Hiatus

Well, yesterday I declared a pause. But today I declare a subsequent decision, counseled by those I seek counsel from, to take a lengthier break from posting to attend to the myriad “first things first” of life. So I will resume posting October 1st.

Love the community here, am exceedingly grateful to readers here for reading, sharing wisdom and prayer, and drawing good from my work. We pray for each other. Peace and joy!

I will leave off by posting something here I have played with for a long time, but never felt was ready. It’s a brief reflection on my own call as a theologian. For what it’s worth, here’s a view of my peculiar mind…

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Mary, Mary & John: Theologians

We need men and women who devote their lives to the glory of theology, that fierce fire burning in the dark night of adoration and obedience whose abysses it illuminates – Hans Urs von Balthasar

I remember when I first sensed I was being called to be a theologian. Back in 1988, I awoke with a start in the middle of the night and felt compelled to write a poem about the Trinity. I had never before felt even the slightest desire to write poetry. As I wrote, my mind exploded with images and insights. While the poem was no literary work of art, it was the sign of something that had awakened inside of me. Something beyond me. A quest that has never for a second left me since.

Being a theologian is a vocation, a summons from God to explore, in a lifelong and disciplined manner, His self-revelation by laying claim to that most audacious claim of the Jews, “Blessed are we, O Israel; for what pleases God is known to us” (Bar. 4:4).

But above all, it is the God revealed in Christ into which the theologian is invited to “dive down deeper still.” More specifically, into Christ crucified. The cross is the apex of divine disclosure at the nadir of human depravity. This dizzying assertion has claimed the last 30 years of my life.

I love theology. I am terrified by theology. I have been irredeemably conquered by its restlessness. I’ve learned fides quaerens intellectum, “faith seeking understanding” is not some bookish enterprise, but is a wild animal. An uncaged Lion, to be very specific.

Again and again, I have been thoroughly disabused of the illusion that it is I who am cleverly seeking God. No. God relentlessly hounds me, God runs me down the ages. As in St. Paul’s twist of phrase, “Now, however, that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God…” (Gal. 4:9). Yes, I imagined I was successfully analyzing Him, only to find Him searching deep within me.

Disconcerting.

I love theology because He who is a crazed, mad, unchained God beyond knowing, invited me to know Him; and then to re-know everything else in light of what I discover There. St. Catherine of Siena models my inner impuse:

O eternal Father!
O fiery abyss of charity!
O eternal beauty,
O eternal wisdom,
O eternal goodness,
O eternal mercy!
O hope and refuge of sinners!
O immeasurable generosity!
O eternal, infinite Good!
O mad lover!
Why are you so mad?
Because you have fallen in love
with what you have made.

I love theology because it faces me squarely toward reality, refusing to soften the harshness, mute the shocking, sweeten the bitterness, smooth out the jagged edges. Yet, in hope. It faces me toward a God who dives straight into darkness, plunges into filth, is soiled by the grotesque, assailed by injustice — all as if the deepest exigency of God was to rescue. He simply cannot help Himself, because it is His nature, and He cannot be otherwise.

How fitting it is that the name God takes when He becomes flesh is Jesus, “God saves.” This is the Name above every other name. God is rescue. And as He did with the Hebrew Prophets, so now He drags those whom He calls to be theologians down into His rescue operation. “See! Listen! Speak!”

Run.

I love theology because the theologian is given eyes to see divine glory absolutely everywhere, sees all creation afire. But especially sees glory super-abound in those places where God has been most violently banished. There, as nowhere else, God empties out in the extreme. The graying, pallid Face of God-made-corpse, drained of watery blood, is the epiphany of divinity. Splendor splattered all over Skull Mount, surpassed only by His final act of emptying in the descent into hell. Only there, in the deepest Pit of Destruction, can the infinite-glory of the Resurrection at last be made manifest.

And so the theologian makes the words of St. Silouan her own, “keep your mind in hell and despair not.”

