Sunday, June 26, 2011

Corpus Christi: Assimilating Us into Him to Transform the World

Pope Benedict is, of course, the master teacher, making the complex simple and easy to understand. But also in his teaching, he not infrequently uses the words of a poet. His homily for the Solemnity of Corpus Christi this year is no exception, "Without illusions, without ideological utopias, we walk the streets of the world, bringing within us the Body of the Lord, like the Virgin Mary in the mystery of the Visitation."

Corpus Christi is, of course, the feast day for the parish of Blessed Sacrament, and on this Sunday, at 3 p.m., parishioners are invited to join the outdoor procession of the Holy Eucharist around the neighborhood and grounds of Blessed Sacrament Church. All children who received Holy Communion for the first time this year are especially invited to participate in the procession.

Homily of His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI
Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ
Basilica of San Giovanni in Laterano
June 23, 2011
Dear brothers and sisters!

The feast of Corpus Domini is inseparable from the Holy Thursday Mass of Caena Domini, in which the institution of the Eucharist is also celebrated.

While on the evening of Holy Thursday we relive the mystery of Christ who offers Himself to us in the bread broken and wine poured out, today, in celebration of Corpus Domini, this same mystery is proposed for the adoration and meditation of God's people, and the Blessed Sacrament is carried in procession through the streets of towns and villages, to show that the risen Christ walks among us and guides us toward the kingdom of heaven. Today, we openly manifest what Jesus has given us in the intimacy of the Last Supper, because the love of Christ is not confined to the few, but is intended for all.

This year during the Mass of Our Lord's Last Supper on Holy Thursday, I pointed out that the Eucharist is the transformation of the gifts of this land -- the bread and wine -- intended to transform our lives and usher in the transformation of the world. This evening, I would like to return to this point of view.

Everything starts, you might say, from the heart of Christ, who at the Last Supper on the eve of His Passion, thanked and praised God and, in doing so, with the power of His love, transformed the meaning of death, which He was about to encounter. The fact that the sacrament of the altar has taken on the name "Eucharist," "thanksgiving," expresses this: that the change in the substance of the bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ is the fruit of the gift that Christ made of Himself, a gift of a love stronger than death, the divine love that resurrected Him from the dead. That is why the Eucharist is the food of eternal life, the Bread of life.

From the heart of Christ, from His "Eucharistic Prayer" on the eve of His Passion, flows the dynamism that transforms reality in its cosmic, human and historical dimensions. Everything proceeds from God, from the omnipotence of His love One and Triune, incarnate in Jesus. The heart of Christ is immersed in this love; because of this He knows how to thank and praise God even in the face of betrayal and violence, and thus changes things, people, and the world.

This transformation is possible thanks to a communion stronger than division, the communion of God Himself. The word "communion," which we use to designate the Eucharist, sums up the vertical and horizontal dimension of the gift of Christ. The beautiful and eloquent expression "receive Communion" refers to the act of eating the bread of the Eucharist. In fact, when we carry out this act, we enter into communion with the life of Jesus Himself, in the dynamism of this life that is given to us and for us.

From God, through Jesus, to us: a unique communion is transmitted in the Holy Eucharist. We have heard as much, in the second reading, from the words of the Apostle Paul to the Christians of Corinth:
"The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one bread, we, though many, are one body, for we all partake of the one bread." (1 Corinthians 10:16-17)
St. Augustine helps us to understand the dynamics of Holy Communion when referring to a kind of vision he had, in which Jesus said to him:
"I am the food of the mature: grow, then, and you shall eat me. You will not change me into yourself like bodily food; but you will be changed into me." (Confessions, VII, 10, 18)
Therefore, while the bodily food is assimilated into the body and contributes to its sustenance, the Eucharist is a different bread: It is not we who assimilate it, but it assimilates us, so that we become conformed to Jesus Christ, members of His body, one with Him.

This passage is decisive. Indeed, precisely because it is Christ who, in Eucharistic communion, transforms us into Him, our individuality in this encounter is opened up, freed from its self-centeredness and placed in the Person of Jesus, who in turn is immersed in the Trinitarian communion. Thus, while the Eucharist unites us to Christ, we open ourselves to others making us members of one another: We are no longer divided, but one entity in Him. Eucharistic communion unites me to the person next to me, and with whom perhaps I might not even have good relations, and even to distant brothers and sisters in every part of the world.

Thus, the deep sense of social presence of the Church is derived from the Eucharist, as evidenced by the great social saints, who have always been great Eucharistic souls. Those who recognize Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament recognize their brother who suffers, who is hungry and thirsty, who is a stranger, naked, sick, imprisoned, and they are attentive to every person, committing themselves, in a concrete way, to those who are in need.

So from the gift of Christ's love comes our special responsibility as Christians in building a cohesive, just, and fraternal society. Especially in our time when globalization makes us increasingly dependent upon each other, Christianity can and must ensure that this unity will not be built without God, without true Love. This would give way to confusion and individualism, the oppression of some against others. The Gospel has always aimed at the unity of the human family, a unity not imposed from above, or by ideological or economic interests, but from a sense of responsibility toward each other, because we identify ourselves as members of the same body, the body of Christ, because we have learned and continually learn from the Sacrament of the Altar that sharing love is the path of true justice.

Let us return to Jesus' act in the Last Supper. What happened at that moment? When He said: This is my body which is given to you, this is my blood shed for you and for the many, what happened?

In that act, Jesus anticipates the event of Calvary. Out of love, He accepts all of the Passion, with its travails and its violence, even to death on the Cross; by accepting it in this way He transforms it into an act of giving. This is the transformation that the world needs because it redeems it from within, opens it to the dimensions of the Kingdom of heaven. But God always wishes to realize this renewal of the world through the same way that Christ followed, that is, the way which is Himself.

There is nothing magic about Christianity. There are no shortcuts, but everything passes through the patient and humble logic of the grain of wheat that is broken to give life, the logic of faith that moves mountains with the gentle power of God.

This is why God wants to continue to renew humanity, history, and the cosmos through this chain of transformations, of which the Eucharist is the sacrament. Through the consecrated bread and wine, in which His Body and Blood is truly present, Christ transforms us, assimilating us in Him: He involves us in His redeeming work, enabling us, by the grace of the Holy Spirit, to live according to His same logic of gift, like grains of wheat united with Him and in Him. Thus unity and peace, which are the goal for which we strive, are sown and mature in the furrows of history, according to God's plan.

Without illusions, without ideological utopias, we walk the streets of the world, bringing within us the Body of the Lord, like the Virgin Mary in the mystery of the Visitation.

With the humble awareness that we are simple grains of wheat, we cherish the firm conviction that the love of God, incarnate in Christ, is stronger than evil, violence, and death. We know that God is preparing for all people new heavens and new earth where peace and justice prevail -- and by faith we glimpse the new world, that is our true home.

Also this evening as the sun sets on our beloved city of Rome, we set out again on this path: With us is Jesus in the Eucharist, the Risen One, who said, "I am with you always, until the end of world" (Mt 28:20). Thank you, Lord Jesus! Thank you for your fidelity, which sustains our hope. Stay with us, because the evening comes.

"Jesus, good shepherd and true bread, have mercy on us; feed us and guard us. Grant that we find happiness in the land of the living." Amen.

Following the Mass, the Holy Father led a Eucharistic Procession from the Basilica of St. John Lateran to the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore.


