And the Word was made neurological, and dwelt among us

Re-post from 2013

For all the good the Theology of the Body movement has achieved, there’s always more to be done. Recently, I was prompted to re-think what that might mean.

A friend of mine who is a psychotherapist and a woman of faith was sharing with me some of her research on the relationship between mental health and the body. More specifically, she’s fascinated by the interrelationship between biochemistry, neurology and emotional health. She said she’s always disliked the overly cognitive term “mental illness.” She said,

It makes people think that the problem is really just psychological, mental, that ‘it’s all in your head.’ But it’s very much a somatic problem, in your blood and your brain. The mind is a soupy web of bio-chemical and neurological tissues. That’s the stuff that hosts the soul. For me as a Catholic, when I examine the mind-blowing intricacy of all this I can see the human brain and body are really God’s masterpiece… Mental illness or wellness is inextricably rooted in biology … I’ve always hoped to see a more helpful coming together of brain science with the Catholic spiritual and moral traditions. Imagine if discussions of acquiring virtue interlaced with, for example, the research on neurochemicals. It would help scientifically minded people take more seriously church teaching, I think. Don’t you?

She shared with me some of her research into studies done on human emotion, and the various modes of treatment that can be used to help treat mood disorders or addictions. We talked more about how all this relates to the body-soul relationship and, after we spoke, I thought that any theology of the body that deals with sexuality must be open to understanding the meaning of sexuality not only theologically, employing sacramental-symbolic nuptial language, but also embrace its meaning as an organic mix of divinely fashioned fleshy-sinewy-hormonal complexity. To see divine artistry in our messy, oozing and fluid-secreting bodies is to see creation aright. God is the maker and lover of what we might call “clinical” or “gross.” I can’t help but think here of the words of Aidan Kavanaugh:

Human evolution began not in a neat suburbia, but in terrestrial swamps from which crawled not housewives in slacks and husbands in baseball caps but newts clothed in nothing but warts and slime…We began, Genesis says, not in the antisepsis of a laboratory but as a mud pie shaped by the same Force which either called or pushed the first newt out of a swamp…

Conversations about moral integration and chastity must be as attentive to the Book of Nature as to the Book of Scripture — to neuro-psychology as to the divine mysteries revealed in Genesis’ theologically charged creation narrative. Being made in the divine image, according to Genesis, includes the union of spirit and slime.

What evocative and engaging topics would arise from this exchange! The hypothalamus and chaste living. The medulla oblongata and the virtue of temperance. The frontal lobe and the redemption of erotic love. Clinical depression and the beatitudes. The hormonal dimensions of concupiscence. This talk of bio-virtue allows science, philosophy and theology to demonstrate the rich unity of truth. Imagine being empowered to connect the complex medical diagnostic jargon your doctor throws at you with St. Paul’s command to offer your body as a living sacrifice (Rom. 12:1).

Mrs. Jones, you’ve had a syncopal episode without any evidence of arrhythmia. I don’t think it was vagal but I ordered a 2D echo and holter. I still can’t rule out a vertebrobasilar event.

That’s the grit of what God wants you to offer to Him.

I’ve long thought we could capture this more “messy-soupy” and science-friendly approach to the Theology of the Body via the more graphic biblical word: flesh (basar-sarx). To me, this biblically rich word seems to evince human fragility in its concrete reality better than “body.” A Theology of the Flesh. This would complement the more abstract and idealized tendencies of much Theology of the Body literature.

Catholics celebrate the truth that human biology, divinized and transfigured in Christ, is forever glorified in the heart of the Trinity. In Christ, God assumed to Himself blood and nerves, tendons and bone marrow, hair and spit. In Luke 24:36-43 the risen Christ argues as much:

As they were saying this, Jesus himself stood among them. But they were startled and frightened, and supposed that they saw a spirit. And he said to them, “Why are you troubled, and why do questionings rise in your hearts? See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself; handle me, and see; for a spirit has not flesh and bones as you see that I have.” And while they still disbelieved for joy, and wondered, he said to them, “Have you anything here to eat?” They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate before them.

