Monday, December 03, 2007

Attunement to Being

It is not by means of one isolated faculty that man is open, in knowledge and in love, to the Thou, to things and to God: it is as a whole (through all his faculties) that man is attuned to total reality, and no one has shown this more profoundly and more thoroughly than Thomas Aquinas According to Thomas, what is involved is an attunement to Being as a whole, and this ontological disposition is, in the living and sentient being, an a priori concordance (con-sensus as cum-sentire, 'to feel with', here prior to the assentire, 'to assent to').
Hans Urs von Balthasar - Seeing the Form, vol 1 of The Glory of the Lord: A Theological Aesthetics, page 243-44

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Body, Blood, Soul & Divinity

I think that often, Protestant/Evangelical reactions against the Catholic doctrine of the Eucharist are not reactions so much against the doctrine itself as a against a perception of the doctrine as "cutting up" Christ for our analysis. This is ironic, because from the Catholic perspective, the whole point of saying that Christ is substantially present, body, blood, soul & divinity in the Eucharist is to say that Christ's entire person meets us and nourishes us. In this understanding, taking away any part of this presence is a terrible deprivation because it does not allow us to meet the Lord in the entirety of His Divine/Human person.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Ben Myers on Pope Benedict's Jesus of Nazareth

A few days ago, Ben Myers posted a review of Gerd Ludemann's book on "The Pope's Jesus."

While I appreciate the fairness of the review to Benedict, I do take issue with a few things, mostly from this portion of the article.

Lüdemann’s longest chapter (pp. 95-120) is devoted to Benedict’s use of the Fourth Gospel, and it is here that some of the central problems in Benedict’s methodology are brought into view. Benedict privileges the Fourth Gospel and freely uses it as a source of historical information about Jesus, but he offers “no convincing arguments against the scholarly consensus that the Johannine discourses have nothing to do with what Jesus himself actually said” (p. 120). Of course, some scholars are more optimistic about identifying historically authentic layers in the Fourth Gospel; but it is nevertheless rather baffling to hear Benedict assert that “[t]he Jesus of the Fourth Gospel and the Jesus of the Synoptics is one and the same: the true ‘historical’ Jesus” (Jesus of Nazareth, p. 111).

Such methodological shortcomings should be taken seriously in any evaluation of Benedict’s book. Indeed, the fact that Benedict presupposes the divine “inspiration” of the biblical texts is already a significant obstacle to historical understanding. Lüdemann is surely right to insist that the texts cannot be properly understood on the basis of any “supposed divine inspiration”: “Whoever has given a little finger to the historical-critical method must give the whole hand” (p. 151). Of course, I myself think it is still possible to confess the “inspiration” of the canon – but this confession should arise subsequently from an encounter with the witness of the texts, and should not be introduced as a methodological presupposition which guarantees the texts’ reliability in advance.

(Bold is my emphasis. Italics are in the original.)

I am not at all "baffled" by the pope's treatment of John as a legitimate source of knowledge about the historical Jesus, though I am a bit confused by Myers' bafflement. It seems to me rather as if his critique of the use of John introduces the same sort of faith/history dichotomy as Ludemann's, albeit in a less radical form.

That the Gospel of John tells us about the Jesus of faith is, I take it, relatively uncontroversial. Whether it tells us about the Jesus of history is not. But Benedict's basic point (as Myers seems to understand elsewhere in his review) is that the Jesus of history and the Jesus of faith are the same Jesus.

This being the case, it would appear that Myers' objection only makes sense if he is privileging the Jesus of history over against John's Jesus of faith. But this is the very thing that he takes issue with in Ludemann.

The relation between scripture and witness in my (and Benedict's?) understanding seems to be quite different from Myer's as well.

In my understanding, the primary witness to Christ is the church as a whole. Included in this, of course, is scripture (written by the early church). But scripture does not stand by itself as witness to it's authenticity and inspiration. The past and present of the community of faith also constitutes a witness to the inspiration of scripture.

Thus it makes sense to me that doing theology and exegesis within the community of faith (rather than engaging in "pure apologetics" or "academic theology") not only can, but should presuppose the inspiration of scripture.

I'm not sure whether this is a Catholic/Protestant difference, or whether certain forms of Protestantism can adopt a similar approach. I suspect that they can.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Mary, Queen?

Queen of Israel

Recently, a friend asked a very interesting question. Why do Catholics (and Orthodox) refer to Mary as a queen? The answer is that, even on Protestant terms of Sola Scriptura, she is one.

In the Kingdom of Israel, there was always one queen, but the kings often had more than one wife. How did this work? For the simple reason that in Israel, the queen wasn't the king's wife, but the king's mother. This can be seen in the relationship between Solomon and Bathsheba, for instance.

So, if the queen of Israel is always the mother of the king, what happens when Jesus is the Heir of David, and King of Israel? By the laws and customs of Israel, Jesus's mother is the queen of Israel, even if she wasn't a descendant of David herself.

Lest it be thought that this threatens the royal prerogatives of Christ, it is worth noting that the queens of Israel had no power in their own right, but only by virtue of their relationship to the son. If the king were to for some reason become displeased with the queen, she had no legal or customary authority by which she could resist him, and as soon as the king died and the kingship passed to another, she was no longer the queen.

Queen of Heaven

All right, you might say, but surely Mary's title as Queen of Heaven is going too far?

If you read Revelation 12, you'll find a mysterious figure: a woman clothed with the sun, standing on the moon, with a crown of 12 stars on her head. The 12 stars indicate the 12 tribes of Israel, or the 12 apostles. What is significant is that a little bit later, we discover that this woman is pursued by a dragon and she gives birth to a son who will "rule the nations." This son is obviously Christ. So Christ's mother is shown in a symbolic way to be a queen, and more specifically, a queen of heaven.

How can this be?

Well, consider how the book of Revelation ends. It ends with the descent of the new Jerusalem, which is obviously meant to symbolize in some way the descent of Heaven to Earth. And Mary, as we saw earlier, is the mother of the King of the New Jerusalem. So it is in that sense that Mary is queen of heaven: not in her own right, but by the grace of her son. She is the icon and greatest example of what we all shall be, kings and queens reigning with Christ our King.

Other Resources

The Catechism on Mary

The Compendium of the Catechism

Evangelical Catholicism's Series on Mary

Hail, Holy Queen by Scott Hahn

Friday, June 15, 2007

Orthodoxy & the Immaculate Conception

I find myself a bit frustrated with the state of Orthodox apologetics surrounding the question of the Immaculate Conception of Mary. While I am quite sure that there are competent treatments of the question around, I haven't yet found a discussion that didn't make elementary mistakes about the Catholic understanding of original sin (a mistake I've seen even in such an otherwise excellent book as For the Life of the World by Schmemann). I'm not a trained theologian, but I do feel competent to make the following observations.

1. While the Immaculate Conception hasn't been adopted widely in Orthodoxy, it does have a place in Orthodox tradition. St. Seraphim of Sarov, for instance, believed in the Immaculate Conception. So Orthodox apologists shouldn't be so quick to label it a "western heresy."