A longtime friend has a severely disabled son who has been her 24/7 concern for decades. Once she was asked by a relative, when things were especially hard, “Do you ever feel you’ve traded your happiness for him?” She told me she replied to him, “It wouldn’t occur to me to ask that question. I don’t see those as opposed, my happiness or him. They’re one thing, no conflict. He is my happiness.”

I at once thought of this passage from Holy Writ,

For you know the generous act of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich. — 2 Cor. 8:9

Theologians exist to provide the raw materials for saints like her, and like her son.

Yet, in spite of my love, how often I have wished to run from all this. Because I, a truly weak man, would prefer a nicely gated suburban world, a safe distance from the City of a God “whose fire is in Zion, and whose furnace is in Jerusalem” (Isaiah 31:9). But alas,

If I say, “I will not mention him,
or speak any more in his name,”
then within me there is something like a burning fire
shut up in my bones;
I am weary with holding it in,
and I cannot. — Jer. 20:9

The last word goes to Fr. John Behr, who for me captures it best,

Forcefully stated, this means that in and through the action that expresses all the weakness, impotence, and futility of our created human nature—our subjection to death—Christ shows himself to be truly divine, voluntarily taking this upon himself.

As one tries to comprehend this, one is simply at a loss for words.

Perhaps not surprising, then, is our all-too-human response to the revelation of God in the crucified and exalted Christ, understood through the Scriptures by the power of the Spirit, is to talk about something else—to make theology into an abstract discourse.

So with Mary, Mary and John, I resolve to love theology by theologizing here alone, refusing to talk about something else. Introíbo ad altáre Dei…

“Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you” (Isaiah 49:15)

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Authentic married love is caught up into divine love and is governed and enriched by Christ’s redeeming power and the saving activity of the Church, so that this love may lead the spouses to God with powerful effect and may aid and strengthen them in sublime office of being a father or a mother. — Second Vatican Council

Every married couple is called to transforming union with God as a couple.

The heart of the bond of marriage teems with divine fire, as it is “what God has joined” (Matt. 19:6). From the moment the couple’s free consent is exchanged in the marital promises, God’s immediate act of joining unrelentingly commences as a sustained, constant, permanent, dynamically erupting in each new moment of married life, until death dissolves the nuptial bond.

Between husband and wife, God acts as a centripetal force, as His unity is now theirs. The three-in-one infinite dynamism of God, the two-in-one infinite dynamism of Christ’s human and divine natures, and the two-in-one dynamism of Christ’s covenant bond with the Church are sacramentally unleashed all at once in the married couple. The rest of their lives are spent recovering from the impact of these three mysteries that are called to embody as two-in-one flesh.

St. John Paul II remarkably described Christian marriage’s dynamism as “itself a liturgical action glorifying God in Jesus Christ and in the Church.” Mind blowing! My wife and I at every moment are invited to be con-celebrants of a ceaseless nuptial “liturgy” — liturgy here being defined as the full activation of the three mysteries in service to redeeming the cosmos.

In us, Patti and Tom, God longs, loves, desires to be given full freedom to do His work of joining, of stitching together, of reconciling, of uniting heaven and earth in, with and through us. Every tiny act of love-saturated synergy between us unleashes on creation the full power of the crucified Bridegroom of humanity.

Supine.

Our bond exists to permit God to sweep all things up into the eternal wedding feast of the slain Lamb and so heal a fractured world.

In light of that, Cardinal Arinze said to me in 2010 after I asked him how I could be more effective at my ministry as a teacher in the Church, “You want to save the world? Love your wife. Love your children. Everything else is a distraction.”

