Trinity at Cana

Marriage_in_Cana_Giotto

According to St. Faustus of Riez, the wedding we read about at Sunday Mass symbolizes “the joyful marriage of man’s salvation, a marriage celebrated by confessing the Holy Trinity.” [Spanish]

Le’ts meditate a little bit on the most basic foundations of the Catholic and Christian faith. We read, about Jesus at the wedding: “His disciples began to believe in Him.” We want to follow Christ as disciples, too. So what exactly does a Christian disciple believe?

We believe in: God. The One, the only. Source and goal of all things. All-knowing, all-good, all-powerful. Everywhere, and greater than everything. Both more intimate and more transcendent than we can imagine. God. The Almighty.

We believe in Him. We acknowledge that to deny His existence seems irrational, considering things like sunsets, vast oceans, people as lovely as Michelle Dockery, not to mention the human soul. Only a fool denies the existence of God. But, by the same token, only a fool claims to know, to understand, to grasp God’s infinitely beautiful and spiritual mind.

When the disciples “began to believe” in Jesus, what exactly did they begin to believe? They did not begin to believe that He had a beard. They knew He had a beard. They did not begin to believe that He could attend weddings. They saw with their own eyes that He attended the wedding in Cana.

Michelle Dockery Lady Mary DowntonWhat they began to believe is: This man, Who turns water into fine wine, is God. He, Jesus, is The One in Whom believers believe. God made the heavens and the earth; He makes the mighty rivers flow. The disciples began to believe: Jesus of Nazareth is the One Who knit us all together in our mothers’ wombs!

This is what we call faith in the Incarnation. We believe not just that God could become man, if He so chose–which of course is true, since God is God and nothing less than omnipotent God. But we believe not only that the Incarnation is theoretically possible; we believe that it has, in fact, happened. Therefore, we make a big fuss at Christmas.

Okay, we done with the theology lesson? Not quite. St. Faustus did not say that the joyful marriage of man’s salvation involves confessing the Incarnation. We begin by believing in the Incarnation. The Word became incarnate for a reason: to reveal the unfathomable secret of God.

When the Lord Jesus came up out of the Jordan water, as we heard about last Sunday at Mass, He did not pat Himself on the head and declare with His own lips: “I am very pleased with myself.”

When He knelt to pray in the Garden of Gethsemane, He did not say, “Let this chalice pass from me. My own will be done.”

When He breathed His last on the cross, He did not groan and say, “Into my own hands I commend myself.”

No. When Jesus spoke, the One, eternal God spoke; the infinite and omnipotent spoke. The infinite and omnipotent Son prayed. He prayed to the infinite and omnipotent Father. God the Son has a father. God the Father has a Son.

And when God the Son finished the mission that God the Father had given Him to complete, God the Son sent the pure, glorious spirit of truth into the world. And that pure, omnipresent Spirit is God. He is neither the Father, nor the Son. He is the eternal Spirit of Jesus Christ, anointed by the heavenly Father.

Trinity. The one and only God is tri-une. The disciples began to believe this. We have begun to believe this. And I say “begun” because we will not successfully finish believing in the Trinity until we actually gaze upon this mystery, totally unveiled before our eyes.

Believing in the Trinity is not confusing. This dogma of faith does not make a mess out of rational thinking. Just the opposite. Believing in the Father, in Jesus, and in the Holy Spirit of Pentecost offers the human race the only real path to a life that makes sense.

Our job is not to understand the mystery. Our job is to share in it. To live in communion with Jesus, loving and serving the Father. We profess our faith in words, to be sure, by reciting the Creed–words that we would rather die than deny.

But the true profession of our faith is our lives. Lives lived–if I might dare to put it this way–lives lived “inside” the Trinity. By His life on earth, Jesus invited us inside the inner life of God. When we see, hear, react, think, judge, and act with Jesus, then we live in the embrace of the triune God.

