Saturday, April 25, 2009

A Hermeneutic of Faith: The Word of God Must be Perceived with the Church and Within the Context of the Faith of the Church

Address of Pope Benedict XVI
Plenary Session of the Pontifical Biblical Commission
on the theme "Interpretation and Truth in the Bible"

April 23, 2009

I am happy to welcome you again at the end of your annual plenary session. I thank Cardinal William Levada for his greeting and his concise exposition of the theme which was the subject of your careful reflection during your meetings this week.

You met this time to examine in depth a subject that is very important: the inspiration and truth of the Bible. It is a subject that concerns not just theology but the entire Church, since the life and mission of the Church are necessarily founded on the Word of God, which is the soul of theology as well as the inspiration for all of Christian existence. The subject also responds to a concern that has been particularly dear to my heart, because the interpretation of Sacred Scripture is of capital importance for the Christian faith and for the life of the Church.

As you recalled, Mr. President, the encyclical Providentissimus Deus, of Pope Leo XIII, offered Catholic exegetes new encouragement and new directives on the subject of Biblical inspiration, truth and interpretation. Much later, Pius XII in his encyclical Divino afflante Spiritu took up and completed that precedent to exhort Catholic exegetes to reach solutions in full accord with the doctrine of the Church, taking due account of the positive contributions of new methods of interpretation that had developed meanwhile.

The living impulse that these two Popes gave to Biblical studies, as you said, found full confirmation and was developed farther by the Second Vatican Council, in a way that the entire Church has drawn from and benefited. In particular, the conciliar Constitution Dei Verbum illumines even today the work of Catholic exegetes and invites Pastors and the faithful to nourish themselves more assiduously at the table of the Word of God. The Council recalls, in this respect, first of all, that God is the Author of Sacred Scripture:

Those divinely revealed realities which are contained and presented in Sacred Scripture have been committed to writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.

For holy mother Church, relying on the belief of the Apostles (see John 20:31; 2 Tim. 3:16; 2 Peter 1:19-20, 3:15-16), holds that the books of both the Old and New Testaments in their entirety, with all their parts, are sacred and canonical because written under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, they have God as their author and have been handed on as such to the Church herself.

Dei Verbum, 11. However, since all that is asserted by inspired authors and sacred writers must be considered as asserted by the Holy Spirit, the invisible and transcendent Author, "the books of Scripture must be acknowledged as teaching solidly, faithfully and without error that truth which God wanted put into sacred writings for the sake of salvation" (ibid., 11).

Some norms which directly concern the interpretation of Scripture derive from the correct formulation of the concept of divine inspiration and truth in Sacred Scripture. The same Dei Verbum, after having stated that God is the Author of the Bible, reminds us that in Sacred Scripture, God speaks to man in a human way.

This divine-human synergy is very important: God truly speaks to men in a human way. For a correct interpretation of Sacred Scripture, therefore, it is necessary to research carefully what the sacred writers truly meant to say and what God wished to manifest to man through human words. "The words of God, expressed in human language, have been made like human discourse, just as the word of the eternal Father, when He took to Himself the flesh of human weakness, was in every way made like men" (Dei Verbum, 13).

These indications, very necessary for a correct interpretation of the historico-literary character as the first dimension of every exegesis, must then be linked to the premises of (Catholic) doctrine on the inspiration and truth of Sacred Scripture. Indeed, since Scripture is divinely inspired, there is a supreme principle of correct interpretation without which sacred writings would remain a dead letter, a thing of the past: Holy Scripture "must be read and interpreted in the sacred spirit in which it was written" (Dei Verbum, 12).

In this respect, Vatican-II indicated three criteria which are always valid for interpreting Sacred Scripture according to the the Spirit that inspired it.

First of all, one must pay great attention to the content and unity of all Scripture - it is Scripture only in its unity. No matter how different are the books that compose it, Sacred Scripture is one in the unity of God's plan, of which Christ Jesus is the center and the heart (cfr Lk 24,25-27; Lk 24,44-46).

In the second place, one must read Scripture in the context of the living tradition of the entire Church. According to Origen, "Sacra Scriptura principalius est in corde Ecclesiae quam in materialibus instrumentis scripta." (Sacred Scripture is written in the heart of the Church before it is on material instruments.) Indeed, the Church carries in its Tradition the living memory of the Word of God, and it is the Holy Spirit who gives it the interpretation in the spiritual sense (cfr Origen, Homiliae in Leviticum, 5,5).

The third criterion is the need to pay attention to the analogy of the faith, that is, the cohesion of the single truths of the faith among themselves and with the overall plan of Revelation, and the fullness of the divine economy that it encloses.

The task of the researchers who study Sacred Scripture in different ways is to contribute, according to the aforementioned principles, to a more profound understanding and exposition of the sense of Sacred Scripture. The scientific study of sacred texts is important, but does not suffice alone since it only satisfies the human dimension. In order to respect the coherence of the faith of the Church, the Catholic exegete must be careful to perceive the Word of God in these texts within the context of that faith.

Without this indispensable reference point, exegetic research will remain incomplete: losing sight of its principal goal, it risks being reduced to a purely literary reading in which the true author, God, no longer appears.

Moreover, the interpretation of Sacred Scriptures cannot be simply an individual scientific effort - it should always be confronted with, inserted into and authenticated by the living Tradition of the Church
. This norm is decisive in identifying the correct reciprocal relationship between exegesis and the Church Magisterium.

The Catholic exegete is not only a member of the scientific community, but also, and above all, a member of the community of believers of all time. Indeed, these texts are not given to individual researchers or to the scientific community "to satisfy their curiosity or to provide them with subjects for study or research" (Divino afflante Spiritu, EB 566). Texts inspired by God are entrusted in the first place to the community of believers, to the Church of Christ, in order to nourish their life of faith and guide their life of charity. Respect for this goal must condition the validity and effectiveness of Biblical hermeneutics.

The encyclical Providentissimus Deus recalls this fundamental truth observing that, far from hindering Biblical research, respect for this datum favors its authentic progress. I would say that a hermeneutic of faith corresponds more to the reality of this test than a rationalistic hermeneutic which does not recognize God.

To be faithful to the Church means, indeed, to place oneself in the current of the great Tradition which, under the guidance of the Magisterium, has considered the canonical writings as the word addressed by God to his people and has never ceased to meditate on them and to discover their inexhaustible riches. The Second Vatican Council reaffirmed this with great clarity: "All of what has been said about the way of interpreting Scripture is subject finally to the judgment of the Church, which carries out the divine commission and ministry of guarding and interpreting the word of God" (Dei Verbum, 12).

As the above-mentioned dogmatic Constitution reminds us, there is an inseparable unity between Sacred Scriptures and Tradition, because both come from the same source:

There exists a close connection and communication between sacred tradition and Sacred Scripture. For both of them, flowing from the same divine wellspring, in a certain way merge into a unity and tend toward the same end.

For Sacred Scripture is the word of God inasmuch as it is consigned to writing under the inspiration of the divine Spirit, while sacred tradition takes the word of God entrusted by Christ the Lord and the Holy Spirit to the Apostles, and hands it on to their successors in its full purity, so that led by the light of the Spirit of truth, they may in proclaiming it preserve this word of God faithfully, explain it, and make it more widely known.

Consequently it is not from Sacred Scripture alone that the Church draws her certainty about everything which has been revealed. Therefore both sacred tradition and Sacred Scripture are to be accepted and venerated with the same sense of loyalty and reverence.

Dei Verbum, 9.

As we know, the phrase “pari pietatis affectu ac reverentia” - the same sense of loyalty and reverence - was created by St. Basil, and accepted in the Decree of Gratianus, from which it came into the Council of Trent and then into Vatican II. It expresses precisely this inter-penetration between Scripture and Tradition. Only the ecclesial context allows Sacred Scripture to be understood as the authentic Word of God which becomes guidance, standard and rule for the life of the Church and the spiritual growth of believers.

This, as has been said, does not prevent in any way a serious and scientific interpretation, but moreover, it opens access to further dimensions of Christ, that are inaccessible through a purely literary analysis, which remains incapable of incorporating the global sense that for centuries has guided the Tradition of the entire People of God.

Dear members of the Pontifical Biblical Commission, I wish to conclude my intervention by expressing to you all my personal thanks and encouragement. I thank you sincerely for the demanding work that goes with serving the Word of God and the Church, through research, teaching and publication of your studies.

I would add to this my encouragement for the path that still remains ahead. In a world where scientific research takes on even greater importance in many fields, it is indispensable that exegetic science be situated at an appropriate level. It is one of the aspects of the inculturation of the faith which is part of the Church's mission, along with acceptance of the mystery of Incarnation.

Dear brothers and sisters, may the Lord Jesus Christ, Word of God incarnate, and Divine Master who opened the spirits of his disciples to the sense of Scriptures (cfr Lk 24,35), guide and sustain you in your reflections.

May the Virgin Mary, model of obedience to the Word of God, teach you to accept ever more the inexhaustible richness of Sacred Scripture, not only through intellectual research, but also in your life as believers, so that your work and your actions may contribute to always make the light of Sacred Scripture shine before the faithful.

Assuring you of my support through prayers for your efforts, I impart to you the Apostolic Blessing from the heart, as a token of divine favors.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Jesus, I trust in You! - Divine Mercy Sunday

Let us Pray -- Most Merciful Jesus, whose very nature it is to have compassion on us and to forgive us, do not look upon our sins but upon our trust which we place in Your infinite goodness. Receive us all into the abode of Your Most Compassionate Heart, and never let us escape from It. We beg this of You by Your love which unites You to the Father and the Holy Spirit.

The message of Divine Mercy is nothing new, but is a reminder of what the Church has always taught through scripture and tradition: that God is merciful and forgiving and that we, too, must show mercy and forgiveness. But in the Divine Mercy devotion, the message takes on a powerful new focus, calling people to a deeper understanding that God’s love is unlimited and available to everyone — especially the greatest sinners.

The message of mercy is that God loves us — all of us — no matter how great our sins. He wants us to recognize that His mercy is greater than our sins, so that we will call upon Him with trust, receive His mercy, and let it flow through us to others. Thus, all will come to share His joy. It is a message we can call to mind simply by remembering ABC.