The married couple’s mysticism is always a nuptial mysticism. Husband and wife, precisely as oned, are “caught up” into the triple white-hot core of Mystery: the Trinity, the Hypostatic Union and the Christ-Church covenant bond. Their journey to God is now no longer possible solely as individuals, but only as a couple. To seek escape from that is to seek union with God apart from the covenant demands of love. Their journey to union with God can no longer be thought of, acted on, sought apart from their spouse. Even if the spouse of a believer has no faith, the vocation remains exactly the same, or better, is intensified in its cruciform redemptive character:

For the unbelieving husband is made holy through his wife, and the unbelieving wife is made holy through her husband. — 1 Cor. 7:14

My primary Way to God is my wife. Period. No other aspect of my life, work, relationships, religious activities rivals or surpasses her in importance. If I am saved, I am saved primarily by how I love God in relation to my wife, and how I love my wife in relation to God. If am saved by how I love my children, it is only in relation to how in parenting I have loved my wife. Love for my parents, friends, co-workers are saving only in right-relation to my wife. God’s joining makes Patti, at every moment, my vocational axis, my magnetic pole.

Apt it is that St. Paul (Eph. 5:21-33) chose to describe this radical vocation vision of marriage in terms of the love manifest on Golgotha. Nowhere is the work of repairing a shattered world said to be easy or breezy. East of Eden, the way home is narrow, messy and hard.

There is a man who lives not far from our home, whose wife is completely disabled, bedridden. He has dedicated his life to full-time caring for her. It’s just stunning, as all such things are. Once when I saw him in a local supermarket, we chatted about various things. Then I asked him how his wife was. After filling me in on a few details, he said, with the starkest sincerity, “She’s my life. It’s why wife and life rhyme, I think.” He chuckled.

I whispered under my breath, “Even a measure of that for me, Lord, please.”

His life, her life, their life, divine life. One life. One love. Forever and ever. Amen.

‘Getting’ to heaven?

[re-post 2014]

The visible universe, then, is itself destined to be transformed, so that the world itself, restored to its original state, facing no further obstacles, should be at the service of the just, sharing their glorification in the risen Jesus Christ. — Catechism #1047

This astonishing statement from the Catechism is the Catholic view of heaven. Our universe, maybe ~40 billion light years wide and ever-expanding, filled with literally unimaginable wonders, is destined to be transformed, restored and placed at the service of redeemed humanity to the eternal glory of God in the Age to Come.

Everything from quasars to quails, supernovas to supermarkets, the most insignificant thoughts to the grandest deeds will somehow all be caught up into paschal fire of Christ’s risen glory, purified, transfigured, made new. Every time I read, for example, Romans 8:18-30 or 1 Corinthians 3:21-23; 15:20-28 — my mind blows a gasket.

What does a transfigured cosmos even look like? Well, if the Book of Revelation is any indication, certainly infinitely more wild than this already-wild universe is! It’s no wonder St. Paul, when he was asked by the Corinthians what the resurrected body would be like, simply said, “Fool!” (1 Cor. 15:36)

Often we will speak in our Catholic lingo about “getting to heaven.” While this is certainly not wrong, it can be misleading. Not long ago, I was at a party and a man I was speaking to said, “I can’t wait to die and get out of this shell [his body] and leave this world behind for heaven.” The implication? This world is, at best, a holding tank where we prove ourselves worthy of heaven, but in the end earth is to be cast off and left behind for something far better.

The problem? The Risen Christ begs to differ. What Jesus showed us in raising to new life His brutalized mortal body, making it the cornerstone of the new creation, is that heaven is only heaven when it is wedded to earth and the two become one. Heaven was made for earth and earth for heaven. Mary herself, first fruit of Christ’s redeeming work, was assumed body and soul into heaven.

And the body is not merely a shell that “I” somehow inhabit. Rather, the body is essential to my identity as an ensouled body and an embodied soul. St. Thomas Aquinas famously said of the disembodied soul, “the soul is not I.”

Jesus rising in His historical body, still marked by the open wounds, sealed this truth as an eternal truth. The Resurrection means that, in the World to Come, whether in heaven or hell, we will receive our bodies again, transformed, restored and, for the saved, placed at the service of the eternal glory of God.

The new creation is the old creation raised with Christ into eternal glory.