2. The Catholic Church, both Latin and Eastern Rite, does not teach that original sin involves inheriting actual guilt. Rather, the Church teaches that it involves inheriting a human nature which (among other things) is now prone to sin in a way that it wasn't before the Fall. St. Augustine does appear to have been of the opinion that guilt is inherited, but the Church has rejected this position. See for example CCC 405.

Although it is proper to each individual,295 original sin does not have the character of a personal fault in any of Adam's descendants. It is a deprivation of original holiness and justice, but human nature has not been totally corrupted: it is wounded in the natural powers proper to it, subject to ignorance, suffering and the dominion of death, and inclined to sin - an inclination to evil that is called concupiscence". Baptism, by imparting the life of Christ's grace, erases original sin and turns a man back towards God, but the consequences for nature, weakened and inclined to evil, persist in man and summon him to spiritual battle.

3. The exemption of Mary from inheriting original sin does not make Mary superhuman. It merely makes her not subject to concupiscence (the tendency to sin), without necessarily preventing her from being able to sin. (Though obviously the Church teaches that she didn't actually sin either.)

4. The occasional Orthodox apologist who argues that the Orthodox churches don't believe in the Immaculate Conception because they don't believe in original sin, should consult some Orthodox Catechisms. Yes, the understanding of what original sin entails is different, but that is not the same as not believing in it at all.

There is a huge amount of agreement between the Catholic and Orthodox churches regarding mariology, so it annoys me to see mistakes like this being made so often. Also, I would like to do some more reading on Orthodox mariology. Anyone have suggestions?

On Vox Nova

I've been enjoying the commentary on Vox Nova, a group blog devoted to the social doctrine of the Catholic Church. They do quite a good job of covering social issues that have been mostly overlooked by the Catholic blogosphere.

However, recently there has been some controversy over whether Vox Nova is "too liberal." Personally, I think it is quite refreshing to see a blog that is in the mainstream of Catholic social thought, rather than the "conservative" take that is more common online.

It also looks like they have added another blogger to the site, this time a more conservative one. I am looking forward to reading even more great things from them!

Thursday, May 31, 2007


Happy Feast of the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary!

Today the Church remembers the visitation of Mary to Elizabeth, and how, as Mary drew near, the Holy Spirit came upon John and Elizabeth so that they recognized Whom Mary brought with her.

It seems to me an appropriate metaphor for the Christian life as the Holy Spirit gives us to recognize the presence of Christ in the Church, especially in the Holy Eucharist.

Here are the readings.

Personal, Communal, Impersonal

Thought of the day: If your "personal relationship with Jesus" isn't communal, then it really isn't personal, but impersonal.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

The Sign of the Woman

Also at the heart of the visions that the Book of Revelation unfolds, are the deeply significant vision of the Woman bringing forth a male child and the complementary one of the dragon, already thrown down from Heaven but still very powerful.

This Woman represents Mary, the Mother of the Redeemer, but at the same time she also represents the whole Church, the People of God of all times, the Church which in all ages, with great suffering, brings forth Christ ever anew. And she is always threatened by the dragon's power. She appears defenceless and weak.

But while she is threatened, persecuted by the dragon, she is also protected by God's comfort. And in the end this Woman wins. The dragon does not win.

Pope Benedict XVI's Second Catechesis on the Apostle John

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Heresy & Orthodoxy

I did try to found a heresy of my own; and when I had put the last touches to it, I discovered that it was orthodoxy.

—GK Chesterton

Thursday, May 17, 2007


Am I the only one who is disturbed by the number of times bibles/crosses and American flags are used together in stock photography?