A — Ask for His Mercy. God wants us to approach Him in prayer constantly, repenting of our sins and asking Him to pour His mercy out upon us and upon the whole world.
B — Be merciful. God wants us to receive His mercy and let it flow through us to others. He wants us to extend love and forgiveness to others just as He does to us.
C — Completely trust in Jesus. God wants us to know that the graces of His mercy are dependent upon our trust. The more we trust in Jesus, the more we will receive.

Divine Mercy Devotions
Through St. Faustina, the Merciful Savior has given the aching world new channels for the outpouring of His grace. These new channels include the Image of The Divine Mercy, the Feast of Mercy (Divine Mercy Sunday), the Chaplet, the Novena to The Divine Mercy, and prayer at 3 o’clock in the afternoon, the Hour of Great Mercy.

Although these means of receiving God’s mercy are new in form, they all proclaim the timeless message of God’s merciful love. They also draw us back to the great Sacrament of Mercy, the Holy Eucharist, where the living Lord, who suffered and died on the Cross and whose Heart was pierced with a lance, pours forth His mercy on all mankind, and grants pardon to all who draw near and honor Him. As Jesus told St. Faustina:

My Heart overflows with great mercy for souls, and especially for poor sinners . . . [I]t is for them that the Blood and Water flowed from My Heart as from a fount overflowing with mercy. For them I dwell in the tabernacle as King of Mercy.

(Diary, 367)

The scriptures speaks frequently and with great tenderness about God’s mercy. And through His words and actions, Jesus reveals to us in an extraordinary way God as a loving Father, rich in mercy and abounding in great kindness and love. In Jesus’ merciful love and care for the poor, the oppressed, the sick and the sinful, and especially in His freely choosing to take upon Himself the punishment for our sins (a truly horrible suffering and death on the Cross), so that all may be freed from destructive consequences and death, He manifested in a superabundant and radical way the greatness of God’s love and mercy for humanity. In His person as God-Man, one in being with the Father, Jesus both reveals and is God’s Love and Mercy Itself.

The good news revealed through Jesus Christ is that God’s love for each person knows no bounds, and no sin or infidelity, no matter how horrible, will separate us from God and His love when we turn to Him in confidence, and seek his mercy. God’s will is our salvation. He has done all on our behalf, but since He made us free, He invites us to choose Him and partake of His divine life. We become partakers of His divine life when we believe in His revealed truth and trust Him, when we love Him and remain true to His word, when we honor Him and seek His Kingdom, when we receive Him in Communion and turn away from sin; when we are mutually carrying and forgiving.

Works of Mercy - Be Merciful as Your Father is Merciful
Mercy is a virtue influencing one's will to have compassion for, and, if possible, to alleviate another's misfortune or misery (the Latin word miserere means “have mercy”). We are not only to receive the mercy of God, but to use it by being merciful to others through our actions, our words, and our prayers; in other words, we are to practice the Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy. The Lord wants us to do these works of mercy, because even the strongest faith is of no use without works.

Mt. 25:31-46 --

Jesus said, "When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit upon his glorious throne, and all the nations will be assembled before him. And he will separate them one from another, as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will place the sheep on his right and the goats on his left. Then the king will say to those on his right, 'Come, you who are blessed by my Father. Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me.'

"Then the righteous will answer him and say, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? When did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? When did we see you ill or in prison, and visit you?' And the king will say to them in reply, 'Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.'

"Then he will say to those on his left, 'Depart from me, you accursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, a stranger and you gave me no welcome, naked and you gave me no clothing, ill and in prison, and you did not care for me.'

"Then they will answer and say, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or ill or in prison, and not minister to your needs?' He will answer them, 'Amen, I say to you, what you did not do for one of these least ones, you did not do for me.' And these will go off to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life."

Eternal Father, I offer you the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity, of Your Dearly Beloved Son, Our Lord, Jesus Christ, in atonement for our sins and those of the whole world.

For the sake of His sorrowful Passion, have mercy on us and on the whole world.

Holy God, Holy Mighty One, Holy Immortal One, have mercy on us and on the whole world.

Eternal God, in whom mercy is endless and the treasury of compassion inexhaustible, look kindly upon us and increase Your mercy in us, that in difficult moments we might not despair nor become despondent, but with great confidence submit ourselves to Your holy will, which is Love and Mercy itself.



Saturday, April 18, 2009

Preparation for Adult Confirmation -- Class Two

“You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses.” (Acts 1:8)
Preparation for Adult Confirmation - Outline and Extended Notes

Class Outline for April 18, 2009

II. Jesus Christ – Redeemer of Mankind – Complete Revelation of God

A. Existence and Nature of Jesus - Who and What is Jesus?

1. Tried for blasphemy – “I AM”

  • guilty as charged, not guilty by reason of insanity, fictional character, or Son of God?
2. The Word (Logos)
  • “Emmanuel,” God with us
  • only begotten Son of God, consubstantial with the Father, through whom all things were made
  • fulfillment of the Law and the Prophets
  • Light of the World, Bread of Life
  • the Way, the Truth, and the Life
  • Judge of the living and the dead
3. Fully God and Fully Human

  • God incarnate, God become man – one divine person with two complete natures, both human and divine, and two wills
  • like us in all ways except for sin, with fully human freedom, frailties, and limitations
  • the Son of God became a man to sanctify us, to make us partakers of His divine nature; that is, Jesus assumed our nature so that He, made man, might make men gods
4. Savior of the World
  • “Jesus,” Yeshua, God saves
  • the Messiah King, the “Christ,” anointed one
  • Son of Man
  • the Suffering Servant
  • the Lamb of God, sacrificed in atonement for sin, reconciles mankind with God
B. The Life and Ministry of Jesus – Healer, Teacher, and Testifier to the Truth

1. Early Life of Jesus
  • adoration of shepherds and Epiphany
  • circumcision and presentation in the Temple
  • slaughter of innocents, flight into Egypt, and departure out of Egypt
  • teaching in the Temple
  • hidden family life in Nazareth
2. Signs, Miracles, and Healings
  • bearing witness to who He is and to the fact that the Kingdom of God is present within Him
3. Master Teacher
  • utilizes different methods
  • teaching on a variety of topics, including --
    • testifying to Truth and to Love
    • revealing who God the Father is, revealing who He is, revealing who the Holy Spirit is
    • revealing who we are as human persons
    • instructing us how to pray and how to serve God
    • revealing the Kingdom of God, of heaven, of the last things
    • giving us assurance and trustworthy hope to overcome all hardship
    • commanding us to love God and love one another, to be perfect in love and truth, just as our heavenly Father is perfect, including giving of ourselves and being merciful
C. The Cross and Resurrection – the Paschal Mystery and the Transformative Power of Love

1. Perpetually Crucified, Eternally Resurrected
  • the Crucifixion and Resurrection stand at the crossroads and center of human history
  • God transcends time and space, so that specific points in human time, including the Crucifixion and Resurrection, continue to exist forever in His "present"
  • the Passion of Jesus is an on-going event, He is eternally being scourged and crucified
  • sin is a reality in the world, with real consequences – in the Passion and Crucifixion of Jesus, the truth of that reality and those consequences are made manifest in His flesh
  • we are the ones who crucify Him - every sin of ours is another lash on His flesh, another pound of the hammer driving nails into His hands and feet
  • through the Cross, by His eternal, on-going Resurrection, He “makes all things new”
2. The Lamb of God, Who Takes Away the Sins of the World
  • Jesus is Divine Mercy, who gives His life in forgiveness of mankind
  • Jesus freely offers His life as an expiatory sacrifice, that is, He makes reparation for our sins out of love for God and mankind, so as to reconcile them and repair the rift that had been caused by man’s infidelity and rejection of God
  • rather than conferring forgiveness by simply denying the reality of sin or pretending that it did not happen, and ignoring its consequences, Jesus freely offers His life as a sacrifice in justice and witness to the truth of the real and destructive effects of sin in the world
  • by sin, we are held captive to sin and death, by the Cross, Jesus pays our ransom
  • Jesus takes the sins of mankind upon Himself, not merely taking them upon Himself spiritually, much less philosophically, but He takes the sins of mankind upon Himself in the totality of His being, that is, upon His Body as well
  • the spotless Passover Lamb, who is sacrificed by the high priests for the sins of the people, and who blood is sprinkled so that death would pass over, and we would be lead from the bondage of sin and death to freedom and life
3. The Compassion of Jesus
  • Jesus offers Himself as ransom and accepts death on the Cross out of love for us
  • as fully man, with all the frailties of humanity, Jesus, God Himself, profoundly knows what it means to suffer horrible pain, fear, and anguish – as such, He suffers with us (com-passion) in all of our own individual hardships
  • His joining in our human suffering allows us to join in His suffering, thereby to give meaning to our suffering and to join in His redemptive purpose, our agonies can be transformed and overcome
4. The Destruction of Death and Restoration of Our Life
  • the Resurrection is the crowning truth of the Faith
  • the Resurrection is the work of the Trinity – Father manifesting His power, Son taking up again the life which He freely offered, and the Holy Spirit bringing that life and glorification
  • Love is stronger than death
  • death could not be destroyed by simply avoiding it, death could only be destroyed by descending into it and transforming it
  • in His resurrected and glorified Body, Jesus carries the wounds of His Passion and Crucifixion
D. The Eucharist – Source and Summit of the Faith

