Imagine for a moment the utter despair of the disciples on Holy Saturday. For three long years they had toiled ceaselessly with their Master, leaving livelihoods, families, and everything else behind. They had loved him devotedly, spending their days learning the deepest wisdom from him, accompanying him on wearying journeys, enduring scorn for his sake, eating and sleeping with him, and witnessing his jaw-dropping miracles—all the while confident that they would enjoy an exalted place in his earthly kingdom, which would certainly be ushered in at any moment.
Then began Holy Week, which was the week of shattered hopes for these faithful men. Their beloved Jesus, whom they expected to utterly destroy the powers of evil and national oppression, was stripped of both his clothes and his dignity. He was savagely beaten, mocked, and tortured. Finally, he was nailed to a gibbet, bloodied beyond recognition, for everyone in the world to gawk at.
“Satan was the most celebrated of Alpine guides, when he took Jesus to the top of an exceeding high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the earth. But the joy of Satan in standing on a peak is not a joy in largeness, but a joy in beholding smallness, in the fact that all men look like insects at his feet. It is from the valley that things look large; it is from the level that things look high; I am a child of the level and have no need of that celebrated Alpine guide. I will lift up my eyes to the hills, from whence cometh my help.”
– G.K. Chesterton
In his sermon on the feast of St. George, Pope Francis made a wonderfully bold claim: It is not possible to follow or even find Jesus outside of his Church. Now, this is not a popular claim at all. It is currently in vogue to possess a personal religion, a “me and Jesus” faith that is completely indifferent or even antagonistic to any visible entity known as the Church. For all practical purposes, the individual is the entire Church. This ecclesiological understanding is perfectly suited to the relativistic age in which we live. We can have our cake and eat it too—we can have Jesus on our own terms without submitting to the inconvenient authority of a visible Church.
But the Catholic Church has always taught that the Church is the body of Christ, and if you reject the Church, you reject Christ. You cannot have Jesus without his Body. That is unthinkable.
What is interesting to note is that Pope Francis’ sermon was about evangelization. Pope Francis seems to be addressing the deadly cancer of religious indifferentism, which is without question the greatest threat to apostolic zeal in our evangelization.
If, after all, salvation is not a matter of embracing the truth revealed by Jesus Christ and preserved in his Church, but is rather merely a matter of believing anything, so long as the belief is sincere, then evangelization does not matter.
But if, on the other hand, what Pope Francis says is true, and Jesus cannot be found outside of his Church (he is echoing many popes before him), we must be fervent in our evangelization.
If we are to be effective in this new evangelization, we must once again realize that bringing people to Jesus means bringing them to his Church—the Church that is, despite its flaws and its frailty, both His body and His bride.
Here are a few quotes from Pope Francis’ sermon.
And so the Church was a Mother, the Mother of more children, of many children. It became more and more of a Mother. A Mother who gives us the faith, a Mother who gives us an identity. But the Christian identity is not an identity card: Christian identity is belonging to the Church, because all of these belonged to the Church, the Mother Church. Because it is not possible to find Jesus outside the Church. The great Paul VI said: “Wanting to live with Jesus without the Church, following Jesus outside of the Church, loving Jesus without the Church is an absurd dichotomy.” And the Mother Church that gives us Jesus gives us our identity that is not only a seal, it is a belonging. Identity means belonging. This belonging to the Church is beautiful.
The Church’s journey always takes place between the Cross and the Resurrection, amid the persecutions and the consolations of the Lord. And this is the path: those who go down this road are not mistaken.
Let us ask the Lord for this apostolic fervor that impels us to move forward, as brothers, all of us forward! Forward, bringing the name of Jesus in the bosom of Holy Mother Church, and, as St. Ignatius said, “hierarchical and Catholic.” So be it.