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Pilgrims

Many prophets and kings desired to see what you see. (Luke 10:24)

A state of mutual incomprehension exists between Catholic and non-Catholic, which I would like to try to clear up.

For instance, regarding baptism. Apparently, many non-Catholic Christians see baptism with water as unnecessary, a purely external ritual. We, or course, revere Holy Baptism as the essential instrument God uses to make us His children in Christ.

baptism-holy-card1The non-Catholic school of thought revolves around the idea that the salvation of my soul ultimately turns on my act of faith in Christ my Savior, my Redeemer. Hence the question, “Are you saved?” And the answer, “Yes! Because I confessed Christ as my Savior, Redeemer and Lord!”

We Catholics recognize, of course, that Holy Baptism entails faith. Baptism is the original sacrament of faith. When infants get baptized, someone must profess the faith and promise to teach the faith to the child as he or she grows up.

But I think the central point of mutual incomprehension is this: We Catholics assume that God exists, and operates, and accomplishes great wonders, beyond the scope of what our minds contain.

We do not understand religion as something fundamentally inside my own mind. Instead, we think of ‘faith’ as: a mind reaching out towards the infinitude of God.

I can say, “I believe in Jesus Christ as my Savior and Redeemer,” and, of course, I do. And it pleases God when I believe that and profess it. But my saying something about what I have in my own mind, at this or that moment in my life, doesn’t definitively settle anything. The matter of my salvation won’t get settled until I draw my last breath. And God alone controls when that will be.

The non-Catholic emphasis on what I think equaling religion has a mirror image: the secularist school of thought which holds that it is absurd for us Christians to claim that Christ alone brings salvation to mankind. “How arrogant and provincial to limit God to your own religion!”

Now, it would indeed be absurd for us to think that Christ alone brings salvation, if the salvation brought by Christ depended completely on what this or that individual thinks or says at this or that moment.

But that definition of religion is foreign to us Catholics, and that makes the supposedly absurd and provincial aspect of Christianity disappear. God becoming man, and the Blessed Virgin giving birth to Him in Bethlehem, is the central fact. Not what any individual human being says or does about it. The almighty power of the one, true God accomplished this fact, the Incarnation. The total effect of this fact–namely the salvation of the world—extends way, way, way beyond what my mind can grasp.

What we can grasp is: We walk through life as pilgrims. I think that this idea of us human beings as pilgrims is the key, if we want to try and clear up the mutual incomprehension between Catholic and non-Catholic.

We human pilgrims have a relationship with the unknowable God, based on what He has revealed to the human race by becoming a man in Israel 2,000 years ago. This God Himself knit us together in our mothers’ wombs and set us on our pilgrimage. And our journey leads towards Him.

That’s what we Catholics understand “religion” to mean, I think: Living as holy pilgrims, heading towards the divine mystery revealed by the star of Bethlehem.

Shire Folk and the Omnipotent Incarnation

chris-davis-bat-snap

The apostles prayed to Christ, “Increase our faith.”  We want to share in that prayer.  “Lord, increase our faith!”

Now, what precisely is this faith that we pray that the Lord will increase?  Fundamentally, the Christian faith defies definition.  It’s something mysterious, since it involves: our finite minds somehow touching, somehow knowing the infinite God.  So that we can pray.

We express our faith in the… Creed.  We believe in God Almighty, Creator of all, Lord and Giver of life.  We believe that He made everything out of nothing.  Certainly He can move mulberry trees to the sea.

Why does earth orbit the sun–the third planet out, in this particular little solar system–with Venus our neighbor inward, and Mars one planet out?  Is it all because of physics and gravity?  Well, yes…except then you have to ask:  Why then is there a sun and an earth and a Venus and a Mars, and physics and gravity?  Is it because of the Big Bang?  Maybe.  But if there was a Big Bang, then you have to ask:  Why then was there a Big Bang?  The certain answer that faith offers:  Because God wills.

