The Gospel for today (Monday of the 12th Week) gives us an admonition that God will use attitudes we use for others as a standard in our own judgment. Consider well, right now, if being unkind, unmerciful, and unforgiving is a good strategy for your live, given that you will stand in judgment and need mercy, and forgiveness. There are many biblical texts that speak of being generous to the poor, for to do brings bountiful blessings. Or, put negatively, if we are stingy, we will come up short in our own blessings.
Consider the following verses:
Here is a promise from the Lord:
Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap (Lk 6:38).
The text goes on to state a clear principle:
For the measure you measure to others, will be measured back to you (Lk 6:38).
The rule of returning proportion:
Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously (2 Cor 9:6).
The Lord the admonishes us with this:
One man gives freely, yet gains even more; another withholds unduly, but comes to poverty (Prov 11:24).
And now a word from our sponsor (a snack manufacturer in the Philippines), illustrating well this text: Who sows sparingly will reap sparingly. You may find that the ad is “clever by half.”
The teachings of the Lord on Hell are difficult, especially in today’s climate. The most difficult questions that arise relate to its eternal nature and how to square its existence with a God who is loving and rich in mercy.
1. Does God love the souls in Hell? Yes.
How could they continue to exist if He did not love them, sustain them, and continue to provide for them? God loves because He is love. Although we may fail to be able to experience or accept His love, God loves every being He has made, human or angelic.
The souls in Hell may have refused to empty their arms to receive His embrace, but God has not withdrawn His love for them. He permits those who have rejected Him to live apart from him. God honors their freedom to say no, even respecting it when it becomes permanent, as it has for fallen angels and the souls in Hell.
God is not tormenting the damned. The fire and other miseries are largely expressions of the sad condition of those who have rejected the one thing for which they were made: to be caught up into the love and perfection of God and the joy of all the saints.
2. Is there any good at all in Hell? Yes. Are all the damned punished equally? No.
While Heaven is perfection and pure goodness, Hell is not pure evil. The reason for this is that evil is the privation or absence of something good that should be there. If goodness were completely absent, there would be nothing there. Therefore, there must be some goodness in Hell or there would be nothing at all. St. Thomas Aquinas teaches,
It is impossible for evil to be pure and without the admixture of good …. [So]those who will be thrust into hell will not be free from all good … those who are in hell can receive the reward of their goods, in so far as their past goods avail for the mitigation of their punishment (Summa Theologica, Supplement 69.7, reply ad 9).
This can assist us in understanding that God’s punishments are just and that the damned are neither devoid of all good nor lacking in any experience of good. Even though a soul does not wish to dwell in God’s Kingdom (evidenced by rejection of God or the values of His Kingdom), the nature of suffering in Hell is commensurate with the sin(s) that caused exclusion from Heaven.
This would seem to be true even of demons. In the Rite of Exorcism, the exorcist warns the possessing demons, “The longer you delay your departure, the worse your punishment shall be.” This suggest levels of punishment in Hell based on the degree of unrepented wickedness.
In his Inferno, Dante described levels within Hell and wrote that not all the damned experience identical sufferings. Thus, an unrepentant adulterer might not experience the same suffering in kind or degree as would a genocidal, atheistic head of state responsible for the death of millions. Both have rejected key values of the Kingdom: one rejected chastity, the other rejected the worship due to God and the sacredness of human life. The magnitude of those sins is very different and so would be the consequences.
Heaven is a place of absolute perfection, a work accomplished by God for those who say yes. Hell, though a place of great evil, is not one of absolute evil. It cannot be, because God continues to sustain human and angelic beings in existence there and existence itself is good. God also judges them according to their deeds (Rom 2:6). Their good deeds may ameliorate their sufferings. This, too, is good and allows for good in varying degrees there. Hell is not in any way pleasant, but it is not equally bad for all. Thus God’s justice, which is good, reaches even Hell.
3. Do the souls in Hell repent of what they have done? No, not directly.
After death, repentance in the formal sense is not possible. However, St. Thomas makes an important distinction. He says,
A person may repent of sin in two ways: in one way directly, in another way indirectly. He repents of a sin directly who hates sin as such: and he repents indirectly who hates it on account of something connected with it, for instance punishment or something of that kind. Accordingly, the wicked will not repent of their sins directly, because consent in the malice of sin will remain in them; but they will repent indirectly, inasmuch as they will suffer from the punishment inflicted on them for sin (Summa Theologica, Supplement, q 98, art 2).
This explains the “wailing and grinding of teeth” in so far as it points to the lament of the damned. They do not lament their choice to sin without repenting, but for the consequences. In the Parable of Lazarus, the rich man in Hell laments his suffering but expresses no regret over the way he treated the beggar Lazarus. Indeed, he still sees Lazarus as a kind of errand-boy, who should fetch him water and warn his brothers. In a certain sense the rich man cannot repent; his character is now quickened and his choices forever fixed.
