‘Through a Glass Darkly’: The Deep Theology Behind St. Paul’s Phrase STEPHEN BEALE

‘Through a Glass Darkly’: The Deep Theology Behind St. Paul’s Phrase

For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.

– 1 Corinthians 13:12

Paul’s famously poetic statement about the difficulty of knowing God in this life says a lot more than at first meets the eye.

On a first pass, the verse stands as a moving testament to our distance from God. His wording conjures up the image of searching for God through a looking glass. It is a confession of the weakness of human nature: the unaided eye cannot see Him. We need the help of a “glass.” Even then, what we see is dimly perceived. This idea is retained in most translations, even if the wording changes slightly. Instead of The King James’ “darkly” some go with “dimly” or “in obscurity.” The Douay-Rheims translation renders it as “in a dark manner” while the New American Bible goes with “indistinctly.”

Paul’s poetic language about human limitations of seeing God reflect a recurring theological theme: to see God is both to be enlightened and darkened. The cloud that Moses entered and that Ezekiel saw were dark yet they flashed with lightning. When God’s presence settled in the temple of ancient Israel, it was filled with a dark cloud (1 Kings 8:10-12). Although ultimately this must remain a mystery, there are two ways we can achieve a limited understanding of this phenomenon. Since God is an invisible spirit to truly ‘see’ Him is to be in the darkness. But, viewed from another perspective, God’s glory is so radiant that it is blinding. This is the “luminous darkness” of St. Gregory of Nyssa and the “dazzling obscurity” of Dionysius the Areopagite.

 

However, we have only just begun to scrape the surface of what St. Paul is talking about. When we turn to the original Greek, a whole new world of meaning opens up to us. In the original text what is translated as glass is the Greek word esoptron, which really refers to ancient mirror. Darkly is actually ainigma, from which we get our word enigma. If we were to put this more literally it would read ‘see in a mirror in an enigma.’ That’s really confusing, so it’s understandable why translators try to use something more poetic.

So what is St. Paul really talking about? It took one of the great titans of theology, St. Augustine to unravel the riddle of this verse.

He does something shocking and counterintuitive: he takes it at face value. When we look in a mirror, what do we see? An image of ourselves.

This may seem frustrating: we search for God to only be looking at ourselves in the mirror. But, as Henry David Thoreau said, “It’s not what you look at that matters, it’s what you see.” And what Augustine wanted us to see in the image of ourselves in the proverbial mirror was the image of the God within.

In De Trinitate, he argued that our souls reflect the triune God. Our ability to remember, understand, and love reflect the three persons of the Trinity. Our memory is associated with God the Father, the Godhead. Our self-understanding mirrors God’s own self-understanding in His Word. And our capacity to love recalls the Holy Spirit, who is the personification of the shared love between the Father and the Son.

This claim is rooted in Genesis 1:27, which declares that we are made in the image of God. The previous verse expands this into “image and likeness.” At first this appears to be a hendiadys, a figure of speech in which a single concept is expressed by two words (such as “cold and chilly, or “talkative and chatty”). Except, Augustine sees a difference between the two. And he thinks it is the key to understanding Paul’s second word—enigma.

For Augustine, we see the image of ourselves clearly, but, as a reflection of God, the image is an imperfect way of gazing upon God. This imperfection is expressed in the word enigma, which in ancient Greek rhetoric was, according to Augustine, classified as a kind of allegory, in which “one thing is understood from another.” Today, we’d call this an analogy.

An enigma, according to Augustine, is a kind of allegory (or analogy, if you will) where the meaning is not clear. As Augustine puts it, “As far as I can see then, by the word ‘mirror’ he wanted us to understand an image, and by the word ‘enigma’ he was indicating that although it is a likeness, it is an obscure one and difficult to penetrate.” He adds, “No one therefore should be surprised that in this fashion of seeing which is allowed us in this life, namely through a mirror in an enigma, we have a struggle to see at all.”

Indeed, De Trinitate is a testament to just how difficult it is: it takes Augustine fifteen linguistically and theologically dense books to discern just how the Trinity is reflected in us.

Our reflection of the Trinity is also obscure, or “enigmatic” because of how vastly dissimilar the reflection is of the original. God is three persons, one in being. However, in us, God’s ‘threeness’ is reflected in one person. Moreover, because God is absolute simplicity, He is His own memory, He is His own understanding, and He is love. We are not these things. Instead, these are things we have and that we can lose. Because God is these things he cannot lose them.

Contemporary English translators were on to something. Truly when we look at the image of God within, we are looking through a glass darkly. Paul’s metaphor of a dim mirror might seem pessimistic, but it is also very hopeful. When we look in the mirror we are not dreaming. We do not see a figment of our imagination. We are seeing something real. It may be indirect and indistinct, but that’s pretty exciting when what you’re looking at is God.

Photo by Sergio Ibannez on Unsplash

COVID-19 : Why hasn’t God prevented this pandemic? (Re blogged) by Thierry-Dominique Humbrecht

COVID-19 : Why hasn’t God prevented this pandemic?
KORONAWIRUS

Halfpoint | Shutterstock

The coronavirus has raised numerous questions that can shake one’s faith:

The current situation with COVID-19 takes us back to eternal questions: Why hasn’t God prevented this? Why is death all around us if we call on Him and implore His protection? Shouldn’t we just admit that God has failed us?This pandemic is one of the most formidable challenges to Christian faith. Without pretending to understand everything, let us try to find at least some answers …

 God never promised to keep the suffering of death away from us. 