“In every century, in this century, in the next century, the Passion is what it was in the first century, when it occurred; a thing stared at by a crowd. It remains a tragedy of the people; a crime of the people; a consolation of the people; but never merely a thing of the period. And its vitality comes from the very things that its foes find a scandal and a stumbling block; from its dogmatism and from its dreadfulness. It lives, because it involves the staggering story of the Creator truly groaning and travailing with his Creation; and the highest thing thinkable passing through some nadir of the lowest curve of the cosmos. And it lives, because the very blast from this black cloud of death comes upon the world as a wind of everlasting life; by which all things wake and are alive.”
-G.K. Chesterton: ‘The Way of the Cross.’
Dr. Taylor Marshall, of the excellent Canterbury Tales blog, has written a thought provoking post on traditionalists criticizing Pope Francis’ papal attire.
We should recall how Our Lord Jesus Christ rebuked the Pharisees for rebuking Him for not washing his hands ceremonially before meals. The Pharisees accused Christ of sin, because He did not obey the traditions of the elders. Christ sternly rebuked them for raising “breaking custom” to “breaking God’s law.”
I think we can revere the papal customs (and even privately hope for their return), but we should not assume that black shoes on a Pope means that He has a black sole, I mean, black soul.
Read the rest of the post here.
“Reason is the greatest enemy that faith has; it never comes to the aid of spiritual things, but — more frequently than not — struggles against the divine Word, treating with contempt all that emanates from God.”
“Reason is the Devil’s greatest whore; by nature and manner of being she is a noxious whore; she is a prostitute, the Devil’s appointed whore; whore eaten by scab and leprosy who ought to be trodden under foot and destroyed, she and her wisdom … Throw dung in her face to make her ugly. She is and she ought to be drowned in baptism… She would deserve, the wretch, to be banished to the filthiest place in the house, to the closets.”
“But, although faith is above reason, nevertheless, between faith and reason no true dissension can ever exist, since the same God, who reveals mysteries and infuses faith, has bestowed on the human soul the light of reason…
And, not only can faith and reason never be at variance with one another, but they also bring mutual help to each other, since right reasoning demonstrates the basis of faith and, illumined by its light, perfects the knowledge of divine things, while faith frees and protects reason from errors and provides it with manifold knowledge.
Wherefore, the Church is so far from objecting to the culture of the human arts and sciences, that it aids and promotes this cultivation in many ways. For, it is not ignorant of, nor does it despise the advantages flowing therefrom into human life; nay, it confesses that, just as they have come forth from “God, the Lord of knowledge” 1 Samuel 2:3, so, if rightly handled, they lead to God by the aid of His grace.”
Dei Filius, Dogmatic Constitution of the First Vatican Council
The May Magnificat
by Gerard Manley Hopkins
May is Mary’s month, and I
Muse at that and wonder why:
Her feasts follow reason,
Dated due to season—
Candlemas, Lady Day;
But the Lady Month, May,
Why fasten that upon her,
With a feasting in her honour?
Is it only its being brighter
Than the most are must delight her?
Is it opportunest
And flowers finds soonest?
Ask of her, the mighty mother:
Her reply puts this other
Question: What is Spring?—
Growth in every thing—
Flesh and fleece, fur and feather,
Grass and greenworld all together;
Throstle above her nested
Cluster of bugle blue eggs thin
Forms and warms the life within;
And bird and blossom swell
In sod or sheath or shell.
All things rising, all things sizing
Mary sees, sympathising
With that world of good,
Their magnifying of each its kind
With delight calls to mind
How she did in her stored
Magnify the Lord.
Well but there was more than this:
Spring’s universal bliss
Much, had much to say
To offering Mary May.
Bloom lights the orchard-apple
And thicket and thorp are merry
With silver-surfèd cherry
And azuring-over greybell makes
Wood banks and brakes wash wet like lakes
And magic cuckoocall
Caps, clears, and clinches all—
This ecstasy all through mothering earth
Tells Mary her mirth till Christ’s birth
To remember and exultation
In God who was her salvation.
There is no denying that there are many hard sayings within the Catholic faith—many beliefs radical in their nature which demand our faith.