4. Is eternal punishment just? Yes.
Many who might otherwise accept God’s punishment of sinners are still dismayed that Hell is eternal. Why should one be punished eternally for sins committed over a brief time span, perhaps in just a moment? The punishment does not seem to fit the crime.
This logic presumes that the eternal nature of Hell is intrinsic to the punishment, but it is not. Rather, Hell is eternal because repentance is no longer available after death. Our decision for or against God and the values of His Kingdom values becomes forever fixed. Because at this point the will is fixed and obstinate, the repentance that unlocks mercy will never be forthcoming.
St. Thomas teaches,
[A]s Damascene says (De Fide Orth. ii) “death is to men what their fall was to the angels.” Now after their fall the angels could not be restored [Cf. I:64:2]. Therefore, neither can man after death: and thus the punishment of the damned will have no end. … [So] just as the demons are obstinate in wickedness and therefore have to be punished for ever, so too are the souls of men who die without charity, since “death is to men what their fall was to the angels,” as Damascene says (Summa Theologica, Supplement, q 99, art 3).
5. Do the souls in Hell hate God? No, not directly.
St. Thomas teaches,
The appetite is moved by good or evil apprehended. Now God is apprehended in two ways, namely in Himself, as by the blessed, who see Him in His essence; and in His effects, as by us and by the damned. Since, then, He is goodness by His essence, He cannot in Himself be displeasing to any will; wherefore whoever sees Him in His essence cannot hate Him.
On the other hand, some of His effects are displeasing to the will in so far as they are opposed to any one: and accordingly a person may hate God not in Himself, but by reason of His effects. Therefore, the damned, perceiving God in His punishment, which is the effect of His justice, hate Him, even as they hate the punishment inflicted on them (Summa Theologica, Supplement, q 98, art 5).
6. Do the souls in hell wish they were dead? No.
It is impossible to detest what is fundamentally good, and to exist is fundamentally good. Those who say that they “wish they were dead” do not really wish nonexistence upon themselves. Rather, they wish an end to their suffering. So it is with the souls in Hell. St. Thomas teaches,
Not to be may be considered in two ways. First, in itself, and thus it can nowise be desirable, since it has no aspect of good, but is pure privation of good. Secondly, it may be considered as a relief from a painful life or from some unhappiness: and thus “not to be” takes on the aspect of good, since “to lack an evil is a kind of good” as the Philosopher says (Ethic. v, 1). In this way it is better for the damned not to be than to be unhappy. Hence it is said (Matthew 26:24): “It were better for him, if that man had not been born,” and (Jeremiah 20:14): “Cursed be the day wherein I was born,” where a gloss of Jerome observes: “It is better not to be than to be evilly.” In this sense the damned can prefer “not to be” according to their deliberate reason (Summa Theologica, Supplement, q 98, art 3).
7. Do the souls in Hell see the blessed in Heaven?
Some biblical texts say that the damned see the saints in glory. For example, the rich man in the parable can see Lazarus in the Bosom of Abraham (Lk 16:3). Further, Jesus says, There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth when you see Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, but you yourselves are thrown out (Lk 13:28). However, St Thomas makes a distinction:
The damned, before the judgment day, will see the blessed in glory, in such a way as to know, not what that glory is like, but only that they are in a state of glory that surpasses all thought. This will trouble them, both because they will, through envy, grieve for their happiness, and because they have forfeited that glory. Hence it is written (Wisdom 5:2) concerning the wicked: “Seeing it” they “shall be troubled with terrible fear.”
After the judgment day, however, they will be altogether deprived of seeing the blessed: nor will this lessen their punishment, but will increase it; because they will bear in remembrance the glory of the blessed which they saw at or before the judgment: and this will torment them. Moreover, they will be tormented by finding themselves deemed unworthy even to see the glory which the saints merit to have (Summa Theologica, Supplement, q 98, art 9).
St Thomas does not cite a Scripture for this conclusion. However, certain texts about the Last Judgment emphasize a kind of definitive separation. For example, in Matthew 25 we read this: All the nations will be gathered before [the Son of Man], and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. … Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life (Mat 25:32, 46).
Clearly, Hell is a tragic and eternal separation from God. Repentance, which unlocks mercy, is available to us; but after death, like clay pottery placed in the kiln, our decision is forever fixed.
Choose the Lord today! Judgment day looms. Now is the time to admit our sins humbly and to seek the Lord’s mercy. There is simply nothing more foolish than defiance and an obstinate refusal to repent. At some point, our hardened hearts will reach a state in which there is no turning back. To die in such a condition is to close the door of our heart on God forever.
Somebody’s knocking at your door.
Oh sinner, why don’t you answer?
Somebody’s knocking at your door!
Praying the rosary today I marveled once again at the Fatima prayer, which is recited at the end of each decade:
O my Jesus, forgive us our sins; save us from the fires of Hell. Lead all souls to heaven, especially those in most need of thy mercy!
