Saturday, 12 June 2021

The Comforting Heart



uman history is just the complex multiplication of what breaks down to a single story: one heart trying to find all the comfort it needs from another heart. In most of our lives our heart would resemble a pinball battering upon one heart incessantly, and then another, and then another ad infinitum. For some the rejection by another’s heart can be enough to temporarily thwart or even stop dead in its track the inborne quest (but it can never really be stopped). Every heart wants to be understood by another heart, loved, cherished, respected, wanted, desired, uniquely, and personally. Even Hitler had his Eva Braun.

So powerful is this desire that some in their brokenness of heart, yielding to the darkness, employ all their strength to squeeze affection from the hearts of others by force, mostly in vain, and always without authenticity—since love cannot be manipulated or conjured. The twisted acts of many serial killers testify to this.

In an extreme and heinous way, the compulsion of tyrants who command the affection of their subjects, and violent-acting sociopaths who force affection from their victims or through the infamy of their deeds, show up in us the relatively benign and more hidden manipulations and exactions we make upon the hearts of others in order to meet the insatiable thirst of our heart for the comfort of another’s love.

This notion of comfort is central to the experience of love. In biblical usage, the sense of being comforted, consoled, comfortable, at rest, and at peace are interconnected and largely interchangeable. In Biblical Hebrew one such word used is nacham (נָחַם) ‘to be comforted, consoled’ and translated also at times as ‘repenting’ and ‘to be sorry’. It first appears in the Scriptures in reference to the newborn Noah (Nocha - נֹחַ), so-named because the people of that time say, “This one will give us rest from our work” (Gen 5:29).

In the Book of Lamentations, the prophet Jeremiah describes the desolate state of the city of Jerusalem after its destruction by the Babylonians. Common to ancient sensibility he speaks of the city in feminine terms, depicting Jerusalem as a virgin widow in mourning, defiled and lamenting her affliction caused by the sins of her people—an adulterous people who have cheated on their God by practices of idolatry and licentiousness. Jerusalem, he writes, “She weeps bitterly in the night, tears on her cheeks; among all her lovers she has none to comfort her” (1:2).

Here the word translated invariably as ‘comfort’ or ‘console’ is the same, nacham (נָחַם).

Doing no more than extending from the ancient Jewish apprehension of “Jerusalem,” the Church Fathers interpreted Jerusalem as a symbol of the Church, and in turn, as a microcosm or micro-type of the soul.

Jerusalem after its destruction by Babylon is symbolic of the human condition after the Fall. A state in which we find ourselves by default, existentially alone and empty. The Hebrew word translated as “lovers” (participle of the verb אָהַב) in the passage above also has a broader meaning of ‘best friends,’ even expressing a close kinship between family members (Gen 25:28). We could thus expand the translation of the passage: “Among all her closest lovers, friends and relations she has not one to comfort her”. This is the state in which we find ourselves in this world: hearts empty and aching to be comforted. Yet no matter how much human love we manage to amass, our hearts are so large that none, not one, among all the close companions and relations of life are able to really comfort us according to the demands of our human nature.

For Christians the answer is not a secret. To appropriate from Augustine’s famous line, our hearts refuse to be consoled, until consoled by the God who made them. Our hearts cannot be comforted except by the One who loved our hearts into existence.

To take a few lines from Neil Young’s 1972 song Heart of Gold: I've been a miner / For a heart of gold / Keep me searching / For a heart of gold / And I'm getting old.

The heart of a friend, a relative, or a spouse, will not be able to love us as much as we were made to be loved. The proof is in the pudding: in all the relationships of life no one is enough. Consciously it might be possible to deceive ourselves otherwise, and many do, some are even convinced that all they need is themselves to be content. But we are innately relational, and the fact that no human company is enough for our heart to be content, points us toward a transcendent horizon of relationship with God in whom alone pure and perfect relationship can be found.

The irony is everyone placed in our lives is more than enough for us when we abide in God as willing and believing recipients of His love for us. The world puts human relationships first and yet it sucks at it. Christians are bad enough at it, the world even more terrible, only God is perfect at relationship, and in relationship with Him all is possible.

In the times of old holy biblical men and women related with a God they hardly knew. Since the coming of Christ, we have learnt that the One God is a Trinity of Persons, a Communion of Love.

In Jesus the mysterious and uncreated Heart of God, analogous of God’s essence, of God’s whole self—since in God there are no parts—was made flesh. The human heart of Jesus is the repository and medium of the divine love. In the Heart of Jesus the Father finds a visible and created outlet for His love. The Sacred Heart of Jesus is a prodigious miracle—all the love of the Almighty God beats in this Heart and it is through It that the Father loves the world and calls it to Him. It is the Holy Spirit who is this Love and by Him we are brought to the Son of Love who brings us to the Father of Love.

On the Cross this Heart summoned all the peoples of every age and commanded them to let Him love them, commanded us to let Him love us. This is what salvation is: to have one’s heart saved from its brokenness, emptiness and loneliness. Its meaning: to be comforted by a man who is God—Jesus, Yeshua, Yehōshu'a. What a wonderful mystery, in a human heart, the Heart of Jesus, we find the Heart of God.

