The encounter with Christ which was granted to the two disciples on the road to Emmaus was certainly one of high strangeness. It seems incredible that they did not at first recognize Him. If one of our nearest and dearest had died before our eyes, and then three days later ‘appeared’ to us, would we not recognize them? How changed would they have to be in order for us not to know who we were speaking with?
Their moment of recognition has an unmistakeable Eucharistic resonance. He took bread, gave thanks, broke it – and vanished. His subsequent invisibility did not cloud the clarity of their recognition. It seemed to increase their certainty that they had truly been in the actual living presence of the Master. Did not our hearts burn within us?
Their first reaction was missionary. They immediately hurried back to Jerusalem to tell others about their encounter. There they found that the other disciples had had a similar experience: a mysterious and personal presence which imparted the certainty that Jesus of Nazareth was truly risen from the grave, and the confidence and joy which that Presence bestowed.
That paradigmactic encounter and its inherent missionary impulse attain their fuller definition and coloration on the day of Pentecost. After the apostles had been assured of the reality of Christ’s resurrection (Easter day) and His Kingship (Ascension day) they are then sent out to be His missionaries throughout the world. They preach to the nations that Christ’s death on the Cross is the fulfilment of the Hebrew scriptures, that His resurrection is both the proof of His divine glory and is also the promise of our own future glory.
That future glory will be both physical and spiritual, or rather, it will transcend both those categories. The difference between physical and spiritual is a very limited distinction which really only obtains in this fallen world. In this world the sacraments are a pledge that the earthly distinction between the material and the spiritual is not final. The post-lapsarian divergence between the material and the spiritual is ultimately a false binary. It is a temporary lapse of reality back into incoherence, an incoherence which is not the Creator’s ultimate purpose, an incoherence which Christ’s bodily resurrection eternally reverses.
The risen Christ is neither constrained by the physical world, but neither is He a ghost. He exemplifies that wholeness of being which awaits us all beyond the grave, by God’s mercy. He is the revelation of that integrated wholeness which we can know only partially in this life, but which we hope to possess in its fullness, in the life of the world to come. A blessing I wish for us all.
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The resurrection of Christ was of a wholly different category of reality from the resuscitation of Lazarus. Lazarus was given a temporary reprieve. He would later die again and return to the tomb. By contrast, Christ rose from the dead to a new and glorified life, never to die again. He rose from the dead to life in the Spirit.
In the moment of Christ’s death He breathed forth, handed over, His Spirit: tradidit Spiritum (John 19:30). His resurrection was the initial public release of His gift of the Holy Spirit. That giving of the Holy Spirit was seen again on Easter day when the Lord granted to the Apostles His own power to absolve sins.
During the following Forty Days before the Ascension, the Lord Who is Spirit completed His general public revelation. Then at Pentecost the Holy Spirit was given definitively ad robur, for strengthening. The power of the resurrection was hurled outwards from Jerusalem, spreading Christ’s Gospel to the ends of the earth through the preaching of the Apostles.
The fuller elucidation of that preaching came years later in the inspired writing and editing of the New Testament. But the preaching came first, as it always should.
If and when we ever stopped preaching the explicit truth about Jesus Christ, then it would hardly be surprizing if the mighty rushing wind and the contagious flame of the God the Holy Spirit seemed to be in decline, sometimes to the point of seeming to have degenerated into an embarrassed and furtive whisper.
We hear a lot about the Church being called to serve the world and work with the world. Yes indeed we are. But sadly that serving and working have often involved more whispering than preaching. In recent decades the results of so much whispering have not been spectacularly successful as regards evangelization.
The best way to serve the world, and work with the world, is to preach loud and clear the full Gospel truth about Jesus Christ the Son of God. Jesus is Lord. He is risen from the dead and He is Lord.
The Apostles did not whisper. They proclaimed and they evangelized. They did not concentrate on preaching to the converted. They did the opposite. They concentrated on preaching to the unconverted. They made converts. They did their job.Read More >
“As the solemn days proceed, we shall be especially called on, my brethren, to consider His sufferings in the body, His seizure, His forced journeyings to and fro, His blows and wounds, His scourging, the crown of thorns, the nails, the Cross. They are all summed up in the Crucifix itself, as it meets our eyes; they are represented all at once on His sacred flesh, as it hangs up before us—and meditation is made easy by the spectacle. It is otherwise with the sufferings of His soul; they cannot be painted for us, nor can they even be duly investigated: they are beyond both sense and thought; and yet they anticipated His bodily sufferings. The agony, a pain of the soul, not of the body, was the first act of His tremendous sacrifice; “My soul is sorrowful even unto death,” He said; nay; if He suffered in the body, it really was in the soul, for the body did but convey the infliction on to that which was the true recipient and seat of the suffering.
Now apply this to the sufferings of our Lord;—do you recollect their offering Him wine mingled with myrrh, when He was on the point of being crucified? He would not drink of it; why? because such a portion would have stupefied His mind, and He was bent on bearing the pain in all its bitterness. You see from this, my brethren, the character of His sufferings; He would have fain escaped them, had that been His Father’s will; “If it be possible,” He said, “let this chalice pass from Me;” but since it was not possible, He says calmly and decidedly to the Apostle, who would have rescued Him from suffering, “The chalice which My Father hath given Me, shall I not drink it?” If He was to suffer, He gave Himself to suffering; He did not come to suffer as little as He could; He did not turn away His face from the suffering; He confronted it, or, as I may say, He breasted it, that every particular portion of it might make its due impression on Him. And as men are superior to brute animals, and are affected by pain more than they, by reason of the mind within them, which gives a substance to pain, such as it cannot have in the instance of brutes; so, in like manner, our Lord felt pain of the body, with an advertence and a consciousness, and therefore with a keenness and intensity, and with a unity of perception, which none of us can possibly fathom or compass, because His soul was so absolutely in His power, so simply free from the influence of distractions, so fully directed upon the pain, so utterly surrendered, so simply subjected to the suffering. And thus He may truly be said to have suffered the whole of His passion in every moment of it.”
(From discourse 16: Mental Sufferings of Our Lord in His Passion)Read More >
The raising of Lazarus is a most suitable subject for our contemplation during Passiontide. We would be missing the most important meaning of that gospel miracle if we thought of it as simply an exercise of human affection. Christ Himself says that the meaning is greater than that: “This illness is not unto death; it is for the glory of God…” The raising of Lazarus was not just so that our Lord might continue to enjoy his friend’s company, nor merely for the sake of consoling Martha and Mary. Christ called Lazarus back to life principally in order to teach us. It is part of revelation.
Lazarus was reprieved. He was not at that time raised to the unending life of the resurrection. He was not at that time given a new and glorified body. He was brought back to earthly life as a sign, a revelation, that Christ is the one who calls all mankind out of our tombs. The raising of Lazarus was a miracle which conveyed the shape of things to come. It was a sign of the truth of what Jesus of Nazareth proclaimed Himself to be: the Resurrection and the Life.
Lord, he whom you love is ill. My name is Lazarus, and so is yours. Our name is Lazarus. Lazarus is humankind, every single instance of sick and dying humanity. Lazarus is a race intent on the pursuit of death, a race who throughout its long and sordid history has repeatedly shown that it more often inclines to the pursuit of death and corruption than the quest for life in all its fulness.
Down long centuries God saw that we were sick. Again and again He sent us the means of our healing. On Mount Sinai He gave us the preventative medicine of His holy Law, to teach us how to live. He sent us messages, one prophet after another, to urge us to mend our ways. All His efforts were largely ignored. In the end He knew that He had to come Himself. Messages and gifts had been of no avail. His own personal presence was required. The Creator came, and He came as Saviour.
The Godhead crossed what for us is an unimaginable gulf between Himself and us. God’s own mind came. His thought and utterance, His very self, arrived. No longer just a spoken word, or even a written word, but a living, breathing word, flesh and blood, with the face and voice of a man, with the sighs and the tears of a man. He came in person to reprieve us in person, from the tomb. He came to restore His most precious gift of all, the gift of eternal life. He did that by means of His Passion and cross, and it cost Him everything.
May the Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ be for ever in our hearts and minds.Read More >
FROM THE LIFE OF OUR GLORIOUS PATRIARCH ST PHILIP NERI APOSTLE OF ROME
Fabrizio de’ Massimi, who has been so of- ten mentioned, had five daughters by his wife Lavinia de’ Rustici, and she was again preg- nant, and the pains of labour had even com- menced when Fabrizio went to ask the holy fa- ther to pray for his wife. Philip, reflecting for awhile, said, “This time your wife will have a son but I wish you to give him the name I shall choose; do you agree to this?” Fabrizio answered, “Yes.” “Then,” replied Philip, “I will give him the name of Paolo.” After Lavinia’s death, and when the boy was about fourteen years old, on the 10th of January, 1583, he fell sick of a fever, which lasted sixty-five days con- tinuously. Philip went to see him every day, for he loved him tenderly, and had heard his con- fessions ever since he was a child. He was so
pious a boy, that when Germanico Fedeli, wondering at his patience through so long and painful a malady, asked him if he would like to change his present illness for Germanico’s health, he replied that he would not barter it for the health of anybody, as he was quite con- tented with his sickness. On the 16th of March the poor boy was reduced to the last extremi- ties; and as the holy father had desired to be informed when he was on the point of expir- ing, they sent to say that if he wished to see him alive he must come as quickly as possible, as matters were now at the worst. The messen- ger arriving at San Girolamo found that Philip was saying mass, so that he could not speak to him. Meanwhile the boy expired; his father closed his eyes, and Camillo, the curate of the parish, who had given him Extreme Unction and made the commendation of his soul, was
already gone; and the servants had prepared water to wash the body, and linen cloths to wrap it in. In half an hour’s time the holy fa- ther arrived; Fabrizio met him at the top of the stairs, and said to him weeping, “Paolo is dead;” Philip replied, “And why did you not send to call me sooner?” “We did,” rejoined Fabrizio, “but your Reverence was saying mass.” Philip then entered the room where the dead body was, and throwing himself on the edge of the bed, he prayed for seven or eight minutes with the usual palpitation of his heart and trembling of his body. He then took some holy water and sprinkled the boy’s face, and put a little in his mouth. After this he breathed in his face, laid his hand upon his forehead, and called him twice with a loud and sonorous voice, “Paolo, Paolo!” The youth immediately awoke as from a deep sleep, opened his eyes
and said, as in reply to Philip’s call, “Father!” and immediately added, “I forgot to mention a sin, so I should like to go to confession.” The holy father ordered those who were round the bed to retire for awhile, and putting a crucifix into Paolo’s hand he heard his confession and gave him absolution. When the others re- turned into the room Philip began to talk with the youth about his sister and mother, who were both dead, and this conversation lasted about half an hour, the youth answering all questions with a clear distinct voice, as if he had been in perfect health. The colour re- turned to his countenance, so that those who saw him could hardly persuade themselves that anything was the matter with him. At last the holy father asked him if he could die will- ingly; he replied that he could. Afterwards Philip asked him a second time if he could die
willingly; he answered, “Yes, most willingly; especially that I may go and see my mother and my sister in Paradise.” Philip then gave him his blessing, saying, “Go, and be blessed, and pray to God for me;“ and immediately with a placid countenance and with out the least movement Paolo expired in Philip’s arms.