I have often wondered how God reacts to a prayer like this. I am awed by the power of this simple prayer, even if said in a distracted way. God is surely pleased that we ask for the salvation of souls and that we have in mind especially those who are most in need, most lost, most wayward.
How many times have we prayed this in the rosary and what have been its effects?It is astonishing and humbling to consider this. Perhaps in Heaven we will be greeted by grateful souls who will tell us that at a certain time on a particular date God heard our prayer for lost souls and applied it to them! We, too, will come to know what a difference the prayers of others made for us.
In recent years during confessions, I often ask the penitent to offer an “Our Father” and a “Hail Mary” for that soul (known only to God) who is now most in need of His grace and mercy. God knows not only who is in most need of His mercy but also who is opento receiving that mercy. It is a beautiful thought to engage the battle for that soul and to consider that our prayer may be the prove to be the tipping point. God knows how to coordinate all this; we do not. But He asks us to join Him in this work and to pray for the conversion of sinners and the consolation of suffering. In so doing we engage the battle for souls, including our own.
Just a brief consideration of the value of one small prayer that reaches someone in most need of God’s mercy.
In the Office of Readings for Corpus Christi there is an antiphon rich in meaning yet at the same time mysterious:
I will give to the one who is victorious the hidden bread and a new name (Antiphon 1 from Lauds).
It is drawn from a longer text in the Book of Revelation, in the letter to the Church at Pergamum:
He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who conquers I will give some of the hidden manna, and I will give him a white stone, with a new name written on the stone that no one knows except the one who receives it(Rev 2:17).
Let us examine the many wonderful elements of the longer text.
He who has an ear, let him hear …
Jesus used these words often in the Gospels, especially in His parables. The expression seeks to appeal to those who have a soul that wants to hear. Obviously, all humans have ears, and most of us can hear, but that does not mean we listen or are willing to listen. Many have hardened their hearts and have thus acquired an ear that is deaf to the teachings of the Lord. Jeremiah says, To whom can I give this warning? Who will listen to me? Look, their ears are closed, so they cannot hear. See, the word of the LORD has become offensive to them; they find no pleasure in it(Jeremiah 6:10). Jesus also describes many people as ever seeing but never perceiving, and ever hearing but never understanding; otherwise they might turn and be forgiven(Mk 4:12). St. Stephen rebuked the people of his day: You stiff-necked people with uncircumcised hearts and ears! You always resist the Holy Spirit, just as your fathers did(Acts 7:51). Therefore, with this expression, the Lord addresses Himself to those who will listen and carefully ponder, for He is about to express truths that are only heard when the soul seeks to hear and is spiritually minded.
… what the Spirit says to the churches.
This means you! Although it is Jesus who is speaking, He is speaking to John through the Holy Spirit. He is speaking to the “churches” that is to the gatherings (e.g., parishes, dioceses) of all the faithful everywhere. So, He is speaking to you.
To the one who conquers …
Who is the one who conquers? John answers this elsewhere: Who then conquers the world? Only he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God(1 John 5:5). Hence, through faith we conquer and seek to be among those who have spirits able to hear what the Lord teaches.
I will give some of the hidden manna, …
The Church, in placing this antiphon prominently in the Office of Readings for Corpus Christi, clearly sets forth that the “hidden manna” is the Eucharist. Some in the past have sought to link this to the ciborium of manna that was placed in the Ark of the Covenant along with the tables of the Law and staff of Aaron. Moses had said to Aaron, Take a jar and fill it with an omer of manna. Then place it before the LORD to be preserved for the generations to come(Exodus 16:33). The ancient Ark of the Covenant disappeared during the Babylonian destruction of Jerusalem in 587 B.C. and has never been found. In this sense, it—and the vessel of manna that was within it—are hidden. This explanation fails to appreciate that the ancient Ark pointed to and is fulfilled in Christ. The old Ark was said to carry the presence of the Lord in Israel, but Mary is the Ark of the New Covenant, carrying in her womb and later her arms the very presence of God in Israel, our Lord Jesus Christ. The staff of Aaron the High Priest points to the true shepherd’s staff of our Lord. The stone tablets containing the Law point to Christ, the Word made Flesh, the perfection of God’s truth, and the fulfillment of His Law. The small jar of manna points to Christ, who is the true living bread come down from Heaven, who now dwells with us truly in His eucharistic presence in the ciboria within our tabernacles. Christ Himself said that the manna in the desert pointed to Him and that He is a perfect manna:
So [the crowd] asked Him, “What sign then will You perform, so that we may see it and believe You? What will You do? Our fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, as it is written: ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.” Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I tell you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but it is My Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is He who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” “Sir,” they said, “give us this bread at all times.” Jesus answered, “I am the bread of life. … Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, yet they died. This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that anyone may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And this bread, which I will give for the life of the world, is My flesh”(John 6:31ff).
Just as the ancient manna sustained the ancient Jews in their journey through the desert, so now Christ, our true and perfect manna, sustains us on our journey through the desert of this world to the Promised Land of Heaven.