Saturday, June 25, 2011

Truth and the Legal Fiction of "Same-Sex Marriage" in New York

To marry - to bring together and conjoin two diverse yet complementary and compatable things to become a single unit.

St. Thomas More, pray for us.
St. John Fisher, pray for us.

Pray for us here, in New York, and throughout the land.

Friday, June 24, 2011

The Birth of the Herald of New Birth

Today is the Solemnity of the Nativity of John the Baptist.
When the time arrived for Elizabeth to have her child she gave birth to a son. . . . When they came on the eighth day to circumcise the child . . . Zechariah his father, filled with the Holy Spirit, prophesied, saying:
"Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel, for He has come to His people and brought about their redemption. He has raised up the sign of salvation in the house of His servant David, as He promised through the mouth of the holy ones, His prophets through the ages: to rescue us from our enemies and all who hate us, to take pity on our fathers, to remember His holy covenant and the oath He swore to Abraham our father, that He would give Himself to us, that we could serve Him without fear – freed from the hands of our enemies – in uprightness and holiness before Him, for all of our days.

And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High: for you will go before the face of the Lord to prepare His path, to let His people know their salvation, so that their sins may be forgiven. Through the tender mercies of our God, One born on high will visit us to give light to those who walk in darkness, who live in the shadow of death; to lead our feet in the path of peace."
The child grew and became strong in spirit, and he was in the desert until the day of his manifestation to Israel. (Luke 1:57, 59, 67-80)
Born into the priestly class as a descendant of Aaron, John the Baptist would have been instructed in priestly duties and would have known the Temple well. Indeed, his very birth was announced by God's messenger to his father in the Temple when he was serving as priest. However, instead of serving in the Temple, John's ministry was conducted in the desert, where the people of Israel began after being led out of bondage in Egypt and where the Lord appeared to them and made His covenant with them.

There was a reason that John went out into the desert wilderness. In order to see him, the people were required to return to that desert. And there was a reason that John baptized in the Jordan River, the place where the people of Israel had crossed into the promised land, led by Joshua. John's ministry and baptism of repentence was a call for the people to reaffirm their identity, to reaffirm their fidelity to God, by going back into the desert, where they relied totally on God for their very sustenance and survival, so as to symbolically reenter the Promised Land through water, leaving behind sin and death. It was a new Exodus, but instead of bondage in Egypt, they were led out of the bondage of sin and death into new life.

To further manifest his purpose and identity, John wore the same clothing that was worn by the prophet Elijah, a hairy garment with a leather girdle. His food in the desert, locusts and honey, combined the judgment of God on sin (the plague of locusts in Egypt) with His mercy in promising a land of milk and honey. And like Elijah, who was persecuted by the wicked Queen Jezebel and King Ahab, John was persecuted by the wicked Queen Herodias and cowardly King Herod.

The Lord said to the prophet Malachi,
"I am sending my messenger to prepare the way before me; And suddenly there will come to the temple the LORD whom you seek, And the messenger of the covenant whom you desire. Yes, he is coming, says the LORD of hosts. . . . I will send you Elijah, the prophet, Before the day of the LORD comes, the great and terrible day, to turn the hearts of the fathers to their children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the land with doom." (Mal. 3:1, 23-24)
The people of Israel had waited a long time. It had been hundreds of years since the last of the prophets had revealed to them the word of God. But in John the Baptist, who leapt for joy in the womb when he was filled with the Holy Spirit upon the coming of Jesus, likewise in the womb, "Elijah" had come again. It was the beginning of the new age.

Jesus of Nazareth (2007)
Chapter One
Pope Benedict XVI
The Baptist’s appearance on the scene was something completely new. The Baptism that he enjoined is different from the usual religious ablutions. It cannot be repeated, and it is meant to be the concrete enactment of a conversion that gives the whole of life a new direction forever. It is connected with an ardent call to a new way of thinking and acting, but above all with the proclamation of God’s judgment and with the announcement that one greater than John is to come. The Fourth Gospel tells us that the Baptist “did not know” (cf. Jn 1:30-33) this greater personage whose way he was to prepare. But he does know that his own role is to prepare a path for this mysterious Other, that his whole mission is directed toward him. * * *

We can imagine the extraordinary impression that the figure and message of John the Baptist must have produced in the highly charged atmosphere of Jerusalem at that particular moment of history. At last there was a prophet again, and his life marked him out as such. God’s hand was at last plainly acting in history again. John baptizes with water, but one even greater, who will baptize with the Holy Spirit and fire, is already at the door. Given all this, there is absolutely no reason to suppose that Mark is exaggerating when he reports that “there went out to him all the country of Judea, and all the people of Jerusalem; and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins” (Mk 1:5). John’s baptism includes the confession of sins. * * * The goal is truly to leave behind the sinful life one has led until now and to start out on the path to a new, changed life.

The actual ritual of Baptism symbolizes this. On one hand, immersion into the waters is a symbol of death, which recalls the death symbolism of the annihilating, destructive power of the ocean flood. The ancient mind perceived the ocean as a permanent threat to the cosmos, to the earth; it was the primeval flood that might submerge all life. The river (Jordan) could also assume this symbolic value for those who were immersed in it. But the flowing waters of the river are above all a symbol of life. The great rivers—the Nile, the Euphrates, the Tigris—are the great givers of life. The Jordan, too, is—even today—a source of life for the surrounding region. Immersion in the water is about purification, about liberation from the filth of the past that burdens and distorts life—it is about beginning again, and that means it is about death and resurrection, about starting life over again anew. So we could say that it is about rebirth. * * *

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

St. Thomas More and Political Authority

Today, June 22, is the feast day for St. Thomas More. Over at Cinema Catechism, we have posted clips from A Man for All Seasons, as well as some thoughts of Blessed John Paul II on St. Thomas.

Here, however, let us take up the address that Pope Benedict gave during his trip to Great Britain to various dignitaries in Westminster Hall, where St. Thomas was tried in 1535 and condemned of high treason for refusing to repudiate the Church. Before being put to death, he declared, "I die the king's good servant, but God's first."

Address of His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI
Meeting with British Leaders and Dignitaries

Apostolic Journey to the United Kingdom
Westminster Hall - City of Westminster
Friday, 17 September 2010

As I speak to you in this historic setting, I think of the countless men and women down the centuries who have played their part in the momentous events that have taken place within these walls and have shaped the lives of many generations of Britons, and others besides. In particular, I recall the figure of Saint Thomas More, the great English scholar and statesman, who is admired by believers and non-believers alike for the integrity with which he followed his conscience, even at the cost of displeasing the sovereign whose “good servant” he was, because he chose to serve God first. The dilemma which faced More in those difficult times, the perennial question of the relationship between what is owed to Caesar and what is owed to God, allows me the opportunity to reflect with you briefly on the proper place of religious belief within the political process.

This country’s Parliamentary tradition owes much to the national instinct for moderation, to the desire to achieve a genuine balance between the legitimate claims of government and the rights of those subject to it. . . .

And yet the fundamental questions at stake in Thomas More’s trial continue to present themselves in ever-changing terms as new social conditions emerge. Each generation, as it seeks to advance the common good, must ask anew: what are the requirements that governments may reasonably impose upon citizens, and how far do they extend? By appeal to what authority can moral dilemmas be resolved?

These questions take us directly to the ethical foundations of civil discourse. If the moral principles underpinning the democratic process are themselves determined by nothing more solid than social consensus, then the fragility of the process becomes all too evident - herein lies the real challenge for democracy. . . .

