Fathers and Children

Beloved:
See what love the Father has bestowed on us
that we may be called children of God.
Yet so we are.

I John 3:1

For much of the last century fatherhood has been an  endangered vocation. In the popular culture of the twenty-first century Patriarchy, when it is not the subject of ridicule, is a synonym for repression, an ancient pathology belonging to a vanished world in which fathers attempted arbitrarily to exercise authority and commanded obedience.  In a complementary way to be child-like, open and trusting, an attitude that our Savior considered necessary to faith, is now  counted naiveté.   Yet He once called a child, put him in their midst, and said, “Truly I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.  Whoever humbles himself like this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:1-5). And the wide world forgets that Jesus taught His disciples to call God His Father and theirs.  Christ the Son of God taught us to  pray beginning with the words “Our Father,” that He calls God His father thirty-four times in the discourses of chapters 14–17 of the Gospel of John, and His last words were, “My Father, into your hands I commit my spirit” (Luke 23:46).    

But leaving aside the folly of the present—and every age has its follies—we can remember that fatherhood is the cornerstone of reality in the world Christ revealed:  the divine paternity of our Creator, the paternity over the Church of him called in Italian Papa, our pope, in the old world the paternal government of the anointed king, and everywhere the divinely appointed fatherhood of the head of every human family.

Among things human, the finest aspiration of every man is to be a good father, to beget children of the woman beloved is a natural duty, but fatherhood  itself in its fulfilment of a vocation that must be chosen and in Christendom fatherhood is a supernatural vocation.  In the natural and divinely appointed order every father is the head of  household, for which, the Christian way teaches, he must be willing to give his life, not always or even often  in a dramatic one-time fashion, but in the wearying, unending way of life lived, thus imitating Christ, who gives his life for the whole world and who still  intercedes for us.   Fathers of sons and daughters to a great degree chose that role, and when they choose to fulfill it they do so in imitation of our Father in  heaven, who, having called our humankind into existence first gives His life for His bride the Church whom He loves and then nurtures and disciplines every one of His children.  

Just so every father on earth is to his daughters and sons the model of our Father in heaven who governs with power and authority transfused with a tenderness that loves and gives.    Christ assumes the just generosity that belongs to fatherhood:  “Which of you, if a son asks for bread will give him a stone? If you give good gifts to your children, how much more will your father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him” (Matthew 7:9).  The Epistle to the Hebrews construes the obedience of children to their fathers as analogous to the duty of every Christian to God the Father:  “We have earthly fathers to discipline us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of Spirits and live?” (Hebrews 12:7).   

The world Saint Paul assumes is one in which the bond that binds the family together is love made present in obedience. We know that these are inseparable:  Jesus said, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15). Saint Paul says directly:  “Children obey your parents for this is right.  Honor your father and mother (this is the first commandment with a promise) that you may live long on the earth” (Ephesians 6:1–2).  And Paul then makes it clear that paternal authority combines patient teaching with discipline:  “Do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them  up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.” 

  When Saint Paul commands children to obey their parents and wives to obey their husbands he is assuming that this obedience within the family is the second step in a hierarchy of obedience that begins with the father who is head of the family.   To be a good father is not simply to exercise one’s own will, for the tree of obedience that bears much good fruit begins higher.   It begins when the Father himself is obedient to the laws divine and natural, to the teaching of the Church and the laws of the political community, themselves being the reflection of natural and divine justice.   To ask one’s children to be obedient in the Lord, to ask one’s wife to be subject to him, every father and husband must first himself be submitted to the law both of the cross and of this world’s authority.   Saint Paul’s command regarding obedience to political authority , necessarily addressed to fathers as head of the family, are now no less embarrassing than his command that Christians obey and revere the emperor.  But the fact that they cannot easily be located in post-modernity does not mean that they can be ignored.  

Just as when nature has been defeated by the awful technological transcendence  that ignores the very forms in things, one must still respect those forms, just so when political authority claims only positive sanction, only the ability to command and punish, Christians, and especially the head of the house, must  live as though the law has the authority of God because the law of Christ lives in our hearts and is taught by the Church. When the head of the house, the authority in the family is truly submitted to the law of Christ it may be time to consider the duty of wives to be submitted to their husbands and of children to be obedient.   If the husband and head is truly submitted to God he has before him ever Paul’s admonition that husbands are to love their wives as Christ loved the Church and died for her (Ephesians 5:25), and as well the teaching of Jesus on the night in which He was betrayed:  “The gentiles lord it over one another, but it shall not be so among you,” and he has in  memory  as well the admonition that children are not to be provoked to anger (Ephesians 6:4).  A husband and father thus armed is able to expect from his household the obedience that belongs to love.    

Saint Paul incidentally names one other tie between fathers and children.  In explaining to the Corinthians that he seeks nothing but their good, that they owe him nothing,  he writes, “Children ought not lay up for their parents but parents for their children. I will most gladly spend and be spent for your souls.”  Paul is citing a commonplace of family life to illustrate a spiritual obligation, but it is noteworthy that he recognizes the duty of fathers to the secular  future, to lay up something for their children.  But Paul knows that the greatest gift of fathers to sons and of mothers to daughters is a tradition of Christian virtue and honor.    

 

Eternal Wounds

Thoughts on the Gospel
for
the Third Sunday In Easter

                                                   But if anyone does sin,
                                                         we have an Advocate with the Father,
                                                  Jesus Christ the righteous one.
                                                         He is expiation for our sins,
                                                  and not for our sins only
                                                         but for those of the whole world.
                                                                                                 I John 2:1

Christians know that Jesus is the Lamb sacrificed, the one full perfect sacrifice offered by the Son of God Incarnate in order to purchase forgiveness of our sins and to send the Holy Spirit of God into the world, creating the kingdom of the new heart.  The text superscript, which assumes that we may sin, tells us that  His work of expiation for our sins continues throughout time. 

Here is a great mystery.  The Letter to the Hebrews tells us that Christ is always able throughout all time “to save those who draw near to God through  Him, since  He always lives to make intercession for them” (Hebrews 7:25).  The Prophet John, through the open door into heaven, saw the Lamb standing as though He had been slain, the seven-fold Holy Spirit proceeding from His eyes into the world.     Christ’s work of offering Himself “not for our sins only but for the sins of the whole world,” even as  He lives in glory “between the throne, the four great living creatures, and the elders, eternally praised in creation’s new song.

