The Eucharist in the Plan of Salvation, First Part

The following is the first part of a day of recollection that I preached recently on the theme of “The Eucharist in the Plan of Salvation.”  In the first part I give an outline of the plan of Salvation. In the second part (which I will post soon) I reflect on how the Eucharist contributes to that plan.

The Plan of Salvation

1 God’s Happiness

The first article of the Catechism of the Catholic Church summarizes the plan of salvation as follows:

God, infinitely perfect and blessed in himself, in a plan of sheer goodness freely created man to make him share in his own blessed life. For this reason, at every time and in every place, God draws close to man. He calls man to seek him, to know him, to love him with all his strength. He calls together all men, scattered and divided by sin, into the unity of his family, the Church. To accomplish this, when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son as Redeemer and Saviour. In his Son and through him, he invites men to become, in the Holy Spirit, his adopted children and thus heirs of his blessed life. (CCC 1)

Continue reading

Love Thy Neighbor as Thyself: A Sermon for Children

The Parish Church in Oeynhausen

The following is a reconstruction of my sermon today in Oeynhausen, where I celebrated a so-called “Children’s Mass” (the parish priest being sick).

Dear children, in the Gospel that we just heard Our Lord Jesus tells us the two most important things for us to do: to love God, and to love each-other. And he tells us how we ought to love each-other. Perhaps one of you noticed, He says: “love thy neighbor as _____” As what? Did any of you catch it?

[Children make thinking faces. One little boy pips up: As yourself!]

Yes, exactly! As yourself. You should love other people the way you love yourself. But what does that mean? I remember when I was little boy— a little younger than you, I think— I was fighting with my sister, and I pulled her hair and made her cry, and my mother scolded me and said: “You should love your sister as yourself.” I wondered what that meant, and my mother explained that it meant I should treat my sister the way I would want her to treat me. “Ah,” said I, “then I will play football with her, because I would want her to play football with me.” But my sister did not want to play football.

What does it really mean to love other people the way you love yourself? There are two kinds of love. One kind of love is the love that I have for chocolate. I love chocolate. But this does not mean that I want to make chocolate happy, to give it joy, to give it good things. No, it means I want the chocolate to give me joy; I want to eat the chocolate and taste its sweetness. To love other people the way I love chocolate would not be enough. If I love other people by wanting them to give me good things, give me joy, make me happy, then I do not love them in the right way. But there is a second kind of love. It is the kind of love that I have for myself. I love myself, and this means that I want myself to have joy and happiness and good things. We all love ourselves in this way. All of us want to ourselves to happy and have joy and good things. Or, does one of you want yourself to be sad, and have nothing good? [a shaking of heads]. So this is what it means to love yourself. And so, to love your neighbor as yourself, means to love the other people that you know (your brothers and sisters, your parents, the other children in your school) in this way: to want to make them happy and give them joy and every good thing. Not to make them frown cry, but to make them smile and laugh.

This is the way that God loves you: He wants to give you joy and happiness, and He gives you every good thing that you have. Let us pray to God today, and ask Him to help us to love Him with our whole hearts, and to love each-other the way we love ourselves.

2 Peter 2:4-3:13

For if God did not spare the angels who sinned but consigned them to the lower depths of darkness where they are kept for judgment; and if he did not spare the ancient world, but did protect Noah, the herald of righ­teousness, with seven others, while he let loose the flood on the world of the impious; and if he doomed the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah to ashes, making them an ex­ample of what is in store for the impious; and if he res­cued the righteous Lot, who was afflicted by the vicious behavior of these lawless people (for, righteous as he was and living among them, by what he saw and heard day after day he was tormented in his righteous soul by their lawless behavior); then the Lord knows how to rescue the pious from their ordeal and to keep the unrighteous under punishment until the Day of Judgment; especially those who follow the flesh in lust for corruption, and who despise high authority. Daring, headstrong, they do not tremble before glorious creatures, but insult them; whereas angels, who are greater in strength and power than they, do not insult them as they demand judgment against them.