Why is this manna, who is Christ, called hidden? It is “hidden because its truth is accessed and seen only through faith. To the worldly, the Eucharist seems nothing more than a wafer and some wine, but to the faithful, Christ is seen, whole and entire. St. Thomas Aquinas wrote,
I adore you devoutly, Godhead unseen, who truly lies hidden under these sacramental forms…. Sight, taste, and touch all fail, but only the hearing is safely believed; I believe whatever the Son of God has said, and nothing can be truer that the word of Truth Himself …. Jesus I look on your veiled presence and I pray that what I so ardently long for may come to pass, and that I may see your face unveiled and be happy in the vision of your glory(selected verses from Adoro Te Devote).
So, this hidden manna, Christ Himself, is given to us! Though hidden to earthly eyes, His true presence is grasped through faith.
… and I will give him a white stone, with a new name written on the stone that no one knows except the one who receives it.
The most likely historical reference here is to the ancient practice of issuing admission stones, sometimes called tessera hospitalis(hospitality stones) that functioned much like admission tickets do today. A hospitality stone was a small stone with some markings on it, which gave to its possessor admission to an event or gave him a claim of hospitality from the one who had given it. That it is called white is a reference more to its brightness than its color. The Greek word is λευκός (leukos), which means lightsome, bright, shining, or dazzling. One might think of a shining pearl or diamond.
There is a theory among some scholars that the glistening stone may also be akin to the Urim and Thummim, white and black stones worn by the high priest behind the square breastplate. The breastplate of the high priest was square and had twelve jewels (see depiction above). On each of these jewels was written the name of one of the tribes of Israel. The mysteries surrounding Urim and Thummim stones are many but seem associated with blessing or curse and with determining outcomes or seeking God’s will. The Urim may have been a diamond, as no diamond appears on the front of the breastplate. It is said that on it a name was written and only the high priest knew what this secret, unutterable name was. Most think it must have been the name Yahweh, the ineffable Name of God.
But what is this “new” name spoken of in this text? Many suggest that it is some special or hidden name that God has for us who bear the stone. However, the text does not say that the name pertains to us and, if the historical reference to the Urim has any hold, the name likely refers to the Lord. Further, Revelation 3:12 says of those who overcome this world: “I will write upon him the name of my God…I will write upon him my new name.”So, it is not likely a new name by which to call us, but rather the Name of the Lord God.
How is the name new? In one sense it could be that we understand God’s holy Name in a new manner, but contextually, “my new name,” seems to refer to Jesus, and Jesus is Lord! Of this Name, the Book of Revelation is full:
He has eyes like blazing fire, and many royal crowns on His head. He has a name written on Him that only He Himself knows(Revelation 19:12).
And He has a name written on His robe and on His thigh: King of kings and Lord of lords(Revelation 19:16).
And they shall see his face and his name shall be on their foreheads(Rev 22:4).
Only the Lord fully knows His name, for in the ancient world a name pointed to the deep mystery of a person. We are privileged to receive the Name of Jesus as members of His Body. The text speaks to us in hope that as we are more fully immersed in Christ as a member of His Body we shall come to know ever more deeply the glory of the Name of Jesus and understand that there is no other name given to us by which we can be saved. There is power and deliverance in the Name of Jesus, and He shares this name with us, bestowing on us Himself, the Hidden Manna, the stone glistening with His beauty, glory, and clarity. Blessed be the Name of Jesus!
Such a rich meaning in such a brief antiphon from Corpus Christi!
I will give to the one who is victorious the hidden bread and a new name(Antiphon 1 from Lauds).
The conclusion of the Book of Tobit features the Archangel Raphael revealing himself to Tobit and others and explaining his ministry to them. This post I write is not a full angelology, it is just a grateful reflection for God, his angels and his creation. Book-length treatments are necessary for a good angelology. If you are looking for a readable, and brief account of angelology I might recommend The Angels and Their Mission According to the Fathers of the Church, by Cardinal Jean Danielou.
Let’s look at a brief excerpt of Archangel Raphael and ponder gratefully the ministry of the angels. Raphael says,
I can now tell you that when you, Tobit, and Sarah prayed, it was I who presented and read the record of your prayer before the Glory of the Lord; and I did the same thing when you used to bury the dead. When you did not hesitate to get up and leave your dinner in order to go and bury the dead….
God commissioned me to heal you and your daughter-in-law Sarah. I am Raphael, one of the seven angels who enter and serve before the Glory of the Lord.” (Tobit 12:14-16)
This passage presents a description of how God interacts with his creation through the ministry of the angels. Notice how Raphael presented the prayers of Tobit and Sarah before God. More than this, the text implies that Raphael presented a record of the prayerfulness of the two and described Tobit’s good deeds. Thus, he stood before God more as a witness of their love and prayerfulness than as a mere conveyor of requests.
Why is this? Is God not omniscient? He is of course and therefore does not need the mediation of the angels, but He does seem to will it. It is common in both Scripture and doctrinal traditions to ascribe to the angels the work of mediation.
Angels in Scripture often speak for God and mediate His presence. At times, such as when Jacob wrestles with God, it is not clear whether it is an angel or God (Genesis 32:22-32); Abram greats three angels but calls them “Lord” (Genesis 18). At other times, it is clearly an angel that people such as Joshua (Joshua 5:13-15), Tobit (Tobit 12), and Mary (Luke 1) encounter. These angles speak for God and mediate His presence but are not God. Throughout the Book of Revelation, angels are sent forth to mediate God’s justice. In many places in Scripture, we are told by the Lord heed the voice of the angels who are sent to guard and guide us.
In the sacred Liturgy the ministry of the angels in connecting our sacrifice to the true altar in heaven is spoken of (Roman canon) and the Book of Revelation describes how the heavenly and earthly liturgy is the work of angels and men. Angels bring the prayers of the saints before God, minister at the altar of incense, and so forth.
There are numerous other passages and teachings that I could present, let it suffice to say that God, though almighty, all-powerful, and omniscient, most often chooses to mediate His presence to creation through the work of the angels.
Perhaps an example may illustrate a likely reason. The laptop computer on which I am typing is not plugged directly into the wall outlet; its delicate circuitry cannot endure the 110-120 V. alternating current; it would blow out. Instead, an adaptor between the laptop and the wall outlet mediates, reducing the voltage to 19 V. direct current. Similarly, direct encounters with God may well be impossible for us on this side of the veil unless God hides His face or mediates His presence through the angels and/or the sacraments.
For us and for all of His creation, the ministry of the angels is a great mercy of God. Doctrinal traditions emphasize the ministry of the angels in mediating all of God’s providence. The highest angels minister in God’s Heaven, other ranks of angels minster the cosmos, and still other ranks minister here on earth. Nations, cities, local churches, and individuals have presiding angels. The Book of Revelation describes angels controlling winds and earthquakes as well as executing God’s justice and authority over history and events. Angels mediate God’s providence and sustenance throughout the whole of creation.
We seldom talk or even think this way today. Let’s look at another modern example. In explaining how a large passenger airplane rises off the runway, a scientist would speak of “lift” and “thrust.” The angle of the wing creates an area of lower air pressure above the wing and higher pressure beneath. Combine this with enough thrust to overcome gravity and you have the lift required for the plane to take off. However, a theologian from the Middle Ages might simply say that “the angels lift the plane.” In a certain sense both explanations are correct. If God sustains all of creation, and if He mediates His actions through the angels, it is not incorrect to say that “the angels lift the plane,” just as they serve God in all His creation. The theologian speaks to the metaphysical while the physicist speaks to the physical/material. The physicist speaks to efficient causality while the theologian speaks to final causality.
Yet there are many today, even among believers, who scoff at ascribing so much (or anything at all) to angels. To them one must point out that physics and mechanics alone cannot fully answer the legitimate questions that arise as we watch the plane take off into the sky. Science is good at answering mechanical questions and quantifying things such as force and lift, but it is not able to answer deeper questions such as why, from what, or for what ultimate reason things exist. Why are things the way they are and not some other way? Where does the order and intelligibility of the material world come from? How is the world sustained in a steady-enough state that we can interact with it reliably and depend upon its laws and order? In fact, why is there anything at all?
There are deeper realities to things than the mere mechanics. And many of the mechanics are not even fully explained or understood. Science, despite the use of numbers and formulas, still has not pierced all the physical mysteries of the plane’s vertical rise.
Perhaps the deepest mystery at the physical level is gravity. We can quantify this force, but its presence in the physical order is mysterious and even counterintuitive. Why do objects attract one another? And how does this attractive force work? Are there invisible strings that pull us toward the earth or other large bodies? What is it about gravity that affects time, as it seems that it does? There are not definitive answers. That gravity exists and can be measured is clear, but precisely what it is and how it works exactly is not clear.
Perhaps one day we will uncover gravity’s secrets, but this still does not satisfy our legitimate metaphysical questions. Simply scoffing at or being dismissive of the ministry and existence of angels (or demons, for that matter) does not do away with our questions. The existence of order, intelligibility, and predictability presents questions that cannot be sidestepped. Who or what ordered creation so that we can discover its order and its laws? If creation can speak to our intelligence by its intelligibility, what intelligence introduced it there to be discovered? If creation moves from simplicity to complexity (in seeming violation of the usual entropy of physical things), how do we explain this?
It will be granted that simply saying “the angels do this” amounts to a kind of “God of the gaps” argument (wherein every unknown thing is simply ascribed to God), but utterly dismissing the role of the angels (and ultimately the role of God) is to fall into the opposite error of scientism, which says that everything can and must be explained as merely the result of physical and mechanical causes. This cannot explain why things exist at all, nor can it speak to metaphysical concepts that are real but nonphysical such as justice, beauty, infinite longing, or our sense of good and evil.
