Jesus-surrounding us

What do we mean when we speak of the Person of Jesus Christ?

Christ be with me, Christ within me,
Christ behind me, Christ before me,
Christ beside me, Christ to win me,
Christ to comfort and restore me.
Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ in quiet, Christ in danger,
Christ in hearts of all that love me,
Christ in mouth of friend and stranger. (i)

 

When we speak of the person of Christ, we must have a knowledge of God, and His love for His creation, or else we will misunderstand the Person of Christ, along with His purpose in coming among us.  Christ did not come among us to find out what it is to be human, nor did He come to us to temper an angry God, He came as the one promised, the one that would bring the kingdom, the one who would repair the separation between creation and creator, the one who would create a Church for all, and finally the one that would mediate God’s presence to all creation.

As the poem that founds the hymn, St. Patrick’s Breastplate shows us clearly that Christ is all encompassing.  This speaks to God’s wish to be with His creation.  God is love, and He made creation to share that love.  This is an absolute, and must be the basis for all theology, otherwise we slip into heresies too many to count.  Love is the reason, all starts with love, and all ends with love.  As we study the beginnings of mankind, the garden, man’s relation with God, and finally man’s disobedience, we see a God that acts with love in every action.  From the moment of the expulsion from the garden, man lamented his sinful action, and yearned for God.  This was not an unrequited love, God yearned for humankind.  God would not leave His creation; Jesus in the Old Testament times is the promise that once again mankind would walk with God.  Jesus was hope for redemption found in the Word of God, and in the mouths of God’s chosen prophets.  Jesus, prior to the Incarnation, was the Logos who was comfort to all that sought God, He was the lighthouse to a ship lost in a storm.

Before the Christ event, man was most formal with God, not even speaking His name.  God set rules for His creation and it was man’s obligation to follow.  Breaking commandments was a grave offense that could not be corrected, only appeased through sacrifice.  The idea of a personal relationship with God was foreign to most at the coming of Christ.  This fact unfortunately bred a rote adherence to God’s law, obeying to obey, not for love of the law giver.  This view of the law brought demigods, who would punish those who were outcast or less fortunate

The person of Jesus at the incarnation was the embodiment of change and reform.  All creation would receive a stark reminder that God was love, and in love He sent His only Son.  Eternal as the Father, second person of the Trinity humbled Himself to be born of a virgin, virgin before, during and after the birth of Christ by divine miracle.  Jesus was fully man and fully God, a hypostasis that to many would seem impossible, but the incarnation truly showed to all the power and love of God.  Jesus was self-aware as divine and would herald the coming of the kingdom of God, setting a table of love in the face of hate.  Jesus from the beginning of His earthly ministry would show solidarity with those who were outcast, in prison and sick.  Mankind was not created as Narcissus, to gaze at his own beauty, instead God created us with love in order to share that love with all.  This means sharing love with the one without a cloak as in Luke:

Luke 6:29-31 To him who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from him who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt.  Give to everyone who begs from you; and of him who takes away your goods do not ask them again.  And as you wish that men would do to you, do so to them. (ii)

As well as a different type of love found in Thessalonians:

2 Thessalonians 3:10 For even when we were with you, we gave you this command: If anyone will not work, let him not eat. (iii)

Love is not simply a hug or a kiss, it is indeed a true way to deal with all facets of life, this was Jesus as He lived and taught on earth.  Here we must stop and understand that Jesus was not a pacifist, though He did instruct us to always discuss our problems before taking up arms.  Augustine, and later Aquinas would take up this teaching and show that Jesus found love in many forms, some gentle, some not.  The person of Christ in His incarnation was the picture of family, of solidarity with the poor, of protector of God’s creation from those who would exploit it.

The person of Jesus was sacrificial.  The wages of sin was death, and that could not be undone.  But through the Divine plan of salvation Jesus would repair the brokenness of humankind and allow God to once again come close to His creation.  Though death remained, the power of God through the Holy Spirit’s indwelling would allow mankind to begin the restoration of all of creation in cooperation with God.  This salvation, brought through a loving sacrifice, was and is available to all mankind, bringing salvation to all in whatever state they find themselves.  This free gift is the most powerful proof of God’s love for us that mankind has ever seen.  Open to all is the opportunity to be lifted out of darkness and sin and be in an instance transformed and healed.  Though salvation is a free gift, it is only applicable to those who believe and actively practice their faith.  Those who do not believe or chose to turn their back on the Church have the freedom to reject this great gift.