But these men, like unreasoning beasts, creatures of nature bred to be caught and slaughtered, insulting what they do not understand, will be slaughtered as such beasts are slaughtered, damaged for the damage they have done. They think of happiness as the luxury of the day, they are blots and blemishes who revel in their own beguilements as they share your feasts. They have eyes that are full of adultery, insatiable in sinning, and they seduce unstable souls since their hearts are well practiced in serving their greed. Children of the curse, they left the straight road and went astray, following the course of Ba­laam the son of Beor, who longed for the wages of wickedness but was reproved for this transgression; a dumb beast spoke in a human voice and stopped the madness of the prophet.

These men are waterless springs, clouds before the whirlwind; the dark of hell is in store for them. For speaking loud in their lewdness they seduce, through the lusts of the flesh, through depravity, some who are barely escaping from the wrong way of life. They promise them freedom, being themselves the slaves of corruption; for anyone is the slave of one to whom he has lost. If they once escaped from the defilements of the world by rec­ognizing the Lord and savior Jesus Christ, and then once more are involved in these and overcome, what hap­pened to them last is worse than what happened first. For it would have been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness than, having known it, to turn back from the holy commandment that was handed down to them. What has happened to them is what is in the true proverb: The dog returns to his vomit; and: The sow washed clean goes back to roll in the mud.

This, dear friends, is the second letter I have written you, to quicken the pure purpose in you by reminding you: that you should remember the words spoken of old by the holy prophets, and the commandment of the Lord and savior from your apostles. But first understand this, that in these final days mockers will come with their mockery, people who go the way of their own desires, who will say: Where is the promise of his coming? For since our fathers were laid to rest, all things remain as they have been since the original creation. But they are unaware, as they wish to be, that the skies existed from of old, and the earth formed from water and standing in the water, by the word of God; and through these waters the earth was flooded with water and perished. And by the same word the skies that are now and the earth that is now are stored away for the fire, kept for the Day of Judgment and the destruction of impious people.

Do not forget this one thing, dear friends; that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years like one day. The Lord is not slow with his prom­ise, as some think it is slowness; but he is patient with you, because he does not want any to be destroyed, but all to come to repentance. But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and on it the heavens will disappear with a sizzling noise, and the heavenly bodies will fall apart in flames, and the earth and the things inside it will be laid open. When all these things break up, how great is the need for you to keep to the saintly and pious life, expecting and urging on the coming of the day of God, when the heavens will fall apart in fire and the heavenly bodies melt in the flames. Then, according to his promise, let us look for new heavens and a new earth, in which righteousness resides. (2 Peter 2:4-3:13; trans. Richmond Lattimore)

St. Thomas on Job

Perhaps after finishing Gregory’s Moralia I shall read St. Thomas’s Commentary on Job. Jeremy Holmes has a splendid introduction to the new English translation at the Aquinas Institute for Sacred Doctrine. He makes an interesting point about the constraints that a commentary makes on its author, as opposed to a speculative work such as the Summa Contra Gentiles:

Everyone knows that the artist flourishes under constraint: the poet’s creativity is unlocked, not diminished, by a rigid sonnet structure; the architect’s brilliance emerges especially under the demands of an unusual terrain; the painter’s genius rises to the challenge of a fresco where ceiling and walls dictate the contours. The same is true of a theologian. It is one thing to compose a treatise on divine providence in the open spaces of unshackled speculative reason; it is quite another thing to teach about divine providence through respectful engagement with the complicated, pungent, and often obscure poetry of Job.

In St. Gregory’s case, “constraint” is perhaps not the right word, as he uses Job as an occasion to talk about everything. As Gregory explains, he sees what we might call “going off on tangents” as a duty of the commentator:

He who explains the word of God should imitate the behavior of a river. when a river flows in its bed and the side of the bed dips down, the river promptly turns its course to include the dip. When it has filled the lower level, the river returns to its normal course. the one who explains God’s word should act in like manner; whoever is explaining something and notices a chance occasion of edification close at hand should direct the waters of eloquence there, as though it were a dip at the side, and then when the lower ground has been inundated by instruction, he may return to his former discourse. (Moralia, Letter to Leander, 2)

St. Gregory’s Moralia

I have started reading St. Gregory the Great’s Moralia in Job in the new English translation by Brian Kerns, O.C.S.O., only occasionally checking a pdf of the Latin. It’s an enormous work—about the length of Augustine’s City of God and Confessions combined— and I have only got through book I, but so far it fully justifies its reputation as a masterpiece.