                             Worthy art thou to take the scroll and to open its seals,
                                    For thou wast slain and by thy blood
                                         didst ransom men for God
                             From every tribe and tongue and people and nation,
                                       And hast made them a kingdom and priests to our God
                                      And they shall reign on earth
                                                                                            (Revelation 5:9–10)

The sacrifice of Jesus fills all of time, and when we are forgiven we are forgiven not only and essentially through the cross of Golgotha, which planted Christ’s sacrifice in time, but through the eternal sacrifice of the Son of God which is ever present.  Our faith is not only a religion of what happened but of what is happening always.   Christ will make intercession for us until He comes in glory.  

One might ask, “But does Christ need to make intercession for us since we are justified by faith, by baptism, justified in God’s sight anyhow.    And to this there must be a resounding yes.  Sin is an action which we may hope by grace to avoid, but sinfulness is a weakness of human nature that guides us away from the cross of Christ, into reliance upon ourselves.  The best of us is imperfect.   Oh God cleanse me from my secret faults, sometimes faults so secret that we do not recognize them in ourselves.    And in any event our relation to God is not exhausted in our avoiding sin, for there is an arid sinlessness, opening upon pride, that can be worse than sin itself.      Christ’s intercession is not only a rescue mission; it is an external relation of love which means that we live within a forgiven and grace filled life during which Jesus eternally pleads before the Father for us.    

Is this pleading, represented so  graphically by the image of Christ sanding as though slain seen by the prophet John, an eternal crucifixion for the Son of God Incarnate?   The answer must be no.  Saint Paul says truly in Romans 6:9:  “Christ having died dieth no more.”   Yet we know that Christ resurrected in glory still displayed the wounds in His hands and in His side.   We know from the prophet John that He bears them eternally.  But now they are not signs of His suffering but of His triumph.    Were Jesus not to bear them in glory we might assume that the work of the cross is done, but it goes on forever.  Just as the sacrifice offered at the Christian altar does not imply a new and painful death but brings into the present and makes efficacious the one full perfect sacrifice, just so the appeal for forgiveness is addressed to Christ in glory whose hands and side still bear the marks of the nails and lance of Golgotha, without which sacrifice in time sins cannot be forgiven.

In the Middle Ages a great devotion to the Five Holy Wounds developed, Many medieval prayers in honour of the Sacred Wounds, including some attributed to Clare of Assisi,  have been preserved; St. Mettled and St. Gertrude of Hefts were especially devoted to the Holy Wounds. In the nineteenth century the Passionist Fathers encouraged the Chaplet of the Five Wounds, as a means of promoting devotion to the Sacred Passion of Christ in the hearts of the faithful. For students of English history it cannot be forgotten that the rising in the north in 1534 against Henry VIII’s destruction made its way toward London to petition the king for the restoration of the Mass under the banner of the Five Holy Wounds of  Jesus.   It would be an oddity of the new English religion that reminders of the suffering of Jesus were not popular with the government, the crucifix being forbidden in parish churches.

Christ’s Triumph Remembered

                            When the great crowd that had come to the feast heard 
                            that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem, 
                           they took palm branches and went out to meet him, and cried out:
                              “Hosanna!
                             “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord,
                                 even the king of Israel.”
                          Jesus found an ass and sat upon it, as is written:
                              Fear no more, O daughter Zion;
                              see, your king comes, seated upon an ass’s colt.

                         His disciples did not understand this at first, 
                         but when Jesus had been glorified 
                         they remembered that these things were written about him 
                        and  what they had done to him. 

                                                                                                           John  12:12-16

Every Gospel, every account of what Jesus had done, lived  in memory, often finding its place in prophetic tradition before it was written down.  This is especially true of the Gospel of John.   After Jesus had cleansed the temple the disciples remembered that  Psalm 68:10 prophesied:  “Zeal for your house will consume me.”  After He had risen His disciples remembered that He had identified His body as the true temple of God’s presence (John 2:22).  After Jesus prophesied that His disciples would be forbidden the synagogue, indeed sought out and killed, Jesus reminds the disciples that He has told them these things so that “when the time comes for them to happen, you will remember that I told you of it” (John  16:4).   

It is characteristic of life that we often do not know what is happening while it is going on, and this is especially true of the apostolic memory, that the apostles did not know what was happening until after the coming of the Holy Spirit, after Pentecost they were able to see the import of the moments they had shared with Jesus.   They had not understood the meaning of Jesus’ life in the context of the Scriptures until on the road to Emmaus, in the very face of His resurrection, Jesus told them, “O foolish men, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken.  Was it not necessary that Christ should suffer thee things and enter into His glory.  And beginning with Moses and all the prophets, He interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself.”    

In the text superscript the Johannine author or authors are remembering the day Jesus entered Jerusalem mounted on a lowly donkey to the acclaim of the Jerusalem crowd, some enthusiastic because He had raised Lazarus, but among whom there must have been those who hours later would shout, “Crucify him” before the Roman procurator.  Jesus’ entry into David’s city was to be located in the context of Zechariah 9:9: 

Your king comes to you. 
Triumphant and victorious is He,
humble and riding on an ass
on a colt the foal of an ass.,

The authors might have cited the Angel’s promise to Mary:  “God will give Him the throne of His father David, and He will reign  over the house of Jacob forever” (Luke 1:32). Yet there is no doubt that the Johannine author, looking back, now understood that  what happened, remembered through the lens of Zechariah’s prophecy, made Jesus the heir to David’s throne and His entrance into Jerusalem an event pregnant with meaning for the future.  

Jesus must have known that it would end well only in terms of the divine promise, while seeming to human eyes an abject failure, the death of another revolutionary prophet.   But Jesus could not make the great sacrifice before staking His claim to be the King of Israel.  His success, especially His raising of Lazarus from death, had inspired the crowd and infuriated the Pharisees.    The end was now near, the hour toward which His life had been moving,   it remained only to assure the reader that the Greeks would be included in the great apostolic mission:   “Among those who went up to worship at the feast were some Greeks.  So these came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and said to Him, Sir we wish to see Jesus. Philip went and told Andrew; Andrew went with Phillip and they told Jesus.  And Jesus answered them, “The hour has come  for the Son of Man to be Glorified.”     Then follows the passion narrative that occupies the last half of the book of John.