So, Jesus commanded us to allow Him to love us on the Cross? Indeed He did. The words of this commandment were not spoken on the Cross but at the Last Supper, when he said, rather, commanded, “Abide in my love” (Jn 15:9). We easily forget the force of the grammatical imperative, it might easily be rendered, “Abide ye, in my love,” or “You, abide in my love”. The King James Version translates, “Continue ye in my love”. The Greek word translated as “abide” also means ‘to stay with, remain’. “Stay in my love,” “Remain in my love”. This is perhaps one of only two of the commandments not yelled, but rather, almost whispered. It is clear the Lord was giving a commandment because in addition to the phrase itself, its grammar, its general context, the immediate words that follow: “If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love” (Jn 15:10a).

The words of Jesus touch our ears, but do we let them touch our hearts?

What else is the command to “Abide in my love” but a command of Heart to heart: “Abide in my Heart,” “Remain in my Heart”.

If we were to view every soul that had been past and present in the state they were during mortal life, right now with God’s sight, we would see tens of billions of floating hearts, most of them wondering aimlessly, bumping against one another like bunched helium balloons; and there would be two colours: blue for cold, and red for hot. Most of the hearts we’d see would be blue, some more, some less. Some might be a little yellow. But above them all we would see like a sun one heart eclipsing them all, deep red and on fire, radiating love as light and emitting plasma-like ejections, striking other hearts, setting them ablaze and turning them from blue to red. This heart too, we would see as mightily large, larger than all the other hearts we could see. With the force of its own gravity it would be drawing all hearts to itself with the aim of consuming them, devouring them in its love. We would see far more hearts fighting and pulling away from this heart than moving towards it. Few would be the hearts orbiting it, and they would be splendid to behold—piping hot. The hearts of the saints orbiting the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Two such orbiting hearts would stand out, one gleaming with fire and the second largest, like a moon to the sun—the Immaculate Heart of Mary; and after her, a heart incomparable to the rest—the Heart of Joseph her Spouse.

What is it to resist the commandment to willingly yield to the love God in Christ Jesus? It is to resist true love. It is to resist a sacred fire with which our hearts were made to be set alight therewith. It is to resist being comforted by Jesus. Many unknowingly resist the Great Lover of their being, the Heart that made them, saved them, and wants them to accept being saved. But what about we who know the Heart that loves us? How much effort must we waste in chasing other hearts to be the solace of our souls; when instead all our efforts ought to be involved in letting ourselves be moved by the love of God in Christ; in letting Jesus comfort us, in remaining in His Heart. He has done the work, we must do the rest in Him.

Our main work is to stay with Jesus, to keep coming back to Him, and this means staying by the Cross, even on the Cross with Him, because the command “Abide in my love,” “Abide in my Heart” may be heard and received from the table of the Last Supper, as at Holy Mass, but the command is lived from the wood of the Cross—a wood always within our reach throughout the course of our days, but the wisdom of the world commands us not to touch. Here love is tested, exacted, and bleeds. We put the poor Heart of Jesus to the test when our sins nailed Him to the tree. “Is this the Son of God, the One whose Heart is supposed to finally heal and comfort our own?” We were marking Him to fail, as at every time we doubt His love, when we pierced His Heart with a lance, but the water and the blood that poured forth from that pierced Heart spoke louder still, “I am the Son of God, and none but my Heart heals and comforts. For you who weep bitterly in the night, tears on your cheeks; who among all your lovers, friends and relations have none to comfort you, I will comfort you. ‘Come to me, all you who are weary and overburdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.’” (cf. Lam 1:2; Mat 11:28).

In His Heart we are complete. Therein we find our Alpha and Omega, our Beginning and our End, from whom we were made and to whom we long to return. Only from His Heart, this Sacred Heart, can our hearts love God and neighbour with Jesus’ own perfect love. A love that suffers and bleeds, and at the same time comforts and consoles. In the Heart of Jesus we find all that every heart wants and needs. Who are they that wish to burn as this Heart burns, love as this Heart loves? The Heart of Jesus is desperate for souls who want His love, because all need it, but too few want it.

The world needs evangelisers, the Church catechisers, the former to let all know of this Heart’s love, the latter to remind believers what this love means, but what the world and the Church needs more than anything, is hearts ablaze with Christ. For the evangeliser comforts unbelievers with the Good News of Christ’s love, the catechist does the same, but for believers, but only a heart touched by the Heart of Jesus can bring comfort to the restlessness of human hearts. And who can dare say they have been touched by the love of Jesus if they have not fallen to their knees in their brokenness and given way to His love. Who can dare say they have been touched by the love of Jesus if they have not taken hold of their own cross and uttered, “Amen.”

The Apostle Paul, a champion of the Sacred Heart, encourages and exhorts:

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,
the Father of mercies and God of all comfort,
who comforts us in all our affliction,
so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction,
with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.
For as we share abundantly in Christ's sufferings,
so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too.

(2 Cor 1:3-5)

Monday, 11 January 2021

Baptised to be Social


hen were you baptised?

Most Catholics and Eastern Orthodox Christians were baptised as infants. Christians of other denominations tend to be baptised as youths or young adults.

Without denigrating the equal value of those baptisms which happen to be valid, carried out upon those who are older, sometimes because they or their family discovered Christ when they were older, sometimes because they simply didn’t get around to it, and sometimes because it was the custom of their particular ecclesial community, objectively speaking, the younger the better.

