Mary and the humility of God

Mary honoured and obeyed Jesus, her son, as her God; Jesus honoured and obeyed Mary, His creature, as His mother. In this we can see Mary’s perfect humility, and Jesus’s humility beyond perfection. Mary is as humble as humanly possible, but Jesus is as humble as only God can ever be. Mary is by grace immaculate, sinless, perfect; Jesus is by nature divine, the transcendent source and truth of all perfections.

Still today, in heaven, Mary honours and obeys Jesus, and Jesus honours and obeys Mary. Jesus is still fully human, and the fourth commandment still binds Him in heaven [though not as something external to Himself]. Their reciprocal love, honour and obedience will continue for eternity.

Why should Jesus honour Mary? Why should we honour our mothers? Because without them we would not exist. We owe absolutely everything to our mothers. Absolutely everything.

But how can I suggest that Jesus owes His existence to Mary, His own creature? How can He receive existence from one who receives existence from Him? How can a creature precede its Creator? How can the eternal Word of God depend on a temporal being? But if we deny this, we deny that she is His mother, and in doing so deny that He is truly a human. So how can I say this?

We must realise that the Word was always, eternally, Jesus. God does not suffer change. The eternal Word of God was already Jesus, son of God and son of Mary, before Jesus was conceived in Mary. Before Jesus was born in time, the eternal Word is the Jesus born in time. The gospel says, “And the Word was made flesh”, and while this was an event in time and a change in flesh, it was not an event in eternity or a change in God. The Word was eternally flesh, although that flesh was not always made.

The Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father, is the son of Mary, conceived in her in time. Without Mary there is no Jesus. In this way, in being His mother in time, Mary exists from eternity within her Son. But this existence from eternity within the Word is the reason and source of Mary’s creation, and so she exists because of Jesus even more than He does because of her. Mary exists for Jesus.

Still, by God’s grace and humility, Mary is Jesus’s mother. By God’s grace and humility, she is owed honour by God Himself. By God’s grace and humility, she gave life to Life Himself.

Mary, conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to you.

God bless you!

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Asceticism and holiness

In my last post, I claimed that holiness is nothing more and nothing less than abandoning your life to God. It’s not just giving yourself to Him, it’s giving yourself so completely that you are no longer your own. Your cares and worries are no longer yours to deal with. Your time, your talents, your possessions, are not yours anymore. Your will belongs to Him (though it is actually more perfectly yours in this free gift).

So what’s the point of lent then? Why bother with fasting, prayer and almsgiving? Aren’t these an attempt at making ourselves holy? Or even at saving ourselves?

They can be, if we do them incorrectly. But done right, they are precisely the training we need in self-abandonment.

We fast in order to remove the ways we rely on ourselves. We make food and other material things – things we can control – into our happiness, our comfort, and our source of strength. When we remove this, we are forced to look elsewhere.

When we pray, we are then filling that void in the way it was designed to be fulfilled. We place ourselves in God’s hands, where we belong, for Him to be our joy, our security and our strength. If we fast but don’t pray, we will certainly find another false god to fill the void. We will make ourselves a golden calf, because we can control idols.

Finally, we give alms, because we are no longer concerned for ourselves, and are now concerned with giving ourselves to God, who loves and lives in our brothers and sisters. His love is being made the source of our lives, and so we must give ourselves up to this love ever more fully. If we refuse, we refuse to be His. If we fast and pray, but don’t give alms, we are deluding ourselves. If we fast and pray but don’t give alms, the God we pray to is imaginary. He is just an idol in our heads.

Lent is a time of dying to self, and learning to belong to God. Our lenten practices earn us nothing. They accomplish nothing. But they are that death to self that gains God Himself.

God bless you!

The only sin is failing to trust God

Holiness means abandoning yourself to God. If we look at the life of any saint and ask what makes him/her a saint, we will always find it is because they handed themselves over to God, placing themselves in His hands and not their own. This abandonment of self is what drove St. Francis’s poverty, St. Ignatius’s obedience, St. Therese’s confidence, the chastity of the holy virgins, the courage of the martyrs, Mary’s fiat, and Jesus’s whole life and death upon the cross.

I don’t think there is anything more to it. We must abandon ourselves entirely to Him: our desires, our wills, our happiness, our security, our struggles, our fears, our loved ones, our futures, our pasts, our weaknesses, our strengths, our ideas, our beliefs, our good deeds, our sins, our salvation, and our everything else. That is it. Everything else is contained in this.

If we fail, then we must get up right away, and hand this failure over to Him also. We have to entrust to Him our failures to trust Him. Place everything right away in the hands of His merciful love.

And if we fall greatly, over and over again, we still can’t be discouraged. The only sin is failure to trust God. His mercy is always greater; He is always trustworthy; He is our Father, and we are His children.

In this self-abandonment, we are surrendered to God’s love for us revealed upon the cross, and we are united to Jesus’s total abandonment to the Father upon the cross.

God bless you!

Foxes and Goodness and God

I follow a fantastic twitter account, @hourlyFox, which posts one photo of a fox each hour. If you’re on twitter, follow it.