But the wedding of heaven and earth is not just a future promise that we passively salute from afar. It is to be a present reality, an event happening here and now, set in motion by Christ’s Passover from death to life and detonated in this world by the coming of the Pentecostal Spirit. In Jesus, heaven and earth are perfectly wed now as a new creation. And in us who are His pilgrim Body the heavenly wedding unfolds until the end of time, when God will at last be “all in all” (1 Cor. 15:28).

This is precisely what we pray for and consent to every time we pray the Our Father,

Hallowed be thy name
Thy kingdom come
Thy will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven

So the meaning and value of this life for humanity is colossal. The mission of the Church is not just to save “souls.” We daily bear on our shoulders the weight of the entire “visible universe” that awaits our priestly Yes for it to be consecrated and transfigured in the Kingdom of Heaven, offered up by us as a living sacrifice to God in Christ through the eternal Spirit.

How? So much to say! But as I have gone long let me be as brief as possible. To that end, I will quote that timeless sage, Belinda Carlisle:

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

That’s it. How do you consecrate and transfigure this creation into the new creation? Do this:

I give you a new commandment,
that you love one another.
Just as I have loved you,
you also should love one another. — John 13:34

Such a love is the “freedom of the children of God” that creation awaits,

the creation itself will be set free
from its bondage to decay
and will obtain the freedom
of the glory of the children of God. — Rom. 8:21

Which calls to mind a note Br. Jude Lasota, B.H. once sent my wife shortly after she had our second child:

The love you and Tom have for those children redeems the whole universe. So it all matters.

“I try to stay away from all secular music.”

[this tom tome is a re-post from 2014]

The world is in itself secular. — Pope Paul VI

The laity have a secular genius which is properly and peculiarly theirs. — Vatican II

“I try to stay away from all secular music.” I overheard this comment over lunch during a retreat I gave, as the people sitting at the table next to me were talking about how difficult it is to live in such a “secular world.”

My interest was piqued, so I said to the woman who made the comment, “I hope you don’t mind my intrusion, but can I ask you a question?” She said, “Sure.” “What do you mean by secular music?” She replied, “Oh, I just mean all of the godless music out there. You know, the trashy music about sex and violence.” I said, “So secular music to you really means music that promotes immorality?” She said, “Yeah, I guess. But also music that’s about worldly things and not about God.”

I decided to press it further. “This is really helpful. I love to learn from other people’s perspectives. Do you mind if I ask more questions?” She seemed open. “So do you think that for music to be good or worthy to listen to it has to mention God?” She said, “Well, not really. I guess my problem is focusing on the world and the secular, and not on spiritual things.” I continued, “Do you think the world has a spiritual value?” “Yes, if it’s connected to God.” I replied, “What does it mean to you for the world to be connected to God?”

At this point I was worried she was becoming uncomfortable with my inquisition, and everyone else at her table stayed silent. But after a few moments, she said, “If you use the things of the world to do God’s will, that seems like it would be somewhat spiritual.” I replied, “That makes sense. So going back to your original comment about secular music. What does the word secular mean to you?” She said, “Godless. Worldly.”

That was it. The words “secular” and “worldly” were for her both entirely pejorative terms. So, I thought to myself, how can one possibly speak about the positive value of this life on its own terms? What word do we use?

I pressed her further, “Okay, so fair enough. Then if you were asked by someone who was not Christian, what word would you as a Christian use to describe the goodness of this life now that you live in? You know, the world that includes things like money, the natural environment, social and political institutions, science, art, business, human love, suffering, tragedy, and so on. If you can’t use the words worldly or secular, what would you say?”

She paused and said, “That’s a good question. I don’t know if I can find a word. Maybe creation?” Then she said, “What word would you use?” I said, “World and secular.” We all laughed. I continued, “Here’s the thing, secular and world are words that Christianity treasures in its vocabulary. ‘Secular’ comes from the Latin saecula, which simple means ‘age’ or ‘epoch,’ and refers to the realm of time and space we presently inhabit in this world, in contrast to the realm of eternity, which is called the saecula saeculorum, the ‘ages upon ages’ that never end. For Christians, God is the creator of the saecula, the secular time-bound age we live in, and the saecula saeculorum, the endless Age to Come. So secular and world are in a sense synonymous. So to be secular and worldly are the way God intended us to be.”