The Holy Scriptures teach us that God did not create death; it is the consequence of Original Sin. With the Cross of Christ, God has triumphed over death but He has not abolished it yet. Death remains a part of our lives. No one can escape it. It’s a certainty no one can contest. So, we should stop imagining divine protection that will spare us from it. No one can avoid death; no one knows when it will come, which could be earlier than we expect or hope for.

But we continue to long for divine protection in dangerous times. “Let the gods look favorably upon you!” is a harmless superstition that must have come down to us from the old pagan religions and is still alive today. In times when the protection we called for has not been granted, it can conflict with our Christian vision of God. But our God is not fickle. Jesus never said that He would keep suffering and death away from us; what He promised us is the salvation of our souls and the resurrection of our bodies after the Last Judgment. 

So, should we pray and implore His protection? The answer is yes, but mostly from something we rarely consider – our spiritual death. Once acquired, this kind of protection will never fail us. 

Thierry-Dominique Humbrecht

Genesis: Is Catholicism at Odds with Science? By CONSTANCE T. HULL

 

Genesis: Is Catholicism at Odds with Science?

CONSTANCE T. HULL

There is a battle raging in our culture between science and faith. This battle is centuries old, as various philosophers and theologians have sought to divorce faith and reason. The Catholic Church has stood firmly in the middle of this battle, calling for a ceasefire. Faith and reason are meant to go together, not be torn asunder. One of the primary issues is based on erroneous interpretations of the Genesis creation account, which scientists rightly point out do not comport with reality.

The error in question is based on biblical literalism. This belief, which came about post-Reformation, is the idea that all of Scripture is to be taken literally (except John 6) and that includes the six-day creation account. This has never been the Catholic reading of Genesis precisely because the Church acknowledges that Scripture is a library of complementary, but different, genres; all of which are divinely inspired. Bishop Robert Barron elucidates:

Once of the most important principles of Catholic Biblical interpretation is that the reader of the Scriptural texts must be sensitive to the genre or literary type of the text which he is dealing. Just at it would be counter-intuitive to read Moby Dick as history or “The Waste Land” as social science, so it is silly to interpret, say “The Song of Songs” as journalism or the Gospel of Matthew as a spy novel. In the same way, it is deeply problematic to read the opening chapters of Genesis as scientific treatise.

Bishop Robert Barron, Vibrant Paradoxes: The Both/And of Catholicism

Scripture and science will never be at odds as long as both are properly ordered to truth. Christoph Cardinal Schonborn, who is the Archbishop of Vienna and well versed on the science-religion problem, remarked:

The Catholic position on [scientific creationism] is clear. St. Thomas [Aquinas] says that “one should not try to defend the Christian Faith with arguments that are so patently opposed to reason that the Faith is made to look ridiculous.” It is simply nonsense to say that the world is only 6,000 years old. To try to prove this scientifically is what St. Thomas calls provoking the irrisio infidelium, the scorn of the unbelievers. It is not right to use such false arguments and to expose the Faith to the scorn of unbelievers.

Christopher T. Baglow, Faith, Science, & Reason: Theology on the Cutting Edge, 27.

If we are not meant to read the creation account in Genesis literally, then what was the intention of the inspired author?

A brief glimpse at ancient cosmologies.

In order to begin to understand how Catholics read Genesis, we must examine the environment in which the Israelites were living at the time. The Israelites were surrounded by peoples who submitted to violent and competitive cosmologies. Typically, a god committed some horrendous act of violence or vengeance to bring forth the world. One example is the Babylonian creation account:

It begins with a father god, Apsu, and a mother god, Tiamat, attempting to kill their own children. It continues with them being killed by their offspring instead, and with the leader of these offspring, Marduk, making the earth and sky out of his mother’s body parts.

Ibid, 44.

Needless to say, the story goes on to discuss the blood of a demon being used, as well. You get the idea. It is very violent. This was common in the ancient world. Second, these peoples also worshiped elements of nature as gods: the sun, moon, seas, earth, etc.

The radically new Genesis creation account.

The ancient world was marred by a violent and listless sense of creation. Then Yahweh enters the scene and all of these cosmologies are turned completely on their heads. God brings forth the world through speaking. He says, “Let there be light” and light appeared, but it also was good. With each spoken word, the universe is brought into being and all of creation is understood to be good. There is no other god to murder or vengeful rival. Instead, God gives rise to the universe through a gratuitous act of charity. This charity is explained by Bishop Robert Barron in his recent book, Vibrant Paradoxes: The Both/And of Catholicism:

This means that the most fundamental truth of things—the metaphysics that governs reality at the deepest level—is peaceful and nonviolent. Can you see how congruent this is with Jesus’ great teachings on nonviolence and enemy love in the Sermon on the Mount? The Lord is instructing his followers to live in accord with the elemental grain of the universe.

The universe does not come into existence through violence, and instead, is predicated upon Divine charity and peace.

The universe is also intelligible, this means it can be studied and understood, which is the realm of the natural sciences, as well as the contemplative. The Genesis account illuminates how it was God who created the sun, moon, stars, clouds, fish, human beings, etc. This means that these elements are not gods within themselves. They are not meant to be worshipped, but they can be studied and contemplated in view of the creator. Only the one true God is meant to be worshiped: The Most Holy Trinity, Yahweh.

