Tag Archives: deification

Ask, Seek, Knock

Icon of Pentecost

First Week of Lent, Thursday

Matthew 7:7-12

“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives; and the one who seeks, finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.

Matthew 7:7-8

Asking, seeking, and knocking presuppose desire. In some wisdom traditions, desire is the root of suffering and must be extinguished in order to be liberated, but in the protological account of human origins in Genesis, desire is presented as primordial—an energy that must be directed in accordance with the Law of Knowledge and Life to blossom into godlikeness.

The serpent’s temptation to Eve to partake of the forbidden fruit contained a partial truth: “your eyes will be opened and you will be like gods, who know good and evil” (Genesis 3:5).

Jesus said to the Jews, quoting Psalm 82:6, Is it not written in your law, ‘I said, “You are gods”’? (John 10:34) 

Early Christian writers like St. Ephrem the Syrian and St. Gregory of Nazianzus believed that Adam and Eve were created in an intermediate state, with the potentiality for deification and infallible knowledge hinging on obedience to the commandment.

St. Ephrem writes:

For had the serpent been rejected, along with the sin, they would have eaten of the Tree of Life, and the Tree of Knowledge would not have been withheld from them any longer; from the one they would have acquired infallible knowledge, and from the other they would have received immortal life. They would have acquired divinity in humanity; and had they thus acquired infallible knowledge and immortal life they would have done so in this body.1

St. Gregory of Nazianzus writes:

This being He placed in paradise… And He gave him a Law, as material for his free will to act upon. This Law was a commandment as to what plants he might partake of, and which one he might not touch. This latter was the Tree of Knowledge; not, however, because it was evil from the beginning when planted; nor was it forbidden because God grudged it to men—let not the enemies of God wag their tongues in that direction, or imitate the serpent. But it would have been good if partaken of at the proper time; for the Tree was, according to my theory, Contemplation, which it is only safe for those who have reached maturity of habit to enter upon; but which is not good for those who are still somewhat simple and greedy; just as neither is solid food good for those who are yet tender and have need of milk.2

The primordial desire to “be like gods” is fulfilled in Jesus Christ who deified Adam by his Incarnation, obedience unto death, and resurrection.

Asking, seeking, and knocking is the process of walking hand in hand with the Father as his child in his only-begotten Son, and receiving freely the fruit of wisdom and life from the Spirit.

If you then, who are wicked, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the Father in heaven give the holy Spirit to those who ask him?”

Luke 11:13

The syllabic count in the following poem adds up to fifty—the fifty days from Easter to Pentecost when the Holy Spirit is poured out upon the Church. ASK, SEEK, and KNOCK are 3, 4, and 5 letter words, and their respective stanzas consist of 3, 4, and 5 syllable lines.

32 + 42 + 52 = 50 syllables

Adam’s son,
Son of God,
King and Priest

Strolls with Abba—
Eden enfleshed—
Eating fruit of
Knowledge and Life.

Kingdom of Heaven,
Nucleus within,
Offers orisons:
Come, Holy Spirit,
Kingdom come on Earth.

-GMC

1 St. Ephrem the Syrian, Commentary on Genesis II.23, in St. Ephrem the Syrian: Hymns on Paradise, trans. Sebastian Brock (Crestwood: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1990), 214. St. Ephrem’s view is also found in the Palestinian Targum tradition at Genesis 3:22 and in Nemesius, On the Nature of Man 5. See Brock’s introduction (footnote 39).

2 St. Gregory of Nazianzus, Oration 45.8.

Seeds of the Logos

Vincent van Gogh, Sower, 1888

Friday of the Third Week in Ordinary Time (Year I)

Hebrews 10:32-39; Mark 4:26-34

The Word through whom the world came to be knew his creation intimately (John 1:3). Earth, air, soil, and water that composed his own body were fashioned in the beginning by the Spirit of God hovering over the face of the waters (Genesis 1:2). That same life-giving Spirit keeps the world continually in being and becoming like a never-ending song.

He said, “This is how it is with the kingdom of God; it is as if a man were to scatter seed on the land and would sleep and rise night and day and the seed would sprout and grow, he knows not how. Of its own accord the land yields fruit, first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear. And when the grain is ripe, he wields the sickle at once, for the harvest has come.”