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Salvifici Doloris - Part V

V SHARERS IN THE SUFFERING OF CHRIST 19. The same Song of the Suffering Servant in the Book of Isaiah leads us, through the following verses, precisely in the direction of this question and answer: "When he makes himself an offering for sin, he shall see his offspring, he shall prolong his days; the will of the Lord shall prosper in his hand; he shall see the fruit of the travail of his soul and be satisfied; by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant. make many to be accounted righteous; and he shall bear their iniquities. Therefore I will divide him a portion with the great, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong; because he poured out his soul to death, and was numbered with the transgressors; yet he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors". One can say that with the Passion of Christ all human suffering has found itself in a new situation. And it is as though Job has foreseen this when he said: "I know that my Redeemer lives ...", and as though he had directed towards it his own suffering, which without the Redemption could not have revealed to him the fullness of its meaning. "As though Job has foreseen this..." Job may not have literally foreseen what would take place, yet his hope was placed in the God who redeems. This hope was fulfilled in the seeming despair of Christ's "abandonment" to death and the grave. In the Cross of Christ not only is the Redemption accomplished through suffering, but also human suffering itself has been redeemed,. Christ, - without any fault of his own - took on himself "the total evil of sin". The experience of this evil determined the incomparable extent of Christ's suffering, which became the price of the Redemption. The Song of the Suffering Servant in Isaiah speaks of this. In later times, the witnesses of the New Covenant, sealed in the Blood of Christ, will speak of this. These are the words of the Apostle Peter in his First Letter: "You know that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your fathers, not with the perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot". And the Apostle Paul in the Letter to the Galatians will say: "He gave himself for our sins to deliver us from the present evil age"(56), and in the First Letter to the Corinthians: "You were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body "(57). With these and similar words the witnesses of the New Covenant speak of the greatness of the Redemption, accomplished through the suffering of Christ. The Redeemer suffered in place of man and for man. Every man has his own share in the Redemption. Each one is also called to share in that suffering through which the Redemption was accomplished. He is called to share in that suffering through which all human suffering has also been redeemed. In bringing about the Redemption through suffering, Christ has also raised human suffering to the level of the Redemption. Thus each man, in his suffering, can also become a sharer in the redemptive suffering of Christ. Christ, being "abandoned" to the suffering of the Cross, shares in our self-imposed exile, and shows us how that exile is transformed from slavery into a pilgrimage. To unite our sufferings of Christ is to become a fellow pilgrim with Christ and share his cross as did Simon of Cyrene. 20. The texts of the New Testament express this concept in many places. In the Second Letter to the Corinthians the Apostle writes: "We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. For while we live we are always being given up to death for Jesus' sake, so that the life of Jesus may be manifested in our mortal flesh .... knowing that he who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus"(58). Saint Paul speaks of various sufferings and, in particular, of those in which the first Christians became sharers "for the sake of Christ ". These sufferings enable the recipients of that Letter to share in the work of the Redemption, accomplished through the suffering and death of the Redeemer. The eloquence of the Cross and death is, however, completed by the eloquence of the Resurrection. Man finds in the Resurrection a completely new light, which helps him to go forward through the thick darkness of humiliations, doubts, hopelessness and persecution. Therefore the Apostle will also write in the Second Letter to the Corinthians: "For as we share abundantly in Christ's sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too"(59). Elsewhere he addresses to his recipients words of encouragement: "May the Lord direct your hearts to the love of God and to the steadfastness of Christ"(60). And in the Letter to the Romans he writes: "I appeal to you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship"(61). We are to present our bodies as a living sacrifice because our bodies are not our own: they are Christ's body sacrificed and given to us for our daily bread. This explains the strange saying of St. Ignatius of Antioch, "I am God's wheat, and I am ground by the teeth of wild beasts that I may be found pure bread [of Christ]." The very participation in Christ's suffering finds, in these apostolic expressions, as it were a twofold dimension. If one becomes a sharer in the sufferings of Christ, this happens because Christ has opened his suffering to man, because he himself in his redemptive suffering has become, in a certain sense, a sharer in all human sufferings. Man, discovering through faith the redemptive suffering of Christ, also discovers in it his own sufferings; he rediscovers them, through faith, enriched with a new content and new meaning. This discovery caused Saint Paul to write particularly strong words in the Letter to the Galatians: "I have been crucified with Christ, it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me: and the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me"(62). Faith enables the author of these words to know that love which led Christ to the Cross. And if he loved us in this way, suffering and dying, then with this suffering and death of his he lives in the one whom he loved in this way; he lives in the man: in Paul. And living in him-to the degree that Paul, conscious of this through faith, responds to his love with love-Christ also becomes in a particular way united to the man, to Paul, through the Cross. This union caused Paul to write, in the same Letter to the Galatians, other words as well, no less strong: "But far be it from me to glory except in the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world"(63). Participating in Christ's sufferings opens up to us a participation in Christ's on divine life, and in this way also, it is eucharistic. For to suffer with Christ is to receive His Life in His Body & Blood. Likewise, participation in the Eucharist opens us up to the deepest dimensions of human suffering. Indeed, it opens us up to dimensions of human suffering which can only be found in their full meaning through the Cross of Christ. 21. The Cross of Christ throws salvific light, in a most penetrating way, on man's life and in particular on his suffering. For through faith the Cross reaches man together with the Resurrection: the mystery of the Passion is contained in the Paschal Mystery. The witnesses of Christ's Passion are at the same time witnesses of his Resurrection. Paul writes: "That I may know him (Christ) and the power of his Resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that if possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead"(64). Truly, the Apostle first experienced the "power of the Resurrection" of Christ, on the road to Damascus, and only later, in this paschal light, reached that " sharing in his sufferings" of which he speaks, for example, in the Letter to the Galatians. The path of Paul is clearly paschal: sharing in the Cross of Christ comes about through the experience of the Risen One, therefore through a special sharing in the Resurrection. Thus, even in the Apostle's expressions on the subject of suffering there so often appears the motif of glory, which finds its beginning in Christ's Cross. The witnesses of the Cross and Resurrection were convinced that "through many tribulations we must enter the Kingdom of God"(65). And Paul, writing to the Thessalonians, says this: "We ourselves boast of you... for your steadfastness and faith in all your persecutions and in the afflictions which you are enduring. 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"(66). Thus to share in the sufferings of Christ is, at the same time, to suffer for the Kingdom of God. In the eyes of the just God, before his judgment, those who share in the suffering of Christ become worthy of this Kingdom. Through their sufferings, in a certain sense they repay the infinite price of the Passion and death of Christ, which became the price of our Redemption: at this price the Kingdom of God has been consolidated anew in human history, becoming the definitive prospect of man's earthly existence. Christ has led us into this Kingdom through his suffering. And also through suffering those surrounded by the mystery of Christ's Redemption become mature enough to enter this Kingdom. Our suffering united with Christ's makes us to participate in his pilgrimage from Gethsemane to Golgotha, and ultimately to the Resurrection. It is often said that the Cross is meaningless without the Resurrection. But it is just as true that the Resurrection is meaningless without the Cross. For, how can one arrive at the end of one's journey unless he has traveled? Our pilgrimage ends in the Kingdom of God, which is the perfection of life in us, where Christ is all in all. 22. To the prospect of the Kingdom of God is linked hope in that glory which has its beginning in the Cross of Christ. The Resurrection revealed this glory—eschatological glory—which, in the Cross of Christ, was completely obscured by the immensity of suffering. Those who share in the sufferings of Christ are also called, through their own sufferings, to share in glory. Paul expresses this in various places. To the Romans he writes: " We are ... fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him. I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed in us"(67). In the Second Letter to the Corinthians we read: "For this slight momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, because we look not to the things that are seen but to things that are unseen"(68). The Apostle Peter will express this truth in the following words of his First Letter: "But rejoice in so far as you share Christ's sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed "(69). Though Christ's glory was, to human eyes, obscured by His crucifixion, it is nonetheless there that the seeds of His glorious Resurrection are shown. Though He was crowned with thorns, His thorns are a crown. And if we share in those thorns, then we also share His crown. The motif of suffering and glory has a strictly evangelical characteristic, which becomes clear by reference to the Cross and the Resurrection. The Resurrection became, first of all, the manifestation of glory, which corresponds to Christ's being lifted up through the Cross. If, in fact, the Cross was to human eyes Christ's emptying of himself, at the same time it was in the eyes of God his being lifted up. On the Cross, Christ attained and fully accomplished his mission: by fulfilling the will of the Father, he at the same time fully realized himself. In weakness he manifested his power, and in humiliation he manifested all his messianic greatness. Are not all the words he uttered during his agony on Golgotha a proof of this greatness, and especially his words concerning the perpetrators of his crucifixion: "Father, forgive them for they know not what they do"(70)? To those who share in Christ's sufferings these words present themselves with the power of a supreme example. Suffering is also an invitation to manifest the moral greatness of man, his spiritual maturity. Proof of this has been given, down through the generations, by the martyrs and confessors of Christ, faithful to the words: "And do not fear those who kill the body, but cannot kill the soul . In weakness Christ manifested His power, and if we allow our weakness to be taken up into His, then it too will manifest the divine power and glory of the Cross and Resurrection. Christ's Resurrection has revealed "the glory of the future age" and, at the same time, has confirmed "the boast of the Cross": the glory that is hidden in the very suffering of Christ and which has been and is often mirrored in human suffering, as an expression of man's spiritual greatness. This glory must be acknowledged not only in the martyrs for the faith but in many others also who, at times, even without belief in Christ, suffer and give their lives for the truth and for a just cause. In the sufferings of all of these people the great dignity of man is strikingly confirmed. The Cross is a hidden glory, like a seed that is planted in the ground, hidden in apparent death. But unless it dies, it cannot bring forth life. "If we have died with Christ we shall also live with him." These words of St. Paul have reference to baptism, but the tradition of the Church has also recognized a baptismof desire and a baptism of suffering, whereby we join ourselves to Christ. Even those who have suffered without knowledge of Christ will ultimately find that it is Christ's sufering that gives theirs meaning. 