She seemed puzzled, and said, “Then why does the Bible tell us that the world is against God or that we shouldn’t be worldly?” I replied, “Because the Bible uses ‘world’ in several senses. First, it is the ‘very good’ world Genesis describes, created by God out of love in the beginning. Second, world is used to describe creation in rebellion against God, which is what you described when you said ‘worldly’ in a negative way. And third, world is a description of creation as the ‘theater of redemption,’ as loved by a God who wants to redeem and heal it from its rebellion. As in John 3:16’s famous ‘For God so loved the world that he gave…'” I continued, “So we have to be careful not to conflate all the meanings of the word ‘world’ into the Second negative sense only. That would be a disservice to God’s view of things, ignoring two-thirds of the Bible’s meaning.”

At this point, the woman said, “Please, join us at our table.” I sat down and we continued our lively exchange. I said, “Okay, so can I rephrase your original comment about music?” She said with a chuckle, “Sure. Why not!” “Okay, so what you really meant to say was, ‘I try to stay away from all music in rebellion against God.'” Everyone laughed. She said, “Exactly! You took the words out of my mouth!” I went on, “But music that is about anything in God’s good world — about humanity’s attempt to make sense of that secular world in all its complexity, or about the drama of evil and the struggle to find redemption — these worldly themes would be okay to enjoy as a Christian? Or even to write and perform such music as a Christian?” She said, “Yup, I guess so.”

“So,” I concluded, “you do enjoy secular music!” She and all her companions all laughed and she said, “Yes! Guilty as charged.”

Then the woman said, “So why does the word secular just sound so bad? Get such a bad rap?” I replied, “Because in the last several centuries, western culture has come to define the secular without any reference to God, as a closed system that is not open to transcendence; not open to an understanding of the world as filled with God’s presence and action and glory. God was seen as a threat to the world’s autonomy, in some ways because certain prominent strands of Christianity tended to treat the world as hopelessly corrupt, condemned by God. Or as a mere thing to be used, subordinated to the really important things: religion, spirituality, God. I like to say, when Christians feel the need to debase the world to exalt God, or debase the material to exalt the spiritual, the world feels the opposing need to debase God and the spiritual in order to exalt the world and the material.”

I continued, “And inasmuch as Christianity privileges the negative Second Sense of world, beats up on the secular world or trivializes the importance of this life in the grand scheme of things, Christianity promotes and emboldens the very atheistic secularism it abhors. A Christianity that highlights rejection of the world as hopelessly tainted, or as alien to what is truly spiritual feeds atheistic secularism. And a Christianity that idealizes ‘fleeing the world’ into a totally ‘religious bubble’ as the highest expression of what it means to be Christian, makes those 99% of people called by God to immerse themselves fully in the secular world feel they have to choose between God and the world. Between being spiritual and being secular.”

The woman said, “Never thought of it that way.” I replied, “Think about it, if your best option is to at least mildly disdain the secular world in order to fully love God, those who feel the innate and powerful mission to give themselves to the secular world will be left with little choice. Of course there’s much more to the story, but that’s an important part.”

“So,” I concluded, “we people of faith who live in the world have to love the world even more than our atheist secular neighbors. But we have to love it the ways God does, in accord with His commandments and the law of love. And we have to realize that sharing in God’s love for a broken world looks like the cross. But the point is we must be lovers of His beautiful, broken world. So we really have to get our language clear on this or we just continue to feed the ever-deepening divide that has tragically divorced faith from life in the secular world.”

