Sunday, May 26, 2013

Poured out into our Hearts

We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord and giver of Life who proceeds from the Father and the Son.  Last week, we celebrated Pentecost when Father sent the Spirit to the world through the Son.  These saving actions reveal to us the inner life of the Trinity.  What happens in time reveals to us what has been happening for all eternity.

The Father stands at the origin of the Trinity.  Just as the Son comes from the Father in Heaven to us on Earth, the Son proceeds eternally from the Father.  The Son is fully God.  In the Gospel today we heard it said, “Everything that the Father has is mine.”  In generating His Son, the Father has given everything of Himself so that the Son is the very image of the Father, the refulgence of His glory (Heb 1:3).  He is a Father that holds nothing from His children, but gives them the very best.  This is why He sent His Son into the world, so that those who believe in Him might also receive power to become children of God (John 1:12).
The second reading discusses this at length,  “We have been justified by faith.”  To be justified means to become a child of God.  It means to be an imitator of Abraham who believed in God and so was justified.  The child of God has faith and so knows the Father.  It is Jesus Christ, the image of the Father, who shows us who the Father is.  The Father is a God who pours out His own love into our hearts.  That is to say He gives us His own virtuous love.  To be like Christ, to be a child of God, means to love God with the same love that the Father has loved us.  We are transformed by God’s love for us.  We have victory over sin and death because the Father so loved the world that He sent his only begotten Son.

This divine love of God “has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.”  The Holy Spirit teaches us how to love by guiding us to all truth.  All Truth is God Himself who is the pattern of the whole world.  Everything is True in as much as it corresponds to God’s Wisdom.  God established the heavens. He marked out the vault over the face of the deep. He made firm the skies above, and fixed fast the foundations of the earth.  He gives the whole world its being and its purpose in order to give His own glory and Truth to the world.  God grounds the truth of the world.  The Holy Spirit takes the fullness of Divine Truth which was given to the Son by the Father and declares it to us.  What at one time was known only to the Son of God, has been revealed to the whole world.  When we know this truth about who God is and about what God has done for us, how can we respond in any way but love?  How could we respond to God’s offer in any way but joy?

From all this we see that the whole Trinity has taken an intimate active role in our salvation.  The Father sends the Son and the Spirit.  He is the eternal origin of all that they are.  The Son reveals the Truth about God to us and the Spirit leads us into the Truth so that our human love might be transformed into a divine love.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

You Renew the Face of the Earth

To clarify the signification of Pentecost, we need to look back into salvation history to the tower of Babel.  Then we’ll understand Pentecost as the culmination of salvation history.

Babel is a story about the world hitting rock bottom.  It is the consummation of humanity’s idolatry and self-exultation.  Recall what they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the sky, and so make a name for ourselves” (Gen 11:4).  Building a city doesn't seem like such a bad thing, but by building this city the people were denying their dependence on God.  They saw themselves as replacing God; they, themselves, would live in the sky and have dominion over the world.

Our secular culture has this same intention   It is anti-religious and seeks to exalt itself into the place of God.  Its goal is for humankind to be the master of the universe who chooses what is good and evil.  Humanity chooses the meaning of his own life.  Humanity chooses the standard of what is good.  It refuses to see the truth that goodness is a gift from God and that our freedom and exultation is achieved not by grasping at equality God, but by emptying ourselves out in love.

Whenever we make ourselves the arbitrators of what is good and evil, we are rebuilding the tower of Babel by making ourselves to be God.  But what’s the fruit of this tower?  The Babylonians built their tower only to be sundered into division.  Rather than reach the sky, their works ended in fragmentation.  Their language was confused, and they were scattered to the ends of the earth.  Whenever we exalt ourselves, we divide ourselves.  We don’t obtain happiness and peace; we experience disunity and despair.

After the tower of Babel, God begins building His own house.  He calls Abraham, an unimportant, desert nomad, but God promises him that he will be the father of many nations and that the whole world will find blessing in him.  God begins a history of salvation which will climax in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ who ascends into Heaven in order to send forth the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.

Pentecost is the reversal of Babel.  At Babel, humanity built a tower.  At Pentecost, God builds a temple, the Church.  In the former, humans exalt themselves.  In the latter, God exalts humanity.  People who were in unity with each other were confused, divided, and scattered across the world at Babel, but at Pentecost, people who were scattered across the world were brought into one family in Christ, united in one faith and one Spirit.

The Spirit brings unity to humanity based on love, not selfishness.  “To each individual the manifestation of the Spirit is given for some benefit.”  That is, to be of benefit to others.  Those who cling to selfishness are in the flesh and “Those who are in the flesh cannot please God. But you are not in the flesh; on the contrary, you are in the spirit if only the Spirit of God dwells in you.”  Live out of the Spirit which has been given to you!

Christ ascended into heaven and sent His Spirit into our hearts to lead us to Himself.  Christ has given us a Spirit of adoption “through whom we cry, ‘Abba, Father.”  God has sent forth His spirit and renewed the face of the earth.  “For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, slaves or free persons, and we were all given to drink of one Spirit.”  All humanity, from every nation, was brought into Christ who is the seed of Abraham.  By the sending of the Spirit, God manifests His covenantal faithfulness.  At Pentecost, Abraham has been made the father of nations and the whole world finds blessing in him.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

By the New and Living Way

I’m quite busy this week on account of final exams and term papers, but I wanted to give a short reflection on the Ascension of our Lord.  Here are four ways by which the Ascension benefits our spiritual life, according to St. Thomas Aquinas.

