Thursday, June 23, 2016

20 Mysteries: The Institution of the Eucharist

Matthew 26:17-30:

[17] And on the first day of the Azymes, the disciples came to Jesus, saying: Where wilt thou that we prepare for thee to eat the pasch? [18] But Jesus said: Go ye into the city to a certain man, and say to him: the master saith, My time is near at hand, with thee I make the pasch with my disciples. [19] And the disciples did as Jesus appointed to them, and they prepared the pasch. [20] But when it was evening, he sat down with his twelve disciples.
[21] And whilst they were eating, he said: Amen I say to you, that one of you is about to betray me. [22] And they being very much troubled, began every one to say: Is it I, Lord? [23] But he answering, said: He that dippeth his hand with me in the dish, he shall betray me. [24] The Son of man indeed goeth, as it is written of him: but woe to that man by whom the Son of man shall be betrayed: it were better for him, if that man had not been born. [25] And Judas that betrayed him, answering, said: Is it I, Rabbi? He saith to him: Thou hast said it.     [26] And whilst they were at supper, Jesus took bread, and blessed, and broke: and gave to his disciples, and said: Take ye, and eat. This is my body. [27] And taking the chalice, he gave thanks, and gave to them, saying: Drink ye all of this. [28] For this is my blood of the new testament, which shall be shed for many unto remission of sins. [29] And I say to you, I will not drink from henceforth of this fruit of the vine, until that day when I shall drink it with you new in the kingdom of my Father. [30] And a hymn being said, they went out unto mount Olivet.

Luke 22:15-16:
[15] And he said to them: With desire I have desired to eat this pasch with you, before I suffer. 
[16] For I say to you, that from this time I will not eat it, till it be fulfilled in the kingdom of God.

Praised be Jesus Christ!

Now and forever. Amen.

I'm going to be perfectly honest with you. With respect to this particular Mystery, you will probably have read, or attended talks, or watched YouTube presentations on this subject that go much more deeply into it than I will. For example, you can watch Dr. Scott Hahn's talk on YouTube called The Fourth Cup, which I've linked here.

Given that, I hope you will forgive me if my exploration of this event is less exhaustive, but I'll do what I can.

The first thing I want to say is that this event is the source of the Catholic Church's teaching on the Eucharist, which I will explain briefly here. The Church teaches that, at the Last Supper, when Jesus spoke the words that He did over the bread and wine, that He was instituting what we call the "Eucharist," which comes from the Greek word eukharistia, which means "thanksgiving."

But, while other (but certainly not all) non-Catholic Christian groups believe that the Eucharist is a commemorative meal, and that the bread and wine taken at the meal are symbolic in nature, the Catholic Church teaches differently. Rather, the Church teaches that when a consecrated minister (priest or bishop) speaks the words that Jesus did at the Last Supper, over the bread and wine, that the substance of these things change into the actual, physical, body and blood (along with His soul and Divinity, as His natures are indivisible). The Church calls this change transubstantiation, which indicates a change in the substance only (and not, what is called in philosophy, the "accidents" of the bread and wine, which refers to its material appearance).

In this way, when Jesus says He is the True Bread from Heaven (referring to the Manna that the Israelites ate in the desert), as well as the True Vine, He intends for us to understand that we are to consume Him in the Eucharistic meal, which He institutes as the fulfillment of the Paschal meal, to be perpetuated throughout time.

This is important to understand, because in the Gospels, we see really significant events at every one of the Paschs of Jesus' ministry. We see the transformation of water into wine at the wedding of Cana. And on two other occasions (near the Pasch), Jesus feeds 5,000, and 4,000 people with a handful of bread (and fish, of course). The point here is that during Jesus ministry, we have a miracle of transformation, and two miracles of multiplication during the Pasch, and on His final Pasch before being Crucified, He institutes the Eucharist, which is both transformative (transubstantiation of the bread and wine into His Body and Blood), and multiplicative (He is fully present in all "bits" of the Eucharistic meal that He gives to us).

So, at the wedding feast of Cana, He transforms water into wine, so that the guests of the wedding might have their celebration enriched, and at the Last Supper, He transubstantiates the wine into the True Wine (Himself), that our spiritual lives might be enriched. And, again, He multiplies the bread to feed, on more than one occasion, thousands of people, to meet their need for physical nourishment, and at the Last Supper He multiplies His physical presence into all consecrated hosts that we all may receive the spiritual nourishment that we are in need of.