God interacts with his creation. It is revealed to us that He does this most often, if not exclusively, through His angels. This is not to deny that the material order has observed laws and that chains of material causalities that can be measured and observed. The theological world would remind us to reverence all the orders of creation: physical and metaphysical, material and spiritual.
Blessed be God, who created all things through His Word, his Son Jesus, who holds all creation together in Himself (Col 1:17). Blessed, too, be the angels, who mediate God’s interaction with His creation and are His ministers. Blessed also is the created world, all that is in it from the tiniest parts of atoms to the greatest galaxies. Yes, blessed be God, all His angels and saints, and all that He has ordered and sustained. Blessed are we, who by God’s gift of our intellect, can observe and understand the beauty, order, and laws of God’s creation.
May you, O Lord keep us humble, and fill us with wonder and awe. Help us remember that Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up. (1 Cor 8:1). Thank you for your angels. Keep us mindful that although they are hidden from our eyes, myriad angels mediate your presence to this world and are at work all about us in your creation and unto your highest heavens. May Raphael and all the angels witness to our prayers and actions before you and may they bring your graces to us swiftly. May the angels one day lead us to paradise.
In many places this Sunday, the (moved) Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ Our Lord is celebrated.
While you may puzzle over my title for today’s blog, allow me to delay the explanation to a bit later. On a solemn feast like this, many things might be preached and taught. Let’s look at three areas for reflection: the Reality of the Eucharist, the Requirement of the Eucharist, and the Remembrance of the Eucharist.
I. The Reality of the Eucharist – On this solemn feast we are called above all to faith in the fact (as revealed by the Lord Himself) that the Eucharist, the Holy Communion, is in fact a reception of the very Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Jesus Christ, whole and entire, in His glorified state. We do not partake of a symbol. The Eucharist is not a metaphor; it is truly the Lord. Neither is it a “piece” of His flesh. It is Christ, whole and entire. Scripture attests to this in many places:
Luke 22:19-20And he took bread, and when he had given thanks he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” And likewise the cup after supper, saying, “This cup which is poured out for youisthe new covenant in my blood.”
1 Cor 10:16The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not a partaking in the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not a partaking in the body of Christ?
Luke 24:35They recognized him in the breaking of the bread.
1 Cor 11:29For anyone who eats and drinks without recognizing the body of the Lord eats and drinks judgment on himself.
John 6:51I am the living bread which came down from heaven; if any one eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread which I shall give for the life of the world is my flesh.
This last quote is from the Gospel for today’s feast. The passage is a profound theology of the Eucharist from Jesus Himself. He makes it clear that we are not permitted to think of the Eucharist as a symbol or in metaphorical terms.
When Jesus referred to the bread as Hisflesh, the Jewish people hearing Him grumbled in protest. Jesus did not seek to reassure them or to insist that He was speaking only symbolically. Rather, He became even more adamant by shifting His vocabulary from the polite form of eating, φάγητε (phagete – meaning simply “to eat”) to the impolite form, τρώγων (trogon – meaning “to munch, gnaw, or chew”).
So insistent was He that they grasp this that He permitted many to leave Him that day, knowing that they would no longer follow in His company due to this very teaching (cf Jn 6:66). Yes, the Lord paid quite a price for this graphic and “hard” teaching (Jn 6:60).
Today He asks us,Do you also want to leave me? (Jn 6:67) We must supply our answer each time we approach the altar and hear, “The Body of Christ.” It is here that we answer the Lord, “Amen,” as if to say, “Lord, to whom shall we go, you have the word of eternal life!” (Jn 6:68)
If only everyone would grasp that the Lord Himself is truly present in our churches! Were that so, one could never empty our parishes of those seeking to pray with the Lord. As it is, though, only 27 percent come to Mass regularly. This is more evidence of the narrow road and how few there are who find it. Just as most left Jesus then, many continue to leave Him now or stand far away through indifference or false notions.
What father would not be severely alarmed if one of his children stopped eating? Consider, then, God’s alarm that many of us have stopped eating.
II. The Requirement of the Eucharist – When I was a young boy I thought of going to Mass and receiving Communion as just something my mother made me do; it was just rituals and stuff. I never thought of it as essential for my survival. But in John’s Gospel today, Jesus teaches something very profound about Holy Communion (the Eucharist). In effect, He says that without Holy Communion we will starve and die spiritually.
Here is what Jesus says: Unlessyou eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you (John 6:53).
As a kid and even a young adult I never thought of Holy Communion as essential for my life, as something that, if not received regularly, would cause me to die spiritually. But it makes sense doesn’t it? If we don’t eat food in our physical lives, we grow weak and eventually die. It is the same with Holy Communion.
Remember this from the Book of Exodus: the people were without food in the desert and they feared for their lives, so God gave them bread from heaven, “manna,” and they collected it each morning. Without eating that bread from Heaven they would never have made it to the Promised Land; they would have died in the desert.