These foxes have taught me a profound truth: goodness is something solid and real. Sometimes I forget this. I start thinking of goodness as being something subjective, existing only in our minds, or as being just relational, existing only between things. But these foxes disprove this.

These foxes are good. God sees foxes, and sees that they are good. And they are not merely good-to-me or good-according-to-me; they are good-in-and-of-themselves. Foxes were good for millions of years before we humans even showed up.

As St Thomas said, “Goodness and being are really the same, and differ only in idea” (ST I, Q.5, Art.1). Foxes remind me of this truth. When we forget this, we can become stupidly small minded, obsessed with ourselves and with other people’s thoughts. When we are the measure and centre of the universe, the source of its meaning, our universe becomes as small as we are, and will suffocate us with its pressure.

It’s not all about me! It’s not even all about us! The universe would still be genuinely good if human beings never existed. Of course, we are good too, but not merely by our own judgments.

All of this does raise the question: who is it good to? Because as much as foxes are good in themselves, I’m not sure if the idea of “good” makes sense in a non-personal context. St Thomas links goodness with desire, which is surely tied to personhood. So can anything really be good in itself?

Yes, by being good in God. I believe that foxes being good in themselves is the same as foxes being good in God’s eyes. In fact, I believe their existence is the same as God’s knowledge/experience of them. God is not separated from reality for there to be a subjective-objective distinction. He is the non-other.

What’s more, the goodness of each fox is a participation-in and revelation-of the goodness of God, that is, God Himself.

Now we must ask: have we just shifted the existential burden onto this “God” character? Is the world small and in itself meaningless to Him, if not to us?

No. We must remember that God is perfectly humble (and this humility is Himself). Like fox cubs at play, He doesn’t act for any end beyond rejoicing in the act itself. It has no greater meaning and it needs no greater meaning. He has no greater meaning and He needs no greater meaning. He is love.

God bless you!

How do we cooperate with grace?

I’ve been rereading Pope Francis’s Gaudete et Exsultate recently, and it’s got me thinking about grace (mainly the section about the modern day pelagianism secretly undermining the gospel).

The gospel opposes the basic assumptions of the world: we’re not saved by our special knowledge (gnosticism) or by our own efforts (pelagianism); not by what we possess nor by what we do. We are saved by Jesus, and by Jesus alone.

True, we have to cooperate with grace, but this too is only possible because of God’s grace. Our part in our salvation is still more truly His part. It’s all His gift.

I’m not sure what this means practically for us still trying to work out our salvation with fear and trembling… If we aren’t saved by self-improvement, what are we meant to do? And yet, “faith without works is dead”.

What is grace even? In my imagination, it’s always a sort of bright, glowing, golden liquid, flowing in people’s bodies. But I’m thinking now that this quasi-magical thinking is off. I think it’s God’s giving of Himself. It’s God moving, I think. God’s conversing with the world and in the world and through the world, maybe.

We have absolutely no power in/of ourselves to cooperate with grace. But there is grace already in us. God is already living and moving within us. He is giving us life and He will give us life.

Still, “what must I do to be saved?” Can the answer be nothing? What is first, grace or my openness to grace?

Is grace separate from me? No, not really. God is not really separate from us. He is the non-other because He is the completely other, and He is the completely other because He is the completely non-other. In Him we live and move and have our being. We exist only by participation in Him.

Still, salvation is by grace, and not by me. God is moving through me for my salvation, not like a liquid, but like a dance moving through my body. It is not me, but it is not separate from me – not while it’s in me.

Our cooperation with grace is not the cooperation of business partners. It’s perhaps closer to that of dance partners, except the one leading is the dance itself.

I think I’ve found it: the way to cooperate with grace and be saved is to stop worrying about it, and just enjoy God’s grace! Dwell with Him, converse with Him, dance with Him!

God is in love with each of us, and yet we forget to enjoy His company (and so to really be in His company), because we’re focused on earning our place with Him. We’re so focused on being perfect that we forget to be real.

(I know this is for some TV thing, but what a great image for salvation falling out of the Heavens with power and might!)

As so often happens, I have spent ages working out what I’m trying to say on this, only to discover that St Paul has handed me the answer right there in the scriptures:

Therefore, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed me, not only in my presence, but much more now in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure.’ (Philippians 2:12-13)

(NB: This is immediately after Paul’s fantastic canticle about Christ’s self-emptying and glorification)

What is there to fear or tremble at then? I believe we must fear and tremble before Christ’s grace to us – before His humility and His glory. The light of Christ is brighter than a billion suns. The one we have received is the King of the Universe.

We ought to tremble at how close He draws to us. The babe in the manger, the body hanging from the Cross, the bread and wine upon the altar, these are more than the entire universe.

And He will judge us according to our deeds. He will tear this universe apart like paper, and reveal everything in the incredible and unbearable light of His grace.

His closeness should terrify us, because we are absolutely unworthy. All we have and all we are is from Him and owed to Him, and so we can make no just reparations for our crimes; we have less than nothing before God. In this terror, this experience of our nakedness before God, we can submit to His perfectly free grace, and be set free. Gaudete!

God bless you!

Newborn

Each Christmas, we celebrate the newly born Jesus, much as we celebrate any child’s birth. We gaze at the child, with that sacred awe, wonder and love. There is a new soul, seeing the world for the first time. A new person, with the potential to become anyone. A new human, free from the scars of life’s suffering and sin. A new beginning for humanity, with endless possibilities.

So what makes Jesus special then? How come we celebrate Him as a newborn, when we know He is something far greater than any other?

Firstly, Jesus is perfectly free from original sin. Jesus’s and Mary’s births are without any stain of sin, whereas every other birth, has that seed of corruption, waiting to destroy the young soul and the whole world with it. Even after baptism, we retain the stain of sin, and our nature’s inclination towards it. Jesus and Mary are perfectly free of humanity’s corruption.

Secondly, and more importantly, Jesus is God’s own newborn son, from all eternity. He is the definitive newborn child.

He is born of God from all eternity, and all things are born of God in Him. He is the firstborn of creation, and the unity of all things. The newness in the child Jesus is all the newness, all the freshness, all the life, of the entire universe. This child contains everything, everyone, every height and depth, past, present and future.

We are in a way reborn in the eyes of every new born child. But in Jesus’s birth, we are truly recreated, because His new gaze contains us perfectly.

At His birth we see the entire Cosmos bending over the manger to gaze upon him: a star of heaven moves in order to watch over Him; the wise come from afar to honour Him; the simple leave their flocks to adore Him; the ox and lamb share His presence; and by the cave He was born in, the very earth itself leans over to get a look.

We don’t celebrate Jesus’s birthday at Christmas, we celebrate His birth. We don’t put 2,018 candles on a cake for Him, or get Him a birthday card, because this day doesn’t mark Him getting older. We celebrate His birth, His being given to the world, and our being reborn in Him. He is the eternal Newborn Child, and has never and will never grow old.

So it is perfectly correct for us to gaze on Jesus as being a newly born baby. He is true God and true man, but you will not find His divinity except in His humanity.

God bless, and merry Christmas!

Summa Says – You don’t know what “God exists” means

FOURTH ARTICLE [I, Q. 3, Art. 4] Whether Essence and Existence Are the Same in God?

Obj. 2: Further, we can know whether God exists as said above (Q. 2, A. 2); but we cannot know what He is. Therefore God’s existence is not the same as His essence–that is, as His quiddity or nature.

Reply Obj. 2: “To be” can mean either of two things. It may mean the act of essence, or it may mean the composition of a proposition effected by the mind in joining a predicate to a subject. Taking “to be” in the first sense, we cannot understand God’s existence nor His essence; but only in the second sense. We know that this proposition which we form about God when we say “God is,” is true; and this we know from His effects (Q. 2, A. 2).

I love this. How can God’s existence be the same as His essence, when we know He exists, but can’t know what He is? St Thomas doesn’t hold back, and tells us that we don’t know what it means that God exists, even if we know it to be true.

God’s existence is not the same as the existence of you or me or the angels or numbers or anything else in existence. He doesn’t exist as a thing that could conceivably exist or not. Existence as we know it is something subsequent to God; He created it. He is so far beyond all, that He is even, as Dionysius puts it, “beyond being”.

We know that He exists in an unknowable way. Our every attempt to grasp His existence is doomed to fail. We could even say, taking existence as just the existence we know, that God does not exist. But we’d also have to say that He doesn’t not exist. He is above existence and non-existence.

For things, all existence occurs within a space, and makes that space occupied rather than unoccupied, like adding a drawing to blank paper. Their existence realises some possibility. But God’s existence is logically prior to everything, or else He isn’t God, and so there is no space that He occupies, no possibility for God’s existence that is realised. He just is.

Why does this delight me so much? I think it’s because it means that, since we can’t know God in Himself through our minds, we must rely entirely on another, more intimate, way. We must love Him. We must be one with Him.

God bless!

Mary’s teaching

Question: Why didn’t Mary teach in the early Church? She knew Jesus longer and more intimately than anyone else, including the apostles. She was His first and best disciple from the moment of His conception, and prepared for this from the moment of her own conception. So why do we not see her taking the central teaching role in the early Church?

Answer: Mary was the most important teacher in the early Church, but she taught in silence. In the silence of her “fiat” the Word of God was heard. The silence of her womb nurtured and brought forth that same Word made flesh. She preached the Word by practising silence. Her soul magnifies the Lord, and she communicates God through all she is and in all she does.

We naturally tend to forget the importance of the contemplative life, but the Church teaches that this is even greater than the active life. Mary has chosen the greater part, and it won’t be taken from her.

Mary continues to teach us today, particularly through the rosary. She draws us into her silence, into God’s Word, and into God’s will. She magnifies the Lord, so that whenever we are closer to her, we are always closer to Him.

God gave Himself to us by giving Himself to Mary. We are saved through God giving Himself to Mary in Jesus Christ, and through Mary’s “yes”, her giving herself up to God in Jesus Christ. God gave Himself through Mary, and we must receive God, be given up to God, through Mary’s “yes”.

This is Mary’s teaching.


God bless you