Scripture, St. Gregory tells us, is “a river both shallow and deep, in which a lamb walks and an elephant swims.” In his commentary (at least in book I— the editorial introduction that the procedure changes later on) Gregory interprets each passage in three senses. First he interprets a few verses in the “historical” sense as applying to Job, and then goes back and interprets them again in an allegorical sense as referring to Christ the head, and then goes back and interprets them a third time in a moral sense as applying to Christ’s body, the Church. He thus takes what we would call the anagogical sense as part of the moral sense.

One theme that struck me particularly in reading book one was hope (perhaps because I had just preached a retreat on that virtue). Here is Gregory on how the burden of earthly life is unbearable without hope:

What indeed could be heavier or more burdensome than to bear the troubles of a passing world without any hope of reward to relieve the mind? (1.XV.22)

Et quid esse gravius atque onustius potest, quam afflictionem saeculi praetereuntis perpeti, et nequaquam ad relevationem mentis gaudia remunerationis sperare?

And again on a donkey as a figure of how hopes makes the burdens of life bearable:

So he offers his shoulders to bear burdens, for he has spotted eternal rest, and he obeys difficult orders at work, regardless of anything his natural weakness may and impossible; he believes it to be light and easy, in hope of the reward. (1.XVI.24)

Quae ad portandum humerum supponit; quia conspecta superna requie, praeceptis etiam gravibus in operatione se subjicit, et quidquid intolerabile pusillanimitas asserit, hoc ei leve ac facile spes remunerationis ostendit.

At the same time I have been reading Benoît Peeters’s Derrida biography, and I was struck by a line from a letter written by the young Derrida to a friend: “If the only thing we can share in this world is despair, I’ll be ready to share it with you, always.” (p. 90). Too things struck me about that line: the first is the inescapable human orientation toward the common good; even in the apparent absence of anything good, one must at least convert one’s despair into a good to be shared. The second is how well the sadness of the line illustrates St. Gregory’s point: what could be heavier or more burdensome than despair?

Life as a Long Lenten Fast

The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them; then on that day they will fast. (Mark 2:20)

The days when the bridegroom is taken from us have now come. He has not been entirely taken taken from us; he is really, truly, and substantially present, but in a hidden way. We wait for Him to come again, and celebrate the definitive wedding feast. St. Benedict tells us that our whole lives should be a Lenten fast, awaiting the Easter of eternal life, but since in our weakness we are unable to fast always, we should at least use the holy forty days to separate ourselves from attachment to earthly things, and long with holy joy for the coming of the bridegroom:

Although the life of a monk ought at all times have the aspect of Lenten observance, yet, since few have strength enough for this, we exhort all during these days of Lent to lead lives of the greatest purity, and to atone during this holy season for all the negligences of other times. This we shall do in a worthy manner if we refrain ourselves from all sin and give ourselves to prayer with tears, to reading, to compunction of heart, and to abstinence. Therefore during these days let us add something to our ordinary burden of service, such as private prayers or abstinence from food and drink, so that each one may offer up to God in the joy of the Holy Ghost something over and above the measure appointed to him: that is, let him deny his body in food, in drink, in sleep, in superfluous talking, in mirth, and withal long for the holy feast of Easter with the joy of spiritual desire.