It is the same with us. Without receiving Jesus, our living manna from Heaven, in Holy Communion, we will not make it to our Promised Land of Heaven! I guess it’s not just a ritual after all. It is essential for our survival.
Don’t miss Holy Communion; Jesus urges you to eat.
A mother and father in my parish recently noticed that their daughter wasn’t eating enough. Within a very short time they took her to the doctor, who was able to cure the problem; now the young girl is eating again. Those parents would have moved Heaven and earth to make sure that their daughter was able to eat.
It is the same with God. Jesus urges us to eat, to receive the Holy Communion, every Sunday without fail. Jesus urges us with this word: “Unless!” Holy Communion is our required food.
III. The Remembrance of the Eucharist – The word remembrance comes up a lot in reference to Holy Communion. Consider the following passages from Scripture:
Remember how for forty years now the LORD, your God, has directed all your journeying in the desert … and then fed you with manna (Deut 8).
Do not forget the LORD, your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt (Deut 8:24).
Do this in remembrance of me (1 Cor 11:24, inter al).
What is remembrance and why is it important? In effect, to “remember” is to have present in your mind what God has done for you so that you’re grateful and different. God has saved us, made us His children, and opened Heaven for us. Yet our minds are very weak and too easily we let this slip from our conscious thoughts. Thus, the summons to an ἀνάμνησιν (anamnesin) or “remembrance” that is so common in the Eucharistic liturgy is a summons to our minds to be open to and powerfully aware of what the Lord has done for us. Don’t just stand or kneel there, forgetting; let this be present to you as a living and conscious reality that transforms you!
Are you a mouse or a man? Now to address the puzzling question I posed in my title. Back in my seminary days we were given the example of a mouse who scurries across the altar, takes a consecrated host, runs off, and eats it. We were then asked, “Does the mouse eat the Body of Christ?” The answer is yes! The Eucharist has a reality unto itself. “Does the mouse receive a sacrament?” No, because a mouse has no rational mind. It eats the very Body of Christ, but to no avail, for it has no conscious awareness or appreciation of what (whom) it is eating. So then the question for you is this: “Are you a mouse or a man?”
How do you receive Holy Communion? Do you mindlessly shuffle along in the Communion line in a mechanistic way or do you go up powerfully aware of Him whom you are about to receive? Do you remember? Do you have vividly present in your mind what the Lord has done for you? Are you grateful and amazed at what He has done and what He offers? Or are you just like a mouse, mindlessly receiving something that has been put into your mouth?
Some people put more faith in Tylenol than they do in the Eucharist. Why? Because when they take Tylenol they actually expect something to happen! They expect the pain to go away, for there to be relief and healing. But when it comes to Holy Communion, they expect next to nothing. To them, it’s just a ritual. Hey, it’s time to go up and get the wafer (pardon the expression) now.
Really? How can this be? Poor catechesis? Sure. Little faith? Sure. Boredom? Yes, indeed. On some level it can be no better than a mouse eating a host. We are receiving the Lord of all creation, yet most expect little.
To this the Church says, “Remember! Have present in your mind all that the Lord has done is about to do for you. Let the reality of His presence be alive in your mind so that it changes you and makes you profoundly grateful and joyful. Become the One whom you receive!”
Jesus is more powerful than Tylenol, and we are men (and women), not mice.
On this Solemnity of the Body of Christ, we are summoned to deepen our faith in the Lord, present in the Eucharist and acting through His Sacraments. Routine may have dulling effects, but we cannot let it be such that we receive the Lord of glory each Sunday in any way that would be called mindless.
Ask the Lord to anoint your mind so that you remember and never forget.
We all cling to certain things. Perhaps there is a sentimental attachment, or perhaps we think we might need some thing one day; even though that day never comes. Much of this is harmless. But certain attachments actually have negative impacts, hindering us from what we need to do.
For example, we cling to an old car that frequently breaks down, or to an old wound that keeps us from relating to others in a healthy way free from past trauma. Consider the following commercial where a surgeon is hindered in his work by an attachment. While it is cartoonish in its example, it does speak to attachments of the past that hinder our performance today.
Other attachments make us so fearful of losing a thing or relationship that they render us incapable of perceiving far greater matters and threats. For example we can be so attached to social media that we do not see our own real family and children straying into serious sin. Or, we remain so fixated and infatuated on a relationship that we do not see how that person is using and corrupting us. More widely we are so fixed on the world that is passing away that we are unprepared for the end of all things that is rushing toward us. Consider the following video that shows a man so fixated on an old toy that he cannot see the avalanche rushing toward him.
Still other attachments simply blind us from seeing the world around us as it really is. Usually these are attachments to political philosophies and other viewpoints that refuse to see beyond these worldly ways of thinking. We can become downright dangerous if we do not learn to see that some of these views are wrong or at least in need of distinctions and qualifications. This commercial illustrates the danger of reusing to even consider things beyond our familiar and preferred viewpoints.
Enjoy these short videos on attachments and preferences.