Once we appreciate what Baptism is and does to the soul, we cannot but arrive at this conclusion. A conclusion which the early Church arrived at. For this reason, it established itself as a sacramental and liturgical tradition. But, anyway, this isn’t an apologetics article defending infant baptism—there’s plenty on the net about that!

This is just a brief reflection on what can often be brushed off as a boring topic. It’s a terribly forgotten topic.

It’s easy to brush the topic of baptism off as something that happened to us in the past, or some rite we’re used to attending for babies in the family.

When was the last time you thought about your baptism?

Do you know the date you were baptised?

Have you ever thanked God for the gift of your baptism?

If you were baptised as an infant or child, have you ever owned your baptism?

“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.” (Jn 3:5).

To be born in the flesh is to be born in the natural order and is to be ordered to a natural end, and in this fallen world, that end is death.

We’re pretty much stuffed if that’s all there is. Without God, without the reality of the spiritual domain of existence, our natural birth orders us to the natural end of death. Compost for worms. Or, for those who try to romanticise the latter—star dust. Some people actually rejoice at this idea. Star dust for eternity? It's like the worst ending ever. Not even slightly romantic. One probably needs to get out more if that's an appealing idea for an eternal destiny.

The minds of many settle on this and may fain an attitude of dogged nihilistic resignation. “Meh. Such is life”.

The human heart is not satisfied with this answer, not because there’s something in us which strives to survive in vain, in spite of the cold hard reality of things, but because our heart knows a truth which our minds may have forgotten, which our culture and world has long forgotten. Our heart, beating not so much between our lungs, as it does in our soul, beats with a truth beyond empirical observation: we have an immortal soul which can only be satisfied if it can live forever and be happy forever. Anything short of this, and the human heart is not satisfied. It can’t handle compromise on this point, even if the mind is willing to be duped so as to do away with the strangeness of having to believe in what cannot be seen with the eyes, and cannot be known without the aid of faith.

Faith is what it takes to believe in the words of Christ: “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.” (Jn 3:5). It takes faith to believe that we can be born again and are born again in baptism. It sounds obvious, but have we actually, and do we actually, believe in our Baptism?

Faith is a gift, and it comes to those who ask for it. Yes, it’s infused into the soul at Baptism, but still, it needs to be used, we have to actively choose to believe, to want to believe. “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!” (Mk 9:24).

Those of us who have been baptised before the age of reason, in a special way, have to at some point profess our belief in the mystery of what took place at our Baptism, saying, “I believe”. We do so publicly as a congregation when we recite the Creed, “I believe in one baptism,” but there’s value in doing so on our own, privately, between just God and ourselves. Even then, it doesn’t hurt to renew our belief and gratitude in the baptism we have received.

What exactly is it we are believing in?

If by our birth in the flesh, in the natural order, we’re ordered to a natural end—death; by our supernatural birth in the Spirit, a birth in the supernatural order, we’re ordered to a supernatural end—eternal life. Our first birth takes place in temporality, within time, in the world, our second birth takes place outside of time, in eternity, in God.

That’s all well and good. It’s 101 Christian stuff. But we’ll never be able to appreciate enough the profundity of this truth of our Baptism. Just as a newborn child must still grow in the order of nature, so too we must grow in the supernatural order. Nevertheless, even if we have much growing to do, those of us who have been baptised can say with St. Paul, “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me; the life I now live in the flesh [here and now], I live by faith in the Son of God, the one who having loved me and given himself up for me” (Gal 2:20).

We’re in Jesus. We live in Jesus.

Grave and mortal sin may crucify this life within the soul. By it we commit spiritual murder against the life of the Son of God within us. It’s not that we harm Him who is now glorified, but we harm ourselves, His life within us, and contribute in the past to that single crucifixion by which all sins, past, present and future, played a horrifying part.

Perfect contrition and repentance restores this life. The Sacrament of Confession its visible guarantee.

The Eucharist nourishes this life. By it we grow. The Mass is the feast at which we’re nourished.

Hours of Adoration and prayer is the company we need to be socially fit for communing for heaven. That’s what prayer is—socialising with God. We all know what happens to people who fail to be properly socialised. Especially to children who fail to be adequately socialised. I can recall to mind the images of children who were neglected and left to be raised by packs of wild dogs, or wolves. Studies show the effects improper socialisation has on the development of the human brain. There are milder examples too—people we know, decent people, but who suffer with social inabilities. Maybe us too!

Once the damage is done, it’s hard to remedy. Often, it’s not simply the fault of the one who struggles to socialise to maintain a healthy social life. Everyone has their issues, and some have scarring backgrounds. In some ways, maybe we can’t all be aptly sociable, but the real question is, are we aptly sociable in the Spirit or are we spiritually antisocial? Are we antisocial in the eyes of God and heaven? This is a domain of socialising, by grace, within every Christian’s capacity, and our own weakness is an asset in this! (2 Cor 12:8).

Do we want to die as lame-o’s when we get to heaven? Shy little squirts incapable of relating to God, to Christ, to the angels and saints?

Forget about hell, that’s the antisocial domain of eternity—there’s no socialising down there, even if some joke about ‘having a beer’ with Satan. Sorry, the fallen angel who chose eternal spite and hate over eternal joy and love isn’t exactly going to be anyone’s mate.