But there’s an even greater mystery here. God-made-flesh invites us not just to eat with Him, but to feed on His Flesh and Blood in the Most Holy Sacrament. And if the scientific tests on the Eucharistic miracles have any contribution to make to this topic, this great Sacrament reveals the glory of heart tissue. If you have 8 minutes, watch here:

Caught in the Matrix

Repost from 2013

I must share this ridiculously marvelous reflection Pope Francis gave Wednesday on the topic of the “communion of saints.” Then I will add a few thoughts of my own.

The excerpt:

John’s Gospel states that, before his Passion, Jesus prayed to the Father for communion among his disciples, with these words: “that they may all be one; even as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that thou hast sent me” (17:21). The Church, in her most profound truth, is communion with God, intimacy with God, a communion of love with Christ and with the Father in the Holy Spirit, which extends to brotherly communion. This relationship between Jesus and the Father is the “matrix” of the bond between us Christians: if we are intimately part of this “matrix”, this fiery furnace of love, then we can truly become of one single heart and one single soul among us. For God’s love burns away our selfishness, our prejudices, our interior and exterior divisions. The love of God even burns away our sins. If we are rooted in the source of Love, which is God, then a reciprocal movement also occurs: from brothers to God.

What an image. Wow.

He’s saying: Real, authentic, lasting Christian unity can only be had if Christians become saints who freely abide in the relational “matrix” of “fiery love” that burns between the Father and the Son. Saints, by definition, are caught up in the mysterious structure of God’s inner life which includes — as we say in the Nicene Creed — the divine acts of eternally begetting, being begotten, born and proceeding. These inconceivably energetic verbs, taken from the Scriptures (see here), describe the interrelationship of each divine Person to the other Persons. All three Persons, though eternally distinct, are consubstantial, which means that each is wholly whatever-it-means-to-be-God. The essence of divine substance is charity, which is wholly other-centered and self-giving.

Being made in the image of God, we are stamped with that substance in our inmost depths. How awesome is that?

This language about who God is in his deepest essence is not simply invented by human speculation or ingenuity, but was revealed to us by God in Christ through the Holy Spirit. As my dogmatics professor used to say it, “Only God can speak of God.” It’s mystery-laden language, which means that, though true, the Reality signified by the words always super-exceeds the capacity of faith’s language. In this sense, our Trinitarian creed is like the Niagara River that incessantly exceeds three rocky precipices: Horseshoe Falls, American Falls and Bridal Veil Falls.

Kindly step back and prayerfully consider with me for a moment this: God became man so that man, re-created in Baptism, might possess fully the joy of immortal entry into God’s volcanic dynamism. When you profess the Creed and say “I believe” from the heart, you find yourself plunged into a God who is not a static and immobile noun, but an over-boiling verb, infinitely dynamic and powerfully alive. Maybe it would be more fitting to say, “I believe into one God…” Just imagine what is going on in God at this very moment:

I believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ,
the only-begotten Son of God,
born of the Father before all ages.
God from God, Light from Light,
true God from true God,
begotten, not made, consubstantial
with the Father

I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the Lord, the giver of life,
who proceeds from the Father and the Son…

Let’s allow music to give us wings to soar into this Mystery a bit through this sung version of the Creed in its Eastern form. Feel the dynamism alive:

Mind blowing. I dare not speak so intimately and familairly of this Mystery far from the celebration of the Liturgy, as there alone do finite words dare command God to be thus for us and for our salvation.

It’s really not about us at all. Rather, it’s about God-for-us, God-with-us. St. Catherine comes to our aid:

O eternal and infinite Good, O extravagance of love! You need your creature? Yes, it seems to me; because you behave as if you could not live without it, although you are life and all things receive life from you, and without you nothing lives. You fell in love with your own workmanship and delighted in it as if enraptured with its well-being; it flees you and you go searching for it; it goes away from you and you draw near; you could not have come any nearer than in assuming its very humanity.

In the end, ecclesial unity is not build on 5 year strategic plans, elaborate dialogues or problem-solving ingenuity. It’s something we freely receive and enter into. We didn’t invent unity, it pre-exists creation in God. Ecclesial unity means consenting to be a God-drenched saint, saturated by the matrix of charity which beats in the Heart of God.

Well, what are you waiting for?

Asking Prayer

Christian art from 3rd century, in the Roman catacomb of Priscilla, depicting “Orans,” which is the symbol of the church interceding with hands outstretched.