God also creates man and woman imago Dei, in the image and likeness of God. Man and woman are the ontological joining of matter and the immaterial, body and soul. We are the bridge between two realities. We have the supernatural element of spirit, also found in the angels, and in God Himself, who is pure Spirit, but we are also matter. We dwell within the created universe. This creation by God was born of love, not violence, pride, or vengeance. Man and woman are made for God. Our ultimate end is to live eternally in communion with the three Divine Persons of the Most Holy Trinity.

How are we to interpret the Genesis creation account?

Genesis is a theological work. It is meant to teach us about Divine truths and realities. It does not teach us the time it took to create the universe in any literal sense. What it does teach us is that we are made imago Dei, we are body and soul, God spoke the universe into being through a sheer act of love, the world is intelligible, and creation is not divine. For Catholics, the central truth of Genesis is that God created us to love and be in communion with Him. We can see that the universe is good and intelligible, therefore, we can study and come to know and understand it through science, philosophy, art, music, theology, and any other human pursuit. The universe, through its beauty and grandeur, reveals to us that God is good and gratuitous in His giving. Genesis tells us about the supernatural beginning of the universe, not the scientific timeline for the beginning of the universe.

Where is the conflict for science and Catholicism on Genesis, then?

There isn’t one. Much of the battle being waged is based on a variety of factors. I don’t have word space to cover all of them here, so I will only mention a couple. Rationalism and reductionism, or the beliefs largely held by today’s scientists, hold that the only things that can be known (the only things that are real) are those that can be tested by the scientific method and reason. All we can truly know is through our senses and experiences. The limitations of rationalism should be obvious immediately. The scientific method, nor reason for that matter, can provide us with a complete explanation of the experiences of love or beauty.

The problem with atheist scientists of the last few centuries is they overstep the bounds of their respective fields. Science by its very nature cannot tell us anything about God because even natural theology falls outside the bounds of the scientific method. Science can support theological and spiritual truths in demonstrating that God is good, He created a beautiful universe, the universe is intelligible, etc., but science cannot go beyond the scope of the natural universe. Its role is purely to test, understand, and postulate about those things which can be tested through the scientific method. God, who is purely supernatural, cannot be put through the rigors of the scientific method. The realm of metaphysics belongs to philosophy and theology. Science will never be able to prove or disprove the existence of God, regardless of the rather arrogant claims of some scientists.

Faith, revelation, religion, these elements are devised from the supernatural and so they belong to the Church. It is the Church who studies, prays, and learns the truths revealed to us from God. She can speak on matters of a supernatural nature, where science cannot. The Church also cannot speak on matters of science, except through her scientists. In other words, the Church never makes pronouncements on scientific discoveries. She may teach that science always must conform to truth, but she does not make pronouncements on specific theories. She speaks in order to clarify theological points in relation to scientific discoveries on certain matters, such as in the case of evolution and Humani Generis–which I will cover next week–but she will never uphold one scientific theory or another in any formal sense.

The Catholic Church has within her a wide array of scientists working day and night in the pursuit of scientific inquiry. Many of these scientists are priest, brothers and sisters religious, and members of the laity. Since the universe is good, beautiful, and reflects the glory of God, it is only natural for the Mystical Body to marvel, study, and deepen her understanding of creation through scientific study. Reason and faith are both meant to be employed in every single human person.

The Catholic Church does not take the creation account in Genesis literally. Science has clearly shown that the universe is billions of years old. Genesis is not meant to give a real-time play-by-play of God’s first six-days working on creation. Rather, it is meant to teach us about who God is and how he operates within the universe. Creation is born of a gratuitous act of love, not violence and retaliatory violence. Human beings as “embodied spirits” are rational creatures made for love with an ultimate end of communion with the Beatific Vision.

The issue here is not that Catholics reject scientific discoveries, far from it. The issue is that far too many scientists have overstepped their boundaries by thinking they can wade into the supernatural. The supernatural cannot be observed or tested through the scientific method. Scientists are limited by the natural universe. They will never be able to prove or disprove the existence of God. Those matters are left to the Church and the revelation given to us through the very real, and historical God-man, Jesus Christ

The heaviest cross by Patrick Miron

i Catholic

 by Patrick Miron

 The heaviest cross

If someone were to ask you; what is the heaviest cross we must bear? Perhaps reworded to, for the times we live; why is their suffering? Where is God in all of this? How would you respond?

 A rather morbid topic that I have been giving much thought to lately. It certainly challenges our personal relationship with God. And I wonder perhaps if it is not even more difficult within the protestant communion, in that so many accept the Lie of “Faith Alone salvation” and “Once saved, always saved.” While we Catholics hold to a FULLER idea, concept and understanding of our God…..  Yes he is a God of Love and Mercy; but aware of the Old Testament often brutal reprisals from God: Adam and Eve, The GREAT Flood, Forty years wandering in the desert [and not one man except Aaron, the brother of Moses, from the original group, actually made it alive to the “Promised Land.”….  Moses was granted sight of it; but not access into it], Sodom and Gomorrah, whole tribes of peoples being wiped out with God’s approval; there seems little doubt [IMO] that the catholic perspective is correct.

 In my personal life’s experience, death of a younger brother and the havoc caused to our parents and family, a dear friend of ours, younger then my wife [and a lot younger then me], is struggling with Cancer. Another friend has MS, as does a young cousin by marriage; fires in Canada wiping out an entire town, Tornados killings hundreds in the South [near EWTN], Haiti and Japans disasters, where THOUSANDS lost lives, homes and everything. …. And I have no doubts each of you could add a GREAT deal more to this list. So WHY does it happen?

 The reasons are many, and some are quite profound. Some we just will not be able to understand. Others, perhaps in time?

 Certainly the issue of carrying our cross as told Five different times is part of the explanation. But as that Old song [giving my age here], “Is THAT ALL THERE IS  ..Then let’s keep dancing,” ask, “IS THAT REALLY ALL THERE IS?

 Phil.2: 8 And being found in human form he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross Luke.9 :23 And he said to all, “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. Mark.8: 34 And he called to him the multitude with his disciples, and said to them, “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. Luke.9: 23 And he said to all, “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. Luke.14: 7 Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me, cannot be my disciple.”  Did you know this message appears exactly the same number of times [Five] as the testimonies of the Real Presence?

 1Pet.4: 13 ” But rejoice in so far as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed.

 1Pet.5: 1, 9  “So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ as well as a partaker in the glory that is to be revealed. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same experience of suffering is required of your brotherhood throughout the world.”

 2Tim.4: 5As for you, always be steady, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.”

Phil.1: 29 “For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake, “

2Thes.1: 5 “This is evidence of the righteous judgment of God, that you may be made worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are suffering “

 I’m not sure about you; but the fact that God knows, permits, even desires that we suffer with him, somehow does seem to answer fully the WHY? It seems reasonable that this would be true; but look at the number of Protestants who either don’t “get it,” or maybe really can’t know it. Choosing to believe in preachers of man-made religious beliefs; rather than the God that Created them? But is that fair? Do they; can they simply choose not to understand? [YES]  And then add to it Agnostics, Atheist, Apostates, Buddhist, New Agers, and we are WELL out numbered.

 I am reminded of a quote From One of My Favorite Catholic Authors: Archbishop Fulton Sheen, who tells us: “The truth is STILL the truth even if nobody believes it; and a lie is STILL a lie, even if everybody believes it.” That is PROFOUND.

 The answer I think at least in part is to prepare us for Heaven? [1 Pet. 4:13 above] What you say; prepare us for heaven by suffering? Yep! Consider Adam and Eve in Paradise. Short of actually “being gods,” they had every good thing to the full. If they hadn’t sinned; could they appreciate heaven? They WERE in heaven!

 I think also that because Pride is the favorite tool of Satan; and humility and love the favorite tools of God; suffering has a highly significant role in keeping us humble; helping us to focus on God, realizing that we Do need His help. It is IMPOSSIBLE to make it without Him; BOTH in this life and leading us to the After-life. I admit to being completely befuddled and confused how anyone who has no relationship with God, deals with adversity.

 There is the Wisdom of God that say’s “I Suffered, so you too MUST suffer“. Why is this action wise on God’s part? Because dear friends, there is; must be, a price to pay for ANY GOOD THING. And like the Eucharist; a taste of heaven on earth; Salvation requires entry through the “narrow gate.” “MANY are called; BUT Only a few are chosen.” What is fascinating about this fact is that it is NOT GOD; it is me and you that Choose. So when we are “asked” to suffer; ACCEPT it in Faith and offer it up to gain grace. God is in charge or I’m in charge. NOT BOTH! The Heaviest Cross is the daily drudgery of life and its challenges.

 “Thank you for an excellent meditation. In my experience, this reality that you are describing is one of the CHIEF gifts of the Church to us. The reality that we, too, have crosses to carry, and that we can do so in a way that unites our suffering to that of Christ, gives meaning and value to our suffering. For the protestant who believes in OSAS, suffering makes no sense at all. OSAS leads to two sins; these sins were never on my radar as a protestant. I had no idea that these sins even existed AS sin. The two sins are despair and presumption. The most obvious consequence of OSAS is the sin of presumption. But despair can also result….even at the same time!! Because suffering without any obvious purpose leads to despair. It was only after I came home to the Church that I found the very real virtue in offering up my pain. And I learned that I must fight feelings of despair as a sin against hope and feelings of certitude about reaching Heaven immediately upon death give us a false sense of our own eternal destination. It is only the Church that teaches that The Way is a middle road between two extremes.”

Thank you so much,

Pray very much dear friends,

Patrick

No Christian gets to love alone: Finding more than Christ on the road to Emmaus by Fr. Patrick Briscoe, OP 

road to Emmaus

“No one has a right to sit down and feel hopeless.”

In the face of social distancing, young Americans (18-25 years old) are surprisingly not reporting a decline in their religious faith.Thirty-five percent of young adult respondents to a recent survey describe an increase in religious faith during the COVID-19 health crisis. The same study reports, “Nearly 46% have started new religious practices, and 43% have participated in at least one religious service online.” Despite these relatively positive responses towards religious faith, the recent study released by the Springtide Research Institute of Bloomington, Minnesota, offers some data that should give us pause.

Unsurprisingly 60% report feeling isolated; 58% percent report feeling “scared and uncertain.” That measure of loneliness brings to mind the words of Pope Francis, who says,

How much sadness we see in so many faces all around us! How many tears are shed every second in our world; each is different but together they form, as it were, an ocean of desolation that cries out for mercy, compassion and consolation.

There is so much loneliness. Even before the pandemic. Quarantine may have exacerbated the issue some, but we are so isolated. During the pandemic when I’ve found myself out, I’ve felt a remarkable solidarity with the people I’ve run into. The phenomenon of our shared experience has offered a remarkable consolation. And yet that is only when I encounter the presence of another.

Another; someone else. That is the only answer to the isolation. Regardless of psychological health or personal resiliency, this is a truth of the human condition. Only another can draw me forth from the structures of my own seclusion.

Dorothy Day describes this well. She writes,

No Christian gets to love alone. To love Christ, which is the only answer to the mysteries and tumults of the heart, means loving others.

This is the mystery of the Road to Emmaus. Christ does not appear to just one of the disciples. These two followers of Jesus were traveling together.

St. Cyril of Alexandria suggests that the two had been with Jesus for some time. He numbers them among the 72 disciples who Jesus dispatches in Chapter 10 of Luke’s Gospel. Supposing this is the case, imagine then what they would have seen. These two disciples would have been acquainted with Jesus’ teaching, with his miracles, and best of all, they would have known well what it was like to be with him.

This is the scene then: two travelers on the road, a journey of two believers. Not one believer alone, but two, together.

My classmates in the Order are able to continue to share so much because of the things we experienced in our first years of formation. Our memories are the source of great joy and constant fraternity. It was those years that fostered deep encounters with Christ. But even deeper than living an extended “shared past,” we know that we are continuing to journey together.

Perhaps for this reason, one of my favorite depictions of the two disciples on the road to Emmaus is by the Dominican friar Fra Angelico, who has painted two Dominicans meeting the Risen Christ! In the Order, we friars have found Christ together.

But this is not just the journey of the religious! This is the way of life of every Christian! A shared life, a life of communion. This union is what we must draw on, this having encountered and thus bonded in Christ, this is the source of our outreach in this time.

We must fight the desire to give in, to not care, to cease calling and texting and praying. We have to continue to reach out! Again, Dorothy Day assures us,

People say, what is the sense of our small effort? They cannot see that we must lay one brick at a time, take one step at a time. A pebble cast into a pond causes ripples that spread in all directions. Each one of our thoughts, words and deeds is like that. No one has a right to sit down and feel hopeless. There is too much work to do.

Our accompaniment will only flourish if it is for the Gospel. Pope Francis writes,

Spiritual accompaniment must lead others ever closer to God … to accompany them would be counterproductive if it became a sort of therapy supporting their self-absorption and ceased to be a pilgrimage with Christ to the Father (Evangelii Gaudium, 170).

Simply being with or forcing ourselves on people will not offer the peace we’re looking for.

It is possible, even in these times, to be truly united. Our Christian fellowship cannot be wrinkled or broken by anything in this life. It remains. We must draw on it. We must continue to pour out ourselves, and in so doing (to adopt a well-worn phrase) the lives we save may be our own.

Jesus appeared to his apostles during a lockdown by Philip Kosloski 

Jesus appeared to his apostles during a lockdown

JESUS KNOCKING

The apostles were afraid and alone, isolating themselves from the world, but Jesus appeared to them anyway.

After Jesus’ arrest in the Garden of Gethsemane, most of his apostles scattered, afraid of suffering the same fate. Peter went so far as to deny he knew Jesus in order to avoid being captured.They were afraid, uncertain about the future and having doubts about Jesus as the messiah. Instead of resuming their normal lives, they distanced themselves from normal social gatherings and chose to go on “lockdown.”

During their anxiety, Jesus appeared to them and offered them peace.

On the evening of that first day of the week, when the doors were locked, where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in their midst and said to them, “Peace be with you.” (John 20:19)

Even after this first encounter with the Risen Jesus, the apostles continued their “lockdown” until Jesus appeared a second time.

Now a week later his disciples were again inside and Thomas was with them. Jesus came, although the doors were locked, and stood in their midst and said, “Peace be with you.” (John 20:26)

Whenever we feel alone and isolated, maybe even on “lockdown” or quarantine, we should read again this passage from the Gospels and place ourselves in the scene.

Imagine, for a few minutes, yourself in this locked room the apostles are in. They are all expressing feelings of worry and anxiety, stressed-out by the events that just took place.

In the midst of all this anxiety, Jesus walks through their locked doors and enters into the room. His first words, before any type of greeting, are “Peace be with you.”

Jesus brings peace to those in lockdown, he wants to calm our hearts and ease our worries. He knows we are afraid and offers to us his peace.

All we need to do is accept his gift of peace into our closed and locked hearts. That is one thing we need to open during times of isolation. Our hearts need to open wide to his love and peace, allowing Jesus to dwell within it, reassuring us that he is in control, no matter what is happening outside in the world

The road to Emmaus and the reality of the Eucharist

The road to Emmaus and the reality of the Eucharist

On the Readings for April 26, 2020, the Third Sunday of Easter

“Supper at Emmaus” (1648) by Rembrandt (1606–1669). [WikiCommons]

Readings:
• Acts 2:14, 22-33
• Psa. 16:1-2,5,7-11
• 1 Pet. 1:17-21
• Lk. 24:13-35

I grew up attending a small Fundamentalist Bible chapel that believed the Lord’s Supper should be commemorated each week. Nearly every Sunday we took time to contemplate the death of Jesus Christ by quietly reflecting on the Cross and partaking of bread and grape juice.

It was not, of course, the Eucharist. But it was, in hindsight, an action that pointed me, however imperfectly, to the Eucharist and the Catholic Church. Today’s Gospel reading, one of my favorite passages from the Gospel of Luke, beautifully shows the relationship between the supernatural gift of faith and Holy Communion.

Luke, a masterful storyteller, incisively describes how the disciples had completely lost their bearings and sense of spiritual direction in the overwhelming aftermath of Jesus’ death: “They stopped, looking downcast” (Lk. 24:17). Approached by Jesus, they failed to recognize their Lord. Responding to His question about their conversation, the men explained their confusion: Jesus was “a prophet mighty in deed and word” and yet he had not fulfilled their hope for redemption (v. 21).  In addition to this disappointment there was the added mystery of the empty tomb, although they apparently hadn’t reached a conclusion about what it might actually mean.

Jesus chided them and took them to the Scriptures, “beginning with Moses and with all the prophets”(v. 27), to show them the true nature of “the Christ.” There are several passages that Jesus likely showed them, including Deuteronomy 18:15, which promised “a prophet” like Moses, Psalm 2:7, a Messianic psalm, and Isaiah 53, which describes the Suffering Servant, as well as others. The disciples had to be shown that salvation and glory wouldn’t come through political might or social upheaval, but through humiliation, suffering, and apparent defeat.

Thus, on the road to Emmaus, there was a re-learning on the part of the disciples, who heard a deeper explanation of the Scriptures than they had heard many times before. This was necessary in order for them to really grasp the significance of the Cross and its life-giving, soul-transforming meaning. This education came from the very One who sent the prophets and gave them words; who better than the Word Incarnate to illuminate the meaning of the sacred text? The narrative follows a distinct pattern of questioning, dialogue, and exposition of Scripture, leading to a sacrament, which is a pattern Luke uses again in the story of the Ethiopian eunuch (Acts 8).

Some commentators have suggested that the disciples finally recognized Jesus simply because of a familiar gesture on his part. But this understates how Luke purposefully uses the same description of Jesus’ actions—“he took bread, said a blessing, broke it, and gave it to them”—as he does in his account of the Last Supper (Lk 22:19-20). Yes, the disciples certainly recognized that gesture, but the recognition was a gift of grace, and it was intimately linked with the reality of the Eucharist. Which is why they later told the others how Christ “was made known to them in the breaking of bread.”

The story of the encounter on the road to Emmaus includes all of the essential elements of the Liturgy: Scripture, prayer, blessing, and the breaking of bread. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states that the “Eucharistic celebration always includes: the proclamation of the Word of God; thanksgiving to God the Father for all his benefits, above all the gift of his Son; the consecration of bread and wine; and participation in the liturgical banquet by receiving the Lord’s body and blood.” These elements, it emphasizes, “constitute one single act of worship” (CCC 1408).

Every person hungers for this act of worship, for we were made to worship God in that way. God, in his goodness, responds to that hunger. In the midst of the disciples’ confusion and blindness, Jesus sought them out, offered himself to them, and opened their eyes. He did it for me, many years ago. He wishes to meet all of us on our road to Emmaus.

(This “Opening the Word” column originally appeared in the April 6, 2008, edition of Our Sunday Visitor newspaper.)


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About Carl E. Olson  1133 Articles
Carl E. Olson is editor of Catholic World Report and Ignatius Insight. He is the author of Did Jesus Really Rise from the Dead?Will Catholics Be “Left Behind”?, co-editor/contributor to Called To Be the Children of God, co-author of The Da Vinci Hoax (Ignatius), and author of the “Catholicism” and “Priest Prophet King” Study Guides for Bishop Robert Barron/Word on Fire. He is also a contributor to “Our Sunday Visitor” newspaper, “The Catholic Answer” magazine, “The Imaginative Conservative”, “The Catholic Herald”, “National Catholic Register”, “Chronicles”, and other publications

A Plague Litany

Stained glass depicting saints in the Cathedral of Saint Bavo in Ghent, Belgium.

Work in the Midst of Lockdown Fr. Thomas Wray

Work in the Midst of Lockdown

With more than 20 million Americans unemployed as a consequence of the coronavirus lockdowns, much Catholic ink has been spilled on the prudential wisdom, or lack thereof, of these extreme economic and social restrictions. Whatever the answer to those practical questions, Modern Catholic Social Doctrine has developed some basic principles that, in a moment like this,  should help us to step back and reflect on the meaning of work in light of Christian anthropology.

Work is at the heart of the social question, as Pope Leo XIII famously taught in Rerum Novarum. Even the “lucky 37 percent” who, despite the lockdowns can work from home, have seen their jobs transformed nearly overnight in virtual meeting spaces and processes.

“Generation Zoom’s” transition to this forum suggests there may be no going back to brick and mortar in-person meetings in many industries, institutions, and professions. Livestreaming has – for good and not – already changed how Catholic clergy and the faithful experience the sacred mysteries of the Mass. Newly online teachers have had to instantly re-define how, when, and where learning occurs.

Doctors now meet patients in digital waiting rooms. Families and friends clink virtual glasses at Zoom happy hours.  As Pope Benedict XVI  sagely predicted, this social transformation has made cyberspace the new “digital continent” on which Catholics are now called to evangelize.

