Belief in the true Incarnation of the Son of God is the distinctive sign of Christian faith.” (CCC, 463)
As Catholics, we profess our belief in the Incarnation in the Nicene Creed: Jesus Christ “came down from heaven, and by the Holy Spirit was incarnate of the Virgin Mary, and became man.”
The Incarnation is a unique and singular event. Its truth informs the way we view God and ourselves.
When Jesus arrived on the earth, he changed the way humanity viewed God. In Jesus, God came down from heaven to earth, without compromising his divinity.
The Incarnation of Christ crowned centuries of divine revelation, God’s slow revealing of himself, making himself known to humanity over time. God’s divine communication was now to be known through the Person of his Son. The Catechism of the Catholic Church defines the Incarnation as “the fact that the Son of God assumed a human nature in order to accomplish our salvation in it” (CCC, 461).
This is the deepest meaning behind our Christmas celebrations.
[T]he Incarnation of the Son of God does not mean that Jesus Christ is part God and part man, nor does it imply that he is the result of a confused mixture of the divine and the human. He became truly man while remaining truly God. Jesus Christ is true God and true man. (CCC, 464)
This holy condescension of God means that we can never accuse God of being absent or lofty or unreachable or inaccessible. The Incarnation—the taking on of flesh in the Virgin’s womb—is the moment whereby the inexhaustible, inexpressible, invisible, omnipotent, and almighty Holy One takes on human visage. The divinity of God shines through a human person now.
At the time appointed by God, the only Son of the Father, the eternal Word, that is, the Word and substantial Image of the Father, became incarnate; without losing his divine nature he has assumed human nature. (CCC, 479)
Jesus, coming as a human person, changed the way we view ourselves. The Second Vatican Council declared that the Incarnation raises our own human dignity.
He who is “the image of the invisible God” (Colossians 1:15) is himself the perfect man. To the sons of Adam he restores the divine likeness which had been disfigured from the first sin onward. Since human nature as he assumed it was not annulled, by that very fact it has been raised up to a divine dignity in our respect too. (Gaudium et Spes, 22)
Humanity now counts the face of God among its own.
Never again may I look at another person, or myself, with disdain or disrespect, for there is an inherent dignity in all.
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Here is a portion of the text of Pope Francis’ greetings to the Humanum participants:
You must admit that “complementarity” does not roll lightly off the tongue! Yet it is a word into which many meanings are compressed. It refers to situations where one of two things adds to, completes, or fulfills a lack in the other. But complementarity is much more than that. Yet complementarity is more than this. Christians find its deepest meaning in the first Letter to the Corinthians where Saint Paul tells us that the Spirit has endowed each of us with different gifts so that-just as the human body’s members work together for the good of the whole-everyone’s gifts can work together for the benefit of each. (cf. 1 Cor. 12). To reflect upon “complementarity” is nothing less than to ponder the dynamic harmonies at the heart of all Creation. This is a big word, harmony. All complementarities were made by our Creator, so the Author of harmony achieves this harmony.
It is fitting that you have gathered here in this international colloquium to explore the complementarity of man and woman. This complementarity is a root of marriage and family. For the family grounded in marriage is the first school where we learn to appreciate our own and others’ gifts, and where we begin to acquire the arts of cooperative living. For most of us, the family provides the principal place where we can aspire to greatness as we strive to realize our full capacity for virtue and charity. At the same time, as we know, families give rise to tensions: between egoism and altruism, reason and passion, immediate desires and long-range goals. But families also provide frameworks for resolving such tensions. This is important. When we speak of complementarity between man and woman in this context, let us not confuse that term with the simplistic idea that all the roles and relations of the two sexes are fixed in a single, static pattern. Complementarity will take many forms as each man and woman brings his or her distinctive contributions to their marriage and to the formation of their children — his or her personal richness, personal charisma. Complementarity becomes a great wealth. It is not just a good thing but it is also beautiful.
We know that today marriage and the family are in crisis. We now live in a culture of the temporary, in which more and more people are simply giving up on marriage as a public commitment. This revolution in manners and morals has often flown the flag of freedom, but in fact it has brought spiritual and material devastation to countless human beings, especially the poorest and most vulnerable.
Evidence is mounting that the decline of the marriage culture is associated with increased poverty and a host of other social ills, disproportionately affecting women, children and the elderly. It is always they who suffer the most in this crisis.
The crisis in the family has produced an ecological crisis, for social environments, like natural environments, need protection. And although the human race has come to understand the need to address conditions that menace our natural environments, we have been slower to recognize that our fragile social environments are under threat as well, slower in our culture, and also in our Catholic Church. It is therefore essential that we foster a new human ecology.
It is necessary first topromote the fundamental pillars that govern a nation: its non-material goods. The family is the foundation of co-existence and a remedy against social fragmentation. Children have a right to grow up in a family with a father and a mother capable of creating a suitable environment for the child’s development and emotional maturity. That is why I stressed in the Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium that the contribution of marriage to society is “indispensable”; that it “transcends the feelings and momentary needs of the couple.” (n. 66) And that is why I am grateful to you for your Colloquium’s emphasis on the benefits that marriage can provide to children, the spouses themselves, and to society.
In these days, as you embark on a reflection on the beauty of complementarity between man and woman in marriage, I urge you to lift up yet another truth about marriage: that permanent commitment to solidarity, fidelity and fruitful love responds to the deepest longings of the human heart. I urge you to bear in mind especially the young people, who represent our future. Commit yourselves, so that our youth do not give themselves over to the poisonous environment of the temporary, but rather be revolutionaries with the courage to seek true and lasting love, going against the common pattern.
Do not fall into the trap of being swayed by political notion. Family is an anthropological fact – a socially and culturally related fact. We cannot qualify it based on ideological notions or concepts important only at one time in history. We can’t think of conservative or progressive notions. Family is a family. It can’t be qualified by ideological notions. Family is per se. It is a strength per se.
Grant, almighty God,
that, just as we are renewed
by the Supper of your Son in this present age,
so we may enjoy his banquet for all eternity.
Who lives and reigns for ever and ever.
-Prayer after communion, Mass of the Lord’s Supper-
THE EUCHARIST – “PLEDGE OF THE GLORY TO COME”
1402 In an ancient prayer the Church acclaims the mystery of the Eucharist: “O sacred banquet in which Christ is received as food, the memory of his Passion is renewed, the soul is filled with grace and a pledge of the life to come is given to us.” If the Eucharist is the memorial of the Passover of the Lord Jesus, if by our communion at the altar we are filled “with every heavenly blessing and grace,”242 then the Eucharist is also an anticipation of the heavenly glory.
1403 At the Last Supper the Lord himself directed his disciples’ attention toward the fulfillment of the Passover in the kingdom of God: “I tell you I shall not drink again of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.”243 Whenever the Church celebrates the Eucharist she remembers this promise and turns her gaze “to him who is to come.” In her prayer she calls for his coming: “Marana tha!” “Come, Lord Jesus!”244 “May your grace come and this world pass away!”245
1404 Church knows that the Lord comes even now in his Eucharist and that he is there in our midst. However, his presence is veiled. Therefore we celebrate the Eucharist “awaiting the blessed hope and the coming of our Savior, Jesus Christ,”246 asking “to share in your glory when every tear will be wiped away. On that day we shall see you, our God, as you are. We shall become like you and praise you for ever through Christ our Lord.”247
1405 There is no surer pledge or dearer sign of this great hope in the new heavens and new earth “in which righteousness dwells,”248 than the Eucharist. Every time this mystery is celebrated, “the work of our redemption is carried on” and we “break the one bread that provides the medicine of immortality, the antidote for death, and the food that makes us live for ever in Jesus Christ.”249
242 Roman Missal, EP I (Roman Canon) 96: Supplices te rogamus.
243 Mt 26:29; cf. Lk 22:18; Mk 14:25.
244 Rev 1:4; 22 20; 1 Cor 16:22.
245 Didache 10,6:SCh 248,180.
246 Roman Missal 126, embolism after the Our Father: expectantes beatam spem et adventum Salvatoris nostri Jesu Christi; cf. Titus 2:13.
247 EP III 116: prayer for the dead.
248 2 Pet 3:13.
249 LG 3; St. Ignatius of Antioch, Ad Eph. 20,2:SCh 10,76.
The Lord Jesus, the divine Teacher and Model of all perfection, preached holiness of life to each and everyone of His disciples of every condition. He Himself stands as the author and consumator of this holiness of life: “Be you therefore perfect, even as your heavenly Father is perfect”.(216) Indeed He sent the Holy Spirit upon all men that He might move them inwardly to love God with their whole heart and their whole soul, with all their mind and all their strength(217) and that they might love each other as Christ loves them.(218) The followers of Christ are called by God, not because of their works, but according to His own purpose and grace. They are justified in the Lord Jesus, because in the baptism of faith they truly become sons of God and sharers in the divine nature. In this way they are really made holy. Then too, by God’s gift, they must hold on to and complete in their lives this holiness they have received. They are warned by the Apostle to live “as becomes saints”,(219) and to put on “as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved a heart of mercy, kindness, humility, meekness, patience”,(220) and to possess the fruit of the Spirit in holiness.(221) Since truly we all offend in many things (222) we all need God’s mercies continually and we all must daily pray: “Forgive us our debts”(223)
Thus it is evident to everyone, that all the faithful of Christ of whatever rank or status, are called to the fullness of the Christian life and to the perfection of charity; by this holiness as such a more human manner of living is promoted in this earthly society. In order that the faithful may reach this perfection, they must use their strength accordingly as they have received it, as a gift from Christ. They must follow in His footsteps and conform themselves to His image seeking the will of the Father in all things. They must devote themselves with all their being to the glory of God and the service of their neighbor. In this way, the holiness of the People of God will grow into an abundant harvest of good, as is admirably shown by the life of so many saints in Church history.
The classes and duties of life are many, but holiness is one—that sanctity which is cultivated by all who are moved by the Spirit of God, and who obey the voice of the Father and worship God the Father in spirit and in truth. These people follow the poor Christ, the humble and cross-bearing Christ in order to be worthy of being sharers in His glory. Every person must walk unhesitatingly according to his own personal gifts and duties in the path of living faith, which arouses hope and works through charity.
In the first place, the shepherds of Christ’s flock must holily and eagerly, humbly and courageously carry out their ministry, in imitation of the eternal high Priest, the Shepherd and Guardian of our souls. They ought to fulfill this duty in such a way that it will be the principal means also of their own sanctification. Those chosen for the fullness of the priesthood are granted the ability of exercising the perfect duty of pastoral charity by the grace of the sacrament of Orders. This perfect duty of pastoral charity is exercised in every form of episcopal care and service, prayer, sacrifice and preaching. By this same sacramental grace, they are given the courage necessary to lay down their lives for their sheep, and the ability of promoting greater holiness in the Church by their daily example, having become a pattern for their flock.(224)
Priests, who resemble bishops to a certain degree in their participation of the sacrament of Orders, form the spiritual crown of the bishops. They participate in the grace of their office and they should grow daily in their love of God and their neighbor by the exercise of their office through Christ, the eternal and unique Mediator. They should preserve the bond of priestly communion, and they should abound in every spiritual good and thus present to all men a living witness to God. All this they should do in emulation of those priests who often, down through the course of the centuries, left an outstanding example of the holiness of humble and hidden service. Their praise lives on in the Church of God. By their very office of praying and offering sacrifice for their own people and the entire people of God, they should rise to greater holiness. Keeping in mind what they are doing and imitating what they are handling, these priests, in their apostolic labors, rather than being ensnared by perils and hardships, should rather rise to greater holiness through these perils and hardships. They should ever nourish and strengthen their action from an abundance of contemplation, doing all this for the comfort of the entire Church of God. All priests, and especially those who are called “diocesan priests,” due to the special title of their ordination, should keep continually before their minds the fact that their faithful loyalty toward and their generous cooperation with their bishop is of the greatest value in their growth in holiness.
Ministers of lesser rank are also sharers in the mission and grace of the Supreme Priest. In the first place among these ministers are deacons, who, in as much as they are dispensers of Christ’s mysteries and servants of the Church, should keep themselves free from every vice and stand before men as personifications of goodness and friends of God.(225) Clerics, who are called by the Lord and are set aside as His portion in order to prepare themselves for the various ministerial offices under the watchful eye of spiritual shepherds, are bound to bring their hearts and minds into accord with this special election (which is theirs). They will accomplish this by their constancy in prayer, by their burning love, and by their unremitting recollection of whatever is true, just and of good repute. They will accomplish all this for the glory and honor of God. Besides these already named, there are also laymen, chosen of God and called by the bishop. These laymen spend themselves completely in apostolic labors, working the Lord’s field with much success.
Furthermore, married couples and Christian parents should follow their own proper path (to holiness) by faithful love. They should sustain one another in grace throughout the entire length of their lives. They should embue their offspring, lovingly welcomed as God’s gift, with Christian doctrine and the evangelical virtues. In this manner, they offer all men the example of unwearying and generous love; in this way they build up the brotherhood of charity; in so doing, they stand as the witnesses and cooperators in the fruitfulness of Holy Mother Church; by such lives, they are a sign and a participation in that very love, with which Christ loved His Bride and for which He delivered Himself up for her. A like example, but one given in a different way, is that offered by widows and single people, who are able to make great contributions toward holiness and apostolic endeavor in the Church. Finally, those who engage in labor—and frequently it is of a heavy nature—should better themselves by their human labors. They should be of aid to their fellow citizens. They should raise all of society, and even creation itself, to a better mode of existence. Indeed, they should imitate by their lively charity, in their joyous hope and by their voluntary sharing of each others’ burdens, the very Christ who plied His hands with carpenter’s tools and Who in union with His Father, is continually working for the salvation of all men. In this, then, their daily work they should climb to the heights of holiness and apostolic activity.
May all those who are weighed down with poverty, infirmity and sickness, as well as those who must bear various hardships or who suffer persecution for justice sake—may they all know they are united with the suffering Christ in a special way for the salvation of the world. The Lord called them blessed in His Gospel and they are those whom “the God of all graces, who has called us unto His eternal glory in Christ Jesus, will Himself, after we have suffered a little while, perfect, strengthen and establish”.(226)
Finally all Christ’s faithful, whatever be the conditions, duties and circumstances of their lives—and indeed through all these, will daily increase in holiness, if they receive all things with faith from the hand of their heavenly Father and if they cooperate with the divine will. In this temporal service, they will manifest to all men the love with which God loved the world.
“God is love, and he who abides in love, abides in God and God in Him”.(227) But, God pours out his love into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, Who has been given to us;(228) thus the first and most necessary gift is love, by which we love God above all things and our neighbor because of God. Indeed, in order that love, as good seed may grow and bring forth fruit in the soul, each one of the faithful must willingly hear the Word of God and accept His Will, and must complete what God has begun by their own actions with the help of God’s grace. These actions consist in the use of the sacraments and in a special way the Eucharist, frequent participation in the sacred action of the Liturgy, application of oneself to prayer, self-abnegation, lively fraternal service and the constant exercise of all the virtues. For charity, as the bond of perfection and the fullness of the law,(229) rules over all the means of attaining holiness and gives life to these same means. It is charity which guides us to our final end. It is the love of God and the love of one’s neighbor which points out the true disciple of Christ.
Since Jesus, the Son of God, manifested His charity by laying down His life for us, so too no one has greater love than he who lays down his life for Christ and His brothers.(230) From the earliest times, then, some Christians have been called upon—and some will always be called upon—to give the supreme testimony of this love to all men, but especially to persecutors. The Church, then, considers martyrdom as an exceptional gift and as the fullest proof of love. By martyrdom a disciple is transformed into an image of his Master by freely accepting death for the salvation of the world—as well as his conformity to Christ in the shedding of his blood. Though few are presented such an opportunity, nevertheless all must be prepared to confess Christ before men. They must be prepared to make this profession of faith even in the midst of persecutions, which will never be lacking to the Church, in following the way of the cross.
Likewise, the holiness of the Church is fostered in a special way by the observance of the counsels proposed in the Gospel by Our Lord to His disciples. An eminent position among these is held by virginity or the celibate state.(231) This is a precious gift of divine grace given by the Father to certain souls,(232) whereby they may devote themselves to God alone the more easily, due to an undivided heart. This perfect continency, out of desire for the kingdom of heaven, has always been held in particular honor in the Church. The reason for this was and is that perfect continency for the love of God is an incentive to charity, and is certainly a particular source of spiritual fecundity in the world.
The Church continually keeps before it the warning of the Apostle which moved the faithful to charity, exhorting them to experience personally what Christ Jesus had known within Himself. This was the same Christ Jesus, who “emptied Himself, taking the nature of a slave . . . becoming obedient to death”,(233) and because of us “being rich, he became poor”.(234) Because the disciples must always offer an imitation of and a testimony to the charity and humility of Christ, Mother Church rejoices at finding within her bosom men and women who very closely follow their Saviour who debased Himself to our comprehension. There are some who, in their freedom as sons of God, renounce their own wills and take upon themselves the state of poverty. Still further, some become subject of their own accord to another man, in the matter of perfection for love of God. This is beyond the measure of the commandments, but is done in order to become more fully like the obedient Christ.
Therefore, all the faithful of Christ are invited to strive for the holiness and perfection of their own proper state. Indeed they have an obligation to so strive. Let all then have care that they guide aright their own deepest sentiments of soul. Let neither the use of the things of this world nor attachment to riches, which is against the spirit of evangelical poverty, hinder them in their quest for perfect love. Let them heed the admonition of the Apostle to those who use this world; let them not come to terms with this world; for this world, as we see it, is passing away.(235)
216 Mt. 5:48.
217 Cf. Mk. 12:30.
218 Cf. Jn. 13.34; 15:12.
219 Eph. 5:3.
220 Col . 3:12.
221 Cf. Gal. 5:22; Rom. 6:22.
222 Cf. Jas. 3:2.
223 1 Mt. 6:12.
224 Cf. 1 Pt. 5:3.
225 Cf. 1 Tim. 3:8-10 and 12-1
226 1 Pt. 5:10.
227 1 Jn. 4:16.
228 Cf. Rom. 5:5.
229 Cf. Col. 3:14; Rom. 13:10.
230 Cf. 1 Jn. 3:16; Jn. 15:13.
231 Cf 1 Cor. 7:32-34.
232 Cf Mt. 19:11; 1 Cor.7:7.
233 Phil. 2:7-8.
234 2 Cor. 8:9.
235 Cf 1. Cor. 7:31ff.
There is no offense, however serious, that the Church cannot forgive.
“There is no one, however wicked and guilty, who may not confidently hope for forgiveness, provided his repentance is honest.” [Roman Catechism I, 11, 5.]
Christ who died for all men desires that in his Church the gates of forgiveness should always be open to anyone who turns away from sin.
– Catechism of the Catholic Church, par. 982 –
[Bold emphasis mine]
Fr Robert Barron continues to be one of my favorite preachers. Here he gives an excellent explanation of The Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist.
Faith is born of an encounter with the living God who calls us and reveals his love, a love which precedes us and upon which we can lean for security and for building our lives. Transformed by this love, we gain fresh vision, new eyes to see; we realize that it contains a great promise of fulfillment, and that a vision of the future opens up before us. Faith, received from God as a supernatural gift, becomes a light for our way, guiding our journey through time. On the one hand, it is a light coming from the past, the light of the foundational memory of the life of Jesus which revealed his perfectly trustworthy love, a love capable of triumphing over death. Yet since Christ has risen and draws us beyond death, faith is also a light coming from the future and opening before us vast horizons which guide us beyond our isolated selves towards the breadth of communion. We come to see that faith does not dwell in shadow and gloom; it is a light for our darkness.
From his first encyclical, Lumen Fidei, paragraph 4.
As the Year of Faith continues, I thought it wise to study and reflect on Francis’ first encyclical specially geared to teach on faith. This encyclical letter was much anticipated and begun by Benedict XVI, and was subsequently completed and released under Francis. It was released at the end of June, just in time for my summer vacation. But I’m back! And happy to share a few quotes from it — the “greatest hits” imho — that I find there.
Today, at my column at Patheos, I begin a series reflecting on each of the parts of this wise and easy-to-digest catechesis on faith. As you might expect, the document is filled with scripture. I give you a snippet below of a particular verse that moved me…
One verse from Scripture cited in Lumen Fidei struck me with unusual power, to see it with new eyes.
On the eve of his passion, Jesus assured Peter: “I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail (Lk 22: 32).”
What a momentous statement.
So often Christians think about the action of our prayers being made to God. Yet in this instance, the Lord and the Light of the World, offers an intentional and personal prayer for an arrogant and blundering fisherman in Peter. The gospels have numerous instances of Jesus at prayer. But in this short verse we get a vision of God who prays for us! Jesus has each of us in mind before we utter a word or thought of the heart.
In this clear intercession – I have prayed for you – Jesus pins hope on Peter’s faith, but it is not fainthearted. Jesus backs it with his power and light. Jesus entrusts this faith, by turn, on the followers to come after Peter, as they too will be transformed by the light of faith.
I now imagine this word of God applying to me. I see Jesus praying for my faith, the virtue infused at my baptism. To assist me in not failing, Jesus has given me brothers and sisters in the church, along with the graces of the sacraments, to insure it. This, indeed, is the faith born of encounter with Jesus: it brightens one’s path, and opens “vast horizons” that lead “beyond our isolated selves towards the breadth of communion.” It is a faith that “enriches life in all its dimensions (LF, par 6.)”
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Photos: Top cover photo: me and a cardboard cut-out of Francis at Catholic Marketing Network, near the Ignatius Press booth.
Mid text: Screen shot from news.va