I heard a fantastic homily, while on retreat last June, on Jesus’ words: “Ask and you will receive. Seek and you will find. Knock and the door will be opened to you.” Most homiletic explanations of why we ask God for things I find to be confusing. But this preacher nailed it. He made some stunning points that I tried to capture later in my journal. As is my custom, I took the summary notes from the homily and synthesized them with my own prayerful reflection. I paste my notes here:

Although it is true that contemplative prayer, which is both a prayer of surrender to God’s action in the soul and a simple gaze on Truth, is considered the highest mode of God-loving prayer, intercessory prayer is the highest form of neighbor-loving prayer. The Catechism says it succinctly: “Asking on behalf of another [is] characteristic of a heart attuned to God’s mercy … in intercession, he who prays looks not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others, even to the point of praying for those who do him harm” (#2635). One who daily speaks to God on behalf of others is loving them well. It’s a very helpful complement to other forms of prayer that can easily devolve into an ego-focus on personal satisfaction. Some of the holiest people I’ve met in life — and holy here means for me what it means for Fr. Garrigou-Lagrange: “Having one’s thoughts populated more by considerations of the welfare of others than by considerations of one’s own welfare” — are those mostly older women who pray countless novenas for others’ intentions. The holy Scriptures tell us that even the Lord Himself in Paradise is not engaged in contemplation but intercession [Hebrews 7:25; Romans 8:34]. Or think of John 17 — Jesus’ inner-Trinitarian prayer is all about us, not just God-alone absorption. Even St. Paul tells us that the deep prayer the Spirit teaches us is intercessory prayer [Romans 8:26]! The quality of one’s theological virtue of charity is to be judged proportionate to the quality of one’s neighor-oriented intercessory prayer.

But don’t think of intercession as trying to change God’s mind, or manipulate Him into doing your will. Behind our practice of petition there is a theology of shared governance. God has so designed the world that He wishes to have man participate in His governance of history. Man is the “priest of nature and of grace” whom God has fixed like a hinge between heaven and earth. God is a God of synergy, of collaboration, and not a unilateralist. That’s what the Incarnation proves. Jesus has two wills [human and divine] that operate only in conjunction. In the Incarnation we see an astounding fact: God does absolutely nothing apart from human cooperation. Jesus is the perfect expression of God’s way of dealing with creation. The re-creation of creation happens only in cooperation with man. The New Creation only comes about with human participation. And prayer is the most direct and intimate way we partcipate in God’s re-creative, redeeming work. Aquinas says that we ask, seek and knock not to change the divine disposition but to bring about what God has disposed to be achieved only by means of prayer. So when you pray, pray like the prayer of the Liturgy: big, broad and bold. The Liturgy is loaded with petitions. Pray them over!

Yes, of course we always ask for things according to God’s holy will — which means never asking against His nature; that is, we never ask for injustice to be done, or evil or for lies to triumph, or some such. But asking according to His will does not mean that He has already preordained every specific thing, which we then have to hope we magically know in advance when we ask. No! He genuinely wants us to contribute novelty and uniqueness to the unfolding of His will. But how He responds to our petition and incorporates our ideas and intentions? That’s ultimately His business. He’s the Master craftsman, the artist. What we must do in the end is submit our novel ideas and good intentions to His providential will. Deus providebit, “God will provide” according to His good pleasure; in unexpected ways mostly. Jesus did that kind of praying in the Garden [of Gethsemane]. He said, “Let this cup pass,” but then submitted His idea to the Father — “but not my will, thine.” The answer of the Father was wildly beyond human imagining: the Cross and Resurrection. These were actually the Father’s response to Jesus’ petitions. “Let this cup pass” happened as a Pass-over from death to life. So He was heard! … And Jesus prayed for His enemies to be pardoned — and He was heard! The Father laid the guilt and sin of His enemies on Him as the means to pardon them.

The Our Father, which is Jesus’ response to the disciples’ request for a “prayer catechism,” is really one extended petition. It’s pure intercessory prayer. Seven petitions, actually. So clearly the Lord is highlighting for us that interceding is key to real Christian prayer that includes love of neighbor in it. It’s not just a nice or quaint pious practice. And I love Jesus’ little aside that punched home that prayer is not just a me-God thing, but a me-God-neighbor thing. He sticks in that little aside to the Our Father: “…as we forgive those who trespass against us.” Can’t you just give us a break God and let us be with you for a while and forget about those bastards out there? Oh, yes, we need to withdraw time and again to be refreshed by God. But real prayer has to always thrust us back into real life and yucky relationships, or it isn’t prayer in the Christian sense. To not engage in praying for others, especially difficult others, is really an escape from praying on God’s preferred prie-dieu, the Cross, which is where all Christian prayer eventually lands us.