Mark 4:26-29

Seeds of the Logos waft through the universe by the Breath of the Sower and grow by the mysterious life-giving energy of the Spirit. In the language of science, organic life emerged from inorganic matter though it knows not how. Spirit has not entered the vocabulary of science, but without it life’s mystery eludes empiricism. Spirit and matter interpenetrate, according to Genesis.

In Adam, organic life becomes conscious of itself as a person in communion with other persons and all living beings. Homo sapiens (“wise human being”) is matter awake. 

The Light, which enlightens everyone, scattered seeds of truth throughout the universe in preparation for his coming (John 1:9). All truth in the Law and the Prophets of the Old Testament and in pagan philosophy originated from the Logos and dispersed by the Spirit. Knowledge of divinity and the natural law are accessible to all (Romans 1:20; 2:14-15).

He said, “To what shall we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable can we use for it? It is like a mustard seed that, when it is sown in the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on the earth. But once it is sown, it springs up and becomes the largest of plants and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the sky can dwell in its shade.”

Mark 4:30-32

The mustard seed is the personal cosmos in the image of the Logos. Sown “in the beginning,” it grew inorganically, organically, and spiritually by the Breath of God. Seeds of wisdom (sapientia) prepared homo sapiens to receive the Word made flesh. 

Those who received the Word and became one with the Word followed the pattern of his life. 

Amen, amen, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces much fruit.

John 12:24

Remember the days past when, after you had been enlightened, you endured a great contest of suffering.

Hebrews 10:32

The seed of the Logos, growing into the theandric organism of the Blessed Trinity, must break to release the deifying energy of grace.

We are not among those who draw back and perish, but among those who have faith and will possess life.

Hebrews 10:39

-GMC

Beyond Descartes

Friday of the First Week in Ordinary Time (Year I)

Hebrews 4:1-5, 11; Mark 2:1-12

The aim of the Christian life may be expressed in many ways: union with God, communion in the Trinity, deification (theosis), the acquisition of the Holy Spirit, returning to the Father’s house (the heavenly Jerusalem), or in the words of the author of Hebrews, entering into God’s Sabbath “rest.” The seventh day is unending peace and joy in the Lord, according to Rabbinic glosses, because unlike the first six days of creation there is no mention of evening. The sun never sets on the glory of God (Revelation 21:23; 22:5).

And whoever enters into God’s rest, rests from his own works as God did from his. Therefore, let us strive to enter into that rest…

Hebrews 4:10-11

How are the people of God to “enter into that rest?” The author of Hebrews calls our attention to the faculty of hearing, for failure to “enter” resulted from a failure in listening:

Therefore, let us be on our guard while the promise of entering into his rest remains, that none of you seem to have failed. For in fact we have received the good news just as they did. But the word that they heard did not profit them, for they were not united in faith with those who listened.

Hebrews 4:1-2 (New American Bible Revised Edition)

Original manuscripts differ concerning the second verse. The alternative reading is exemplified by the Revised Standard Version which reads:

For good news came to us just as to them; but the message which they heard did not benefit them, because it did not meet with faith in the hearers.

The basic message is the same in either version: listening was not accompanied by faith. The hearers did not listen as did their leaders Joshua and Caleb, and the message failed to be received with faith in the heart.

“Oh, that today you would hear his voice: ‘Harden not your hearts.’”

Hebrews 3:7-8; 4:7; Psalm 95:7-8

When faith is alive, the voice of the Lord awakens the heart of the beloved:

The sound of my lover! here he comes
springing across the mountains,
leaping across the hills.
Let me see your face,
let me hear your voice,
For your voice is sweet,
and your face is lovely.

Song of Songs 1:8, 14

Almost 1500 years after the bitter desert wanderings, the Bridegroom appeared and called the attention of his Bride to the vital connection between hearing and the heart:

This is why I speak to them in parables, because ‘they look but do not see and hear but do not listen or understand.’ Isaiah’s prophecy is fulfilled in them, which says: ‘You shall indeed hear but not understand, you shall indeed look but never see. Gross is the heart of this people, they will hardly hear with their ears, they have closed their eyes, lest they see with their eyes and hear with their ears and understand with their heart and be converted, and I heal them.’