Well, for those who die with Christ’s life in us, bestowed by God in the Sacrament of Baptism—not the only, but the ordinary and only guaranteed and visible way He bestows this life—purgatory is the place where those who are not socially apt for heaven go to learn how to love and commune with Love itself, with God who is a Triune Community of Persons: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Here the soul learns to commune with God, is purified to relate with He Who is Power and Might, Who loves with a power and might enough to destroy trillions of universes. No wonder we need to be “socialised” to this great God. It’s quite a process to allow His grace to equip our fragile nature with the capacity to commune with Him on a supernatural level face to Face.

Why would we want to wait and delay the eternal company and intimacy for which we were made for? We shouldn’t want to go to purgatory, and we need not, God can do all things with an open and generous heart.

To grow in the flesh as a normal, healthy human being with a balanced life, we need to be social.

Thus, here and now, not later, how much more do we need to socialise with God, with Christ, especially as He is present in the Eucharist, and after that, in the Word, and in the People, who make up His Church, especially the Blessed Virgin Mary, St. Joseph, the Saints, and by fellowship with those who make up the visible Church in our midst.

Venerable Archbishop Sheen describes Confirmation as "the great social sacrament" (Your Life is Worth Living, Sheen). Confirmation, as we know, is the Sacrament which fortifies and emboldens the supernatural life we receive in baptism. It would be wrong to say it completes baptism, but rather, it helps bring to completion that which baptism brings us: the Trinitarian Life, the Great Social Life, the Super-Social Life, the Beyond-Social-Life!

John the Baptist says of Christ and His Baptism, the Baptism into which we as Christian’s were Baptised:

“He will baptise you with the Holy Spirit” (Mk 1:8b).

Both the Greek and Aramaic texts render the following translation:

“He will baptise you in the Holy Spirit,” or, to be more literal, to escape the true and valuable, but sometimes obfuscating etymological weight of the word “baptism,” we can equally say:

“He will immerse you in the Holy Spirit”.

We’ve been immersed in the Spirit. Not any old spirit, not some abstract dimension of reality or impersonal force that imbibes the universe. We have been immersed by our baptism into the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of the Living God, God Himself, Who is Holy Spirit. This Spirit is the Love, the Life, the Gift, the Donum, the Communion, between Father and Son. To be immersed in the Spirit is thus to be immersed into a Communion, into the Relationship of relationships, the Relationship of the Holy Trinity: of Father and Son in the Holy Spirit.

Yes, like Paul, we live our mortal life down here, but our real life is the eternal life of Christ, and thus, inescapably, of the Holy Trinity, we received in Baptism.

Is it dead in us? Then it is time to let Christ awaken it through Confession.

Is it alive in us? Well, let’s thank the Lord for it! Let us live this life in prayer and community. By prayer, we socialise directly with God, and by participating in human community, especially in Church, we socialise with our neighbour in whom God indwells.

Let us “walk not according to the flesh,” living by putting the stuff of this mortal life as our motivating goal but let us “walk… according to the Spirit… setting our minds on the things of the Spirit. To set the mind on the flesh is death,” for that is all that’s waiting for us at the end of this natural life of ours—the moth, the worm; but “to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace,” for the Spirit will not end, and nor will that life we live now by faith in the Son of God who loved us, who loves us, and will love us forevermore (Rom 8:4-6).

To be baptised, to be immersed in the Love of God, is to live, walk, move, work, sleep, pray, build relations, reach-out, help, rest, love, all for the Love of God, the Love of Christ, which makes us love and give ourselves up for Him “who has loved and given himself up for me” (Gal 2:20).

Our life has but one purpose, we were baptised for one purpose: to be enabled to live forever so that we can love Him forever, and forever enjoy His love.

Yes, we were baptised to be social. To live in high society. To be social with God.

Monday, 30 November 2020

Duty Calls, 'To Each One His Work': ἐξουσία


'Christ the Judge,' Fra Angelico, 1447.

Take heed, watch; for you do not know when the time will come. It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his servants in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to be on the watch. Watch therefore--for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or in the morning--lest he come suddenly and find you asleep. And what I say to you I say to all: Watch."
Mark 13:33-37 (RSVA)


hat is the meaning of our Lord’s injunction, “Watch,” “Stay awake,” “Keep alert,” “Be on guard,” all fitting translations? What do we actually have to do in order to heed this command to attentiveness, to awakefulness, alterness? Clearly it matters, our Lord is emphatic. He will return, both at our dying and the end of the world, and we will be found either ready and pleasing to Him, or asleep and displeasing, or any manner of imperfect degree in-between the two states.

 I briefly want to draw attention to one phrase: “and he put his servants in charge, each with his work”. In this single phrase we can draw something of the meaning of what it means to keep alert in the spiritual life. What it means to possess a soul that is awake, infused with the energy of grace, alert to spiritual snares, and attuned to the things of God.

 To translate the Greek more literally:

Watch, keep awake, for you know not when the time is. Like a man going on a journey, having left his house, and given his servants authority—to each one, his work.

 The Greek word for authority here is ἐξουσία (exousia). It is a broad term, and in New Testament usage denotes a sense of governing power, a delegated authority with full rights to exercise such authority by the one who granted it. Implied by the term is the fact that the one who has exousia has also the power, means and ability to carry out their charge.