Seek nothing else

I sought the Lord, and He heard me. Those who are not heard are not seeking the Lord. Mark these words, holy brethren; the Psalmist did not say: “I sought gold from the Lord, and He heard me; I sought length of days from the Lord, and He heard me; I sought this or that from the Lord, and He heard me.” It is one thing to seek something from the Lord, and another to seek the Lord Himself. I sought the Lord, he says, and He heard me. But when you pray, saying: “Put that enemy of mine to death,” you are not seeking the Lord, but, so to speak, making yourself the judge over your enemy and making your God into an executioner. How do you know that he for whose death you are asking is not a better man than yourself? Perhaps from the very fact that he is not asking for yours. So do not seek anything outside the Lord, but seek the Lord Himself, and He will hear you, and even as you are yet speaking He shall say: Here I am. What is the meaning of Here I am? Behold, I am present, what do you want? What do you ask of me? Whatever I give you is of less worth than myself: take possession of my very self, enjoy me, embrace me. You are not yet wholly equal to it; lay hold of me by faith and you shall cleave to me—so God tells you—and I will relieve you of your other burdens so that you may be completely united to me, when I have changed this mortal being of yours to immortality; so that you may be equal to my angels, and may always look upon my face and rejoice, and your joy no man shall take from you; for you have sought the Lord, and He has heard you and delivered you from all your afflictions. (St. Augustine on Psalm 33)

Inquisivi Dominum, et exaudivit me. Qui ergo non exaudiuntur, non Dominum quaerunt. Intendat Sanctitas vestra: non dixit: Inquisivi aurum a Domino, et exaudivit me; inquisivi a Domino senectutem, et exaudivit me; inquisivi a Domino hoc aut illud, et exaudivit me. Aliud est aliquid inquirere a Domino, aliud ipsum Dominum inquirere. Inquisivi, inquit, Dominum, et exaudivit me. Tu autem quando oras, et dicis: Occide illum inimicum meum; non Dominum inquiris, sed quasi facis te iudicem super inimicum tuum, et facis quaestionarium Deum tuum. Unde scis ne melior te sit cuius mortem quaeris? Eo ipso forte, quia ille non quaerit tuam. Ergo noli aliquid a Domino extra quaerere, sed ipsum Dominum quaere, et exaudiet te, et adhuc te loquente dicet: Ecce adsum. Quid est: Ecce adsum? Ecce praesens sum, quid vis, quid a me quaeris? Quidquid tibi dedero, vilius est quam ego: meipsum habe, me fruere, me amplectere: nondum potes totus; ex fide continge me, et inhaerebis mihi, (hoc tibi Deus dicit) et caetera onera tua ego a te deponam, ut totus mihi inhaereas, cum hoc mortale tuum ad immortalitatem convertero; ut sis aequalis Angelis meis, et semper videas faciem meam, et gaudeas, et gaudium tuum nemo auferet a te; quia inquisisti Dominum, et exaudivit te, et ex omnibus tribulationibus tuis eruit te. (EnPs 33)

The Eucharist and the Letter to the Hebrews

In writing an e-mail to a Protestant friend about the sacrificial character of the Mass, I did a google search on my confrère here in Heiligenkreuz Pater Robert Abeynaike, O.Cist., to see whether any part of his brilliant dissertation on the Hebrews as a commentary on the Mass was available on the web. I wasn’t able to find any extracts from his dissertation, but I found a brief summary that he wrote for L’Osservatore Romano a few years ago, which Sandro Magister posted to his blog. I paste it in full below. Contrary to what Magister writes, Pater Robert is not African but rather Sri Lankan. Continue reading

Ascendit Deus in jubilatione

The liturgy of Ascension Thursday puts a tremendous emphasis on joy: ‘Gladden us with holy joys, almighty God, and make us rejoice with devout thanksgiving,’ as a collect puts it. The first reason for joy is the triumph of Our Lord: Ascendit Deus in jubilatione, et Dominus in voce tubae. ‘God has gone up with shouts of joy, the Lord with a trumpet-blast.’ As the members of His body and the subjects of Kingdom we rejoice that the Lord has gone into His glory. The Exodus of Christ from death to life is not complete until He has left this world of corruption, and returned in triumph to the glory that He had before the beginning. The second reason for joy is that exaltation of our Head gives hope to us the members that we will attain to glory: Christi … ascénsio est nostra provéctio, et quo procéssit glória cápitis, eo spes vocátur et córporis. ‘the ascension of Christ … is our exaltation, and, where the head has gone before in glory, the Body is called to follow in hope.’ Continue reading

Welter and waste and darkness over the deep

Sermon preached in the Carmel Mayerling, Easter Sunday, 2015.