But remember that all prayer is a gift, so if you don’t much fancy petitioning God ask Him to help you fall in love with it. Because He is clearly in love with it.

He ended with a passage from St. Isaac the Syrian that is beloved in the Eastern spiritual tradition:

What is a merciful heart? It is a heart on fire for the whole of creation, for humanity, for the birds, for the animals, for demons, and for all that exists. By the recollection of them the eyes of a merciful person pour forth tears in abundance. By the strong and vehement mercy that grips such a person’s heart, and by such great compassion, the heart is humbled and one cannot bear to hear or to see any injury or slight sorrow in any in creation. For this reason, such a person offers up tearful prayer continually even for irrational beasts, for the enemies of the truth, and for those who harm her or him, that they be protected and receive mercy. And in like manner such a person prays for the family of reptiles because of the great compassion that burns without measure in a heart that is in the likeness of God.

Poetic risks and Priestly songs

Giotto Di Bondone’s “St Francis preaching to the birds.”

A bit of a literary menagerie today, as I lacked the time to tidy up. First, some poetry.

“Poetry is what gets lost in translation.”
― Robert Frost

“Poetry might be defined as the clear expression of mixed feelings.”
― W.H. Auden

Another experiment in audio. Like last week’s it was done on the fly. It’s about 13 minutes long. For those who are more visual learners, I also include part of what I say in pdf (here). Listen here for the audio recitation:

Now, some St. Francis.

As today is also the overrun feast of St Francis of Assisi, in his honor I will also quote a few stanzas from his Canticle of Creatures. The first words of the first stanza, “Be praised,” are the first two words that open Pope Francis’ ecological justice encyclical, Laudato Si.

Be praised, my Lord, through all your creatures,
especially through my lord Brother Sun,
who brings the day; and you give light through him.
And he is beautiful and radiant in all his splendor!
Of you, Most High, he bears the likeness.

Praise be You, my Lord, through Sister Moon
and the stars, in heaven you formed them
clear and precious and beautiful.

Praised be You, my Lord, through Brother Wind,
and through the air, cloudy and serene,
and every kind of weather through which
You give sustenance to Your creatures.

Praised be You, my Lord, through Sister Water,
which is very useful and humble and precious and chaste.

Praised be You, my Lord, through Brother Fire,
through whom you light the night and he is beautiful
and playful and robust and strong.

Praised be You, my Lord, through Sister Mother Earth,
who sustains us and governs us and who produces
varied fruits with colored flowers and herbs.

Lastly, a few amateur pix I snapped over the last 3 weeks that were inspired by a new habit, inspired by Laudato Si, of praying St. Francis’ Canticle. It’s heightened my awareness of being a royal priest (1 Pet. 2:9) who, on behalf of the entire natural order (Rom. 8:19-21), is called to give ceaseless praise to the Creator of creation (Dan. 3:57-88). But I can’t do that well if I don’t open my five senses to take the world in so I can lift it up.


Muddy splash on the south shore of Lake Pontchartrain


Sunrise on the eastbound of I-10 (disclaimer: taken by the passenger)


Cumulonimbus to the east (I ♥ cumulonimbi)


A neighbor’s snapdragons

I wrote a chapter in a book


I was very grateful and humbled when Liguori Publications asked me last Fall to contribute an introductory “theology of the family” chapter in a book on family life. The book to be published soon is wonderfully entitled, The Family, the Church and the Real World, and includes well-known contributing authors like Dr. Sean Reynolds, Dr. Greg and Lisa Popcak, Lisa Hendey, Donna-Marie Cooper O’Boyle, Don Paglia, Christopher West, Fr. Andrew Wisdom, and Greg and Jennifer Willits. I can’t wait to get a copy myself to feast on its riches!