Love cannot operate from a distance.  Once Jesus had left the earth for the right hand of God, mankind would again be alone.  God knew this from the beginning, and Jesus before He left would create His Church.  The person of Jesus is found in the Church.

Jesus left a sacramental economy in place within His Church.  These sacraments are all very real means of and to Christ and His grace.  The Church stands as a beacon to all of who Christ is and what He did for us.  From the baptismal font at the door, reminding us of God’s salvation coming through water, to the crucifix on the wall behind the altar reminding us of the salvific act of love Jesus offered to us on the cross, the Church stands as a beacon of Christ and His love.  But a beacon only gives vision, and vision is always in some way separated from the viewer, and this simply was not close enough for God.  The Church therefore was gifted the sacraments in order to mediate God’s presence to all humanity.  Whether this mediation be through the priest “in persona Christi” or through the love of marriage or through the mysteries of the Eucharist, Jesus is truly present, and God is intimately close.  The Church is not simply a building for self-help groups, it is the very real presence of God to His creation.  As I began this section saying, the person of Jesus is found in the Church, I should end the section explaining that reality.  The Church, the people of Christ, are the bride of Christ.  In good times Jesus can be seen very clearly through gazing at that bride, but if that bride is not diligent about her prayers and disciplines, that vision glorious can be distorted.  Our assurance lies in the fact that the efficacy of the sacraments does not rely on the actions, good or bad, of the people that make up the Church.  As long as proper Holy Orders reside in the Church, God will be very real and present to the faithful, even in the worst of times.

Lastly, the person of Christ is the lasting presence that Jesus partakes in to all of creation.  Jesus showed us that God does not wish to be a distant God, He wants to be present with His creation, in a loving way.  As we look about creation, we see God’s love in every sunrise and sunset, in every infant and every act of kindness.  God’s presence is within His church certainly, but we see Christ’s presence everywhere, a lasting after-image of Jesus and His miraculous works.  An after image that is not fading but ever present and ever strengthening with every redeemed soul.

Christ, just as God, wishes to be in every facet of our lives; with me, behind me, before me, beside me, to win me, to comfort and to restore me; beneath me, above me, in quiet and in danger, in hearts of all that love me, in mouth of friend and stranger.  The person of Christ is the Person of the Divine Trinity that ensures that in all situations I am either loved and encouraged or stretched or disciplined.  The person of Christ is the very vision of the Father, showing the divine love to all who would ask.  He is the redeemer of all through His sacrificial loving acts.  He is the alpha and the omega, the beginning and end, and He will be our judge at the particular and general judgements.

[i] St. Patrick’s Breastplate, Charles Villiers Stanford, 1902

[ii] Catholic Biblical Association (Great Britain). (1994). The Holy Bible: Revised Standard Version, Catholic edition (Lk 6:29–31). New York: National Council of Churches of Christ in the USA.

(iii] Catholic Biblical Association (Great Britain). (1994). The Holy Bible: Revised Standard Version, Catholic edition (2 Th 3:10). New York: National Council of Churches of Christ in the USA.

 

Seven ways to make your church better

Many of us find ourselves in churches that are not all they could be.  I remember not one but every church I pastored having a neighboring huge church.  I always wondered why they found success so vividly, while our parish was just hanging on, dreading the next parish meeting and the budget that seemed ever shrinking.  I broke through this paradigm a few times in my ministry, St. Peter by the Lake, Good Shepherd and the first year at St. Peter and St. Paul had positive growing budgets.  I am now a lay member of a Catholic Church that is growing quickly, so I have seen success from the sanctuary and now from the pew, and here are seven things that make churches grow.

 