He Shall Betray Me

Now, the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke each recount the events of the Last Supper, pretty much the same, and you can read that account above. John doesn't record the Eucharistic meal in His Gospel, but instead records Jesus' last discourse with the Apostles before His Passion.

However, even though John's account doesn't focus on the meal, He does include this part of the story. "Jesus answered: He it is to whom I shall reach bread dipped. And when he had dipped the bread, he gave it to Judas Iscariot, the son of Simon." (John 13:26) This is specifically mentioned in all four Gospels. And, if you know anything about the Gospels, you'll know that it is uncommon for all four of them to explicit recount exactly the same thing.

So, this is important.

In typical Protestant theology, there are two doctrines that they teach in contradiction to Catholic teaching. The first is that when Jesus is speaking about eating His body, or eating His flesh, even if He calls it bread, He's really just referring to His teachings. They reference Jesus' teaching on eating the bread of the Pharisees, which He explained was a reference to accepting their doctrines (Matthew 16:6-12). So, to eat the flesh of Jesus, to them means to accept His teachings, and His sacrifice.

The second is that they typically believe (though, of course, neither this teaching nor the one I just mentioned is universal among all denominations, but these are common) that once you are saved, you will always be saved, and that you become saved by accepting Jesus teachings and His sacrifice, as He taught (to eat His flesh and drink His blood).

In my opinion, this occurrence at the Last Supper confounds these two doctrines. Because if eating the bread, which is symbolic of Jesus' doctrines, is a symbolic act of taking in His doctrine within us, then we can see clearly at the Last Supper that Judas Iscariot did so, which, according to typical protestant doctrine, would indicate he was saved. But then He betrays Jesus, almost immediately, confounding the idea that He would always be saved. Especially, since Jesus says of him who betrays Him that it were better he was never born, implying his damnation.

We see a warning about this in 1 Corinthians 11:27-29. And here, St. Paul is speaking specifically about the practice of the Eucharistic meal, not about doctrine. This refutes the idea that Jesus' teaching about eating His flesh and blood is simply about accepting His doctrine, otherwise how could one be "guilty of the body" if it were simply about doctrine. If it were, then one would be "guilty of the bread," which is what Jesus' teaching about the leaven of the Pharisees was about.

But, really, I think this is a dire warning to us, who believe, more than anything. Judas was partaking of the meal, and had already made the decision to betray Jesus. Jesus makes it a point to reveal His betrayer through the meal. Think of the thousands of different ways Jesus could have revealed Judas for who he was, and on hundreds of different occasions. Instead, He chose that moment when He instituted the most intimate communion of persons, between Himself and all of us.

That should strike you as troubling, I should hope, because by it He is showing the importance of this event. Aren't we all Judas Iscariot? Do we not all go to Mass, take communion, then go home and betray Jesus by our sins that we almost never cease doing? This is why the Church has in place two very important restrictions when it comes to partaking of the Eucharist.

First, you must know what it is you do. If you are not Catholic, and do not believe the Eucharist to be what it is, Jesus' True Presence, then you are not permitted to enter into a communion with Him, and His community of believers, when doing so would be a lie.

Second, you must be in a state of Sanctifying Grace. That is, you must not have any unrepentant mortal sins on your soul. For, if you do, then you are no better than the Betrayer, and you partake of the Eucharistic meal, again, in falsehood. You blaspheme the Sacrament. And, as Jesus said, it would be better if you were not born (true of all sins that destroy your soul to death).

A Hymn Being Said

But the Eucharist is a gift! It is a great gift of joy and thankfulness! By it, we are permitted to enter into communion with the Trinity, into their community of Love. We call full communion (of the kind we will be permitted in Heaven) with this community the Beatific Vision because it is beautiful, and joyous and filled with love. The Eucharist is supposed to be, for us, a taste of that vision. We call it the Eucharistic Celebration, or celebration of thanksgiving for the great gift of Jesus that we have received.

This is why the Eucharist is called by the Church the source and summit of our Faith (Catechism of the Catholic Church 1324). It is called the source of our Faith because it feeds our Faith, gives it life, nourishes it (as bread it satisfies our need). Through communion with Jesus, who is God, the source of all life and love, our spiritual lives are sustained, and given rebirth each time we partake of this food. It is called the summit of our Faith because it enriches our Faith, makes it sweet and lovely (as wine, it enhances our spiritual experience with beauty). Through communion with Jesus, who is God, the source of all goodness and beauty, our spirits are uplifted to heights unthinkable by our own efforts.

And so, in joy and love, the Apostles, with Jesus, sang a Paschal hymn. And with that, I'm going to leave you with a beautiful old roman Catholic chant.

Kyrie Eleison

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

20 Mysteries: The Transfiguration

Matthew 17:1-9:

[1] And after six days Jesus taketh unto him Peter and James, and John his brother, and bringeth them up into a high mountain apart: [2] And he was transfigured before them. And his face did shine as the sun: and his garments became white as snow. [3] And behold there appeared to them Moses and Elias talking with him. [4] And Peter answering, said to Jesus: Lord, it is good for us to be here: if thou wilt, let us make here three tabernacles, one for thee, and one for Moses, and one for Elias. [5] And as he was yet speaking, behold a bright cloud overshadowed them. And lo, a voice out of the cloud, saying: This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased: hear ye him. 
[6] And the disciples hearing, fell upon their face, and were very much afraid. [7] And Jesus came and touched them: and said to them, Arise, and fear not. [8] And they lifting up their eyes saw no one but only Jesus. [9] And as they came down from the mountain, Jesus charged them, saying: Tell the vision to no man, till the Son of man be risen from the dead.

Praised be Jesus Christ!

Now and forever. Amen.

I know I haven't posted anything for a couple of weeks, and I feel like I owe you, dear reader, an apology. I recently started a new job, and to say the least it's been stressful (unfortunately). So, coming home after work, I've been highly motivated to simply vegetate until going to bed. However, today I had a pretty good day, and I've been feeling like I've been neglecting my blog, so here I am, ready to go.

Now, the Transfiguration is the fourth of the Luminous Mysteries of the Rosary. For me, it is one of the most mystical events in all of Scripture. And, as you can see above, there isn't a great deal written about it. Mark and Luke recount the same event in their Gospels (Mark 9:[1]-12 Luke 9:[28]-36), and there is some variation between the three accounts, but they, altogether, tell the same story.

It is both a vision, and not a vision. Though Mark recounts the event straightforwardly, as though they went up the mountain, Jesus was transfigured, they heard a voice from heaven, and then they came down the mountain (this is a big abbreviation of his account, but it's the gist), the other Gospels indicate something more was going on here. In Matthew, Jesus actually refers to what they saw as a "vision," while in Luke, we are told that the Apostles (Peter, James and John) were very sleepy, and that they saw Jesus transfigured after they "woke up".

It is typical in general that visions take place while in an "altered state," and most visions in the Old Testament occurred as dreams, though not all did. Yet, though this is called a vision, and the Apostles had been sleepy, this vision occurred, as recounted in Luke, when they Apostles were "awake." This is interesting, because it gives this vision a unique character among Biblical visions, in that it was a vision received with clarity, unlike the typical visions we read about where things are anything but clear, and much interpretation is required to understand what is happening because so much of it is strange imagery.

So, what's the content of this vision? I would say that there are five significant points that make up this vision: Jesus is brilliant, Moses and Elijah appear and dialogue with Jesus, Peter speaks, the Father speaks, then there was only Jesus. So, how's about a closer look?

His Face Shone Like the Sun

It is this aspect of the event that gives it its name. By "transfigured," we specifically mean this, that the glory of God shone through Him, that the Divinity He kept hidden during the whole of His life, He allowed to shine forth in this singular event.

But what does this signify? Throughout ancient art, not just in Christianity, or Judaism, but religious art across the ancient world, you will find what we call "halos." It is typically drawn as a circular disk, either around someone's head, or around their entire bodies, and it is usually colored gold, or yellow, or white, to signify brilliance. We see this, for example, in ancient Buddhist art in depictions of the original Buddha, and with Bodhisatvas. It is an especially prevalent motif within Christian art.

