Final SCG Chapters on the Eucharist, and the First on Penance


In Chapter 62 of Book IV of Summa Contra Gentiles, St. Thomas outlined reasonable difficulties in believing in the Real Presence of Christ in the Blessed Sacrament of the altar. The last one involved our custom at Mass of breaking the Host.

…It even seems absurd to say that the subject of the breaking of the bread at the Mass is the Body of Christ…

Since Christ’s Body, risen from the dead, and subject to no injury or corruption at this point, cannot be broken.

St. Thomas provided the key to solving this difficulty in Chapter 63. Now, in Chapter 67, he answers this particular objection. 

Summa Contra Gentiles, Book IV, chapter 67

Next, St. Thomas comments on the saying of Christ that supported all the objections to the Real Presence, Namely:

The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life.

Summa Contra Gentiles, Book IV, chapter 68

Finally, to conclude the section on the Holy Eucharist, St. Thomas considers the use of leavened vs. unleavened bread.

Summa Contra Gentiles, Book IV, chapter 69

passover seder plate

The next section of Book IV considers the Sacrament of Penance. St. Thomas begins by considering whether an initiated Christian can sin.

Summa Contra Gentiles, Book IV, chapter 70

The Father of Mercies


God the Father of mercies, through the death and resurrection of His Son, has reconciled the world to Himself.

God the Father of mercies. God begets mercies. From the womb before the dawn; from the eternal, uncreated fountainhead of all existence; from the unknown origin of the stars, He births mercies. He births, from within Himself, tender understanding and compassion. [Haga click por Spanish.]

We did not exist. Mount Everest did not exist. The seas and rivers did not exist. And He took pity on us in our non-existence, because existing outshines not existing. He took pity on our unimaginable poverty—the poverty of not even being anything at all—and, out of mercy, He made us.

The Father of mercies, through the death and resurrection of His Son, has reconciled the world to Himself.

Reconciled. Accountants? Any here with us? Familiar with reconciliations. Bank reconciliations, etc. How about marriage counselors? Familiar with reconciliations? Let’s hope so.

New York Times 1932 on 2017 eclipseAnyway, the Father of mercies: He’s all good. No shadow of falsity in Him, no selfish shenanigans behind closed doors, no short-sighted impetuosities late at night.

He simply gives, gives life unto peace and blessedness. He stabilizes and fortifies. He makes solar eclipses occur at predictable times. A historian I know put on his Twitter feed a New York Times article from 1932, which told everyone they would have to wait until 2017 for the next great eclipse in the US.

Anyway, the Father of mercies sustains everything He has made with His immovable-rock-like steadiness, never lapsing or failing in any way.

We fall short of this. We are like financial records that have not been attentively kept. Or like a marriage that has been neglected. Something—someone—must reconcile us with the Good, with truth and reality and the plan that God has. We’re like old, desiccated brick walls that need pointing, liable to leak and then crack and crumble—unless a stronger and more loving power fills the cracks in us with some solid bond.

The stronger and move loving power? Christ, the Son of God. His sacrifice on the cross effects the reconciliation between God’s pure goodness and us. The Western world has fallen into a weird spiritual malaise and can’t see the thing that has been obvious to every honest pagan who has ever heard the Gospel: the world, without Christ, languishes in hopeless estrangement from the Creator. But: The world with Christ, with Christ crucified and risen? Reconciled with God.

God the Father of mercies, through the death and resurrection of His Son, has reconciled the world to Himself, and sent the Holy Spirit among us for the forgiveness of sins.

The Reconciler, having reconciled the world and God by shedding His innocent blood, pours forth reconciliation from His own Heart. The Holy Spirit of mercy, at work in the world…pointing the desiccated mortar. Finding a miraculous way to balance the ill-kept books.

This is not a zero-sum cosmos, people. That’s the glory of the Gospel. God always has more to give. Christ pours out His Spirit of mercy and reconciliation into the humblest and most apparently innocuous moments.

Pope Francis hears confession during penitential liturgy in St. Peter's Basilica at VaticanOkay…time for the quiz. Which text have we studied here so far? “God the Father of mercies…Spirit for the forgiveness of sins…” Correct! The prayer of absolution in the sacrament of Penance.

We hear all about it in our gospel passage at Sunday Mass: Lord Jesus gave St. Peter and the Apostles, and their successors in office, the power to bind and to loose. This power abides in the world. We unworthy priests possess this authority, in our own little hands.

…Through the ministry of the Church, may God give you pardon and peace.

The ministry doesn’t belong to the priest, as if it were his own power as a man to loosen the sins of his people. Left to my own devices, I often fumble in the binding and loosing of my own shoelaces. No—Holy Mother Church possesses this ministry, because the Lord endowed Her with it. We priests exercise this ministry merely as instruments of a power greater than our own. He chooses to use us in this way, in spite of our own personal unworthiness to do so.

Why? Why did the Lord give the power of the keys to St. Peter? So that wherever a priest can hear someone unburden his or her conscience, impose a penance, and then raise his hand in loving pardon, reconciliation with God can occur.

All of us have this comfort in common: there’s a priest out there who will hear my confession, and God will forgive my sins.