Having spoken of the disciples’  understanding of Jesus’ triumphal entry as the fulfilling of Zechariah, the text continues: they remembered what they had done with Him (or to Him). The exact meaning of these words  is difficult to capture.  The phrase might be translated idiomatically to refer to the things that had happened to Jesus but as the verb is plural and active it needs the disciples as its subject.  So this leaves the author reflecting on what the disciples had done at and after the triumphal entry:  Jesus ‘washing of the disciples’ feet, the last supper, the divine instruction to the apostles in chapter 14–17, the betrayal and trial and death.    If the phrase “what they had done” is taken extensively, it might refer to their role in the triumphal entry and in what followed, when the disciples played a less than noble part.   Jesus knew what would happen:  “The hour is coming  indeed it has come when you will be scattered, every man to his home, and will leave me alone” (John 16:31.)   From the time of His arrest, Jesus was left alone; there followed Jesus’ betrayal and trial,  and at the end, as far as we are told, only one disciple stood with His mother witnessing His death (John 19;26).  

A political failure: Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem signaled no successful revolution, and an eschatological disappointment as well; the Jewish expectation that the Messiah might suddenly inaugurate the supernatural end of history went unfulfilled, this event was still the greatest earthly, historical, representation of Christ’s eternal kingship, the sole occasion when Jesus, having previously counseled  his followers to tell no man, permitted publicity.  Jesus left this world in pain and shame, only to fulfill His promise by appearing in glory to Peter, Paul, John, and other disciples, sending His Spirit with life changing and confirming power at Pentecost.    

After the triumphal entry into Jerusalem there will be no other triumph in history until He returns in glory.    The spread of Christianity, the seeming triumph of the Church at times when it was culturally dominant, eucharistic congresses attended by tens of thousands, even the glory of the Eucharist when it is celebrated with extrinsic beauty, none of these, although they may sometimes reflect His glory,  is the triumph  of Christ, which is only realized perfectly in the lives of the saints.    Christ’s triumph will come when He returns in glory, bringing the saints with Him to live forever in His presence in the renewed creation, where, as Irenaeus says, we will ever have conversation with our Creator.   

What We Believe Is Who We Are

For 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.
For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, 
but that the world might be saved through Him.
Whoever believes in Him will not be condemned, 
but whoever does not believe has already been condemned, 
because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.
                                                           John 3:16–18

John 3:16 is arguably the best known and best loved verse in the New Testament, expressing as it so beautifully does God’s overarching purpose in the creation of humankind, His patience through the long years of disobedience catalogued in the Sacred Scriptures, culminating in the gift of His only Son, whose death and resurrection brought salvation to the world.  “World” in this text is not the world organized against God, as in First John 2:16: “All that is in the world is not of the Father,”  but refers to the created order, declared good in the beginning, that has been the object of God’s love since creation.    

Yet there is more to the story than God’s great all-comprehending  love, for the text goes on to say that our appropriation of this great gift  of life and blessedness is by belief in the Son, adding the harsh word that lacking belief or faith in the Son of God means being condemned already. Souls are not in the first instance lost by falling into sin but by skepticism in the face of God’s revelation: “This is the judgement, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness” (19).  Near the end of the Gospel of John the author will tell us that as well as dying on the cross for love of God and us,  the Son came to teach us what righteousness is and what sin is.  When He comes, He will convince the world of sin and of righteousness, of sin because they do not believe in me.   And belief in Jesus is the author’s purpose.   As he says at the end of the book, apologizing for  abbreviating the account of Jesus’ signs:  “Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples which are not written in this book, but these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name.”  

Belief, one of the too numerous capacities that distinguish the human person from our animal relatives. Every person lives within a texture of convictions that describe reality and informs behavior, a construct that is for that person reality.  This is as true for a skeptic as for a saint.  On a certain level these are assumptions born of day-to-day experience.  But beyond these lies faith, “the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things unseen” (Hebrews 11:1), the meaning of life in a future not yet known.  Belief that Jesus is the Son of God is the summary of that faith.  It affirms that there is one we know who the son of god in the loose sense is not that an emperor might have been so described but is rather the Son of the incomprehensible Glory who created this world, who rules nature and every heart through His divine providence, who condemned the world because of sin and saves it because of His indefeasible will that the conversation interrupted in the Garden may find fulfillment among His elect and in His coming kingdom.   

  It is not good works, not even fine character, but belief that Jesus is the Son of God that in the first and fundamental instance fulfills our duty toward God, being as it is the reality from which the actions that are our life flow.  The verb for “to believe”  in the present tense is found about seven times in Matthew, ten times in Mark, five times in Luke, and fifty-one times in John.  Unsurprisingly, we find in the Letters of Paul the reiterated claim that we are made right with God by faith, which means believing that God is who He is and that He will do what He has promised.   “Abraham believed the Lord, and He reckoned it to him as righteousness” Genesis 15:6.  As the lynchpin of his preaching this text is quoted by Saint Paul the Pharisee with the explanation, “Now to one who works, his wages are not reckoned as a gift but as his due.  And to one who does not work but trust in  Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is reckoned as righteousness” (Romans 4:4–5).   And  to this the Apostle James adds the example of Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his only son at God’s command as proof that faith issues in obedience:  “Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered his son Isaac on the altar?  You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by works” (2:21-22).  And the apostle adds: As the body apart from the spirit is dead, so faith apart from works is dead.”   

From its birth Christianity fought persistently against the tendency of some to find a fulfilling peace in a certain intellectual apprehension that imitated the gift of faith. These were called gnostics, “the knowledgeable,” “the insightful,” who argued that the redemption Christ offered could be experienced through what was, to use Saint Irenaeus’ word, invisible, transforming the soul through union with God but having no ability to conform the human will to the will of God in witness and behavior.   But when faith is real, when love is real, it issues in a desire to please God our Father.  Saint John is speaking of the common Christian aspiration when he says:  “No one born of God commits sin; for God’s nature abides in him and he cannot sin because he is born of God” (I John 3:9).    

Of course Christians do sin, sometimes grievously, but faith is not stamped out and the claim God has upon the baptized is not obviated.  The same Saint John who says that if we are born of god we cannot sin, writes in the same letter, “If we say we have no sin we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.  If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (I John 1:9).   And this requires belief, believing in God’s mercy, believing that Christ gave the apostolic mission the power to forgive sins, saying to the frightened disciples on the evening of the first day of His life in glory: “As the Father has sent me, even so I send you.  And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.  If you forgive the sins of any they are forgiven.  If you retain the sins of any, they are retained” (John 20:21–23).