Christ reminded his confused Pharisaical interlocutors that “from the beginning” God gifted humanity with the capacity to love, to create, and to work – not as ends in themselves, but rather as a means of sharing in his Divine life.  (Matthew 19:18)

Catholic theology envisions human life as an external work of the “eternal exchange of love” that is the Holy Trinity. (CCC 221)

St. John Paul II knew intimately the inner meaning of work, having himself as a young man in Nazi-occupied Poland been forced into manual labor in a stone quarry. The uses and misuses of human labor – and the philosophical anthropologies that enabled them – became a recurring motif of his papal magisterium.

His magnum opus, Theology of the Body, deals with human sexuality, of course, but can be also read as a spirituality of work and human relationships. His exegesis of Genesis 1-3 reminds us that the life-giving meaning of work predates and survives the Fall. Adam and Eve were gifted with a capacity unique amongst all creation and manifested supremely in their vocation to name the animals. (Gen. 2:20)

*

Inscribed in their body-soul unity, expressed outwardly in their intellect, language, and will, was the divine logos, the eternal, Trinitarian logic of love that created and permeates all reality. It was as stewards of this incarnated mystery that they were authorized to have dominion over the earth.

St. Augustine taught that Adam and Eve initially cooperated with this logos, carefully observing, ordering, and classifying creation,  thereby “cataloging” it.  (κατάλογος). When they misused their freedom and disobeyed God’s plan, their work became toilsome, but never lost its fundamental alignment with God’s creativity.

In his great encyclical  Laborem Exercens (“On Human Work”), St. John Paul II  echoes Leo XIII by developing an “adequate understanding” of work as the “essential key” to the social question, that is, to the right ordering of society.  (LE 3) This bears repeating in the economic, social, political, and cultural tsunami generated by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Work, for St. John Paul the Great, has two dimensions: the objective and subjective. We design, create, measure, and evaluate material things in the objective order. But humans know by nature that their labor has an interior, subjective sense as well: what it accomplishes in, to, and through us – and collectively, in those with whom we collaborate.

It is this subjective dimension that is decisive for human flourishing and the common good.  New ideas, technologies, goods, and services are discerned and discovered precisely through authentically human imagination, intuition, creativity, and teamwork. (LE 5,6)

The history of the “subjective dimension” of the work that led to the development of penicillin offers a case in point for our coronavirus moment. Penicillin was first discovered in 1928, but lay dormant for a decade, until it could be reliably tested and reproduced.  It was not until 1940, when President Roosevelt assembled an elite team of scientists, academics, and industrialists who collaborated to make it available to millions of American soldiers wounded in World War II.

During this lockdown, assembly-line workers at Ford and General Motors have been asked to turn their skills from producing vehicles to ventilators. Let us pray for the vast armada of engineers, scientists, physicians, nurses, pharmacists, and workers in countless industries whose God-given spirit of innovation and intuition may lead to a COVID-19 vaccine or other therapies.

As Catholic citizens of this world and the next, we should resist the tendency to grasp for merely technological solutions to deeply human, social, and political problems over which we have no real control.

Let us follow, instead, St. John Paul the Great’s appeal “to the beginning” in the book of Genesis, which tells us who we are, why we are here, and how we can find the meaning we so desperately seek for ourselves, our families, and our communities. A re-imagined spirituality of work might be just the medicine we need at this pandemic moment.

 

*Image: Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden by Johan Wenzel Peter, c. 1825 [Pinacoteca Vaticana, Rome]

Would We Recognize the Risen Christ? by GAYL E SOMERS

Would We Recognize the Risen Christ?

 

A Scripture lesson by a mysterious Stranger on a dusty road prepares two disciples to recognize the Risen Jesus in the breaking of bread; what did they learn?

Gospel (Read Lk 24:13-35)

Isn’t it interesting that when Jesus appeared to two “downcast” (Lk 24:17) disciples on Resurrection Day, He didn’t do the very thing that would have broken into their despair—identify Himself?  Why were these men traveling away from Jerusalem?  Surely it was because Jesus’ death there had deeply disappointed them.  They had been “hoping that He would be the one to redeem Israel” (Lk 24:21), and that had fallen to dust and defeat.  What was the point of staying in Jerusalem any longer?

When Jesus appeared to them, He could have set all this right.  Keeping His identity from them, however, He chose a different way.  This should catch our attention immediately.  If Jesus had revealed His identity, would they have been able to focus on what followed?  Probably not.  As it turned out, they were riveted to what He had to say; He had their full attention.  He should have ours, too.

What did He teach them?  Beginning with the Book of Genesis, the first of the five books attributed to Moses, and then in all the rest of the Old Testament, Jesus revealed to the disciples that His horrific suffering, death, and Resurrection were part of a plan already written down, hundreds of years before.  What had the appearance of terrible failure and collapse was precisely how God intended to carry out His plan.  Can we imagine the impact of this lesson on the men who first heard it?  They were Jews who had known the Scriptures all their lives, yet neither they nor their teachers had ever perceived that the Messiah would be God’s Son, Who would enter the glory of His reign as King of Israel through suffering.  How had they missed that?  Actually, it wasn’t a case of “missing.”  Those Old Testament Scriptures were waiting to be revealed.  Their true meaning was not clear until the Incarnation, even though they were there on the page.  Until Gabriel appeared to Mary in Nazareth, they were muted, shadowy, and hidden.  Jesus wanted the Emmaus disciples to see for themselves that God had not lost control of His Creation, even in the disaster they had recently experienced in Jerusalem.  Sometimes this fact makes me wonder if we ourselves now read some parts of the New Testament without full understanding until Jesus returns.  St. Paul does suggest as much, when he writes that now we see “through a glass darkly” (1 Cor 13:12).  For example, when Jesus tells us, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they shall be filled” (Mt 5:6), are we foolish and slow of heart to believe?  What are the surprises God has in store for us as we wait for the Lord’s Second Coming?