God wills that Mill Mountain stand where it stands.  God wills that the Pacific Ocean extend precisely as far as the Pacific Ocean extends.  Why is the sky blue–or gray, or whatever color it is, depending on the day?  Because God wills.  God is the Almighty One.  He can move mulberry trees wherever He wills to move them.

solar-systemMay God increase this faith of ours.

But let’s ask ourselves this:  Is our faith in the infinite, omnipotent God a comfort to us?  Or is it terrifying?

Maybe it’s a comfort?  God governs everything with His inexorable power.  So we can let go of our delusions of grandeur.  We can accept that, in the great sway of the divine government, we are very small.  Like little hobbits occupying an obscure corner of the cosmos, living on earth for a brief moment in the grand scheme of years.  Our little pilgrim lives will pass away as swiftly as they came.  God is big.  We are small.  God can move mulberry trees at will; we are small enough to fit under a mulberry tree.  So we can shed our Messiah complexes enjoy our dinners in peace.

But wait:  This is a little terrifying, too…  I mean: Do we matter?  We believe in the awesome infinite God, Who has laid out the heavens and the stars.  We ourselves huddle here like so many little hobbits on a little planet.  Do we matter?  Our smallness can just about overwhelm us.

Let’s go back to our original question.  What is the faith that we pray the Lord will increase in us? The holy Catholic faith.  Which believes in God Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, of all things, the visible and the invisible.  And our faith also believes in:  Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord.

Do we matter?  The infinite God, Who cracks mulberry trees in half at will–  Brief digression: Anyone ever see Chris Davis of the Baltimore Orioles snap his bat in half, like a twig, after a strikeout?  Wow.  Anyway:  God Almighty, Who turns mulberry trees into mulberry splinters when He wills–He did something immeasurably more amazing.  He united our human nature with Himself.  He became incarnate.

And we have to seek precision here.  God did not ‘incarnate’ Himself in the form of some fleeting vision.  He didn’t even just send an angel.  The holy Incarnation has no ephemeral aspects.  He took our human nature to Himself in such a way that He Personally became one of these little hobbits:  semi-hairy creatures, who take up a tiny patch of territory on this little, remote planet, for a fleeting period of time, punctuated by daily dinners.

God is a man.  From the first Annunciation Day forward, He always will be a man.  And that is His most awesomely powerful act of all.  He saves us sinners and gives us eternal life.  He makes us His intimate friends, His kith and kin:  the eternal Son’s brothers and sisters, the eternal Father’s beloved children.  Which involves the kind of omnipotence that makes thunderstorms and hurricanes look like so many little splashings in a bird bath, by comparison.

elanorgamgeeAfter all, the universe really only appears to dwarf us human beings with its vastness.  Yes: we get tired just walking from one end of a Walmart to another.  But, in fact, one human soul extends to a greater vastness than the entire universe of stars and planets, supernovas and galaxies.  We can conceive and envision and number the stars and planets and galaxies.  The very huge universe in which we find ourselves so small  is, in fact, something of which we conceive, as we gaze at the night sky, which means that our minds are bigger than it.  Not in feet and inches.  But in total spiritual comprehension.

God did not unite Himself Personally with a supernova, or even with the entire Milky Way galaxy. He united Himself with us little goofballs right here.  To give us His eternal friendship.  That is actually more awesome than anything.  We pray that our faith in that unfathomable mystery, the mystery of the eternal Son of the eternal Father becoming man–we pray that our faith in that awesome mystery will always increase.

 

 

 

 

Familiarity with Human Nature

In the first reading at Holy Mass Sunday, we hear the Lord say to the prophet, “Behold, I am sending you to a rebellious house. They and their ancestors have revolted against me to this very day.”

Hard of face and obstinate of heart. That’s us, the human race.

Lord Jesus came to His native place, among His kith and kin. And the people said, “Who does he think he is? Homeboy has gotten too big for his britches!”