Following Nature to Find God

The star which they saw in the East went before them
til it came and stood over where the young child was.
When they saw the star they rejoiced with exceeding great joy.

                                                                           Matthew 2:9–10

The sixth of January, the twelfth day of Christmas, is the Feast of the Epiphany, when the recognition of Jesus as the Great King by the gentiles in the persons of the  wise men is celebrated. The wise men, magi as the Greek calls them, came seeking a king.  And this the Angel Gabriel had promised to Mary:  “The Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David, and He shall reign over the house of Jacob, and of His kingdom there will be no end”(Luke 1:33–34). The wise men had not come to discuss theology or to satisfy curiosity but to worship.   And their worship and their gifts represented the humble allegiance to truth of those we now call men of science, for the magi were the natural philosophers of the first century, men of the East, perhaps Persians, astronomers and perhaps astrologers, interested in understanding nature’s lessons, in this case, willing to follow a star, known to them as “His star,” the King’s star.  

It has ever been the intellectual habit of Christians to learn from nature.  We do not know much about Saint Paul’s education, beyond the fact that he studied with the great scholar Gamaliel in Jerusalem.   Then there is the hint in Romans 1, where he acknowledges his debt to the Greeks and to the Barbarians.   His debt to the Greeks is evident in his ability to quote the poets Epimenides and Aratus before the council of the Areopagus (Acts 17:28–29), as well as in his grasp of ideas such as the participation of Christians in Christ that might be shared with the Platonists and Stoics of his day.   Paul’s claim too, like that implicit in the magi’s journey, was that nature taught the most important thing, the existence and power of God; that nature, like the wise men’s star, would, if followed faithfully, lead us to our King.     

From Paul, through the great medievals, Aquinas and Bonaventure, to the nineteenth century, it has been the claim of Christian scholarship, and indeed of all Christian thought, that knowledge of nature would lead to God.  Perhaps this reached a popular apotheosis with the Romantic Poets of the nineteenth century.   And then, as though a door has been slammed in the face of the inquirer, it became philosophically unfashionable to see God’s mighty hand or the beauty of Christ’s face in nature.   Now it would not be easy to find a professional philosopher who  taught that St. Thomas’s Five Ways offered intellectually compelling reasons for belief in God.  

This is in some measure due to the circumstance that it is now the enemies of reason who define the reach of reason.  We owe to the eighteenth-century British philosopher David Hume the observation that treatises on divinity contain no knowable truth while impressions derived from the senses, call them matters of fact, may be considered true,  and analytical statements, statements in which the predicate is contained in the subject (unicorns are one-horned animals), may be considered if not true at least logically valid.  It may be admitted that speaking of God’s existence under these canons of reason is impossible.  There can be no empirical proof, for while God may make himself known to Moses, and while Christ might appear to the apostles, these events, like Pentecost itself, are not empirically knowable since they are the experiences that while they may be compelling are the consequence of faith and as such are not universally available as evidence of God’s existence.   And as for logical proof of God’s existence, the first premise in a deductive argument must always be question-begging, assuming what it seeks to prove. 

       What this canon of the knowable omits is the kind of knowledge that may be called historical, that kind of argument in which thought, presiding over a field of facts and experiences, draws a conclusion.   Several of the classical arguments have this kind of form, most notably the argument from design, the observation, based on our experience of a world of great complexity in which things have purposes and patterns, that where there is order and design there is a designer.  We see that a nation is experiencing an unprecedented military buildup, which is coupled with threats and bellicose speech.  We may conclude that war is likely, or very likely.   War may or may not come, but in a pale analogy to Pascal’s wager, better safe than sorry, we are probably best advised to be prepared for war.   Probability is, as Newman counseled, the guide of life. We  experience, often through long years, an ordered world in which some things go wrong, but more go right.  By calling the wrong things wrong, we acknowledge that they do not belong to the order of reality.   From this preponderance of evidence we may conclude or be led to believe that the world moves under the providence of a loving and beneficent God.  This is not a formal philosophical argument any more than was Paul’s observation in the first chapter of Romans that from the creation of the world the unseen things of God, his divinity and power, are clearly perceived. 

       The Psalmist knew this:
              The heavens declare the glory of God
              And the firmament showeth his handiwork

       For Dante, “Nature is the art of God,” an idea persisting even amid the pantheistic theology of the Enlightenment, in Alexander Pope’s words:
              All are but parts of one stupendous whole,
              Whose body Nature is, and God the soul.

William Paley’s Evidences of Christianity (1794), which remained an important collegiate text throughout the nineteenth century was the scholarly formulation of the common observation that the intricate regularity of nature attests the existence of its creator.  This idea is a perennial of human thought and imagination. That the glory of God my be perceived in the things that are made persisted into the foothills of modernity in sentimental ballads of the 1950s: 

              I believe above the storm the smallest prayer will still be heard
              I believe that someone in the great somewhere hears every word
              Every time I hear a newborn baby cry or touch a leaf or see the sky
              Then I know why I believe.

In the long run the only argument against the argument from design, the claim that there is no Great Designer, is naturalism, the assertion that nature is a self-explanatory  process.  And the only counter argument is wonder. Mankind, not educated to skepticism by the infernal knowingness of the fallen world, has always found nature, despite that side of things that is disordered,  wonderful and has moved in imagination to the conclusion that God is the Creator.  When told that the old proofs for the existence of God are invalid, pay no attention.   They are for the most part not formal deductions but common inferences.  Such knowledge is not of itself salvific, but it does provide the common insight that faith presupposes and without which faith cannot possess the human heart.  As Hebrews tells us, “Whoever would come to God must believe that he exists” (11:6).   

 Just how the wise men knew  that the star they followed was his star, the star of the great king,  is hidden in their science, but on they came o’er field and fountain, moor and mountain following the star, willing always to be led by nature to the King whom they had travelled far to worship. 

Thoughts on the Second Reading for Christmas Day

In times past, God spoke in partial and various ways
to our ancestors through the prophets;
in these last days, He has spoken to us through the Son,
whom He made heir of all things
and through whom He created the universe,
who is the refulgence of His glory,
the very imprint of His being,
and who sustains all things by His mighty word.

