“Hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” -Romans 5:5
Prayer… draws everything into the love by which we are loved in Christ and which enables us to respond to him by loving as he has loved us. Love is the source of prayer; whoever draws from it reaches the summit of prayer. In the words of the Cure of Ars:
I love you, O my God, and my only desire is to love you until the last breath of my life. I love you, O my infinitely lovable God, and I would rather die loving you, than live without loving you. I love you, Lord, and the only grace I ask is to love you eternally. . . . My God, if my tongue cannot say in every moment that I love you, I want my heart to repeat it to you as often as I draw breath. (St Jean Vianney, Prayer)
Catechism of the Catholic Church, par. 2658
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.
I’m pleased to be a regular columnist there writing about the beauty and inspiration that comes from the Catechism of the Church. Click here to subscribe to Catholic Digest.
The long pontificate and life of St John Paul will have a lasting impact on the church until Jesus returns. Given his canonization today, I thought I’d share with you some of John Paul’s gifts to the church, and extraordinary accomplishments, that have held meaning for me through the years. He’s been an inspiration to me since I was 18, a college frosh when he was elected. I’m so grateful that in 1979 I was among the youth who greeted him in New York, as I chaperoned a trip to see him. (More on that below.) Decades later in Rome, I was, again, among the throng at a 2004 papal audience alongside my husband and daughter. Both experiences were unforgettable!
Today I woke up at 4am to watch the canonization. This, after giving a women’s retreat at Saint Benedict Parish in Halifax, NS, that highlighted our new Saint’s writings and teachings! But I could not miss it “live”. And as I sat there in my bed in my hotel room before I had to catch a plane home, all the fondness for this Saint flooded back to me. It’s not just who he was, but what he wrote and taught that has inspired me and helped to shape me as a Christian.
Here’s my Top Ten List of Inspirations from St John Paul II:
- The Catechism of the Catholic Church – This was a monumental achievement, as it was the first update to the Roman Catechism in over 400 years. From my archives: some commentary on catechism trivia.
- His Marian Devotion, especially through his Total Consecration to Jesus through Mary, and his writings on Mary, including Redemptoris Mater and Rosarium Virginis Mariae. The latter gave us the Luminous Mysteries of the Rosary. I’ve been personally inspired by John Paul’s devotion to Our Lady of Fatima, in the aftermath of the assassination attempt on his life.
- The feminine genius, as described in Mulieris Dignitatem and Letter to Women… and other related homilies and writings, such as Evangelium Vitae (The Gospel of Life). I truly believe these were the fruit of the Saint’s devotion to Mary, our Mother. These specific works also had a positive influence in my own life, and I tell that story in my book… which I’m giving away in a free drawing here.
- The Theology of the Body – a series of papal audiences and teaching given over several years on human love, sexuality, and anthropology. You can find classes in this area of study here. In the US, there is a Congress this summer.
- His Apostolic visits to 129 countries around the world — including 7 trips to the United States.
- The myriad of saints he canonized.
- Restoration of the Sistine Chapel.
- His books, outside of his magisterial teaching, that are now read in popular culture, especially Crossing the Threshold of Hope and Love and Responsibility.
- The Jubilee Year 2000 (and the years of preparation for the new millennium).
- World Youth Days (I never did get to attend one, but I was at a special gathering for youth in Madison Square Garden with JP2 in 1979.)Below is a favorite quote from WYD 2000.
It is Jesus in fact that you seek when you dream of happiness; he is waiting for you when nothing else you find satisfies you; he is the beauty to which you are so attracted; it is he who provokes you with that thirst for fullness that will not let you settle for compromise; it is he who urges you to shed the masks of a false life; it is he who reads in your hearts your most genuine choices, the choices that others try to stifle. It is Jesus who stirs in you the desire to do something great with your lives, the will to follow an ideal, the refusal to allow yourselves to be grounded down by mediocrity, the courage to commit yourselves humbly and patiently to improving yourselves and society, making the world more human and more fraternal.
Dear young people, in these noble undertakings you are not alone. With you there are your families, there are your communities, there are your priests and teachers, there are so many of you who in the depths of your hearts never weary of loving Christ and believing in him. In the struggle against sin you are not alone: so many like you are struggling and through the Lord’s grace are winning!
Thank you St John Paul for your holy influence in my life! St John Paul, pray for us!
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.
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]
The consent by which the spouses mutually give and receive one another is sealed by God himself. From their covenant arises “an institution, confirmed by the divine law, . . . even in the eyes of society.” The covenant between the spouses is integrated into God’s covenant with man: “Authentic married love is caught up into divine love.”
Thus the marriage bond has been established by God himself in such a way that a marriage concluded and consummated between baptized persons can never be dissolved. This bond, which results from the free human act of the spouses and their consummation of the marriage, is a reality, henceforth irrevocable, and gives rise to a covenant guaranteed by God’s fidelity. The Church does not have the power to contravene this disposition of divine wisdom.
-Catechism of the Catholic Church, par 1639-1640-
note: comments have been disabled because I’m not at my desk to moderate them.
There’s a timely reminder in the Catechism of the Catholic Church for this “time” in the liturgical calendar – smack dab between Pentecost and Ordinary Time. And it is this: Pentecost should remind us of our Confirmation!
CCC 1302 states:
It is evident from its celebration that the effect of the sacrament of Confirmation is the special outpouring of the Holy Spirit as once granted to the apostles on the day of Pentecost.
I grew up in a Catholic home and went to a parochial grade school. It was taken for granted that I would be confirmed. But, despite its importance, Confirmation being a sacrament and all, I was slow to understand its significance in my life. Hindsight, so the saying goes, is 20/20.
If I am perfectly honest, as I look back on my Confirmation at the age of 12, I can say that that I was formed in one thing: being able to stand up for the faith. Not that I completely knew what my faith taught, mind you, but I knew I was responsible to stand up for it. I didn’t question it. I was immature, and I likened my ideas about Confirmation to a kind of “patriotism”… I was a Catholic and it was my honor to live by and defend the laws of the Church, just like I was an American pledging allegiance to the flag.
Actually, my feelings about the sacrament were almost irrelevant. Yet, despite how I would “feel” about my Confirmation, the “effects” of the Sacrament are still the same… the Holy Spirit was poured out upon me. The Sacrament “took” as long as I was properly prepared for it, and the Bishop acted appropriately as to the Rite.
I just did not appreciate my Confirmation until later.
Two years following my Confirmation, the Lord led me to a youth prayer group. Actually, the Lord led my mother to lead me to a prayer group. It seems they needed a musician to help lead the worship, and I had just enough guitar ego in me to oblige. But despite my less-than-noble reasons for serving, that prayer group was where I really started to “live it” – meaning that my faith became “not for Sundays only.”
As I look back, I began a wonderful journey of faith in my teen years, thanks to the grace of God. The grace of Confirmation began to kick in. Little did I know that I was beginning to cooperate with that grace.
CCC 1303 states that our Confirmation brings about five effects, the first of which is that the outpouring of the Holy Spirit increases and deepens our baptismal grace. Confirmation “roots us more deeply in the divine filiation which makes us cry, “Abba! Father!””
When I was a teenager, I began to understand my identity as a baptized Catholic was that of a child of God. That’s what divine filiation is—to be made part of God’s family.
St. Paul writes in Romans 8:14-17:
For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the spirit of sonship. When we cry, “Abba! Father!” it is the Spirit himself bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.
Secondly, it follows that CCC 1303 states that Confirmation “unites us more firmly to Christ.” To my tender teenage heart, this was the idea of falling in love with Christ. As if I could really make a return to Christ for all he had done for me. But, truly, that unity with Christ was and is far more dependent on Christ’s gift to me, than my gift to him. And yet, he loves me all the same!
God is determined to give mere mortals the means to live for him. Therefore, we see the third effect of Confirmation being that it “increases the gifts of the Holy Spirit in us.” The more open we are to the Holy Spirit, the more we can respond to Christ. In other words, our moral life is sustained by the Holy Spirit’s gifts that make us docile and teachable and obedient to God’s will. (Cf. CCC 1830.)
CCC 1303 teaches that Confirmation delivers a fourth effect: it “renders our bond with the Church more perfect”. The Bishop, who administers the Rite of Confirmation, shows us that bond. Where the Bishop is, there the Church is, to paraphrase St. Ignatius of Antioch in the second century. His holy office is our apostolic witness, our tie to the foundations of our faith dating back past Ignatius to the time of Christ and his apostles. As Jesus sent his apostles, so he sends us… and we are to be sent in unity with the Body of Christ, which is the Church.
Not only that, CCC 1303 continues, Confirmation gives us “a special strength of the Holy Spirit to spread and defend the faith by word and action as true witnesses of Christ, to confess the name of Christ boldly, and never to be ashamed of the Cross. This is the Truth that we are called to stand up for and defend, and we already have been given the grace to do it. This is the special charism of Confirmation.
And what is it that we have truly received? In CCC 1303, St. Ambrose, a Doctor of the Church from the fourth century, spells out the fifth and most challenging effect of our Confirmation:
Recall then that you have received the spiritual seal, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of right judgment and courage, the spirit of knowledge and reverence, the spirit of holy fear in God’s presence.
Guard what you have received. God the Father has marked you with his sign; Christ the Lord has confirmed you and has placed his pledge, the Spirit, in your hearts.
As confirmed Catholics, there is no shirking of the duties and responsibilities inherent in this calling. There may be ignoring of it, and, even a rejecting of it. But we cannot remove this Confirmation that is upon us, once it is imposed.
So much so, that that CCC 1304 reminds us:
Like Baptism which it completes, Confirmation is given only once, for it too imprints on the soul an indelible spiritual mark, the “character,” which is the sign that Jesus Christ has marked a Christian with the seal of his Spirit by clothing him with power from on high so that he may be his witness.
Did that last line sound familiar? These were some of the parting words of Jesus to his disciples, just prior to his Ascension into heaven.
You are witnesses of these things. And behold, I send the promise of my Father upon you; but stay in the city, until you are clothed with power from on high.
And you remember what that Power was now, don’t you? The Holy Spirit at Pentecost!
©2009 Patricia W. Gohn
:: This post originally appeared at Catholic Exchange.
Photo Credit: Pat Gohn, Rome, 2011.
From my column at Patheos this week on the intersection of Benedict, the Catechism, and the hope of heaven…
I have a first edition English translation of the Catechism of the Catholic Church in hardcover. Ever since my great awakening to my Catholic faith in my teen years, I’ve been reading about our faith, and taking theology classes when I could. So in 1992, when I heard that the Catholic Church was putting out a new catechism, the theology geek in me bought a copy when the English translation arrived in 1994.
Within the first 70 pages or so, I was hooked. I had no idea who was responsible for what I was reading, but the clarity of the teaching grabbed me.
There were several “teachable moments” where the Catechism affirmed what I already believed, or corrected or challenged my understandings. I’ll share just one instance that blessed me, and came back to bless me again years later, and is blessing me still.
The ultimate end of the whole divine economy is the entry of God’s creatures into the perfect unity of the Blessed Trinity. (CCC, par 260)
What? God wants union with his creatures? Up until that point I had I understood that Jesus loved me. I understood that Jesus died for my sins. I understood that those graces had the power to change me and be like Jesus. But my understanding fell short of such a love yielding this kind of a bond as my entering into union with God.
Everything in God’s plan of salvation — another name for the “divine economy” — is moving toward God. Myself included. The Trinity is my destiny and yours.
This woke me up as it gave me pause.
This one sentence kept coming alive in my mind over and over again. It expanded my image of God, my relationship with him and his heaven. For most of my adult life I vaguely acknowledged that, one day, I would die. Yet I never really considered the true hope of heaven, or what it might look like. I was merrily oblivious. Looking back, my rather lame vision of heaven included clouds and angels and what not. God’s heaven was a very distant “place” that didn’t demand my meditation. But I began to ask myself, how can one truly have hope without knowing where the source of hope comes from?
Good catechesis, and the power of the Holy Spirit, has a way of making us dig deeper until we own what we profess to believe.
Two years later, in 1996, I was diagnosed with breast cancer and the weight of my own mortality squarely rested across my shoulders. During that time of stress and heartache, what the Catechism had taught me came alive. I remembered that line about entering into the unity of the Trinity. My life, lived well — yoked to Christ — would someday have this potential to be permanently joined to God… to be in union with the Persons of the Trinity for eternity.
Heaven would be all about this relationship!
That one little sentence of truth from the Catechism brought me such hope, and clear direction for the rest of my life! And hope is exactly what one needs, not only when facing a cancer diagnosis, but, really, every single day.
Fast forward, years later, into cancer survivorship… the same Catechism was still challenging me, and it was a catalyst for my returning to graduate school in my forties. There were thousands of footnotes in the Catechism, and I wanted to know what they all meant! (That thirst eventually led me to seek a Masters in the theology, and I received my diploma in 2008 –- 12 years post-cancer!)
As I poured over Scripture and theology books during those study years, I came to discover the “who’s who” behind the Catechism. Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger – our Pope Benedict XVI – was the chief architect of the Catechism, at the directive of Blessed Pope John Paul II.
In 1986, I entrusted a commission of twelve Cardinals and Bishops, chaired by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, with the task of preparing a draft of the catechism….
(John Paul II, Apostolic Constitution, Fidei Depositum, Oct. 11, 1992.)
I felt such a debt of gratitude to Cardinal Ratzinger for the Catechism. It was a monumental work – the first update to the Roman Catechism in over 400 years – plus it took six years to develop, with input from over a thousand bishops from the world over. It would influence future generations for the next century! It certainly had its effect on me.
What’s more, my studies led me to discover Ratzinger as one of the premier theologians of the last two generations — with dozens of books to his name! As I studied eschatology — the study of death and eternal life — I learned how important the actual Risen Body of Jesus is to humanity’s eternal destiny. I came to relish Fr. Ratzinger’s work on the subject. The good professor helped me unpack the beauty of a heavenly union with the Trinity, as he describes how Jesus brings about this union for us.
Heaven’s existence depends on the fact that Jesus Christ, as God, is man, and makes space for human existence in the existence of God himself. One is in heaven when, and to the degree, that one is in Christ. It is by being with Christ that we find the true location of our existence as human beings in God. Heaven is thus, primarily, a personal reality…
(Joseph Ratzinger, Dogmatic Theology, Eschatology, The Catholic University of America, 1988, p. 234.)
Jesus makes a space for us in himself, as we truly become the body of Christ. As I read this text that had preceded the Catechism, I immediately recognized the themes I had read earlier.
Read the rest over at Patheos.
Image courtesy of Thomas McDonald
One of my favorite writing assignments during this Year of Faith, besides my columns online, has been the opportunity to write a 12-month series on the Catechism of the Catholic Church for Catholic Digest magazine. These are short 500-word digestible pieces designed to introduce readers to the benefits of becoming more familiar with Catechism, as well as imparting its timeless wisdom.
But more than the shameless promotion of my own writing, I’ve really enjoyed my subscription. Yes, I’m subscribed even though I’m a sometime-contributer — so that says a lot! I was a longtime fan of Faith and Family magazine while it was under the leadership of Danielle Bean, and when I heard she was on her way to become the Editor-in-Chief at CD after Faith and Family left the marketplace
I just knew that the Catholic Digest was going to get a deserving make-over both in content and aesthetics. I haven’t been disappointed. Each issue looks better and better.
The latest issue for Feb/Mar 2013 has several good articles on the liturgical season of Lent, plus content on infertility, 20 ways to teach children to pray, how to deal with difficult people, book and movie suggestions, tips for meatless Lenten meals, and ideas for a memorable Easter with your family. There’s even a dedicated section for the men in the family. This month issue’s cover story describes a new made-for-TV Bible series created by Roma Downey and her TV-exec husband.
Let this be one of your family investments for the Year of Faith. Get subscription details here. You can sample some articles that are online under the tabs on the landing page. This might also be a neat gift idea for Easter, birthdays, or Mother’s Day.
Finally, a special stand-alone tribute edition for Pope Benedict is also planned, so you might want to place your order for that as we pass through this history-making abdication of our pope.