When they first asked me, I confessed to them that I’m not a theological specialist in that area. But when they told me they were not looking for a specialized theological treatise, but rather an accessible Catholic theological meditation on the nature of family written in a familiar style by someone who is theologically literate, I felt more at home. Though I am a theologian, I’m not a scholar’s scholar. Rather, I consider myself more a public intellectual whose primary vocation and mission is to reveal intelligently and faithfully the Word made fresh. That’s my guiding ideal, at least.

To help me keep the tone of my chapter a bit more intimate, I decided to write it as a personal letter addressed to dear friends of mine who were married this last June (whom I mentioned in an earlier post): Mr. & Mrs. Jordan and Shannon Haddad. Just thinking of them makes my heart leap for joy — watch here and see why:

My chapter offers a brief look of the Church’s theological vision for family life.  It draws from Scripture and Tradition, and was influenced by my own experience of being married to Patti Ann Neal, and of being the father of Michael Anthony (19), Nicholas Patrick (17), Maria Thérèse (15) and Catherine Elizabeth (13), as well as of our six miscarried babies. As I wrote, in my mind’s eye also were countless witnesses to marriage and family life from my own family, my wife’s family, and among our friends and many acquaintances over the years, as well the bishops, priests, deacons and religious we have been privileged to know. These have convicted, rebuked, exhorted and encouraged us to live out a faithful marriage and family life, and to not despair in the face of weakness and failure. In that last category, I’d like single out the Brotherhood of Hope, whose love and devotion to marriage and family life has had an unparalleled influence in our lives. These extraordinary Brothers embody the complementarity of vocations in an exemplary way.

Okay! As I don’t want this to be longer than the chapter itself, let me end by sharing with you here a few of the energetic opening lines and then some of the more sober closing lines from this chapter:

Dear Jordan and Shannon,

What a privilege it will be for the Neal family to be part of your upcoming wedding day! I thought, as a gift to honor your marriage, I would offer you some of my own theological and personal reflections on the Church’s magnificent teaching on marriage and family life.

I remember vividly our wedding day back in 1995, on October 14th. It was also the feast of Pope St. Callistus I, who was martyred in 222 A.D. during a time of fierce hostility toward Christians in the Roman Empire. To be openly Christian in those days was a risky choice to make! But imagine – without those many men and women who did take the risk and choose to publicly proclaim the Gospel, where would we be? We need more daring witnesses! In fact, I’d say the Church is always in need of new martyrs, and your choice to give yourselves to each other in holy wedlock – freely, exclusively, totally, faithfully, irrevocably and fruitfully – is itself an heroic act in this day and age! Christ, the Bridegroom of the Church, will consecrate your free act of self-gift by joining it to His own martyrdom as a Sacrament, i.e. a living and effective sign to the world of His saving death and glorious resurrection! The two of you, with hands joined, will become fountains of Christ lavishing graces, everything you will need to remain faithful to your exalted vocation.

Educating your children is a tall order! But the beauty is that we never have to do it alone. We are part of a Church that is a Family of families, a living Body of Christ in which all are concerned for the well-being of all. At least that’s our mission. Rely on the support of others, and pass on to those less fortunate than you the good things you have received. We are made in weakness that we might supply for one another. Be sure to consult often with your wiser elders, and teach your children to do the same. Remember your Baptismal anniversaries and use plenty of holy water to keep grace fresh. Frequent the Sacrament of Reconciliation – together, and one day as a family – and stay close to the Holy Eucharist, which is the source and summit of your lives. See yourselves as architects of wonder who encourage the love of learning, and strive to build a home transparent, like a sacrament, to the presence of God. Read the Scriptures daily, pray together as often as possible and often intercede before God for your children, offering up for them many secret sacrifices. Give alms to the poor and teach your children to do the same. Keep close to the Mother of God and your patron saints, and talk often about saints on earth and in heaven. Practice hospitality, cultivate domestic stability, nurture a strong work ethic by giving out chores, practice frugality and generosity as stewards of God’s manifold gifts. Practice discipline of the tongue, bless your adversaries, speak well of others and criticize only when required by justice or charity…

The Gospel of Math

Repost 2014 in honor of today’s feast

I used to have a t-shirt back in college that had this on the back:

I wish I had it again.