23. Suffering, in fact, is always a trial—at times a very hard one—to which humanity is subjected. The gospel paradox of weakness and strength often speaks to us from the pages of the Letters of Saint Paul, a paradox particularly experienced by the Apostle himself and together with him experienced by all who share Christ's sufferings. Paul writes in the Second Letter to the Corinthians: "I will all the more gladly boast of my weaknesses, that the power of Christ may rest upon me"(72). In the Second Letter to Timothy we read: "And therefore I suffer as I do. But I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed"(73). And in the Letter to the Philippians he will even say: "I can do all things in him who strengthens me"(74). Those who share in Christ's sufferings have before their eyes the Paschal Mystery of the Cross and Resurrection, in which Christ descends, in a first phase, to the ultimate limits of human weakness and impotence: indeed, he dies nailed to the Cross. But if at the same time in this weakness there is accomplished his lifting up, confirmed by the power of the Resurrection, then this means that the weaknesses of all human sufferings are capable of being infused with the same power of God manifested in Christ's Cross. In such a concept, to suffer means to become particularly susceptible, particularly open to the working of the salvific powers of God, offered to humanity in Christ. In him God has confirmed his desire to act especially through suffering, which is man's weakness and emptying of self, and he wishes to make his power known precisely in this weakness and emptying of self. This also explains the exhortation in the First Letter of Peter: "Yet if one suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but under that name let him glorify God"(75). Christ emptied HimSelf in becoming man, and still more in His obedience to the Cross. If we can follow Him in emptying ourselves, then we will find ourselves filled, not with the spirit of this present world, but with the Spirit of Christ, being made partakers of the divine nature. This also explains a rather puzzling phrase which arose in the Christian tradition of referring to the "happy fault [of Adam and Eve] which gained for a us so great a redeemer." Because we are broken, we can be mended. And when Christ does the mending, He remakes us better than before. In the Letter to the Romans, the Apostle Paul deals still more fully with the theme of this "birth of power in weakness", this spiritual tempering of man in the midst of trials and tribulations, which is the particular vocation of those who share in Christ's sufferings. "More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit which has been given to us"(76). Suffering as it were contains a special call to the virtue which man must exercise on his own part. And this is the virtue of perseverance in bearing whatever disturbs and causes harm. In doing this, the individual unleashes hope, which maintains in him the conviction that suffering will not get the better of him, that it will not deprive him of his dignity as a human being, a dignity linked to awareness of the meaning of life. And indeed this meaning makes itself known together with the working of God's love, which is the supreme gift of the Holy Spirit. The more he shares in this love, man rediscovers himself more and more fully in suffering: he rediscovers the "soul" which he thought he had "lost"(77) because of suffering. Suffering contains a special call to virtue, in particular to the virtue of hope. We may often have a hard time understanding how hope is a virtue like courage or wisdom or patience. But hope is the desire for the good things which Christ has promised. And in our day, do we not see that many among us do not even have a desire for that which is Good, even if they understand that it is Good? Hope reaches beyond mere desire, though, to be a grasping of those good things by our will, and an orientation of our life towards them. Suffering opens us up to hope by making us reach beyond ourselves. 24. Nevertheless, the Apostle's experiences as a sharer in the sufferings of Christ go even further. In the Letter to the Colossians we read the words which constitute as it were the final stage of the spiritual journey in relation to suffering: "Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I complete what is lacking in Christ's afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the Church"(78). And in another Letter he asks his readers: "Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ?"(79). In the Paschal Mystery Christ began the union with man in the community of the Church. The mystery of the Church is expressed in this: that already in the act of Baptism, which brings about a configuration with Christ, and then through his Sacrifice—sacramentally through the Eucharist—the Church is continually being built up spiritually as the Body of Christ. In this Body, Christ wishes to be united with every individual, and in a special way he is united with those who suffer. The words quoted above from the Letter to the Colossians bear witness to the exceptional nature of this union. For, whoever suffers in union with Christ— just as the Apostle Paul bears his "tribulations" in union with Christ— not only receives from Christ that strength already referred to but also "completes" by his suffering "what is lacking in Christ's afflictions". This evangelical outlook especially highlights the truth concerning the creative character of suffering. The sufferings of Christ created the good of the world's redemption. This good in itself is inexhaustible and infinite. No man can add anything to it. But at the same time, in the mystery of the Church as his Body, Christ has in a sense opened his own redemptive suffering to all human suffering. In so far as man becomes a sharer in Christ's sufferings—in any part of the world and at any time in history—to that extent he in his own way completes the suffering through which Christ accomplished the Redemption of the world. "Completing" the suffering of Christ: it sounds heretical. Is there something that Christ did not do in his suffering? No. He has done it all. But still his suffering must be "completed" in some way. Notice the way that Paul says that it is in his "flesh" (or body) that he completes the suffering of Christ. Why is this? Because the suffering of Paul's body is the suffering of the Body of Christ. Indeed, it is in a certain way, Christ's own suffering for His Body. This is why the suffering of Paul can be effectual for the benefit of the Church. Does this mean that the Redemption achieved by Christ is not complete? No. It only means that the Redemption, accomplished through satisfactory love, remains always open to all love expressed in human suffering. In this dimension—the dimension of love—the Redemption which has already been completely accomplished is, in a certain sense, constantly being accomplished. Christ achieved the Redemption completely and to the very limits but at the same time he did not bring it to a close. In this redemptive suffering, through which the Redemption of the world was accomplished, Christ opened himself from the beginning to every human suffering and constantly does so. Yes, it seems to be part of the very essence of Christ's redemptive suffering that this suffering requires to be unceasingly completed. Christ is open to suffering, because in HimSelf he has fulfilled every suffering. And, if we are in him, our suffering completes in us, His body, the suffering which he has already completed for us. Thus, with this openness to every human suffering, Christ has accomplished the world's Redemption through his own suffering. For, at the same time, this Redemption, even though it was completely achieved by Christ's suffering, lives on and in its own special way develops in the history of man. It lives and develops as the body of Christ, the Church, and in this dimension every human suffering, by reason of the loving union with Christ, completes the suffering of Christ. It completes that suffering just as the Church completes the redemptive work of Christ. The mystery of the Church—that body which completes in itself also Christ's crucified and risen body—indicates at the same time the space or context in which human sufferings complete the sufferings of Christ. Only within this radius and dimension of the Church as the Body of Christ, which continually develops in space and time, can one think and speak of "what is lacking" in the sufferings of Christ. The Apostle, in fact, makes this clear when he writes of "completing what is lacking in Christ's afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the Church". The suffering of Christ took place at a particular time and place, but Christ is not limited to that time and place. In the Eucharist and in His Mystical body, He continues to be present to us here and now. And in them, we are made present to his suffering. It is precisely the Church, which ceaselessly draws on the infinite resources of the Redemption, introducing it into the life of humanity, which is the dimension in which the redemptive suffering of Christ can be constantly completed by the suffering of man. This also highlights the divine and human nature of the Church. Suffering seems in some way to share in the characteristics of this nature. And for this reason suffering also has a special value in the eyes of the Church. It is something good, before which the Church bows down in reverence with all the depth of her faith in the Redemption. She likewise bows down with all the depth of that faith with which she embraces within herself the inexpressible mystery of the Body of Christ. The mystery of the Body of Christ is to be ever present with Christ. Present at His Incarnation, at His Baptism, and at His Passion. All these things are present, but Christ's passion, as the source of our redemption, is present to us in a special way. May we enter more deeply into it's heart.