Matthew 13:13-15; cf. Mark 4:11-12; Isaiah 6:8-10

Seeing and hearing are our windows onto reality, are they not? “All our knowledge begins with the senses, proceeds then to the understanding, and ends with reason,” Immanuel Kant tells us. “There is nothing higher than reason.” Yet according to Jesus, something far surpassing seeing and hearing is required to “understand with the heart.”

The biblical language of the “heart” is foreign to empiricism and rationalism, but it is the key to “understanding,” “conversion” and “healing.” 

The heart is the dwelling-place where I am, where I live; according to the Semitic or Biblical expression, the heart is the place “to which I withdraw.” The heart is our hidden center, beyond the grasp of our reason and of others; only the Spirit of God can fathom the human heart and know it fully. The heart is the place of decision, deeper than our psychic drives. It is the place of truth, where we choose life or death. It is the place of encounter, because as image of God we live in relation: it is the place of covenant.

Catechism of the Catholic Church 2563

The spiritual heart is the hidden center of union and communion in the Trinity, the Sabbath “rest” of God. 

Johannes Tauler (c. 1300-1361), one of the greatest German Dominican mystics, wrote some of the most striking statements about the interior “Promised Land.”

The Image of the Blessed Trinity rests in the most intimate, hidden, and inmost ground of the soul, where God is present essentially, actively, and substantially. Here God acts and exists and rejoices in Himself, and to separate God from this inmost ground would be as impossible as separating Him from Himself… And thus in the depth of this ground the soul possesses everything by grace which God possesses by nature.1

“No path of the senses will ever lead you there,” Tauler writes. “Within this ground the Heavenly Father begat His only-begotten Son.”2 This union of created and uncreated natures (theosis) surpasses sense perception, images, forms, words, thought and reason.3

The very being (hupostasis) of the Father and Son spoken about in Hebrews 1:3 is found in the heart and “ground” of every human person united to God by grace. 

You were more inward to me than my most inward part; and higher than my highest.

St. Augustine, Confessions, 3.6.11

Faith is the key to entering the Promised Land. 

For we who believed enter into [that] rest.

Hebrews 4:3

The faith of four friends circumvented every barrier between their paralytic brother and Jesus, and made a way where there was no way.

When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Child, your sins are forgiven… I say to you, rise, pick up your mat, and go home.”

Mark 2:5, 11

There is more to God than meets the eye (or ear). 

May sight and sound 
give way to
Light in the ground
By faith in the heart
beyond the mind of Descartes.

-GMC

1 Sermon 29 from Johannes Tauler, Sermons, trans. Maria Shrady, Classics of Western Spirituality (Mahwah: Paulist Press, 1985), 105.

2 Ibid., 106. 

3 Sermon 37 from Ibid., 126. In different words, the testimony of an imageless, formless “eye of the soul” (spirit, heart, nous, ground) has been present from the time of the ancient desert tradition. 

Our Eternal Origin

Mosaic of Christ Pantocrator, Cathedral of the Transfiguration, Cefalù, Sicily, 12th century. Licensed by Claire Stracke under CC BY-NC-SA 3.0

Thursday After Epiphany

1 John 4:19—5:4; Luke 4:14-22a

“…whoever is begotten by God conquers the world.”

1 John 5:4

The origin of the Son and all persons begotten by the Father in the Son transcends the world, time, history, politics, sociology, psychology, beginnings and ends.

“I AM WHO I AM.”

Exodus 3:14

Beyond the vicissitudes of this passing world, the Being beyond beings is, was, and will be, forever and ever.

“You are my son; today I have begotten you.”

Psalm 2:7; Acts 13:33; Hebrews 1:5 and 5:5

The whispering Spirit of the unseen Father unveiled the eternal Sonship of Christ in a Psalm of David about a millennium before his birth from the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary. 

“I am the Immaculate Conception.”

Our Lady of Lourdes to St. Bernadette Soubirous, March 25, 1858

From the bosom of the Father, the Virgin Mother of God breathed her name to her children, revealing herself as immaculately conceived from all eternity in the mind of God. 

Jesus Christ and Mother Mary have two birthdays like all human beings: an earthly, historical birthday in spacetime, and an eternal, timeless origin in the mind of the Father, Source of all persons.

As St. Paul writes, the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ “chose us in him, before the foundation of the world…” (Ephesians 1:4).

Action follows being and identity. Thus the beloved disciple John found the commandment of love “not burdensome” (1 John 5:3), perhaps not even a “commandment” as such, but the very essence and action flowing from divinized humanity. As the light and heat of fire is natural to fire and of its essence, love is of the essence of the Body of Christ.

Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is begotten by God, and everyone who loves the Father loves also the one begotten by him. 

1 John 5:1

Believing and loving go hand in hand, as intellect and will, head and heart, light and heat are one and inseparable. 

After decades of prayer and reflection, Jesus’ prayer to the Father for the baffled disciples at the Last Supper finally sank in:

Now this is eternal life, that they should know you, the only true God, and the one whom you sent, Jesus Christ. I glorified you on earth by accomplishing the work that you gave me to do. Now glorify me, Father, with you, with the glory that I had with you before the world began.

John 17:3-5

Loving faith and faithful love is “the victory that conquers the world” (1 John 5:4) because it originates in the ever bubbling Spirit of Love, Son of Love, and Father of Love from all eternity.

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,” Jesus declared to the astonished people of his hometown Nazareth (Luke 4:18). The Spirit of the Father divinized our human nature in the Person of the Son of God, enabling us to love as he loves.

St. Cyril of Alexandria writes:

The Father says of Christ, who was God, begotten of him before the ages, that he has been “begotten today,” for the Father is to accept us in Christ as his adopted children. The whole of our nature is present in Christ, in so far as he is man. So the Father can be said to give the Spirit again to the Son, though the Son possesses the Spirit as his own, in order that we may receive the Spirit in Christ… He receives it to renew our nature in its entirety and to make it whole again, for in becoming man he took our entire nature to himself.

From the Liturgy of the Hours, Thursday after Epiphany, Office of Readings, From a commentary on the Gospel of John by Saint Cyril of Alexandria, bishop

Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit. As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen. 

-GMC

The Kingdom of God

Christ Pantocrator, Mosaic from the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul, Turkey.

32nd Week in Ordinary Time, Thursday (Year II)

Luke 17:20-25

Asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, Jesus said in reply, “The coming of the Kingdom of God cannot be observed, and no one will announce, ‘Look, here it is,’ or, ‘There it is.’ For behold, the kingdom of God is among you.”

Modern interpretations of Luke’s elusive phrase concerning the kingdom of God lean toward an “exterior” reading, that is, that the kingdom is “among” or “in the midst of” you.1 Ancient commentators favor an “interior” interpretation: the kingdom of God is “within” you.

The Greek word in question is entos (within, among, inside). The only other occurrence of the word in the New Testament is in Matthew 23:36: “Blind Pharisee, cleanse first the inside (entos) of the cup, so that the outside also may be clean.”

In the dialogue with the Pharisees, the kingdom of God was indeed in their “midst” as they encountered Jesus face to face. But Jesus’ physical presence did not guarantee a change of heart (metanoia), which is the substance of the kingdom. Two thieves hung on the left and right sides of Jesus on the Cross, but one reviled him and the other wept in repentance (Luke 23:39-43). Jesus could be seen, heard, and touched, yet the kingdom of God cannot be observed (Luke 17:20).

The Pharisees showed no change of heart during Jesus’ preaching and healing mission. Of what use was an exterior kingdom to hearts hardened with envy and hatred? Was not the entire system of temple worship a manifestation of God in a physically exterior way? The Incarnate Christ was the living, breathing temple of God in human form, yet the gulf between rebellious hearts and the Son of God did not diminish as he stood before them. 

God did not become man only to substitute for the Jerusalem Temple. His goal was to transform human persons into temples of the Holy Spirit. In the early Church, especially in the East, salvation meant theosis or deification. “For the Son of God became man so that we might become God” (St. Athanasius).

St. Gregory of Nyssa interpreted the kingdom of God within us as “that joy that is implanted in our hearts by the Holy Spirit.”

Other Fathers of the Church concurred:

St. Cyril of Alexandria: “For behold the kingdom of God is within you; that is, it rests with you and your own hearts to receive it. For every man who is justified by faith and the grace of God, and adorned with virtues, may obtain the kingdom of heaven.”3

St. Isaac of Nineveh: “‘The kingdom of the heavens is within you.’ You should not hope to find it in a place. It does not come in observation, according to the word of Christ.”4

John Cassian: “If the kingdom of God is within us and is righteousness, peace and joy, then someone that remains in these is surely within the kingdom of God.”5

St. Ambrose: “‘The kingdom of God is within you,’ through the truth of grace…”6

Jesus’ overall message to the Pharisees was consistent with the prophets before him. God desires mercy rather than sacrifice and ritual observance (1 Samuel 15:22Amos 5:21-24; Hosea 6:6). The kingdom of God was not far from the Pharisees. It was as near as their own hearts, the place of receptivity to Christ by the Spirit of truth.

Jesus told the Samaritan woman at the well: Believe me, woman, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem… But the hour is coming, and is now here, when true worshipers will worship the Father in Spirit and truth; and indeed the Father seeks such people to worship him. God is Spirit, and those who worship him must worship in Spirit and truth (John 4:21, 23-24).

The Fathers, ascetics, and saints of the early Church read the Scripture out of their profound encounter with Christ in their hearts. As St. Augustine discovered, the kingdom of God is “more inward to me than my most inward part; and higher than my highest.”7

-GMC

1 See footnote to Luke 17:21 in the New American Bible Revised Edition. Twenty-nine out of sixty English translations of Luke 17:21, about 50%, translate entos as “within.”

2 Catena Aurea of St. Thomas Aquinas, Luke 17:20-21.

3 Ibid. From St. Cyril of Alexandria, Commentary on Luke, Homily 117.

4 St. Isaac of Nineveh, Ascetical Homilies 53.

5 John Cassian, Conference I.13. 

6 St. Ambrose, Exposition of the Gospel of Luke 8.33. 

7 St. Augustine, Confessions 3.6.11.

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.

“I will see God”

Hebrew Scroll of Book of Job. Licensed by Pete unseth under CC BY-SA 3.0.

26th Week in Ordinary Time, Thursday (Year II)

Job 19:21-27; Psalm 27

Are suffering and misfortune a sign of God’s wrath upon a sinner? Such a belief plagued the ancient world and hurled Job into a pit of scorn and derision from his neighbors (Job 12:4-5).

Jesus sought to remove this poison from the minds of his contemporaries:

As he passed by he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answered, “Neither he nor his parents sinned; it is so that the works of God might be made visible through him (John 9:1-3).

At that time some people who were present there told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with the blood of their sacrifices. He said to them in reply, “Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way they were greater sinners than all other Galileans? By no means! But I tell you, if you do not repent, you will all perish as they did! Or those eighteen people who were killed when the tower at Siloam fell on them—do you think they were more guilty than everyone else who lived in Jerusalem? By no means! But I tell you, if you do not repent, you will all perish as they did!” (Luke 13:1-5)

Job’s response to his plight is unusual in that he continually insisted on his own integrity. The author of Job affirms his blamelessness from the start, a pronouncement of God himself in the courts of heaven (Job 1:8). 

Thus Job wants to face God in a court of law and duke it out. 

I would set out my case before him,
fill my mouth with arguments (Job 23:4).

Job is so confident that he imagines a victory in a case against God:

Would he contend against me with his great power?
No, he himself would heed me!
There an upright man might argue with him,
and I would once and for all be delivered from my judge.
…if he tested me, I should come forth like gold (Job 23:6-7; 10).

Contrast St. Paul:

I am not conscious of anything against me, but I do not thereby stand acquitted; the one who judges me is the Lord (I Corinthians 4:4).

Job’s request for vindication seems so alien to the Christian narrative that many interpreters reject a Christological interpretation of Job’s “vindicator” (gaal or goel), made famous by Handel’s Messiah (I know that my redeemer liveth).

As for me, I know that my vindicator lives,
and that he will at last stand forth upon the dust.
This will happen when my skin has been stripped off,
and from my flesh I will see God:
I will see for myself,
my own eyes, not another’s, will behold him:
my inmost being is consumed with longing (Job 19:25-27).

A Christ figure, according to the logic of those who reject that interpretation, would not vindicate Job’s righteousness. Job would have to be, as his friends and neighbors insist, a wretched sinner for Christ to vindicate or redeem him. Christ did not come to uphold humankind’s innocence but to “die for sinners,” goes the logic. 

Those who insist that Job’s living goel is not a foreshadowing of Christ offer other options. In Hebrew, the word for “vindicator” comes from the verb goel (to redeem, ransom, or act as kinsman). As a verb, it applied to buying back a field (Leviticus 25:25; Ruth 4:4, 6), something consecrated (Leviticus 27:13), or a slave (Leviticus 25:48-49). As a role, the goel in the Mosaic law was a kinsman go-between in legal matters, even a blood avenger who pursued the murderer of his slain relative (Numbers 35; Deuteronomy 19:6-7). The goel stepped in on behalf of another who was slain, wronged, or oppressed.

According to the New American Bible (Revised Edition) footnote: “The meaning of this passage is obscure because the original text has been poorly preserved and the ancient versions do not agree among themselves. Job asserts three times that he shall see a future vindicator (Hebrew goel), but he leaves the time and manner of this vindication undefined. The Vulgate translation has Job indicating a belief in resurrection after death, but the Hebrew and the other ancient versions are less specific.”

Some of the options that have been proposed as the identity of the goel include: (1) God himself; (2) a kinsman; (3) a member of the heavenly council. The first option is deemed implausible in a court scene in which God is the defendant.

The last option is alluded to by Eliphaz: 

Call now! Will anyone respond to you? 
To which of the holy ones will you turn?” (See footnote to Job 5:1).

Elihu also entertains this possibility:

If then there be a divine messenger,
a mediator, one out of a thousand,
to show him what is right,
He will take pity on him and say,
“Deliver him from going down to the pit;
I have found him a ransom” (Job 33:23-24).

Within the parameters of philology, history and related fields, a Christological allusion may be a leap far beyond the text. However, reading Sacred Scripture through the lens of Christ was characteristically patristic.

All sacred Scripture is but one book, and this one book is Christ, “because all divine Scripture speaks of Christ, and all divine Scripture is fulfilled in Christ” (Catechism of the Catholic Church 134 quoting Hugh of St. Victor).

Perhaps Job’s insistence on getting a fair hearing opposite God in the heavenly court, instead of ruling out a Christological connection, might offer another angle on the strange events of the Incarnation, Passion, Death, and Resurrection.

Job’s world divided humankind into clean and unclean, righteous and unrighteous, blessed and cursed, etc. Caste-like divisions have no place in the Incarnation since the Son of God assumed humanity as one, universal Adam. All persons, including Job, are “ransomed,” to use Pauline language.

Job’s insistence on his righteousness before God might sound questionable (even Pharisaic) in another context, but in the narrative God himself confirmed it at the outset. One purpose of this insistence is to show that Job’s suffering is not due to personal sin.  

Can the blameless Job long for Christ? Why not? The God-Man made it possible for human persons to see God “in the flesh” and “face to face”—a living icon. The infinite distance between earth and heaven that so frustrated Job was bridged in the person of the Son of God. Union and communion in and through Christ puts an end to all contention with the divine, the foundation of which is separation from God. Union silences all thought and speech.  

The goal of Christianity is deification, which completes the initial cancellation of a debt or payment of a ransom. It is nothing less than the divinization of human nature—an unheard-of union with the consubstantial Trinity via the theandric God-Man. “For the Son of God became man so that we might become God” (St. Athanasius).

Job’s “righteousness” ends with moral rectitude (obedience to laws and rituals) but does not proceed to deification and ontological transformation. Heaven is imagined as a court with books, records, and words carved in stone: 

Oh, would that my words were written down!
Would that they were inscribed in a record:
That with an iron chisel and with lead
they were cut in the rock forever! (Job 19:23-24)

How might Job respond to Jesus who said, “He who has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:9)?

Job’s innocent suffering evokes a wonder that leaps beyond history to the timeless depths of the Cross event. Christ, as the Son of God, at no point left the eternal perichoresis of divinity. The primordial kenosis (self-emptying of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) has no link to creation or history.

Christ showed us the way to fulfill our true nature as persons in communion, the distortion of which is sin (egotism). Job and his friends did not view the fragmentation of humanity itself as a deficiency. They were content to be religiously observant and law-abiding members of society.

Humankind is essentially one. The sin Christ destroyed is singular: “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). Sin is separation and alienation.

The Cross is an expression in time of the Son’s timeless self-gift in his divine being—an immutable kenosis deeper than creation and redemption. Christ’s pure act of non-retaliatory love on the Cross manifested Trinitarian perichoresis in history.

This reflection has wandered far beyond the text of Job and is not an attempt at biblical interpretation. Whatever “vindicator” means in the original text, one thing is certain: Job is confident that he will “see God” (Job 19:26).

I believe that I shall see the bounty of the LORD
in the land of the living.
Wait for the LORD with courage;
be stouthearted, and wait for the LORD (Psalm 27:13-14).

-GMC

Resurrection in a Garden

Icon of the Anastasis (Resurrection)

24th Week in Ordinary Time, Saturday (Year II)

1 Corinthians 15:35-37, 42-49

The Word became flesh to make us “partakers of the divine nature” (2 Peter 1:4).

”For this is why the Word became man, and the Son of God became the Son of man: so that man, by entering into communion with the Word and thus receiving divine sonship, might become a son of God.”1

“For the Son of God became man so that we might become God.”2

“The only-begotten Son of God, wanting to make us sharers in his divinity, assumed our nature, so that he, made man, might make men gods.”3

These pointers beyond our earthly existence to our deified destiny were lifted from the Catechism of the Catholic Church (460). The spiritual DNA of Adam and the cosmos finds its origin in the eternally begotten Son of God. Christ, transcendent and “prior” to creation, is the archetype of humankind. The blueprint of humanity, untouched by time, exists in the heart of the Trinity.

Brothers and sisters: Someone may say, “How are the dead raised? With what kind of body will they come back? ”You fool! What you sow is not brought to life unless it dies. And what you sow is not the body that is to be but a bare kernel of wheat, perhaps, or of some other kind. So also is the resurrection of the dead. It is sown corruptible; it is raised incorruptible. It is sown dishonorable; it is raised glorious. It is sown weak; it is raised powerful. It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body.

Fading flowers, seed production, winter dormancy, and springtime renewal point beyond themselves to the ultimate resurrection of Adam and the cosmos. 

If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual one. So, too, it is written, “The first man, Adam, became a living being,” the last Adam a life-giving spirit. But the spiritual was not first; rather the natural and then the spiritual. The first man was from the earth, earthly; the second man, from heaven. As was the earthly one, so also are the earthly, and as is the heavenly one, so also are the heavenly. Just as we have borne the image of the earthly one, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly one.

Through stillness and silence in the midst of our activities, may we allow the Holy Spirit to plant us in the soil of Paradise so that we may germinate and grow in the Son to the Father. 

-GMC

1 St. Irenaeus, Adv. haeres. 3, 19, 1: PG 7/1, 939.
2 St. Athanasius, De inc. 54, 3: PG 25, 192B.
3 St. Thomas Aquinas, Opusc. 57, 1-4.

The Law Incarnate

Divine Mercy Icon

22nd Week in Ordinary Time, Saturday (Year II)

Luke 6:1-5

While Jesus was going through a field of grain on a sabbath, his disciples were picking the heads of grain, rubbing them in their hands, and eating them. Some Pharisees said, “Why are you doing what is unlawful on the sabbath?” Jesus said to them in reply, “Have you not read what David did when he and those who were with him were hungry? How he went into the house of God, took the bread of offering, which only the priests could lawfully eat, ate of it, and shared it with his companions?” Then he said to them, “The Son of Man is lord of the sabbath.”

With hawk-eyed precision, the restless experts in the law spent their Sabbath “rest” measuring the Immeasurable and his disciples. Walking through a field was unobjectionable, but picking, rubbing, and eating grain amounted to the forbidden labor of reaping, threshing, winnowing, and meal preparation on the Sabbath.

David, Jesus pointed out, received divine sanction to consume the holy bread of the tabernacle and share it with his starving companions (I Samuel 21:1-6). Not one iota of the law was transgressed, for mercy is the spirit of the law. Without mercy, the letter of the law is dead (Hosea 6:6). 

Jesus, the giver of the Sabbath, could not contradict himself by transgressing the law. By his merciful actions on the Sabbath, he demonstrated the heart and spirit of the law. What appeared to be transgression was the fulfillment of the law. 

“For the just man there is no law, he is a law unto himself,” St. John of the Cross discovered in his mystical Ascent of Mount Carmel. The deified person no longer operates on the earthly plane alone, but moves in synergy with the Holy Spirit. Divine and human action are virtually indistinguishable at the top of the mount, where self-emptying and detachment have given way to radical transformation by divine grace. 

As long as the law remains external, it judges and condemns persons. But when “it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me,” true freedom becomes possible (Galatians 2:20). Deification is complete identification with the law who is the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. 

“The Son of Man is lord of the sabbath,” declared Jesus, the Law Incarnate and gate to the deification of humankind. The person who has become one with the law “can judge everything but is not subject to judgment by anyone” (I Corinthians 2:15).

-GMC

Related post: Another Point of View

What is Life in the Spirit?

Entry into Jerusalem (Palm Sunday), 12th C. mosaic, Palermo Cathedral, Palermo, Sicily, Italy.

What is Life in the Spirit?

14th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year A)

Zechariah 9:9-10; Psalm 145; Romans 8:9, 11-13; Matthew 11:25-30

The theme of littleness runs through the readings this Sunday, from the humble prince of peace riding on an ass to the little ones to whom the Son wishes to reveal the Father. The little ones of the kingdom bear the fruit of the Holy Spirit—love, joy peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23).

In St. Paul’s letter to the Romans, many in the churches had not yet fully experienced this abundant grace in the Spirit; hence the need to point out its contrast with the fleshly life. After accepting Jesus Christ as their Savior, believers still struggled with pride and other vices. Elsewhere in St. Paul’s letters, contentions and factions also arose among the followers of the “meek” king. Why didn’t a simple assent to truth automatically translate into the transfigured, deified life?

An objective, detached assessment of the spiritual life must admit that baptism is not a magical rite that automatically divinizes a person. It plants a seed of grace that must be continually watered, nourished, pruned and guarded in order to allow it to grow and flourish. Grace is the seed of glory. Seeds can also die in dry and barren ground, and never bear fruit.

Brothers and sisters: You are not in the flesh; on the contrary, you are in the spirit, if only the Spirit of God dwells in you.

Why would St. Paul use the conditional “if,” unless deification (transformation into Christ) was not automatic, but a process requiring watchfulness and attention?

For if you live according to the flesh, you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.

More “ifs” follow, plus the action verb “put to death,” with the Christian as the subject and the Spirit as our Paraclete. The baptized do not follow Christ by riding on his Cross, but by carrying it with him (a “yoke” is made for two) and crucifying the “old man” with its deeds. We have an Advocate to strengthen our spirit. The Greek Fathers used the word “synergy” to describe the process of deification—a mystical work of the human person and the Holy Spirit moving as one.

If the Christian life sounds burdensome, Jesus told us that the life of the little ones is restful:

“Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for yourselves. For my yoke is easy, and my burden light.”

In the Little Way of St. Thérèse of Lisieux, she described the spiritual life as a ride in an “elevator” to heaven, which sounds contradictory to the Pauline battle. But the life of the Little Flower was full of tearful self-conquest. Her testimony of ease and trust in Jesus (her “elevator”) came from a deep resolve to follow him day after day as a little child.

“The Lord lifts up all who are falling and raises up all who are bowed down” (Psalm 145:14).

-GMC