Big MacLet’s pause and take a look at the ceaselessly amusing thing called “human nature.”

Human nature involves: Bad breath, shaving nicks, stubbornness, going to the bathroom (both #1 and #2), snoring, cavities, forgetting stuff, sneezing and nose-blowing, chewing, earwax, singing off-key, foot fungus, armpits, nose hair, etc.

Lots of unflattering aspects, all-too-familiar. Can we doubt that even the Lord Jesus Christ, after sweating in the sun all day, might have exuded an aroma that some people found unpleasant?

The reality of human nature impinges itself upon us constantly. We reckon with it at every step of our life. We must reckon with it, in fact. Few pathologies prove more dangerous to our health and well-being, after all, than the delusion that the limits of human nature don’t apply to me. “I don’t need to eat or rest. I’m like Superman.” Next thing you know: back spasms, ulcers, facial tics, binge drinking, or worse. The wise among us, therefore, stay intimately familiar with the foibles of being human–and accept the limits which those foibles impose.

This very intimacy with the humble dimensions of human nature, though, can get in the way of the most important thing a human person can do. The most important thing we can do is: Believe. And not just believe in something vague. No. The most important thing a human being can do is believe in the incarnation. Believe that Jesus, the man, is God.

The Nazarenes could not do it, because of over-familiarity. Maybe our Lord’s b.o. smelled too much like their own.

The Nazarenes knew, like we do, that they were no angels. Angels, after all, don’t eat cheeseburgers. They never use mustard or pickle relish, under any circumstances. Angels have far-more-exalted things to do than chew on the flesh of cows, pigs, or chickens. The purely spiritual occupations of the angels, in fact, probably strike us as more beautiful than many of our pastimes—like burping contests, for instance.

king kongBut God took human nature to Himself Personally. At the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem, I once had a very brief disagreement with a loud man in a yarmulke. He saw my Roman collar and yelled at me, “God is not a man!” “Forgive me, friend,” I replied, “but you’re wrong there. He is.”

Did our Lord Jesus ever have a bout of hiccups? Don’t know. But He could have. What we do know for sure is that he ate and drank, digested, etc. That some people liked Him, and some people didn’t. That He loved, wept, got angry. And that He died.

God united human nature—the lumpy, often inconvenient reality that we deal with all the time—He united it to Himself. He became as Personally familiar with it as all the rest of us are.

And, if we want to honor Almighty God as He deserves to be honored, we cannot let our own homey familiarity with our foibles as human beings get in the way of our believing in this mystery. Because: His very uniting Himself to our nature—this Incarnation that God has achieved: Not only does it not demean the inconceivable dignity of the Uncreated, Omnipotent Wisdom; not only does His having taken our nature to Himself not lower Him as a Being—to the contrary, like nothing else, it reveals just how genuinely majestic He truly is.

It is precisely because God reigns with such pure, untouchable, otherworldly transcendence that He can unite Himself to our stock, and disturb nothing by doing so. His Incarnation has not changed human nature into something else; God becoming man has not frazzled human nature, or subsumed it. Forgive the imperfect analogy, but it’s like the overwhelming power of King Kong, who had the strength to hold Ann Darrow in the palm of his hand, without hurting her. God has taken our nature, which is prone to farting, to Himself, in order to reveal the true glory for which we were created. Only someone so superior as God could do this: Lift the little fusty-looking creature from the earth, intact, up to the light that makes the creature appear truly beautiful.

If this sounds abstract, just gaze at the crucifix, and I will explain what I am trying to say.

El Greco crucifixion Cristo sulla croce

Here is the utter ugliness of everything that is shameful about human nature. Cruelty. Weakness of our flesh. And the ultimate reality of our race: death. All right here, as ugly as ugly can be.

Except: it’s beautiful. A crucifix is not ugly. A crucifix is beautiful.