Once the Emmaus disciples had confidence in God’s plan to keep His promises, they were ready to recognize Jesus in the breaking of the bread.  Here is where the Church learned that the Table of the Word prepares us for the Table of the Eucharist.  The lectionary readings help us to “see” God’s plan at work through many ages and authors and events in Scripture; the Eucharist enables us to encounter God’s plan, Jesus.

It was the fullness of knowledge of Jesus from both Scripture and the Eucharist that dazzled the disciples:  “Were not our hearts burning within us while He spoke to us on the way and opened the Scriptures to us?” (Lk 24:32)  This “holy heartburn” should be ours at every Mass.

Possible Response:  Father, teach me to have confidence in Your plan of goodness for Your Creation.  I need to remember that You know what You’re doing.

First Reading (Read Acts 2:14, 22-33)

We know from the Gospel reading that Jesus wanted to drive away the sadness of the Emmaus disciples not by simply appearing to them (as He eventually did), but by showing them from Scripture that God had always had a plan for His Creation, and that He chose to use suffering (a just punishment on sin) to accomplish this plan.

It should not surprise us, then, to see that on the Day of Pentecost, Peter boldly preached to the Jews of Jerusalem that Jesus’ death on the Cross came “by the set plan and foreknowledge of God” (Acts 2:23).  We understood from the Gospel reading how important it was to Jesus, after His Resurrection, that His disciples understand this.  While it was unfolding, the Passion looked like chaos and defeat.  Afterward, Jesus taught them that it had been His victory and glory.

They got it!  That is why Peter could preach so confidently about God’s plan on Pentecost.  He went on also to explain Psalm 16 to the crowd (and this from an uneducated fisherman!).  How was Peter able to do this?  Surely what Jesus began on the Emmaus road was continued with the apostles during the forty days between His Resurrection and the Ascension.  Jesus used that time to open the Scriptures to men who could now truly understand them.  That is the only explanation for Peter’s deep insight into Psalm 16.  He saw that it was a prophetic Messianic psalm written by David, king of Israel, hundreds of years earlier.  It actually described Jesus, because it spoke of one whom death could not hold (and Peter helpfully pointed out to the crowd that David’s tomb proved he had died).  All the early preaching of the Church to the Jews drew heavily on Old Testament Scriptures.  How the apostles savored this joy!  Peter wanted the world to know:  “God raised this Jesus; of this we are all witnesses.  Exalted at the right hand of God, He received the promise of the Holy Spirit from the Father and poured Him forth, as you see and hear” (Acts 2:33).  All the promises of God are “yes” in Jesus.

Possible response: Lord, Peter helped the Jews understand a new meaning in words of Scripture they had known all their lives. Please give me ears to hear what Your Word is actually saying.

Psalm (Read Ps 16: 1-2a, 5, 7-11)

This is the psalm Peter used in our first reading to help the Jews understand that the Resurrection of the Messiah was always part of God’s plan:  “You will not abandon my soul to the netherworld, nor will You suffer Your faithful one to undergo corruption” (Ps 16:10).  At the time David wrote it, he spoke of himself.  He was in a difficult situation and expected God to preserve his life.  However, Peter helps us see that David was also writing prophetically about one of his descendants, Jesus.  Peter could only have learned this from Jesus Himself.   Our fuller understanding of the psalms now enables us to see them as primarily prayers of Jesus, the true King of Israel.  In this psalm, Jesus delights in God’s care of Him as His Son, trusting God to free Him from death.  Now, of course, the psalms become our prayers, too, as members of Christ’s Mystical Body.  We, along with David and Jesus, can rejoice over our own escape from death and corruption. Their words become ours:  “Lord, You will show us the path of life” (Ps 16:11).

Possible response: Lord, sometimes I’m not looking for “the path of life,” because I’m busy following my own path.  Help me have eyes to see the way in which I should walk.

Second Reading (Read 1 Pet 1:17-21)

In the Acts passage, we read a description of Peter’s preaching written by St. Luke.  In the epistle, we hear directly from Peter himself.  We find once more an emphasis on God’s eternal plan that cannot be thwarted:  “[Jesus] was known before the foundation of the world but revealed in the final time for you” (1 Pet 1:20).

Can we fathom the meaning of this? “Known before the foundation of the world” takes us way, way back to the beginning of God’s plan.  His desire to love and bless us began outside of time and will continue after time has ended.  His plan is goodness itself, and nothing in all Creation can derail it.  What a help this can be to us, now and always, as we look around and sometimes see only chaos and defeat, as the apostles once did.

Jesus has been revealed for us.  What should be our response to this great gift from God?  “Conduct yourselves with reverence during the time of your sojourning” (1 Pet 1:17).  Reverence comes when we truly believe God is present with us, in control of His plan, seeing it through to its glorious end.  As Peter says, our “faith and hope are in God” (1 Pet 1:21).

Possible response: Father, grant me a proper reverence for You in all the circumstances of my life. Help me stay confident that nothing catches You by surprise.

Image by Robert Cheaib from Pixabay