If I had had my Vatican II texts with me, I would have concluded with this:

They are mistaken who, knowing that we have here no abiding city but seek one which is to come, think that they may therefore shirk their earthly responsibilities. For they are forgetting that by the faith itself they are more obliged than ever to measure up to these duties, each according to his proper vocation. Nor, on the contrary, are they any less wide of the mark who think that religion consists in acts of worship alone and in the discharge of certain moral obligations, and who imagine they can plunge themselves into earthly affairs in such a way as to imply that these are altogether divorced from the religious life. This split between the faith which many profess and their daily lives deserves to be counted among the more serious errors of our age.

Therefore, let there be no false opposition between professional and social activities on the one part, and religious life on the other. The Christian who neglects his secular duties, neglects his duties toward his neighbor and even God, and jeopardizes his eternal salvation. Christians should rather rejoice that, following the example of Christ Who worked as an artisan, they are free to give proper exercise to all their earthly activities and to their humane, domestic, professional, social and technical enterprises by gathering them into one vital synthesis with religious values, under whose supreme direction all things are harmonized unto God’s glory.

Thrown by love

[re-post 2015]

A man must not choose his neighbor: he must take the neighbor that God sends him. The neighbor is just the man who is next to you at the moment, the man with whom any business has brought you into contact. ― George MacDonald

When I was studying philosophy in  the late 1980’s, I was enamored for a time with Martin Heidegger’s idea of geworfenheit, “thrown-ness,” that we each find ourselves thrust into a world not of our choosing. All of it seeming a bit arbitrary, as we are hurled at the moment of conception into a specific place and time, inheriting an unsought history, with parents, siblings, genetics, a social class, government, language and religion we were never consulted on in advance.

Though as we grow and mature we are ideally able to exercise some increasing measure of freedom and control in shaping the unfolding of our present and our future, we always discover in every new moment that most of what we face in life we are thrown into. Having to swim in the sea of geworfenheit, we must creatively respond to life from within the confines of the “hand that has been dealt to us.”

Of course, the Christian believes that the world into which we are thrown is also a world governed by the mysterious Hand of divine Providence. But even in that case, the point remains the same — whether we are confronted with a world governed by blind Fate or by all-seeing Providence, it is always true that we must face a world overwhelmingly beyond our control. Peace is found in acceptance of this iron law.

The limitless tensions that exist between freedom and necessity become the creative forces and dramatic spaces within which creation evolves and we ourselves become who God intended us to become. As Christians, we believe these harsh tensions also entwine a mystic synergy between infinite divine freedom and our finite freedom. This element of “grace” infused in nature transforms the human drama into a theodrama, and stretches the horizons of possibility to infinite lengths.

This synergy opens up space for the Resurrection of Jesus, which re-configured entirely the relationship, in the natural order, between freedom and necessity. In Christ, man is given an immediate share in the exercise of primary causality, divine freedom, in influencing the unfolding of divine Providence, and so of the course of cosmic history’s unfolding. Here is where prayer gets interesting, and frightening in its call to responsibility. And surrender.

Like the tiny butterfly in Ecuador that (unknowingly) spins up a typhoon in the Philippines by artfully flapping its delicate azure wings, so praying man in Christ co-labors the world into Resurrection by consecrating that world. How? By the free choice of a cruciform, priestly love. Why? Because all “creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God…in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. (Romans 8:19-21).

All creation waits on us, on our Yes. On our fluttering deeds of delicate loving kindness.

Supine, prone. Not sure which to choose here.

Which takes us back to our neighbor, whom we did not choose to be near us, whom we’d rather not lay claim on our love. These nigh neighbors whom God sets alongside us to love intensely, whom we ourselves likely would never have selected had we been given opportunity, are precisely the divinely appointed opportunities we have – daily — to synergize with the God who “so loved” our wretched world. To endure the painful contractions that labor necessity into freedom: that is our primal, daily, minutely, secondly call.

So get to it. Start with the person nearest you, preferably whom you don’t like, and go from there. Love, as you are able. But more, beg for grace from the Risen One. Who awaits your Yes to join His.

The Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ

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[this is a wildly meandering meditation on the Eucharist, so brace yourself]

When [Jesus] wanted fully to explain what his forthcoming death was all about, he didn’t give them a theory. He didn’t even give them a set of scriptural texts. He gave them a meal. — N.T. Wright

Tomorrow we will continue to contemplate the aftermath of Pentecost as we celebrate the Mystery of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ. Last week’s Trinity Sunday was a liturgical proclamation of who God, fully revealed in Jesus and His Spirit, is. Tomorrow, though, we are confronted by God’s unimaginable invitation to masticate and swallow the Flesh and Blood of the slain and risen Son of God. Invited to ingest the One in whose resurrected body creation has passed over (been trans-substantiated) into an entirely new order of existence, i.e. the new creation.

Yes, the One who says, “See, I am making all things new” (Rev. 21:5).

The Eucharist is the divine invitation to participate even now in this new order of existence by consuming bread and wine that have, by God’s re-creating power, been “made new” in the new creation. Transubstantiation is neither a bizarre logic puzzle, “it’s bread and not bread,” nor mystic chemistry, nor an imperceptible magic trick. It is a re-creative act of the same Redeeming God who raised the lacerated corpse of Jesus to a new and immortal bodily life. Jesus’ disorienting resurrection appearances reveal a Eucharistic logic, displaying both a radical continuity and a radical discontinuity between the old and the new creations. The fact that He is not recognized by His closest friends until He makes Himself known shows that His risen body has become something of a sacramental sign that requires faith’s interpretation, as it now signifies, contains and communicates something absolutely new.

The transubstantiated bread and wine, having been assumed into Jesus’ risen mode of existence, “behave” like the Jesus’ risen body appearing during the 40 days. Already wholly defined by the law and order of the new creation — transubstantiated — they remain accessible, under the form of mystery, to us who live within the first creation.

In the liturgical celebration of the Holy Mass, the material elements of bread and wine pass over from this world to the Next as a transfiguring extension of the power of the Resurrection into our time and space. In the words of 1 Cor. 5:17, “the old has passed away (archaia parēlthen); see, everything has become new!” In the Eucharist, this is true here and now as the Spirit of Jesus changes the substance of this world, presented as a sacrificial offering, into the substance of “a new heavens and a new earth” (Rev. 21:1) that has arisen from the risen Jesus.

In this sense, the Eucharist is future glory crashing back into the present in order, is a reverb of the Resurrection’s Big Bang bathing the cosmos in lux aeterna, “eternal light.”

In the words of an Orthodox hymn, you “taste the Fountain of Immortality” when you eat and drink the “new wine” (Matt. 26:29) of the Kingdom. That’s utterly breathtaking. But what is even more amazing to me is when I consider that this wildly destabilizing dynamism we call transubstantiation (better a verb than a noun) was planted in me, in seed form, at Baptism (cf. Rom. 6-11; 2 Cor. 5:17).

The implication? The transformation wrought in bread and wine is meant to happen in me as well, as I become a new creation, drawn by the Spirit to be progressively sanctified, consecrated and empowered to join St. Paul’s crazed audacity: “It is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me” (Gal. 2:20). The relics of the saints are material remnants of the wedding of heaven and earth that has been consummated.

The Eucharist exists not primarily to be adored as an object of veneration, but to be eaten and drunk by the Bride who longs to become one flesh and one spirit with her Bridegroom.

A last thought. The new creation is made of love, so how fitting it is that the Son of God chose to fuse His own self-sacrificial love for us with food and drink. Bread and wine are transformed beneath the force of the re-creative words of the God-Man as He inaugurates the second Genesis…. and God said,

Take this, all of you, and eat of it:
for this is my body which will be given up for you.
Take this, all of you, and drink from it:
for this is the chalice of my blood,
the blood of the new and eternal covenant.
which will be poured out for you and for many
for the forgiveness of sins.

The Eucharist is a stunning sign that the transubstantiation of this world into a new creation comes to pass under the form of sacrificial love. When humanity co-labors with God in feeding the hungry and giving drink to the thirsty, in being merciful, creation reaches its completion in being ‘divinized.’ Formed by the logic of Eucharist, we boldly profess that God is food and drink, which is simply a more concrete way of saying, “God is love.”

We say in the Creed that Father and Son are “consubstantial,” as the infinite divine substance of each Person wholly belongs to (an for) the other. That is the dynamism of love, the vocation of humanity.

Which all makes sense of why feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty — deeds of mercy — are the criteria for entrance into the life of the Kingdom of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit (Matt. 25:31-46; cf. 1 Jn. 3:17).

At a baptism I attended, the priest said to a deeply divided family, “If you do not plan to love each other, stay away from this water [pointing to the baptismal font] and do not eat from this table [pointing to the altar]. In these we partake of a Kingdom where love is the final word.”

I now gladly allow Annie Dillard the last word:

Why do people in church seem like cheerful, brainless tourists on a packaged tour of the Absolute? Does anyone have the foggiest idea what sort of power we blithely invoke? Or, as I suspect, does no one believe a word of it? The churches are children playing on the floor with their chemistry sets, mixing up a batch of TNT to kill a Sunday morning. It is madness to wear ladies’ straw hats and velvet hats to church; we should all be wearing crash helmets. Ushers should issue life preservers and signal flares; they should lash us to our pews. For the sleeping god may wake someday and take offense, or the waking god may draw us to where we can never return.

 

Most Holy Trinity

“Holy Trinity,” El Greco. allart.biz

In making the sign of the Cross, therefore, we not only remember our baptism, but we affirm that liturgical prayer is an encounter with God in Jesus Christ, who became incarnate for us, died and rose in glory. — Pope Francis

[re-post 2016]

Today’s feast of the Most Holy Trinity celebrates, in the wake of last week’s feast of Pentecost, that God has been fully revealed to humanity in the death and resurrection of the Son of God and in the coming of the Holy Spirit.

What about God has been revealed?

That God is One, but not solitary. That in divinity, unity is found in an eternal community of Persons-in-relation, because “God is love” (1 John 4:8).

But the fact that this mystery of divine love was only fully revealed to us in and through the Paschal Mystery, above all on the Cross, tells us something else about God. Something absolutely stunning. It tells us that to-be-God means emptying, outpouring, expending oneself for sake of the beloved. Belief in the Trinity is belief in a God who is eternally emptying, outpouring, expending.

We can easily think of the Creed as a static snapshot of God who is frozen in an eternally changeless irrelevance. But in fact the Creed has us profess belief in a living, infinitely volatile, overflowing divine dynamism that is ceaselessly boiling, and over-boiling, in God. In fact, when we profess the Creed in faith, we cliff-dive in a free fall into the limitless Mystery of God.

In our Creed we profess belief in a God from whom the visible and invisible creation, vast beyond measure, exploded in a wildly excessive divine choice of pure giving: “Let there be!”

In our Creed we profess belief in a God in whom a Son is eternally being begotten as “God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God,” who took on human nature “for our salvation,” emptying Himself out in the most extreme manner, to the point of violent death on a Roman cross.

In our Creed we profess belief in a God in whom the Holy Spirit is eternally, like an infinite fountain, “proceeding from” both Father and Son; and is being poured out without measure to give life to the world.

So it is no mistake that whenever a Christian invokes the threefold Name of God, he or she traces that most extreme symbol of the divine self-emptying: the Sign of the Cross.

But note well, we trace this sign not outward up into the sky, pointing heavenward, but inward onto our bodies, pointing heartward. For the self-emptying God longs to dwell both in us and through us out into the world, by conforming our lives to Their emptying, outpouring, expending love.

My God.

So making the Sign of the Cross not only invokes God’s Name, but is the baptismal invocation of our oath to live lives worthy of the divine Name by living lives inscribed by the finger of our self-emptying God, whose love is strong as death, whose passion is fierce as the grave (cf. Song of Song 8:6).

May it be so in us this day and to the Day of Eternity. Amen. Amen. Amen.