1. Real and Substantial Presence
  • Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ
  • transubstantiation – genuine transformation of the whole fundamental substance of bread and wine into the substance of His actual flesh and blood, while still remaining under the appearance of bread and wine
  • instituted to perpetuate the sacrifice of the Cross, and be a memorial of His death and Resurrection
  • recalls the unleavened bread of the Passover meal
  • rightly called “Eucharist,” from the Greek for “thanksgiving”
  • Blessed Sacrament, Holy Communion, the Lord’s Supper
  • recalling the multiplication of the loaves and fishes, Jesus is fully present in each part even in the breaking of the bread
2. Fullness of Communion
  • intimately receiving Him in the entirety of our being, body and spirit
  • unites us to His Glorified Resurrected Body and Blood
  • as in His Incarnation, when Jesus united Himself with humanity, the Eucharist unites God to man and His Creation by utilizing bread and wine, materials that are taken from the earth, but into which man has put a part of himself in his labors by changing grain and grape to bread and wine
  • a sign of unity – communion, joining as one with Him in the entirety of our being, joins us in communion with all the faithful on earth and in purgatory and the saints in heaven
3. One Mass, One Sacrifice
  • Crucifixion and Resurrection transcend time, such that those moments continue in perpetuity
  • in the Eucharistic sacrifice in the Mass, Christ is not sacrificed again and again, rather, the Crucifixion and Resurrection are re-presented, that is, made present again
  • At Mass, the bread and wine are consecrated and transubstantiation is brought about in the Eucharistic prayer through the efficacy of the word of Jesus and by the action of the Holy Spirit
    • bread and wine are made Body and Blood in the same manner as the creation of the universe, when God said “Let there be light” – by the Breath and Word of God
    4. The Fruits of Holy Communion
    • the Eucharist is “the medicine of immortality, the antidote for death, and the food that makes us live forever in Jesus Christ” (St. Ignatius of Antioch)
    • reception of the Eucharist preserves and renews the life of grace and makes us grow in love of neighbor while strengthening us in charity, wiping away venial sin, and giving grace to live a virtuous and holy life
    E. Christ the Bridegroom and His Bride, the Church

    1. Jesus Established the Church
    • Jesus promised that He would be with us always, until the end of the age
    • Jesus established the Church as His Holy Bride, two become one
    • being one with Her Bridegroom Christ, the Church is also the Body of Christ
      • to be in communion with the Church is to be one with Christ
    • the word “church” is derived from the Greek word “kyriake,” meaning “what belongs to the Lord,” which is also called an “ecclesia” in Latin, “an assembly set apart”
    • Jesus called His Apostles – the word “Apostle” is from the Greek for “emissary”
      • the Apostles given special authority and power to act in persona Christi
      • authority to teach
      • authority to confer the Sacraments
      • to build up and govern the Church
      • the Apostle Peter, the first pope, was given a special supreme authority
    2. Mission of the Church - Jesus Calls All His Disciples to be His Witnesses
    • Jesus said to love God and love others as He has loved us
    • Jesus has instructed us to go and make disciples of all nations
    • the mission of the Church is to proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ to the world
      • to testify to truth and to love
      • to serve Him and help Him in the reconciliation of man with God and the salvation of mankind
    • all of the faithful, the people of God who make up the Church, are called by Jesus to be a light to the world
    3. Jesus Promises to Send the Holy Spirit
    • the institution of a New Covenant, with an outpouring of the Holy Spirit, had been announced by the prophets Jeremiah and Joel
    • Jesus fulfilled the scriptures in promising to send the Holy Spirit to the Church and faithful
      • to guide and protect the Church
      • to sanctify and make men and women more like God
      • to confer the grace and power to be holy and perfect in love and truth, as God is perfect
    • Jesus told us in the Sermon on the Mount that we should be perfect, just as our heavenly Father is perfect

    Adult Confirmation Class Two - Extended Notes

    Jesus Christ – God become man (CCC 422-682)

    Just as the question of whether or not God exists is unavoidable, so too are the questions of who is Jesus? What is Jesus?

    At His trial, Jesus was asked if He is the Messiah, the son of the Blessed One? In response, Jesus echoed the words of God in telling Moses His name, “I AM.” (Mk 14:53-64) On other occasions, Jesus similarly declared “I AM.” (e.g. Jn. 8:58)

    With these words, there are only three possibilities -- either (1) Jesus was rightfully condemned as a criminal for committing blasphemy by wrongfully taking the Lord’s name in vain and equating Himself with God; (2) Jesus was delusional and insane, thereby mitigating His alleged blasphemy; or (3) He is, in fact, the “I am,” that is, God.

    Faith informs us that Jesus is the Christ, which is Greek for “the anointed one,” the one anointed by God. Jesus is the Son of God – God Himself – the Word (Logos) made flesh through whom the world was made. He is not only God in a spiritual sense, He is God incarnate, God become man. Fully God, yet fully human, united in one. He is one divine person with two complete natures, both human and divine, and two wills, with fully human freedom. Like us in all ways except for sin. He is Emmanuel, meaning “God with us.” (Mt. 2:23) He is not merely a pleasant story, he is not merely a nice philosophical idea, but an actual historical event. He is God entering into time and taking tangible physical and bodily form. And, as fully man, Jesus knows fully our human pain, suffering, fear, anguish, and sadness.

    Why did He do this? Because God is Love and God is Truth.

      (a) Because He loves us, as the name Emmanuel suggests, He wanted to be “with us,” like us, and among us – not only at a single point in time, but always and forever.

      (b) He wanted to teach us, to give us a deposit of faith, and be a Light for us -- the Way, the Truth, and the Life.

      (c) He wanted to “save” us -- to redeem us and repair the rift. Indeed, the Greek name “Jesus” (Yeshua or Joshua in Hebrew) means “God saves.” As the Son, consubstantial with the Father, Jesus wanted to reconcile Fallen Man to God, to bridge the gap that man had created and reunite us. Jesus is the culmination of salvation history.

      (d) He wanted to sanctify us, to make us sharers in His divinity. Jesus assumed our nature so that He, made man, might make men gods.

    The Transfiguration, which gave the Apostles a glimpse of His glorification, shows that Jesus is the fulfillment of the Law and the Prophets.

    And after fully revealing God’s love and truth, Jesus, the Son of God, gave us the grace of salvation and eternal life by becoming the spotless lamb who was sacrificed for sins, and whose blood would be sprinkled so that death would pass over, and we would be led from the bondage of sin and death to freedom and life. He is the innocent righteous man, the suffering servant, upon whom the Spirit of the Lord has descended, who is pierced for our iniquities, and who pays the ransom with His own life. By the transformative power of His love on the Cross and His resurrection, Jesus, the Son of Man, has defeated suffering and death and established His kingdom of salvation.

    Because God transcends time and space, for Him specific points in time continue to exist forever. The Passion and Crucifixion were not isolated events in some distant past. Rather, His sacrifice is an on-going event. He is not crucified again and again, but is one sacrifice. He is perpetually being scourged, eternally on the Cross. Every sin of ours is another lash on His flesh, it is another pound of the hammer, driving nails deeper into His hands.

    At the same time, to be one with Jesus means to be one with Him on the Cross. Although Jesus is fully man, and thus suffered greatly, He is also united with the Father of Love -- as He calls us all to be, and as we all can be -- and so that fully human and excruciating pain and suffering are transformed and overcome, and therefore made bearable. Through the Cross, even death is overcome, and He makes all things new. By uniting our sufferings with His, by offering them up to Him on the Cross, they obtain redemptive meaning. The martyrs could truly smile in joy amidst the flames and beasts that tore at their bodies because they too were one with Him, and so their agonies were transformed by love.

    God’s plan for man does not stop at his redemption and salvation, that is, reconciling man to God, but continues toward our sanctification, that is, making men more like God. Jesus calls us to be holy and perfect in love and truth, just as His Father in heaven is perfect. He calls us to be true to the purpose for which we are made, to love and be loved in truth. To love God and love one another as Jesus has loved us, including extending forgiveness and mercy to others. And to help us attain that perfection, to help us love in truth, Jesus, promising to be with us always, to the end of the age, has established His Church and sent us His Holy Spirit.

    Jesus Christ and His Bride, the Church (CCC 748-962; 1113-1134)

    Jesus said that He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life, that no one could come to the Father except through Him. (Jn. 11:25-26; 14:6) Jesus not only taught, He established the Church as His Holy Bride, two become one, and He gave us the sacraments, which are administered by the Church, so as to help us come to the Father and be redeemed and sanctified.

    Man was created as a social creature, intended to exist in relationship, not in solitude. Thus, Christ also established the Church so that we might fulfill our purpose of being in communion with each other, as well as Him. To be one with Jesus means to be one with the one holy Church, which is also the Body of Christ. Accordingly, we see that Jesus Christ and the Church are absolutely necessary for salvation.

    In establishing the Church, from the Greek word Kyriake, meaning “what belongs to the Lord,” which is also called an ecclesia in Latin, “an assembly set apart,” Jesus called certain men as apostles, from the Greek for “emissary.” To the Apostle Peter, who was the first Pope, Jesus gave a special supreme authority. The original Apostles later appointed successors, whom we know today as bishops, and assistants, such as priests, who have the authority and power of teaching and administering the sacraments in persona Christi. Each bishop is the spiritual shepherd for a specific area, which is called a diocese, and he in turn delegates certain authority to pastors over a smaller area, which is called a parish.

    The Eucharist

    Before ascending to heaven, Jesus said that He would be with us always, to the end of the age. In the most obvious sense, Jesus is with us in the Eucharist. (Lk 22:19-20; Jn 6:48-58) The Eucharist is the source (beginning) and summit (end) of the Faith, inasmuch as this Blessed Sacrament is the Real Presence of the Body and Blood of Jesus, even though under the appearance of bread and wine. In the Eucharist, the substance is transformed, that is to say, the fundamental basis of its being. This genuine transformation is called transubstantiation. As described by Pope Benedict, Christ takes possession of the bread and the wine, and He lifts them up out of the setting of their normal existence into a new order. Even if, from a purely physical point of view, they remain the same, they have become profoundly different.

    Through the Eucharist in the one Mass, according to His Word, Jesus is with us, not merely spiritually or theoretically or as a philosophy, but physically, such that we, as bodily creatures who experience things through our senses, can be united with Him bodily as well as spiritually.

    In a profoundly intimate way, we take His glorified Body and Blood into our bodies. The encounter with Jesus in the Eucharist is not the encounter of a friend or a mentor or a teacher. It is a parental and spousal encounter. It is because the Eucharist is the Real Presence that such an encounter is the most intimate of intimate touchings. The person literally takes Christ within him- or herself both bodily and spiritually, so as to become one with Him in a mystical fashion, as in marriage, which also involves entering into another bodily and spiritually so as to become one in a communion of persons (unitive) and so as to receive life (procreative).

    Only in this way is the totality of our person, body and spirit, able to be one with Him, Body and Spirit, fully and completely. Again, because we are creatures of both spirit and body, to receive Him in the entirety of our person, it is essential that we also experience the Body and Blood of Christ, which can be received only at Mass, in addition to His Spirit, which can be experienced at home. In this way, the Eucharist can truly be called Holy Communion.

    The consecration of the bread and wine at Mass to become the Blessed Sacrament is not a re-sacrificing of Jesus. There is only One Mass, and there is only One Sacrifice, which is re-presented, that is, presented again. Remember, God transcends time and space, so that, not only does He extend across our concept of linear time, but for Him, specific points in time continue to exist forever. Thus, the Passion and Crucifixion were not isolated events in some distant past. Rather, His sacrifice is an on-going event. He is not crucified again and again, but is one sacrifice. He is perpetually being scourged, eternally on the Cross. In the Mass, in some mystical but true way, we transcend space and time and are made present at the Last Supper, we are made present at the foot of the Cross. And because we partake of His glorified Resurrected Body and Blood, so too are we made present at the Resurrection, and made One with He who rose to eternal life.

    Thursday, April 16, 2009

    Preparation for Adult Confirmation -- Class One

    “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses.” (Acts 1:8)
    Preparation for Adult Confirmation - Outline and Extended Notes

    Class Outline for April 16, 2009

    Introduction to Catechesis – “to make resound like an echo”

    • remembering the events of salvation history and making them known, so as to provoke an "echo" of the faith in the mind and in the heart of the listener, and thereby transform his or her life
    I. Salvation History – the process of God calling Mankind back to Himself

    A. The Lord God (CCC 26-50, 74-354)

    1. Knowledge of God
    • reason and observation and natural revelation in the universe, the world, our bodies
    • Divine Revelation, the Living Word of God – (written) Sacred Scripture and (oral) Tradition
      • Revelation is God making it easier for us to know Him and know ourselves
      • inspired, guided, and protected by the Holy Spirit
      • interpret scripture as a whole, OT in light of NT and vice versa
      • assistance of Magisterium in interpreting Revelation
    2. Faith and Reason
    • faith and reason are not contrary or incompatible, but assist each other
    • faith itself is reasonable, being arrived at by revelation assisted by right reason
    • pure reason is necessarily limited, and it is also impaired by influences of the world and sin
    • reason’s search for truth always relies on and trusts (takes on faith) prior revealed knowledge
    • religious faith helps reason to discover itself and open it to transcendence
    3. Existence and Nature of God - Who and What is God?
    • “I AM” – Logos – Creative Reason – Being itself – Truth
    • Love, outward, fruitful and unitive
    • Alpha and Omega - Complete in Himself and only Necessary Being
    • Transcendent of Space and Time, thus omnipresent and eternal, singularity and totality of time
    • Personal Being
    4. The Trinity – One and Three - Father, Son, and Holy Spirit
    • God is Love, and love, by its very nature, is relational – total perfect love is communion
    • God is Truth – One and complete in Himself
    • In God, there is an everlasting personal love, the Holy Spirit, that proceeds from and between the persons of the Father and Son
    • a loving communion of three distinct persons in one undivided divine nature, substance, and essence
    5. God the Father – Creator
    • creation of universe ex nihilo and ab initio temporis
    • the universe and human beings are not accidental or arbitrary products of chance, but willed by God
    • Divine Providence sustaining what God has created

    B. Existence and Nature of Man (CCC 355-421, 1846-1876)

    1. Who and What is Man?
    • created by God in Love and Truth, contingent and dependent upon Him
    • Man, male and female, equal and complementary, made in the image of the Triune God
    • “not good for the man to be alone” – emptiness of individual solitude
    • social-relational beings, incomplete in ourselves, in need of an other and Other in order to be true to ourselves
    • body and soul, having one nature of matter and spirit, which is temporal and transcendent
    • human personhood – a free subject with an inherent dignity, not an object or thing, possessed with sentience and free will, as well as the capacity for reason and for love
    2. What is the Meaning of Life?
    • “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind; and you shall love your neighbor as yourself”
    • love one another, as Jesus loves us, so too should we love one another
    • God reveals meaning of life in scripture and in our very bodies, male and female
    • we are made to love and be loved in truth
    • made in love and truth, we are naturally drawn toward God, who is Love and Truth
    • made in the image of the Trinity, this love is not merely relational, but spousal in nature
    • meant to exist both in general society and in a specific loving communion of persons
    • spousal-type communion with another human in marriage, or with God alone, is both unitive and fruitful (procreative)
    3. Love and Truth and the Freedom of Mankind
    • love is not love if it is not freely given and freely received
    • God does not force His love or truth on us against our will – God does not even save us without our consent, we are free to choose to return His love or to reject Him and live our lives apart from Him
    • Man has independent agency, with rational control and freedom to think and act - the universe is not purely materialistic and pre-determined
    • the existence of a free will not pre-determined by physical factors suggests the existence of an extra-corporeal aspect to the person
    • it is the spirit that allows one to transcend and overcome the mere biological electro-chemical reactions in the brain and thereby choose our actions
    • the existence of free will means that we are morally responsible for our own willful choices
    4. The Fall of Man – Original and Individual Sin
    • sin, Original and personal, necessarily is in opposition to God, who is Truth and Love
    • Adam and Eve erroneously believed that they did not need God, but could be gods themselves with the power to choose their own truth, their own concepts of right and wrong
      • this Original Sin has affected and infected us all, leaving a stain on our very being
      • the stain of Original Sin cannot be removed by our own efforts, but requires the transformative power of God, which we receive in Baptism
      • a wide gulf of separation between humanity and God was created, so great that man is incapable of crossing it on his own
      • mankind forgot knowledge of God
    • individual and social nature and consequence of sin
      • corruption of human nature, including ability to love and discern truth
      • weakened will and impairment of reason, judgment, and ability to see and know God, rejection of Light has thrown us into darkness
      • intrinsic punishment of being a slave to error and further sin, temptations overwhelm us
      • ultimately, sin so removes us from Truth and Love, that is, Life, that we are “doomed to die”
      • poisons all relations with others, both other humans and God
    • types of sin – mortal and venial
      • mortal sin involves a grave/serious matter, full knowledge, and deliberate consent, such that it destroys love in the heart and turns one away from God, thereby resulting in eternal death if forgiveness is not sought and accepted
      • venial sin wounds love in the heart and weakens grace, but is not so serious as to break the covenant with God, warranting temporal punishment and purgation, but not eternal death
    C. God – Who is Divine Mercy – Calls Humanity Back to Himself (CCC 50-73, 484-511)
    • Preparing Mankind for the Coming of Jesus Christ
    • Establishing Relationships with Specific Peoples, and Gradually Revealing Himself, with Christ and the Church Prefigured Repeatedly Throughout History
    1. Salvation History While Still in the Garden
    • in breathing His Spirit into us and making us in His image, God imprinted upon our very being a natural desire for God
    • the proto-evangelium, a promise of deliverance
    2. The Covenant with Noah
    • the Flood and the Ark
    3. The Covenant with Abraham
    • revelation of One God, the God of all peoples and all places
    • a chosen people and a promised land
    • called out of a far country
    • sign of the covenant
    • the meaning of total faith – offering to sacrifice Isaac
    4. The Covenant with Jacob/Israel
    • the suffering of Joseph leads to saving the people of God
    5. Moses and Freedom from Bondage in Egypt
    • the blood of the Passover lamb saves God’s people from death
    • God leads His people out of bondage – passage through the waters of the Red Sea
    • God protects His people, manna and water in the desert
    • God gives His people freedom by giving them the Law - Torah
    6. Judges and Kings
    • military rulers
    • the people desire a king, Saul is anointed, followed by David
    • the covenant with David – promise of the Messiah
    • psalms and other writings describe marital and parental relationship with God
    • Solomon builds the first Temple
    7. Repeated Infidelities of God’s People
    • God’s people turn away and fall into sin, and God allows them to suffer the consequences
    • enemies and invaders threaten and conquer Israel
    • God mercifully forgives when the people seek to return to Him
    • the Temple is defiled and razed
    • the Diaspora and Babylonian exile
    • the Prophets remind people of God’s mercy, encouraging them to have hope and return to Him
    • the messianic prophecies of Isaiah, Daniel, Ezekiel
    8. Prophecy of a New Covenant
    • prophets Jeremiah and Joel announce the coming of a New Covenant, which includes the outpouring of God’s Holy Spirit upon all mankind
    9. Return from Exile
    • the land of Israel is heavily influenced by Greeks and other foreigners
    • Maccabean revolt and Jewish independence
    • the eternal light of the Temple
    • Rome conquers “Palestine” and installs Herod the Great as king

    D. The Culmination of Salvation History – Jesus Christ

    1. St. Mary, the Handmaid of the Lord
    • “Hail, Full of Grace”
    • Immaculate Conception
    • Mary’s “Yes”
    • Theotókos, the Mother of God, living temple of God
    • Ever Virgin
    • New Eve
    • Assumption into Heaven
    2. St. Joseph, Protector of Jesus and Mary
    • model of faith and love – selfless sacrifice and love without possessing
    • wise and faithful servant
    • Joseph’s “Yes” – the love and mercy of the just and righteous man
    • teacher and provider for Jesus
    3. The Incarnation and Nativity of our Lord Jesus Christ
    • God merges into humanity, the Fruit of Mary’s womb, flesh of her flesh, bone of her bone
    • the mystery of the eternal, omnipresent, and all-powerful God entering time and becoming small and dependent
    4. St. John the Baptist
    • last and greatest of the prophets
    • prepares the way for the Lord
    • announces to the world that the long wait is over, salvation has come

    Adult Confirmation Class One - Extended Notes

    The word "catechesis" is a Greek word which means "to make resound like an echo." The word was adopted by the early Church as part of implementing its duty to make disciples of all nations. In transmitting the Good News, the Church has a constant "memory" of the events of salvation history and makes them known, so as to provoke an "echo" of the faith in the mind and in the heart of the listeners, and thereby transform all their life. This echoing of the faith includes narration of the wonderful deeds of God and the awaiting of the coming of Christ, who is the culmination and center of salvation history, and of His return have always accompanied the exposition of the mysteries of faith.

    On the Existence and Nature of God (CCC 26-50; 198-278)

    The unavoidable question of life is whether or not God exists. To arrive at a correct answer to that mystifying question, one must, of course, have a proper conception of whom or what God is. It is quite easy to reject any belief in God if all you know is a caricature of Him, rather than the reality. The problem is that, while the mere existence of God is knowable by reason, reason is necessarily limited by what is already known or by what can be imagined. However, reason can be enlightened by revelation, helping us to know who and what it is that we seek, that is, helping us to have that proper conception of God, at least to the extent that we can comprehend, conceding that the full extent of the nature of God is beyond our limited human comprehension, which we call “mystery.”

    Faith and reason are not incompatible. Faith helps reason to discover itself. As Pope Benedict has pointed out, the search for truth in any endeavor never starts from zero, but always presupposes a trust in knowledge, ideas, and data which we cannot always control by ourselves. Faith implies reason and perfects it, and reason, illuminated by faith, finds the strength to rise to knowledge of God and of spiritual realities. Human reason loses nothing when it is open to the contents of revealed faith.

    Also, when one simply "takes it on faith" that God exists, then it all starts making sense. As St. Augustine discovered, belief leads to understanding, which in turn leads to greater belief. Once we simply flip the switch of faith, the light comes on, and we can see, thereby confirming that we were right to trust. Thus, in answering the question of God, it is good to consult revelation as a starting point from which our reason can determine whether this is a truth to which we should give our assent.

    Revelation informs us that:
    (a) God told Moses that He is the “I am.” (Ex 3:13-15) What does this reveal about God? It means that God, as the “I am,” is the Ultimate Reality, complete in Himself and, therefore, One. He is Being itself and is therefore Truth itself. Indeed, if something lacks truth, it lacks reality and existence. This Truth is the first principle, from which all else follows. Referring to Himself as the “I am,” shows that God is a transcendent conscious reality that has a name, an identity, that is, He is not merely philosophical truth, not merely a cosmic force, but a personal being. He is not merely a what, but a who.
    (b) God, that is to say, Jesus Christ, is also the Word (Jn. 1:1-5), that is, Logos (Creative Reason), and as such, is again Truth itself from which everything that exists proceeds. And yet again, He is the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and end of all things. (Rev 21:1-7) In Him, all things are made new.
    (c) However, Revelation informs us that God is not merely Truth, He is also Love. (1 Jn. 4:8) And this is demonstrated again and again in salvation history.

    Now, love is by its very nature relational, that is, love is not self-oriented, but must extend outward -- an “other” is required for love to exist, one who loves and one who is loved. Love does not exist in a vacuum. And total perfect love, love in its truest and fullest sense, involves not merely a relation of persons, but a communion of persons. Accordingly, God is not a one-dimensional being who exists in solitude, but, rather, being Truth and Love, complete in Himself, He exists as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – a Holy Trinity, an everlasting communion of three distinct persons in one undivided divine nature, substance, and essence. Each possesses the fullness of the other, and each has always existed. In God, there is an everlasting exchange of love between the persons of the Father and Son, and this love proceeding from and to each of them is not merely a sentiment, but is a person as well, namely, the Holy Spirit.

    This One Truth who is also Love is eternal and transcendent, not bounded by time or space. That is, He exists beyond and outside of space - the physical universe – and because time is a measurement of changes in space, He exists outside of time. He is pure, infinite, unbounded spirit. For God, time is not linear, as for humans, but is a singularity and a totality – all moments exist simultaneously and each moment exists in perpetuity. As a result, He transcends the universe and is eternal.

    God and Creation (CCC 279-354)

    If the question of God is unavoidable, so too is a related question, which is often asked with respect to proofs of the existence of God: Where did the universe and where did we come from?

    In Love and in Truth, God created the universe. By His Word, He created it ex nihilo and ab initio temporis (out of nothing and at the beginning of time). We know this from divine (written) revelation, but even without written revelation, God reveals Himself in nature, such that knowledge that the universe was created by God can be attained by reason and observation of the orderly universe. Indeed, the very word "cosmology," meaning the study of the universe, is derived from the Greek cosmos (order) and logos (reason), and non-religious ancient scholars, such as Plato, Aristotle, and Cicero long ago posited reason-based theories for a God-Creator.

    But are not faith and science necessarily in conflict with each other? How can reason and observation alone lead to the conclusion that the universe was created by God? Well, the very first premise of science is that truth exists, and that reason exists. It is a premise of science that the universe is ordered, and that it strictly operates according to rational laws, including cause and effect, Newton’s first law of motion (inertia), conservation of energy/matter, and the second law of thermodynamics (entropy).

    One cannot get something out of nothing. A thing cannot have itself as its own cause, a thing at rest stays at rest unless moved by another thing, and entropy (disorder) in a closed system tends increase over time. The physical reality that is the universe did not and could not have created itself. It did not and could not have set itself “in motion.” Indeed, a universe of chance and arbitrary randomness – a universe detached from reason -- could not have created the ordered and reasonable universe that exists today. Chance and arbitrary randomness cannot account for matter that exists in a stable, ordered form, or for the fact that some of that matter is alive. Chance and arbitrary randomness cannot account for the infinite complexity of the human organism, much less the capacity for thought, free will, and autonomous action. The universe, order in the universe, and mankind had a cause independent of themselves, and that cause was the First Cause and First Mover of all things – God. (See also, St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, I, q. 2, art. 3)

    And yet, some insist that the universe and reality itself sprung into existence by an arbitrary and accidental act. Not only did the universe just spring into existence all by itself, it was and is just coincidental that certain sub-atomic particles react with other particles in particular fashion, and that they are thus bound together, so as to permit the existence of atoms, molecules, and compounds, not to mention galaxies, stars, and planets. But the existence of these things, and the fact that they follow rational laws, would dictate as a matter of science that they were caused by something rational and true.

    The fact that one of those planets just happened to be so lucky so as to be just the right distance away from the sun, which radiated just the right kind and intensity of light and heat, and the temperature of the planet was just right and that planet had just the right kind of elements in the right proportions so as to be able to form oxygen and water, shows that we are either extra-ordinarily lucky, like hitting the Lotto every single day for 100 years, or we are here because of some rational creative act of reason.

    Moreover, some of this matter became animated, that is, alive, which also points to a rational cause; it points to the conclusion that life is not simply the result of haphazard events. Life is not the result of the random collision of molecules and electro-magnetic pulses. And the fact that some of that life actually has the capacity for sentience and thought, an ability to form and create ideas and to exercise independent agency, i.e. free will, which actually transcends the physical, points to the possibility that reality is not limited to the physical universe, but there is a reality beyond it. Indeed, science has repeatedly postulated the existence of realities beyond the known universe, or even the existence of non-corporeal life.

    There was a cause to all of these things. That cause was necessarily "Creative Reason," i.e. Logos (God). As we can see, the basis for believing in the existence of God merely from simple observation of the world around us, experience, and reason, is compelling. To be sure, the Big Bang Theory only confirms what revealed scripture has said all along. But as far as reason takes us, it does not take us all the way. Revealed faith, on the other hand, does allow man to reach for and attain the transcendent.

    The Existence and Nature of Man and the Meaning of Life (CCC 355-384)

    If the above questions are unavoidable, so too are the questions: Where does mankind come from and why do we exist? Just as observation and reason allow us to come to the conclusion that the universe was made by a Creator, so also do observation and reason allow us to conclude that life on earth, especially human beings, were also the fruits of a Creator's thoughts and actions. But, as with the universe generally, written revelation and faith enlightens our reason to an even greater degree, so that we can know not only where man came from, but why he exists in the first place. For those who have no use for God, the meaning of man's existence has only confounded and confused, leaving them all too often in existential angst and nihilistic despair. For those who accept revelation and faith -- the truth has set them free.

    Revelation informs us that, in Love and in Truth, God created “man,” male and female, in His image. Man is a created being; he is not self-actualizing, he did not create himself. He is not accidental, and he is not the product of spontaneous animation of matter. We were and are created by a thought of God; each of us is willed by Him as an act of love. Man exists, man lives, only because God the Ultimate Life has breathed into the body of man (Genesis 2:7), thereby giving him life by His own Holy Spirit. This also shows also that man was created not merely as a physical entity, like a stone, and not merely as a spiritual being, like the angels; rather, God created us with a unified soul-infused body, which comprises one nature of spirit and matter, transcendent and temporal. To be made in the image of God also means that we are persons with an inherent dignity, not things, and that we are possessed with sentience and free will, as well as the capacity for reason and for love.

    Man is naturally drawn toward God -- even if he does not realize it or argues against it -- because man is naturally drawn toward love and truth, and this love and truth that man seeks has a name, they are a person -- God. Now, although love is naturally fruitful, God did not have to create the universe or human beings. He was not forced or compelled to do so out of some narcissistic need to be worshiped. Rather, He chose to create the universe and humanity. God is complete in and of Himself, in need of nothing outside Himself. As the “I am,” the Logos, God is the only necessary being – we humans are entirely contingent upon Him.

    Our bodies (male and female) reveal that God made us, like Him, to be social and relational beings who are equal and complementary, beings who are meant to need each other and exist both in general society and in a specific loving communion of persons. That is, “man” as an individual, is incomplete. We are in need of an “other” to complete and fulfill us.

    This truth is further explained by scripture, which presents us with a “theology of the body.” Genesis (1:26-28) informs us that “God created Man in his image; in the divine image He created him; male and female He created them.” To be made in God’s image means to be made in the image of truth and love. As demonstrated in the Trinity, this love is not merely relational, but spousal in nature, that is, a love that draws the individual toward a communion of persons. By the words, “He created him; male and female He created them,” we see that there was an original unity of male and female, man and woman; that they are designed to be complementary and intended for each other in equal dignity.

    In another account of the same truth, (Gen. 2:18-25) describes how God said "It is not good for the man to be alone.” To demonstrate this, God first had the man exist in an original solitude, so that we could see how much we are in need of other persons. Although the man had the company of plenty of animals, he saw that none of them were like him, he was alone. Having demonstrated by experience that it is not good for him to be alone, God then took a rib from the side of Adam and, from that rib, made Eve, leading Adam to exclaim joy¬fully, "This one, at last, is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh.” This describes how, as individuals, there is something missing in our very being. For both men and women, there is a gaping hole in our side, and we desperately need an “other” to fill that hole. Without that other, there is a void, an emptiness. We need to have that rib returned to our side to be whole again, to be fulfilled. We need the “other” to be one and complete, to be true to ourselves, and the other can fill the void only with and by love.

    We cannot be fulfilled if we are left to ourselves in solitude. We can fill part of that hole with a spouse, as with the first spouses, Adam and Eve, but even then God needs to be part of the relationship to bind them together and to fill the remaining void. Indeed, we see that “man” manifests an image of the Trinity, a communion of three persons in one, when man (male) and woman (female) are joined together with God, as husband and wife, by the Love that is the Holy Spirit. Moreover, love in its fullest sense being not only unitive but naturally fruitful, we have the ability to share and participate in God’s procreative power of creating new life and have been explicitly commanded by Him to “be fruitful and multiply.”

    For those who are permanently single, God is the only one who can fill the entirety of that void because He is the One who is Love, the One who is Completeness. Unless and until the heart is thusly filled, there is a restlessness and a hunger.

    Indeed, we exist to love and to be loved in truth. That was, and is, God’s plan for humanity; that is the meaning and purpose of life -- to live in the truth and love and be loved. (Mt. 22:37-40; Jn 13:34)

    After creating mankind, God did not simply withdraw into heaven, sit back, and do nothing. That would not be love. Rather, in Divine Providence, He continues to interact with His creation, sustaining and caring for it by His Love and Truth.

    Man and Freedom

    Man, male and female, was created in the image of God, who is Love and Truth. God loves each of us and seeks our love in return. Accordingly, as individual human persons, we are meant to exist in love and truth, that is, the meaning of human life is to love and be loved in truth.

    At the same time, love is not truly love if it is not freely given and freely received, and love does not force itself or impose itself upon the other. That would not be love, but an act of falsehood and an act of violence. As such, God does not force Him¬self or His Love upon anyone. God is not a puppet master. Thus, we are also created with a capacity for free choice of the will. This free will, an ability to choose, includes the ability to freely choose to return God’s love, or the freedom to reject Him and live our lives apart from Him.

    1. The Question of the Existence of Free Will

    Does freedom of choice really exist or is it an illusion? Does an individual have the true ability to determine the course of his thoughts and volitions, to decide which motives shall prevail within his mind, and to modify his own character, or are his thoughts and volitions, his character and external actions, all merely the inevitable outcome of his circumstances? Is everything, including our choices, pre-determined by some prior cause, either some physical cause, or by God controlling everything? Are choices and actions all inexorably predetermined in every detail along rigid lines by events of the past, over which the individual himself has had no sort of control? Or do we have the autonomy to exercise authentic control over our decisions and actions?

    Addressing the problem of the existence of free will requires understanding the relation between freedom and causation, and determining whether or not the laws of nature are causally deterministic. The issue of free will is especially important with respect to ethics and morality. Unless man is really free, he cannot be justly held responsible for his actions, any more than for the date of his birth or the color of his eyes.

    For those who believe in God, the idea of the existence of free will is rather simple to believe in. We have the evidence of its existence in our daily experiences of making choices in thought and action. But the person who does not believe in God, or who rejects the idea of God altogether -- along with the idea that human persons possess a soul, a spirit from God -- both the agnostic and atheist have a dilemma to overcome with respect to the supposed existence of free will.

    2. Determinism vs. Free Will

    Determinism is the philosophical proposition that every event, including human cognition, decision and action, is causally determined by an unbroken chain of prior occurrences. Determinism may also be defined as the thesis that there is, at any instant, exactly one physically possible future.

    If the agnostic or atheist persist in their unbelief, then many necessarily must logically conclude that "free will" and "self-determination" do not really exist, indeed, "thought" does not really exist, they are simply illusions that we think that we are experiencing. That is because the physical world is governed by certain fixed and uniform physical laws, as well as the law of cause and effect, and if God does not exist, that is, if a cause beyond and independent of the physical universe does not exist, then all future events or effects are necessarily caused, or determined, by some prior pre-existing physical event or condition operating under the laws of nature.

    If there is no God, then the universe is purely materialistic, and the human being does not have a soul, but is merely a body, a biological entity whose apparent "independent thoughts" are nothing more than electro-chemical impulses interacting with chemical markers that have been laid down in brain tissue, and which we know as memory, with both those impulses and markers being themselves pre-determined by other purely physical causes. Thus, “free will” is merely an illusion, a mere feeling of independent agency. And if our thoughts and actions are all pre-determined and we have no personal power to think and do otherwise, then they are not really our own thoughts and actions, and we cannot justly be held morally responsible for them.

    3. The Soul and Free Choice of the Will

    “Free will” is the metaphysical truth of independent agency and elective power, including the ability to exercise autonomous and rational control over one’s decisions, thoughts, and actions. The existence of free will means that the actions of the body, including the brain and the mind, are not wholly determined by physical causality, that one’s thoughts somehow go beyond and transcend the physical body, suggesting the existence of an extra-corporeal aspect to the person, which we call the spirit or soul. It is because we are both body and spirit that we are able to transcend and overcome the mere biological electro-chemical reactions in the brain. It is because we are not purely biological, but have a spirit, that we are able to transcend what pure biology and environment dictate.

    The human brain is like a computer. A computer operates strictly according to its software programming and the efficacy of its hardware. So long as there is no physical damage or defect, the computer will only do what its program dictates, without any deviation whatsoever. The actions of the computer are totally pre-determined by its programming. Likewise, the human brain operates according to its own hardware and software, by electro-chemical impulses along synapses, which interact with memory that has been created by certain chemical markers on the brain tissue. However, human persons are possessed with more than a body and computer-like brain.

    Faith -- revelation and reason -- informs us that we are also possessed with a soul, and this spiritual component of our being is able to rise above and go beyond the merely physical, including the physical laws of cause and effect. As a result, we are able to make independent decisions with respect to actions taken. We lift our hand and move our fingers because we consciously choose to do so of our own volition, not because of some pre-programmed biological memory and electro-chemical reactions in the brain.

    We are made in the image of God, and therefore possess to a certain degree that same power of the Logos, that is, we have a certain power of creative reason, which transcends and overrides the physical brain and permits independent thought and agency.

    Now, because humans do have free will, and their thoughts and actions are the result of their own willful choices, they can justly be held morally responsible for them. That is, it is right and just that we should experience the consequences of our choices.

    The Fall of Man (Gen. 3:1-24) (CCC 385-421)

    Free will, an ability to choose, includes the ability to freely choose to return God’s love, or the freedom to reject Him and live our lives apart from Him. Thus, the man and the woman of Creation were free to eat the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge, even though God had warned them not to: "the moment you eat from it you are surely doomed to die."

    The man and the woman thought that they could be like gods themselves, that they could then choose their own truth, their own reality, their own concepts of right and wrong. They thought that they could be self-fulfilling and self-sufficient, not needing God or other people. Even today, there are many people who still believe this. Indeed, we could easily say that we are, ourselves, both Adam and Eve, that the story of the Fall of Man is one that repeats itself on a daily basis.

    However, the man and woman were wrong. In eating the fruit, in freely choosing to oppose God, believing that they did not need the one true God, but could be gods themselves, Adam and Eve did not become gods, but instead fell from truth into error. And error necessarily leads to more error, until ultimately you are so removed from Truth and Love, i.e. Life, that you are "doomed to die," and not merely bodily death, but eternal death, that is, Hell.

    By opposing God, by turning against love and truth in this way, man necessarily severed the relationship between mankind and God, who is Love and Truth, and so corrupted human nature that our ability to love and to reason and discern good from evil is impaired. Before the loss of his “original innocence,” man could see – truly see. He could see God, truth, and love.

    But after sin, which is an offense against truth and genuine love for God and neighbor, man’s sight is impaired, his hearing is distorted. While hiding in the bushes, vainly seeking to hide from God, instead of being able to see Him clearly, the man now saw only leaves and branches. His ability to see God, to know God, to know love and truth, was grievously impaired. Loss of original innocence necessarily means that man can no longer live in the Garden of innocence and truth.

    Thus, we see that, as with this first “original sin,” our own individual sin, which is done by our own free choice of the will, carries its own intrinsic “punishment” -- error leads to more error, until, in your ignorance of the truth, you are in slavery to error and sin and death. By choosing to sin, choosing to set aside the Light and Truth of God, you are necessarily left to fend for yourself in ignorance and darkness, and you will find yourself inadequate to the challenge. And it is that first, original sin that is the root of every other sin.

    By sin entering into the world, our entire human nature is wounded, corrupted, and compromised, our souls are tainted. Our judgment is clouded, our ability to reason is impaired, and the influences and temptations of the world overwhelm us, plunging us into darkness and error and slavery to further sin.

    Some sin is so grave and deliberate that it destroys love in the heart and turns one away from God, thereby resulting in eternal death if forgiveness is not sought. We call these “mortal sins.” But what is such a serious and grave sin may not be so apparent to us, especially in our fallen state. For example, we might not think that merely eating a piece of fruit after being told not to is all that bad, but that seemingly innocuous act was the most mortal of all sins because by it, eternal death resulted. There are also those sins that wound love in the heart and weaken grace, but are not so serious as to break the covenant with God, thereby still allowing for eternal life after the stain of such sin is purged from us. We call these “venial sins.” While such venial offenses may not result in eternal death, they do warrant temporal punishment, and they also impede us in the exercise of virtue and the pursuit of moral good, as well as the in the ability to fully love and discern truth. Ultimately, Jesus Christ is the judge who determines whether we are in a state of grace or whether the sins we may commit are mortal or merely venial.

    The account of the Fall in Genesis not only shows how sin affects the sinner, it demonstrates how sin is intensely social. Indeed, this Original Sin did not affect merely Adam and Eve, but has affected and infected us all, it has left a stain on our being. All sin, both original and individual, affects and injures not only the sinner, but all of us. Sin severs and poisons all relations. After eating the fruit of the Tree, Adam not only foolishly tries to hide from God, but the first thing he does when confronted is to blame Eve. What directly follows is Cain’s murder of Abel.

    Salvation History (CCC 50-73)

    The book of Genesis informs us that man used his freedom, not to embrace love and truth, but to turn away from love and truth, thereby corrupting our human nature. As a result of this sin of believing that you are equal to or above God, of believing that you can create your own truth, your own idea of right and wrong, good and evil, the proper relationship between mankind and God was and is severed. In opposing God, who is Life, man necessarily brings death upon himself.

    The result of Original Sin is that a wide gulf of separation between God and humanity was created, a separation between man and love, truth, and life. The gulf of separation between God and humanity is so great that man is incapable of crossing it on his own. To be sure, following the Fall and expulsion of man from the Garden, mankind even began to lose knowledge of God. And not only are proper relationships between mankind and God severed, but, as we see with Adam turning against Eve, and Cain killing Abel, proper relationships between human beings themselves are estranged, so that, instead of living a life of love and truth toward others, mankind has lived a life of selfish self-gratification and exploitation of others; instead of harmony, there is discord.

    Now God, who is Divine Mercy, knew this rupture would happen. God knew that His covenant of love with Adam would be broken, and He already had a plan for reconciliation. This process of God calling humanity back to Himself is called “salvation history.”

    God did not abandon His creation, but sustains it and has even physically entered into its history. This history of salvation, which recounts the words and marvels of God, what He has done, continues to do and will do in the future, is organized in reference to and converges upon Jesus Christ. The structure of salvation history, of which creation and eschatology are its beginning and its end, includes the events in the Old Testament, by which God progressively prepared mankind for the Gospel, the life of Jesus, who brings Revelation to completion, and the history of the Church. As such, Christ and His Church were prefigured in many ways throughout salvation history.

    The first process of God calling humanity to Himself is, of course, creation itself, with God breathing his Holy Spirit into us to give us life, and man, male and female, being made in the Triune God’s image and likeness, thereby imprinting upon our very being a desire for God. Upon the Fall, in Genesis 3:15, in a passage known as the proto-evangelium, God tells the serpent who had tempted Eve in the Garden that her offspring would strike at his head, thereby foreshadowing the deliverance of mankind by Jesus Christ, who would demonstrate the serious nature of sin, and the high cost of redemption, by taking man’s sins upon Himself and dying on the Cross.

    After man had forgotten God, the plan of redemption was to establish a relationship with a specific people and develop them so that they could learn to know God and live according to His will of love and truth. In progressive fashion over time, God revealed Himself to a greater and greater degree while also forming covenants with certain people.

    God first established a covenant with Noah. (Gen. 6-9) During a time of great evil, the righteous Noah and his family were granted salvation by obeying God’s instruction to build an ark before the waters of the Flood came to wash away sin. Thus, as with Christ and His Church, through one man and the ark, the whole family of the faithful were saved from death and destruction at the end of the world.

    God next established the great covenant with Abraham to set apart a people to be His own. (Gen. 12, 17) To show that He was not merely the god of a particular place, as was believed to be the case by the polytheists of the time, but that He is the One God who is Lord everywhere, God told Abraham (then called Abram) to leave his home in Ur (present day southern Iraq) and go to a far land, Canaan (present day Israel), which would be given to him and his descendents. To demonstrate this covenant with Abraham and his descendents, the sign of the covenant, circumcision, was made on the instrument of procreation. Through these chosen people, God would bring salvation to all mankind.

    At this time in human history, not only was polytheism widely practiced, but human sacrifice was a part of some of those religions. In order for Abraham (and we) to fully understand the gravity of the situation, and so that he could demonstrate and prove (to himself) that he had total faith in the Lord, even to the point of being willing to sacrifice his beloved son Isaac, God followed the expectations of the times and told Abraham to offer to him in sacrifice, which Abraham dutifully prepared to do. (Gen. 22) God did not test Abraham in order for God to know the extent of his fidelity, the omniscient God already knew. Rather, God tested Abraham so that Abraham would know that he was so faithful that he was willing to sacrifice his own son, whom he loved. However, God does not, in fact, desire human sacrifice; He desires mercy and a loving heart (Hos. 6:6). And in order to graphically demonstrate that as well, God had Abraham proceed to the brink of sacrificing Isaac only so that He could then stop him. Neither Abraham nor any other member of mankind would be asked for such a sacrifice. Instead, as Abraham told Isaac, God Himself would provide for the sacrifice, as He also did in providing Himself as the Lamb of God.

    The covenant was renewed with Jacob, also called Israel. (Gen. 28, 35) When Jacob’s son Joseph was sold into slavery by his brothers, and Joseph was then unjustly thrown into prison, God demonstrated His providence by bringing good out of evil. Joseph was later freed from prison and given a powerful position in Egypt, where he was able to save his family from famine. (Gen. 37-46) Thus, as with Christ, one innocent man suffered to bring life to God’s people.

    In time, though, the people of Israel fell into slavery, so God revealed Himself to Moses, who would lead them out of bondage in Egypt, and they were saved from death by the blood of the Passover lamb, just as we are led out of the bondage of sin and death by the Paschal Lamb, who is Jesus Christ. And to help them know what He had already written on their hearts, God gave them the Ten Commandments and the rest of the Law, reduced to physical written form and kept within the Ark of the Covenant. But still, the people chose to wander in the desert, and that has been the history of man throughout the ages. Nevertheless, God continued to protect His people, even providing them manna and water by which to survive.

    Eventually, the people settled in Canaan, to be ruled for a period by military leaders known as “judges.” When they desired a king, God sent the prophet Samuel to anoint Saul, who was succeeded by David. God established a covenant with David, saying that his descendent (the Messiah) would reign as King forever. David’s son Solomon built the first Temple in Jerusalem, but the kingdom was soon thereafter divided in two.

    Meanwhile, various enemies and invaders threatened Israel, just as the Canaanites and Philistines had done previously. The Assyrians, Babylonians, and Macedonians all imposed their military might upon Israel, which was a major trade route. The land was conquered, many people were carried off into slavery and exile, and outsiders moved in, resulting in intermarriage amongst those who stayed behind. Eventually, however, the people would be restored.

    This cycle of events occurred over and over in the history of the people of Israel – The people would rebel by falling into sin and God would allow them to suffer the consequences, such as by being conquered by their enemies. The people then cry out to God for mercy and forgiveness, so the Lord has compassion and forgives. Despite their repeated infidelities, God did not abandon them, but remained ever faithful to His people, so as to continue to prepare them for salvation.

    During the unfaithful times, prophets arose, and God in various ways called the people to return to Him. During exile in Babylon, the messianic prophecies of Isaiah told of the Spirit of the Lord resting upon a descendent of David, a suffering servant who would endure pain, hardship, and even death for the sake of the people. In the book of Daniel, it is revealed that one would come like a “son of man” on the clouds of heaven to defeat the beasts of evil, and he would receive everlasting dominion and glory in a kingdom of salvation.

    The prophets Jeremiah and Joel also told of God establishing a New Covenant, which would fulfill and exceed the old covenant, and would include the outpouring of God’s Holy Spirit upon all mankind. Unlike the old covenants, He would write His law of love and truth on the hearts of the people. They would know Him and, from the least to the greatest, He would forgive their evildoing and remember their sins no more.

    Upon the return from the Babylonian exile, the people of Israel found their land heavily influenced by Greeks and other foreigners. In time, those foreigners included the Romans, who conquered the area they called Palestine and installed Herod to rule as king.

    It was then that God chose to bring salvation history to its culmination. A simple and humble girl was conceived immaculately, in the fullness of grace, without the stain of that Original Sin. In effect, in an image of God’s intended relationship with mankind, God proposed marriage to the human race. This young girl, Mary, was like a new Eve, and she accepted that proposal, saying “yes, let it be done” to her as God willed, when an angel announced to her that she would bear the Savior (Lk.1:26-45). Thus, we proclaim that Mary is the Theotókos, the Mother of God. Just as the first Eve was formed out of the first Adam, so Jesus, Son of God and the new Adam, was formed out of the new Eve, flesh of her flesh, bone of her bone.

    In Jesus, God literally merged into mankind, becoming small, defenseless, and vulnerable while dwelling within the Virgin Mary’s womb, in the most intimate of relationships. To be sure, to show that such an intimate relationship was not meant to be Mary's alone, to show that all the faithful are called to intimately receive Him into our own bodies, the newborn Jesus was placed in a manger. As with the straw that was food for the animals, so too Jesus is shown to be food for us in the Eucharist. And by becoming small in this way, the all-powerful God who needs nothing chose to need us, chose to need our help in bringing about the salvation of man.

    Mary, the handmaid of the Lord, by becoming His mother, became our mother too, and the Mother of the Church. As our Mother, like at Cana when the wine ran out, Mary is sensitive and attentive to our needs, and she intercedes and asks her Son to provide for us. (Jn. 2:1-5)

    The preparation of mankind for the coming of the Redeemer was completed by John the Baptist, the last and greatest of the prophets, who leapt for joy and was filled with the Holy Spirit when Mary visited his mother Elizabeth. The Baptist proclaimed to the world that the long period of expectancy was over. The Christ (Messiah) was at hand.

    But the One anointed by God would not be as men expected, a military ruler, but the lowly suffering servant and Lamb of God, who would be the sacrifice provided by God to atone for man’s sins and, thus, redeem mankind.


    Monday, April 13, 2009

    Light, Water, and Song

    Homily of Pope Benedict XVI
    The Easter Vigil

    Holy Saturday, 11 April 2009

    Dear Brothers and Sisters,

    Saint Mark tells us in his Gospel that, as the disciples came down from the Mount of the Transfiguration, they were discussing among themselves what “rising from the dead” could mean (cf. Mk 9:10). A little earlier, the Lord had foretold His Passion and His Resurrection after three days. Peter had protested against this prediction of death. But now, they were wondering what could be meant by the word “resurrection."

    Could it be that we find ourselves in a similar situation? Christmas, the birth of the divine Infant, we can somehow immediately comprehend. We can love the child, we can imagine that night in Bethlehem, Mary’s joy, the joy of Saint Joseph and the shepherds, the exultation of the angels. But what is resurrection? It does not form part of our experience, and so the message often remains to some degree beyond our understanding, a thing of the past. The Church tries to help us understand it by expressing this mysterious event in the language of symbols in which we can somehow contemplate this astonishing event. During the Easter Vigil, the Church points out the significance of this day principally through three symbols: light, water, and the new song – the Alleluia.

    First of all, there is light. God’s creation – which has just been proclaimed to us in the Biblical narrative – begins with the command: “Let there be light!” (Gen 1:3). Where there is light, life is born, chaos can be transformed into cosmos.

    In the Biblical message, light is the most immediate image of God: He is total Radiance, Life, Truth, Light. During the Easter Vigil, the Church reads the account of creation as a prophecy. In the resurrection, we see the most sublime fulfilment of what this text describes as the beginning of all things. God says once again: “Let there be light!” The resurrection of Jesus is an eruption of light. Death is conquered, the tomb is thrown open. The Risen One himself is Light, the Light of the world. With the resurrection, the Lord’s day enters the nights of history. Beginning with the resurrection, God’s light spreads throughout the world and throughout history. Day dawns. This Light alone – Jesus Christ – is the true light, something more than the physical phenomenon of light. He is pure Light: God Himself, who causes a new creation to be born in the midst of the old, transforming chaos into cosmos.

    Let us try to understand this a little better. Why is Christ Light? In the Old Testament, the Torah was considered to be like the light coming from God for the world and for humanity. The Torah separates light from darkness within creation, that is to say, good from evil. It points out to humanity the right path to true life. It points out the good, it demonstrates the truth and it leads us towards love, which is the deepest meaning contained in the Torah. It is a “lamp” for our steps and a “light” for our path (cf. Ps 119:105).

    Christians, then, knew that in Christ, the Torah is present, the Word of God is present in Him as Person. The Word of God is the true light that humanity needs. This Word is present in Him, in the Son. Psalm 19 had compared the Torah to the sun which manifests God’s glory as it rises, for all the world to see. Christians understand: yes indeed, in the Resurrection, the Son of God has emerged as the Light of the world. Christ is the great Light from which all life originates. He enables us to recognize the glory of God from one end of the earth to the other. He points out our path. He is the Lord’s day which, as it grows, is gradually spreading throughout the earth. Now, living with Him and for Him, we can live in the light.

    At the Easter Vigil, the Church represents the mystery of the light of Christ in the sign of the Paschal candle, whose flame is both light and heat. The symbolism of light is connected with that of fire: radiance and heat, radiance and the transforming energy contained in the fire – truth and love go together.

    The Paschal candle burns and is thereby consumed: Cross and resurrection are inseparable. From the Cross, from the Son’s self-giving, light is born, true radiance comes into the world. From the Paschal candle, we all light our own candles, especially the newly baptized, for whom the light of Christ enters deeply into their hearts in this Sacrament.

    The early Church described Baptism as fotismos, as the Sacrament of Illumination, as a communication of light, and linked it inseparably with the Resurrection of Christ. In Baptism, God says to the candidate: “Let there be light!” The candidate is brought into the light of Christ. Christ now divides the light from the darkness. In Him we recognize what is true and what is false, what is radiance and what is darkness. With Him, there wells up within us the light of truth, and we begin to understand.

    On one occasion when Christ looked upon the people who had come to listen to Him, seeking some guidance from Him, He felt compassion for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd (cf. Mk 6:34). Amid the contradictory messages of that time, they did not know which way to turn.

    What great compassion He must feel in our own time too – on account of all the endless talk that people hide behind, while in reality they are totally confused. Where must we go? What are the values by which we can order our lives, the values by which we can educate our young, without giving them norms they may be unable to resist, or demanding of them things that perhaps should not be imposed upon them?

    He is the Light. The baptismal candle is the symbol of enlightenment that is given to us in Baptism. Thus at this hour, Saint Paul speaks to us with great immediacy. In the Letter to the Philippians, he says that, in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, Christians should shine as lights in the world (cf. Phil 2:15). Let us pray to the Lord that the fragile flame of the candle He has lit in us, the delicate light of His word and His love amid the confusions of this age, will not be extinguished in us, but will become ever stronger and brighter, so that we, with Him, can be people of the day, bright stars lighting up our time.

    The second symbol of the Easter Vigil – the night of Baptism – is water. It appears in Sacred Scripture, and hence also in the inner structure of the Sacrament of Baptism, with two opposed meanings.

    On the one hand, there is the sea, which appears as a force antagonistic to life on earth, continually threatening it; yet God has placed a limit upon it. Hence the book of Revelation says that in God’s new world, the sea will be no more (cf. 21:1). It is the element of death. And so it becomes the symbolic representation of Jesus’ death on the Cross: Christ descended into the sea, into the waters of death, as Israel did into the Red Sea. Having risen from death, He gives us life. This means that Baptism is not only a cleansing, but a new birth: with Christ we, as it were, descend into the sea of death, so as to rise up again as new creatures.

    The other way in which we encounter water is in the form of the fresh spring that gives life, or the great river from which life comes forth. According to the earliest practice of the Church, Baptism had to be administered with water from a fresh spring. Without water there is no life.

    It is striking how much importance is attached to wells in Sacred Scripture. They are places from which life rises forth. Beside Jacob’s well, Christ spoke to the Samaritan woman of the new well, the water of true life. He reveals Himself to her as the new, definitive Jacob, who opens up for humanity the well that is awaited: the inexhaustible source of life-giving water (cf. Jn 4:5-15).

    Saint John tells us that a soldier with a lance struck the side of Jesus, and from His open side – from His pierced heart – there came out blood and water (cf. Jn 19:34). The early Church saw in this a symbol of Baptism and Eucharist flowing from the pierced heart of Jesus. In His death, Jesus Himself became the spring.

    The prophet Ezekiel saw a vision of the new Temple from which a spring issues forth that becomes a great life-giving river (cf. Ezek 47:1-12). In a land which constantly suffered from drought and water shortage, this was a great vision of hope. Nascent Christianity understood: in Christ, this vision was fulfilled. He is the true, living Temple of God. He is the spring of living water. From Him, the great river pours forth, which in Baptism renews the world and makes it fruitful; the great river of living water, His Gospel which makes the earth fertile.

    In a discourse during the Feast of Tabernacles, though, Jesus prophesied something still greater: “Whoever believes in me … out of his heart shall flow rivers of living water” (Jn 7:38). In Baptism, the Lord makes us not only persons of light, but also sources from which living water bursts forth. We all know people like that, who leave us somehow refreshed and renewed; people who are like a fountain of fresh spring water. We do not necessarily have to think of great saints like Augustine, Francis of Assisi, Teresa of Avila, Mother Teresa of Calcutta and so on, people through whom rivers of living water truly entered into human history. Thanks be to God, we find them constantly even in our daily lives: people who are like a spring. Certainly, we also know the opposite: people who spread around themselves an atmosphere like a stagnant pool of stale, or even poisoned water. Let us ask the Lord, who has given us the grace of Baptism, for the gift always to be sources of pure, fresh water, bubbling up from the fountain of His truth and His love!

    The third great symbol of the Easter Vigil is something rather different; it has to do with man himself. It is the singing of the new song – the Alleluia.

    When a person experiences great joy, he cannot keep it to himself. He has to express it, to pass it on. But what happens when a person is touched by the light of the Resurrection, and thus comes into contact with Life itself, with Truth and Love? He cannot merely speak about it. Speech is no longer adequate. He has to sing.

    The first reference to singing in the Bible comes after the crossing of the Red Sea. Israel has risen out of slavery. It has climbed up from the threatening depths of the sea. It is as it were reborn. It lives and it is free. The Bible describes the people’s reaction to this great event of salvation with the verse: “The people … believed in the Lord and in Moses His servant” (Ex 14:31). Then comes the second reaction which, with a kind of inner necessity, follows from the first one: “Then Moses and the Israelites sang this song to the Lord …” At the Easter Vigil, year after year, we Christians intone this song after the third reading, we sing it as our song, because we too, through God’s power, have been drawn forth from the water and liberated for true life.

    There is a surprising parallel to the story of Moses’ song after Israel’s liberation from Egypt upon emerging from the Red Sea, namely in the Book of Revelation of Saint John. Before the beginning of the seven last plagues imposed upon the earth, the seer has a vision of something “like a sea of glass mingled with fire; and those who had conquered the beast and its image and the number of its name, standing beside the sea of glass with harps of God in their hands. And they sing the song of Moses, the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb …” (Rev 15:2f.).

    This image describes the situation of the disciples of Jesus Christ in every age, the situation of the Church in the history of this world. Humanly speaking, it is self-contradictory.

    On the one hand, the community is located at the Exodus, in the midst of the Red Sea, in a sea which is paradoxically ice and fire at the same time. And must not the Church, so to speak, always walk on the sea, through the fire and the cold? Humanly speaking, she ought to sink. But while she is still walking in the midst of this Red Sea, she sings – she intones the song of praise of the just: the song of Moses and of the Lamb, in which the Old and New Covenants blend into harmony. While, strictly speaking, she ought to be sinking, the Church sings the song of thanksgiving of the saved. She is standing on history’s waters of death and yet she has already risen. Singing, she grasps at the Lord’s hand, which holds her above the waters. And she knows that she is thereby raised outside the force of gravity of death and evil – a force from which otherwise there would be no way of escape – raised and drawn into the new gravitational force of God, of truth and of love.

    At present she is still between the two gravitational fields. But once Christ is risen, the gravitational pull of love is stronger than that of hatred; the force of gravity of life is stronger than that of death.

    Perhaps this is actually the situation of the Church in every age? It always seems as if she ought to be sinking, and yet she is always already saved. Saint Paul illustrated this situation with the words: “We are as dying, and behold we live” (2 Cor 6:9).

    The Lord’s saving hand holds us up, and thus we can already sing the song of the saved, the new song of the risen ones: Alleluia!