There are some today who speak of annulment as “just another name for a Catholic divorce.” However, this is not correct. An annulment (more technically described as a “Declaration of Nullity”) is a recognition by the Church, based on evidence, that what may in fact have seemed to be a marriage, was not due to some intrinsic flaw at the time the vows we exchanged. A marriage may have been a civil marriage entered into in good faith by one or both of the parties, but something essential was lacking in the intentions or understanding of one or both parties that made the marriage invalid that a true marriage never existed in religious terms. Thus there is nothing to divorce, since no marriage exists. “Divorce” is a term of civil law and the Lord explicitly teaches that he will not be bound by the decision of some civil judge. (see Malachi 2:16 ; Matthew 19:1-12, among others). However, not every couple who goes through a marriage ceremony does so validly and that is the key matter in question in the process of annulment, “Was this marriage validly celebrated?” It is actually our Lord Jesus himself who makes this point at the the very moment he teaches against divorce. Lets look at what he teaches.
The Biblical Root of Annulments. The Lord says this in regard to marriage: “What God has joined together, let no one divide (Mat 19:6). On the face of it, divorce and any sort of annulment is forbidden would seem forbidden by this. But actually the text serves as a basis for the Church’s allowance of annulment under certain circumstances. The text says What GOD has joined together cannot be divided.
Now just because two people stand before a Justice of the Peace, or a minister or even a priest and swear vows, does not mean that what they do is a work of God. There have to be some standards that the Church insists on for us to acknowledge that what they do is “of God.”
There are a number of impediments that can render what they do ipso facto invalid. Things such as prior marriage, consanguinity (too close in the blood lines), minor status (too young), incapacity for the marriage act, and lying or failing to disclose important information to the future spouse. There are others as well. Further, it is widely held that when one or both parties are compelled to enter the marriage or that they display a grave lack of due discretion on account of immaturity or poor formation, that such marriages are null on these grounds. All these are ways that the Church, using her power to bind and loose, comes to a determination that what appeared to be a marriage externally was not in fact so based on evidence. Put more scripturally, the putative marriage was not “what God has joined together.”
You may ask, “Who is the Church to make such a determination?” I answer that, “She is in fact the one to whom the Lord entrusted, through the ministry of Peter and the Bishops the power to bind and loose (Mt 18:18) and to speak in His name (Lk 10:16).
Annulments are not Divorces– As noted, a decree of nullity from the Church is a recognition, based on the evidence given, that a marriage in the Catholic and Biblical sense of the word never existed. Since a person has not in fact been joined by God they are free to marry in the future. In such a case a person does not violate our Lord’s declaration that one who divorces their spouse and marries another commits adultery (cf Matt 19:9).
There are some who wonder: Are we giving too many annulments? While it is clear that the Church has some pretty clear canonical norms regarding marriage, like any norms they have to be interpreted and applied. Certain American practices and norms have evolved over the last forty years that some question as being too permissive and thus no longer respectful of the binding nature of marital vows. I am not without my concerns that we may give too many annulments but there is nothing intrinsically flawed with the Church teaching here, concern is directed only to the prudential application of the norms.
Annulment cases vary greatly. Often it isn’t as crass as somebody coming in and saying, “Well I got rid of my first wife and have got me another I want to marry, let’s get the paperwork going Father.” It is usually far more poignant than that.
Perhaps someone married early, before they were really very serious about the faith and they married someone who abused them. Now, years later after the divorce they have found someone who is able to support them in their faith. Perhaps they met them right in the parish. Should a marriage that was in young and foolish years and lasted all of six months preclude them from entering a supportive union that looks very promising?
Another more common scenario is often the case where in a person shows up at RCIA who has recently found the Catholic faith and wants to enter it. However, they were married 15 years ago in a Protestant Church to their current spouse who had been married before. Now, mind you, their current marriage is strong and they have both been drawn to the Catholic Faith. They have four kids as well. What is a priest to do? Well I can tell you that this priest will help the one who needs an annulment to get it. I can tell you a lot of cases come to the Church this way. It’s hard and perhaps even unjust to say to someone like this that there is nothing the Church can do for them, they will never qualify for sacraments. No, we just don’t do that, we take them through the process for annulment and see if there can be evidence that the first marriage was null.
Perhaps too another person shows up at the door, A long lost Catholic who has been away 30 years. During that time he or she did some pretty stupid stuff including getting married and divorced, sometimes more than once. Now they show up at my door in a current marriage that seems strong and helpful and which includes children. The person is in desperate need of confession and Holy Communion. What is a pastor to do? He takes them through the process of annulment to get them access to those sacraments if possible.
So there it is. There are very grave pastoral issues on both sides. The current instinct of the Church, given the poisonous quality of the culture toward marriage is to be more willing to presume there were problems.
If you are in a second marriage, please consider contacting your parish priest. Don’t presume you’re unwanted, or can never receive the sacraments. The tribunal process isn’t that difficult and the Church stands ready to assist you.