 We are the Lord’s servants and He the Householder has left the House of the pilgrim Church in our charge. For some, this charge looks like four walls with screaming kids. For some, a parish congregation, or a religious community. For others, a pile of paperwork and fellow employees. For others, the care of patients, or students. We all have our domains to which we have been appointed and entrusted, in the words of our Lord in the Gospel: “to each one, his work”.

 The married man has his work. The married woman, hers. The priest his. The religious sister, hers. The monk, his. The widow, hers. The youth, theirs; and on top of this, we are all unique with different gifts, callings, charisms and jobs and/or tasks assigned to us.

 Every person that ever has been, or will be, has been given his work and will be judged accordingly—from every peasant and slave, to every king and pharaoh. There is no parent who will not be held accountable for their parenting, no priest who will not be held accountable for their ministry, no grown adult not held accountable for fulfilling the duties assigned to them. The same applies to peoples of any and no faith.

 Is the Householder harsh? Why would he judge us poor folks? Well, judgement is the means by which punishment is determined, it is true, but it’s also the only way of assigning appropriate reward. It is good to recall that our judge died for us, naked, humiliated, on the cross. So this judge will not be without perfect mercy. But mercy can only be perfect if it is true mercy, based on truth. The greatest truth being that God is Love and that this God has forgiven us in mercy. Should our judge find this splendid truth alive, awake in our hearts, and evidenced in the deeds we have done to our neighbours, then to the degree in which He finds it, to that degree shall He judge us favourably. As we read in James: “There will be judgement without mercy for those who have not been merciful themselves; but the merciful need have no fear of judgement.” (James 2:13).

 We Christians have it good (worse too, if we squander our spiritual-privilege). Baptised into Christ we are given an explicitly spiritual task on top of our temporal duties, such that they blend into one. Not to mention supernatural grace to help us live the life of grace. ‘To do what we gotta do.’ In baptism we are given the exousia, the power, authority and ability of Christ Himself, to live as Christians according to our state of life.

 Those who have received the power of the Holy Spirit in Confirmation have yet another advantage. This is the Sacrament of exousia, the Sacrament of holy anointing unto power. A Sacrament that gives vitality to the life of Christ received by the soul in baptism.

 What we must do in order to keep awake, alert and watchful is quite simple, even if in practice it is hard. It is to carry out the duties which God, and indirectly, life, has appointed to us; and to do all of these duties in accord with the greatest of all our duties. A duty that underlies, animates and gives purpose to them all: the duty to love. To love God, by doing all for his sake; and to love neighbour, because our Lord takes such love as done unto Himself.

 We don’t need anyone to tell us what our duties are.

 In our duties God’s Will for us is made blatantly obvious.

 The modern world, so ensnared by Satan, the original shirker of duty, hates the word duty. In other ages, and still present to some degree in our own age, the Devil can twist duty to become an end in itself, something done for vanity’s sake, social propriety, self-image, all cut off from love. The classic and revivalist stoic, although we can learn much from him, falls into this latter error. The sloth and the ‘liberated’ moral rebel falls into an opposite kind of error. All alike share one trait: they are spiritually asleep.

 We know our duties. We could write a list of them in our heads. Let us tend to these, each according to the priority of their moral weight, and the need of the moment, and let us do so as prayerful people. People who walk from Mass and the chapel, from rosary-beads in-hand and bedrooms, out into the field apportioned to us and to no other. Let us do, and do dutifully, complaints and fumbles, notwithstanding, but always in love.

 For we can do, do, do, but if we do not do in love, we do not do at all—we be mere sleepers walking. But if we do in love, we shall be awake and watchful, for the love of the Lord awakens the soul. Such love never sleeps, not even the sleep of the body can overcome it, nor the languor of our tired limbs and will.

 We read in the Song of Songs: “Many waters cannot quench love, neither can floods drown it” (8:7).

 We could be impaired, locked-up, constrained in a straight-jacket, dosed-up on numbing agents, and thus outwardly prevented from doing any of our external duties, but should we still will the fulfillment of our duties in love, with eyes fixed on God who is our Exousia, our Power, and be thus joined to the secret and mystical work of the Crucified and Incarnate Christ operative within the Church and the world, then we are more active, watchful and awake than a whole army on amphetamines who serve some earthly exousia could ever be.

 This is a consolation, and not just to those deemed fit for nothing but euthanasia by the modern utilitarian world. For how sucky we are at doing our duties. Even if we tick the external boxes, how hard it is to get a full score for the overriding duty to love to the point of loving those who hate us.

 We could analyse our duty-fulfillment to the hills until the point we start to neglect our duties. So let us focus on doing what we can with what’s in front of us, repenting when we stuff-up, moving on, discerning, and acting again. Putting our faith not in our own doing, nor capacity to do—our own exousia—but in the Power, the Exouisa of He who is our strength and ability. "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Cor 12:9).

 Our actions matter, “but the Lord looks on the heart” first (1 Sam 16:7). Before any action, comes the extent of our will to love and fulfil our duties. We must rouse ourselves to such love (Isa 64:7). Ask of God to expand the holy desires of our heart. To wed our will to His Will of perfect love. We won’t grow into His love if we don’t ask for it! Then, the will aligned in the right place, if genuinely aligned, will flow into dutiful action.