Heart of the Confessional

Pope Francis priests retreat

During the Year of Mercy, Holy Father has set aside certain days as ‘jubilees’ for particular segments of the Christian faithful.  Today is the Jubilee for Priests.

Pope gave a retreat to priests yesterday, in Rome.  Three talks, at three of the four major basilicas.  Then, this morning, Holy Father celebrated Mass with the retreatants in St. Peter’s Square.

There will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous people who have no need of repentance. (Luke 15:7)

Logo for Holy Year of MercyI can’t speak for the angels and saints, like Jesus can.  But I can say:  I have no greater joy in life than celebrating the sacrament of Penance.  We priests have a unique experience.  We celebrate Penance on both sides of the screen, so to speak.  I try to go to confession at least once a month.  And, of course, hearing confessions occupies a great deal of our time, we priests.

God forgives.  We can make a huge mess of things by committing sins.  Cleaning up the mess can mean a lot of work.  But:  when God forgives, and gives us a fresh start, everything looks different.  The future does not glower ahead, like a brewing tornado.  That’s what the future looks like to someone living in the confused dishonesty of sin.  When we confess, and the truth takes over—the truth of God’s infinite mercy—suddenly the future looks different.  It’s full of light and possibilities.  I can clean up my mess, no problem.  Not only that, I can work on building something beautiful with my life.

The love of the Sacred Heart of Jesus is everywhere.  Especially in the Blessed Sacrament.  The Host is a blazing furnace of the love of Jesus’ Heart.  So is the confessional.  When we meet Him there, and unfold our own hearts, with honest repentance for our wickedness, He forgives.  With all His Heart.

Roof Breakthrough in Mark 2

After they had broken through, they let down the mat on which the paralytic was lying… (Mark 2)

These verses from the beginning of the second chapter of Mark (which we read at Holy Mass today) were my dear departed aunt’s favorite passage of Scripture.

What happened here with the breaking through of the roof, for the sake of the paralytic: This event gives us two subtle but powerful indications of the divinity of Jesus.

confessional1) “Jesus immediately knew in His mind what they were thinking to themselves.” God knows even the most secret of our thoughts. Nothing can be hid from His gaze. We would not have minds to have thoughts in, if God were not at every moment sustaining the existence and power of our minds. Whenever I so much as think something, or even ‘half-think’ it, God knows. Jesus knows.

2) “Child, you sins are forgiven.” Child, the faith of your friends has pleased God. Child, you are right as rain, you can stand tall, you can sleep the sleep of the just tonight, because mercy is everlasting.

But: ‘Who but God alone can forgive sins?’ Excellent question. Excellent rhetorical question. Christ quibbles not with this statement. The Church does not quibble. The idea that anyone but God can forgive sins is absurd. Of course only God can forgive sins. Sins are affronts against God. That’s what they are. No one but God is competent to forgive them.

By the same token: No one is competent to preclude or impede or foreclose God’s forgiveness of anyone’s sins. God wills to forgive the penitent sinner. He became man to make satisfaction, as one of us, for all the sins of human history. He gave the power to absolve to the priests of His Church. These are acts of God. The sacrament of Penance is God forgiving sins. No quibble. God forgives us through the ministry of the Church when we confess our sins to a priest.

“They were all astounded.” God’s loving penetration, and His profligate mercy in Christ: astounding.

Chariot Race to Heaven

Goody's Martinsville NASCAR

Long before NASCAR, they held chariot races. Sometimes a team of two horses pulled the chariot.

Maybe you will rejoice to learn that, according to St. John Chrysostom, the gospel parable this Sunday actually narrates a head-to-head chariot race.

St John Chrysostom in St PatricksThe Pharisee drives one chariot. The first horse on his two-horse team: Righteousness! The Pharisee fasts, and he tithes, and he does them both above and beyond the call of duty. Jews were bound by divine law to fast once a year. He fasts twice a week! Jews were bound to give 10% of their agricultural produce. He gave 10% of his entire income!

No question. He is righteous. And righteousness is a fast horse.

Problem is, the second horse in the Pharisee’s team is…Pride. “Thank you, Lord, for making me better than other men.” And the particular breed of his pride? Contemptuous. “Not only, Lord, did you make me better than other men in general. You made me better than this particular loser standing in the shadows of the colonnade at the back of the temple courtyard.”

Continue reading “Chariot Race to Heaven”

Yes, He is the Messiah. So I am Sorry for Doubting

Ok. How many Apostles did the Lord Jesus choose? Twelve.

How many of the Twelve had the name James? Two.

The first James had a brother named… James and… John!

The second James had a cousin named…

Jesus. Right. Jesus, the only son of Mary, the only-begotten Son of God. The second Apostle James shared Jesus’ bloodline. James was Jesus’ relative.

We know that most of the Lord Jesus’ cousins did not believe in Him. At least not during His earthly ministry. As we discussed last week, the Lord raised a young man from the dead in a town near Nazareth. But this did not cause all of Christ’s cousins to rejoice. A lot of them thought He was out of His mind.

resurrectionMaybe we can sympathize with them. Imagine having a cousin, a little scrub you used to run around with, play hide-and-seek with, dig holes in the back yard with–imagine that your cousin turns out to be the Messiah, the Savior, the divine King. Hard to accept.

Later on, however, as we can gather from the Acts of the Apostles and St. Paul’s letters, the Lord Jesus’ relatives did come to believe in Him. They worked with the Apostles to spread the Gospel.

What changed? What happened in the meantime to open their minds to the truth? A pretty obvious thing. Pretty solid proof that, Yes, Jesus of Nazareth, carpenter, is the Messiah.

The Lord Jesus appeared to some of His relatives after He rose from the dead. That was pretty convincing. We can imagine that the relatives felt bad for doubting Him before, and apologized. And He forgave them.

Let’s put ourselves in those relatives’ shoes again. We, too, have doubted. We have doubted a Savior Who always has the best possible plan. We just didn’t see it. And now I realize that I said or did something I shouldn’t have said or done, solely because I did not trust Jesus Christ. I find myself feeling like the priest Ezra, i.e., penitent.

What do I do? Apologize. How?

Priests go to Confession just like everyone else does. I have to find another priest to hear my confession. Much easier for you all. Just find your local parish priest. A completely fresh start to the spiritual life is one good confession away.

Just One More (the Real Pope Francis Bandwagon Parade)

little thought regarding the media swoon over Papa Francesco, which occurred last week. (And will last, one wonders, how long?)

Anyway: We confessors do have something of a special point-of-view on things, when it comes to this being “a time of mercy,” as, indeed it is. The Pope and all of us unworthy priests share this point-of-view.

Pope Francis mate.jpgSt. Alphonsus Ligouri put it like this (more or less, I think) in his exhortation to priests, “Be a lion in the pulpit and a lamb in the confessional.”

A contrite soul seeks the mercy of God because he/she has become aware of having committed a sin. The more clearly a preacher separates right from wrong, the more likely it is that someone listening to the sermon will actually wind up experiencing mercy. Because mercy follows contrition, i.e. sorrow for having sinned.

In other words, there is no mercy in preaching that does not clearly delineate right and wrong. The clear delineation of right and wrong helps people make good confessions. It helps us arrive at the place where the lion we heard roaring from the pulpit meets us privately, and turns out to be a gentle lamb, absolving our sins and praising God for His infinite love and the fresh start He gives us all when we confess.

Did anybody (and I literally mean anybody on earth) read the part of the Pope’s interview where he identified the center of the whole drama? The confessional. He approached the business of the Church freeing Herself from ‘small, narrow rules’ from the point-of-view of the confessor, in a confessional, during a confession.

Not to be mean-spirited or small or whatever:

The real Pope Francis bandwagon parade will form at the confessional, my friends. That’s the place to go to get on it.

Parable of the Two Debtors

Two people were in debt to a certain creditor; one owed five hundred days’ wages and the other owed fifty. Since they were unable to repay the debt, he forgave it for both. Which of them will love him more? (Luke 7:41-42)

Leave it to the one and only divine Messiah to fill a brief episode during a dinner party with so much meaning.

We gather that, upon arriving at the Pharisee’s house, the Lord received only the bare minimum of polite welcome.

Herein we discover Lesson #1: The lowest pit of hell holds all the people who have received the divine Messiah with curt politeness. Better to spit on His feet than to treat Him merely as a marginally respectable intrusion into my precious life. The better course of action is, of course, to bathe His feet with kisses and tears of repentance for all my sins.

Returning to the episode: The Lord proceeded to say to the nervous Pharisee, “Simon, I have something to say to you.” To which the Pharisee responded, “Tell me, teacher.”

Lesson #2: There is hope for this Pharisee yet. He listened.

I may be nervous. I may be judgmental. I may be a gossiping snob who hides behind icy good manners. But if I am prepared to listen to the words of Jesus Christ, then there is still hope for me.

Then the Lord proceeded to tell a very short parable, which only makes sense one way. It only makes sense if: 1. We are all sinners, and I am the worst. 2. Jesus is God, Who is prepared to forgive any sin. 3. The best way to respond to all this is to bathe the feet of Christ with my kisses and tears of joy in His goodness.

Simon managed to deduce the meaning of the Lord’s parable. Quite frankly, the meaning of the parable is perfectly obvious. Another lesson: Confessing our sins and receiving God’s pardon does not require rocket science. Few things can be accomplished more easily. All it takes is a priest, an act of contrition, and a firm purpose of amendment.

The Lord Jesus concluded the episode by telling the woman with the sweet-smelling oil that her faith had saved her. Have peace, your faith has saved you.

What did the woman believe, exactly? She believed that the loving Heart of Jesus is the loving Heart of Almighty God, the loving Heart of the One just Judge, Who can and does forgive sins.

Loving Oneself in Nineveh

Twenty years since Paul Simon’s Rhythm of the Saints got a Grammy nomination. One-hundred fifty since Grant and the Union occupied Nashville, Tennessee. Multiple millennia since Jonah preached in Nineveh…

The people of Nineveh repented. (Luke 11:32)

The people of Nineveh repented. What sins had they committed?

Continue reading “Loving Oneself in Nineveh”