The heathen tribes that lived here in central Europe before the coming of Christianity thought that human life was ultimately doomed. In the end cold and darkness would win. For a time light a space of light and order could be defended against the forces of chaos, the monsters of the dark, but in the end evil would win out. The sun that warms this earth would be eaten by a great wolf. “Then the other wolf shall seize the moon, and he also shall work great ruin; the stars shall vanish from the heavens. Then shall come to pass these tidings also: all the earth shall tremble so, and the crags, that trees shall be torn up from the earth, and the crags fall to ruin; and all fetters and bonds shall be broken and rent.” At last, the land would sink into the chaotic floods of the sea. Perhaps though the land would rise again, and the whole story will repeat itself. (A story reminiscent of some current theories). The nomadic tribes of the ancient Levant, among whom the patriarchs lived, are supposed to have had similar ideas.[1] For them too the world was a chaotic wasteland, a desert in which demons of the dark wandered about ready to kill. Human life had to be defended against the powers of darkness. It is thought that at the first full moon of spring there was a feast of new year in which human life was to be begun a new. The tents were surrounded with a circle of lamb blood to protect them, from the terrors of the night.

There is an important element of truth in all these pessimistic views of the world. The world was created out of nothing, and there is a certain tendency in created things to pass away again into the nothingness from which they came. God created the world good, but his creation was not complete at once: “the earth then was welter and waste and darkness over the deep.” In the six days of creation He orders the world making of it a garden, a house, and a temple— a place of order and beauty, a fit habitation for human life, and a mirror of His glory. But then our first parents sinned, and the world threatened to fall back into chaos. But God does not abandon mankind to the fate they deserve—goodness and light and order will win in the end, not evil and darkness and chaos. Through His covenants He begins to restore the creation that man has marred. In passover of Egypt He adopts elements of the ancient nomadic New Year feast, but gives them a greater meaning. The angel of death, the terror of the night, becomes a means of deliverance for the people, bringing death to their enemies. For the people of Israel the lambs are killed in their stead, buying back for them the lives they deserve to lose. And then, in the crossing of the Red Sea, the chaotic floods of water become a means for destroying evil and saving good.

As Ratzinger notes[1], the passover continued to be celebrated in the home, even after the establishment of the temple. The lambs were slaughtered in the temple, but then taken home, and the houses were marked with their blood. The restoration of creation each year began with the little world of the home, marked off from the darkness, and the chaos. The restoration next moved to the level of the whole city of Jerusalem: no-one was allowed to leave the city during the passover night, so that the city became a house sealed off from the dark.

Our Lord to celebrated the passover in a house within the holy city, but then He got up and “went with his disciples out be­yond the brook Cedron,” that is, beyond the borders of the city into the outer darkness and chaos. He is later brought back into the city, but then taken out again, and He dies outside the city. And by that death He conquers death and chaos. He rises to new life, as the beginning of the definitive new creation—full of light and beauty.

When Mary Magdalene meets the Risen one she thinks He is the gardener. Superficially this is an error, but in a deeper sense she is quite right; He is indeed the gardener of creation who is remaking the whole world, healing all chaos, disorder, and death. But His restoration begins small with the seed of His body that will slowly grow into a tree that can shelter all of creation. The Church is the garden in which His new creation begins. It is shielded on all sides from the powers of evil by the blood of the lamb, but open for Him.

And a Carmelite convent is a little Church— a space closed off from the chaos of the world, a garden in which you can meet the Risen Lord and be remade by Him. Each of you must seal your own heart off from evil, and allow the heavenly gardener to root out all the weeds of you soul, so that in you that new creation can begin, which will be completed when the He comes again in glory, and celebrates His final triumph over all evil: “And He shall dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God Himself shall be among them and shall wipe every tear from their eyes, and death shall not be any more, nor shall sorrow nor lamentation nor pain be any more, be­cause the first things have gone. And He who sat upon the throne said: Behold, I make all new.”

[1] Cf. Joseph Ratzinger, “The Passover of Jesus and the Church: A Meditation for Holy Thursday,” in: Behold The Pierced One: An Approach to a Spiritual Christology (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1986).