Saturday, April 21, 2007


Blessed are you Lord, God of all creation. Through your goodness we have this bread to offer, which Earth has given and human hands have made; it will become for us the Bread of Life.

Blessed be God forever!

It occurred to me today that in a certain way, the Eucharist is the archetype of the Catholic understanding of grace.

First, there is a prevenient "goodness" (grace) of God which enables us to act for God. Then there is our actions or "work", our offerings to God. And finally, there is the grace of God in taking this offerings, pitiful though they may be, and transfiguring them, or (to use Eastern terminology) "divinizing" them.

Blessed are you Lord, God of all creation. Through your goodness we have this wine to offer, fruit of the vine and work of human hands, it will become our spiritual drink.

Blessed be God forever!

Monday, April 09, 2007

Praying With the Church Website

The Praying With the Church podcast now has an official website,

Monday, March 26, 2007

Fr. Groeschel on Liberalism/Conservatism

"I used to be a liberal, if liberal means concern for the other guy,” Father Groeschel said. “Now I consider myself a conservative-liberal-traditional-radical-confused person.” - From a very good article on Fr. Groeschel in the New York Times
This reminds me of some things that Michael & Katerina have been saying lately.

A Thought

Modern secularism is the enemy of love, not because it undermines love by opposition to chastity, but because — surrounded by opulence — it does not see its radical poverty, and consequently cannot imagine the joy of obedience.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

St. Bernardine on St. Joseph

[St. Joseph] was chosen by the eternal Father as the trustworthy guardian and protector of his greatest treasures, namely, his divine Son and Mary, Joseph’s wife. He carried out this vocation with complete fidelity until at last God called him, saying: ‘"Good and faithful servant, enter into the joy of your Lord’”." - St. Bernardine of Siena

Wednesday, March 14, 2007


16. To look at Mary and imitate her does not mean, however, that the Church should adopt a passivity inspired by an outdated conception of femininity. Nor does it condemn the Church to a dangerous vulnerability in a world where what count above all are domination and power. In reality, the way of Christ is neither one of domination (cf. Phil 2:6) nor of power as understood by the world (cf. Jn18:36). From the Son of God one learns that this “passivity” is in reality the way of love; it is a royal power which vanquishes all violence; it is “passion” which saves the world from sin and death and recreates humanity. In entrusting his mother to the Apostle John, Jesus on the Cross invites his Church to learn from Mary the secret of the love that is victorious.

Far from giving the Church an identity based on an historically conditioned model of femininity, the reference to Mary, with her dispositions of listening, welcoming, humility, faithfulness, praise and waiting, places the Church in continuity with the spiritual history of Israel. In Jesus and through him, these attributes become the vocation of every baptized Christian. Regardless of conditions, states of life, different vocations with or without public responsibilities, they are an essential aspect of Christian life. While these traits should be characteristic of every baptized person, women in fact live them with particular intensity and naturalness. In this way, women play a role of maximum importance in the Church's life by recalling these dispositions to all the baptized and contributing in a unique way to showing the true face of the Church, spouse of Christ and mother of believers.

In this perspective one understands how the reservation of priestly ordination solely to men22 does not hamper in any way women's access to the heart of Christian life. Women are called to be unique examples and witnesses for all Christians of how the Bride is to respond in love to the love of the Bridegroom.


Interesting Book

Christ is the head, the foundation, and the hard stone of the Roman Church, which He wedded on His Cross, supporting her with two pillars, Peter and Paul, the one on the right, the other on the left. He confirmed and perfected her foundation, adorned her with rich decorations, and stayed her with His Spirit, who gladley came down on her head, to teach her words of truth - Alleluja! - that she might not err for ever. - Syro-Maronite Liturgy The Traditions of the Syriac Church of Antioch Concerning the Primacy and Prerogatives of Saint Peter and of His Successors the Roman Pontiff, by the Most Reverend Cyril Behnam Benni (London: Burns, Oates & Co, 1871).
Hat tip to Cathedra Unitatis, who found it over on Google Books.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Sacramentum Caritatis

The Eucharist and Eschatology The Eucharist: a gift to men and women on their journey 30. If it is true that the sacraments are part of the Church's pilgrimage through history (99) towards the full manifestation of the victory of the risen Christ, it is also true that, especially in the liturgy of the Eucharist, they give us a real foretaste of the eschatological fulfilment for which every human being and all creation are destined (cf. Rom 8:19ff.). Man is created for that true and eternal happiness which only God's love can give. But our wounded freedom would go astray were it not already able to experience something of that future fulfilment. Moreover, to move forward in the right direction, we all need to be guided towards our final goal. That goal is Christ himself, the Lord who conquered sin and death, and who makes himself present to us in a special way in the eucharistic celebration. Even though we remain "aliens and exiles" in this world (1 Pet 2:11), through faith we already share in the fullness of risen life. The eucharistic banquet, by disclosing its powerful eschatological dimension, comes to the aid of our freedom as we continue our journey. - Benedict XVI, Sacramentum Caritatis

Saturday, March 10, 2007

The Source of Her Life

However, while the whole community offers Christ in the Echaristic sacrifice and themselves in union with him, according to the immemorial tradition of the Church only a bishop or presbyter can validly preside over the celebration. This is not a mere legal requirement which could be changed by the Church at least in emergency situations. The Eucharist is the sacrifice of Christ entrusted to his Church but remains his own sacrifice. Therefore only someone sent by Christ and representing Christ as the head of his Church can validly make Christ's own sacrifice present in the assembly so that the whole assembly may offer it as her own. In other words, only those who are in the line of apostolic succession, receiving their sacramental authority from Christ through the apostles and their successors can validly consecrate. The absolute need for the ministerial priest in the Eucharistic celebration then does not express the craving of power by the hierarchy but rather the absolute dependence of the Church on Christ in her central act of worship. The need for the ministerial priest expresses sacramentally the radical insufficiency of the Church: she does not possess the source of her life in herself, but receives it continuously from Christ in a tangible, sacramental way. - Roch Kereszty, Communio, Fall 1996

Thursday, March 08, 2007

A Hypothetical Question

Supposing that the Catholic and Orthodox churches were able to settle their differences. Who on the Orthodox side would be able to say "Yes, our differences are settled, and we and Rome are now in communion?"