The mystery of the Incarnation is not something abstract at all. It is simply this: the beauty of Christ crucified. Our crucifixes are beautiful because God is all-powerful. Powerful enough that, out of love, He united Himself with the race that has cookouts.

Divine Love for the Farting Race

Let’s try to take a lesson from our reading of the early chapters of St. Mark’s gospel. In the course of the first six chapters, we read about how not one, but two demons recognize Christ for Who He is. The demons speak out, through the men they have possessed, and call Jesus, “The Holy One of God.” We heard about one of these episodes in our gospel reading at Mass this past Sunday.

Then Jesus speaks to fellow human beings, the ones who knew Him the best, His hombeboys and homegirls in Nazareth. He graciously offers them them His sublime doctrine about the Kingdom of God.

styrofoam cup coffeeAnd they say, “Who does this uppity carpenter think He is? We know Him too well; we have seen His beard come in when He was a teenager. We can hardly be expected to believe in Him!”

You may recall that we discussed this a couple of summers ago: The great danger of our over-familiarity with human life getting in the way of our actually believing in the Incarnation.

When Adam and Eve grasped for the apple–we call that pride, and rightly so. To presume to be a law for ourselves, above the law laid down by God. But: Sin and estrangement from God involve a false pride about our human prerogatives by which we actually sell ourselves way short.

God esteems things like men getting their beards in adolescence. He esteems things like fixing breakfast and trimming toenails. Things like sweating on hot days and bundling-up on cold ones. He esteems our quotidian human things so much that He Personally embraced them Himself for 33 years.

Or even longer maybe. He is still altogether human, after all, in heaven. And maybe they make coffee and eat muffins and sweetbread up in heaven while they gaze at the face of the heavenly Father. They might, for all we really know about it.

My point is: the Nazarenes could not attain the Christian faith–they could not recognize what even the demons recognized, that God has fingernails now–the Nazarenes could not do it, because in their hearts they despised their own dirty fingernails.

But God loves our fingernails more than we can imagine. He loves it when we drink water, or burp, or blow our noses. When we see babies sneeze, tender affection overcomes us. That is like a tiny drop of the tender affection our Creator feels for us, even when we snore like lumberjacks and cut the cheese.

Christmas in the 21st Century–as it could have been, and as it Is

God came to visit His people by His holy Incarnation, by becoming one of us. Let’s consider for a moment the difference between what could have happened when God did that, and what actually did happen. Then I would like to add something about Christianity in the 21st century.

pantocratorFirst: what it could have been like, when the God-man came. He could have arrived full-grown and terrifyingly stern, intent on executing the strictest, most righteous judgment. He could have come on a black cloud, with a scales for balancing in His hand. In one pan: What the Creator has given us, namely everything. On the other pan, what we have given back–as far as religion, obedience, and eager service.

The judge would justly have condemned us all. Christmas could have been very different. It could have meant that we all got judged and sent to hell.

We might say, “That’s so depressing! Even God would be sad if Christmas meant nothing but strict justice!” But: We would only say that because we happen to know the real, true account of what Christmas is. Jesus has taught us to believe that God loves us and wills our happiness. So we think that God Himself would be sad if Christmas were the day when we all got sent to hell.

That, however, is not exactly true. Almighty God has always been and always will be perfectly happy, with or without us. He didn’t come to save us because He was lonely and sad. No. He came to save us because, in His infinite, endless happiness, He is perfectly selfless.

So He gave us Christmas as it actually is. He did not come the first time as a terrifying judge, six-and-a-half-feet tall, with eyes of fire. He came as a cooing baby, born of the sweetest, humblest, gentlest mother imaginable. He came as a poor child, of poor parents, with no clout whatsoever in this world.