 Often the action falls short, not reflecting what we really wanted to do. That’s part of our weakness. We’re not perfect parents, priests, religious, nurses, or teachers. But Christ is, and a sleepless faith and love, that always wants to increase, and stands on the humility of repentant trust to get what it wants—the fulfilment of His Will—can make up with Christ’s Exousia for what we lack. 

 By faith, in love, we unearth in our baptised soul the riches of Christ, the Resurrection and the Life, the Awakener, the Living One, who has delegated us with tasks already accomplished and made perfect in Him. Already crucified, resurrected and glorified in Him. The mother will find in Christ all the perfection of the motherhood she lacks, the father, the father, the priest the priest etc. The Spirit, working to the extent we let faith and love reign in us, then weds our doings to the doings of Christ. 

 Thus, may it be so, as long as we still do what we can, the Householder will find us awake and ready, and when he returns, at our own mortal end, and the end of the age, we shall find a smile somewhere on that mighty face. Even better, may it be a big fat grin.

Monday, 8 June 2020

Life with the Trinity “There” on the Mountain, in the Garden, through the Blood

'The Trinity (Troitsa),' Andrei Rublev, 15th century.

THE LORD DESCENDED in a cloud and Moses stood there with him” (Ex 34:5). There? Where? On Mount Sinai. This is where Moses stood when the Lord revealed Himself in giving the commandments a second time. But where is “there” for us? That “place” and “space” upon which we too can encounter God? We don’t need to climb high to enter the craggy peaks of a lifeless mountain like Moses in order to encounter God, we need to enter the depths of a living Person, the One Who climbed down to us.

The first reading for Trinity Sunday (Year A) comes from the book of Exodus. In holy rage, Moses has destroyed the tablets of the law after witnessing the idolatry of his people. God calls Moses once again to the top of the mountain, commanding him to bring a new set of tablets. Moses ascends the mountain alone and there God reveals Himself as “a God of tenderness and compassion” (Ex 34:6). This is the context of our selected verse: “The Lord descended in a cloud and Moses stood there with him” (Ex 34:5).

The Hebrew places greater emphasis on the word translated “there” (שָׁם) which is placed at the end of the clause. At the same time seeming to highlight the preposition “with” and its attached pronominal suffix: “with him” (עִמּוֹ). In wooden English we could thus read: “The Lord descended in a cloud and Moses stood with him there.”

The first use of the adverb “there” (שָׁם) is in Genesis 2:8:

And the Lord God planted a garden in Eden in the east and He put the man there whom He had formed.

So far we have two places that constitute “there”. The “there” of the garden of Eden and the “there” of Mount Sinai. The “there” of the garden of Eden is descriptive of the beginning of man, the primordial start of humankind, our original creation. The “there” of Mount Sinai marks the beginning of the Old Covenant, the creation of God’s Holy Chosen People.

Adam had already received the living power of the breath of God before being placed in the garden (Gen 2:7-8). But it was “there” in the garden that Adam received his dual vocation “to till and keep” the garden, and to abide by God’s Will encapsulated in the command to eat freely of every tree in the garden, but to not eat from the forbidden tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Gen 2:15-17). The commandment of God here is not simply negative. We often forget to notice that Adam is also positively commanded to eat freely of all that has been allotted to him. The “there” of the garden is the place where humanity is commissioned for a mission: to serve creation in love, above all in our fellow brothers and sisters, and to serve God.

So too with the “there” of Mount Sinai. Here Moses received the commandments of God, the vocation of especial holiness, and the covenantal promise of God’s abiding Presence. The “there” of the mountain is the place where humanity in the Nation of Israel is commissioned anew for the mission of loving God and neighbour, symbolised by the dual tablets of the law.

We have in Christ the New Adam and the New Moses, a fulfilment of both.

Jesus was crucified on Mount Calvary (“Calvary” from the Latin Calvariæ Locus, “Place of the Skull,” from the Aramaic Golgotha; Greek, Kranion Topos). John tells us that “in the place where he was crucified there was a garden” (19:41). In the “there” of Calvary we find a fulfillment of the “there” of Eden and the “there” of Mount Sinai.

By approaching Calvary, the Cross of Christ, the Crucified One, we receive the vocation of communion and the law of love in its full power, given as the Spirit and grace in place of stone tablets, flowing out to us as blood and water.

Here at the “there” of Calvary we receive our supreme vocation, our commissioning for a mission: to join together with Christ Crucified in death, so that we might join together with the risen Christ and live with Him in the unity of the Holy Spirit, in the glory of God the Father.[1]

We apprehend this from the words of Christ: “If you want to follow me, take up your daily cross and follow me” (Lk 9:23) and “I pray that they all may be one; as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be one in us” (Jn 17:21). There is no other way to this Trinitarian life, admittance into this oneness between Father and Son in the Holy Spirit, except through Christ, and Christ Crucified. As Moses on Mount Sinai stood “there with him,” the Lord, it is in standing “there with him” on Mount Calvary that we become one “with him”—one with the Son, with the Father, in the unity of the Holy Spirit. In the words of St. Paul, “For if we have died together with him, we shall also live together with him” (2 Tim 2:11). And if we live together with Him Who is Son, we live together with Them Who are One.

Literally speaking, we find a garden and a mountain at Mount Calvary, but our “there” in which and by which we come to live in God is not a thing but a Person. Mount Calvary the place is only special because of Who we find “there”. It is not Mount Calvary that transports us into communion with the living God. It is Christ Jesus, the Son of God—He is our Garden, He is our Mountain, our “there” where we find God.