Hebrews 1:2–3

These words, in all their beauty and power describe the  glory of the child born in Bethlehem, who while he lay in Mary’s arms is the Word of the Father, the means through which creation exists, the refulgence of God’s glory, the very imprint of God’s being. The shepherds came from  the east not to satisfy curiosity or to discuss the theology; they sought the child but to lay their precious gifts before Him and to worship. And ever since, through long centuries, it has been the privilege of the apostolic mission to testify to the truth that the child born in Bethlehem, whose birth we celebrate at Christmas, was not an ordinary child who through grace would come to share in the life of God, but that the child born of Mary in Bethlehem is indeed the one through whom God created the Universe, reflecting always God’s glory, sustaining the world as the eternal Word of God.   The child is He “Through whom He created the  Universe,” as John says, “All things were made through Him and without Him was not anything made that was made” (1:3).  He is the eternal Son of God, God’s very speech, existing from all eternity.  He was the one in the beginning, the Word through whom God spoke the Spirit who hovered over the face of the deep to bring, order, light, and the fulness of being, and who at this time and in this place, in the principate of Augustus, took human nature to himself, healing the chasm torn across creation when our first parents chose the serpent’s way.  And like the Magi we worship Him. 

That one displaying the refulgence of the Father was born into our world tells us something about that world in which we live and also tells us something about the son of God in His relation to our world.  First, it tells us that every piece of creation, from our bodies to the trees and sky, while these do not  share in the life of the Blessed Trinity–only the eternal Son is of one glorious substance with the Father—are each gifts of God, bearing the impress of His mighty hand, and in that way enjoying a derivative holiness.   This intuition of  God’s ownership and authorship is the warrant claimed by the romantic poets,  evident in Wordsworth’s “Lines composed a Few Miles above Tintern Abbey” (122–128):

                 This prayer I make, the heart that loved her; ’tis her privilege,
                 Through all the years of this our life, to lead
                 From joy to joy: for she can so inform
                 Knowing that Nature never did betray
                 The mind that is within us, so impress
                 With quietness and beauty, and so feed
                 With lofty thoughts.

This is what Gerard Manley Hopkins knew when he wrote that for all the irreverent damage men might do to God’s nature:

And for all this, nature is never spent:

          There lives the dearest freshness deep down things.

Poets echo with imagination the fact that Christ the Word is present in everything the human hand touches and in our hands themselves.   The worship of nature is one of those great mistakes that attests to a great truth gone awry, for the object of our worship must always be not the creature but the Creator.  Yet the fact of the presence of Christ in everything natural is a clue to how we should treat nature.  Because we see the beauty and order God has put in the world, while knowing that victory cannot be perfect until Christ returns, we should strive to overcome the natural evil that has plagued us since Eden, the fruits of sin issuing in death.  This is the work of priests, physicians, and teachers, always striving to replace disease and ignorance with holiness, health, and knowledge.   But beyond this is the necessity always to touch nature with love, not viewing the natural world as a scene of blank potentiality but as a work of Christ through whom all things were made.  His work is perfect, but humankind has the power to perfect creation guiding it toward the glory that lies within it, or to degrade it. Anyone reading this essay could catalogue those things that should never have been made.  So those with the power to make should ask, “Does what I’m about to do reflect the reality that everything belongs to God, given to humankind as a gift, bearing the stamp of His almighty hand, and should therefore be touched only with reverence.” 

And second,  seeing Christ in nature enables us to see Christ as He is.  As Saint Paul wrote, what can be known about God is evident, for 

          “Ever since the creation of the world His invisible nature, namely His                eternal power and deity, has been clearly perceived in the things that               have been made” (Romans 1:20).

And what we see in nature is the work of one possessed of all the power and gracious goodness of the Father.   Miracles in themselves, although they can be believed and their deep reasonableness appreciated,  cannot  be explained,  nor can the great mysteries of creation, salvation, and the new creation  be explained.  We do not know why Jesus heals this blind man and turns this water into wine,   but the predicate of every supernatural act of our Lord is the fact that  everything that exists was made by Him.  He is inside nature, and the laws and rules for nature that we confess are mere effective metaphors in comparison with the informing knowledge possessed by the Son.    This fact should warn every believer away from modern atheism, the work of Enlightenment philosophers, which includes among its founding principles the belief that nature is merely natural.

What is the Immaculate Conception?

But Mary said to the angel,
“How can this be,
since I have no relations with a man?”
And the angel said to her in reply,
“The Holy Spirit will come upon you,
and the power of the Most High will overshadow you.
Therefore the child to be born
will be called holy, the Son of God.

                                         Luke 1:34–35

The place of Mary in God’s economy of salvation is anchored in the Gospel of Luke, in which the things Mary had hidden in her heart were made part of the revealed literature of the Church (Luke 2:19).   There is found the account of God’s sending the archangel Michael to Nazareth in Galilee to a virgin named Mary.   The angel’s message was “You will conceive in your womb and bear a son and you shall call His name Jesus.  He will be great and will be called a son of the most High, and the Lord will give Him the throne of His father David and of His kingdom there will be no end” (Luke 1:32).  To the Virgin’s question, “How can this be, since I have no relations with a man.”, the angel replied.  “The holy Spirit will come upon you and the power of the Most High will overshadow you, therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God” (Luke 1:35)  Perhaps forty years after Luke wrote, Ignatius, bishop of Antioch, wrote to the Ephesians describing the three mysteries that defeated Satan:  Mary’s virginity, her childbearing, and the death of the Lord.   Nor did it when after forty years Saint Justin Martyr wrote that Mary had been a second Eve, which was further developed by Saint Irenaeus in his long Refutation of Gnosticism in 185.   Sacred Scripture declared Jesus to be “in every respect tempted as we are yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15), but the question of the origin of His sinless humanity did not come up.