Private Judgement

There is this obvious, undeniable difficulty in the attempt to form a theory of Private Judgment, in the choice of a religion, that Private Judgment leads different minds in such different directions. If, indeed, there be no religious truth, or at least no sufficient means of arriving at it, then the difficulty vanishes: for where there is nothing to find, there can be no rules for seeking, and contradiction in the result is but a reductio ad absurdum of the attempt. But such a conclusion is intolerable to those who search, else they would not search; and therefore on them the obligation lies to explain, if they can, how it comes to pass, that Private Judgment is a duty, and an advantage, and a success, considering it leads the way not only to their own faith, whatever that may be, but to opinions which are diametrically opposite to it; considering it not only leads them right, but leads others wrong, landing them as it may[Pg 222] be in the Church of Rome, or in the Wesleyan Connection, or in the Society of Friends. - John Henry Cardinal Newman

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

On Interesting Little Bookstores

So, this past weekend I visited an interesting little bookstore and picked up the following... Christ the Eternal Tao by Hieromonk Damascene The Triads by Gregory Palamas For the Life of the World by Alexander Schmemann I'm looking forward to reading all of them. The owner of the bookstore was quite nice, and (as it turns out) the priest for the local Greek Orthodox church. He mentioned that Hieromonk Damascene had given a booksigning a couple of years ago, and I was getting his book for quite a steal.


A society that breeds suicide is one that has neglected to foster certain traditional Christian attitudes: acceptance of suffering, mercy towards oneself, one's inadequacy, one's mediocrity, an appreciation of life. Young people have not been taught why they are on earth and what they are to do with their existence.