Just as “every economic decision has a moral consequence” (Caritas in Veritate, 37), so too in the political field, the ethical dimension of policy has far-reaching consequences that no government can afford to ignore. A positive illustration of this is found in one of the British Parliament’s particularly notable achievements – the abolition of the slave trade. The campaign that led to this landmark legislation was built upon firm ethical principles, rooted in the natural law, and it has made a contribution to civilization of which this nation may be justly proud.

The central question at issue, then, is this: where is the ethical foundation for political choices to be found?

The Catholic tradition maintains that the objective norms governing right action are accessible to reason, prescinding from the content of revelation. According to this understanding, the role of religion in political debate is not so much to supply these norms, as if they could not be known by non-believers – still less to propose concrete political solutions, which would lie altogether outside the competence of religion – but rather to help purify and shed light upon the application of reason to the discovery of objective moral principles.

This “corrective” role of religion vis-à-vis reason is not always welcomed, though, partly because distorted forms of religion, such as sectarianism and fundamentalism, can be seen to create serious social problems themselves. And in their turn, these distortions of religion arise when insufficient attention is given to the purifying and structuring role of reason within religion. It is a two-way process. Without the corrective supplied by religion, though, reason too can fall prey to distortions, as when it is manipulated by ideology, or applied in a partial way that fails to take full account of the dignity of the human person. Such misuse of reason, after all, was what gave rise to the slave trade in the first place and to many other social evils, not least the totalitarian ideologies of the twentieth century.

This is why I would suggest that the world of reason and the world of faith – the world of secular rationality and the world of religious belief – need one another and should not be afraid to enter into a profound and ongoing dialogue, for the good of our civilization.

Religion, in other words, is not a problem for legislators to solve, but a vital contributor to the national conversation. In this light, I cannot but voice my concern at the increasing marginalization of religion, particularly of Christianity, that is taking place in some quarters, even in nations which place a great emphasis on tolerance. There are those who would advocate that the voice of religion be silenced, or at least relegated to the purely private sphere. There are those who argue that the public celebration of festivals such as Christmas should be discouraged, in the questionable belief that it might somehow offend those of other religions or none. And there are those who argue – paradoxically with the intention of eliminating discrimination – that Christians in public roles should be required at times to act against their conscience.

These are worrying signs of a failure to appreciate not only the rights of believers to freedom of conscience and freedom of religion, but also the legitimate role of religion in the public square. I would invite all of you, therefore, within your respective spheres of influence, to seek ways of promoting and encouraging dialogue between faith and reason at every level of national life. . . .

I am convinced that, within this country too, there are many areas in which the Church and the public authorities can work together for the good of citizens, in harmony with this Parliament’s historic practice of invoking the Spirit’s guidance upon those who seek to improve the conditions of all mankind. For such cooperation to be possible, religious bodies – including institutions linked to the Catholic Church – need to be free to act in accordance with their own principles and specific convictions based upon the faith and the official teaching of the Church. In this way, such basic rights as religious freedom, freedom of conscience and freedom of association are guaranteed.

The angels looking down on us from the magnificent ceiling of this ancient Hall remind us of the long tradition from which British Parliamentary democracy has evolved. They remind us that God is constantly watching over us to guide and protect us. And they summon us to acknowledge the vital contribution that religious belief has made and can continue to make to the life of the nation.

Mr Speaker, I thank you once again for this opportunity briefly to address this distinguished audience. Let me assure you and the Lord Speaker of my continued good wishes and prayers for you and for the fruitful work of both Houses of this ancient Parliament. Thank you and God bless you all!


Sunday, June 19, 2011

The Holy Trinity – One God in Three Persons

-- Updated below --

Revelation informs us that the Lord God is a Holy Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Here, we see the necessity for revealed truth, for although the existence of God can be discerned by observation and reason, that He is a Trinity could not be known purely by these methods. But having been revealed to us, reason allows us to now have a greater understanding that God is a loving communion of three distinct persons in one undivided nature, substance, and essence – each possesses the fullness of the other and each has always existed.

The Trinity is a mystery - one that we should always respect in trying to understand it, so that our imperfect attempts at explanation do not inadvertently lead us to stray into error. Nevertheless, since ours is a faith that seeks understanding, we should not simply come to a halt when confronted with a mystery, but should instead proceed ahead to seek understanding, but with caution.

Although a mystery, we can begin to grasp some understanding of the Trinity by understanding that God is Truth and God is Love.

God told Moses that He is the "I am." What does this reveal about God? It means that God simply "Is." That is, He is Truth in person, the Ultimate Reality who is complete in Himself and, therefore, He is One.

But the One who Is is also Love and love is by its very nature relational – it requires an “other.” 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.

Accordingly, God is not a one-dimensional being who exists in solitude, but, rather, being Truth and Love, and complete in Himself, He exists as one person (Father) who loves and is loved by a second person (Son), and this everlasting Love proceeding from and to each of them is not merely a sentiment, but is a person as well, namely, the Holy Spirit.

This Love of God is complete, total, and perfect love in its truest and fullest sense -- a “spousal” type of love that is unitive and fruitful/procreative, encompassing both the unconditional, gratuitous, and sacrificial love of agape (caritas), and the joyous wanting love of a purified and ennobled eros.

The perfect love of God (to which we also are called) involves not merely a relation of persons, but a communion of persons -- three are one. This love is also fruitful, that is, it is creative. Love is dynamic, not static, stagnant or sterile, and it bears fruit, seeking to spread outward and grow and generate new love and life. Accordingly, this loving communion of three persons in one divine being, although complete in Himself, chose to share His love even more and create mankind -- the God of Truth and Love is, by His nature, the Creator.
There is only one source of true love, and that is God. Saint John makes this clear when he declares that "God is love" (1 Jn 4:8,16). He was not simply saying that God loves us, but that the very being of God is love. Here we find ourselves before the most dazzling revelation of the source of love, the mystery of the Trinity: in God, one and triune, there is an everlasting exchange of love between the persons of the Father and the Son, and this love is not an energy or a sentiment, but it is a person; it is the Holy Spirit.
--Pope Benedict XVI, Message for World Youth Day 2007
Thanks to the Holy Spirit, who helps us understand Jesus' words and guides us to the whole truth (cf. Jn 14: 26; 16: 13), believers can experience, so to speak, the intimacy of God himself, discovering that He is not infinite solitude but communion of light and love, life given and received in an eternal dialogue between the Father and the Son in the Holy Spirit - Lover, Loved and Love, to echo St Augustine.
--Pope Benedict XVI, Angelus, 11 June 2006

By understanding the Trinity, we understand not only who and what God is, but we also gain an understanding of who we are as human persons because man, male and female, is made in the image and likeness of God, that is, we are each made in the image and likeness of the Trinity. To be made in the image of the Triune God means to be made in the image of truth and love. We are made to love and be loved in truth.

As demonstrated by the fullness of love in the Trinity, and as revealed by the spousal meaning of the human body, male and female, this love we are made for is not merely relational, but is a love which is unitive and procreative, a love which draws the individual toward a communion of persons and bears the fruits of not only new biological life, but also eternal life, as well as more and new love, and generosity, kindness, gentleness, patience, goodness, faithfulness, chastity, modesty, self-control, joy, and peace.

See also --
Immaculate Mary, the Virgin Mother
St. Joseph and the Fullness of Love in the Theology of the Body
Our Father in Heaven

Homily of His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI
Pastoral Visit to the Diocese of San Marino-Montefeltro
Holy Trinity Sunday, June 19, 2011
Today we celebrate the feast of the Holy Trinity: God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. When one thinks of the Trinity, what comes to mind is the mystery of the God who is Three in One, one God in three Persons. But today's liturgy draws our attention to the reality of love that is contained in this first and greatest mystery of our faith. The Father, Son and Holy Spirit are one, because God is love: the Father gives everything to the Son, the Son receives everything from the Father with gratitude, and the Holy Spirit is like the fruit of this mutual love between the Father and Son.

The texts of today’s Holy Mass speak of this love; they do not dwell so much on the three divine Persons - there is only one sentence in the Second reading which refers to them - but on the love which constitutes their essence.

The first passage that we heard from the Book of Exodus, and on which I focused in a recent Wednesday catechesis, is surprising because the revelation of God’s love takes place after the people had committed a serious sin. The covenant of Mount Sinai has just been sealed, and already the people are lacking in faithfulness to God. As Moses is kept away, the people ask Aaron to make a god who is visible, accessible, manageable, made to man’s measure. Aaron agrees and makes a golden calf.

Coming down from Mount Sinai, Moses sees what has happened and breaks the tablets of the covenant, the two stones on which the "Ten Commandments" were written, the concrete content of the covenant with God. All seems lost, all friendship broken. Yet, despite having committed the gravest of sins, God, through the intercession of Moses, decides to forgive His people and calls Moses to ascend the mountain once more to receive His law, the Ten Commandments.

Moses then asks God to reveal Himself, to show him His face. But God does not reveal His face, rather He reveals the fullness of His goodness with these words: "The LORD, the LORD, a merciful and gracious God, slow to anger and rich in kindness and fidelity" (Ex 34.8). This self-definition of God manifests His merciful love, a love that conquers sin, covers it, eliminates it. There can be no clearer revelation. We have a God who renounces the destruction of the sinner and wants to show His love in an even more profound and surprising way right in front of the sinner in order to always offer the possibility of conversion and forgiveness.

The Gospel completes this revelation, because it indicates the extent to which God has shown His mercy. The evangelist John refers to this statement of Jesus: "God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him might not perish but might have eternal life" (3:16).

In the world there is evil, there is selfishness, there is wickedness, and so God might come to judge the world, to destroy evil, to punish those who work in darkness. Instead He shows He loves the world, He loves man, despite his sinfulness, and sends what is His most precious possession: His only begotten Son. He not only sends Him, but He makes a gift to the world.

Jesus is the Son of God who is born for us, who lived for us, who healed the sick, forgave sins, welcomed everyone. Responding to the love that comes from the Father, the Son gave His life for us: on the cross the merciful love of God comes to a climax. And it is on the cross that the Son of God obtains for us the possibility of sharing in eternal life, which is communicated to us with the gift of the Holy Spirit.

So, in the mystery of the cross, there are three Divine Persons: the Father, who gave his only begotten Son for the salvation of the world, the Son, who carries out the will of the Father to the very end and the Holy Spirit - poured out by Jesus at the moment of his death - who comes to render us participants in divine life, to transform our lives, so that our lives are animated by divine love.

Dear brothers and sisters! Faith in the Triune God has also characterized this church of San Marino-Montefeltro, in the course of its ancient and glorious history. . . . You are rightly proud of and grateful for what the Holy Spirit has worked through the ages in your church. But you also know that the best way to appreciate a legacy is to cultivate and enrich it. In fact, you are called to develop this precious deposit in one of the most decisive moments in history.

Today, your mission is having to deal with profound and rapid cultural, social, economic and political transformations that have determined new reference points and changed attitudes, customs and sensibilities. Even here, in fact, as elsewhere, there are difficulties and obstacles, mainly due to hedonistic models, which cloud the mind and threaten to undo all morality. The temptation has crept in to believe that the wealth of man is not the faith, but his personal and social power, his intelligence, his culture and his ability to manipulate scientific, technological and social realities. Thus, in these lands, the Christian faith and values have begun to be replaced ​​with a presumed wealth, which in the end reveals itself inconsistent and incapable of containing the great promise of truth, goodness, of beauty and justice, which for centuries your ancestors identified with the experience of faith. Moreover the many families in crisis must not be forgotten, compounded by a widespread psychological and spiritual fragility of spouses, as well as the fatigue experienced by many educators in their attempts to ensure continuity in the formation of young people, conditioned by various uncertainties, first among all their role in society and employment opportunities.

Dear friends! I know well the commitment of every member of this Church, especially in promoting Christian life in its various aspects. I urge all the faithful to be like leaven in the world, showing both in Montefeltro and San Marino that you are present, proactive and consistent Christians. . . . I invoke God's blessing on your journey of today and tomorrow and I recommend all to "the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit" (2 Cor 13:11). Amen!


Friday, June 17, 2011

Human Life, Higher Law, and the Obligation of Conscience

We have a duty under the higher law, as a matter of good conscience, to oppose and resist the evils of today: the attacks, in thought and deed, on the instrinsic dignity, value, and sanctity of human life.

More at Cinema Catechism.

Human Life and the Obligation of Conscience

Over at Cinema Catechism, we have been studying how Sophie Scholl and the White Rose confronted the great evil that was National Socialism.

Despite the cries of "never again" after World War II, there are some who seem to think that Hitler and the Nazis so epitomized evil that if a situation does not rise to the level of exterminating six million Jews and millions of others, then it is not really so great an evil. As such, they acquiesce in any number of horrors and "never again" becomes "once again" because, although we might not live in a totalitarian regime such as Nazi Germany, as has been said here repeatedly, there are other evils in the world, other attacks on the inherent dignity of the human person.

What are these "other evils"?

Among other things, practically the entirety of what was a few years ago called the "New Biology," from frozen embryos to embryo-killing stem cell research to other embryo and fetal experimentation to attempted human cloning to organ harvesting to baby selling to the medicalized "aid in dying" of euthanasia, assisted suicide, and withholding of care, to eugenics to, of course, abortion, including abortifacient pills (falsely called emergency "contraception") and that species of death which nearly fully delivers the baby before jamming a pair of pointed scissors into the baby's skull and sucking her brains out to collapse the head, which, as gruesome as that is, still nevertheless leaves militant advocates for abortion. All of these, and more, contribute to a culture of death -- death not only of the physical body, but death of conscience and death of the soul, and eventually death of society itself.

At one point in time, they were all recognized for the immoral and evil attacks on the sanctity of life that they are (especially since many of these things were pursued under that same Nazi Germany that perpetrated the Holocaust - Rudolph Hess said in 1934 that "National Socialism is nothing but applied biology"). But no longer. Today's bioethics fully embraces as virtuous what was rejected yesterday as reprehensible. Today's bioethics experts
"produce evermore sophisticated rationalizations for turning the unthinkable into the routinely doable. The prohibited becomes the permissible becomes the expected. 'But that would be murder!' is an objection that loses its force the second time around." (Richard John Neuhaus, "The War Against Reason," National Review, Dec. 18, 1987)
However, despite the imprimatur given by bioethics "experts," despite the legal approval of judges and legislators and politicians, there is a higher law than their utilitarianism, than their law of the supremacy of the will. That higher law, which is knowable to all by reason and good conscience, is objective moral truth, including the inalienable diginity of the human person -- that all human beings are inherently equal and entitled to be respected as persons, subjects, and ends in themselves, and not as things, objects, means, or resources to be manipulated by others, regardless of stage of development, cognitive ability, "quality of life," or contribution to society.

Unfortunately, sense of the higher law has been largely lost by our legal system because sense of transcendental Truth has been ignored in favor of a utilitarianism, enforced and protected by positive human "law," that appeals to the will and considers truth and human life to be merely values to be weighed in the equation of what adds or subtracts from another's pleasure. But the unjust statutory and judicial "law" decreeing the wholesale violation of fundamental human dignity is no law at all. And we have a duty under the higher law, as a matter of good conscience, to oppose and resist the evils of today: the attacks, in thought and deed, on the instrinsic dignity, value, and sanctity of human life.
28. This situation, with its lights and shadows, ought to make us all fully aware that we are facing an enormous and dramatic clash between good and evil, death and life, the "culture of death" and the "culture of life." We find ourselves not only "faced with" but necessarily "in the midst of" this conflict: we are all involved and we all share in it, with the inescapable responsibility of choosing to be unconditionally pro-life. . . .

71. Certainly the purpose of civil law is different and more limited in scope than that of the moral law. But "in no sphere of life can the civil law take the place of conscience or dictate norms concerning things which are outside its competence," which is that of ensuring the common good of people through the recognition and defense of their fundamental rights, and the promotion of peace and of public morality.

The real purpose of civil law is to guarantee an ordered social coexistence in true justice, so that all may "lead a quiet and peaceable life, godly and respectful in every way" (1 Tim 2:2). Precisely for this reason, civil law must ensure that all members of society enjoy respect for certain fundamental rights which innately belong to the person, rights which every positive law must recognize and guarantee. First and fundamental among these is the inviolable right to life of every innocent human being. . . .

In the Encyclical Pacem in Terris, John XXIII pointed out that
"it is generally accepted today that the common good is best safeguarded when personal rights and duties are guaranteed. The chief concern of civil authorities must therefore be to ensure that these rights are recognized, respected, co-ordinated, defended and promoted, and that each individual is enabled to perform his duties more easily. For ‘to safeguard the inviolable rights of the human person, and to facilitate the performance of his duties, is the principal duty of every public authority.’ Thus any government which refused to recognize human rights or acted in violation of them, would not only fail in its duty; its decrees would be wholly lacking in binding force." . . .
74. The passing of unjust laws often raises difficult problems of conscience for morally upright people with regard to the issue of cooperation, since they have a right to demand not to be forced to take part in morally evil actions. . . . In order to shed light on this difficult question, it is necessary to recall the general principles concerning cooperation in evil actions. Christians, like all people of good will, are called upon under grave obligation of conscience not to cooperate formally in practices which, even if permitted by civil legislation, are contrary to God's law.
(Pope John Paul II, Evangelium Vitae) (emphasis added)

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

The Slumbering Conscience

We have said multiple times now that, when confronted with evil, we have an obligation in conscience, written as law upon our hearts, to do the good and resist and fight the evil. However, sometimes it is very difficult to discern the right from the wrong, or discern conscience from personal will, so as to engage in the judgment of reason to apply objective moral truth to a particular case.

And one reason why, even in the face of great evil, it might be hard to hear the voice of conscience is that, in too many cases when that danger is lurking, our consciences are fast asleep. That was the problem that Sophie Scholl and the White Rose faced, trying to awaken the slumbering consciences of the German people.

We are now celebrating the period of Pentecost, the new age of the Holy Spirit, who "convinces the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment" by, among other things, speaking to our hearts, our consciences. But before Pentecost came the Crucifixion and Resurrection of Christ, and before that came the Agony in the Garden, when the Lord's friends slept as evil approached.

Reflection of Pope Benedict XVI
General Audience, April 20, 2011
Having left the Upper Room, Jesus withdrew to pray, alone before the Father. At that moment of deep communion, the Gospels recount that Jesus experienced great anguish, such acute suffering that it made Him sweat blood (cf. Mt 26:38).

In the knowledge of His imminent death on the Cross, He felt immense anguish at the closeness of death. In this situation an element appeared that was of great importance to the whole Church. Jesus said to His followers: stay here and keep watch; and while this call to vigilance refers in a precise way to this moment of anguish, of menace, in which the betrayer arrives, it concerns the whole history of the Church. It is a permanent message for every era because the sleepiness of the disciples was not only the problem of that moment, but is a problem for the whole of history.

The question is what this lethargy consists of, and what is the vigilance to which the Lord invites us. I would say that the disciples' somnolence in the course of history is a certain insensitivity of soul to the power of evil, an insensitivity to all the evil of the world. We do not want to let ourselves be too disturbed by these things, we want to forget them. We think that perhaps it is not so grave, and we forget.

Moreover, it is not only insensibility to evil, when we should be watchful in order to do good, to fight for the force of goodness. Rather it is an insensibility to God: this is our true sleepiness, this insensibility to God’s presence that also makes us insensible to evil. We are not aware of God — He would disturb us — hence we are naturally not aware of the force of evil and continue on the path of our own convenience.

Nocturnal adoration of Holy Thursday, our being vigilant with the Lord, should be precisely the moment to make us reflect on the somnolence of the disciples, of the defenders of Jesus, of the Apostles, of ourselves, who do not see, who do not wish to see the whole force of evil, and we do not wish to enter His passion for goodness, for the presence of God in the world, for the love of our neighbour and of God.

Then the Lord began to pray. The three Apostles — Peter, James and John — slept, but they awoke intermittently and heard the refrain of this prayer of the Lord: “not my will, but your will be done.” What is this will of mine, what is this will of yours of which the Lord speaks?

My will is that I "should not die,” that He be spared this cup of suffering: it is the human will, human nature, and Christ felt, with the whole awareness of His being, life, the abyss of death, the terror of nothingness, the menace of suffering.

Moreover, He was even more acutely aware of the abyss of evil than are we who have a natural aversion to death, a natural fear of death. Together with death, He felt the whole of humanity’s suffering.

He felt that this was the cup He was obliged to drink, that He Himself had to drink: accept the evil of the world, all that is terrible, the aversion to God, the whole weight of sin. And we can understand that Jesus, with His human soul, was terrified before this reality, which He perceived in all its cruelty: My will would be not to drink the cup, but my will is subordinated to your will, to the will of God, to the will of the Father, which is also the real will of the Son. And thus Jesus transformed, in this prayer, the natural reluctance, the aversion to the cup and to His mission to die for us. He transformed His own natural will into God’s will, into a “yes” to God’s will.

On his own man is tempted to oppose the will of God, to seek to do his own will, to feel free only if he is autonomous; he sets his own autonomy against the heteronomy of following the will of God. This is the whole drama of humanity. But in truth, this autonomy is mistaken; entering into God’s will is not opposition to the self, it is not a form of slavery that violates my will, but rather it means entering into truth and love, into the good.

And Jesus draws our will — which opposes God’s will, which seeks autonomy — upwards, towards the will of God. This is the drama of our redemption, that Jesus should uplift our will, our total aversion to God’s will and our aversion to death and sin, and unite it with the will of the Father: “Not my will but yours.” In this transformation of “no” into “yes,” in this insertion of the will of the creature into the will of the Father, He transforms humanity and redeems us. And He invites us to enter into this movement of His: to emerge from our “no” and to enter into the “yes” of the Son. My will exists, but the decisive will is the will of the Father, because the will of the Father is truth and love. . . .

In reliving the Sacred Triduum, let us also prepare ourselves to welcome God’s will in our life, knowing that our own true good, the way to life, is found in God’s will even if it appears harsh, in contrast with our intentions. May the Virgin Mother guide us on this itinerary and obtain from her divine Son the grace to be able to spend our life for love of Jesus, in the service of our brethren. Thank you.
In order to do the good and resist evil, we must be sure that our consciences are awake when evil comes upon us. We must remain watchful, being careful to make sure that we do not "avoid evil" merely by not allowing ourselves to notice it, by allowing our consciences to become sluggish and listless until they finally fall asleep, but instead by remaining eternally vigilant, looking out not only for the evil that menaces, but listening to voice of the Lord within us, open to making His will our own will.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

The Conscience at Pentecost

Lord, you insist on sincerity of heart; in my inmost being teach me wisdom. Cleanse me with hyssop, that I may be pure; wash me, make me whiter than snow.

Create a pure heart in me, God, put a steadfast spirit into me. Do not send me away from your presence, or withdraw your Holy Spirit from me; give me again the joy of your salvation, and be ready to strengthen me with your Spirit.
(Ps. 51:8-9, 12-14)
Our discussion on Sophie Scholl over at Cinema Catechism has led us to take up the matter of the conscience, and how one cannot, in all good conscience, acquiesce or do nothing in the face of evil, much less give into and cooperate with it, but must instead oppose it. And one cannot justify doing that which is objectively evil by insisting that such conduct does not violate his “conscience,” as if he could choose or create his own conscience. That is not the conscience, that is the will.

It is true that sometimes discerning right from wrong, good from evil, can be difficult, and even when it is clear, sometimes listening to the voice of conscience and resisting evil can be difficult because it might bring with it adverse consequences. But God does not leave us alone to fend for ourselves. Rather, as His Holiness Pope John Paul II teaches us, He has sent us the Holy Spirit to guide us, to be a light for our conscience and the grace of fortitude to follow it.

Encyclical Letter Dominum et Vivificantem
Blessed Pope John Paul II
27. When Jesus during the discourse in the Upper Room foretells the coming of the Holy Spirit "at the price of" His own departure, and promises "I will send Him to you," in the very same context He adds: "And when He comes, He will convince the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment." (Jn 16:7f) . . .

30. Christ's prophecies in the farewell discourse found their most exact and direct confirmation on the day of Pentecost, in particular the prediction which we are dealing with: "The Counselor...will convince the world concerning sin." On that day, the promised Holy Spirit came down upon the Apostles gathered in prayer together with Mary the Mother of Jesus, in the same Upper Room, as we read in the Acts of the Apostles. . . .

33. According to the witness concerning the beginning, sin in its original reality takes place in man's will -- and conscience -- first of all as "disobedience," that is, as opposition of the will of man to the will of God. This original disobedience presupposes a rejection, or at least a turning away from the truth contained in the Word of God, who creates the world. . . .

36. According to the Book of Genesis, "the tree of the knowledge of good and evil" was to express and constantly remind man of the "limit" impassable for a created being. God's prohibition is to be understood in this sense: the Creator forbids man and woman to eat of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. The words of the enticement, that is to say the temptation, as formulated in the sacred text, are an inducement to transgress this prohibition -- that is to say, to go beyond that "limit": "When you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God ["like gods"], knowing good and evil." (Gen 2:9, 17)

"Disobedience" means precisely going beyond that limit, which remains impassable to the will and the freedom of man as a created being. For God the Creator is the one definitive source of the moral order in the world created by Him. Man cannot decide by himself what is good and what is evil -- cannot "know good and evil, like God." In the created world God indeed remains the first and sovereign source for deciding about good and evil, through the intimate truth of being, which is the reflection of the Word, the eternal Son, consubstantial with the Father. To man, created to the image of God, the Holy Spirit gives the gift of conscience, so that in this conscience the image may faithfully reflect its model, which is both Wisdom and eternal Law, the source of the moral order in man and in the world.

"Disobedience," as the original dimension of sin, means the rejection of this source, through man's claim to become an independent and exclusive source for deciding about good and evil. The Spirit who "searches the depths of God," and who at the same time is for man the light of conscience and the source of the moral order, knows in all its fullness this dimension of the sin inscribed in the mystery of man's beginning. . . .

37. According to the witness of the beginning, God in creation has revealed Himself as omnipotence, which is love. At the same time He has revealed to man that, as the "image and likeness" of his Creator, he is called to participate in truth and love. . . .

42. The words of the Risen Christ on the "first day of the week" give particular emphasis to the presence of the Paraclete-Counselor as the one who "convinces the world concerning sin, righteousness and judgment." . . . By becoming "the light of hearts," that is to say the light of consciences, the Holy Spirit "convinces concerning sin," which is to say, He makes man realize his own evil and at the same time directs him toward what is good. . . .

The Holy Spirit undertakes [this "convincing concerning sin"] by virtue of the Redemption accomplished by the Blood of the Son of Man. Hence the Letter to the Hebrews says that this "blood purifies the conscience." It therefore, so to speak, opens to the Holy Spirit the door into man's inmost being, namely into the sanctuary of human consciences. (Heb 9:14)

43. The Second Vatican Council mentioned the Catholic teaching on conscience when it spoke about man's vocation and in particular about the dignity of the human person. It is precisely the conscience in particular which determines this dignity. For the conscience is "the most secret core and sanctuary of a man, where he is alone with God, whose voice echoes in his depths." It "can ...speak to his heart more specifically: do this, shun that." (Gaudium et Spes 16)

This capacity to command what is good and to forbid evil, placed in man by the Creator, is the main characteristic of the personal subject. But at the same time, "in the depths of his conscience, man detects a law which he does not impose upon himself, but which holds him to obedience." (GS 16)

The conscience therefore is not an independent and exclusive capacity to decide what is good and what is evil. Rather there is profoundly imprinted upon it a principle of obedience vis-a-vis the objective norm which establishes and conditions the correspondence of its decisions with the commands and prohibitions which are at the basis of human behavior, as from the passage of the Book of Genesis which we have already considered.

Precisely in this sense the conscience is the "secret sanctuary" in which "God's voice echoes." The conscience is "the voice of God," even when man recognizes in it nothing more than the principle of the moral order which it is not humanly possible to doubt, even without any direct reference to the Creator. It is precisely in reference to this that the conscience always finds its foundation and justification.

The Gospel's "convincing concerning sin" under the influence of the Spirit of truth can be accomplished in man in no other way except through the conscience. If the conscience is upright, it serves "to resolve according to truth the moral problems which arise both in the life of individuals and from social relationships"; then "persons and groups turn aside from blind choice and try to be guided by the objective standards of moral conduct." (GS 16)

A result of an upright conscience is, first of all, to call good and evil by their proper name, as we read in the same Pastoral Constitution:
"whatever is opposed to life itself, such as any type of murder, genocide, abortion, euthanasia, or willful self-destruction, whatever violates the integrity of the human person, such as mutilation, torments inflicted on body or mind, attempts to coerce the will itself; whatever insults human dignity, such as subhuman living conditions, arbitrary imprisonment, deportation, slavery, prostitution, the selling of women and children; as well as disgraceful working conditions, where people are treated as mere tools for profit, rather than as free and responsible persons" (GS 27);
and having called by name the many different sins that are so frequent and widespread in our time, the Constitution adds:
"All these things and others of their kind are infamies indeed. They poison human society, but they do more harm to those who practice them than to those who suffer from the injury. Moreover, they are a supreme dishonor to the Creator." (GS 27)
By calling by their proper name the sins that most dishonor man, and by showing that they are a moral evil that weighs negatively on any balance-sheet of human progress, the Council also describes all this as a stage in "a dramatic struggle between good and evil, between light and darkness," which characterizes "all of human life, whether individual or collective." (GS 13) . . .

44. "Convincing the world concerning sin" does not end with the fact that sin is called by its right name and identified for what it is throughout its entire range. In convincing the world concerning sin the Spirit of truth comes into contact with the voice of human consciences. . . .

As the Council teaches: "A monumental struggle against the powers of darkness pervades the whole history of man. The battle was joined from the very origins of the world and will continue until the last day, as the Lord has attested." (GS 37) "But the Lord Himself came to free and strengthen man." (GS 13) Man, therefore, far from allowing himself to be "ensnared" in his sinful condition, by relying upon the voice of his own conscience, "is obliged to wrestle constantly if he is to cling to what is good. Nor can he achieve his own interior integrity without valiant efforts and the help of God's grace." (GS 37)


Thursday, June 09, 2011

Sophie Scholl: The Final Days

Over at Cinema Catechism --

Lots of talk of Sophie Scholl and the White Rose.

Monday, June 6, was the 67th anniversary of D-Day, when Allied Forces stormed the beaches of Normandy to liberate Europe from one of the great evils the world has known. In observance of this, it is fitting that Cinema Catechism conclude its Winter/Spring series with a showing of the feature film, Sophie Scholl: The Final Days, about the heroic young German woman who, together with her fellow members of the White Rose, and inspired by the words of Blessed John Henry Newman and Blessed Clemens August von Galen, Catholic Bishop of Münster, sought to awaken the conscience of the German people so that they might liberate themselves from the great evil of Adolf Hitler and National Socialism.

We have an obligation, written as law upon our hearts, to do good and avoid evil. One cannot stand idly by in the face of evil. To simply go along and avoid having to confront evil can quickly become cooperation with evil, especially since evil often will not leave you alone, but will demand your involvement and approval. Many otherwise "good" Germans merely went along, afraid of the consequences if they were to resist that evil, but not Sophie Scholl. Her love of what is right and good and just, building on rock by placing her faith in God, rather than in a twisted anti-God despot whose hatred for the inherent dignity of man offered only the hopelessness of Hell to the people of the world, gave Sophie the grace and fortitude to defiantly shine the light of truth on the evils of the Nazi regime.

This is a good lesson to learn. Although we might not live in a totalitarian regime such as Nazi Germany, there are other evils in the world, other attacks on the inherent dignity of the human person.

Can we, in all good conscience, do nothing or merely go along? Or should we, like Sophie, be a light to a dark world?


Monday, June 06, 2011

Compulsion to Participate in Evil

Over at Cinema Catechism, we are examining the life of Sophie Scholl, the young German woman who was part of the White Rose resistence group that tried to awaken the consciences of the German people against the Nazi regime. Her story sheds light on those good Germans who found themselves in the midst of an oppressive and evil totalitarian state. Not every German in the 1930s-40s was a twisted moral monster; many were good and decent people.

This leads us to imagine the horror if we had been forced to be involved in such evil, if, for example, we had been conscripted and compelled against our consciences to fight in the German war machine. And we should imagine ourselves in that situation because, in too many cases today, in the midst of a culture of death, people in our own country are also placed in the position of being pressured to act against their conscience, to go along with and participate in what they know to be wrong and sinful and evil.

In that light, we might reflect on a few words said by Cardinal Ratzinger at a German cemetery in Normandy on the 60th anniversary of the D-Day invasion by Allied Forces.

Address of Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger
Sixtieth Anniversary of D-Day
June 6, 2004
In this hour, at the German military cemetery at La Combe near Caen, we reverently bow before the dead of the Second World War and remember the many young men from our country whose future and hope perished in the bloody battles of the war. As Germans, we must be painfully moved by the way in which their idealism and their obedience to the state were misused by an unjust regime. But this does not lessen the honor due to these young men; only God can see their consciences. And each one stands alone before God with the path he took in his life and with his dying. We know that all our dead are kept safe in the merciful kindness of God. They attempted quite simply to do their duty, often with terrible inner conflicts, doubts, and questions.

Now they look at us and speak to us: What about you?

What are you going to do to prevent young men from being driven again into such battles? What are you going to do to prevent the world from being laid waste anew by hatred and violence and falsehood?

Thursday, June 02, 2011

The Ascension of the Lord

Here is a piece that I wrote as a guest contributor for the blog Runs With Angels . . . Lives With Saints --

Today, Ascension Thursday*, the Church celebrates the Ascension of our Lord Jesus Christ to heaven, proclaiming, "Sing to the Lord, sing psalms to His name. Make a path for Him who rides on the clouds. Alleluia."

What can we learn from the Ascension? Is there anything important to take away from this other than the historical fact of the event?

Let's start with a prayerful, thoughtful reading of scripture. The Acts of the Apostles (1:1-11), gives this account:
In the first book, Theophilus, I dealt with all that Jesus did and taught until the day He was taken up, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom He had chosen. He presented Himself alive to them by many proofs after He had suffered, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God. While meeting with them, He enjoined them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for "the promise of the Father about which you have heard me speak; for John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit."

When they had gathered together they asked Him, "Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?"

He answered them, "It is not for you to know the times or seasons that the Father has established by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, throughout Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth."

When He had said this, as they were looking on, He was lifted up, and a cloud took Him from their sight.

While they were looking intently at the sky as He was going, suddenly two men dressed in white garments stood beside them. They said, "Men of Galilee, why are you standing there looking at the sky? This Jesus who has been taken up from you into heaven will return in the same way as you have seen Him going into heaven."
In the Gospel, Luke then reports,
As Jesus blessed them, He parted from them and was taken up to heaven. They did Him homage and then returned to Jerusalem with great joy. (Lk 24:51-52)
From these passages, the question arises, what does it mean to say that Jesus was "taken up" to heaven, that "He was lifted up, and a cloud took Him from their sight" or, as it says elsewhere in scripture, that the ascended Jesus is "seated at the right hand of the Father"?

The presence of the cloud is telling here. It is not meant to be understood as a physical place. Rather, it is used in the same sense as are the cloud that signified the Lord's presence on Sinai and over the holy tent in the Old Covenant, and the cloud that came upon Jesus at the Transfiguration. That is, the presence of the cloud means the presence of God. Jesus being lifted up on a cloud does not mean that heaven is in some physical location up in the sky, but that heaven is "where" God is. And God, the "I am," is not bounded by space and time, but instead transcends space and time.
"[This] does not refer to some distant cosmic space, where God has, as it were, set up his throne and given Jesus a place beside the throne. God is not in one space alongside other spaces. God is God -- he is the premise and the ground of all the space there is, but he himself is not part of it. God stands in relation to all spaces as Lord and Creator. His presence is not spatial, but divine." (Pope Benedict, Jesus of Nazareth, Book Two, pp. 282-83)
Understanding now that, when we say that Jesus "ascended to heaven," that He was lifted up on a cloud to heaven, we mean that Jesus did not go to a "place," but that He went to God, what can we learn from the Ascension?

One thing we learn from the Ascension is that, in being lifted up to heaven, Jesus raised up the human body to heaven and, thus, raised up mankind to heaven. Jesus is not merely transcendent Spirit, He is both God and Man. His Resurrection was not merely a spiritual one, rather, His Body rose from the dead. And, in the Ascension, that glorified physical body entered into heaven to be eternally present "at the right hand" of God the Father. Jesus, in His ascended Body, enters that other plane of existence, that other level of reality which lies beyond the physical universe, such that not merely does the Spirit of God transcend space and time, but His Body does as well.

Likewise, human beings are not pure spirit, as are the angels, rather, we are both spirit and body. This bodily aspect is essential to the fullness of our being.

And in Jesus, God literally merged with mankind. God became man so that men and women might become like Him. Thus, in His Ascension, as we learn in the Assumption of Mary, we can glimpse the eschatological destiny of the faithful. If we remain in a state of grace when we end our earthly journey, our bodies too will be resurrected and raised up to new life in the presence of God. In the resurrection of the body, Jesus making "all things new," we too will have glorified bodies, not the weak, sickly, and fallible bodies we have now. Bodies that are capable of "ascending" with Jesus to be in the presence of God, bodies capable of entering into another dimension of being, that other realm of reality that transcends space and time.
"In Christ ascended into heaven, man has entered in a new and unheard of way into the intimacy of God; man now finds space in God forever. 'Heaven' does not indicate a place beyond the stars, but something more bold and sublime: it indicates Christ Himself, the divine Person that completely and forever takes on humanity, He in whom God and man are united forever." (Pope Benedict, Homily, May 24, 2009)
"He who took flesh and now retains his humanity forever . . . has eternally opened up within God a space for humanity." (Jesus of Nazareth, Book Two, p. 287) In the Ascension, a space being opened up within God, it is now possible for man to be with God and to enter into communion with God, not merely partially, not merely spiritually, with the physical part of us being separate and apart from Him, but to be with Him in the entirety of our being, both spirit and body. Thus, we see that the Ascension is not merely a farewell by Jesus, but is a culmination of the work of redemption and salvation that occurred at the Crucifixion and Resurrection. It is part of that redemption of man so that, in the resurrection of the body, we are not merely raised to live another life in this world as if a form of reincarnation, but are instead "lifted up" to live with God Himself in that other world that is the New Jerusalem.

But we can enter into that life with God in heaven, achieve that fullness of communion with God, only by ascending with Jesus. However, we do not have to wait until "the end" to begin that journey.

Another thing that we can learn from the Ascension is that, in "ascending" to heaven, Jesus did not abandon us. Indeed, He did not even leave the Apostles or us.
"The departing Jesus does not make his way to some distant star. He enters into communion of power and life with the living God, into God's dominion over space. Hence he has not 'gone away,' but now and forever by God's own power he is present with us and for us." (Jesus of Nazareth, Book Two, p. 283)
As Jesus had assured them, "behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age." (Mt. 28:20) That is why, instead of feeling sadness and grief, the Apostles were joyous after the Ascension.

But if Jesus is still with us, where is He, where can we find Him?

The most obvious answer is, of course, in the Eucharist, which is His Real Presence, Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity. That is where He may be found. In the Eucharist, we have not only spiritual communion with Jesus, as we might praying at home, we are capable of ascending to have full communion with Him in the totality of our being, body and soul, hence the name "Holy Communion." In the profoundly intimate encounter with Jesus that is receiving His Body into our body in the Eucharist, in the fullness of Love which is both unitive and fruitful, we are joined in a mystical fashion so as to become one in a communion of persons and to receive life.

Returning to a few points made above, our "ascending" does not mean simply rising up to some new physical location, but to entering into a different plane of existence that lies beyond and transcends physicality, a different dimension of being.
"[It] is not a matter of space travel of a cosmic-geographic nature: it is the "space travel" of the heart, from the dimension of self-enclosed isolation to the new dimension of world-embracing love." (Jesus of Nazareth, Book Two, p. 286)
Just as, in the Ascension, Jesus entered into the heart of the Father, so too do we ascend by entering into His heart. And we "ascend" to Him by allowing Him to enter into our hearts and finding Him there, by conforming our hearts to Him who is Love.

As St. Augustine writes in his Confessions, Book IV, ch. 12, we need only look for Him in our hearts,
Our Life Himself came down into this world and took away our death. He slew it with His own abounding life, and with thunder in His voice He called us from this world to return to Him in heaven. From heaven He came down to us, entering first the Virgin’s womb, where humanity, our mortal flesh, was wedded to Him, so that it might not be forever mortal.

He came “as a bridegroom coming out his chamber, rejoicing as a strong man to run a race." He did not linger on His way but ran, calling us to return to Him, calling us by His words and deeds, by His life and death, by His descent into hell and His ascension into heaven.

He departed from our sight so that we should turn to our hearts and find Him there. He departed, but He is here with us. He would not stay long with us, but He did not leave us. He went back to the place which He had never left, because He, through whom the world was made, was in the world, and He came into the world to save sinners.

To Him my soul confesses, and He heals it, because it had sinned against Him. O sons of men, how long will you be so slow of heart? Even now after Life itself has come down to you, will you not ascend and live?
In a sermon, Augustine further teaches,
While in heaven, He is also with us; and we while on earth are with Him. He is here with us by His divinity, His power and His love. We cannot be in heaven, as He is on earth, by divinity, but in Him, we can be there by love.

He did not leave heaven when He came down to us; nor did He withdraw from us when He went up again into heaven. The fact that He was in heaven even while He was on earth is borne out by His own statement: No one has ever ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of Man, who is in heaven.

These words are explained by our oneness with Christ, for He is our head and we are His body. No one ascended into heaven except Christ because we also are Christ: He is the Son of Man by His union with us, and we by our union with Him are the sons of God. . . .

Out of compassion for us He descended from heaven, and although He ascended alone, we also ascend, because we are in Him by grace.
In conforming our hearts to His, in allowing Jesus into our hearts so that we might find Him there and thereby ascend with Him, making His Love our love as well, we join with Him in the work of salvation. Another point to learn in the Ascension is that, in loving Him so that we might ascend with Him, we must love others as He has loved us. We must be concerned not only with our own salvation, but must work toward reconciling others to God.

Before being lifted up, Jesus said to us, "You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, throughout Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth." We are called to be His witnesses, to spread the Good News and be a light to others in a dark world.
He who took flesh and now retains his humanity forever, he who has eternally opened up within God a space for humanity, now calls the whole world into this open space in God, so that in the end God may be all in all and the Son may hand over to the Father the whole world that is gathered together in him. (cf. 1 Cor 15:20-28). Herein is contained the certainty of hope that God will wipe away every tear, that nothing meaningless will remain, that every injustice will be remedied and justice restored. The triumph of love will be the last word of world history. (Jesus of Nazareth, Book Two, p. 287)


* The Solemnity of the Ascension is a Holy Day of Obligation. However, in most dioceses in the United States, the observance of the Solemnity is moved to next Sunday.

See also, Mass at Monte Cassino, Homily of Pope Benedict, May 24, 2009
Mass in Kraków, Poland, Homily of Pope Benedict, May 28, 2006
Installation in the Chair of the Bishop of Rome, Homily of Pope Benedict, May 7, 2005
The Ascension: A Mystery Announced Beforehand, General Audience of Pope John Paul II, April 5, 1989
The Ascension is the Fulfillment of the Mystery of the Incarnation, General Audience of Pope John Paul II, April 12, 1989
Jesus is Lord, General Audience of Pope John Paul II, April 19, 1989

cross-posted at Runs With Angels, Lives With Saints