Wednesday, September 30, 2015

"Ignoratio Scripturarum Ignoratio Christi"

St Jerome (340 – 420)

My confirmation Saint is Jerome, the doctor of the Church. His pugnacity and attention to Scripture are what I admire about him most, not to mention his legacy of monasteries and convents that bear his name throughout the Holy Land and Rome.
St. John Paul II mentioned the Saint on a few occasions, the primary one being his quotation of “Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ”:

Despite the great impetus that the Second Vatican Council gave to biblical studies and the biblical apostolate in Christian communities, there are still too many of the faithful who are deprived of a vital contact with Sacred Scripture and do not adequately nourish their faith with the riches of God’s word contained in the revealed texts. Further effort is therefore needed to give them wider access to the Bible. “Ignorance of Sacred Scripture means ignorance of Christ”, as St Jerome said, since the whole Bible speaks of him (cf. Lk 24:27).

Personally, I did not begin reading the Bible until I was 18. Nearly a quarter century of ignorance of Christ is a long time! I am grateful for St. Jerome’s intercession, especially his commentary on Psalm 42 which helped me to make sense of quite a bit when I did begin to read the Bible.

Elsewhere, JPII quotes Jerome on the prophet Isaiah:

In his commentary on Isaiah, St Jerome develops this concept with a reflection that takes in the entire passage: "Every iniquity, oppression and injustice is a decision for bloodshed: if one does not kill with the sword, one kills by intention "and shuts one's eyes, to blot out the evil': happy the conscience that does not listen to nor contemplate evil! Whoever is like this will dwell "on high", that is, in the Kingdom of Heaven, or in the highest cavern of the soundest Rock, in Christ Jesus" (In Isaiam prophetam, 10,33: PL 24, 437, p. 367).

Thus Jerome introduces us to a correct understanding of that "closing of the eyes" referred to by the Prophet: it is an invitation to reject absolutely any complicity with evil. As it is easy to perceive, the principal senses of the body are challenged: indeed, the hands, feet, eyes, ears and tongue are involved in human moral behaviour.

Friday, August 21, 2015

He Leadeth Me

I found this passage from his chapter called "Retreats" very insightful:

The kingdom of God had to be worked out on earth, for that was the meaning of the Incarnation. It had to be worked out by men, by other Christs; it had to be worked out this day, each day, by constant effort and attention to just those persons and circumstances God presented to them that day. (145)

His description of one's sphere of responsibility here is very accurate. An often repeated line in his book is "working out salvation in fear and trembling"--and the cold of Siberian labor camps certainly provides the trembling!

Wojtyla did manual labor (quarrying) to pay for his studies during the war. I grew up near a quarry and can only imagine how time-consuming and labor intensive things were in comparison with the work of some of today’s machinery. In the same way, I have been in shock at how physically strenuous the labor camps of Siberia were in Soviet Russia.

While Wojtyla was in Poland working, Walter Ciszek S.J. was in Siberia shoveling coal:

I was marched down to the hold of the ship, given a shovel, and told to spread coal as it came cascading down a conveyor belt. I worked until I was ready to drop—which was rather soon because of my condition—and then had to go on working for fear of my life. There was no way I could stop the conveyor belt, and if I stopped shoveling, I would have been buried by the roaring coal. So I had to keep moving, stumbling and slipping over the shifting coal as the hold filled up, working the shovel as best I could even after my arms and chest grew numb and I had no sensation at all in the mechanical motions I made. (96)

Countless other stories of Ciszek stretching himself to the physical and psychological limit abound in his testament of faith, He Leadeth Me. It is a first-hand account of all of the horrors of the War from the perspective of a priest. And rather than become embittered by the ever-increasing Marxism, he deepens his love and trust in God as a child would with his benevolent father.

The quarry I lived near was full to the brim with crystal clear water. I could see straight down 40 feet to the bottom of the jutting rocks on a clouded day. Ciszek compares his time in Russia as a child learning to float in such immensity of clear water:

What he wanted was for me to accept these situations as from his hands, to let go of the reins and place myself entirely at his disposal. He was asking of me an act of total trust, allowing for no interference or restless striving on my part, no reservations, no exceptions, no areas where I could set conditions or seem to hesitate. He was asking a complete gift of self, nothing held back. It was something like that awful eternity between anxiety and belief when a child first leans back and lets go of all support whatsoever—only to find that the water truly holds him up and he can float motionless and totally relaxed. (81)

How men can endure such difficulties and live to tell a hopeful tale speaks of tremendous surrender into the hands of the living God. As Scripture says, “it’s a fearful thing” and yet, totally fulfilling.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

JPII and the Advocate

Even today, the Polish word "adwokat" stands for a defense attorney. Many English speakers know THE Advocate to be the Person of the Holy Spirit, even though the term has been all but removed from the courtroom. Besides being the "Lord and Giver of life" who is adored and glorified with the Father and the Son, He also speaks through the prophets and indeed comes to the aid of the accused to provide a defense.

In his letter on the Holy Spirit, Dominium et Vivificantem, St. John Paul II describes exactly who and what an advocate is: "he acts as Counselor, Intercessor, Advocate, especially when man, when humanity find themselves before the judgment of condemnation by that 'accuser' about whom the Book of Revelation says that 'he accuses them day and night before our God.' The Holy Spirit does not cease to be the guardian of hope in the human heart: the hope of all human creatures, and especially of those who 'have the first fruits of the Spirit' and 'wait for the redemption of their bodies' (#67)

Elijah was accused of killing the Baal prophets, and undermining king Ahab and queen Jezebel. Yet, the Holy Spirit vindicated the prophet before his accusers. The Holy Spirit "whispered" to Elijah at Mt. Carmel, speaking to him words of encouragement in the face of those who sought to kill him in return for his zeal. The Spirit came to the aid of his weakness...So too, when Karol Wojtyla was faced with accusations of global proportions, he trusted in the Holy Spirit to give him the words to speak. He trusted the Advocate to drive his entire pontifical message:

In a certain sense, my previous Encyclicals Redemptor Hominis and Dives in Misericordia took their origin and inspiration from this exhortation, celebrating as they do the event of our salvation accomplished in the Son, sent by the Father into the world "that the world might be saved through him" and "every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father." From this exhortation now comes the present Encyclical on the Holy Spirit, who proceeds from the Father and the Son; with the Father and the Son he is adored and glorified: a divine Person, he is at the center of the Christian faith and is the source and dynamic power of the Church's renewal.(#2)

The Holy Spirit does not disappoint, though many doubted (even to this day) the message of Wojtyla concerning VCII, Communism/Socialism, Marriage and Celibacy, etc. Thankfully, the catechsim refers to the "Living Memory of the Church" being the Holy Spirit-Advocate who has preserved the writings of St. John Paul II (even in his own native Polish) so that there can be no doubt about his being inspired by the 3rd Person of the Trinity.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Dives in Misericordia

It is easy for mercy to be viewed strictly from an anthropocentric lens. What I mean by that is best illustrated in the parable of the Good Samaritan, an excellent example of corporal works of mercy, but potentially divorced from the parable’s source: Christ. After all, Jesus told the parable of the Good Samaritan and is himself the source of mercy to be imitated by others. Without the Incarnate God-man, a Pelagian view crops up in interpreting mercy. Worse yet, mercy could be dismissed altogether as mere human sympathy and compassion, when in reality its source is Divinity, thus Divine Mercy!

In the modern secular world, individuals and corporations try to monopolize mercy, especially in regard to the drug addicted, mentally ill, and impoverished. Numerous organizations attempt to capitalize on mercy under different names: rehabilitation, counseling and treatment, welfare, etc. While I do not want to discount some good works done in many of these instances, more often than not they merely present opportunities for exploitation and enabling rather than as an avenue to meet the Person of Jesus and be called to be merciful as he is merciful.

St. John Paul II’s Dives in Misericordia pinpoints the necessity of understanding mercy as rooted in the Incarnation, indeed as Divine Mercy. He says,

The more the Church's mission is centred upon man—the more it is, so to speak, anthropocentric—the more it must be confirmed and actualized theocentrically, that is to say, be directed in Jesus Christ to the Father. While the various currents of human thought both in the past and at the present have tended and still tend to separate theocentrism and anthropocentrism, and even to set them in opposition to each other, the Church, following Christ, seeks to link them up in human history, in a deep and organic way […] Christ confers on the whole of the Old Testament tradition about God's mercy a definitive meaning. Not only does He speak of it and explain it by the use of comparisons and parables, but above all He Himself makes it incarnate and personifies it. He Himself, in a certain sense, is mercy. To the person who sees it in Him—and finds it in Him—God becomes "visible" in a particular way as the Father who is rich in mercy."
Mercy is both “corporal and spiritual”, visible and invisible simultaneously. In a way, to say that the ‘invisible’ and ‘spiritual’ Father of Lights is rich in mercy (Eph. 2:4) is to make reference to his visible Son, Jesus. Indeed, the Father surpasses all in the richness of HIs mercy so as to give his only Son to us who deserve him not. Even as Abraham ‘corporally’ offered up his son Isaac at Mt Moriah, God the Father proved himself infinitely more rich in mercy because he did not withhold Jesus. Compare God the Father with the same father Abraham who is appealed to in the parable of the rich man and Lazarus, unable to reconcile the rich man’s lack of mercy on Lazarus because raising the dead could not even suffice! Yet, God the Father is merciful in spite of such incredulity! He is merciful even to the harrowing of hell.

His mercy also allows for total rejection. Hell is chosen not through lack of opportunities for repentance. Another illustrative parable along these lines is the prodigal son. What if the son never returned to his father? Much like Esau in the book of Genesis who traded his birthright for little more than soup, the Father’s mercy is met with sheer apathy. Who cares that he offers us forgiveness and reconciliation, divine life and grace, identity in his Son, membership in his household, and eternal life instead of death? Why care about such things when I can have a single bowl of soup?

Again, I do not want to discount the works of charitable organizations, soup kitchens and the like. I have experience with many such places and have seen men and women surrender their lives, addictions, and sufferings to Christ in a powerfully transforming way. But that was precisely because it pleased the Father to reveal his Son to us, and through us. Furthermore, it was because those volunteering for the organization were not ashamed of sharing Jesus with others, they were not ashamed of the Gospel or limited themselves to only when the other person was sober, fed, sheltered, etc. Instead, it was alongside such corporal works of mercy that the Gospel was shared in its fullness and not in half-measure.

As the priest who married my wife and me said at our Nuptial Mass homily, “when I point the finger at all of you I have 3 fingers pointing back at me”. I write this post as much for my sake as for anyone in need of mercy. St. John Henry Newman’s brilliant sermon on the plight of Esau captures precisely my points, and I highly recommend his warnings about the danger of profanity and presumption. He compares the prodigal son’s approach to his merciful father with Esau’s arrogance:

Would you see how a penitent should come to God? turn to the parable of the Prodigal Son. He, too, had squandered away his birthright, as Esau did. He, too, came for the blessing, like Esau. Yes; but how differently he came! he came with deep confession and self-abasement. He said, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before thee, and am no more worthy to be called thy son: make me as one of thy hired servants:’ but Esau said, ‘Let my father arise, and eat of his son's venison, that thy soul may bless me.’ The one came for a son's privileges, the other for a servant's drudgery. The one killed and dressed his venison with his own hand, and enjoyed it not; for the other the fatted calf was prepared, and the ring for his hand, and shoes for his feet, and the best robe, and there was music and dancing.
In this light then, I take to heart mercy as theocentric and not merely anthropocentric. Nor is it just between me and God either, but when I receive absolution from the priest in persona Christi, I am really being reconciled to the entire body of Christ. This is Divine Mercy enough to merit sobriety, conquer pride, and begin living virtuously. God’s mercy is transformative, and not only imputes, but infuses grace into our body and soul. We have such mercy to seek in the upcoming year, mindful of shortcomings as openings for God to fill to the brim.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Totus Tuus

In the midst of the year for Consecrated Life 2015, it would be a shame to ignore the value of virginity for the sake of the Kingdom of Heaven. Karol Wojtyla has written extensively on the subject from his days as Cardinal to his days as Pope in Rome.

To a degree, “Totus tuus” speaks volumes in this area. In fact, I will not need to supply any references or quotations other than that simple phrase of self-gift and consecration. In being spoken to Mary, these words and intention are consecrated to Jesus through Mary. They suggest a docility to the Holy Spirit that is inseparable with any vocation, including marriage and celibacy.

However, it is hard to argue with the fact that celibacy signifies a total donation of self for the kingdom—indeed, I agree with the Church fathers that virginity is superior to marriage--though the two are both necessary and complimentary in the Church. Karol Wojtyla defended and upheld both, while modeling an excellent call to celibacy in his own right.