And among these hard sayings, there is perhaps none more difficult than the Catholic teaching on the nature of the blessed sacrament, the eucharist. For we are taught and must confidently believe that, in the mass, the eucharist is substantially changed into the body, blood, soul, and divinity of Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. We must believe that when the priest utters the words of consecration, we no longer behold mere bread and wine, but quite literally the Ancient of Days, the King of Kings, the Alpha and the Omega, the Amen, the living and true God; and we must, with all the angels and saints, give him the honor due his name.
Now, this is our duty and our salvation, and yet it is difficult for at least two reasons, the first of which is that the Eucharistic elements simply don’t look any different. They appear to remain bread and wine. Indeed, they taste like bread and wine. And so, each Sunday, each mass, we are challenged like the Jews who witnessed Christ’s first coming, whether or not we will believe him at his word, or trust our own judgement.
The second reason is that there are no miraculous signs to attend this making-present of Christ. There are no lightnings, nor clouds, nor any fanfare. One would expect these things would attend the presence of Almighty God.
While it is not my purpose here to defend the validity of the doctrine of the eucharist, I will add that perhaps it was because Jesus knew that the eucharist would test our faith that he left so much evidence for it. For there are the explicit words of Jesus himself (My flesh is true food, my blood is true drink) among countless other Scriptures, and the unanimous witness of the early fathers of the church testifying to the true nature of the eucharist. And yet many still doubt.
That said, here is the point I would like to make: The eucharist is no more radical nor difficult to believe than the first coming and Incarnation of Christ. It demands no more faith, and no less.
For indeed, to the Jews who first encountered Christ, the ideas of God having a Son, and that Son having a body, were blasphemous in the extreme. It struck at the very heart of their understanding of God, for, to them, God was one in a way that made a Divine Son impossible and transcendent in a way that made it unthinkable for him to ever incarnate himself.
In short, the Christian doctrine of the Incarnation was as radical and possible to the Jewish and pagan minds. Even many of Jesus’ followers did not believe him to be speaking literally when he said, “I and the Father are one,” or, “Before Abraham was, I am.” How could he mean what he said? God does not have a body, nor a Son—much less this poor, unsightly carpenter from a disreputable neighborhood. He couldn’t possibly mean it, they thought. He must mean something else.
It was the Pharisees, the teachers and students of the law, who understood exactly what Jesus meant. After seeking clarifications again and again, Jesus left no doubt in their minds as to whom he claimed to be. He did not intend to. And this is why they hated him and sought to kill him.
No, the doctrine of the Incarnation has never been easy to believe. And that is why, from the beginning, there have been hordes of heresies seeking to deny it. It took all the weight and authority of the Church to clarify once and for all that orthodoxy consisted of believing that Jesus was true God and true man.
As I have said, to believe that Jesus can appear as bread and wine is no more blasphemous or radical than saying that Jesus is God or that God can take on a body. If we say otherwise, we betray that we do not understand that earth-shattering reality that is the Incarnation.
Simply, if one is impossible the other is impossible. If one is blasphemous the other is blasphemous. If you deny one, you must deny the other. For there is at least as much Scriptural and historical evidence for Jesus in the eucharist as there is for Jesus being the Son of God the Father, coequal and of one substance with him, eternally existent, consisting of two natures in one indivisible person, and all the details of the orthodox Christological creeds.
No, it is not for lack of evidence that some would deny the nature eucharist—it is rather discomfort and doubting.
In a sense, this discomfort and incredulity is understandable, for these are hard sayings. Yet, I maintain that all orthodox doctrines should make us uncomfortable and test our faith. If they do not, we do not truly understand Christianity. For Christianity was never meant to be a religion easily believed. Jesus did not intend to make it easy to follow him or believe in him.
And yet, the Church is never satisfied with anything less than the fullness of the Catholic and Apostolic faith. Far from denying it or seeking to soften it, she teaches it from age to age with authority, demanding our obedience and our allegiance. And she alone can confidently and joyfully believe the fullness of those words—not of symbol, but of sacrament and salvation—Lo, I am with you all days, even unto the consummation of the age.