- Xavier Tilliette

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Salvifici Doloris - Part IV

IV JESUS CHRIST SUFFERING CONQUERED BY LOVE 14. "For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life"(27). These words, spoken by Christ in his conversation with Nicodemus, introduce us into the very heart of God's salvific work. They also express the very essence of Christian soteriology, that is, of the theology of salvation. Salvation means liberation from evil, and for this reason it is closely bound up with the problem of suffering. According to the words spoken to Nicodemus, God gives his Son to "the world" to free man from evil, which bears within itself the definitive and absolute perspective on suffering. At the same time, the very word "gives" ("gave") indicates that this liberation must be achieved by the only-begotten Son through his own suffering. And in this, love is manifested, the infinite love both of that only-begotten Son and of the Father who for this reason "gives" his Son. This is love for man, love for the "world": it is salvific love. We here find ourselves—and we must clearly realize this in our shared reflection on this problem—faced with a completely new dimension of our theme. It is a different dimension from the one which was determined and, in a certain sense, concluded the search for the meaning of suffering within the limit of justice. This is the dimension of Redemption, to which in the Old Testament, at least in the Vulgate text, the words of the just man Job already seem to refer: "For I know that my Redeemer lives, and at last... I shall see God..."(28). Whereas our consideration has so far concentrated primarily and in a certain sense exclusively on suffering in its multiple temporal dimension (as also the sufferings of the just man Job), the words quoted above from Jesus' conversation with Nicodemus refer to suffering in its fundamental and definitive meaning. God gives his only-begotten Son so that man "should not perish" and the meaning of these words " should not perish" is precisely specified by the words that follow: "but have eternal life". Man " perishes" when he loses "eternal life". The opposite of salvation is not, therefore, only temporal suffering, any kind of suffering, but the definitive suffering: the loss of eternal life, being rejected by God, damnation. The only-begotten Son was given to humanity primarily to protect man against this definitive evil and against definitive suffering. In his salvific mission, the Son must therefore strike evil right at its transcendental roots from which it develops in human history. These transcendental roots of evil are grounded in sin and death: for they are at the basis of the loss of eternal life. The mission of the only-begotten Son consists in conquering sin and death. He conquers sin by his obedience unto death, and he overcomes death by his Resurrection.
God's gift to the world was that He took on in His own person the suffering of mankind. It is not that suffering itself is an unqualified gift, but that God's unqualified gift of HimSelf to us is suffering. This is why suffering can be salvific in our lives as well. To offer our own suffering back to the God who gave his suffering to us allows us to partake in his own self-giving and the self-emptying of kenosis. And this participation also protects us against the final and definitive suffering of eternal death. As the liturgy says, "Dying you destroyed our death; rising you restored our life."
15. When one says that Christ by his mission strikes at evil at its very roots, we have in mind not only evil and definitive, eschatological suffering (so that man "should not perish, but have eternal life"), but also—at least indirectly toil and suffering in their temporal and historical dimension. For evil remains bound to sin and death. And even if we must use great caution in judging man's suffering as a consequence of concrete sins (this is shown precisely by the example of the just man Job), nevertheless suffering cannot be divorced from the sin of the beginnings, from what Saint John calls "the sin of the world"(29), from the sinful background of the personal actions and social processes in human history. Though it is not licit to apply here the narrow criterion of direct dependance (as Job's three friends did), it is equally true that one cannot reject the criterion that, at the basis of human suffering, there is a complex involvement with sin.
Though it is true that we cannot judge individuals guilty of particular sin merely because they suffer, it is also true that sin lies at the root of truly human suffering. Trace suffering back far enough and eventually one finds its origin, often in multiple and complex ways, in the rejection of that Good offered by God's grace. Something as simple as the pressures of parents dealing with the irritability of a child who refuses to eat until he gets his way shows just how complete the involvement of sin is in human suffering. Yet it is not final.
It is the same when we deal with death. It is often awaited even as a liberation from the suffering of this life. At the same time, it is not possible to ignore the fact that it constitutes as it were a definitive summing-up of the destructive work both in the bodily organism and in the psyche. But death primarily involves the dissolution of the entire psychophysical personality of man. The soul survives and subsists separated from the body, while the body is subjected to gradual decomposition according to the words of the Lord God, pronounced after the sin committed by man at the beginning of his earthly history: "You are dust and to dust you shall return"(30). Therefore, even if death is not a form of suffering in the temporal sense of the word, even if in a certain way it is beyond all forms of suffering, at the same time the evil which the human being experiences in death has a definitive and total character. By his salvific work, the only-begotten Son liberates man from sin and death. First of all he blots out from human history the dominion of sin, which took root under the influence of the evil Spirit, beginning with Original Sin, and then he gives man the possibility of living in Sanctifying Grace. In the wake of his victory over sin, he also takes away the dominion of death, by his Resurrection beginning the process of the future resurrection of the body. Both are essential conditions of "eternal life", that is of man's definitive happiness in union with God; this means, for the saved, that in the eschatological perspective suffering is totally blotted out.
Death, though it does bring relief from suffering in one sense, is also the triumph of suffering in another sense. It dissolves that unity which is proper to man in both soul and body, subjecting even man's immortal soul to a kind of suffering. It is not without reason that in the Book of Revelation, the souls of the blessed yearn for a return to embodiment.
As a result of Christ's salvific work, man exists on earth with the hope of eternal life and holiness. And even though the victory over sin and death achieved by Christ in his Cross and Resurrection does not abolish temporal suffering from human life, nor free from suffering the whole historical dimension of human existence, it nevertheless throws a new light upon this dimension and upon every suffering: the light of salvation. This is the light of the Gospel, that is, of the Good News. At the heart of this light is the truth expounded in the conversation with Nicodemus: "For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son"(31). This truth radically changes the picture of man's history and his earthly situation: in spite of the sin that took root in this history both as an original inheritance and as the "sin of the world" and as the sum of personal sins, God the Father has loved the only-begotten Son, that is, he loves him in a lasting way; and then in time, precisely through this all-surpassing love, he "gives" this Son, that he may strike at the very roots of human evil and thus draw close in a salvific way to the whole world of suffering in which man shares.
Because of the Cross and Resurrection, we have hope. It is often forgotten that hope, along with faith and love, is one of the theological virtues. This is because hope is more than mere optimism. It is a recognition that victory has been definitively achieved, though we await its fulfillment. Hope transforms the world.
16. In his messianic activity in the midst of Israel, Christ drew increasingly closer to the world of human suffering. "He went about doing good"(32), and his actions concerned primarily those who were suffering and seeking help. He healed the sick, consoled the afflicted, fed the hungry, freed people from deafness, from blindness, from leprosy, from the devil and from various physical disabilities, three times he restored the dead to life. He was sensitive to every human suffering, whether of the body or of the soul. And at the same time he taught, and at the heart of his teaching there are the eight beatitudes, which are addressed to people tried by various sufferings in their temporal life. These are "the poor in spirit" and "the afflicted" and "those who hunger and thirst for justice" and those who are "persecuted for justice sake", when they insult them, persecute them and speak falsely every kind of evil against them for the sake of Christ...(33). Thus according to Matthew; Luke mentions explicitly those "who hunger now"(34).
Even in his ministry of healing, which was about relieving suffering, Christ drew near to suffering. This drawing near took its ultimate shape on the cross, where he has been drawn into full identity with human suffering so that, paradoxically, suffering might be brought to an end.
At any rate, Christ drew close above all to the world of human suffering through the fact of having taken this suffering upon his very self. During his public activity, he experienced not only fatigue, homelessness, misunderstanding even on the part of those closest to him, but, more than anything, he became progressively more and more isolated and encircled by hostility and the preparations for putting him to death. Christ is aware of this, and often speaks to his disciples of the sufferings and death that await him: "Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem; and the Son of man will be delivered to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death and deliver him to the Gentiles; and they will mock him, and spit upon him, and scourge him, and kill him; and after three days he will rise"(35). Christ goes towards his Passion and death with full awareness of the mission that he has to fulfil precisely in this way. Precisely by means of this suffering he must bring it about "that man should not perish, but have eternal life". Precisely by means of his Cross he must strike at the roots of evil, planted in the history of man and in human souls. Precisely by means of his Cross he must accomplish the work of salvation. This work, in the plan of eternal Love, has a redemptive character. And therefore Christ severely reproves Peter when the latter wants to make him abandon the thoughts of suffering and of death on the Cross(36). And when, during his arrest in Gethsemane, the same Peter tries to defend him with the sword, Christ says, " Put your sword back into its place... But how then should the scriptures be fulfilled, that it must be so?(37)". And he also says, "Shall I not drink the cup which the Father has given me?"(38). This response, like others that reappear in different points of the Gospel, shows how profoundly Christ was imbued by the thought that he had already expressed in the conversation with Nicodemus: "For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life"(39). Christ goes toward his own suffering, aware of its saving power; he goes forward in obedience to the Father, but primarily he is united to the Father in this love with which he has loved the world and man in the world. And for this reason Saint Paul will write of Christ: "He loved me and gave himself for me"(40).
"Shall I not drink the cup which the Father has given me?" This way of putting the question obviously recalls the Eucharistic sacrifice. Though in the Mass Christ does not suffer again, His suffering is the winepress through which His blood is given to us. Therefore, it is in the Eucharist that we are most able to unite our sufferings with those of the Paschal Victim.