God incarnate arrived with a clear and detailed mission. Namely, to do every single thing that needed doing for our salvation. He came to teach us the love of God, to show us how to live in a way pleasing to God. He came to offer Himself as a perfect sacrifice—as our perfect sacrifice, the perfect sacrifice that we, as the human race, truly have made to God. And He came to conquer death and pour out His undying grace upon us from heaven.

columba-marmionWe believe that what the first Christmas could have been—that is, a day of judgment by the God-man; we believe that such a day will come. But we need not fear such a day, because the first Christmas came to pass the way it did. Christmas saw the birth of a divine Savior, a divine Redeemer, a divine king Who rules by offering Himself as our Priest and gently shepherding our souls.

…The other morning I re-read the preface of one of the books of Blessed Columba Marmion. My mind lingered on the date when he wrote the preface, 1922.

In case you don’t know: Dom Marmion is like a latter-day Father of the Church. His books are comprised of notes people took while he talked, explaining, in retreats and sermons, the Good News of Christ, based on the teachings of Scripture.

Anyway, it struck me as altogether stunning to imagine that on the very day when Dom Marmion wrote the preface to this particular book of his, F. Scott Fitzgerald sat in his Long-Island home, writing his novels. The spiritual crisis of the western world caused by World War I was setting in.

angels nativityIf I might put it like this: the 20th century became a century of uncertainty about God. Does He exist? Can we really believe what the Bible says? Can we trust the teaching of the Church? Twentieth-century man had the idea that ‘I have to decide for myself what is true and what isn’t true, when it comes to God.’

Our grandparents—some of them anyway—imagined such systematic doubt to be a noble undertaking. But: Doesn’t doubting like that—doesn’t it really condemn you to the first kind of Christmas that I described? Setting myself up as the ultimate religious authority means: on Christmas Day, I have nothing but a God of strict justice to judge me.

Because the wonderful mystery of the real Christmas, the Christmas of my salvation—that good news comes to me as a gift that transcends my capacity to comprehend. A gift that I can only receive like a child receives something from his mother.

Now, the good news for us is that the spiritual struggles of the last century do not have to be ours. We need not get bogged-down in questions that have grown obsolete. We can hold the faith of the Church with childlike hearts, without giving a second thought to whether or not we are “modern” enough. We are plenty modern, whether we want to be or not. We don’t need to work on ‘updating the Church.’ We need to work on giving the next generation of Catholics the ancient faith that we received.

The Christian life is actually a lot simpler than many 20th-century people thought. We just have to be prepared to be martyred. Our true Christmas merriment comes from our knowing that the only life worth living is one of total fidelity to this particular baby. He gave me His life. I owe Him mine. We all owe this baby, Who founded our Church—we owe Him our lives.

But that, after all, is the greatest gift of Christmas, the real Christmas: It gives us a chance to live a life worth living. To live not for myself, but for Christ.

Human Nature, “Thus Deified to Its Root”

In Christ, God and man have exchanged the ultimate gift: both live together now in one Person. (Reason 4 for the Incarnation: That we might partake of the divine nature.)

Here is Blessed Dom Marmion on this ‘admirable exchange’ of gifts, the divine nature and the human nature exchanging themselves with each other on Christmas morning:

In us likewise there will henceforth be two lives. The one, natural, which we have by our birth according to the flesh… The other life, supernatural… It is this life that God communicates to us by His grace, since the Incarnate Word merited it for us.

God begets us to this life by His Word and the infusion of His Spirit, in the baptismal font… It is a new life that is superadded to our natural life, surpassing and crowning it… It makes us children of God, brothers and sisters of Jesus Christ, worthy of one day partaking of His beatitude and glory.

Dom Columba Marmion
Blessed Columba Marmion, Abbot
Of these two lives, in us as in Christ, it is the divine that ought to dominate–although in the Child Christ the divine life is not as yet manifested, and in us it remains ever veiled under the outward appearance of our ordinary existence.

It is the divine life of grace that ought to rule and govern, and make agreeable to our Lord all our natural activity thus deified in its root.

Oh! if the contemplation of the Birth of Jesus and participation in this mystery by the reception of the Bread of Life would bring us to free ourselves, once and for all, from everything that destroys and lessens the divine life within us; from sin, wherefrom Christ comes to deliver us… from all infidelity and all attachment to creatures; from the irregulated care for passing things… from the trifling preoccupations of our vain self love!

If we could thus be brought to give ourselves entirely to God, according to the promises of our baptism, when we were born to the divine life; to yield ourselves up to the accomplishment of His will and good pleasure, as did the Incarnate Word in entering into this world; to abound in those good works which make us pleasing to God:

Then the divine life brought to us by Jesus would meet with no more obstacles and would freely expand for the glory of our Heavenly Father; then we who are bathed in the new light of the Incarnate Word should show forth in our deeds what by faith shines in our minds; then our offerings would befit the mysteries of the Nativity.

[I have taken the liberty of rendering what, to me, are the most sublime turns of phrase in bold.]

Four Reasons, Four Points for Meditation

My favorite points for meditation at this time of year are the four reasons for the Incarnation, as explained in the Catechism, paragraphs 456-460.

God became man in order to…

1. Save us by reconciling us to God.

2. Reveal God’s love.

3. Be our model of holiness.

4. Make us partakers of the divine nature.

Catechism-of-the-Catholic-CHurchNow, no one can prove that God has become man. We can only grasp the truth of Who Jesus is by faith.

But these needs we have, as a race, which our heavenly Father addressed, by sending His Son to live a pilgrim life like ours–these needs can hardly be denied by a rational individual.

We don’t naturally find ourselves in a state in which we can claim to be ‘right with God.’ We don’t even know what that means, without Jesus showing us, by making us right with Him on the cross.

Are we born knowing that God loves us the way Jesus has shown us that God loves us? Hardly. We get born terrified and hungry. We desperately need someone to teach us that God loves us.

Do models of holiness grow on trees in this world? Even non-Christians acknowledge that Jesus of Nazareth has offered mankind a uniquely sublime path to follow, has taught mankind what selflessness is.

As to the fourth reason for the Incarnation: no sane person can begin to maintain that mankind ‘partakes of divine nature’ naturally. Yes, we have unique capacities, as creatures go. No dog ever painted a Mona Lisa. Fish can’t do calculus. Plants don’t write poems.

But: That we would share in the eternity, the simplicity, the infinite beauty of the genius Who made everything; that every human being, no matter how humble or downtrodden, could hope for everlasting peace in a kingdom of undying friendship: Until Jesus came, mankind had never dared to imagine that we could possess such a destiny–and that we all possess it, as a united human family.

Hail and blessed be the hour and moment when the Son of God was born of the Virgin Mary, at midnight, in Bethlehem, in piercing cold!

Invisible King Made Visible

How do we grasp the idea that Jesus Christ is our king? After all, the closest thing we have to a king in the United States is LeBron James. We threw a lot of perfectly good tea into the Boston harbor, because we didn’t particularly like the idea of having a king.

Lebron championJust as well, really. Perhaps you remember how, when we began this particular liturgical year AD 2014, we discussed the three wise men looking for “the king of the Jews.”

Way back before the prophet anointed Saul or David as king, the holy people of Israel served God alone as their king. Hopefully you remember how we discussed this: The prophet Samuel warned the people, Don’t make me anoint a human king. Our king is God, the only true king.

King George III of England, on the other hand, had a lot of pretenses of majestic rule—and not a lot of the genuine article. He had jewels, and powdered wigs, and embroidered footstools, and sterling-silver tea settings, and crystal goblets for his claret. But he did not have penetrating insight, or thoroughgoing reasonableness of judgment, or expansiveness of imagination, or precision of speech, or love for the poor and vulnerable. So no one can blame us Americans for wasting so much of his tea.

