Sacraments

The Continual Touch of Jesus

lumen-fidei-cover-montage

‘The Church, like every family, passes on to her children the whole store of her memories. But how does this come about in a way that nothing is lost, but rather everything in the patrimony of faith comes to be more deeply understood? It is through the apostolic Tradition preserved in the Church with the assistance of the Holy Spirit that we enjoy a living contact with the foundational memory. What was handed down by the apostles — as the Second Vatican Council states — “comprises everything that serves to make the people of God live their lives in holiness and increase their faith. In this way the Church, in her doctrine, life and worship, perpetuates and transmits to every generation all that she herself is, all that she believes”.

‘Faith, in fact, needs a setting in which it can be witnessed to and communicated, a means which is suitable and proportionate to what is communicated. For transmitting a purely doctrinal content, an idea might suffice, or perhaps a book, or the repetition of a spoken message. But what is communicated in the Church, what is handed down in her living Tradition, is the new light born of an encounter with the true God, a light which touches us at the core of our being and engages our minds, wills and emotions, opening us to relationships lived in communion. There is a special means for passing down this fullness, a means capable of engaging the entire person, body and spirit, interior life and relationships with others. It is the sacraments, celebrated in the Church’s liturgy. The sacraments communicate an incarnate memory, linked to the times and places of our lives, linked to all our senses; in them the whole person is engaged as a member of a living subject and part of a network of communitarian relationships. While the sacraments are indeed sacraments of faith, it can also be said that faith itself possesses a sacramental structure. The awakening of faith is linked to the dawning of a new sacramental sense in our lives as human beings and as Christians, in which visible and material realities are seen to point beyond themselves to the mystery of the eternal.’
Lumen Fidei (The Light of Faith) n.40

The Church, with its magisterium and sacraments, doesn’t keep us at arms length from the revelation of Jesus Christ, but brings us into direct, personal contact with him!

The good news isn’t something to be read in the papers, analysed, discussed, accepted and set aside, but a person, our Lord Jesus Christ, to encounter in his fullness, more intimately than we encounter anyone else in the world. But more than two thousand years after his birth, how are we meant to encounter him? Is it only through speaking to him in prayer, and reading about him in the scriptures? No disrespect to prayer and Bible study, but wouldn’t this make him a bit of cell-phone-saviour? A saviour you’ve never met “in person”, but have spoken with long distance. Of course, long distance relationships are wonderful, but the dream is always to be closer, more intimately with our Beloved.

Thank God for His Church and His holy sacraments! By these means (and more), Jesus Christ is always readily present to us, to teach, guide, cleanse, heal, forgive, strengthen, nourish, enlighten, refresh, rejuvenate, correct, sustain, and redeem us. He has not left us orphans, but is with us always, even until the end. The resurrected Lord Jesus Christ is with us, body and blood, soul and divinity, at all times.

Sola scriptura is a bit like refusing to listen to the king’s ambassador, because you read his (authorised) biography, and he can call or write you himself. The king has an ambassador, because he wishes to have a personal, authorised, representative with you, so that you can know his thoughts on all matters. The ambassador has lived with the king his whole life, and was there from the beginning. The king’s ambassador does not distance you from the king, but reveals him to you more perfectly. As a matter of fact, the king’s ambassador is also his wife.

And to stay away from the sacraments is a bit like a person in love, preferring to just speak over the phone (and it is tough to listen and easy to get distracted while on the phone).

In our life in the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church, we are members of the one believing subject, present throughout all of Christ’s mysteries. We are part of the body of believers, present throughout Jesus’ ministry, in the Upper Room at Pentecost, and who all of the epistles are addressed to. We are living in the realities of the Bible! As I wrote here, about my first time visiting mass,

I remember noticing, that I had a wonderful feeling throughout, after the fear passed, that I had only ever had while reading the Bible. It almost felt like I was in the Bible.

God bless you in abundance!

P.S. If you haven’t yet read Lumen Fidei, do. Here’s a link. It’s so good. I suspect it’s especially wonderful in part because it’s the product of not just one Pope, but two.

This changes everything

On good Friday, it seemed that for all that Jesus was, he was just a man. He had given sight to the blind, and healed the lame, and preached the good news to the poor and raised the dead, but was still just a man, and suffered and died like the rest. He cast out demons, walked on water, taught with authority, was transfigured on the mountain, and was the messiah, the Son of God, but at the end of the day, he was but a fragile, mortal man, destined for the grave.

Sunday changed that. Jesus of Nazareth rose from the dead. He suffered pain, defeat, and death, as one human in common with us all, and he rose victorious. It was by his weak, mortal flesh, that God entered our greatest battle, and defeated it from the inside. Out of love He joined us in our darkest hour, and by His love He illuminated and broke the darkness of death.

And he was one of us. A human rose from the dead. And not only one of us, but the one who promised we could live in him, and he in us. The night before he was killed, he took bread and wine, and gave us his body and blood, for our food; that we may abide in him, and he in us; that as he lives by the Father, we may live by him. This is the one who left death in the past.

All history, all humanity, all life is changed forever. Death is not final; Love is. God is victorious. Every moment of life, is illuminated by the hope of the resurrection, and we live liberated from death. When death is overturned, what could hope to be left unchanged?

Christianity is no mere religion, no mere philosophy, no mere way of life. These are footnotes of life, and particular systems of living. They are no more than after-thoughts and add-ons. But Christianity fills, permeates, enlightens and enlivens all of life. Emmanuel: God is with us; this is my body, which is given for you; Christ is risen. Christianity is life transformed and fulfilled by accepting God’s offer of Himself.

Happy Easter, and may God bless you

My First Confession

I received the Sacrament of Confession for the first time last week, and I feel it would be good to share some thoughts from it.

Beforehand, I felt an almost overwhelming guilt. It was painful. But as I thought about receiving the sacrament of forgiveness for my sins, it remained painful, but it felt like it was good pain, like God’s grace was attacking the sins already. As I made my way there, my heart was thumping heavily.

When I finally had the sacrament, I felt great shame at my sins, but I felt like they were being destroyed and washed out even as I confessed them. What really struck me was how my confessor showed no signs of judgment at all. I had come ready for being told, at least a little bit, how bad I had been, but there was nothing except forgiveness. The absence of judgment and ready forgiveness really showed me an image of holiness. It really made me appreciate priests, who are blessed to even administer God’s forgiveness.

Afterwards, I felt liberated. There was no more guilt. I was happy, and light as a feather. A few hours after, I noticed that I felt naked [I was outside at the time, and genuinely wondered if I might be]. I felt like I was naked before God, and He accepted me in my vulnerability. I had revealed myself to God. Of course, God already knew everything to begin with, but by the sacrament, I had gone out of my way to show myself to Him. God hadn’t just happened to oversee my sins, but I had presented myself, in all my sinfulness, to Him intentionally. I think this is part of why He gave us this sacrament. It was liberating.

All in all, it was a terrifying experience, and a good, healing, surprisingly liberating experience.

Pope Francis goes to Confession

Pope Francis recently went to confession publicly. I’ve heard that he usually goes every two weeks (privately).

May God bless you

Baptism, Confirmation and Freedom

“Blessed be God the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with all the spiritual blessings of heaven in Christ. Before the world was made, he chose us, chose us in Christ, to be holy and spotless, and to live through love in his presence, determining that we should become his adopted sons, through Christ Jesus for his own kind purposes, to make us praise the glory of his grace, his free gift to us in the Beloved, in whom, through his blood, we gain our freedom, the forgiveness of our sins.”

Ephesians 1:3-7 [CTS New Catholic Bible]

“Now you too, in him, have heard the message of the truth and the good news of your salvation, and have believed it; and you too have been stamped with the seal of the Holy Spirit of the Promise, the pledge of our inheritance which brings freedom for those whom God has taken for his own, to make his glory praised.”

Ephesians 1:13-14 [CTS New Catholic Bible]

I love this chapter so much, and I think it’s especially relevant as two days ago I was baptised and confirmed and received my first communion. I recommend reading the whole chapter.

What stuck out to me, was the claim that this gives us freedom. I was considering the passage in relation to my entering the Church, and was surprised to see it mention freedom. The link between forgiveness, the Holy Spirit, and freedom didn’t seem very clear at first.

But I remembered, that sin is an entirely false freedom. Freedom is to truly be what you are. And because God is the foundation of all existence, the one who creates from nothing and sustains all things in being, all being is good (Wisdom 1:14). In freedom, we flourish and grow. In the context of being with God, in His creative love and embrace, we flourish to truly be ourselves, and are made whole in Him. Filled with the Holy Spirit of the Promise, we do not lose our identities, but we find and live out our mysterious identity in relation to the mysterious God, who makes us truly alive.

Sin, on the other hand, is always destructive, and always violent. It denies the dignity of all: the person committing the sin, those it’s committed against, and creation, and its creator. It defines things in the most dull ways- what temporary pleasure we may derive from them, or how they make us look- it’s all surface level. It propagates an attitude of the division of the world, into consumers and commodities, the vulnerable and the exploiters. And the more we consider creation as commodities for consumption, the more we consider the people who depend on creation as resources to exploit also.

But to the Christian,

“He has let us know the mystery of his purpose, the hidden plan he so kindly made in Christ from the beginning, to act upon when the times had run their course to the end: that he would bring everything under Christ, as head, everything in the heavens and everything on earth.

Ephesians 1:9-10

Christ has redeemed creation, and it is to be put to his purposes, all united under him. We are called to “live through love in his presence,” (1:4). We are called to live in God’s creative love, being built up and strengthened by Him, to live in true freedom.

In the parable of the prodigal son, we see that he goes out and squanders his inheritance, on partying and (if his brother was correct) prostitution. But he returns to his father’s farm. On his own, he was squandering his resources and his life, and consuming recklessly and using people as objects. At the farm, on the other hand, life is sustainable, and productive, and people are accepted as family. At both he has parties, but away from home, they are celebrating his wealth and spending, and using each other for private profit, while at home, they are celebrating him for being with them again.

“…determining that we should become his adopted sons, through Christ Jesus for his own kind purposes, to make us praise the glory of his grace, his free gift to us in the Beloved, in whom, through his blood, we gain our freedom, the forgiveness of our sins.”

In Christ, we are redefined. We leave behind the illusions of vanity and pride and strength, and become the children of God. Our sins are forgiven, so they no longer rule and define us, as part of the dominion of death. We are truly set free, to live in and live out the divine love, being truly ourselves as we were born to be.

This freedom shouldn’t be understood as something only spiritual, and not relating to everyday life. It isn’t just a change of mindset, that is irrelevant to the real world, or will just improve your self-image. It is the truth of life itself, to be lived out every day.

When slaves became Christians, they knew that they were the Lord’s free people. They were encouraged to keep working for those called their masters in this world, but out of love, both for their masters, and for the Lord Jesus Christ (I should note, that there is plenty of place for slaves to rebel, out of love for each other). They knew they were no longer slaves, but the children of God Almighty. Yet they continued to serve their masters, but not in shame or out of fear, but out of love for their fellow man. They were freed from the intimidation and judgment of men, because they were children of the King. And when masters were Christians, they were to “treat your slaves in the same spirit; do without threats, remembering that they and you have the same Master in heaven and he is not impressed by one person more than by another.” They were redefined as brothers, and co-servants of the Lord Jesus Christ. These enemies were joined in Christ, as members of his body, the Church.

“He has put all things under his feet, and made him, as the ruler of everything, the head of the Church; which is his body, the fulness of him who fills all in all.”

Ephesians 1:22-23

Our freedom and our unity are crucially linked. If it does not unite us, it is not freedom, and it is not serving Christ.

“and you too have been stamped with the seal of the Holy Spirit of the Promise, the pledge of our inheritance which brings freedom for those whom God has taken for his own, to make his glory praised.”

The Holy Spirit makes us free! And as St. Irenaeus said, “The glory of God is man fully alive.”

“The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”

John 3:8

By the Holy Spirit living in us, we can have the creative, loving, spontaneity of God in our lives, strengthening us and leading us. The Holy Spirit will give us words of faith when we need them most, and bless our lives always.

May God Almighty bless you as abundantly as He has offered

Day 0

Today, I received the sacraments of initiation (Baptism, Confirmation, and the Holy Eucharist), and became a member of the Catholic Church. I can’t express how happy this makes me. God has accepted me, a sinner, in ways so amazing I can’t fully understand.

I won’t be able to express anything thoroughly, but here are a some thoughts:

I was baptised for the forgiveness of sins. That’s incredibly liberating.

I am now a full member of the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church, founded by the Son of God on his apostles. I am a part of the Church that has proclaimed Christ for the last nearly two thousand years, and I hold the same faith as those before me in the Church.

I am a member of the Body of Christ. This has profound implications I must live out.

God comes to us far better than we ever come to Him. We take baby steps towards Him, and He dives from the highest heavens to come to us. “Draw near to God, and He will draw to you.” (James 4:8)

In confirmation, I have been given the Holy Spirit, and must now live by the Spirit completely.

In the Eucharist, God gives us the greatest gift conceivable: Himself. “Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them. Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like that which your ancestors ate, and they died. But the one who eats this bread will live forever.” (John 6:56-58)

God bless you abundantly and eternally.

Seven days

One week to go until my baptism, confirmation, and first communion. Honestly, it’s terrifying me, but in a hope-filled way.

I fear change, and the 16th of March will change the very foundation of my life. Even though I’ve been going to mass, and come to believe Catholic teaching, it is this day, that my life will be firmly planted in God’s life. I will be buried with Christ, so that I may live in the new life. Who knows how God will change me?

I’m also afraid I will sob with joy. Particularly at my first communion. In front of my family and friends. But I have to pray, that if living these mysteries fully means sobbing, then God will make me sob, but if it doesn’t, hopefully He will allow me not to. I fear and hope to be overwhelmed by God Almighty.

When I was younger, I was upset that I didn’t understand the importance of baptism or communion, and it appeared no one else did either. I was told they were just symbols, and hardly even told what they symbolised. Now I know, they are far more than just symbols, and I see they’re so important, it’s terrifying.

I will be baptised into Christ’s death, receive the Holy Spirit, and eat the Bread of Life. This is incredible!

May God bless you abundantly.

March 16th

The date’s been set: March 16th. It’s very exciting and frightening.
On this day, I will be baptised into the body of Christ, and receive confirmation, and my first communion. It will be the biggest day of my life so far.
It’s funny to think about afterwards. Everything will be the same, and yet everything will be different. I feel like I should get a uniform or a badge or something, to show my identity as a Catholic, a redeemed child of God, a member of the one, holy, Catholic and apostolic Church. But their won’t be any.
After my baptism, I will be a new creation in Christ, and if I am transformed so, then all creation will be transformed to me also. Being born again, I will be new to the world, and the world will be new to me. I imagine it will be like a light is switched on, and all is bright.
In confirmation, I will be sealed with the Holy Spirit, and I have no idea what this will be like. It’s extremely exciting. God’s Spirit will live in me.
And then I will have my first communion. This is the bit that’s blowing my mind. When I’ve been thinking about my baptism, and how I plan to celebrate its anniversary each year, I think each time, “and I’ll make sure to take communion on the day”, then realise I’ll be taking communion like a real Catholic! I’ll be one of them! Those people who stand up and queue, eat and drink the holiest thing in existence, then come back to sit or kneel, praying to the God they’ve just eaten. I will eat his flesh, and drink his blood, and he will live in me, and I in him. This will be the biggest change, as I will get to eat the medicine of immortality at mass.
I find the Eucharist a bit terrifying. It’s so holy and mysterious. I suspect the apostles were a bit terrified at the last supper too, when Jesus told them to eat his body, and drink his blood.
The 16th of March 2014 will arguably be the turning point of my life history, just as the thirty or so years about 0 AD were the turning point in all of human history. In many ways, everything was the same. But everything was different; the rules had changed forever; the new covenant had begun.

Please pray for me!
God bless you.

Amateur theology on the Eucharist (Part 1)

[Edit: After further reflection, I’ve decided this was incomplete, and so did a Part 2, which I have to linked to here.]

[Before I start, I’d like to emphasise how amateur this is. I have much to learn, and have not yet been baptised into the Church. Wherever I’m mistaken, please correct me to the best of your ability or direct me to correction. And wherever I’m missing something, please show me.
Thanks in advance]

In what sense is something what it is? For example, why is a chair, a chair? What makes it a chair? I think this is (roughly) what philosophers used to call the substance/essence. Does the essence actually exist, or is it just in our minds? Is the essence in an object’s own existence, or only in the mind of the person who recognises or identifies the object?
Here’s a thought experiment: if no people existed in the universe, what would each thing be? If the essence is basically or definitions, then there would be no essence. It would be absurd to say planets, or chairs, or even atoms would still exist, as they would have no definitions. All would still exist, but completely incomprehensible (which is fine as there would be no one to comprehend it).
But, this logic fails for numbers. If there are three holes, regardless of whether it’s recognised or not, those numbers exist. Not physically, and not because I defined those numbers, but just because of the holes, there is three. The existence of the holes implies the real existence of the threeness of those holes. So, objects have non-material properties implied by the form of their existence.

Now to the Eucharist. Jesus tells us it is his body, and his blood (and who am I to interpret this as meaning anything else?). But to all appearances, it is still bread and wine. But, appearances can be deceiving. So, what is the essence of the body and blood?
The best answer I can find, is that the essence of the body, is its life. Life is the essential bodyness of the body, and whatever has my life, is my body. When my body one day loses my life, it will no longer really be my body; it will more be my ex-body, and respected (hopefully) for what it was, and for its potential in the resurrection. I believe the same or similar is true of the essence of our blood.
So, the bread is no longer bread, and the wine no longer wine, but the body and the blood of Jesus of Nazareth, because his life is in them. And his life (body, spirit, soul, divinity) is in them, because it is his body and blood, by his declaration.

‘This is the bread which cometh down from heaven: that if any man eat of it, he may not die. I am the living bread which came down from heaven. If any man eat of this bread, he shall live for ever: and the bread that I will give is my flesh, for the life of the world.’
John 6:51-52

‘He that eateth my flesh and drinketh my blood abideth in me: and I in him. As the living Father hath sent me and I live by the Father: so he that eateth me, the same also shall live by me.’
John 6:57-58

God bless you.

P.S.
I’m sharing this in case it can help others understand, as it helped me understand. Pascal said that we are more convinced by the reasons we find on our own than those shown us, and I think he’s right, but another angle may still be of help to others.
Have any proper (respected, orthodox) theologians spoken about the Eucharist this way? I hope so, because I don’t want to suggest my own ideas.
I’d like to repeat my request at the start, that if I’m mistaken anywhere here, in matters great or small, please correct me. I only want orthodoxy (truth).

Thanks again, and may God almighty bless you deeply.