17. The Scriptures had to be fulfilled. There were many messianic texts in the Old Testament which foreshadowed the sufferings of the future Anointed One of God. Among all these, particularly touching is the one which is commonly called the Fourth Song of the Suffering Servant, in the Book of Isaiah. The Prophet, who has rightly been called "the Fifth Evangelist", presents in this Song an image of the sufferings of the Servant with a realism as acute as if he were seeing them with his own eyes: the eyes of the body and of the spirit. In the light of the verses of Isaiah, the Passion of Christ becomes almost more expressive and touching than in the descriptions of the Evangelists themselves. Behold, the true Man of Sorrows presents himself before us: "He had no form or comeliness that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that made us whole, and with his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray we have turned every one to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all"(41). The Song of the Suffering Servant contains a description in which it is possible, in a certain sense, to identify the stages of Christ's Passion in their various details: the arrest, the humiliation, the blows, the spitting, the contempt for the prisoner, the unjust sentence, and then the scourging, the crowning with thorns and the mocking, the carrying of the Cross, the crucifixion and the agony.
"Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows." These words present to us the inner essence of Christ's suffering. It was a suffering for. For whom? For what? The song itself answers. For our sakes the evil of suffering and death was taken up into the Trinity so that the Trinity might destroy sin, which is its root, and destroy that definitive suffering which ultimately results from sin. "Dying you destroyed our death," as the liturgy tells us.
Even more than this description of the Passion, what strikes us in the words of the Prophet is the depth of Christ's sacrifice. Behold, He, though innocent, takes upon himself the sufferings of all people, because he takes upon himself the sins of all. "The Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all": all human sin in its breadth and depth becomes the true cause of the Redeemer's suffering. If the suffering "is measured" by the evil suffered, then the words of the Prophet enable us to understand the extent of this evil and suffering with which Christ burdened himself. It can be said that this is "substitutive" suffering; but above all it is "redemptive". The Man of Sorrows of that prophecy is truly that "Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world"(42). In his suffering, sins are cancelled out precisely because he alone as the only-begotten Son could take them upon himself, accept them with that love for the Father which overcomes the evil of every sin; in a certain sense he annihilates this evil in the spiritual space of the relationship between God and humanity, and fills this space with good.
In the Garden of Eden, a radical corruption was introduced into human nature. Christ's death and suffering on the Cross begins the cleansing of this corruption. But where the corruption was there is a space that must be filled. By his Resurrection, and in the Eucharist, Christ offers us his fullness to fill our emptiness. The suffering which seemed meaningless by definition is now full of the meaning of God's own divine life.
Here we touch upon the duality of nature of a single personal subject of redemptive suffering. He who by his Passion and death on the Cross brings about the Redemption is the only-begotten Son whom God "gave". And at the same time this Son who is consubstantial with the Father suffers as a man. His suffering has human dimensions; it also has unique in the history of humanity—a depth and intensity which, while being human, can also be an incomparable depth and intensity of suffering, insofar as the man who suffers is in person the only-begotten Son himself: " God from God". Therefore, only he—the only-begotten Son—is capable of embracing the measure of evil contained in the sin of man: in every sin and in "total" sin, according to the dimensions of the historical existence of humanity on earth.
Christ, precisely because He is divine, participates in our human suffering even more than we do ourselves. And it is because of this that his suffering can encompass and overthrow the curse of Adam.
18. It can be said that the above considerations now brings us directly to Gethsemane and Golgotha, where the Song of the Suffering Servant, contained in the Book of Isaiah, was fulfilled. But before going there, let us read the next verses of the Song, which give a prophetic anticipation of the Passion at Gethsemane and Golgotha. The Suffering Servant—and this in its turn is essential for an analysis of Christ's Passion—takes on himself those sufferings which were spoken of, in a totally voluntary way: "He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is dumb, so he opened not his mouth. By oppression and judgment he was taken away; and as for his generation, who considered that he was cut off out of the land of the living, stricken for the transgression of my people? And they made his grave with the wicked and with a rich man in his death, although he had done no violence, and there was no deceit in his mouth"(43). Christ suffers voluntarily and suffers innocently. With his suffering he accepts that question which—posed by people many times—has been expressed, in a certain sense, in a radical way by the Book of Job. Christ, however, not only carries with himself the same question (and this in an even more radical way, for he is not only a man like Job but the only-begotten Son of God), but he also carries the greatest possible answer to this question. One can say that this answer emerges from the very master of which the question is made up. Christ gives the answer to the question about suffering and the meaning of suffering not only by his teaching, that is by the Good News, but most of all by his own suffering, which is integrated with this teaching of the Good News in an organic and indissoluble way. And this is the final, definitive word of this teaching: "the word of the Cross", as Saint Paul one day will say(44).
He who had done no violence had violence done to Him. And this was not a passive acceptance of suffering, but an active embrace of suffering for the "joy that was held out for Him." The embrace of suffering on the Cross is also Christ's embrace of us, in all our fallenness. So we must embrace him by embracing his suffering, by "taking up your cross."
This "word of the Cross" completes with a definitive reality the image of the ancient prophecy. Many episodes, many discourses during Christ's public teaching bear witness to the way in which from the beginning he accepts this suffering which is the will of the Father for the salvation of the world. However, the prayer in Gethsemane becomes a definitive point here. The words: "My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as thou wilt"(45), and later: "My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, thy will be done"(46), have a manifold eloquence. They prove the truth of that love which the only-begotten Son gives to the Father in his obedience. At the same time, they attest to the truth of his suffering. The words of that prayer of Christ in Gethsemane prove the truth of love through the truth of suffering. Christ's words confirm with all simplicity this human truth of suffering, to its very depths: suffering is the undergoing of evil before which man shudders. He says: let it pass from me", just as Christ says in Gethsemane.
Christ in the Garden prays that his cup might pass from him, but it does not. At his Father's answer, Christ drinks from the cup of suffering, and in doing so the Second Adam reverses the path of the first Adam. He does not take against the Father's will, but receives whatever the Father gives him, even to death itself.
His words also attest to this unique and incomparable depth and intensity of suffering which only the man who is the only-begotten Son could experience; they attest to that depth and intensity which the prophetic words quoted above in their own way help us to understand. Not of course completely (for this we would have to penetrate the divine-human mystery of the subject), but at least they help us to understand that difference (and at the same time the similarity) which exists between every possible form of human suffering and the suffering of the God-man. Gethsemane is the place where precisely this suffering, in all the truth expressed by the Prophet concerning the evil experienced in it, is revealed as it were definitively before the eyes of Christ's soul. After the words in Gethsemane come the words uttered on Golgotha, words which bear witness to this depth—unique in the history of the world—of the evil of the suffering experienced. When Christ says: "My God, My God, why have you abandoned me?", his words are not only an expression of that abandonment which many times found expression in the Old Testament, especially in the Psalms and in particular in that Psalm 22 [21] from which come the words quoted(47). One can say that these words on abandonment are born at the level of that inseparable union of the Son with the Father, and are born because the Father "laid on him the iniquity of us all"(48). They also foreshadow the words of Saint Paul: "For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin"(49). Together with this horrible weight, encompassing the "entire" evil of the turning away from God which is contained in sin, Christ, through the divine depth of his filial union with the Father, perceives in a humanly inexpressible way this suffering which is the separation, the rejection by the Father, the estrangement from God. But precisely through this suffering he accomplishes the Redemption, and can say as he breathes his last: "It is finished"(50).
The Son's abandonment to suffering and death is the basis for our redemption. He does not merely serve as a legal substitute for us, but is completely identified with us in such a way that it can be said that He was "made sin" for our sake. This identification began at the Annunciation, when Mary conceived the Divine Word by the divine word delivered through Gabriel. "God became man so that man might become god," as Augustine, Athanasius, Cyril and the other ancient Fathers said. But also the Son was "made sin" so that we, who are sinners, might be made sons.
One can also say that the Scripture has been fulfilled, that these words of the Song of the Suffering Servant have been definitively accomplished: "it was the will of the Lord to bruise him"(51). Human suffering has reached its culmination in the Passion of Christ. And at the same time it has entered into a completely new dimension and a new order: it has been linked to love, to that love of which Christ spoke to Nicodemus, to that love which creates good, drawing it out by means of suffering, just as the supreme good of the Redemption of the world was drawn from the Cross of Christ, and from that Cross constantly takes its beginning. The Cross of Christ has become a source from which flow rivers of living water(52). In it we must also pose anew the question about the meaning of suffering, and read in it, to its very depths, the answer to this question.
The question of suffering does not receive an answer in merely theological terms, explaining that suffering must be possible for free will to have meaning (which is true enough) but is answered by the suffering of God HimSelf in such a way that we can hold it before our eyes in the Cross. The cross, as St. Augustine said, is Christ opening his arms to the whole world.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Praying With the Church - Episode 3 - Posture & The Act of Faith

Episode 3 of Praying With the Church has been posted, as well as prayer 3, The Act of Faith. This episode is a bit longer than normal.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Praying With the Church - Episode 2 - Set Prayers & the Act of Contrition

Episode 2 of the Praying With the Church podcast is online. This episode's topics: Set Prayers & the Act of Contrition.

Thursday, January 25, 2007


I am now a proud new subscriber to Communio, a journal of Catholic theology founded by Hans Urs von Balthasar, Henri de Lubac, and Joseph Ratzinger in 1972. My first issues came in just a few days ago, and I am looking forward to reading them.

Thursday, January 11, 2007


Cynthia Nielsen at Per Caritatem has a couple of interesting posts up on the medieval Muslim philosopher Avicenna, who, in many ways provided a basis for later Christian philosophers, including St. Thomas Aquinas. Part 1 Part 2 Excellent reading, especially for those of us who aren't all that familiar with Muslim philosophy.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Praying With the Church

For those of you who are interested, I've started a new podcast, called Praying With the Church. It is available in the iTunes podcast directory, or from The podcast, as you might expect, is about prayer, particularly in the Catholic tradition, but it applies outside of Catholicism as well. If you listen to it, let me know what you think.