Tag Archives: Baptism

Friday Thoughts: Being qua Being


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Learn from the way the wild flowers grow.

—Matthew 6:28


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Does a flower make pronouncements? Does it define itself? Does it box itself in with titles, names, and distinctions?

And yet, “not even Solomon in all his splendor was clothed like one of these.” (Matthew 6:29)

———

A flower simply exists.

And its existence glorifies God.

There is no need for it to do more.

By its very existence it magnifies what cannot be further magnified: God’s Presence, God’s Glory, God’s Beauty…

———

“I’m a flower.”

“I’m a rose.”

“Look at me!”

Statements such as these we shall never hear.

Flowers are divinely indifferent to the world’s definitions and distinctions, to its approval and applause.

After all, it’s a person who receives the medal at an orchid show, and not the flower herself. No, her finely-placed petals would only be weighed down by such metallic-based ribbons.

What a gift it is to simply exist.

———

Flowers don’t cling to seasonal life.

When it’s time to go, they gracefully drop their heads and lose their pedals.

Never has there existed a man as poor as a flower.

Never has mankind so possessed the richness of fleeting, transitory, and momentary life.

It’s their genius to instinctively believe that death leads to new abundant life.

———

Flowers graciously receive:

Ladybugs, drops of dew. Beams of light, the relief of shade.

Flowers give and receive as if not a single thing has ever been made by man.

They welcome sun as well as rain.

They never cry over fallen fruit or a stolen piece of pollen.

They quietly applaud instead, rejoicing that their little ones have the opportunity to travel abroad—perhaps even the chance to help nurture a neighbor.

———

A flower, perhaps most of all, knows it place.

It never wishes to be bigger or thinner…greener or higher…it never dreams of being more like a tree.

A flower’s blessing is simplicity beyond you and me.

———

Christ is a flower.

He is the one true perfect eternal flower, through whom all other flowers partake, toward whom all other flowers reach.

Christ is a flower. His ways are not our own. He simply exists. Bowing His head. Dropping pedals. Feeding hungry bees. Giving and receiving. His identity is crucified—leaving nothing behind but being “qua” being.


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If God so clothes the grass of the field, which grows today and is thrown into the oven tomorrow, will he not much more provide for you, O you of little faith?

—Matthew 6:30


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—Howard Hain
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(Dedicated to Brother Jim, a man who knew how to simply exist.)

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Forty Days of Flood and Feud

Christ’s Temptation (Monreale Cathedral mosaic)

First Sunday of Lent

Genesis 9:8-15; 1 Peter 3:18-22; Mark 1:12-15

Lent recalls the forty days of Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness, and the forty days of cosmic cleansing in the time of Noah’s Flood. 

As Noah’s Ark, containing all “flesh” (basar, Genesis 6:19) floated atop the deluge, Christ, the saving Ark, plunged into the Jordan river and cleansed all “flesh” which he assumed (basar, sarx, John 1:14).

…God patiently waited in the days of Noah during the building of the ark, in which a few persons, eight in all, were saved through water. This prefigured baptism, which saves you now.

1 Peter 3:20-21

Humanity’s capitulation to the serpent in the garden of Eden was recapitulated and reversed by Jesus’ conquest of the tempter in the desert.

At once the Spirit drove him out into the desert, and he remained in the desert for forty days, tempted by Satan. He was among wild beasts, and the angels ministered to him.

Mark 1:12-13

Forty Days in Forty Syllables:

Life was spoken out of chaos and void;
Evil was flushed in the Flood and destroyed.
Noah’s Ark saved all flesh and humankind;
The Christ conquered the serpent mastermind.

-GMC

Learning from Water

Sacraments tell us we’re connected to creation, Pope Francis says In his letter, Laudato sí. Water, for example, one of the most important sacramental signs, connects us to a divine mystery, but it also tells us about our life in this world, our common home.

More than something to drink, water is also a sign of life and death. In the beginning God moved over chaotic waters and made them life-giving. In Noah’s time the Lord moved over death dealing flood waters and put them in place so dry life-giving land could flourish. (Genesis 1, 1-2) Water is a precious, meaningful gift of God.

Jesus began his ministry in the muddy waters of the Jordan River. Its waters are still muddied. I doubt they were sparkling clear the day Jesus went into them. The world was muddied then; it’s muddied now.

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Jesus Christ, the Word of God, entering the Jordan gave the world new life by the power of God. The liturgies of the eastern churches celebrate his Baptism in the Jordan more appreciatively than the western churches do. They see Jordan River, blessed by the Divine Word, in cosmic dimensions. It flows out to the whole world. Every river, every land, every baptistery received the blessing of God.

The beloved Son of God, entering its waters, blessed all of life. The waters of life can be muddied and chaotic. Our gospel reading from Mark today speaks of the disciples, caught in a storm on the Lake of Galilee, assured by Jesus he is with them. “Do not be afraid.” Calming the waters, Jesus brings life.

Water plays an important part in the story of creation and the drama of salvation. Today it plays a major role in climate change. In the last century sea levels globally have risen almost 7 inches and in the last 10 years have risen more rapidly than ever. The rise in sea level is caused primarily by two factors related to global warming: the added water from melting land ice and the expansion of sea water as it warms.

This affects us especially in the New York/New Jersey area where I’m writing from. More than 20 million people live along our coastlines, near the water. Flooding and drought from changing patterns of rainfall affect the homes we live in, as well as our water supply for food and drink. The poor and the vulnerable will be affected most deeply as sea levels push salt water onto our coasts and further upstream in our rivers.

Water, in which Jesus was revealed in the Jordan, calls us to live responsibly and carefully on the earth. Give us wisdom, Lord, to care for creation. Save us, Lord, lest we perish.

The Hudson’s Blessed

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An interesting homily on the Epiphany by St. Proclus of Constantinople of the Eastern Church.

“Today’s feast of the Epiphany manifests even more wonders than the feast of Christmas… At Christmas the King puts on the royal robe of his body; at Epiphany the very source unfolds and, as it were, clothes the river.

On the feast of the Savior’s birth, the earth rejoiced because it bore the Lord in a manger;  but on today’s feast the sea is glad because it receives the blessing of holiness in the river Jordan.”

Not only the Jordan but the sea and every river, the Nile, the rivers of Babylon, even the Hudson are blessed when Jesus is baptized.

The United States Geological Survey has a wonderful site on water. Water is everywhere, not only in the seas and rivers, but in the air, the foods we eat, even our bodies. 71% of the earth’s surface is water.  60% of our bodies is water. It’s a precious gift.

In the Sacrament of Baptism water’s a powerful sign that the Word of God, Jesus Christ, comes into creation bringing life.

Usually around this time one of the local New York papers carries the story of  the Greek Archbishop of New York throwing a cross into the Hudson River, which is then retrieved by some hardy Greek divers.

The waters of the Hudson this time of year are like the world itself now, grim and cold, but they have Christ’s blessing, however it seems.

A gesture of optimism. I think the eastern church makes the case better than the western church. The waters are holy the world over. The Spirit is at work in the world already, even before the gospel gets there.

A Voice That Passes Away

Spring Lake even

John the Baptist is a voice that passes away, according to St. Augustine:  “John is the voice, but the Lord is the Word who was in the beginning. John is the voice that lasts for a time; from the beginning Christ is the Word who lives for ever.”

John’s “voice” passes away. He no longer baptizes at the Jordan River. He cedes to the Word, and so should we. Our voice passes away; something of ourselves has to go– some of the things we hold dear, the friends who surround us,  the institutions that have upheld us.  Our way must give way to  God’s way.

We think so little of this.

Listen again to Augustine:  “What does prepare the way mean, if not be humble in your thoughts? We should take our lesson from John the Baptist. He is thought to be the Christ; he declares he is not what they think. He does not take advantage of their mistake to further his own glory.

“If he had said, “I am the Christ,” you can imagine how readily he would have been believed, since they believed he was the Christ even before he spoke. But he did not say it; he acknowledged what he was. He pointed out clearly who he was; he humbled himself.

“He saw where his salvation lay. He understood that he was a lamp, and his fear was that it might be blown out by the wind of pride.”

Praying with the Creed

I often find myself these days praying the Apostles’ Creed and dwelling especially on that first statement: “I believe in God the Father Almighty, creator of heaven and earth.” I need to strengthen my belief, in these days of pandemic, that God created our world, sustains it in being and guides it to glory.

Two different versions of the creed have come down through the centuries. The Apostles’ Creed is the oldest, still in use today. It’s a summary of faith given to men and women who were being baptized in the early church to help them remember Christian belief. It summarized a faith taught by the apostles.

I like that creed because it’s so simple. In the Catholic church it can be used in the liturgy during Lent and at other times in place of the Nicene Creed. It’s traditionally said at the beginning of the rosary. Prayer books recommend we say it at the beginning of prayer. Good idea.

In a sermon preached in 4th century to prepare people for baptism, St. Cyril of Jerusalem said the creed is related to the scriptures and the rest of the things in church.

“Although not everyone is able to read the Scriptures, some because they have never learned to read, others because their daily activities keep them from such study, still so that their souls will not be lost through ignorance, we have gathered together the whole of the faith in a few concise articles…

“So for the present be content to listen to the simple words of the creed and to memorize them; at some suitable time you can find the proof of each article in the Scriptures. This summary of the faith was not composed at man’s whim, the most important sections were chosen from the whole Scripture to constitute and complete a comprehensive statement of the faith.

“Just as the mustard seed contains in a small grain many branches, so this brief statement of the faith keeps in its heart, as it were, all the religious truth to be found in Old and New Testament alike. That is why, my sisters and brothers, you must consider and preserve the traditions you are now receiving. Inscribe them in your heart.”

The creed sums up all our belief; like a searchlight it gives power to see so much more, it leads us into the most profound  mysteries, and at the same time in its simplicity it helps us find our way through an often bewildering world. The creed is something we can fall back on to go forward.

Here’s  the Apostles’ Creed:
I believe in God, the Father almighty,
creator of heaven and earth.
and in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord.
who was conceived by
the Holy Spirit,
born of the Virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died and was buried;
he descended into hell;
on the third day he rose again
from the dead.
He ascended into heaven
and is seat at the right hand
of God the Father almighty;
from there he will come to judge
the living and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy, catholic Church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body
and life everlasting. Amen

 

The Tower of the Spirit

St. Seraphim of Sarov feeding a bear

31st Week in Ordinary Time, Wednesday (Year II)

Luke 14:25-33

Which of you wishing to construct a tower does not first sit down and calculate the cost to see if there is enough for its completion? (Luke 14:28)

An architect must have the end in mind before embarking on the construction of an edifice. Jesus’ comparison of discipleship to a tower might lead one to measure spiritual progress by the success of our external projects, plans, organizations and institutes. What is the “tower” of which Jesus speaks?

The saints tell us that the answer is theosis—deification or divinization. “For the Son of God became man so that we might become God” (St. Athanasius). According to St. Seraphim of Sarov (1754-1833), the true aim of the Christian life is the acquisition of the Holy Spirit.

By baptism, every child of God becomes “a new creature… a partaker of the divine nature… and a temple of the Holy Spirit. The Most Holy Trinity gives the baptized sanctifying grace… giving them the power to live and act under the prompting of the Holy Spirit through the gifts of the Holy Spirit.”1

St. Seraphim further explains:

He who has the grace of the Holy Spirit in reward for right faith in Christ, even if on account of human frailty his soul were to die for some sin or other, yet he will not die for ever, but he will be raised by the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ Who takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29), and freely gives grace upon grace. Of this grace, which was manifested to the whole world and to our human race by the God-man, it is said in the Gospel: In Him was life, and the life was the light of men (John 1:4); and further: And the light shines in the darkness; and the darkness has never swallowed it (John 1:5). This means that the grace of the Holy Spirit which is granted at baptism in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, in spite of man’s fall into sin, in spite of the darkness surrounding our soul, nevertheless shines in our hearts with the divine light (which has existed from time immemorial) of the inestimable merits of Christ. In the event of a sinner’s impenitence this light of Christ cries to the Father: ‘Abba, Father! Be not angry with this impenitence to the end (of his life).’ Then, at the sinner’s conversion to the way of repentance, it effaces completely all trace of past sin and clothes the former sinner once more in a robe of incorruption spun from the grace of the Holy Spirit. The acquisition of this is the aim of the Christian life…2

The seed of grace planted at baptism must be watered, fertilized, and cultivated to flourish into a mature organism. Earthly attachments block the Son-light and water of the Holy Spirit from reaching the divine seed.

Great crowds were traveling with Jesus, and he turned and addressed them, “If anyone comes  to me without hating his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple (Luke 14:25-27).

Matthew’s version reads: “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me” (Matthew 10:37). The Greek verb for “hate” (miseó) means “to love less.” Since God the Father contains all persons, however, the love of Christ does not diminish other relationships but embraces them.

Which of you wishing to construct a tower does not first sit down and calculate the cost to see if there is enough for its completion? Otherwise, after laying the foundation and finding himself unable to finish the work the onlookers should laugh at him and say, ‘This one began to build but did not have the resources to finish.’ Or what king marching into battle would not first sit down and decide whether with ten thousand troops he can successfully oppose another king advancing upon him with twenty thousand troops? But if not, while he is still far away, he will send a delegation to ask for peace terms. In the same way, everyone of you who does not renounce all his possessions cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:18-33).

In the analogy, term A (building and military resources) is mapped to term B (renunciation of all possessions). From a material point of view, the analogy seems incongruous as they are opposites (addition and subtraction). However, Jesus is speaking about the inner tower of the spirit and the conquest of the ego, which detachment accomplishes by increasing faith, hope, charity, the virtues and fruits of the Holy Spirit. In the spiritual life, the laws of mathematics and physics are inverted: material and ego contraction leads to spiritual expansion.

Theosis by the grace of the Holy Spirit is our “tower” and “victory.” Our projects and apostolates are an overflow of the work of the Spirit. St. Paul discerned the need to prioritize the inner tower and combat from his apostolate of preaching: “No, I drive my body and train it, for fear that, after having preached to others, I myself should be disqualified” (I Corinthians 9:27).

The Holy Spirit lays the first cornerstone of the tower, Jesus Christ:

So then you are no longer strangers and sojourners, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord” (Ephesians 2:19-21).

The Holy Spirit arms us in the battle for theosis:

“Finally, draw your strength from the Lord and from his mighty power. Put on the armor of God so that you may be able to stand firm against the tactics of the devil. For our struggle is not with flesh and blood but with the principalities, with the powers, with the world rulers of this present darkness, with the evil spirits in the heavens. Therefore, put on the armor of God, that you may be able to resist on the evil day and, having done everything, to hold your ground. So stand fast with your loins girded in truth, clothed with righteousness as a breastplate, and your feet shod in readiness for the gospel of peace. In all circumstances, hold faith as a shield, to quench all [the] flaming arrows of the evil one. And take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God” (Ephesians 6:10-17).

St. Seraphim’s blueprint and battle plan is simple yet profound: “Acquire the Spirit of Peace and a thousand souls around you will be saved.” 

-GMC

1 Catechism of the Catholic Church 1265-6.

2 St. Seraphim of Sarov, On the Acquisition of the Holy Spirit, Conversation with Motovilov. Although St. Seraphim was canonized by the Orthodox Church, St. John Paul II counted him among the saints for the Catholic Church: “Man achieves the fullness of prayer not when he expresses himself, but he lets God be most fully present in prayer. The history of mystical prayer in the East and West attests to this: Saint Francis, Saint Teresa of Avila, Saint John of the Cross, Saint Ignatius of Loyola and, in the East, Saint Serafim of Sarov and many others.” From Crossing the Threshold of Hope, trans. Jenny McPhee and Martha McPhee (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2005), 18.

Citizens of a New World

Simone Martini (c. 1284-1344), St. Simon and St. Jude, National Gallery of Art

Feast of Saints Simon and Jude, Apostles

Ephesians 2:19-22; Luke 6:12-16

Brothers and sisters: You are no longer strangers and sojourners, but you are fellow citizens with the holy ones and members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the Apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the capstone. Through him the whole structure is held together and grows into a temple sacred in the Lord; in him you also are being built together into a dwelling place of God in the Spirit.

Ephesians 2:19-22

From heaven’s perspective we are all exiles far from home, refugees in the same boat—the saving ark of Christ—sailing through this vale of tears (1 Peter 3:18-22). Adoption into the family of God by baptism makes no distinctions of race, class, gender, passport or visa. 

The pilgrim Church is our home away from home, a center of hospitality for strangers/foreigners (xenos) and sojourners/aliens (paroikos) returning to their motherland in the heart of the Father. 

The Son of God became the brother of every human person, uniting all races and nations into one family. The Body of Christ is the new and indestructible temple of the Holy Spirit (John 2:19-21).

Jesus went up to the mountain to pray, and he spent the night in prayer to God. When day came, he called his disciples to himself, and from them he chose Twelve, whom he also named Apostles: Simon, whom he named Peter, and his brother Andrew, James, John, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Thomas, James the son of Alphaeus, Simon who was called a Zealot, and Judas the son of James, and Judas Iscariot, who became a traitor.

Luke 6:12-16

Jesus spent an all-night vigil with the Father and the Holy Spirit in preparation for the call of the Apostles, who with the prophets would form the foundation of the eternal and indivisible temple of God. 

On October 28 we celebrate the feast of two foundation stones, St. Simon the Zealot and St. Jude. Lit by the Spirit’s transforming fire, Saint Simon widened his nationalistic zeal to universal scope and joined St. Peter the fisherman in catching the globe in their net. Nothing definite is known about St. Jude, but tradition has made him the patron saint of impossible causes.

Jesus’ original desire that all may be one as a “dwelling place of God in the Spirit” is surely an “impossible cause” that can be entrusted to Saints Simon and Jude (John 17:21). They join heaven’s throng in a continual vigil for our unity as citizens of a country not of this world.

-GMC

Holy Division?

29th Week in Ordinary Time, Thursday (Year II)

Luke 12:49-53 

Do you think that I have come to establish peace on the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division (Luke 12:51).

Strange words from the Son of God. Jesus was accused of many things, but utopianism was not one of them. 

Jesus said to his disciples: “I have come to set the earth on fire, and how I wish it were already blazing! There is a baptism with which I must be baptized, and how great is my anguish until it is accomplished! (Luke 12:49-50)

Earlier in the Gospel, John the Forerunner declared, “I am baptizing you with water, but one mightier than I is coming. I am not worthy to loosen the thongs of his sandals. He will baptize you with the holy Spirit and fire” (Luke 3:16).

When the fire of the Spirit touches the waters of chaos, they divide and part, and godlessness is destroyed (Exodus 15:4; 2 Peter 2:5).

Jesus’ descent into the waters of the river Jordan mirrored his plunge into the world of strife and rebellion. 

The all-holy God is judged intolerable by the kings and subjects of the earth. “Crucify him! Crucify him!” Oust the pure one so that earthlings can return to “peace” in the gray landscape of mediocrity and decay. 

From now on a household of five will be divided, three against two and two against three; a father will be divided against his son and a son against his father, a mother against her daughter and a daughter against her mother, a mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law” (Luke 12:52-53).

The “members of a household” are first of all internal: spirit versus flesh, reason versus passion, head versus heart. When the original justice of internal relations is shattered, the social justice of external relations is shattered: man versus woman, Adam versus nature, and Adam versus God. 

The fire of the Spirit burns away the gangrene of sin and begins the restoration of internal justice. But conformity to Christ hardly brings a utopia. Jesus set the pattern on Calvary: the Cross precedes resurrection and restoration. 

A social utopia like Eden flowed from the personal utopia of Adam. Until persons are restored and healed from sin, division remains. 

-GMC

Is This All There Is?

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In his sermons on the sacraments, which he preached to some newly baptized,  St. Ambrose shows a keen appreciation of the power and weakness of signs. They signify so much, but we find them hard to accept. “Is this it?” he hears them say as they approach the waters of baptism.

Ambrose calls on stories of the Old Testament: the Israelites were saved as they flee from Egypt through the waters of the Red Sea, the cloud that guides them on their way–foreshadowing the Holy Spirit, the wood that makes the bitter waters of Marah sweet–the mystery of the Cross.

“You must not trust, then, wholly to your bodily eyes. What is not seen is in reality seen more clearly; for what we see with our eyes is temporal whereas what is eternal (and invisible to the eye) is discerned by the mind and spirit.” (On the mysteries)

Remember Namaan’s doubt as the Assyrian general stood before the healing waters of the Jordan, Ambrose reminds his hearers. There’s more here than you see or think.

So we’re invited into an unseen world. Still, aren’t we like those whom the saint addressed? Is this it? Maybe more so, for schooled as we are in the ways of science and fact, we look for proof from what our eyes see. We live in a world that tells us what we see is all there is.

And now it’s a world made more unknown by the Covid19 pandemic; even our sacraments seem to be taken away.

Faith is a search for what we don’t see. God doesn’t take it away. Believe, God says.