  • Attend.  Successful churches have members that come every week.  Small churches have 45 members that come in batches of 25.  In some of my smaller missions I knew members by which week in the month they came to church!  When visitors come in the front door, they want to see a full church, not an empty one.  Full churches look vibrant, plus it is easy for a visitor to “slip in” and see what your parish is all about.
  • Be active. Successful parishes have a lot going on.  Bible studies, men and women’s groups, daily mass, daily rosary…just to name a few.  All these ministries need volunteers to lead them.  I teach 3 classes, active in Knights and serve on a core team for a men’s ministry.  This is not bragging, in fact it should be mundane; all should be at least this active in ministry in their church.
  • Let the pastor lead. The guy in the front was put there by God.  I do not over state that fact, God has called each pastor to their cure.  Why has God called them there?  Likely because he is exactly what the church needed.  This may mean change.  Upon my first Sunday at one of my cures, I had one parishioner come up and tell me they could no longer attend our church, as my voice was just too loud…disturbing even!  The next parishioner came and shook my hand and told me that he could finally hear a sermon, he loved my loud voice!  Pastors are there by God’s will, let them be who they are and make the changes they are called to make.  In two years, the budgets will tell whether they are leading correctly or not; we (laity) are to follow.
  • Don’t fight.  People come to church for solace and peace, fighting will chase new parishioners off faster than if the church building itself was on fire.  Someone moved my cushion, or is wearing shorts to mass, or took my place in the rota; don’t fight, just let it be.  If things get bad enough to where you think you are being truly wronged, then go to the pastor and let him take care of the problem and live with his decision.
  • Don’t hold a grudge, leave. A last thought on number 4.  If you perceive that you have been wronged, there are other churches in the city, sometimes twenty!  If I need to find another Catholic church, I might have to travel an extra 15 minutes, but putting miles on my car is much better than slowly rotting a church from within through seeding hatred from a grudge.  If you lose, take it like a grown up.  If you can’t get beyond it, leave.
  • Pray.  Honestly this should be number 1.  Without God and the Holy Spirit, your church is doomed.  Pray daily, go to mass as often as you can.  Pray at altar guild, pray at bible study, pray at church board meetings, pray at all gatherings.  Pray for your church, pray for your pastor, pray for your bishop, pray for the pope.  Pray for the person next to you in the pew, pray for the servers, pray for the lectors, pray for your seminarians.  Pray!
  • Welcome all. Successful churches never had a stranger walk in the front door, because everyone was welcomed as family.  Nobody should be able to come in the door without being greeted.  No visitor should be able to leave without information about all the ministries of the church, and the phone number of the pastor.  The church is not there for us, it’s there for lost souls.  To that end whatever you need to do to get more souls into the pews, as long as it aligns with Church teaching, do it!

Seven ways to help your prayer life.

Our prayer life has its ebbs and flows.  If you are normal, our prayers flourish when we are in crisis, and disappear when we are in good times.  How can we level our prayer life out so that we have a consistent, good prayer life?

 

  • Create a place to pray. Prayer does not require a “special” place, but it sure helps prayer to have a real place in our lives.  Our cars are important to us, so they have a garage, our pets are important to us, so they have mats, dog doors and all form of supplies to keep them happy and healthy, prayer is important to us, so what does it possess in our lives?  We need a place to pray.  This might be easy if you have a large house, it might be difficult if you do not.  Look for space.  It could be a spare bedroom, closet, even a portion of your dresser that is cleared off and set up as a place of prayer.  It would do well if the place was private or could be made private.
  • Build an altar in your newly created space. Seems formal?  Old Testament men and women made altars as a first order of business when they came to a new land.  Don’t just furnish your prayer space with a chair or a kneeler, make an altar, dedicate it to God.  This will be a surface to place your needs and concerns, a place to put sacred objects such as crucifixes, incense etc, a place to go to meet God.
  • Use your calendar! You put your doctor’s appointment on your calendar, so you don’t miss it, why not put your prayer time on your calendar so you don’t miss it?  Want to start out with praying once a day?  Put it on your calendar, set the alarm, and treat it as a priority, meaning don’t just dismiss the alarm, treat it as an important business meeting.  There are apps for this, I use “Universalis”, which rings the Angelus, and all times to pray the liturgy of the hours.
  • Have a prayer partner. Society has found that if they want to exercise it is easier if they have an accountability partner, someone who will make them go and run even when they don’t want to.  Your spouse or your best friend can meet for prayer once a day, and hold each other to their prayers, their study and their devotions.  This meeting does not have to be about prayer, it might just be a daily or weekly checkup to see how each other is keeping their devotions.
  • Go to church. Seems simple, yes, but have you gone during the week?  Many churches are open, most have pastors in their offices that will open the church for you if it is locked.  Go to the weekly adorations, or rosaries, and if your church does not offer them…volunteer to lead them.  If it is your responsibility to pray the rosary weekly for 1-100 other Christians, you will find that it rises in importance on your calendar.
  • Bedtime.  Yes, pray as you go to sleep, pray as you wake.  Lying in bed is a great time to pray, and most of us are there, in bed, awake, at least twice a day! (waking and going to sleep) Use the time, don’t waste it worrying about what went wrong in the day or what might go wrong in the coming hours.
  • Talk.  After all, prayer is at it’s base, simply talking with God.  When you are working, driving, playing, doing the dishes, whatever, just start a conversation with God.  Tired of your prayers, then just talk to God.  At the end of the day, God just wants the relationship with us.

Obedience

Well I have been glaring at my computer now for almost an hour.  I checked Facebook until I was tired of reading…I am still trying to decide how the Lord wants me to write about obedience.  I should, after all, write on obedience, as that was the last in my series “For Those I left Behind”.  The problem is my life keeps getting in the way of this article!  As I have read the entire internet trying not to write this, I will therefore warn all, this is likely to get personal, so if it is cold intellectualism you were looking for….. why have you ever read my blog?

 

I mean this as a witness, not a “look what I did”.  I am certain before I reach the end, I will show some good traits of mine as well as some bad ones.

 

Obedience is something that stems from trust.  Trust and faith go hand in hand.  Trust is something that each person has to conjure, faith is a gift from God.  Faith is an anchor, one that will hold even the largest ship in the worst storm.  Faith is absolute.  Faith is the pearl of great price, it is the coin we clean the house to find.  Once found, we cannot bury it, we must share it, thus building the wealth of the kingdom of God by adding souls to the mansion prepared for us in heaven.

 

Modern society trusts no one.  How many calls have you received which promise you riches, or of late, arrest if you do not go buy two untraceable cash cards and give them the codes on the reverse sides?  I have fallen for a Direct TV scam, they even used Direct TV’s number, caller ID the whole nine yards.  My Dad sadly fell for the “sheriff” calling to inform him of his pending arrest if he did not get the untraceable cards.  We trust no one.  A modern-day victory for the devil.

 

Faith is absolute, but those confidence men, like the ones trying to play a con over your cell phone, have since Christ’s crucifixion tried to produce and sell a false faith.  I remember that moment when I figured out, I was not dealing with Direct TV, one minute elated at the deal I was getting, the next minute wondering how I would tell my wife that one month after quitting my job, I had given away $350.00 to con men.  I also remember the day I figured out the faith I had been taught since my birth was false.  I sat at my desk in Wichita Falls staring at the 39 articles, the Catechism in the BCP (Book of Common Prayer TEC), and the brand-new Anglican Catechism, all denying the Sacramental Economy that I knew was the center of the true faith.  What to do?  Stay or leave? Here was my “stay or leave” list.

 

Stay…

  1. Convert the Anglican Church to Catholicism!
  2. There are other Anglo-Catholics, band together and make the third arm of the Church Catholic truly Catholic.
  3. OK, too bold, be quiet, earn a living, then retire. Sounds like something the Vichy French would have reasoned, but who would be left to teach Anglicans true Catholicism?

 

Leave…

  1. Leave 20 years of experience.
  2. Leave the only profession I have ever felt right doing.
  3. Leave the comfort of a great career.
  4. Leave the paycheck.

 

Looking at that very sobering list, I made the choice to stay.  God had other plans.

 

I did not have the trust I needed, so God set up a very real method of showing me what turning my back on the faith looks like.  God would not give up on me.  He would not leave me to have my peaceful walk in heresy, He kept after me.  Here is what I found, finally.

 

Without faith…

  1. We are all confidence men, selling “our” faith as wares, insisting, sometimes violently, that it is truth.
  2. Nobody can be trusted.
  3. We are listless, empty, adrift.

 

Faith…

  1. Demands obedience.
  2. Demands all you have, and all you will be.
  3. Leaves you in strange places, totally dependent on God.

 

Obedience, really, is easy.  We say yes to ourselves every day.  I am obedient to a fault to my hunger.  So many wars fought, not a one could begin without obedience.  We pass out obedience like it was candy at Halloween!  Why is it so hard to be obedient to the faith?  Because you do so alone, it is a personal decision.  I quit Architecture all those years ago (1996).  Friends and family (other than my wife and kids) were friendly, but not supportive, alone with my family I went to seminary, alone I went into debt.  I paid off the final part of that debt late October 2017, almost to the day I walked out of my duties at my last pastoral position.  Alone I walked out, again to nothing.  Leaving all my employable skills behind, once again I followed God into the unknown.