The halo signifies holiness, or goodness, or sainthood. It is thought to be a representation of a real phenomenon, whereby an aura, or brightness sometimes can be seen around very saintly people. We might think about the transfiguration in this sense, that Jesus' holiness is shining forth. And the fact that this brilliance is as bright as the sun, as it's described, might indicate the staggering greatness of His virtue.

However, notice something very important described here. Jesus face shone like the sun. In other words, this wasn't merely an aura settling about Him, but rather it emanated from within. The implication of this is that He, Himself, is the source of the holy aura. This is in stark contrast to Jewish thought about holiness, that obedience to the Law would make you pure and righteous, but that you, yourself are not the source of the holiness. So, if an Old Testament saint received such brilliance, it would be considered a gift of his fidelity to Yahweh, not a revealing of his own greatness.

But, we see here that Jesus, Himself, is the source of this brilliance. This holiness radiates outward from within. He, Himself, is so bright that His very clothes appear to be as white as snow. That is the greatness of His holiness.

But, this brilliance has particular meaning in Jewish tradition, which goes beyond what you typically see in depictions from other ancient religions.

In the book of Judges 5:31, we see that this "shining" comes from God, for those who love Him.

In Psalm 88:38, the throne of David also shines like the sun, as a faithful witness. This should take on particular significance when we understand that Jesus sits on the throne of David.

In the Song of Solomon 6:9, Wisdom itself is said to shine like the sun. Moreover, within the Christian tradition, we also understand the Song of Solomon to be a mystical poem about the Church, who is the Bride of Christ. The perfect Bride and Bridegroom shine forth as the brilliant marriage of the ages.

Ecclesiasticus 27:12 reinforces the vision of Wisdom as brilliant as the sun.

And again, Ecclesiasticus 50:7 shows us again that righteousness, and fidelity to the Law, shines forth like the sun.

But, this event has significance later in the New Testament, as well. In the book of Revelations 1:16, and 10:1, we see that this characteristic, a face shining as the sun, is something certain angels bear as well. So, it is a spiritual character, and angels are even referred to as beings of pure light (and likewise demons as beings of darkness).

God is the source of Light (Let there be light!), and this is why we say that the transfiguration reveals Jesus' Divinity, as the light emanates from Him, from His very being; and all virtue and justice and righteousness are revealed as light.

Moses and Elijah

During the vision, Moses and Elijah appear and speak with Jesus. Now, remember, Moses had died (he was denied entry into the Promised Land for his transgression), but Elijah was taken up to heaven in a whirlwind. Yet, both appear here, and there doesn't seem to be any distinction in the quality of their appearance here. They're simply here, speaking with Jesus.

Now, we aren't given any detail about the content of their discussion(s) with Jesus. Thus, the importance here is simply the fact that they're speaking with Him, not what they're speaking about. In order to understand the significance of this, it's really important to understand the significance of these characters in Jewish tradition.

Remember that Moses freed the Israelites from Egypt, worked signs and miracles among them, and most importantly gave them the Law. But, Moses inscribed the Law twice! Remember? He went up the mountain, was there for a long time, inscribed the Law on tablets, came down the mountain, saw the Israelites worshipping an Egyptian calf god, got angry and broke the tablets, then had to go back up the mountain and received the Law a second time!

Moses freed the Israelites from Egyptian oppression, and once they were free, He received the Law to pass on to them. The Law, then, is supposed to be a work of freedom, in continuity with the freedom that Yahweh had already bestowed upon them. Not only were they to be free, physically and politically, from Egyptian rule, but they were also to be free from Egyptian religion, and tradition, which was steeped in sin and wickedness. And that freedom was to come by way of the Law.

Elijah was a prophet of God during the reign of Ahab. Now, remember, Ahab was wed to princess Jezebel of Phoenicia, a priestess of Baal, a Canaanite god. During Ahab's reign, the religion of Baal was brought into Israel in a big way, and Elijah spoke strongly against this, warning of catastrophe for Israel if the nation did not repent and turn back to Yahweh. He directly challenges the king (Ahab), Jezebel, her priests, and the people of Israel.

He is a prophet, and as all prophets of God do, he challenges Israel to repentance. He performed great miracles before the people, including raising the dead! But this is the essence of a prophet, to reveal our own hearts, and challenge us to reform, and return of God.

So, what you have here are the two great pillars of the Jewish Faith: the Law and the Prophets, symbolized by Moses and Elijah, respectively. And they are in dialogue with Jesus. Now remember, Jesus, during His ministry, makes it clear who He is claiming to be: not just the Messiah, but God, Himself, the Great I Am. More than that, Jesus was deliberately placing Himself at the center of the Jewish tradition.

Both Moses and Elijah spoke very harshly against the worship of false gods. Moses was furious and broke the precious gift of the Law in his anger, because the Israelites were worshipping a false god. Elijah's very name means "My God is Yahweh." The fact that these two giants of Yahweh are here seen in dialogue with Jesus ought to have impressed very strongly upon the Apostles the authenticity of Jesus' claims, about Himself, and His teachings. What He preached, about Himself, about the Kingdom, about our own actions, should then be seen in continuity with the Law and the Prophets, not in contrast with them.

And that's important to grasp, because we have a tendency to think of Jesus as doing away with the Law. This vision contradicts that thought. Indeed, if we could think about the Law and the Prophets in another way, I would suggest this: the Law guides our bodies, our actions, our behavior, while the Prophets guide our hearts. It seems that Jesus speaks more about our hearts, as we might think when we look at His sermon on the mount (which I spoke about last time), but the truth is, He does not deny the truth of the Law, but He takes the Law into the realm of the heart, and in this way, He unites the Law and the Prophets in a new way. In this way, the Law no longer simply governs our external actions, but our internal ones as well, which is really the goal of the Prophets.

Peter Speaks

There is an odd phraseology here. The text does not indicate that Peter was spoken to, but the text says, "And Peter answering," which kind of implies that, doesn't it? I would submit to you that, by this, it is simply mean that Peter is answering the vision. He witnesses this vision, and it impacts him, it demands something of him, just the witness of it demands an answer. And that makes sense, because being a faithful Jew, what he is witnessing here, with all its historical significance, had to have challenged his faith, in its scope and meaning.

So, how does he answer the challenge? He says to Jesus, "Lord, it is good for us to be here: if thou wilt, let us make here three tabernacles, one for thee, and one for Moses, and one for Elias."

Not only does he accept the implications of the vision, he recognizes the Divine character of it. He offers to make three tabernacles, or, in other translations (and it really means the same thing), tents. This is important, because when the Israelites were in the desert, they worshipped God, in the Ark of the Covenant, in a tent, or tabernacle. The tent here represents a place of worship of Yahweh. The Temple itself grew out of this tradition.

But why three? Obviously, there are three people in the vision, but the Jews only ever had one Temple (which was rebuilt twice), and the "tent of worship" was singular, because it housed the Ark of the Covenant, which housed the Shekinah of God (or presence of God). So, suggesting three tabernacles is strange.

However, if you understand that Moses and Elijah, here, represent the Law and the Prophets, then this seems to make more sense. Peter is recognizing here that God's presence, which is deserving of worship, resides not only in the Law, but also in the Prophets, and most significantly, in the Person of Jesus. He is confronted with this vision, he is challenged by it, and he responds by recognizing the presence of God, both in the different aspects of Jewish Tradition (Law and Prophets), but also in Jesus before him.

Immediately following this suggestion, even as Peter is still speaking, something awesome takes place.

The Father Speaks

As though in confirmation of the insight Peter has about this vision, we hear the Father speak. He says, "This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased: hear ye him."

In the Old Testament, the Jews are commanded to obey the Law. And again, throughout the Old Testament, God sends prophets to His people, and commands them to obey His prophets. Finally, He speaks one last time: This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased: hear ye him.

And just as on the Mount of the Commandments, where Yahweh spoke out of a cloud to Moses, who received the Law, and just as the prophets hear God through the cloud of vision, so too do we hear the Father speak again from a cloud.

And the Apostles immediately recognize who is speaking. They are familiar with the Lore of the Patriarchs. He who speaks out of the cloud is Yahweh God, and they reacted with terror, and hid their faces, for they knew that no one who looks upon the face of God will live.

And isn't it interesting? What does Father God say about Jesus? "Hear ye him." Listen to Him! But, isn't that exactly the last thing we hear Jesus' mother say about Him also? At the wedding feast of Cana, the last thing she says that's recorded in the Gospels is "Whatsoever he shall say to you, do ye." Listen to Him! Mother Mary teaches us exactly what Father God teaches us: Listen to Jesus, do what He tells you to do.

After Mother Mary tells us this, He transforms water into wine, prefiguring the Eucharist. So, the first command He gives us after we hear His mother command this (to do whatever He tells you), is to give us a sign of the Eucharistic meal. This should, then, be understood to be the central activity of our Faith: communion with Him.

But what's the first thing He commands us here, after Father God commands this (hear ye Him)? "Arise, and fear not." Listen to Him!

There Was Only Jesus

Finally, we have the conclusion of the vision. After Jesus touches them (communion), and commands them to Arise, and fear not, they look up, and see no one, but Him. Is this because the vision is over? Or is this the conclusion of the vision? Jesus touches them, so this might indicate a kind of "grounding in reality" to demonstrate the vision had ended. However, remember that Peter participated in the vision, so interaction doesn't necessarily mean this.

I suggest that this is the conclusion of the vision, the fact that in the end there was only Jesus. The implication here is that, in the Person of Jesus, we may find the Father, we may find the Law, we may find the Prophets. Jesus doesn't need the Law, because He desires to do righteousness anyway. More than that, He only ever does what is right, according to Divine Law, but not because He has to, but because He desires to do this from His own will. Jesus doesn't need the Prophets, because His heart is already rightly oriented toward the Father. And the Father already dwells within Him, because they are One, Eternal.

So, in Jesus, we may find all of these, and that is the significance here. In the end, there was only Jesus. We have our marching orders: you used to have to obey the Law, and you used to have to obey the Prophets, now I require only one thing from you: obey Him. You don't need all these other things. Right now, you just need Him. For, in Him, you are made righteous, and pure, and holy, and when you work, He works in you. So...

Hear ye Him.

Thursday, June 9, 2016

20 Mysteries: The Proclamation of the Kingdom

Matthew 4:17:

[17] From that time Jesus began to preach, and to say: Do penance, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.

Matthew 5-7:

[1] And seeing the multitudes, he went up into a mountain, and when he was set down, his disciples came unto him. [2] And opening his mouth, he taught them, saying:...

Praised be Jesus Christ!

Now and forever. Amen.

You may have noticed that I didn't post the whole text from Matthew 5-7. I decided quoting all three chapters here would be excessive, so I elected to simply quote the opening text. If you would like to read to full text, please do!

I had to make a decision regarding this reflection. The proclamation of the Kingdom was really the majority of Christ's ministry. Mixed in with this, He does a lot of healing, and casting out demons, etc. But, most of His actual teachings are about the Kingdom. Well, that's three years worth of teachings, and a lot of text to cover.

I made the decision to focus mainly on His Sermon on the Mount. I feel this is really the core of His teachings, and we can get a really good understanding of what He was proclaiming by understanding the sermon He gave on the mount. These teachings include the Beautitudes, His teachings on justice, how to pray (the Lord's Prayer), His teachings on judgement, and the need for a sound foundation of Faith.

I will do my best to get to the heart of these teachings without making an excessively long post.

The Beatitudes

1. Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
2. Blessed are the meek: for they shall possess the land.
3. Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted.
4. Blessed are they that hunger and thirst after justice: for they shall have their fill.
5. Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy.
6. Blessed are the clean of heart: for they shall see God. 
7. Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called children of God. 
8. Blessed are they that suffer persecution for justice' sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.     

Blessed are ye when they shall revile you, and persecute you, and speak all that is evil against you, untruly, for my sake: Be glad and rejoice, for your reward is very great in heaven. For so they persecuted the prophets that were before you. You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt lose its savour, wherewith shall it be salted? It is good for nothing any more but to be cast out, and to be trodden on by men. You are the light of the world. A city seated on a mountain cannot be hid. Neither do men light a candle and put it under a bushel, but upon a candlestick, that it may shine to all that are in the house. So let your light shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.

These are the 8 beatitudes of Our Lord. The first thing I want to point out is that the first and the eighth beatitudes mention as their reward, "theirs is the kingdom of heaven." Let these be "bookends," so that it is understood that all that comes in between is about the Kingdom, that the rewards of these beatitudes is heavenly in nature.

Now, rather than exposing the meaning behind each beatitude, I want to instead draw out the underlying common threads that they share. There are two that I want to point out. The first is that Jesus is turning the traditional understanding of God's blessings on its head, and the second is one that I've already mentioned: that God's blessings are firstly heavenly in nature, and earthly second.

The traditional understanding of God's blessings is something like: being in good health, owning land and property, having wealth, being well respected in the community, gaining victory in war, all of which comes from being obedient to the Law. Disobedience to the Law gains God's curses, which include things like, being overthrown in war, losing your wealth, getting sick with disease, like leprosy, losing your family, being looked down on by society, etc.

Here, Jesus is turning all of that on its head. Be poor in spirit (do not seek after wealth), be meek (control your passions), mourn, desire righteousness, be merciful, be pure of heart, be peacemakers, do not flee suffering and persecution. These are what make you blessed, not the material gain you may have.

And this leads well into the second part: the blessings God bestows for these beatitudes, which are heavenly in nature, rather than earthly, as was the traditional understanding. God blesses us with the Kingdom of Heaven, with possession of the earth (eschatologically), comfort, justice and righteousness, mercy, friendship with God (seeing His face), and adoption by God (children of God). These are the true blessings He bestows on us.

Bottom line: our righteous interior actions and dispositions will be rewarded with heavenly blessings.


Jesus then teaches a new kind of Justice. He prefaces these teachings by saying "unless your justice abound more than that of the scribes and Pharisees, you shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven." This teaching comes out of His teaching on the beatitudes, and is consonant with them. He is here teaching us to go beyond the justice of our actions, but to have a right interior life and disposition. This is why He repeatedly calls the scribes and Pharisees hypocrites, because their exterior lives were not integrated with their interior lives. They were obedient to the Law to a T, but interiorly, they did not abide by the spirit of that same Law.

So, what does Jesus teach here?

"You have heard that it was said to them of old: Thou shalt not kill. And whosoever shall kill shall be in danger of the judgment. But I say to you, that whosoever is angry with his brother, shall be in danger of the judgment."

"You have heard that it was said to them of old: Thou shalt not commit adultery. But I say to you, that whosoever shall look on a woman to lust after her, hath already committed adultery with her in his heart."

"And it hath been said, whosoever shall put away his wife, let him give her a bill of divorce. But I say to you, that whosoever shall put away his wife, excepting for the cause of fornication, maketh her to commit adultery: and he that shall marry her that is put away, committeth adultery."

"Again you have heard that it was said to them of old, Thou shalt not forswear thyself: but thou shalt perform thy oaths to the Lord. [34] But I say to you not to swear at all."

"You have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth. [39] But I say to you not to resist evil [that is, be patient under injury]."

"You have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thy enemy. [44] But I say to you, Love your enemies."

These teachings on Justice go beyond the exterior life, but enter into our interior lives. The purpose of the Law was to free Israel, as a people. What was the context of the Law, when it was given? God had just freed the Hebrews from Egypt. His first action after freeing them was to give them the Law. This can only be understood correctly if it is understood as a single action of freedom. We tend of thing of laws as restricting our freedom, but actually they enhance our freedom.

In particular, the Law was intended to free the Hebrews from the sinful culture they had learned from Egypt. Instead, over time, the Law became a thing of oppression, and rather than obedience for the sake of righteousness, it was obedience for the sake of obedience, and the hypocrisy was that they desired unrighteousness.

Jesus is teaching us here that these Laws that we are familiar with from the Patriarchs are intended to direct us toward a deeper kind of righteousness, that our interior lives are integrated with our exterior lives. If we are not to commit adultery, then we should not even desire adultery in our hearts. That's really the point. If we are not to kill, then we should not even desire to kill, should not harbor hatred in our hearts. That's really the point.

Again, Jesus is pointing us to deeper truths. The Law was meant to transform us inwardly, not simply to be practiced outwardly.


In continuity with these teachings, Jesus teaches us to pray "in secret." Again, the focus here is not on outward appearances, but on interior authenticity, integrity between our hearts and our actions. And in this secrecy, He teaches us to pray:

"Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our supersubstantial bread. And forgive us our debts, as we also forgive our debtors. And lead us not into temptation. But deliver us from evil. Amen."

Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. This is essentially Jesus' teaching here. Supersubstantial bread speaks about a "hidden" substance, a continuation of Jesus' teaching. If we are unwilling, in our hearts, to forgive, then we do not deserve forgiveness. And don't just keep us from committing evil action, keep us from the very temptation of it. And deliver us from [the evil one], a reminder that our true enemy is hidden (a spirit).

Jesus completes this teaching on prayer and justice and blessedness by teaching us that "For where thy treasure is, there is thy heart also." So, we must transform our hearts such that God alone is our treasure. This is the heart of His teaching. The Kingdom of Heaven is for those who treasure it in their hearts. "Seek ye therefore first the kingdom of God, and his justice, and all these things shall be added unto you."


"Judge not, that you may not be judged, For with what judgment you judge, you shall be judged: and with what measure you mete, it shall be measured to you again."

Jesus goes on to teach us about right judgment. Ah, the dreaded "judge not" line. Except, this teaching isn't about not judging people at all! It's a warning about making sure you judge things and people properly. Be careful when you judge, because if you're guilty of the same fault, then you will be judged as harshly for that same fault as how you judged others for it.

However, Jesus does intend for us to use right judgement. He continues His teaching: "Give not that which is holy to dogs; neither cast ye your pearls before swine, lest perhaps they trample them under their feet, and turning upon you, they tear you." You can only know what a "dog" is, or what a "swine" is, with right judgment. And yes, Jesus is using colorful metaphor here to speak about certain kinds of people.

But, then we also have an odd teaching thrown in here, and it almost seems out of place. He says, "Ask, and it shall be given you: seek, and you shall find: knock, and it shall be opened to you. For every one that asketh, receiveth: and he that seeketh, findeth: and to him that knocketh, it shall be opened." It is only when we understand that this is stated in continuity with His teaching on right judgment that we see how this teaching fits here. Jesus is telling us that whatever we have discerned our need to be, with right judgment, and we ask that this need be fulfilled, this request will be granted to us. This teaching is not about asking for just anything. It's about asking for the right things.

This gives us the golden rule, which He teaches here, "All things therefore whatsoever you would that men should do to you, do you also to them. For this is the law and the prophets."

"Enter ye in at the narrow gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way that leadeth to destruction, and many there are who go in thereat. How narrow is the gate, and strait is the way that leadeth to life: and few there are that find it!"

This teaching on judgment, right judgment, grows out of Jesus earlier teachings on a righteous interior disposition. Without a right interior life, one cannot properly discern. We are called to properly discern our own sins, so as to avoid condemning others for the same sins. We are called to judge others, so as not to allow them to trample what is Holy, we are called to properly discern our own spiritual needs, so we know what to ask God for in prayer, and we must discern properly what behavior is good, so that we may do it, and that others may do likewise by our example. Doing all of this, we may find the narrow way to Heaven. If we do not judge rightly, we will walk the broad way.

A Sure Foundation

"Not every one that saith to me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven: but he that doth the will of my Father who is in heaven, he shall enter into the kingdom of heaven."

Our foundation of Faith must be secure. Our foundation must be based on these teachings of Jesus, to hear them and obey them. We must transform our inner dispositions to align with the beatitudes. Out of this beatified disposition, we must enter into a more worthy righteousness, a more Godly justice, one based on deeper fundamental truths, an inner justice that is a fulfillment of the Law. We must pray rightly, seeking God and His Kingdom first, before all things, and with this rightly ordered heart, we must make right judgements about ourselves and about those around us. Obedience to these teachings is the sure foundation of our Faith.

"Every one therefore that heareth these my words, and doth them, shall be likened to a wise man that built his house upon a rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and they beat upon that house, and it fell not, for it was founded on a rock. And every one that heareth these my words, and doth them not, shall be like a foolish man that built his house upon the sand, And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and they beat upon that house, and it fell, and great was the fall thereof."

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

20 Mysteries: The Wedding Feast at Cana

John 2:1-13:

[1] And the third day, there was a marriage in Cana of Galilee: and the mother of Jesus was there. [2] And Jesus also was invited, and his disciples, to the marriage. [3] And the wine failing, the mother of Jesus saith to him: They have no wine. [4] And Jesus saith to her: Woman, what is that to me and to thee? my hour is not yet come. [5] His mother saith to the waiters: Whatsoever he shall say to you, do ye.
    [6] