Monday, 2 September 2019

Just Think, What Love the Father Has for Us

When we survey the Gospels, we find that the earliest recorded words of Christ are about His Father.

The Passover feast has ended, and Mary and Joseph are on their way back from Jerusalem when they realise they have lost the twelve-year old child Jesus. Tradition (apart from logic) informs us of the great sorrow that befell Mary and Joseph. They search for him and on the third day they finally find him in the Temple. “Son, why have you treated us so?” Mary asks, concerned and confused as to why their perfect God-Son has put them through the grinder. “Behold your father and I have been looking for you anxiously.”

Jesus’ words are brief. A mere “statement” or “saying” (Lk 2:50) spoken from the lips of a child, almost with a teenager-like smack if the words weren’t also laden with the mystery, weight and authority of a God: “Why is it that you were looking for me? Did you not know that it is fitting for me to be in my Father’s house?” (Lk 2:49).

The last words of Jesus recorded in the Gospels before His death are likewise directed to the Father. “Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit” (Lk 23:46).

As we know, the Holy Spirit is the ultimate author of the Gospels. Out of all the words spoken by Jesus that could have been recorded as His ‘first words’ in the Gospels, the account at the Temple was chosen according to divine decree, by means of the Evangelist Luke. Here the subject is the Father as is the final words of Jesus before His death.

The Father was constantly on the human mind of Jesus—Jesus who was one in substance with the Father according to His divinity. His humanity made manifest this profound oneness with the Father, His marvellous unity and relationship with the Father.

Jesus tells us plainly, especially through the Evangelist John. He was sent by the Father, sent on mission into the world to turn the hearts of straggling humanity back to their Father (Jn 7; Mal 4:6).

“No one has ever seen God,” writes St. John, but “the only begotten God, the one being in the bosom of the Father, He has made Him known” (1 Jn 1:18).

Thus Jesus can boldly and beautifully say, “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father” (Jn 14:9). We don’t know what the Father looks like, He is pure spirit, non-material, beyond all sight. Yet in Jesus we can “see” the Father. The Greek root word used as a participle here ( ἑωρακὼς) is richer than mere physical seeing, it’s a seeing with the mind, and an experiential knowing. “Whoever has known, whoever has experienced me has known and experienced the Father”.

Thus Paul can say “He is the image of the unseen God” (Col 1:15), and John can write, that concerning “the Word of life,” Jesus “the only begotten [Son] of God” who has made the Father ‘seeable’ and known: Him “we have seen with our eyes… and our hands have touched”.

“Behold what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God, and we are!” (1 Jn 3:1). Here we are entering some of the most beautiful passages in the Scripture. Yet the passage can also be translated as follows: “Behold what love the Father has placed in us, that we should be called children of God”.

St. John then directs himself to us: “Beloved,” or more properly, “Beloved ones, now children of God we are, and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be. But we know that when He appears, we will be like Him, for we will see Him as He is” (3:2).

Recall the Creed, “I believe in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Only Begotten Son of God… consubstantial with the Father”. “Consubstantial,” meaning “with same substance” or “of one substance” translating the Latin consubstantiálem, which translates the Greek term: homoousios. When John writes, “We know that when he appears we will be like Him” the word for “like” is homoioi (ὅμοιοι) the same root used in the Greek word for consubstantial: homoousios.

However, we know that we cannot be one in substance with the Father. Our likeness will not be a likeness by virtue of substance but by virtue of grace—a likeness to God accomplished by grace.

This is precisely what Jesus came into the world to do. He came on a mission from the Father to make us into children, into sons and daughters of God. To make us one with the Father just as He is one with the Father.

We tend to complicate things—this is what our faith is about. It’s the purpose of the sacraments, the reason for the Church, the ultimate plan God has for us, and the purpose of our vocations and lives: to come to Jesus, to believe in Him, to enter Him and there be one with the Father—to love the Father in Jesus Christ, as another Christ, as son, as child, with the Holy Spirit who is the Love of the Father for the Son, and who is the Love of the Son for the Father, given to us as gift, so that we might love with this Love who is the Holy Spirit. The Spirit who pounds in our hearts, hovers over our lives, whirls throughout creation as its sustaining power, and which above all causes us to cry “Abba! Father!” (Rom 8:15).

After all, “this is how you should pray,” said Jesus, “Our Father…”

“All who have this confident hope” to call on the Father as child, “purifies himself, just as He [the Father] is pure” (1 Jn 3:3) and will be fashioned more and more into the likeness of the only Son.

Earthly fathers, fatherly figures and parental roles are all meant to serve as little signs of the Father and His love for us. Not all are privileged with loving fathers, some of us are, we should be thankful for that and we can use our love for our own fathers as spring boards to love the Father in heaven. Yet whatever the case, the Father through Jesus His Son has sent His Love into our hearts as Holy Spirit: placed in us at baptism, fortified by confirmation, enkindled by prayer and acts of love. Nothing can thwart this Love.

Just think, “what love the Father has placed in us, that we should be called children of God… and that when He appears,” and when we appear before Him, “we will be like Him, for we will see Him as He really is”.

Monday, 24 June 2019

Corpus Christi: The New Showbread

Temple priests replacing the showbread each week, Henry Bill (1871).

In the Jewish Temple, in front of the Holy of Holies, there stood a gold-gilded table upon which unleavened bread was placed. The bread was called lechem hapanim – ‘bread of the presence’ or ‘bread of the face,’ often translated in English as ‘showbread’.

“Showbread” does not reflect the Hebrew well but it does capture the fact that the bread was ‘on display’—visible at least to the Levitical priests who had access to the interior of the Temple, and shown to the people three times a year. In Exodus the Lord commands that the bread should be set “on the table before me always” (25:30). In Leviticus we read that a total of twelve loaves were stacked on the table, six in each stack. Every Sabbath the bread was to be eaten by the priests “in a holy place” and then replaced with twelve fresh loaves (Lev 24:5-9).

Three times a year, when the people of Israel made the pilgrimage to the Temple—on Passover, Shavuot and Sukkot—the priests would present the table and the showbread exclaiming: “Look at how beloved you are by God!”[1]

The Medieval Jewish commentator Maimonides was perplexed by the lechem hapanim. He confessed that he could not find in the Rabbinical Tradition any explanations for the commandment.[2]

For a Catholic however, the meaning is clear: we have here in the Old Testament a foreshadowing of the sacrament of the Eucharist— the New Covenant’s Lechem Hapanim, the true, real and ultimate ‘Bread of the Presence’. The Eucharist is nothing less than the fulfillment of this ancient temple ritual. On this feast of Corpus Christi it will be worth exploring how the Eucharist is its fulfillment.

How the “Showbread’s” Made

The Talmud states that the ‘bread of the presence’ was made by the Garmus family, who kept the recipe a secret. One time they were asked to share the secret by the Sages but they refused. Dismissed from their duty, others attempted to make it, but without the recipe the bread would go mouldy and stale before the week’s end. The Garmus family were reappointed but the Sages wanted to know why they kept the recipe a secret. The family explained: “We know that the Temple will be destroyed, and we are concerned that an unworthy man will learn how to bake the showbread and use it to serve an idol.”[3]

The Garmus family were thus seemingly appointed by God to make the showbread, and without them, the bread was unable to be made. We see a parallel in the ministerial priesthood of the Catholic Church: the spiritual Garmus family as it were, entrusted with being the instruments through whom Christ makes the Showbread of the New Covenant—and without this precious gift of the ordained priesthood, there would be no transubstantiation:  (trans – across; ‘moving across substance’) from simple bread to bread that veils the Divine Presence.

What is called “the secret” (secreta) in the Tridentine Mass, and contained in the prayer over the offerings in the Ordinary Form, which the priest recites during the Eucharistic Liturgy, is in a way symbolic of ‘the Eucharistic secret’ they have received at ordination. A secret first whispered into the ears of the Apostles and passed on from Bishops to priests since—conferring the unique ability to reside over the consecration of the bread and wine.

In the Old Law only “Aaron and his sons,” the Levitical priests, were allowed to eat the showbread (Lev 24:9), but in the New Law all the faithful are summoned to feast on the Lechem Hapanim, the Bread of God’s Real Presence and the Bread of God’s Face. Since although the ministerial priesthood alone can consecrate the Bread, all the baptised share in the general priesthood of Christ (CCC 1268). So that while ‘the Eucharistic secret’ is entrusted to the Bishops, and in turn to the priests, it is received by and belongs in turn to all the faithful. In the words of Pope St. John Paul II: “With the Eucharist we digest, as it were, the ‘secret’ of the resurrection.”[4]

Twelve Baskets

There were twelve loaves of showbread in the Temple serving as a memorial of what God had done in the wilderness for the whole nation of Israel with all its twelve tribes. In the Gospels we notice also that after the feeding of the five-thousand there were twelve baskets of bread and fish leftover—corresponding in turn to the twelve tribes of Israel founded upon the twelve sons of Jacob, foreshadowing the twelve Apostles, the spiritual sons of the New Jacob (Christ), upon whom the spiritual Israel of the Church was to be founded (Lk 9). The meaning runs deeper than a mere parallel when we consider other Scriptural accounts.

In Matthew we read that one Sabbath Jesus is strolling with His disciples as they pick grain along the way to eat. The Pharisees become upset at this, forbidden as it was according to their extra-stringent reading of the law. Jesus responds, referring to an account recorded in 1 Samuel (21:1-9):

“Have you not read what David did, when he was hungry, and those who were with him: how he entered the house of God and ate the bread of the Presence, which it was not lawful for him to eat nor for those who were with him, but only for the priests?” (Mt 12:3-4)

On a different note, we read elsewhere in the Gospels the command of Christ at the Last Supper when He commissioned the Apostles “To do this,” to consecrate bread and wine, to celebrate the Eucharist, “in memory of me”. On another seemingly unrelated note recall the words of John who tells us that Jesus understood His Body to be the fulfillment of the Temple (Jn 2:21). As the Jews would gather to worship at the Temple, it was now in Him that worshippers, Jew and Gentile alike, were to gather as ‘one Body’ in the Spirit for the glory of the Father (Jn 4:23).

Let’s tie these scriptures together. In the Eucharist we have Jesus, the Son of David, reaching into the Temple of His Person to give His whole Self—the Bread of His Presence.

In the Eucharist we have the single Passion of Jesus made manifest. At the consecration, when the priest breaks the Bread, we have Jesus breaking open the Temple of His Body before us and opening the way for we who believe in Him to “take and eat” from the wooden table of the Cross, gilded with blood not gold, the Bread of His Heart, the Bread of His Love. If we strain our eyes in faith we will see Love in a tiny host on the table of the Eucharistic altar; and if we strain our ears in faith we will hear the angels and saints exclaiming like the Levetical priests of old: “Look at how beloved you are by God!”

In the Eucharist Christ’s resurrection is not a past phenomenon but a present reality unfolding before us. As the priest comes forth from the altar with Communion, here we have our Lord rising from the dead, coming forth through eternity aflame with love as piping hot bread. He comes as One Bread but broken into a myriad pieces to satisfy the hunger of those who seek His Face. From the Holy of Holies of heaven He strolls through the generations picking the ordinary wheat the Church has to offer, and giving it out instead, transformed as the Bread of His Presence.

There used to be twelve loaves in the Temple; and when Christ fed the multitude, twelve baskets of bread remained. In one way the twelve loaves in the old Temple can be taken to symbolise the foreknowledge and desire God had to give Himself in the Person of the Word in the Holy Eucharist. A foreknowledge possessed from eternity, and a harboured desire that had to wait to be realised in time, so that its realisation and mystery was ‘locked up,’ as it were, for millennia.

At the Last Supper this desire was finally realised: the Showbread of heaven was brought out from the sanctuary of Christ’s Person and in commissioning the twelve Apostles “To do this,” to consecrate and distribute the Holy Bread, it was as though each Apostle received a basket from Christ containing the total sum of every Eucharistic host ever consecrated—from the first to the last. Since in these twelve Apostles, Mathias taking over Judas’ place, every priest, and therefore, every celebration of the Eucharist can trace its origin. The Apostles went forth throughout the world, the basket of the Eucharistic mystery in-hand, and in a way, every Eucharist has come from these twelve baskets, which in turn have come from the Table of the Last Supper on earth, and from the Altar of the Father in heaven. We don't all have the ministry of distributing the Eucharist as ordained priests, but we can all do so spiritually by Eucharistic-living: by breaking ourselves up in love and allowing Christ to distribute Himself through us to the world.

A Perpetual Decree

All that is complete and fulfilled in Christ’s own Body—life, death and resurrection—simply remains to be actualised in most of Christ’s Mystic Body the Church (Heb 10). Apart from Our Lady, even St. Joseph (i.e. see Frances de Sales), and perhaps a few others whom tradition hints at—even the glorified souls in heaven await the literal completion of the Paschal Mystery in themselves, by waiting for their resurrected bodies. The suffering souls in purgatory await the completion of the death of Christ in themselves through their purgation, so that they might arrive at the spiritual realisation of the resurrection in beatitude. Those who have died do not receive the sacrament of the Eucharist. True, they do ‘receive Communion’ mediated through Christ’s Humanity, but in a different mode—they are either ‘in the que to Eternal Communion’ (purgatory) or ‘in Holy Communion’ (heaven). Thus what is already fulfilled in Christ’s Body is realised in the souls in purgatory and heaven, His suffering and triumphant members, outside the ordinary sacramental means which is established for pilgrim souls.

For the pilgrim Church—the Church on earth—the Eucharist is the established sacramental means of realising in Her members what is already fulfilled in Christ. Hence all that is complete and fulfilled in Christ’s own Body, necessarily contained in His Sacramental and Eucharistic Body, simply remains to be, in a manner of speaking, transubstantiated into Christ’s Mystic Body the Church on earth. What is complete in Christ our Head is in need of moving across (trans) into us His members.

“Verily I say unto you, till heaven and earth pass away, not one jot, not one tittle shall pass away from the law until it is fulfilled” (Mt 5:18). The entire law is already fulfilled in Christ, and because Christ is entirely present in the Eucharist, the Eucharist is the fulfillment of the law. In the words of Lumen Gentium: “The Eucharist is the source and summit of the Christian life.”

In Leviticus, where we find the instructions concerning the Bread of the Presence, we find two important Hebrew words stating its importance: chaq olam, translating to “an everlasting ordinance” or “perpetual decree” (24:9). Thus the Bread of the Presence and the law surrounding it is stated by God to be “everlasting” and perpetual”. The Jewish Temple is long gone, and the showbread hasn’t been made for two-thousand years. Yet Christ the Living Temple stands in full splendour, Its embodiment in the Church will endure, and the Showbread of the Eucharist has been around for two-thousand years. The “perpetual decree” of the showbread has not “passed away” but it has been fulfilled in the Eucharist which will endure as “an everlasting ordinance” until the end of the world when it too will be fulfilled with the consummation of the Church and the entire universe in Christ (Col 1).

It is amazing to think that since the time of the Apostles the Table of the Church has never lacked the Showbread of the Eucharist. As the Garmus family kept the old showbread supplied each Sabbath, so too, the Church through Her ministers has kept the supply of the New Showbread renewed. A supply which in a spiritual sense is a multiplication of the first loaf broken by Christ in the cenacle.

With perpetual reverence Aaron and the Levitical priests treated the old showbread. How much more must we the pilgrim Church, perhaps not all belonging to the ministerial priesthood, but certainly to the “royal priesthood,” (1 Pet 2:9) treat the New Showbread who is Jesus Himself, God and Man disguised and present in our midst? What a wonderful thing to “show” our Eucharistic Lord on the altars of our churches, elevated and on display in a monstrance for the People of God to see. How excellent it would be to try our best to “show” this Holy Bread perpetually, to work together to adore Him perpetually ‘on earth as He is in heaven’.

[2] Maimonides, Guide for the Perplexed, part 3, chp., 45.
[4] Ecclesiae de Eucharistia, 18.

Wednesday, 1 May 2019

Parable of the Two Plumbers

'Childhood of Christ,' Gerard van Honthorst, 1620.

Written for the memoria of St. Joseph the Workman

There were two plumbers who had worked together for many years. One day a house they were working on collapsed from water damage. They both died. Presented before the throne of God the first was summoned. “My son, you have lived well, go and take your place in paradise alongside the angels and saints.” Then the second plumber was summoned. “My son, you have lived decently, but void of much love. Take your place in purgatory and in a dozen years you will be ready for paradise.”

The Lord as yet had withheld the light of knowledge from the plumber and so the plumber was surprised. “Lord, Lord, how can this be? I was a plumber like my companion. I went to Mass like my companion. I tried my best as a father and husband—granted my mistakes—just as my companion. I was honest in my work, I never cheated anyone. In outer form my life was near identical to my workmate and yet he goes directly to heaven and I to purgatory for so long?”

“Yes, what you say is true. Your outer life was hardly any different to your companion. Yet know this—he was a man of prayer. During the day, he would unite Himself with my Son, offering the work he did as a plumber as a sacrifice of love. Due to this good habit, do you know what his final deed in life was? Yes, my son, fixing a broken sewage pipe as were you; but more than this, this menial deed was offered to me in love in reparation for sinful souls, broken souls, and so he died in love, just as your companion lived and worked in love. Heaven is nothing but love, and so my son, he was ready to enter heaven. In him I saw the life of my Son as Workman and of Blessed Joseph repeated in a tiny but real way.

You however, you lived a life decent to the eye but where was your heart? It was with me on Sunday and when you prayed now and then, but during the day? No, your heart was not with me. Where were your works of love? I was ever beside you, a plumber at the ready, but you left me to work alone. How many acts, how many hours did you thus work almost in vain? Your honesty and wholesome desire to provide for your family rendered your work void of sin, clean in my sight as a basin new and polished. Yet love for me did not excite your work, it did not fill your deeds—your basin was clean, but empty in my sight. What you lack in love—a whole lifetime—you will gain in the purging flames of love my son.

Pray for workmen beneath that they might not repeat your mistakes and I will see to it that there will arise men and women who repair for your voids of love to hasten your purgation.”

Whatever you do, work from the soul, as if for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of inheritance. For the Lord Christ is the real master you serve. (Col 3:23-24).

May the Lord grant us the grace to work in love.

May all men and women discover in their work, the will of God and His abiding presence of love. 

May all those whose work is contrary to God's will, find pardon in God's mercy, be delivered from such works of darkness, and find wholesome employment that fosters their human dignity, that of others, and gives glory to God.

St. Joseph, Model of Workmen, pray for us.