First, the Ascension benefits our faith.  Faith is of things unseen and by Ascending into Heaven we now know Christ by trusting in God’s revelation, made known through Scripture and Tradition.  Jesus says, “Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed.”  Faith doesn't demean the human person because faith and reason are compatible.  It is reasonable to trust what God says because one who does not lie has said it.  By trusting in God’s testimony, we free ourselves from limited human understandings of the world, and open ourselves up to a divine perspective.  Jesus' Ascension opens us up to that divine perspective.

Second, the Ascension benefits our hope because Jesus ascends into Heaven to prepare a place for us.  St. John places on the lips of Jesus, “And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back again and take you to myself, so that where I am you also may be” (Jn 14:3).  St. Thomas argues that because the human nature of Jesus has been brought up into Heaven, we can have hope that our own bodies will be brought to Heaven.  Our human nature is compatible with Heaven because with Christ, we will be exalted at the right hand of the Father.

Third, St. Thomas says that the Ascension “directs the fervor of our charity to Heavenly things” (ST III q57 a1).  He quotes Colossians 3:1-2, “If then you were raised with Christ, seek what is above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God.”  The Ascension of Jesus instructs us to direct all our love towards spending our eternity with God.  In Heaven we will see God face to face.  We will see all His glory and beauty not through creatures but as He possesses it in Himself.  This is what made suffering on the Cross worthwhile for Jesus, it open our way into Heaven so that He might give His entire self to us.  It is for the sake of the vision of God that we should do all that we do.

Finally, because of the Ascension, Christ intercedes for us at the right hand of the Father and sends the Holy Spirit to us.  It is the Spirit who is the cause of our faith by reminding us of all that Jesus has taught us.  The Spirit is also the basis of our hope because it is a pledge of future glory.  As St. Thomas says, “The Holy Spirit is love drawing us up to Heavenly things” (ST III q57 a1).  The Spirit of Love becomes a source of love for us.  Because of the Ascension “we have confidence of entrance into the sanctuary by the new and living way He opened for us through the veil, that is, his flesh” (Heb 10:19-20).

Sunday, May 5, 2013

He Will Teach You Everything

In the first reading today, the battle for the truth of the Gospel reaches a climax.  The early Christians are split about whether or not Gentile Christians must observe the Law of Moses.  Is circumcision required to become one of God’s people?  Or is it enough to live by faith?

The contention arises because Jesus was a Jew, and he faithfully kept the Law of the Old covenant.  Moreover, the Apostles were Jews, who kept the Law of the covenant.  This Law was given to Moses on Mount Sinai by God.  It made the Jews distinctive people and separate from every other people.  It divided the Jews from the gentiles.  The Law included moral laws like the 10 commandments, but it also included ceremonial laws which regaled Jewish worship.  When the Jews failed to observe the Law, God permitted them to be sent into exile.  Therefore, observance of the Law was central to the Jewish faith.

The disciples, who were followers of Jesus, continued to observe the Law until the Holy Spirit reminded the Church of all that Jesus had taught them.  After receiving a vision telling him “What God has made clean, you are not to call profane,” Peter is invited to come stay at the house of Cornelius who is a gentile man respected by the whole Jewish nation.  Yet, because Cornelius is a gentile; he is profane to the according to the Law, and the Jews cannot have fellowship with him.  The Spirit was beginning something marvelous.  Inspired, by the Holy Spirit, Cornelius sent for Peter so that he might hear the Gospel.  Seeing such faith in Cornelius, Peter exclaims, “In truth, I see that God shows no partiality.  Rather, in every nation whoever fears him and acts uprightly is acceptable to him” (Acts 10:9-34).  The Holy Spirit then descends upon the circumcised and the uncircumcised in the room with Peter and Cornelius in a demonstration of power.  Peter has an epiphany that God desires salvation, not just for the Jews, but also for the gentiles also, so Peter baptizes the first gentiles, making them part of the people of God.

This is a radical shift in Jewish theology.  Before, God’s people were made known by works of the Law.  One became part of God’s people through circumcision, observing the 10 commandments, and the dietary laws listed in detail in Leviticus and Deuteronomy.  “But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, though testified to by the law and the prophets, the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe” (Rom 3:21).  God’s righteousness no longer belongs only to the Jews, but it belongs to all people who have faith.

How can this be?  Why are we not bound to the Old law?  Paul writes, “For through the law I died to the law, that I might live for God” Gal (2:19).  The Law itself paves the way for being freed from the law through the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  The Paschal mystery is the fulfillment of the Old Law and the establishment of the New Law testified to by the Law and the Prophets.  It has always been for the sake of this new Law given by Christ that the Old Law existed.

This new Law is the law of the Spirit, the law of Love.  It is the law of the Spirit because it is the Spirit who teaches it to us.  The Advocate, the Holy Spirit… will teach you everything and remind you of all that I told you.  It is the law of Love because this is the lesson of the Holy Spirit who proceeds from the Father and the Son as love and so the Spirit teaches us to love God and neighbor.  God’s righteousness is no longer just an exterior reality unable to change our hearts.  It becomes and interior reality, not in the flesh, but of the heart.  Righteousness is God’s gift to us.  It is not something we merited by observance of the Law.

The council of Jerusalem, which we hear described in the first reading was called together to the binding power of the Old Law.  After Peter and then Paul began baptizing the gentiles, some early Christians began saying “Unless you are circumcised according to the Mosaic practice, you cannot be saved.”  The Judaizers, as the Scriptures call them, insisted that the Old Law was still in effect.  The Apostles, whom Jesus promised to send the Spirit to guide them, faithfully recalled Jesus’ teaching, speaking authoritatively just as our bishops today gather to listen to the Spirit and speak authoritatively.  The Apostles concluded that we are not bound to the old Law, we have been set free to live with Jesus Christ.   The Old Law as fulfilled its purpose by preparing us for the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.  It is now enough to have faith.