In an audience preceding the Angelus on Trinity Sunday St. Pope John Paul II invoked similar imagery (2003):

The Triune nature of God is the principal mystery of the Catholic faith. With it, we come to the end of the journey of revelation which Jesus fulfilled through his Incarnation, Passion, Death and Resurrection. From the summit of the "holy mountain" which is Christ, we contemplate the first and last horizon of the universe and of history: the Love of God, the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.[2]

By faith we climb the “holy mountain” who is Christ, entering upon the peak of God’s love for us made flesh in Him. We enter Christ our “holy mountain” when we put on the faith of the Church and repeat with our hearts, even more than with our lips: “I believe…” Credo.

We stand on lowly ground, stuck in the mire of our sins, incapable of rising to greater heights of righteousness because of our ineptitude. But by faith we enter Christ and rise with Him to the supreme heights of His Righteousness which He gives to us as our own (2 Cor 5:21). Established in this Righteousness of the Son we come to share in His right and perfect relation with the Father, and this right and perfect relation is none other than the Spirit of Righteousness (Rom 6:11).

On Mount Sinai God established His Chosen People as a Holy Nation, with the vocation to love Him with unique fervour. In Christ our “holy mountain” we have been spiritually established as the Chosen People, as the People of God, a Trinitarian People, a People reborn from the pierced side of Christ, as Eve was born from Adam’s side. We have been commissioned with the mission of loving God and neighbour, of serving the world in spite of itself, in loving enemies even unto death. We have been set apart in Christ our “holy mountain” to live in the world, but not of the world, to not become sucked-up into the fleshly, political, ideological modus operandi of the world’s inhabitants, but to live in the Spirit, the Modus Operandi of God’s Self. It is a mission to live again the life of the Son in the world, bringing the love of the Father to all, the love Who is the Spirit of Peace that binds all together (Eph 4:3).

In our summit Who is Christ we find the “holy garden”. Not where man was first created in flesh, but where man was first recreated in Spirit—the place of our rebirth. In Christ the “firstborn from the dead” we were reborn, in Christ we are being reborn, who we really are and were made to be is a mystery already fulfilled in Christ, through faith it is actualised in us, through love, it grows (Col 1:18; 1 Pet 1:23). “For [in Christ] you have died, and your life has been hidden with Christ in God” (Col 3:3).

As Adam was created and placed “there” in the garden of Eden to till it and watch over it, in the “holy garden” who is Christ, “there,” in Him, we were placed by the Father to live and move and have our being (Acts 17:28).

To be placed in Christ is to be placed in the Church. For the Church is "Christ's body" (1 Cor 12:27). Thus in Christ our “holy garden” we have received the vocation to serve and watch over the garden of His Holy Body the Church. To cultivate the life of the Trinity within, and to watch in holy awe in contemplation beneath, in beatific vision above, and all in the Communion of the Saints.

The fruits of our “holy garden” are the infinite riches of Christ, the infinite sum of the merits of the Christus Totus (Christ the Head in union with all the Saints of His Body), which includes the fruits of the Holy Spirit. These fruits line the river that gushes in the Sacred Heart of Christ, borne upon the trees of His Saints that grow there (Jn 4:14; Ez 47; Rev 22). His Godhead is the true “river that flows out of Eden to water the garden” (Gen 2:10) of His humanity, and from whose pierced side the river of God’s abundant life divides, while remaining one, as it goes out to water the souls of God’s Holy People who open their hearts to receive this divine life (Jn 19:34; 10:10).

In Christ we hear repeated the call to eat freely from the trees of His garden. “Let my beloved come to his garden, and eat its choicest fruits” (Song 4:16c). Most importantly the command to eat the Fruit of His Paschal Sacrifice. “Take and eat; this is my body” (Mt 26:26). “Whoever eats this bread will live forever” (Jn 6:51). For this is the Fruit of the Tree of Life—Christ’s Holy Cross. Whoever puts forth his hand and eats from it will live forever (Gen 3:22). The hand is our will, our reaching, our faith-filled desire.

If we search the Scriptures to find the first use of the preposition “with” (עִם) we find ourselves in Genesis at the moment of the sin of Adam. Eve “took of its fruit and ate, and she gave to her husband also and he ate with her” (Gen 3:6). This was the forbidden pseudo-communion of sin, an unholy “communion” that fractured Trinitarian love of God and neighbour and self in man’s heart, and nourished only the self-love of the ego, the love of “I” cut off from “Other,” in the heart of fallen man.

To restore us to communion with the “Other,” to restore Trinitarian love in the heart of human beings, God in the Person of the Son instituted the Sacrament of His Body and Blood. A holy communion meal to undo what the unholy “communion” of our foreparents brought about. This “fruit of the vine and work of human hands” has become the Blood of the New Covenant, shed not at the foot of Mount Sinai from bulls and lambs, but shed on Mount Calvary from the Incarnate Son, the Lamb of God. Shed to wash us of the power of sin, to cleanse the “I” of its selfishness, and so enable us to enter the Wedding Feast of the Lamb, the Trinitarian banquet where the “many” are made “one” in the Three Who are One (Rev 7:14, 19:7; 1 Cor 10:17). A fulfillment of the prayer of Christ that the Father hears crying out from His Son’s Blood: “Father, forgive them… make them one, and make them one with us” (Gen 4:10; Lk 23:34; Jn 17).