 

Alone.  But not really.  Faith instructs us clearly that God is always with us.  Obedience to the faith forces us to look to God and trust He will not leave us in the pit.  How can you know a miracle if you never put yourself in the place to receive one?  I am not advocating jumping off the proverbial career cliff just to yell to the Lord “catch me”.  But what I am advocating is to first learn the faith; make it make sense to you!  The faith is simple, if your teacher/pastor/Catechist makes it difficult and confusing, find another teacher!  God wants us all obedient to the faith, why would He make that faith impossible to learn unless your IQ was 170?  Learn the faith, then look around you.  Does your church make sense?  Is it saving souls and helping the needy in real ways?  Is growing?  It is hard to be honest, but we must.  Here is what I found.

 

Catholicism…

  1. Centered on all 7 sacraments.
  2. Growing
  3.  Friendly
  4. Anxious to teach the faith, in simple terms.
  5. Helps the poor and needy.
  6. Obedient
  7. Its catechism makes sense, it works!

 

Are there areas that need reforming in the Church?  Absolutely, but the faith is the anchor that holds all ships even in the worst storm.

 

We have to trust in something, we must have faith in something, we must be obedient to something.  Don’t just lazily give your obedience to a con man.  Make the change, walk out into the unknown, you will not do so alone.  God will test you, He will stretch your belief.  But in the end, you will know God better than when you began the journey.

Seven steps to a more peaceful life

To talk about war in a Christian sense, it is imperative that we begin by talking about peace.  The commandment “thou shalt not murder” is our first and foremost witness that the Lord deplores violence.  I can understand this when I recall my own kids when they were young and fighting each other.  The fighting was not a surprise strangely enough, as I knew that siblings fight, but the knowledge of one of my children being hurt, or both, that truly made me hate when they fought.  I would always try to find a way to confront the brewing hostilities before they got physical, and this is what God is asking us to practice.  St Augustine, later clarified by St. Aquinas set forth a ‘Just War Theory” that has since been the gold standard for letting a Christina know when it’s time to fight, but not surprisingly the use of these saintly guides has more often led us to peace.  So, let’s look at the Seven steps to a peaceful existence.

 

  1. The conflict must be started and controlled by a government, or in a personal fight, by a trusted advisor. This on a government level seems straight forward enough, no vigilante wars.  But on a personal note, a trusted advisor?  This should be a friend that you have confided in about your brewing troubles.  They will be the impartial observer that can cool you when needed or tell you that abuse is truly occurring.
  2. There must be just cause. “He needed kill’in” may still be on the Texas legal code but it has no place in Christian conduct.  Just cause must be proven, again to another observer.  We get way too passionate about a perceived wrong, somebody else needs to have a vote in our response.
  3. There must be right intention. Just to inflict harm because someone inflicted harm upon me is not a right intention.  There must be a strategy for completion of the conflict, and it must be proportional to the original cause, which we will talk about in a couple of steps.
  4. The war must be a last resort. Everything else has been tried to avoid conflict.  Talk, bringing in arbitrators, separating parties, yes even moving needs to be considered before conflict can come into play.
  5. Proportionality. You can not nuke someone for cutting you off in traffic!  Eye for an eye has a bit of a gruesome connotation, but it is a good guide.  If someone has offended you by words, and all above steps have been tried to no avail, then let loose your own words, proportionally, but no fisticuffs!
  6. There must be a chance of success. No suicide missions, no scorched earth policy, there must be some form of success to conflict.
  7. Violence is only acted out when it outweighs the evil that might happen if nothing is done. If a known rapist enters your house forcibly and he will not stop, self-defense and the possibility of injuring the rapist pales in comparison to the violence that might have been done if you let him loose in your house.

 

All of these have a commonality; look before you leap!  Take a breath, count to ten, and then go find a non-biased source to hopefully reason you off the war path!  We should demand that our leaders use the Just War theory as stated above, and we must also make certain that we abide by it also.  Not simply because it is God’s will, but because a peaceful life is a happy life.

 

How can we see Christ clearly?

Those who believe, and live the faith with diligence, are ready to receive Christ; knowing Him for the divine person of the Trinity.  Those who leave the faith at the door posts of the church find, to their peril, that they cannot identify the Christ, instead they believe that God Himself is the devil on the attack.

Jesus is introduced to the reader in the beginning of Matthew’s gospel through a recitation of a lineage that proves Jesus to be a descendant of David, in the line of Judah.  Prophesy of Judah’s line being the tribe which will produce the Messiah was delivered first in the book of Genesis, chapter 49 verse 10.  St. Matthew here is clearly setting a theme that will resonate with his Jewish audience, a theme that will clearly mark Jesus as the Christ.

From even before Jesus began His earthly ministry, St Matthew would give us clues as to the young man’s true identity.  Herod would set out to kill all the male children in his kingdom, but an angel came to Joseph instructing him to take his family Egypt to spare their child.  This does not provide a clear announcement of the Messiah, but Matthews telling of the event does allow us to know that at the very least Jesus is a child of importance, as God does not send such heavenly aid to everyone.

As the stage is set through lineage and angelic visions, Matthew begins telling the reader of Jesus’ ministry.  At His baptism we see the Spirit of God descending upon Jesus combined with the voice of God announcing that this is the Son of God.  The first person to identify Jesus is a very holy man, John the Baptist.  The fact that John lived separated from society, literally “set apart”, speaks volumes to what will follow.  John is thought to be odd, living in the desert, wearing camels hair clothing and eating locusts.  He lived each day preaching repentance to a society that by majority did not know that they needed to repent.  Matthew shows us right away that identification of God greatly depends on knowing something of God.  Knowing of God’s love for His creation is critical for identification of God even when He stands right before you.  As we read one of the earliest Christian authors, St. Irenaeus, we see a man fighting the heresy of Gnosticism.  Among the many tenants of this heresy, there is the firm belief that there are many god’s in scripture, as the god of the old testament, to their understanding, is vengeful.  Such an angry god would never humble himself to become incarnate and walk amongst us.  The Gnostics misidentified Jesus, and through their mistakes we can see that identification of God greatly depends on a proper life and faith.  Matthew takes the reader after Jesus’ baptism into the wilderness, where we witness the devil correctly identifying Jesus as God.  Here we begin to see a subplot in Matthew’s gospel, the fact that all the wrong entities are witnessing to Jesus as the Christ.

Matthew is showing us that belief does not necessarily lead to discipleship.  Many will see and believe but choose not to follow.  So we have two correct identifications, that of the very holy, and that of the very unholy.  This play of juxtapositions will continue through Matthews gospel.

As the devil tempts Jesus, he mocks Him by qualifying his identification of the Christ.  “If you are the Son of God…”.  As we progress through the gospel we see many who will demand a sign of Jesus in order that they might believe. Though Jesus does many miracles that would easily let those witnessing know that He is the Christ, it is interesting on how many want their own personal miracle for them to believe.

Moving from the demonic to the weak, we have the next level of believer.  Matthew groups his miracle stories together, possibly attempting to make a point; as the flesh weakens, the spirit takes us closer to God.  Irenaeus, in his treatise, “Against the Heresies”, makes the following statement on this matter.

 

 

One of these does indeed preserve and fashion [the man]—this is the spirit; while as to another it is united and formed—that is the flesh; then [comes] that which is between these two—that is the soul, which sometimes indeed, when it follows the spirit, is raised up by it, but sometimes it sympathizes with the flesh, and falls into carnal lusts. Those then, as many as they be, who have not that which saves and forms [us] into life [eternal], shall be, and shall be called, [mere] flesh and blood; for these are they who have not the Spirit of God in themselves. Wherefore men of this stamp are spoken of by the Lord as “dead;” for, says He, “Let the dead bury their dead,” because they have not the Spirit which quickens man.[1]

The spirit and the flesh, living side by side, by necessity must unite.  The heretics saw the flesh as a hopeless cause, something to be discarded upon departing this world.  How could Christ be identified if man saw the flesh as a hopeless vat of sin?  Looking upon another human would never conjure any other thought than “sinful and lost”.  Irenaeus saw the flesh and the spirit as held in unity through the soul.  With this soul, nourished by God’s Word and Sacrament, the flesh can be brought under God’s reign, without, the two are constantly at war and chaos will come.  As the flesh fades, whether by illness or a hopeless circumstance, the spirit seeks the Almighty, and He was found and identified this way in Matthews gospel.  The most prominently known of these meetings between the desperate and Jesus is the centurion, who is immortalize within the mass as we identify the blessed sacrament by reciting his words, “Lord I am not worthy that thou should come under my roof but speak the Word only and my soul shall be healed”.  This identification of Christ is one of the first Matthew relates to us that would come from simple flesh and blood.  The weak and humble recognize Jesus first, showing us that if we wish to see Jesus; take up humility and meekness.

