Thursday, May 6, 2010

More Magis Reflections

My retreat with priests and permanent deacons ends tomorrow and I return home to Milwaukee. Here are some more of my Magis Ignatian Reflections for this week:

5 May 2010
Wednesday of the Fifth Week of Easter

In today’s Gospel we have a beautiful image describing our relationship with Christ. He said: “I am the vine, you are the branches.” It was for this that each of us was created—union with God. While the image is poetic, it describes a reality that is made clear in Jesus’ words: “Remain in me, as I remain in you.” This is Eucharistic language. Jesus gives us His Body and Blood and unites Himself to us. This union transforms us so that we live now in Him, or, as St. Paul wrote, “I live, no longer I, but Christ lives in me” (Galatians 2: 20).

After the Synod of Bishops in 2005, Pope Benedict XVI wrote an Apostolic Exhortation entitled “The Sacrament of Charity” in which he called the Eucharist a mystery to be believed, a mystery to be celebrated, and a mystery to be lived. We believe in the reality of the Real Presence and celebrate it accordingly. If Jesus is really present in the Eucharist, then He really lives in us when He comes to us in Holy Communion. United to Him in this way, we can live a Eucharistic life of self-giving love, beginning each day by making an offering of ourselves and our day.

Only one thing can cut us off from the Vine—sin. Just as the image of the vine and the branches is not simply a symbolic description but a reality because of the Real Presence, so mortal sin is exactly what it says—deadly sin. It cuts us off from the life-force of the Vine. It really kills us spiritually. But we need not remain separated from Christ like dead branches after we sin in this way. The Father is the “vine grower” who sent Jesus to reconcile us to Himself. Through the Sacrament of Reconciliation Jesus can re-graft us onto Himself. Spiritually dead, we can come back to life.

6 May 2010
Thursday of the Fifth Week of Easter

The first ecumenical (world-wide, general) council was the First Council of Nicaea in the year 325 from which we get the Nicene Creed which is recited every Sunday. But it wasn’t the first Church council. That distinction goes to a meeting around the year 49 that is described in today’s first reading. It was the Council of Jerusalem which met after there arose “no little dissension and debate” (see yesterday’s first reading). Those who think there was an idyllic time of unity and peace in the early Church are badly mistaken. Human weakness will always make Christians vulnerable to the work of Satan who wants to divide and conquer.

The early Christians did not, at first, see themselves as separate from Judaism. Thus they strictly followed the Mosaic Law, including the rite of circumcision. It seemed natural that Gentile Christians would also be circumcised. But the Holy Spirit showed them otherwise. The Spirit came upon the Gentiles without their being circumcised thus proving that observance of the Mosaic Law does not save; now there is a New Covenant and “we are saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus.”

Then why, after declaring that circumcision was not required, did the Council of Jerusalem require three things from the Mosaic Law—avoiding pollution from idols, unlawful marriage, and eating meat of strangled animals and blood? The first two seem logical, but what about that dietary restriction? Jewish Law saw in blood the life-force that belonged to God alone. In order to encourage table fellowship among Jews and Gentiles, this small stipulation was asked of the non-Jews. Though this was not a matter of salvation it was a matter of charity, before which certain less important principles must bow.

7 May 2010
Friday of the Fifth Week of Easter

We’ve heard it so often that we tend to no longer be shocked by it. Jesus said: “I no longer call you slaves…. I have called you friends….” Why is this so shocking? Because, as the Carmelite, Fr. Gabriel of St. Mary Magdalen, points out in his classic work “Divine Intimacy,” true friendship is between equals. Fr. Gabriel writes: “Friendship requires a certain equality, community of life and of goods…. But what equality and community of life can there be between a creature who is nothing and God, who is the Supreme Being? None, from a natural point of view. However, God willed to raise man to the supernatural state by giving him a share in His nature and divine life. It is true that man always remains a creature—though divinized by grace—and God remains the inaccessible, transcendent Being; but in His infinite love He has found a way to raise man to the level of His divine life.”

This is the mystery of the Incarnation. As St. Augustine and other saintly theologians wrote: God became human so that humanity could become divine. The Son of God lowered Himself to our level in order to raise us to His level. Thus, Jesus can call us friends because, through our transformation in baptism, we really are that. We’ve been raised to His level and in that way have been given the equality that allows us to be true friends.

Unlike our ancestral parents who grasped the forbidden fruit in order to “be like gods” (Genesis 3: 5), Jesus “did not regard equality with God something to be grasped” (Philippians 2: 6). Nor do we. God always takes the initiative. Ours is always a response to a love that has already been given. We cannot make ourselves friends of Jesus; He invites us to that friendship in baptism when “sanctifying or deifying grace” (“Catechism of the Catholic Church” #1999) is given to us. Now our lives are a continuing response to Jesus’ call to be His friends. We do that when we follow His command to “love one another” because He has made us all His dear friends.

8 May 2010
Saturday of the Fifth Week of Easter

In the first reading Paul has his co-worker circumcised. This seems to contradict the earlier position of Paul that circumcision was not necessary for salvation. Is Paul waffling? No. He continues to be firmly convinced that salvation comes from the grace given by Jesus Christ. Why then does he have Timothy circumcised? To open doors.

Though Timothy’s father was a Greek Gentile, his mother Eunice was Jewish. This made Timothy Jewish, though he had not been circumcised. Paul knew that Timothy would not receive a hearing in the Jewish community because it was known that though he was a Jew he had not been circumcised. Thus, for the sake of the Gospel, in order that there be no unnecessary impediment to people’s hearing it, Paul had Timothy circumcised. Paul tried, as we see in the travelogue described in the rest of the first reading, to open as many doors as possible to the Gospel.

Sometimes the Holy Spirit prevented Paul from going to certain places, so that he might go through other doors where there was more fruit to be harvested. And sometimes, as Jesus said in the Gospel, doors would close in the face of the early Christians because, as the world hated Him, so would it hate His followers. The world, with its values, doesn’t want the self-sacrificing love that Jesus lived and to which He called His followers. The Beatitudes that Jesus taught make no sense to the world and so it rejects and persecutes those who strive to follow them.

In light of this we should always ask ourselves the question: If I am not experiencing the rejection and persecution that Jesus promised His followers, am I really following Him?

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