What is the Blood of Christ but the life of Christ. “For the life of the flesh is in the blood. And I have given it to you,” says the Lord, “upon the altar to make atonement for your souls. For the blood,” the Blood of Christ, “it makes atonement for the soul” (Lev 17:11). “The cup of blessing that we bless,” writes Paul, “is it not a communion in the blood of Christ?” (1 Cor 10:16). To put the two verses together: 'The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a communion in the Life of Christ?'

What then does it mean to drink and partake of the Blood of Christ, but to drink His Life. The Life of Christ is not mortal, but immortal, not merely human, but divine. The Life of Christ is not His own, but He shares One Life with the Father in the Spirit. Their Life is One. The Trinitarian Life flows in the Blood of Christ. When we drink Christ’s Blood we drink the Mystery of the Holy Trinity, the Life of the Godhead. ‘The cup of blessing that we bless is it not a communion in the life of the Holy Trinity?’

Eve “took of its fruit and ate. She gave to her husband also and he ate with her” (Gen 3:6). Now instead of Eve, in holy reparation, in a sharing of Holy Communion, it is the Church who takes “the fruit of the vine,” transubstantiated into Christ’s Blood, and gives it to her children who suck from the overflowing abundance of her breasts, “carried upon her hip, and dandled upon her knees” (Is 66:11-12).

The Virgin Mary is the preeminent instrument of Holy Church. The Blood of Christ which Christ out-pours, which the Church receives and distributes, flows through the Virgin Mary from Christ the Head, as She once gave it to Him in the womb; and now the Church through Mary gives the Blood of Christ to Christ again, but this time to the members of His Body. The ministerial priests, in communion with the episcopate, like Adam in the garden of Eden, are the ones charged with cultivating this Holy Fruit of the Vine from above, and in safeguarding it. Having received it in persona Christi the New Adam, through Mary the New Eve, they are commissioned to share the Blood, the Life of God, with all the People of God.

Once we have received the Blood of Christ, the Life of the Holy Trinity, it is not as if it dissipates completely unless this Life is killed through mortal sin, and even then, the Life of Christ’s Blood is poured out anew in the Confessional. Since even when the accidents of the Body and Blood of Christ are gone from our bodily systems, through faith, by hope, the Life we have received in the form of bread and wine remains in our souls. The Life we receive from without is already within. The Life already in us is thus nurtured by our communion with His Blood so that His Life in us increases. Life receiving Life.

Faith can even reach for the Cup of the Lord when it remains beyond our sensory grasp. The martyrs did not receive viaticum from a priest before they died, and yet, their final breath was a draught from the Blood of the Son of God, from the wellspring of Life Itself. This privilege is not reserved to the martyrs alone but to all the faithful in the secret sanctuary of the heart where only God ministers. There are no obstacles to the one who has been placed “there” in Christ the “holy mountain,” the “holy garden.” “Let anyone who desires drink freely from the water of life” (Rev 22:17). The invitation is explicit. Faith makes present the Life of God to be possessed, hope takes possession, and love is the power that possesses this Life and makes one possessed by It.

“The Lord descended in a cloud and Moses stood there with him” (Ex 34:5).

“And the Lord God planted a garden in Eden in the east and He put the man there whom He had formed” (Gen 2:8).

Our “there” is Christ, we have been put “there” by the Father, placed into His Son to share His Life. In this Life of the Son we encounter not a solitary life but a Holy Communion. We live this Life “in a cloud,” that is, through faith, without the capacity to see clearly the Trinity whose Life we share. 

Nevertheless, in Christ we discover the Loving Father who has placed us “there” in Him, His Son, and we discover this by Their Same Spirit, for “the Spirit is the witness, because the Spirit is the truth” (1 Jn 5:7), and this Spirit sent into our hearts makes us cry out “Abba, Father” just as it makes us acknowledge at once that Christ Jesus is His Only-Begotten Son (Gal 4:6; Rom 8:15; 1 Jn 4:2).  The “holy mountain” of the Son, the “holy garden” of Christ our Lord, is “there” “where” we receive this Spirit from the Father, the Spirit who brings His Relatio to us in the form of a vocatio amoris, a vocation of love, to be one “with Him” who is Three Persons in One God. To join the Life of the Loving Father, with the Beloved Son, in the Holy Spirit - Who is Their One Love, Their One Life.

“What does man gain by all the toil at which he toils under the sun?” “Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher, vanity of vanities! All is vanity” in this life, when lived apart from the Life of the Triune God (Ecc 1:1-2).

‘What does man gain by all the toil of Christ at which He toiled under the beam of the Cross?’ “Wonder of wonders, says the Preacher, wonder of wonders! All is wonder” in this life when lived in God the Son, for the Father, in the Holy Spirit—Their Communion of Love and Life.

The testimony of the Son is sure. “Whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours” (Mk 11:24) and “How much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him” (Lk 11:13), a share in the Life of the Triune God to those who ask Him?

[1] Lumen Gentium, 39-41; see also CCC 201.
[2] John Paul II, Angelus Audience, Solemnity of the Blessed Trinity, 15 June 2003,