As we continue it is worth mentioning that Jesus has chosen His disciples by this point in His ministry, but we have no true confirmation that they understood the divine nature of Jesus; in fact we have a litany of errors made by the disciples that show that they did not know until the end that they were in the presence of God Himself.

Not to be dissuaded by the disciples lack of faith, Jesus would by mid-gospel begin to self-identify Himself as the Son of God.

32 So every one who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven; 33 but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven[2]

St. Irenaeus would be grappling with this passage a century later.  Here we see Christ clearly identify Himself as the Son of God, while at the same time identifying many who simply can’t grasp the idea of God becoming flesh.

And for this cause the apostle, in the Epistle to the Colossians, says, “And though ye were formerly alienated, and enemies to His knowledge by evil works, yet now ye have been reconciled in the body of His flesh, through His death, to present yourselves holy and chaste, and without fault in His sight.” He says, “Ye have been reconciled in the body of His flesh,” because the righteous flesh has reconciled that flesh which was being kept under bondage in sin, and brought it into friendship with God.[3]

 

The flesh that Jesus assumed was purposely assumed that we might be saved, being flesh and blood ourselves; as St. Gregory of Nazianzus famously stated, “what was not assumed is not saved”.  St. Gregory understood the battle between flesh and spirit, as did St. Irenaeus.  But the early Christians, as well as recent ones, fail to understand the necessity of disciplining the flesh so to cooperate with the spirit through nourishing the soul that works to bring them both into perfect unity.

As we read through Matthew’s gospel, we see that he is showing us a mystery that is beyond human understanding.  One that only those who are holy and spiritual can discern.  By this point in the gospel many might wonder how Christianity ever became the worldwide Catholic Community that we enjoy today.  The answer comes through another mystery, the death and resurrection of God in the person of Jesus.  Again St. Irenaeus enlightens this mystery.

And thus, vanquishing him for the third time, He spurned him from Him finally as being conquered out of the law; and there was done away with that infringement of God’s commandment which had occurred in Adam, by means of the precept of the law, which the Son of man observed, who did not transgress the commandment of God.[4]

When man saw Jesus on the cross, knowing Him to be perfectly innocent, they would finally unravel the mystery before them; Jesus was the sacrificial lamb.  This was a mystery understood not through knowledge, as so many Gnostics would believe, but through faith and personal sacrifice.  The disciples, soon to be apostles would soon know that sacrifice was in their future when Jesus, just before His ascension, would tell His apostles:

“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age.”[5]

Thus the mystery of Christ was solved, the answer being salvation, as St. Irenaeus states:

The apostle, too, has confessed that the creation shall be free from the bondage of corruption, [so as to pass] into the liberty of the sons of God.[6]

The mystery Matthew was illustrating is that mankind, in order to see Christ, had to put away the things of this world and begin to see God’s plans as the true riches that it is.  God’s plan shown in Jesus’ family lineage and by Christ Himself.  The method to live to God in this fashion shown positively by John the Baptist and negatively by Satan and the Jewish Hierarchy.  God’s riches were shown through the very salvation He offered to all who would correctly identify Christ and follow.

[1] Irenaeus of Lyons. (1868–1869). The Writings of Irenæus. (A. Roberts & J. Donaldson, Eds., A. Roberts & W. H. Rambaut, Trans.) (Vol. 2, pp. 75–76). Edinburgh; London; Dublin: T. & T. Clark; Hamilton & Co.; John Robertson & Co.

[2] Catholic Biblical Association (Great Britain). (1994). The Holy Bible: Revised Standard Version, Catholic edition (Mt 10:31–33). New York: National Council of Churches of Christ in the USA.

[3] Irenaeus of Lyons. (1868–1869). The Writings of Irenæus. (A. Roberts & J. Donaldson, Eds., A. Roberts & W. H. Rambaut, Trans.) (Vol. 2, p. 93). Edinburgh; London; Dublin: T. & T. Clark; Hamilton & Co.; John Robertson & Co.

[4] Irenaeus of Lyons. (1868–1869). The Writings of Irenæus. (A. Roberts & J. Donaldson, Eds., A. Roberts & W. H. Rambaut, Trans.) (Vol. 2, p. 113). Edinburgh; London; Dublin: T. & T. Clark; Hamilton & Co.; John Robertson & Co.

