moderation: The Four Cardinal Virtues” Chapter four in Back to Virtue (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1986), 59-70.


[1] Lev 19:15.

[2] Col 4:1.

Second Sunday of Lent: Awakened to see Reality

Painted by Raphael (1516-1520) and resides in Pinacoteca Vaticana, Vatican City

Peter and his companions had been overcome by sleep, but becoming fully awake, they saw his glory…(Luke 9:32)

Archbishop Fulton Sheen reflecting on this Gospel passage from the Transfiguration – proclaimed to us today, once asked, “How does one pour divinity into a clay and not see it shine through?”  Did our Lord conceal His divinity?  Were our eyes and hearts too callous to see His glory?  Had we grown so weary and tired in the day-to-day grind of our lives that our sensitivity to the divine just fell asleep?  The gospel doesn’t say but what we do know is that suddenly, reality flashed and revealed itself.  This quickening of their hearts allowed Peter, James and John to see the Glory of the Lord.

It would seem this Gospel could inspire us to explore and understand the importance and necessity of Prudence.  Josef Pieper writes at the very outset in Chapter 1 of The Four Cardinal Virtues, that “NO DICTUM in traditional Christian doctrine strikes such a note of strangeness to the ears of contemporaries, even contemporary Christians, as this one: that the virtue of prudence is the mold and ‘mother’ of all the other cardinal virtues, of justice, fortitude, and temperance.  In other words, none but the prudent man can be just, brave, and temperate, and the good man is good in so far as he is prudent.”

If this virtue is so important, what is it?  The Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) in paragraph 1801 states,

“Prudence is the virtue that disposes practical reason to discern our true good in every circumstance and to choose the right means of achieving it; “the prudent man looks where he is going.”65 “Keep sane and sober for your prayers.”66 Prudence is “right reason in action,” writes St. Thomas Aquinas, following Aristotle.67 It is not to be confused with timidity or fear, nor with duplicity or dissimulation. It is called auriga virtutum (the charioteer of the virtues); it guides the other virtues by setting rule and measure. It is prudence that immediately guides the judgment of conscience. The prudent man determines and directs his conduct in accordance with this judgment. With the help of this virtue we apply moral principles to particular cases without error and overcome doubts about the good to achieve and the evil to avoid.”

To summarize, prudence awakens our minds to see reality and then act.  During an age of masquerades and apparent truths, this virtue is needed more than ever.  We only need to consider how the womb has become a tomb. The very place meant to be a wellspring of life, a hedge of safety, and a state of communion has now become Auschwitz, a row of execution, and an imposed solitary confinement.

What are the dangers related to the Virtue of Prudence?  The Vices that oppose this virtue includes:

  • Imprudence (imprudentia)
  • Negligence (negligentia)

The value of the Virtue of Prudence cannot be underestimated.  Without the ability to see reality our intellect cannot properly inform the will to choose the good.  Without the ability to see reality the intellect cannot perceive that which is true.  Without the ability to see reality the intellect cannot assist the senses experience the beautiful.  The Virtue of Prudence vivified by charity brings life out of analogue black and white and into an HD world – we are truly alive.

How do we allow the Lord to awaken us to reality and strengthen the virtue of prudence?  We first need to cultivate a life of prayer and trust in the Magisterium of the Church.  Only then can we commit ourselves to the discipline of study and like Mary, sit at the feet of the Lord.

Lord, may our Lenten practices awaken us to see your glory as you reveal it in Paschal Mystery.