King George IIIThe King of the ancient Israelites, however—the king of Abraham, Joseph, and Moses, of Gideon, Deborah, and Ruth—their king had none of the trappings, and all of the real goods of kingliness. He was utterly invisible to the human eye, so there was never any question of diadems or gilded robes. But His absolute wisdom, His all-encompassing government, his universal compassion—all this demanded unqualified obedience, unquestioning loyalty, and unlimited devotion.

The invisible King of ancient Israel, ironically enough, can and does pass every test of suitability as a monarch that we independent-minded Americans could ever throw at Him. Because, really, it’s not that we Americans despise kings, per se. We despise kings who are not truly kingly. We despise kings who fail to be noble. The invisible King of the ancient Israelites not only is truly noble and kingly, He defines what these words mean.

But we would have the devil of a time obeying this King, and serving Him, and paying Him homage as we should, if He had not done one particularly remarkable thing. The Old Testament shows us how bad the ancient Israelites actually were at submitting themselves to an invisible king. Over and over again, they proclaimed their allegiance. And over and over again, they failed to render it. We would do no better than they did, if we had to reach out into the absolute darkness to find our king.

So the truly wise, truly just, truly open-hearted King—the One Who really does see all, know all, love all, embrace all—He united Himself with our human stock. He became a human king, a visible king—who still had none of the trappings, none of the empty pretenses and affectations—still had no chariot or ivory scepter or chauffeur or personal jet. To the contrary, He had sandals like everyone else; He walked from place to place like everyone else did; He worked with His hands and even knelt down and washed His friends’ stinky feet after a journey.

The invisible King became the visible man who had no visible affectations of royalty, but who did have all the invisible truth of it. The eternal invisible King became the visible human King, Who is the real King and the genuine definition of ‘king,’ namely:

El Greco crucifixion Cristo sulla croce

How to Handle the Blessed Sacrament

Penitent Magdalen de la Tour

There was a sinful woman in the city who learned that He was at table in the house of the Pharisee. Bringing an alabaster flask of ointment, she stood behind him at his feet weeping and began to bathe his feet with her tears. Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them, and anointed them with the ointment. (Luke 7:37-38)

“If this man were a prophet, he would know what sort of person is touching him, that she is a sinner.”

Touching the Body of Christ, with contrite love.

The Apostles saw Jesus after He rose from the dead. St. Paul got to see Him, even after the Ascension, because the Lord gave Paul a unique vision. They all saw a body they could touch. St. Thomas, we know, touched the Lord. And we cannot doubt that others did, too, even though He said to Mary Magdalen, “Do not hold onto me.” We cannot doubt that the Lord embraced His mother when He saw her on Easter Sunday. Nor can we doubt that St. Peter touched His risen Master, that the penitent fisherman bathed his Master’s shoulder with tears.

Long story short, sinners have touched Jesus all along—that is why He became man. His Incarnation is, in fact, the most intimate act of touching ever. God touching us, in the most interior center of our human nature, by Himself becoming one of us–the Almighty divine Person Who had hands and feet that could be pierced by nails.

Ecce Agnus DeiSo the gospel reading for today’s Holy Mass has to be our fundamental guide regarding how we dispose ourselves with respect to the Blessed Sacrament.

1. With total faith. Chances are, the weeping woman may not have had the word ‘Incarnation’ on her lips. But she knew with the eyes of faith that her all, her salvation, the love worth living and dying for, sat right here, at the table.

2. With contrition. Simon the Pharisee’s murmurings ring with unfathomable irony: ‘She’s a sinner, so if he were godly, he wouldn’t let her touch him.’ Au contraire, mon frère. He’s not just godly, He’s God. And He came to have mercy on sinners. He has made it abundantly clear that there is only one category of people He wants touching His Body, namely the contrite sinners who weep for joy, because we have found our Savior.

3. With hope. Complete, total, blind, and unbounded hope. The woman had no idea what exactly she hoped for. She simply knew that this man, whose Body sat right here, would make everything okay and more than okay.