[5] Catholic Biblical Association (Great Britain). (1994). The Holy Bible: Revised Standard Version, Catholic edition (Mt 28:18–20). New York: National Council of Churches of Christ in the USA.

[6] Irenaeus of Lyons. (1868–1869). The Writings of Irenæus. (A. Roberts & J. Donaldson, Eds., A. Roberts & W. H. Rambaut, Trans.) (Vol. 2, p. 157). Edinburgh; London; Dublin: T. & T. Clark; Hamilton & Co.; John Robertson & Co.

Christology

In God’s time, He chose to make Himself known through a mystery, revealed through His own construct for revelation, the Church.  His divine plan, taken up freely by His son, Jesus, who though known as fully man and fully God, is still a mystery, but known to us through sacramental mysteries provided only by the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church and known only by faith.  This Church, a universal entity open to all exists so that God can be with His creation; so that all might draw closer to their creator.  This divine wish was blocked by sin for a time, but God’s only son became man that this divide might be repaired.  Mankind struggled in the darkness until God’s light once again shone.  Faced with such a Holy light, man can see his own insignificance.  Moses walked barefoot and veiled his face at the presence of God, Isaiah cries out “woe is me” at the sight of the eternal throne, Peter declared himself a sinful man at the feet of Jesus; man was lost and fearful in the presence of their loving creator.  Even a century after the Christ event, the Cure of Ars would still be teaching mankind how to rest at the feet of Christ saying while he sat at adoration, “I look at Him and He looks at me”.  Such a simple practice, so desired by God, and yet we still act like Adam hiding in the garden knowing that we are naked before God.

So deep in the confusion of the mystery of God becoming man we were that the first heresies of the Church all revolved around the erroneous belief that God did not truly become man, posed through the Gnostic and Donatist heresies, first among many.  Beginning with the first council of Nicaea and continuing through the Second Vatican council, the Church clearly began putting theologians right by first proclaiming the “homoousios” of Christ.

As mankind began to see Jesus as the Christ, they very quickly found the cost of discipleship.  St. Paul correctly told the Philippians “Whoever is called “to teach Christ” must first seek “the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus”; he must suffer “the loss of all things …” in order to “gain Christ and be found in him….”[1]  So we must sacrifice all, and this seems folly to many, to paraphrase St. Paul.  But we must remember always it was God who sacrificed first; He does not ask anything of us that He has not already done.  What is more the mystery is that we are compelled to make this sacrifice, to give our lives to God.  Natural law tells us that God’s Word is written on our heart, we are drawn to such truth as the moth to the flame.  That same heartfelt Word brought Peter to his proclamation that indeed Jesus was the Christ, the son of the living God.  Jesus rewards this faith with the founding of His Church, with Peter as the head.

The Spirit was present at creation, present at the infancy of the Church, and certainly present with Christ as He would begin His earthly ministry.  Likewise, the Spirit in the form of a dove marked the end of the flood, the cleansing of the world from evil. Again that same Spirit came upon Mary that she might conceive the Son of God, and again at Jesus’ baptism that same dove marked the purification of all creation.

At once virgin and mother, Mary is the symbol of the most perfect realization of the Church.[2]  Mary, pure and Holy is the architype of the Church.  She gave her life completely to the Father, keeping herself pure and holy, and God, through the blessed virgin gave to man His most complete and clear revelation of love.  This is the Church, the font of God’s revelation and love.  We come to her doors to partake in worship and sacraments, receiving mysteries that we might understand the unknowable Father and His plan for our life.

Thus, the Church has been planned since creation, with Jesus as it’s priest, prophet and king.  All in the Church look to Christ for our sole source of salvation, and to Peter and the successors of the apostles as our sole source of the sacraments.  Jesus would give His life for the Church, making the total and complete sacrifice, and in doing so leaves two more mysteries of the faith, His redemptive death and His resurrection which opens for us everlasting life.  These final mysteries are available freely to all through the Church.

Though a mystery to us, the time of salvation, the means of salvation, and the conduit of revelation, were not mysterious to God, they were all found in God’s only Son, brought to us through a virgin.  The mystery of salvation is solved in the reality of Jesus through the sacraments of the Church He founded.  He left these mysteries that we might all enjoy life with God; as was His plan from the moment of creation.

 

[1] Catholic Church. (2000). Catechism of the Catholic Church (2nd Ed., p. 108). Washington, DC: United States Catholic Conference.

[2] CCC 507