Devotion to the Virgin flourished in the Middle Ages, and then, in the theologically thick thirteenth century, the question came to the fore.  Given that Jesus was without sin,  Jesus’ humanity, His flesh and blood, His very nature as man taken from the Virgin, how could it be that she,  substantially an ordinary human, was able to give the Lord His sinless human nature.   The answer given is the dogma of the Immaculate Conception, proclaimed late in time, in 1854 by Pius IX, a teaching that is only secondarily about the birth of Christ but is principally about the birth of Mary.    It is the answer to the question of the origin of the perfect and sin-free human nature that God took to Himself from the Blessed Virgin Mary when Christ was conceived by the Holy Spirit.   It was and will remain the position of theologians that the Virgin Mary was conceived as was and would be every daughter of Eve, a truth which the dogma as proclaimed by Pius IX would not deny. Mary’s spotless purity—for that is what immaculate means—was not inherited from her parents, whom the Church has considered saints on their own grounds, but was a gift to Mary, grounded in her place as the mother of Jesus, who at the moment of her conception  was preserved from the stain of original sin by the merits of the cross of Christ foreseen.    

So with the Immaculate Conception, when Mary, prepared for her role from all eternity, conceived by the Holy Spirit, God was making a new and perfect beginning.  It is hard to know which is most praiseworthy, the condescension of God the Holy Spirit in the gift of the Savior, or the majesty and glory evident in God’s calling and preparing the Virgin Mary, which He accomplished by vouchsafing her the relief from the stain of original sin that her Son would purchase for her on the cross.    

So it happened in the fullness of time that  God began anew, founding His kingdom of the New Heart with the most fundamental of human actions, which lifted out of the context of human folly and failure that scars every human act, He blessed with a great miracle, withholding from the conceiving of the Blessed Virgin in Judea in the years of Augustus the fatal stain implanted by the drama in the garden, when, having chosen the serpent’s way, mankind would ever bear the mark of death decreed by God. So the blessed Virgin received at her conception the fullness of the great gift every baptized person receives in part, for although something of the stain of original sin must be borne by every Christian, through  the gift of water and the Spirit the root of original sin is cut in us giving the hope that its effects may be withered by grace until at last, with the Blessed Virgin, we too will see the Father’s face.   And the angel of the Apocalypse said, “Behold. I make all  things new” (Revelation 21:5).

The dogma of the Immaculate Conception is one of that family of bodily, homely, utterly essential  teachings in which the Church has long rejoiced, beginning with the resurrection of Christ’s body and ours, including the gift of Christ’s body and blood, and the veneration of the relics of the saints.  Although  doubted by great doctors such as Bernard of Clairvaux and Thomas Aquinas,  the dogma  of the immaculate conception is the essential ground of the second great Marian dogma, the  teaching that because Mary did not bear the stain of original sin, she did not die as we must but simply fell asleep, to be taken bodily into the presence of her Son, which teaching was made a part of the faith by Pius XII in 1950.   

It is always important to remember that she is who we are called to be.  We are given the great gift of sharing in the life of Chirist, but no devotion or piety can make us of one substance with the Father.  Although the Church has always accorded her the highest degree of devotion, and although all ages have, with the angel,  called her blessed, Mary’s vocation was not to become divine,   but through the gift of her Son to live the perfectly human life, the first since Eve and Adam  to be born free of the ancient curse, accepting  in faith and love the will of the Father, and foreshadowing the promise that belongs to us all.

The Third Servant’s Story

Then the one who had received the one talent came forward and said
“Master, I knew you were a demanding person;

harvesting where you did not plant
and gathering where you did not scatter;
so out of fear I went off and buried your talent in the ground.
Here it is back.”
”His master said to him in reply, “You wicked, lazy servant!
Should you not then have put my money in the bank
so that I could have got it back with interest on my return?
Now then! Take the talent from him 
and give it to the one with ten. 

For to everyone who has,

more will be given and he will grow rich;
but from the one who has not,
even what he has will be taken away.
And throw this useless servant into the darkness outside,

where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth.”
                                                                  
                                                                         Matthew 25:24–30

 

The parables of Christ, being works of divine genius, are always deceptively simple while in fact they are complex.  The lines above, quoted from the Parable of the Talents, presuppose two principles important to the life of the soul.   The first is that we live in a moral  world that is always in motion; our souls are always either growing in grace, closer day by day to Jesus, or they are diminishing in spiritual strength, falling  away, however subtly, from their divine destiny.  To him that hath, more will be added.  From those who lack, what little they have will be taken away (Matthew 13:2).   This is a rule of the life of the soul that every Christian will verify.  Christianity is a religion, a way that binds and forms, and as a religion it must be practiced day by day.  When Satan, ever active, manages to introduce the tiniest bit of spiritual lethargy, when our prayers seem dry and pointless, when he cajoles us into giving them up for just one day,  he inaugurates a process that if not with the help of grace arrested will lead to destruction.  On the other hand, when our hearts are full of the charity that binds us to Christ, prayer and good works seem easy and fulfilling and we long to be drawn closer to Jesus.   

The spiritual world we inhabit is always in motion; we are moving closer to the Presence and the Vision or away from that divinely appointed destiny.    There is no pleasant plateau: failure to grow, if not amended, means death to the soul.  This is illustrated by the story of the third servant.  The first two servants had taken custody of the master’s money and put it at interest, making increase for the Master.   The unfortunate who had received but one talent and who being fearful had hidden it, was called by his Lord, “You wicked, lazy servant,” and was bound and cast into prison. And when he tried to return the one talent  to his master, it was refused, with the command that it be given to the more provident first servant.   

The second great premise of the Parable of the Talents is the truth that the successful life is an adventure in all its aspects, spiritually fundamentally, but also in the other aspects of life on earth.  Spiritually, as a Christian one places his life in the hands of a Lord whose perfect divine sonship is often not affirmed, not only by secularists, but sometimes even within the Church; the believer hopes for the return of Jesus from the sky, like the lightning flashing from East to West (Matthew 24:27, Luke 17:24), to bring this age of grace to a perfection and a close even when great scholars such as Schweitzer proclaim this a false hope; you give your time, time that always seems in short supply, to liturgy, the worship and work of Christian people, prayer and good works.   On any grounds other than grace-given faith this is to adventure into an illusion.  

And this gift of self to the truth the world calls illusion has an analogy in the management of the goods of this world.  It was with good reason that Jesus chose the management of money as the activity illustrative of the adventure of faith.  In this adventure the third servant, the one given only one talent, failed miserably.  He should have invested his money at interest so that on the Master’s return the Master should have found an increase.  But the third servant buried the money he had been given in the ground because he was afraid, knowing that his Lord was a  hard master.  His fate was to lose even the one talent he had been given and to be cast into outer darkness, where there is wailing and gnashing of teeth.   The good life, the Christian life, is an adventure, and to prescind from the adventure in favor of security either in things spiritual or things material and economic is to court ruin.  

In this regard the spiritual and the worldly are so closely interlinked that one will not flourish without the other.  The third servant having chosen security rather than the adventure of life is open to the political fact called socialism, the system in which the adventure of life, as well as its pains, are subsumed into a blanket of community security.  There is no mystery in the fact that, granting the necessity that the political community help those who cannot help themselves, where universal material security prevails, Christianity dies, for one cannot have the habit of choosing the security that guaranteed comfort encourages over the adventure of life without cutting the root of the spiritual life, itself rooted in wonder and faith,.   Where your treasure is, there your heart will be; where your security is, there your heart will be (Matthew 6:21).   

Finally the character of the good Lord as displayed in this parable should be noted.  He is a hard man, reaping where he did not sow and gathering where he did not plant.  His justice is not the reciprocal justice between individuals, not what moral philosophers call commutative justice, not a reciprocal exchange of goods, but  justice that is as high, as holy, and as hidden as His mercy is unfathomably, to us unreasonably, great yet never disparaging of His just character.  This is a side of the divine nature as it is revealed to us that is now not often canvassed.   It illustrates the truth that life is a gift too great to be wasted without consequence, a morally dangerous game in which no provision is made for sitting it out on the sidelines.  Having given us one good life, the Lord wants it back not merely as it was received but with interest, the flaws with which it was necessarily born amended, its weaknesses turned into strengths, its moral ignorance turned into spiritual knowledge, our love of self transformed into love for Him and for those others He also loves with a deep and indefeasible love, our fellow pilgrims.   

 

Are you Ready?

The bridegroom came
and those who were ready went into the wedding feast with him.
Then the door was locked.
Afterwards the other virgins came and said,
‘Lord, Lord, open the door for us!’
But He said in reply, ‘Amen, I say to you, I do not know you.
Therefore, stay awake,
for you know neither the day nor the hour.’
                            Mt. 25:11 – 13

Many yeas ago, stretched across a treacherous hairpin turn on Highway 30 in Mountainous Middle Tennessee there was a sign, suspended from a cable stretching across the chasm, that, as I remember it, proclaimed “Jesus is coming; be ready!” Then I brushed its message aside as representative of a rough, untutored religion. It took several decades for me to see that the message on the crude sign was of life-saving importance.

       It is certainly true that the early Church lived in the daily expectation of the return of Jesus, like the lightning flashing from east to West. Their universal cry was, “Come, Lord Jesus.” It is also true that when months and years passed there was confusion and disappointment. The Apostle Peter addressed those who asked, “Where is the promise of His coming, for things 2 have gone on as they have since the fathers fell asleep?” The community in which the Gospel of John was written, thinking that their Beloved Disciple would live until Jesus’ return, was much disturbed when that disciple died without Christ’s descent from the sky (John 21:22-23). Saint Peter addressed this concern when he wrote in his second letter that Jesus had delayed His return because the Lord God wanted many to come to repentance (3:4). The gift of salvation was not only for the citizens of Jerusalem, Samaria, and Galilee, nor was it for those blessed few who lived in the days of Tiberius, Caligula, Claudius, and Nero, but was for all times and all places. On the teaching of Peter and the other apostles Jesus had founded a Church, and ekklēsia into which the citizens of all times and all nations would be called. Jesus’ last command had been that His disciples go into all the world and teach all nation, baptizing them in the name of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. He would be with the apostolic mission until the end of the age.

       Jesus did not, however tell His followers when this age of grace might end with His triumphant return. What He did tell us is that it might be at any moment, at any second. So the parables in Matthew 13 are intended to permit uncertainty and that uncertainty is intended to inspire us to see each day as a gift and as an opportunity, the gift of another day in which to live for the Lord and an opportunity to attempt that perfection in grace toward which He calls us. The meaning of the parable of the unwise wedding guests is clear. Come to the wedding feast of the Lamb before the door is closed. That the door will be closed is certain. It will on a day certain in God’s providence close across the progress of our journey on earth so that we will be among that blessed company He will bring with Him when He returns bringing all the saints with Him (First Thessalonians 4:16). Or it may be that with these eyes of earth we will see the Lord descending with a shout.

       Of course many, some faithful at Mass, will believe none of this, because they are, sad to say, atheists. They do not believe that the telos, the end and perfecting of everything in creation, is not a political arrangement, not some utopia, but, self-evidently, that the highest of all creatures is a person, and that person Jesus Son of God, Son of Mary in whom all things subsist. And without Him nothing was made that was made. The gospel of Jesus Christ is of course an invitation to share in ideas, but is more deeply and significantly an invitation to share in Christ’s person, a fact which countless Christians experience but an experience that is difficult to describe, incorporation into a person suggests realities that are not easily assimilated by day to day experience. Perhaps we do have some intimations. There will be people in our lives whose minds we will know so well that we know what their thoughts will be on any particular issue. There are those whose pain we do feel and in whose happiness we do share. But incorporation into Jesus is much more because it is a more than natural, a supernatural relationship that exists within the communion of saints. This is what Jesus means when He prays to the Father that His disciples “may all be one . . . I in them and you in me, that they may be perfect in one.” And what Paul means when he says, “Let this mind be in you that was in Christ,” Paul says in Galatians, “as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ” (Galatians 3:7) and in Colossians 3:10–12: “You have put on the new nature, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator.”

       Jesus says, “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If any man eat of this bread he shall live forever, and the bread that I will give is my flesh, for the life of the world.” Those standing by asked the obvious question: “How can this man give us His flesh to eat?” To this Jesus replies, “Truly I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the son of man and drink his blood you 4 shall not have life in you.” And then in the night in which He was betrayed He took bread and broke it and said, “This is my body which is given for you.” We are given life by sharing in His life. Words like participation and incorporation stretch thought and imagination but they are essential to the Biblical and theological attempt to insist that history means Jesus and those who live in Him and with Him. He it is “in whom we have redemption through His blood, the remission of sins, who is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of every creature: For in him were all things created in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones, or dominions, or principalities or powers, all things were created by Him and in Him (Colossians 1:15-16).

       So the person Christians will meet at the end is the person in whom we now live. He has given us His person, His body and His blood, His flesh and His life. We do not wait to receive eternal life until that happy day. The root of that life is already in us, planted there by our baptism, nourished by His presence in the Eucharist. But there is this. We must be ready for the wedding feast, for although baptized and fed we may still be outside a locked door if we do not guard the immeasurably great gifts of His presence in us and our lives in Him.

Called, Chosen

Called, Chosen

Some ignored the invitation and went away,
one to his farm, another to his business. 
The rest laid hold of his servants,
mistreated them, and killed them. 
The king was enraged and sent his troops,
destroyed those murderers, and burned their city. 
Then he said to his servants, ‘The feast is ready,
but those who were invited were not worthy to come. 
Go out, therefore, into the main roads
and invite to the feast whomever you find.’
The servants went out into the streets
and gathered all they found, bad and good alike,
and the hall was filled with guests. 
But when the king came in to meet the guests,
he saw a man there not dressed in a wedding garment. 
The king said to him, ‘My friend, how is it
that you came in here without a wedding garment?’
but he was reduced to silence.
Then the king said to his attendants, ‘Bind his hands and
feet, and cast him into the darkness outside,
where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth.’
Many are invited, but few are chosen. 

                                       Mathew 22:2–14

The King is the Lord God Almighty and this great parable is the story of His calling His elect.   The wedding feast to which He invites us is on  one hand the Eucharistic Feast, on the other the heavenly banquet, sitting at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (Mathew 8:11), where there is fullness of joy and pleasures for evermore (Psalm 16:11).  The King’s invitation is given three times.   At the first those invited refuse to come.    A second time his invitation went forth:  “Behold, I  have prepared my banquet, come to the feast.”  But some of those invited were too busy with the things of this world, with their farm or their business.  Others were actively hostile:  “The rest laid hold of his servants, mistreated them and killed them.”  Enraged, the King sent his troops, destroyed those murderers and burned their city.   

Thus far Jesus’ words have an obvious  historical context as well as a universal meaning.  Our Lord’s mission was to the Jews.  It was to them that he was sent; “salvation is of the Jews.”   Jesus had been born in Bethlehem in Judea to fulfill the prophecy of  Micah (5:2), but He was reared in Nazareth in Galilee, His native place later becoming a matter of controversy (John 7:40-43).   After the temptation, upon hearing that John his forerunner had been arrested, He withdrew to Galilee, called Galilee of the Gentiles by the prophet Isaiah because it bordered on the gentile territory to the north, to Capernaum  on the north shore of the Sea of Galilee.  Galilee would be home; it was there that He found His disciples Peter, Andrew and Phillip, and it was to Galilee that He returned:  “Tell my brethren to go to Galilee, and there they will see me (Matthew 26:32).  For Jesus Jerusalem, God’s own city, the city of the great king David was the beloved city of sorrow (Mathew 23:37). He had not taught secretly but often in the Temple precincts (Mark 14:49). But from the beginning of His mission, the Jews had rejected Jesus.  This story of  Jesus’ rejection  by those to whom He was first sent is made vivid in the Gospel of John, in which the Jews, those in Judea, the Temple crowd with the Pharisees at their head, are contrasted with Galileans.  In their blindness they did not see that healing the sick man at the pool of Bethzatha did not violate the Sabbath but fulfilled it.  And then He called God His Father, “The Jews sought all the more to kill Him, because He not only broke the Sabbath but also called God His Father, making himself the Son of God”  (John 5:18),    At the Feast of the Dedication  “The Jews took up stones again to stone him .  .  .  .  We stone you for no good work but for blasphemy; because you, being a man, make yourself God” (John 10:32-34).  And finally in Pilate’s courtyard: “Away with him, crucify him” (John 19:15).  And for three centuries, and beyond, this would be the lot of His followers.

Finally, rejected by the Jews, by those whom the King first invited, Jesus commanded that His mission be universal.  The apostles remembered that His last command, given by the resurrected Lord on  the mountain to which He had directed them was, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them  in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:19.  Those the King had called were not worthy, so his servants went out into the streets and called good and bad alike and the hall  was filled with guests.   The call of the Gospel is universal, to every man dwelling on this earth, now and forever, both the good and the bad.   The Hall is  the Church, the ecclesia, those called out of the world into the communion of saints, containing both god and bad.  And always the holy Church, in its essence the communion of the saints, has contained both good and bad.   

But to be a member of the Church on earth, to be a beneficiary of God’s gracious call, is not to fulfill one’s baptismal promises, is not yet to win the crown for which Paul and every Christian struggles, for this is the work of a lifetime.   The Church on earth is the community of those called, but not the community of those chosen.   In this way the Catholic Church is always a scandal.  Revolutionaries who have murdered millions, Nazis who have gassed hundreds of thousands,  Senators who assent to the destruction of little children, all who may fall into mortal sin, the uncounted numbers of the baptized who succumb to the futility of sensuality and greed, all these are still called, baptized in the name of the Trinity.  They have not lost faith, but they have lost the love that joins and perfects, yet they are children of the Church, always beloved in the hope that they will finally be chosen, . 

But in the end the requirement is that these called appear before the King in their wedding garment.  Scripture calls it the white robe that belongs to the holy, as repeatedly in John’s Apocalypse (Revelation 4:4, 7, 9, 13; 15:6; 19:8, 14).   It is emblematic of the soul purified of sin and pleasing to God, and into this present those baptized are given symbolically a white robe.   This is but the beginning.  Baptism is the call, never refused to one who seeks it, conveying empowering gifts; forgiving our sins, cutting the root of original sin in us, giving us power,  faith, hope, and love, and even something of the very character of Christ.   But these gifts may go unrealized and the power given by the Holy Spirit may be squandered.    As a matter  of fact the world is and is very likely always  to be full of former Catholics, lapsed Catholics, Catholics who daily betray the faith,  Catholics who ignore the teaching of the Church, Catholics whose baptismal robes are covered with the dark and damaging imprint of sin.  That said, to be among the called is an opportunity for the greatest blessing and for the greatest danger, for the one called into the King’s presence who, having accepted the baptismal invitation, appeared without a white robe was cast into outer darkness. 

The good news is that those called, any one of them, of us,  may be among the chosen,  which means living a life in Christ, how short or long one’s days, never leaving Him, and when one stumbles, asking for the grace of repentance and seeking forgiveness at the hands of those to whom Jesus said, “Receive the Holy Spirit, if you forgive the sins of any they are forgiven.”