“It is to far happier, far higher exaltation that we owe those fair fronts of variegated mosaic, charged with wild fancies and dark hosts of imagery, thicker and quainter than ever filled the depth of midsummer dream; those vaulted gates, trellised with close leaves; those window labyrinths of twisted tracery and starry light; those misty masses of multitudinous pinnacle and diademed tower; the only witnesses, perhaps, that remain to us of the faith and fear of nations. All else for which the builders sacrificed has passed away. But of them and their life and their toil upon earth, one reward, one evidence, is left to us in those great heaps of deep-wrought stone. They have taken with them to the grave their powers, their honors and their errors; but they have left us their adoration.”
[dropcap]I[/dropcap]n this passage, St. Iranaeus inextricably links the miracle of the resurrection of the dead and the salvation of our bodies to Christ’s real presence in the Eucharist. Because the Eucharist is the true body and blood of Christ, he argues that it unites us to Christ in a real, bodily way, and that through it, we become bone of his bone and flesh of his flesh. Iranaeus’s argument can be summarized as follows: Christ took on flesh, thereby sanctifying it. We eat and drink the body and blood of Christ in the Eucharist, uniting us to his sanctified and glorified body. Our bodily unity with Christ sanctifies and glorifies (saves) our bodies. Therefore, we will be raised from the dead as he was raised–unto eternal life. What a beautiful concept.
But vain in every respect are they who despise the entire dispensation of God, and disallow the salvation of the flesh, and treat with contempt its regeneration, maintaining that it is not capable of incorruption. But if this indeed do not attain salvation, then neither did the Lord redeem us with His blood, nor is the cup of the Eucharist the communion of His blood, nor the bread which we break the communion of His body. 1 Corinthians 10:16 For blood can only come from veins and flesh, and whatsoever else makes up the substance of man, such as the Word of God was actually made. By His own blood he redeemed us, as also His apostle declares, “In whom we have redemption through His blood, even the remission of sins.” Colossians 1:14 And as we are His members, we are also nourished by means of the creation (and He Himself grants the creation to us, for He causes His sun to rise, and sends rain when He wills Matthew 5:45). He has acknowledged the cup (which is a part of the creation) as His own blood, from which He bedews our blood; and the bread (also a part of the creation) He has established as His own body, from which He gives increase to our bodies.
When, therefore, the mingled cup and the manufactured bread receives the Word of God, and the Eucharist of the blood and the body of Christ is made, from which things the substance of our flesh is increased and supported, how can they affirm that the flesh is incapable of receiving the gift of God, which is life eternal, which [flesh] is nourished from the body and blood of the Lord, and is a member of Him?— even as the blessed Paul declares in his Epistle to the Ephesians, that “we are members of His body, of His flesh, and of His bones.” Ephesians 5:30 He does not speak these words of some spiritual and invisible man, for a spirit has not bones nor flesh; Luke 24:39 but [he refers to] that dispensation [by which the Lord became] an actual man, consisting of flesh, and nerves, and bones—that [flesh] which is nourished by the cup which is His blood, and receives increase from the bread which is His body. And just as a cutting from the vine planted in the ground fructifies in its season, or as a grain of wheat falling into the earth and becoming decomposed, rises with manifold increase by the Spirit of God, who contains all things, and then, through the wisdom of God, serves for the use of men, and having received the Word of God, becomes the Eucharist, which is the body and blood of Christ; so also our bodies, being nourished by it, and deposited in the earth, and suffering decomposition there, shall rise at their appointed time, the Word of God granting them resurrection to the glory of God, even the Father, who freely gives to this mortal immortality, and to this corruptible incorruption, 1 Corinthians 15:53 because the strength of God is made perfect in weakness, 2 Corinthians 12:3….
From Against Heresies Book V, Chapter 2 (Circa 200 A.D.)