A physics professor I had in college once said, “If there is a God, his native language is math.” Adam Drozdek, in his Beyond Infinity: Augustine and Cantor, gave me my first deeper initiation into the frightening idea. He says:

To summarize, there are three important aspects of Augustine’s discussion of the problem of infinity. First, infinity is an inborn concept which enables any knowledge. Second, infinity can be found in the purest form in mathematics, and thus mathematics is the best tool of acquiring knowledge about God. Third, God is neither finite nor infinite and his greatness surpasses even the infinite. Augustine is original in combining these three aspects in his philosophy; some of them can be found in other philosophers and theologians, but also in mathematicians.

God’s infinity is of a higher magnitude, an infinity of different kind. God is able to comprehend [the sequence of all] infinities, as he is above infinity, he is the Absolute. His infinity is above all possible temporal (and spatial) infinity; it is an infinity of infinities, whose magnitude can be dimly imagined by means of mathematical infinity. It is an infinity of infinities also in that, as St. Augustine said in City of God, “all infinity is in some ineffable way made finite to God,” since no infinity is incomprehensible to God — he can count numbers without succession of thought. God is even able to count without numbers, which assumes that there is no number equal to the quantity of all numbers, that is, no number, to use modern parlance, expressing cardinality of integers (which is aleph zero). This is no hindrance to God who is able to see the entire sequence of numbers without looking at these numbers one by one. Infinity of these numbers can be grasped in one act of comprehension.

…The concept of infinity directs our eyes toward God, and in a sense the presence of infinity in us can be considered a proof of God’s existence: we, the finite and mutable beings, could not engender that concept ; who else could do it if not God? Also, infinity in us can be appreciated and known best through mathematics, through analysis of numbers. In that sense the existence of numbers can be considered a more fundamental proof of God than cosmological argument – since the world would not exist without numbers – and teleological argument – since the design and order in the world can be recognized only through numbers, since order and design are due only to numbers. Therefore, although ontological proof, announced already in Psalm 19:1 that “the heavens declare the glory of God,” has always been considered most important, Augustine could consider mathematical proof as the most fundamental: God exists since the number and infinity exist in our mind.

As a friend of mine aptly phrases it, reading Drozdek makes me feel like a dog watching TV: engrossed but uncomprehending.

With an eye to inciting some additional wonder, let me share two videos about math related to theological thinking. The first, about 4 minutes long, posits that the mind of God is mathematically, and so musically, inclined. The second, which my oldest son sent me, is about 9 minutes long and offers a persuasive approach to “falling in love with math.” I could never imagine such a thing. After watching it, I was convinced also that the speaker held a golden key to an effective catechesis seeking to awaken love in a people grown bored with (what they think is) Christianity. In St. Augustine’s Catholicism, faith-thinking is also good thinking that helps us navigate a world rife with fallacious reasonings. Faith opens to us an intelligible world in which faith and reason beat their wings in harmony, allowing our minds to soar in contemplating a world stamped by the mind of God, the divine Logos.

In the beginning was the Word [ho Logos],
and the Word was with God,
and the Word was God.
He was in the beginning with God;
all things were made through him,
and without him was not anything made that was made. — John 1:1-3

My son commented on this last video, “This is totally how the Church should approach its messaging.” Yes.



Laity on Fire, Part II

A epiclesis

…a total aside on that Eucharist thought. Think about the bread and wine in the Eucharist that serve as sacramental symbols of what we offer for Consecration. Remember, the laity are out in the world consecrating it to God by their holy lives, but their consecration isn’t perfect until it comes to the Eucharist and suffers the consecratory epiclesis [calling down of the Spirit]. Given over to the Spirit, it’s joined to Christ’s bodily Sacrifice and presented in thanksgiving to the Father. In a sense, those 2 symbols of bread-wine contain all that we’ve come to offer in the Mass — our highly compressed prayers, works, joys, sufferings, possessions, losses, health, illness, etc. that we give over to God. Bread and wine aren’t themselves really “natural” elements, right? They’re human-fashioned cultural artifacts, “fruit of the earth and work of human hands,” so aren’t they totally perfect symbols of what we’ve made of creation with God? Super cool. The Offertory at Mass thus becomes the crucial “lay moment” in the Liturgy’s mystical transaction — and the Epiclesis-Consecration seals this transaction by re-making the perishable material of this world we present to “pass over” into the “celestial realm,” the imperishable Kingdom. Wow! Lay life becomes a constant liturgical Pass-over if we do it right, the God-way. Nothing good in this life, that is given over and offered up, is ever lost. And nothing bad that happens, that’s given over and offered up, is ever left unhealed. That’s my favorite insight of all. Hopeful!