In Lent we follow our Lord into the desert; not the literal desert of Palestine, but the desert which will surround us whenever we deny ourselves some of the comforts and props of life. Such comforts, though not wrong in themselves, can become barriers. By stripping some of them away, we make more space, clear more ground, for a closer encounter with the Lord. When we enter into spiritual solitude, we shall certainly find temptation. Do not be discouraged. When you are in the desert, you will not be alone. You will be there in the unseen company of countless angels and saints, whose joy it is to help us poor sinners as we feebly struggle. Struggle we may, but we do not struggle alone.
In the silence and emptiness of the desert, we shall certainly hear the uncouth and menacing sounds of the Evil one, prowling around looking for souls to devour. But we must remember that the victory has already been won. Satan is threatening, but he is not omnipotent. He is clever and cunning, but not so clever as to impede the workings of grace. All we have to do is to place ourselves unambiguously under the banner of Christ’s Precious Blood. Whenever and wherever that Precious Blood is invoked, Satan slinks away, in confusion and defeat.
We should not be discouraged. We need to remember that so long as we are resisting temptation, however strong it might be, we are committing no sin. Temptation, however powerful, is not of itself sinful unless we encourage it. So long as we are struggling we are still on the side of the angels, and the Precious Blood can do its healing work. Do not be disconcerted by the strength of our temptations. We live in a fallen world. The Devil never sleeps. Our soul is wounded, and easily skewed.
At Mass, every time the words of consecration are said over the chalice, the Precious Blood comes pouring in to it. Christ’s Blood is streaming in the firmament, and also down into the chalice. Then we raise up that living Blood in the chalice and offer it before the throne. From that throne, at every Mass, the Father’s mercy can once again engulf a sinful world.
First the Blood, then the Mercy.Read More >
The Church’s traditional liturgical calendar gives us the three weeks of Septuagesima, Sexagesima and Quinquagesima to get us in training for Lent, our annual attempt at a forty days spiritual marathon.
We start our training by soberly recalling the essential facts of our existence and our destiny: our creation, the Fall, the promise of redemption, the life of grace, the cost of discipleship, the malice of the Evil One, the mercy of Christ, the offer of salvation, the hope of glory.
These three pre-Lenten Sundays have wisely been restored in the rite now proper to the Catholic Ordinariates (olim Anglicani).
The Ordinariate Mass book “Divine Worship – The Missal” is a magnificent and admirable piece of work. Apart from the Cranmerian elements that have been included, its various options permit a celebration which comes close to the liturgical preference that so many Catholics have asked for over the years since 1969 but have so far been denied: Mass in the old rite (the extraordinary form) but in a decent and dignified vernacular translation.
The orations in the Ordinariate missal are particularly impressive, and many feel that the quality and ‘tone’ of those prayers far surpass the equivalent texts in both the former and current ICEL missals. In the Ordinariate missal the liturgical English actually sounds intelligible, and reads and sounds like prayer – a splendid achievement.
The whole of the Ordinariate missal repays careful study. I hope that a smaller size version of it will be made available. Then the wider study of its contents could greatly illuminate the ongoing difficult situation which the ordinary form of the Roman rite finds itself in.
In this world our worship will never be perfect. But we must always strive to make it less imperfect. I respectfully suggest that when the time comes to revise the Ordinariate missal, the following improvements would greatly enhance it, and make it a most desirable additional option for all English speaking Catholics.
- To remove the Cranmerian elements.
- To restore the traditional version of the Roman canon (in the vernacular) with the silence, and all the manual gestures and genuflections sanctified by so many centuries of usage and still retained, thank God, in the 1962 Missale Romanum.
It’s dangerous to play the prophet, and we should never allow our life of faith to degenerate into obsession with single issue problems.
Notwithstanding, I do hazard a non-polemical prognostication: if the extraordinary form of the Roman rite were made available in a decent and coherent vernacular version for those who wanted it (with the option for Latin always remaining of course) there would soon follow a grace-filled and landslide renewal of the Church’s spiritual and liturgical life.
I am well aware that many people have their own pet theories, and that opinion greatly varies.
I.H.Read More >