Archive for March, 2015

Theology is an act of faith, hope, and love. While it is possible for a non-Christian to study the Catholic religion (and, therefore, our faith), it is impossible for them to engage in theology. For theology is not the study of God. It is prayer. In its purest form it is contemplation which is a pure gift from God. The attainment of contemplation by our own power is impossible. What all of this means is that fundamentally theology is an expression of an intimate, familial relationship with God. Even more, the relationship of the beloved with her Lover.

Song of Songs 2

So what precedes theology? Faith given in Baptism. Through this gift the Holy Spirit unites us to the Beloved Son of the Father. Our heart is brought into the heart of the Son aflame in its infinite totality with love for the Father. We are brought into this love so that through the Son, by the Spirit we are set aflame – indeed, become the flame – with a singular love of the Father. But what of the Son and the Spirit? Does this exclude love of them? God forbid! What a revolting, hideous, and excruciating thought! To love the Father is to love the Son and Spirit, for there is only one God and one love. To love the Father is to enter into His love for the Son and the Spirit; it is the love of the Holy Trinity into which we enter.

The gift of faith does not stand on its own in bringing this communion of love about: there is also the necessity of encounter. Faith, the Spirit in us, opens our hearts to encountering our Lord Incarnate, Who ceaselessly meets us and calls our name. It is only in encountering Him that we seek to know Him (The desire to know is always there though!) It is only in knowing Him that we love Him. To know is to love, and to love is to know.

There are two types of encounter. The first is encounter with Mystery. All, from our earliest ages of awareness, have this encounter. The second encounter is also with Mystery, but it also consists of the revelation that the Mystery has a name: Jesus Christ. The difference is this: the soul who has encountered Mystery is the heart that longs and yearns, but it knows not for who or what. Consequently, they are either aimless in their wanderings or attach themselves to something that is not their true desire and satisfaction. Eventually the soul in this state says, “By many experiences, I have learned that the love of this world is false and fleeting. I am always forced either to lose my love when what I have chosen for myself perishes, or to change it when something that is more pleasing comes along. I thus remain uncertain, carried on the tide of my desires, since I can neither be without love nor find true love.” (Hugh of St. Victor, Soliloquy on the Betrothal-Gift of the Soul, para. 7) The soul who has encountered the Mystery and knows His name – Jesus Christ – knows the One for Whom his heart longs and his wanderings are no longer aimless. This encounter is also an awakening of one’s identity: I am the beloved. I am loved by the One Who is Love. The encounter draws the soul into the relationship of beloved and Lover. Relationships require knowledge of the one with whom we are in a relationship. The degree of the relationship correlates with the degree of knowledge . So how do we have knowledge of God?


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Give me again the joy of your help;

with a spirit of fervor sustain me,

that I may teach transgressors your ways

and sinners may return to you.

Pope Francis early in his papacy called Christians to be a joyous people. He criticized the Christian who goes around with a glum look, the Christian who is too serious. This type of Christian doesn’t manifest life in Christ and certainly will not attract others to Christ. A lot of people (and I was one of them) took serious issue with how Pope Francis said this or with the fact that he said it at all. After all don’t different people have different personality types. We’re not all called to be an extroverted Ren and Stimpy “happy, happy, joy, joy” kind of people. And can we really blame Christians for being sad with all that is happening in the world today? The multitude of varieties of crap throughout the world, in and out of the Church, is oppressing.

Isn’t this a rather superficial way of interpreting Francis’s words? Perhaps the problem isn’t with what Francis said, but with the insecurities of so many Christians and the sign of contradiction that his words are to them. Really there is a criticism from Francis here: If you aren’t joyous there is a serious deficiency in your life. Who likes being told that? But Francis’s words are so much more than a criticism. They are first and foremost a call to ascend the mountain of the Lord, a call to truly enter into the interior life. The interior life is the only fount of true joy. It is a life rooted in an encounter and relationship with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – God. The soul inundated with joy is a soul inundated with God, a soul divinized.

“Give me again the joy of your help”: A call to joy means first recognizing that we are sinners. We are horribly wounded. Francis’s image of the Church as a field hospital is apt. Our sins do all manner of ills to us. It rots and spoils our souls; saps us of our energy; blinds us, oppressing us with darkness like that in Egypt; makes us deaf, surrounded by a cacophony of silence. Our sins drag us in the disease ridden, dung filled mire of hell where there is a wailing and gnashing of teeth, an endless stream of tears, sobs, and cries. In Baptism though this is not who we have to be. We are given divine life and sonship. We partake of the divine nature and become divine ourselves. Our soul is purified because it is filled to its greatest depths with the Holy Spirit, the One Who sets us within the heart of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, and brings us into the love and communion of the Holy Trinity. Through Confirmation, Eucharist, and Reconciliation we may became holy for the Lord, our God, is holy; we may become perfect as our heavenly Father is perfect. He who was sick and at death’s door has been healed and reinvigorated. He who was fallen has been raised, and he who has decayed has been restored. The lost coin has been found, and the gem wiped clean brilliantly shines.

Our joy as Christians is due to God saving us. This is only the starting point. The Divine Physician is not like a human one. Our doctors prescribe medicine and perform surgeries, but when we are healed they send us on our way and are no longer a part of our lives. God, however, does not send us away once He heals us. No, to remain healed and to grow stronger and gain health He must stay with us. He brings us into communion with Him – a communion with the Father, in the Son, by the Holy Spirit. We continue and mature in the life of the Spirit given to us in Baptism and all the sacraments. This life in the Spirit bears fruits, one of which is joy. Not just joy of having been restored, but joy of entering into the communion of the great love and intimacy of the Godhead.

Joy of its very nature must be expressed and shared, and so the psalmist says, “that I may teach transgressors your ways and sinners may return to you.” Joy leads to evangelization. As John states in his first epistle: “What we have seen and heard we proclaim to you also, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ. These things we write, so that our joy may be made complete.”

So Pope Francis has called and continues to call us to recognize the horror of our sins, repent and return to God, be joyous at our having been restored, enter into new life, grow in that life through the interior life, let the Spirit bear the fruit of joy within us, and to go out and bring that joy to others. So what does true joy look like? Joy is expressed in many ways, but whether one is an introvert or an extrovert these are present: peace of heart, warmth, a smile (it need not be big), a vivacity in the eyes (like Moses on the day of his death), and, finally, sometimes it looks like this:

Pope Francis

While nothing can take away the joy we have when we enter into divine union, joy does know that it is stupid to smile, laugh, be exuberant, or even warm in certain situations.

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Now that that is cleared up, we can take a look at Stephen Webb’s article with the same title over at First Things. He opens:

Classical theism, with its identification of God with infinity, has developed a reputation for emphasizing divine transcendence to the point of making God nearly unknowable. The problem with this judgment is that infinity—as in, God is infinitely unknowable—does not admit to degrees. An infinite God is not like an unimaginably large number that we could count to if only we had enough time. Nor is an infinite God like the largest possible number we know, or at least know well enough to use in any practical way.

The crux of the problem is God being incomprehensible. The infinite God Who is wholly transcendent is also, therefore, wholly unrelatable. You cannot enter into a relationship with one you cannot know. When you get right down to it, there is no point in praying and, therefore, no point in religion. This is the problem that the Greeks encountered and one of the ways Greek philosophy was redeemed by Christian doctrine. The Greeks while being religiously polytheistic were philosophically monotheistic. However, this one god, the god of the philosophers, was not accessible to the people. It ultimately made not only religion irrelevant, but philosophy as well. With the Incarnation though the one God Who is infinite, eternal, and wholly inaccessible and unknowable became man. His condescension became our ascension. An ascension of the whole man rooted and invigorated by the Ascension of the Incarnate One. This is an ascension of our intellect, will, passions, body, soul, and of every other aspect of man save sin. In short, it is the divinization of man. In our secular and materialist world the concept of God as being unrelatable is the norm. It is all the more unfortunate then that it would be encountered in an article in First Things written by a professor of philosophy and religion who is a Catholic (if we are to take Wikipedia’s word for it).

At the end of his article, Dr. Webb concludes that God is not infinite, but rather it is our potential knowledge of Him that is. He ends saying:

Aristotle denied that anything that actually exists can be infinite, although he accepted a potential infinity, in the sense of a series that continues without any logical ending. Following Aristotle, perhaps the best we can mean by calling God infinite is that our knowledge and enjoyment of his presence will never be exhausted. God is like a hypercube whose dimensions, if ever mapped for the purposes of notation, would have no apparent numerical end. If so, then it is not quite accurate to say that God is infinite, but it would make some sense to say that our potential knowledge of God most certainly is.

What Dr. Webb has done (whether intended or not) is attempt to confine God to overcome the problem of the gap which exists between Him and us. He commits the error of the Greeks by his seeking to correct it through reduction. God, however, cannot be reduced to anything nor confined by anything. Dr. Webb’s own conception of God and his interpretation of theology seems too physical. He says, “Theologians in the tradition of classical theism claim that God is also greater than the known universe, but can they propose a rational way of demonstrating that God is greater than Graham’s number?” The problem with this question is that Graham’s number is itself confined by creation. God is not greater than the known universe in the sense of being bigger. He is neither bigger nor smaller. He does not exceed the boundaries, is not confined by the boundaries, nor is He the boundaries of the universe. He is greater in the sense of being wholly other than it, as well as the universe having been produced by Him and being entirely dependent on Him for its continued being.

The true answer to this problem is – as stated above – the Incarnation. The union of God and man, the Uncreated and created, in the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, Jesus Christ. Dr. Webb seems to have forgotten about Him and instead has looked to pure philosophy for his answers; but pure philosophy in the end leads only to confusion. I think he does this because he doesn’t like apophatic theology. He says, “Such a God might exist—philosophers still debate whether Anselm’s statement can serve as the basis for a proof of God’s necessary existence—but we cannot know anything positive about him [emphasis mine]. Attributing infinity to God and negative theology go hand in hand;” and a little later, “God’s infinity is infinitely receding, according to Przywara’s perspective. Knowing God is not just analogous to knowing what infinity is, since we can have some idea of that. No, the infinite God must be infinitely unknowable.” Apophatic theology, however, is the reality of our finiteness in relation to the Infinite. It is our humility in the presence of the Mystery. And this is why the fathers, doctors, and all the saints of the Church have affirmed that God cannot be grasped by our intellects, but He most certainly and wonderfully can be grasped by our love. As for Dr. Webb’s god, a god who is infinite only in the sense of my potential knowledge is not worth my worshipping at all, for in the end that god is only a thing that happens to be bigger than me.

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Over at Canon Law Made Easy, Ms. Caridi has a post on the celebration of Matrimony during the seasons of Advent and Lent. I highly recommend it; you can read it here. In short, Matrimony may be celebrated during these two penitential seasons. The same, incidentally, also applies to Baptism. In her post, Ms Caridi goes over the pertinent canons concerning this. What I will do here is touch on some of the theological reasons for the celebration of Baptism and Matrimony during Advent and Lent.

Simply put the sacraments are the ordinary means by which we receive salvific and sactifying grace. Each sacrament has its own particular character; this means that the effects of grace on us is different from one sacrament to another. This makes Baptism in particular and the sacraments in general necessary for salvation. Because of this the Church desires and seeks to make the sacraments readily accessible to all who are properly disposed to their reception. So important is this for the Church that she even allows for non-Christians to baptize in cases of imminent death. The idea that the grace of Baptism would be withheld for an entire season so as to keep the “spirit” of that season is ludicrous.

One might say that’s fine for baptism, but what about Matrimony? “Matrimony is not necessary for salvation” – for some it is. “Matrimony is a great and joyous occasion” – as if the other sacraments are not. “Matrimony is not in keeping with the penitential character of the seasons of Advent and Lent” – tell that to a married couple. Matrimony isn’t just a customary ritual, a nice ceremony to celebrate the love of two people. It is a sacrament. It is an act of worship. It is a reality in which the two who are married are joined in intimate union with the One Who created them. Grace is realIt isn’t something we talk about just to make us feel good (whatever that means). Sanctifying grace which is received with every sacrament is that which brings us into God’s very life; it is that which makes us partakers of His divine nature. It makes us what God is. In Holy Matrimony, husband and wife become an icon of the marriage union of Christ and the Church, and of the nuptial union between God and the soul. Icons are not mere images (they are not photos of Grandma). Icons are efficacious and serve as points of encounter between God and man. The nuptial union of Christ and the Church is life-giving, not in the sense of discretionary handouts, but in the sense that it simply overflows (His cup runneth over). The grace received in the Sacrament of Matrimony binds the couple in such a way that their union becomes procreative. Properly understood, procreation does not only refer to having children – there is no sacrament needed for that – but in life pouring forth to all who encounter the couple. A couple who truly lives the life of Christ will through their witness necessarily affect those around them and draw them to Christ.

Finally, the marriage of Christ and the Church did not come about through a process of dating. It came about through the Cross. This is why it is life-giving. Every sacrament is first and foremost a participation in the Paschal Mystery of Jesus Christ. Isn’t this what Lent is all about? Is it not a time in which we bring particular attention to picking up our cross and following Him on the road to Calvary? Don’t we enter into His Passion and Death in preparation for His Resurrection on the great and glorious day of Pascha? Is this not what we do in Matrimony? It is the daily picking up of our cross and walking the road to Calvary. It is the husband loving his wife as Christ loves the Church. It is the obedience of the wife to her husband. It is the mutual submission of husband and wife to each other. It is the sacrifice of our individual lives for the life of the other and for the new life of the two made one.

Yes, Matrimony like all the sacraments is celebratory. And like all the other sacraments it is sacrificial. Keeping in mind this character of the sacrament and the grace of the sacrament (the effects of which were hardly touched upon in this post), it is quite appropriate for it to be conferred during the seasons of Advent and Lent, and it is quite appropriate to the spirituality of these two seasons.

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The Collect for this Sunday struck me in a particular way. It very much speaks to my heart as I am bowed down by my sins and conscience.

O God, author of every mercy and of all goodness,
who in fasting, prayer and almsgiving
have shown us a remedy for sin,
look graciously on this confession of our lowliness,
that we, who are bowed down by our conscience,
may always be lifted up by your mercy.

Contra Kasper, mercy is not simply given nor is repentance alone sufficient for it. There is a command which God gives when He gives His mercy: “Go and sin no more.” Mercy and persevering in the life in Christ (and, therefore, not falling into sin) always go together; they are two sides of the same coin. If Kasper and his supporters desire true mercy they must remember this. For the divorced and civilly remarried (just like anyone else) it is not enough to go through a period of penance and then continue on your life of sin. Mercy calls us to conversion, not just an intellectual conversion but one of the heart. It means radically turning around (or rather turning back to God) in the living of our lives. Ultimately, this means the Cross. If we wish to know true mercy and a life lived in the mercy of God we need only look to the saints, in particular St. Mary Magdalen.

Magdalene at the feet of Jesus

Magdalene before the Cross

God is merciful. He is the fount of all mercy and goodness. And He says to me, “Go and sin no more.” I pray, Lord, through the intercession of St. Mary Magdalen that being bowed down You may bring me to the Cross and there be lifted up.

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One of the many things I like about Fr. Z’s blog is his weekly commentary on the Sunday Collect. You can find this Sunday’s (the Second Sunday of Lent) here. Today’s Collect concerns listening, nourishing, purification, and the glory of the Lord. It was his comments on glory that got me thinking: things I had known, but had forgotten. Sometimes we get so caught up in the things of this world that we forget our grounding in faith. This is why I always find it beneficial and encourage the practice among others to regularly read catechisms and the like. One of the dangers of delving into the mysteries of faith is that we turn it into a journey down the rabbit hole, forgetting where we came from, what we are doing, and where we are going. Catechisms and other such materials serve as good reminders and stabilizers of what was revealed and into what/who we are delving.

Concerning glory, Fr. Z says that “gloria is more than fame or splendor of appearance.  Our Latin liturgical gloria is the equivalent of biblical Greek doxa and Hebrew kabod…. Gloria has to do with man’s recognition of God as God. Gloria is a characteristic of God which He will share with us so as to transform us throughout eternity.” From this there are two aspects of glory that can be identified: first, recognition of God as God, and, second, a giving of one’s self upon recognizing God as God. I am here thinking in particular of the centurion before the foot of the Cross, who beholding the death of our Lord said, “Truly, this was the Son of God.” (Matt 27:54) We can even say that glory is given by the Evil One and the rest of the fallen, for they do recognize God as God and this necessitates a response: obedience – though not obedience borne of love! The many instances of Jesus expelling demons are examples of this.


 Glory is also something God shares with us. We become glorified by partaking of God’s glory. The image of the Transfiguration about illustrates this. Elijah and Moses participate in Christ’s glory as well as the saints, depicted by I’m assuming Mary the Holy Theotokos and St. Dominic. When we are glorified it is because God is recognized in us. Through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit we, in Christ, become a true image of the Father. Just as one who looks upon Christ sees the Father, so too when one looks upon a Christian they should see the Son.

This does not happen through ambiguous actions of “love”. Rather this happens through the real encounter between peoples: an encounter in which there is true compassion (a suffering with) as well as a suffering for. Jesus Christ, our Lord and our God, was glorified by being raised on the Cross. It was when people looked upon Him hanging on the Tree that is both Death and Life that He was recognized as the Son of God. It is only on and through the Cross that we participate in God’s glory, at which point our souls magnify the Lord.

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