…also, imagine that transubstantiation does not mean that the bread/wine’s substance is somehow invisibly hollowed out and replaced with Christ (so maybe you could see him with a microscope!). What an insult to this creation that would be if Christ simply replaced this world’s substance and set it aside! Rather, trans- means that the very substance/being (ontos) of the bread/wine, as existing realities of this world, has “passed over,” been “taken up into” a utterly new order of being: the New Creation built on Christ’s dead-buried-risen and not-left-behind-or-set-aside Body. The consecrated bread and wine no longer belong to this order of existence, but to the Age to Come, even though their material characteristics as bread and wine remain within this old creation (kinda like Christ after the Resurrection appearing and passing through doors). So when you consume these transformed materials at Communion, guess what you are participating in, being transformed into and metabolized by? The new order of being, the New Creation, built on Christ…and that change shows itself in you by your living as a new man through the charity in your life…because this New Creation is “made of love,” is structured by the order of divine-human charity…or, as the Preface for Christ the King says:

 Father…with the oil of gladness hast anointed Thine only-begotten Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, as eternal high priest and universal King; that offering Himself on the altar of the Cross as an immaculate victim and peace offering, He might complete the mysteries of human redemption; and all creation being made subject to His dominion, He might deliver us into the hands of Thine infinite Majesty, a kingdom eternal and universal, a kingdom of truth and life, a kingdom of holiness and grace, a kingdom of justice, love and peace. And therefore with angels and archangels, with thrones and dominions, and with all the heavenly hosts, we sing a hymn to Thy glory, saying without ceasing: Holy, holy, holy…

So do you see why getting eschatology right is so incredibly important, as it makes clear precisely why this life in the world is so crucial, why everything we do without exception for good or ill matters (think here: Hell is the loss of the New Creation’s fulfillment born of our catastrophic failure to cultivate this world aright), and why Jesus is not God’s Plan B, but rather is the crown of God’s plan from the beginning to make us His co-workers/co-creators/co-redeemers (cf. 1 Cor. 3:9; Gal. 2:20). What extraordinary dignity it is to know that God established humanity in this vast creation so that we could participate in its laboring and gestating in saecula saeculorum, “unto the ages of ages.” I think here of the Our Father, where Jesus asks us to unite earth and heaven by our lives of obedience to His coming Kingdom of holiness. You might say that inasmuch as we bring “heaven to earth” by our Christlike lives, we claim earth for heaven. Earth was made for heaven, and heaven is made of earth lifted by the totus Christus to the Father in the Spirit of love. Isn’t that was Belinda Carlisle was getting at?

Ooh, baby, do you know what that’s worth?
Ooh heaven is a place on earth
They say in heaven love comes first
We’ll make heaven a place on earth
Ooh heaven is a place on earth

Maybe not.

Okay, I have to stop here. I am so sorry this is so long. But to me, catching this vision would make for a laity on fire with a secular mysticism uniquely theirs. Let me leave you with St. Isaac the Syrian’s beautiful comments on the dignity of this creation, and how every aspect of creation, when met with the righteous love of saints who already belong to the New Creation (cf 2 Corinthians 5:17; Galatians 6:15), is consecrated by saints who notice — like God — even when a tiny sparrow falls to earth.

What is a merciful heart? It is a heart on fire for the whole of creation, for humanity, for the birds, for the animals, for demons, and for all that exists. By the recollection of them the eyes of a merciful person pour forth tears in abundance. By the strong and vehement mercy that grips such a person’s heart, and by such great compassion, the heart is humbled and one cannot bear to hear or to see any injury or slight sorrow in any in creation. For this reason, such a person offers up tearful prayer continually even for irrational beasts, for the enemies of the truth, and for those who harm her or him, that they be protected and receive mercy. And in like manner such a person prays for the family of reptiles because of the great compassion that burns without measure in a heart that is in the likeness of God.

God bless you for your patience with my disquisition! Let me know if you have other questions. Say hey to Fr. John and Bill for me.

…and let me leave you with a fun vid that playfully sums up my point: