Sunday 31 May 2015

Preferential Option for the Family

Bishop Schneider, who preached at the Pentecost Mass on the way to Chartres (and whose ring I was privileged to kiss at the edge of a French field) has just released a book, co-authored with two other bishops. It is called Preferential Option for the Family — 100 Questions and Answers Relating to the Synod and the other co-authors are Bishop Robert Vasa of Santa Rosa,  and Archbishop Aldo de Cillo Pagotto of Paraiba, Brazil.

It is, by all accounts, clear, lucid and Catholic. LifeSite News carries various extracts, including: 
“If the faithful no longer understand a moral doctrine, the blame does not fall on the doctrine but above all on those who should teach it in a clear and convincing way.” 
 “The historical transformation of society is a result of cultural and moral errors. The Church should not adapt to these errors or their consequences but rather identify, denounce and remedy them. Therein lies a real ‘update’ of her ministry.”
 “Adultery is objectively a grave sin and as such can be forgiven if the sinner has manifested not only a sincere repentance but also a purpose of amendment, that is, of ending the adulterous behaviour.” 

The book is arranged in one hundred questions and answers. designed to restate the timeless teachings of the Church in a clear way. As Bishop Vasa says: 'There is nothing new or revolutionary in this book. We just simply felt that, in light of the upcoming synod on the family, it was time to reiterate those things the Church has clearly and consistently taught.' 

This is very welcome as we approach the Synod.   Talking of which, don't forget SPES: Supplication and Penance for the Episcopal Synod (with thanks to Bookclubber for the E).

Chartres Meditation 6: For us men, and for our Salvation

 For us men, and for our Salvation 

In 1946, Pius XII maintained that ‘men no longer remember sin, and thus, one might say, forget their existence.’ (Radio broadcast to the US National Eucharistic Congress at Boston). He saw, in this progressive loss of the sense of sin in the modern West, and above all, in the loss of an understanding of Original Sin, the root of all others, ‘the greatest danger in the present day.’ Because in denying, or in failing to recognise, his sinful state, a human being ceases to understand why he needs a Saviour. He lives, and therefore dies, a long way from Jesus Christ, whom he imagines he can do without, even though ‘there is no other name under heaven by which we can be saved.’ (Acts 4:12)

Which is why, as John Paul II emphasised fifty years later, it is so important ‘to reflect, first of all on the truth of (Original) Sin in order to find the true meaning of the truth of the Redemption won by Jesus Christ.’ (Introduction to Catechesis on Original Sin, General Audience, 27 August 1986)

I     Original Sin
Only the light of divine Revelation clarifies the reality of sin and particularly of the sin committed at mankind’s origins, the Church teaches us (CCC §387). It is, therefore, to the Church that we must turn, in order to understand the evil that prevails in us, and not as Pascal said, to the ‘superb insights of our reason’; otherwise known as our simple natural understanding of reality.

Holy Scripture, the foundation of Revelation, teaches us in this way that which we could not divine for ourselves. Here are the principal lessons, taught us by the first chapters of the book of Genesis.

1               Humanity before the Fall
Everything started well. So much so that the Creator was delighted with it: God looked on all that He had made and saw that it was very good. (1:31) The first couple were endowed not only with a faultless nature, but also with supernatural gifts, which reinforced the strength of that nature, and also enhanced its beauty. And to crown it all, the supreme gift: the state of grace, which raised Adam and Eve infinitely above their natural state, making them familiar with the Holy Trinity.

And because the Creator wanted to invite humanity into a relationship of love with Him, and not force them into a servile relationship, He also gave them a formidable faculty: free will. And so man was able to accept or refuse the marvellous plan that God had for him. One precept was to prove the free trust that man ought to place in the Creator: the prohibition on eating the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil.  (2:17)

2               Man’s first sin
Man, tempted by the Devil…abusing his freedom, disobeyed God’s command. That is what man’s first sin consisted of. (CCC §397) The first sin in human history, therefore, is a sin of disobedience to the divine law, due to a bad use of that liberty with which God had endowed man. How are we to understand this failing? Two factors joined together to push Adam and Eve towards it:
- A loss of trust in God, due to the calumny of Satan, who made Eve believe that the Creator wanted to keep them in an infantile dependence on Him: No, you will not die! God knows, in fact, that on the day you eat it your eyes will be opened. (3:5)
- Pride, towards which the Devil pushed them. We should note here the Serpent’s ingenuity, who achieved his ends by flattering a legitimate aspiration of the human being’s. The temptation ‘you will be like gods’ corresponds effectively with the vocation to which God was calling them, as the Catechism suggests (§398) ‘Created in a state of holiness, man was destined to be fully ‘divinised’ by God in glory.’ Only, and this is the problem, Satan invited Adam and Eve to attain that state not by the grace of God and according to His ways, but by seizing if for themselves, by force, with their own hands; ‘without God, before God and not in accordance with God,’ as St Maximus the Confessor summarises it.

The deadly consequences
In that sin, man preferred himself to God, and by that very act, scorned Him. (CCC 398)
St Augustine describes the double movement of that sin like this: ‘aversio a Deo, conversio ad creaturam’ that is to say the simultaneous rejection of God and the turning in on himself and on other created beings.

In practice, that implies: The breaking of friendship with God (Adam hid himself from God afterwards, and God drove him out of the Garden of Eden) and that loss of the supernatural gifts and of sanctifying grace, whose whole purpose was to enable man to live in friendship with God;
And by way of consequence, a wrong relationship with created beings (himself and others) due to a surge in the passions, which would from now on pull him in all directions, obscuring understanding and making it ever more difficult to love the true good. We call this state of our nature, which is since then always inclined to sin, ‘concupiscence.’

II         Original Sin as it is passed on to all of humanity

1          Every human person is affected by Adam and Eve’s sin

By one man’s disobedience, many (that is all mankind) were made sinners. (Romans, 5:19)
There is nothing, Pascal said, which shocks our reason more than to say that the sin of the first man has made those guilty who are so far removed from it and seemingly incapable of participating in it. That consequence seems not only impossible but also unjust.’

Nonetheless, that truth can be understood, if we consider these things:

Firstly: The authentic responsibility with which God endowed Adam and Eve – for the whole human race, of which they were the head. Adam had received original holiness and justice not for himself alone, but for all human nature. By yielding to the tempter, Adam and Eve committed a personal sin, but this sin affected the human nature that they would then transmit in a fallen state.
(CCC §404)

Secondly:  the fact that every human being is descended from this single primitive couple (which is called monogenism). In opposition to the theory of polygenism (which suggest that the human race descends from several couples) Tradition has always seen in Adam and Eve more than just a figure of speech, and more than just some moral characters who represent in fact a multitude of primitive couples. On this topic, Tradition has always read the first chapters of Genesis literally. As the Catechism teaches clearly and without ambiguity: ‘from one ancestor God made all nations to inhabit the whole earth.’ (CCC §360)

2      Original Sin in Adam’s descendants
We must be clear that our first parents’ descendants cannot be held accountable for this fallen state. There is no question that God, who never acts in an arbitrary fashion, should consider Original Sin to be a personal fault in each human being, since none of the descendants of Adam and Eve committed that act.

Original Sin is only present in us as a state: by Adam and Eve’s disobedience, we are deprived of grace and the supernatural gifts, and the nature we receive at our conception is damaged. To put it another way, our nature is, from the start, in an inferior state compared to what it would have been if it had never been raised to the state of grace in the first place. As G K Chesterton summed it up in Heretics: ‘Take away the supernatural, and what remains is the unnatural.’

That does not mean that our nature is totally destroyed (some beauty remains in it!) but that it finds it easier, alas, to turn to evil than to good, and that the human being is spontaneously inclined to fall into the same error as Adam: to believe, through pride, that he can reach his final end without the help of God.

III The Plan of Salvation: The Redeeming Incarnation.

1               What do we mean by this?
Happily, the Creator did not leave the Human Race to its sad fate. From amongst the many ways He could have chosen to save us, His Wisdom opted for the plan which made His infinite love for us the clearest: His eternal Son came Himself to pay the debt we had contracted by our sin. In order to do that, He became one of us, so as to share in our human condition, and He endured everything up to and including His sacrifice on the Cross.

The Redeeming Incarnation was the lever which did not simply allow each human being to escape from the rut of sin, but which also raised him up to a higher level than ever before. That is what St Leo the Great explained: The ineffable grace of Christ has given us blessings even better than those which the envy of the devil had denied us.’ That helps us to understand the great Easter chant, the Exultet, when it proclaims: ‘O happy fault, that won for us so great a Redeemer!

2          The choice facing each human being

Because we still retain our free will, as it is more noble for a creature to cooperate with his own salvation than to receive it by force, and so that we may merit to enter one day into glory in the presence of the three Divine persons, God has willed that the salvation of Jesus Christ should be offered to each individual, who may accept or refuse it. That is the choice, ultimately quite simple, which the greatest Christian theologians present us with: to opt for life according to the flesh, or according to the Spirit (St Paul); for the darkness or the light (St John’s Prologue); for the city where ‘the love of God is pursued even at the expense of oneself’, or the city ‘where the love of self is pursued even at the expense of God.’

Today we see the clear proclamation of a proud transhumanism, formalised in 1947 by the biologist Julian Huxley, a eugenicist who was a believer in the redemption of man by way of technology, which he thought could improve the quality of human nature.

In the context of the 2011 Courtyard of the Gentiles, Fabrice Hadjadj questioned those who followed such ideas in these terms: ‘Is man’s greatness found in a technical ability to live a life of ease? Or is it rather found in that tear, in that opening like a cry towards Heaven, in a call to that which completely transcends us?’ (Brief reflection on the Transhuman, 24 March, 2011). He recalled that the word ‘transhumanise’ was coined by Dante, in a completely different context – a Christian one (cf The Divine Comedy). Dante meant that man infinitely surpasses man, to put it in terms Pascal used. That is to say, that he is not fully a man unless he accepts his finite and sinful condition, and unless he understands that he was not created to remain in that state, hitting his head against the walls of his finitude, or distracting himself so as to forget it; but rather, by living in Faith in Jesus Christ, to surrender himself to the Divine work. In that way, and only in that way, can he attain his true stature, which, according to his Creator’s design, is not only human, but humanity divinised.  In this we recognise something that St Augustine says: ‘If you (only) love earth, you are earthly; if you love heaven, you are heavenly; and if you love God, you are, in some way, changed into God.’

Is there an image that speaks more eloquently than that of the pierced Sacred Heart; from which blood and water flow, to make us understand in a truly incarnational way that the human person cannot attain the fullness of fruitfulness which God wills for him (and thus become a perfect man) except to the extent that he allows his heart of stone to be transformed into a heart of open flesh, similar to that of Jesus?

‘Jesus, sweet and humble of heart, make my heart like yours!’

Chartres memories (1)

So the dust has settled, I have emptied my in-box, and got a few nights' sleep in a real bed. Perhaps it is time to start to reflect on this year's Chartres pilgrimage.

Unlike last couple of times (see here for example) we did not join the English pilgrims in London for the journey. That was because Dominque had an exam on the Friday morning (GCSE) so there was not sufficient time. Instead, we picked her up from school, and then Anna drove Charlie Dominique and me to Newcastle airport, where we met Ant, who had also been working in her school in the North East that day.

So we flew out as a family, having booked into the same hotel in Paris as the English Chapter. However, they were mostly out on the town when we got there, so we took ourselves off to a nearby restaurant for a family meal, which was lovely.

And then it started: alarms were set for 4.30 am on Saturday morning. We showered, I put protective sports tape on my feet, and we joined the rest of the English Chapters for Breakfast at 5.00. It was good to see many old familiar faces, and also a large number of first-time pilgrims (particularly in the youth Chapter).

The sad news was that our Chaplain for the youth Chapter had had to cancel at the last minute. Anyone who knows Fr Mark Withoos will realise what a pity that was: he is a fantastic priest, with a great (albeit Australian) sense of humour, bundles of energy, and a no-nonsense Catholic approach. However, he had to stay in Rome as he is personal secretary to Cardinal Pell, and on the previous day, a concerted (and malicious) media campaign had been launched against the Cardinal in an attempt (I think) to discredit him before the forthcoming Synod, as he is both orthodox and courageous...

Nonetheless, we were shortly to be joined by Fr Alex Redman and Fr Joseph Gedeon (a friend and compatriot of Fr Withoos), so we were extremely well provided for at the spiritual level. And in case anyone is wondering why I march with the youth Chapter, despite my advanced age, it is because I have titular responsibility for the Chapter as Chef de Chapitre - mainly, I think, because I can speak French.

After breakfast, we got on a coach to Notre Dame de Paris, where we were greeted by the inspiring site of the Parvis (or square) in front of the Cathedral filling with banners and pilgrims.  After dropping off our heavy bags at the Etrangers lorry for transportation to the campsite, we took our place with the Normandy chapters, with whom we traditionally march, and made our way into the Cathedral for Mass.

The Mass, of course, was wonderful. It was a High Mass, celebrated by Dom Louis-Marie, the Abbot of  Sainte Madeleine du Barroux.

And after Mass, the first march of the day: 2 1/2 hours to get us (almost) out of Paris, and to the park in the suburb of Plessis-Robinson, some 6 1/2 miles from Notre Dame. This year I learned for the first time that the apples we are always treated to at this park are provided by the local municipality as a gesture of welcome.  The official website for the pilgrimage carries a wonderful sentence in English (almost) on this subject:
An apple a day keep the pelgrin alive ! 
Then another march, with the sun getting a bit hotter, but with plenty of cloud cover to stop it being as oppressively hot as in many previous years.

The typical pattern of activity for a march is that we start with convivial conversation, then sing a rosary (normally in Latin, though we did sing one in French, and say one in English along the way). Then one of our chaplains reads a meditation.  The first meditation of the day was on St Athanasius and St Hilary of Poitiers, our patrons for the day. They were redoubtable champions of orthodoxy in the time of the Arian heresy.

The remaining meditations were on the theme for the year: Jesus Christ, saviour of the world. I am posting the meditations on this blog, separately.

We also variously sing hymns and secular songs, and have more convivial chat. And most importantly, the chaplains are always available to hear confessions.

That is done by the simple expedient of moving into the gap between chapters, and talking as you walk. Our chaplains were kept very busy with this, so I think practically everyone in the Chapter went to confession at some stage over the three days.

By the time we get into the campsite at about 8 o'clock on the first evening, we have been up for nearly 16 hours, and marching for 10 of them. So we always make a point of singing lustily as we arrive, to show that we Brits are nothing daunted by such a trivial stroll.

And then it is a matter of finding our bags (which have been gently lifted from the Etrangers lorry and left in the grass) pitching our tents (or bagging a space in the large communal tents), queuing for soup and bread, and then washing, before retiring for the night.

Chartres Meditation 5: St Louis and St Catherine of Siena

St Louis and St Catherine of Siena

On this second day of our pilgrimage, by meditating on the historical events of the Passion of Our Lord, we are able better to understand the Church’s teaching on the Redemption. We benefit from the Redemption by way of the sacraments, and in particular the sacrament of the Mass, the un-bloody re-presentation of the Unique Sacrifice of Christ. Such is the importance of this day.

To help us, today’s march is placed under the patronage of two great saints. The first of these is Saint Louis, king of France (1214 – 1270). Jacques le Goff, the author of a powerful study of this saint and king, asserts that in the 13th century ‘the king was Christ crucified, wearing the crown.’ We will see how accurate that judgement is.

The second of our patrons today is Saint Catherine of Siena. Born in 1347, she died in 1380, at the age of 33: the age of Christ.  She received great graces from Our Lord, of which the most important was the reception of the Stigmata: the marks of the Passion. The Dominican missal says about this great saint: Saint Catherine, a faithful instrument of the Spirit who animated her, gave life to everything she touched.’

But what is it that unites these two people, canonised by the Church? We know that many forms of sanctity co-exist, for the richness of God’s grace is infinite. The common element is abandonment to the will of God. But in this case, even though they triumphed in different centuries, both expressed the same veneration, the same understanding of the divine work. One of them had the Sainte Chapelle built, to venerate Our Lord’s Crown of Thorns. The other received in her body the stigmata: the marks of her Master. Both of them raised the teaching of the Church, and their love of that teaching, to the highest level.

If we consider St Louis first, we find that history speaks for him: in 1237 Baldwin II, the last Latin Emperor of Constantinople, was welcomed to France by the king. During his stay in the kingdom, he learned that the Latin barons of Constantinople planned to sell the most precious of all relics, the Crown of Thorns,  which had been kept safely in Constantinople for centuries. The need for money was desperate. So Baldwin appealed to the king and to his mother, Blanche of Castille, to ensure that the relic should not fall into the hands of foreigners.

St Louis was enthused: he had never imagined that his devotion to the Passion of Christ would one day allow him to acquire the Crown of crowns, the crown of the Son of God made man, the King of kings. That crown is the symbol of the most absolute poverty, and eventually came to rest in the kingdom of the lilies. (Translator’s note: the fleur de lys is the symbol of French monarchy).

But its coming would be complicated! After having sent two Dominicans to verify the authenticity of the holy relic, and assure its safety, St Louis was forced to allow it to stay in Venice for a while; the Latin barons having taken a load from the Venetian bankers – a loan using the Holy Crown as security – Venice demanded that the crown at least stay there for a while, with the king of France underwriting the repayment of the loan from his own funds.

Moreover the voyage was risky. The Greeks were setting ambushes by sea, and the overland routes were not secure either. Nevertheless, the Holy Relic arrived in France without misadventure. On the 9th August, Saint Louis, surrounded by his mother, his brothers, numerous nobles and knights, along with the bishops of Sens and Auxerre, welcomed the holy crown of thorns at Villeneuve l’Archevêque, in Burgundy. From there, in the midst of intense popular piety, it was taken to the Château de Vincennes.

It was for this relic that the saintly king had the Sainte Chapelle built: as a monumental reliquary, a work of great beauty, allowing the king to ally his glory to the glory of God.

Dear pilgrims, next time you have the chance to go to Notre Dame de Paris, remember Saint Louis: may he grant us, during this day of our pilgrimage, a devotion to the Passion of Christ, and true penitence for our sins.

A century later, Saint Catherine of Siena was born, who, as we have said, only had a very short life. What we know best about her life are the conversations she had with Our Lord, in the course of numerous apparitions. We also know about the great mission with which our Lord entrusted her: to make the Papacy return to the See of St Peter, at a time when the Pope, due to historic circumstances, was living in Avignon.

From the earliest age, St Catherine received the grace of a mystic’s life: having been granted a vision of Christ, she chose Him as her husband. From that moment, she lived her virginity as a marriage with Christ, in the midst of the perils of the world. In order better to pursue that goal, she was admitted as a tertiary member of the Dominican Order, at the age of 17.

Although she wanted above all to live the life of a contemplative, Christ urgently called her to the active life, in the service of Christendom. At that time, there was talk of a new Crusade: since 1291, the kingdom of Jerusalem no longer existed in practice, and the advance of the Turks was ever more pressing. But in order to achieve a new Crusade, the Pope’s return to Rome was absolutely essential. However, the political situation in Italy was very delicate, and St Catherine was obliged to undertake many voyages, along with an intense correspondence, in order re-establish peace between the Papacy and the various cities of Italy.

That was how she became the instrument of Christ: both by her union to Him, and by the role she played in the political plan.  As a result, she was misunderstood, and even rejected by many, including many ecclesiastics. She went to Avignon and managed, not without difficulties, to meet Pope Gregory Xl. Strengthened by her relationship with Christ, she dealt with him with great firmness, in order to give him the courage to leave Avignon, which he did in January 1377.

St Catherine of Siena accomplished the highest level of contemplation in the service of action. She was torn between her absolute love of Christ and the necessity of intervening in the affairs of the world. She, who lived the most ascetic life possible, only desired union with Our Lord.

She was given her reward on 1st April 1375 at Pisa when, as a sign of her total unity with Our Lord, she was given the stigmata.  A sign of her great humility was that she kept the marks of the stigmata hidden and therefore secret. The love of God goes by the way of the Cross, and by way of forgetting the self.

May St Catherine of Siena give us a great love of Christ and His Passion, so that we may better serve the Church, and with the Church always move closer to what is truly essential.

Saturday 30 May 2015

Chartres Meditation 4: And we saw His glory

And we saw His glory.

There was a wedding feast in Cana, in Galilee.’

It was by the sign worked at the marriage feast that Jesus entered the public arena, and chose to manifest His Divinity and His Mission for the first time. He allowed His Mother, Mary, to instigate this: a miracle.

However, this miracle which is now so well-known was performed with great discretion. The conversation Jesus had with His Mother was private, and nobody saw the moment the miracle took place. Even the Evangelist himself did not see it.

Neither the guests, nor the master of the feast, nor the newly-weds were aware of what was going on. It was only the servants who knew that where there had once been water, there was now wine. A young guest had asked them to fill the pitchers with water, and they were now full of wine. And the feast went on. And Jesus returned to His Mother.

The Gospel tells us that He revealed His glory, but only the disciples saw His glory shine forth: ‘His disciples believed in Him.’ Jesus did not do this for the sake of the crowd of guests, but for His own small band. Just as will always be the case, the least miracle is always, first and foremost, a sign: what is given to be seen, is first of all given to be believed.

The significance of that wedding feast at Cana far surpasses the provincial context of that country wedding. It was meant for whoever has eyes to see, for whoever can apply some theological thinking, for John the Evangelist, and perhaps for us, who are reflecting on it today.

St John understood that Jesus was starting His preaching from the very point where the prophets of the Old Testament had ended theirs: the marriage of God to His people.

Before the coming of Jesus, before His Incarnation, Humanity had no wine. The wine that Jesus brings is the wine of grace, which quenches, disinfects and heals; that same good wine which the Samaritan poured on the feet of the man left for dead by the side of the road; the wine of justice and mercy.

Jesus did not want to make the wine out of nothing, but out of the water in the pitchers brought by the servants.  In the same way, His mission is not to create something new out of nothing, but rather to bring the old covenant to perfection, and restore mankind to God.  The new Covenant, drawn from this new wine, which is the blood of Christ, is the wedding ring of God and His people. The young wife changes her name from now on, she takes the name of her husband from the day of their marriage. Now she is called the Bride of Christ.

 A new love is carved in the midst of this alliance: its name is charity. Charity is the nuptial bond between Christ and the Church. Whoever fails to understand that has not understood the Church at all, nor the Christian life. To reduce the Church to its history, or its sociology, or to reduce Catholics to their failures and infirmities, is to remain on the outside.  When one does not look at the interior reality of things, even the outside remains incomprehensible. There are people who are capable of mixing an excellent Bordeaux wine with water – or even with Coca Cola! And a wine that is kept for too long without being drunk, turns to vinegar. In the same way to look at the Church with any look other than Christ’s is to fail to understand the wine of Charity, the mystery of the Church.

But if one does look within, one discovers a more subtle wine. Such is the nectar of a spiritual marriage, the wine of the marriage of Christ and the soul. This is not a wine only for the initiated: it is offered to everyone.

The marriage of Christ to the soul is the vocation of every Christian. By the very fact of his baptism, he is promised that marriage, the bond is sealed. The marriage is the baptismal grace, which conquers like love, like a personal story. God desires to live in that soul.

And so we must look after that soul, make it habitable, not create an unpleasant impression for the Bridegroom when He crosses the threshold, as if we had forgotten that He was invited, as if nothing is ready, with disorder everywhere so that we have to improvise everything at the moment of His arrival.

How many times must the Bridegroom of the soul put up with the incoherence of His bride! Of course, she is not a bad girl, but she is a little superficial and ungrateful. She speaks before thinking, and acts before praying. Instead of drinking of her husband’s rich win of charity, we see her get drunk on watery beer and cheap plonk. The groom awaits: He is patient. So why had you left already? Where were you? Is this the time for you to come back? I had prepared something for you, I had so many things to say to you!

‘There was a Wedding feast at Cana in Galilee…’

Blessed are those invited to the Lamb’s feast!

The wine which He serves comforts us. This wine is the Blood of the Lamb, sacrificed on the altar of the New Covenant.

Today, Jesus is calling us to the wedding feast of the soul: we were water – may He make wine of us.

The Raising of the Widow’s Son. (Christ’s compassion for our human nature)

When Jesus works a miracle, it is to reveal something to us. He doesn’t just return someone to life in order to return him to life; or heal someone simply to heal him. It is also to reveal to us that He is the Life; that He can heal. The truth is, that He returns someone to life in the way that only God can; He heals in the way that only God can.

That is why each one of His miracles has a theological aspect; after Cana, we see in the raising of the widow’s son at Naim another reality made visible.

It is also a reminder, a re-visiting of the Old Testament. With every miracle, Jesus makes us recall this passage from the prophet Isaiah: ‘We will see the glory of the Lord, the splendour of our God, and the eyes of the blind will see, and the ears of the deaf will be opened, the lame will leap like a stag, and the mutes’ mouth will sing out with joy. Those whom the Lord has saved will return.’ Once again we are seeing here the glory of the Lord, the divinity of Jesus. The sick are healed and the dead are brought back to life, and they return because they have been ransomed.

The purpose of this miracle is to show forth the glory of the Lord. Jesus makes the bed-ridden dance, makes the dead walk, and the theological resonance is to show that redemption has come.

Our healing is being accomplished: that is the lesson that Jesus is teaching. His purpose is to manifest the mystery of God, and His teaching is to make us understand that our redemption is accomplished.

Nonetheless, this healing, destined for all, must be made little by little, and gently, for there are some medicines which are so powerful that they risk killing the sick person. That is why the public aspect of the miracles differs. Often, Jesus forbids people from talking about them, and He performs the miracle almost in passing, discretely. He forbids people from talking, but that is in vain, because everyone will talk about a miracle.

Notice how Jesus proceeds here. He is first of all moved with compassion for this mother, the mother of an only son. He too knows what it is to be the only Son of His mother.

The mother was a widow: the Fathers of the Church have seen in this mother the Church; the Church which accompanies man, who is afflicted by the death of sin for the whole of his terrestrial journey. The Church, which enables man to encounter the grace of the Resurrection: the Church, our mother.

The miracles of Jesus are worked with great discretion, and Jesus reveals who He is progressively. First, to the Chosen People, Israel; only afterwards to the rest of the world. He moves from the inmost to the outermost.  In fact there is one people chosen: the whole of humanity, chosen by God. But because so vast a love is incomprehensible for our dry and hardened hearts, God chose first of all, in order to teach us, to realise His plan of salvation initially through a specific people: Israel, and then to expand it. It is therefore true that the Church is the chosen people, following on from the election of the people of Israel. And Jesus’ purpose was to show that salvation is already underway.

His habitual way of doing that is by miracles. And a miracle is always concrete. Jesus gives life back to the soul by way of the body. And He does it with authority. He draws near, He touches the coffin, the coffin-bearers stop, and He says: ”young man, I say to you, arise!’ And immediately the dead man got up. Jesus likes to operate like this: He doesn’t save at a distance, but by grasping the young man. And it is clear that everyone in the funeral procession recognised Jesus’ authority.  In the same way, one does not invent one’s God, one’s religion, or one’s Church. One does not pardon oneself. One receives forgiveness from someone else. Resurrection is received.

And Jesus stops the procession, touches the coffin, and returns the son to His mother. Everything is received from Him. There is always a great danger in constructing a religion that is distant and cerebral, where everything is arranged with a God who never has to put Himself out.

Jesus is seized by compassion: and thus he shows us His human nature; He works the miracle, and thus He shows us His Divine Nature; for God alone is the master of life and death.

This miracle restores Faith: everyone said, God has visited His people.

Faith is not complete unless it is spoken, confessed, proclaimed. The Christian cannot be clandestine: he must proclaim the Faith that lives in his soul. The Christian who is unmoved by another, or who hides the fact that he is a Christian, is a dead Christian.

This page of the Gospel is really vivid: the gates of the city, the funeral procession, the only son, the weeping mother, and lots of people. And Jesus halts this dignified and emotional crowd. He wants to demonstrate that from now onwards, salvation is close at hand, with means that are both more divine and more human. And He demonstrates it in His own person. God is not a distant God: He has the face of Jesus, and is full of compassion. That is at the same time both unexpected and embarrassing.

It is easy to ignore an idea. But it is difficult to turn our eyes away from such a look. From now on, our situation with regard to God is a face-to-face encounter. 
And a face-to-face encounter is never simple. In short, Jesus shows us that God has made contact with us. Instituting a face-to-face encounter, He also demonstrates it to us in the salvation He offers us, in Him and after Him. It is the Church that leads us on the path to the Resurrection. The Sacraments are realities that accomplish in us what Jesus has inaugurated: an interior resurrection.

And if Jesus’ miracles are so physical, that also serves to remind us that we cannot live as Christians without a real acceptance of the world and of the body. Washed, oiled, nourished, taught and pardoned by a human voice; touched by signs and symbols, gestures and words: all of these things are so physical yet also so spiritual: these are the Church and the Sacraments. They are not mere signposts. They are efficacious signs of our salvation, the realities of our salvation. It was not for nothing that God created us with a body that lives and suffers, that hungers, thirsts, loves and moves. Moreover in heaven our salvation will be perfectly realised with our body duly resuscitated, glorified, and raised to its true  greatness. That is our vocation – for all of us.

Let us end with another miracle of Our Lord: His Transfiguration

Fundamentally, the Transfiguration is a foretaste of Heaven. The friendly meeting on Mount Tabor is a prefigurement of the holy friendship which will unite us all in God, without any shadow or pretence. ‘How good and sweet it is for brothers to live together,’ says the Psalmist. ‘It is good for us to be here,’ answers St Peter.

How good it will be for us to be in Heaven, to engage in tireless conversation with Our Lady and the Apostles, the holy martyrs, doctors, confessors and virgins. And above all with Christ Himself! This eternal friendship in Heaven is the fruit of our Saviour’s sacrifice. It is up to us to make our way there, every day and every moment of our life.

The Transfiguration: a model of our own Transfiguration

But finally, by means of this miraculous scene, it is our own transfiguration that Our Lord wishes to teach us. Not that the glory that God has reserved for us should be manifested here below! That would not be very good for our humility…

A change of heart: that is what God wants of us! He will send us His transforming grace, only on condition that we ask for it. It is up to us to make the first step towards Him, because ‘God who created us without us, will not save us without us.’ Our transfiguration is a joint work of nature and grace. It is up to us to desire this transformation of ourselves. Let us not delay in putting this into practice: we should not keep God waiting! It is up to us to help ourselves, to give up our old habits, to flee the daily grind. ‘I have spoken, now I will begin,’ sings the Psalmist

Therefore, as it is never too late to start, let us climb Mount Tabor, to fill ourselves with the presence of God, and ceaselessly sing the glory of our Saviour.

For it is there that Jesus shows forth His glory, and prepares the chosen three apostles for the drama of the Passion.

There is no joy without the Cross.

God takes care of everything we abandon to His care. Let us give Him whatever we have refused to give Him up till now. For, to love is to give everything.

Chartres Meditation 3: And the Word lived amongst us

This is the third of this year's Chartres meditations.

I realised I dived into these with little explanation. I should have told you that the pattern for the meditations each day is:

first, a meditation on the saints under whose patronage we march each day (this changes every day, and is different each year); this year we marched under the patronage of Sts Athanasius and Hilary on day one, Sts Louis and Catherine of Siena on day two, and Saints Thomas and Mary Magdalen on day three;

then, a series of meditations on the theme of the year. This also changes every year, and this year was Jesus Christ, the Saviour of the World.

(I should perhaps confess that this is a theoretical pattern. We don't always get through all of the allocated meditations in a day, so the dedicatory one often crops up second or third on the second and third days, and the final meditations are sometimes not heard at all...)


And the Word lived amongst us.

Dear Pilgrims

If the Word of God, that is the second person of the Blessed Trinity, the eternal Son of God, was incarnate in order  to become what the Bible calls the Son of Man, having taken His flesh from the Blessed Virgin Mary, it was also so that He could become an example of perfection for us to follow. All the saints took Christ as their model, and in that way, they have become for us examples of a life united to Christ – and therefore, a successful life. Nonetheless the one supreme and ultimate example to follow is Christ Himself.

1          The baptism: a humiliation for Our Lord Jesus Christ

Therefore, let us contemplate Christ being baptised in the River Jordan. That is, the river called in Hebrew  נהר הירדן, Nehar haYarden,  which means the river of Sorrow, or even, the river of Judgment. The fact is that Jesus Christ became man to take our sins upon Himself, and He went down into the river of pain and judgement in our place, as the prophet Isaiah said : (53 : 4& 5) Truly, ours were the sorrows He bore, etc….

By his baptism, Christ was already announcing that He had come to redeem that humanity which He had freely assumed when He became man. St Gregory of Nazieance tells us that Christ was baptised so as to submerge and destroy the entire old man, so that the condemned humanity He had come to save could be washed clean of its sins. Let us notice how simple is this means of salvation which God gives us to wash away original sin, and how much it cost Our Lord Jesus Christ , in terms of humiliation and sorrow.

2 Christ was baptised as an example: it is His blood that will purify us

Clearly, Christ was not baptised for His own sake, since as He is God, He could not have the slightest stain of sin. That is what John the Baptist was affirming when he said ‘It is I who should be baptised by you,’ for he recognised the Christ, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world. It was, rather, to set us an example of what we should do, that Jesus was baptised; for it always pleased Him to make His teaching alive, and therefore to teach us not just by words but also by His actions, as every good teacher will.

Jesus did not tell John he was mistaken; He merely said ‘Let it be thus for this hour; ‘ which makes us think of two things. Firstly, Our Lord recognises that it is indeed He who should be baptising, because it is He who takes away the sins of the world. Secondly, Jesus talks about ‘this hour’ as opposed to ‘his hour’ about which He talks repeatedly throughout the Gospels, and in particular when He says to His blessed Mother at Cana ‘my hour is not yet come’ and again before his Passion, ‘the hour is come when the Son of Man must be glorified.’ The hour of Christ, then, is the hour when He redeems humanity by His sorrowful Passion. So Jesus makes it clear that John’s baptism is just for this hour, but the hour will soon come, the hour for the Son of Man, when He will pour out His blood, that mystical water which will wash mankind clean of all its sins.

3 Christ sanctifies the waters by His baptism

So Christ was baptised to set us an example. Moreover, St Augustine teaches us  not only that the water of St John the Baptist’s baptism had nothing whatsoever to give to Christ, but also that it was Christ who gave water the purifying power it exercises in Christian baptism. ‘His mother, Mary, gave birth to the Son of God, and she is chaste; water washed Christ, and it was sanctified.’ In fact, any water whatsoever is valid for baptism, because God is thirsty for our salvation, so He puts the very simplest means at our disposal. Likewise, any person whatsoever, even a non-Catholic, can baptise a person in danger of death; it is enough that he do what the Church requires, and that he do it deliberately (not accidentally).  Even if the person does not believe the Catholic faith, as long as he wishes to do what the Church demands for the imposition of this sacrament, and says the words ‘ I baptise you in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit’ then he truly baptises.

4 The ease of accessing Baptism

Notice the generosity of our God. He thinks only of our salvation, and makes it so accessible that it is a true affront to His love to delay baptising infants so that they can choose later on. Do you wait for your children’s opinion before feeding them? Do you realise that baptism is the only sure way that we know of to gain access to paradise, to the beatific vision? The case of children who die before baptism has never been given a categorical and definitive answer by the Church; for if such children have not committed any sin, then they do not merit hell; nonetheless since they are not baptised, they are still marked by Original Sin which prevents them from entering Paradise and seeing God face to face.  If parents are invited to entrust their children to the mercy of God, they are even more strongly invited not to delay the baptism of their children, which should take place soon after their birth.

5 Baptism makes us adopted sons of God

The baptism of the Son of God made man, is unique. We are all baptised in Jesus Christ, as we say in the Creed: ‘ I believe in one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.’ Baptism incorporates us into the humanity redeemed by Christ. It is in Jesus Christ that we are saved. In the Son of God, we are made adopted sons of God. When, at His baptism, the heavens opened to allow the Holy Spirit to descend in the form of a dove, it wasn’t for the sake of the Son of God, who from all eternity lives in the unity of the Holy Spirit, but rather for us; so that by baptism we might have that same Holy Spirit, and He could lead us to grow from virtue to virtue. Also, when God the Father said; “this is my beloved Son’ he was talking, in the strictest sense, of His Son, the second person of the Blessed Trinity, but also, in the broader sense, of all the baptised, who by baptism become adopted sons of God, in Jesus Christ.

6 Baptism makes us capable of the Beatific vision of the Trinity

Finally the baptism of the Son of God reveals the whole Trinity. The Father acknowledges His Son, and the Holy Spirit comes to rest upon Him. In fact, baptism makes us capable of the beatific vision of the Trinity, so it was fitting that at the baptism of Our Lord, the Trinity was revealed – at the very moment of the institution of the first sacrament that gives us access to it.

 7 By baptism we are incorporated into Christ

Baptism makes us adopted sons of God, by the baptismal character which marks the baptised with the eternal seal of a child of God. By that we are incorporated in the Church which is the Mystical Body of Christ. The Church is the Body of Christ. Baptism, by incorporating us into Christ’s body, gives us the power to act in union with Christ.

8 Baptism enables us to offer the sacrifice of the Mass in union with the priest

The highest action in which the baptised person can act with Christ is that of offering to God an acceptable sacrifice of adoration. Only those baptised are able to unite themselves efficaciously with the Sacrifice of the Mass, offered by the priest to the whole Trinity. This possibility, not of replacing the priest, but of intentionally uniting with him to offer the only sacrifice acceptable to God, is called ‘the priesthood of the faithful.’ That is why, in the early centuries, the catechumens were required to leave the Church just after the Gospel, as they were unable to unite themselves with the Sacrifice of Christ, which is the Mass.

What a grace to be able to offer oneself with Christ on the cross at the moment of the Offertory. Nothing is more pleasing to God, nothing unites us more closely to God, than the Sacrifice of the Mass, and nothing can obtain more grace for us than the Mass. You who are baptised, see how much you are loved by God, see how lucky you are! Be worthy of that!

Transition: After His baptism, the Gospel tells us, Christ ‘was led by the Spirit into the desert, there to be tempted by the Devil.’ The Venerable Bede teaches us how the crossing of the Red Sea by the Hebrews signified their liberation from the yoke of sin, but that this liberation also took place during the chosen people’s long wandering in the desert, which lasted for forty years of hardship and struggle. In the same way, the baptism which washes us clean of Original Sin and of all personal sin, is immediately followed by spiritual struggle. That is why, straight after His baptism, Jesus was led into the desert.

9 Baptism does not remove concupiscence

In just the same way, we too, after we have been washed clean of Original Sin by baptism, in order to be reconciled with our Creator, we too have to fight with all our strength to stay united with Him.  For our human nature remains wounded; it always tends to the evil of not seeking God alone, and always tends to the disorder of seeking its own ends apart from God. That is what we call concupiscence.

10 The rites of exorcism in Baptism

Before the rite of baptism itself, we were exorcised by the priest. For the child is born subject to the rule of Original Sin, and therefore to the Devil. These exorcisms enable the breaking of the Devil’s rule over the child, and so allow the baptism itself to wash away Original Sin.  Despite all that, the child is still not free to run straight to God, because his will is still attached to his passions. This disordered attachment tends to want to satisfy its own desires rather than do everything possible to unite itself to God by doing good; and that tendency is what we call concupiscence. The word comes from the Latin, and means ‘tending towards our immediate desire,’ (and therefore easily obtained). So concupiscence is opposed to the union with God, which is more distant and harder to obtain. That is why it constitutes what St Thomas Aquinas called the ‘Fomes peccati’, that is to say, the hearth of sin. It is not actual sin, but a tendency to want to satisfy ego-based desires , rather than seeking God and everything that can unite us to Him, because that is the purpose of our life and the only thing which can finally satisfy us.

11 After Baptism, spiritual combat is essential

Therefore Jesus, in order to teach us how to overcome this concupiscence, chose to undergo temptations, just as we all do. Further, The Imitation of Christ reminds us that ‘this fragile life is nothing but temptation and continual strife.’ Also, to confront that, Jesus went out into the desert, for it is above all in solitude that the devil seeks us out to tempt us. He insists on the fact that nobody can see us. For the Devil even a crowd can become a desert, as long as nobody can recognise us there. However, what sin can remain hidden from God?

 12 Fasting: the foundation of the spiritual combat

Nonetheless, St Chrysostom tells us: ‘Our Lord began by fasting, not because he needed to fast, but to teach us how excellent it is, what a shield it offers us against the Devil’s guiles, and also that, after our baptism, we should not dedicate ourselves to pleasure, but to the mortification of the senses.’ The pleasures of the senses are there to help us to build friendships with people like us, but we must watch over them with extreme vigilance, because before we know it, they quickly take first place in our lives, and we end up simply pursuing our own ego-driven passions.

13 Temptation by the Devil

The devil always tries to gain souls cheaply, that is to say, with the weakest temptations. Then his victory is all the greater, because he can damn souls, making them lose the infinite God, for things that even on this earth are insignificant. So it was that the Devil having failed to make Jesus fall by way of hunger, then proceeded to the temptation of vain glory: which is a much more potent temptation. It is relatively easy to do without our bodily necessities, but it is not easy to renounce our spiritual pride. And so, Jesus was taken to the heights of the temple, for the Devil loves to flatter us, to puff us up with pride, to make us believe that we are the best in the world. That strategy only aims to make us fall further and to be overcome by greater shame. Imagine the shame of losing heaven for one wretched bottle of wine, as the Curé d’Ars said.

Finally, the Devil pretends to offer Jesus power, for he does not know that He is the Son of God. This temptation is very interesting because it helps us to understand that usurped power, unhealthy ambition, is a lie, and is always aimed at making a slave of the person to whom such power is promised. Creation belongs to God, but the Devil can give us the illusion of becoming its masters on condition that we adore him instead of God, and thus become his slaves. Christ answers this firmly, saying: ‘Away with thee, Satan!’ teaching us always to rise up and defend the honour of God, who alone is worthy of all honour and all glory!

14 The principle of spiritual combat

The principle is never to want anything, whatever it may be, more than God; and because of our passions, that becomes a real struggle. Consider this reflection by Father Lamennais: ‘Man’s life on earth is a constant struggle against the Devil, against the world, and against himself. Some retire to the cloister to resist them more easily; others remain in the midst of the world. But none can conquer, except by constant vigilance. The habit of reflection, the love of retreat, constant attention to one’s words, one’s thoughts, one’s feelings, fidelity to the lightest of duties and the most humble of practices, save us from the greater temptations and attract graces from heaven. Whoever neglects the little things will fall little by little, says the Holy Spirit.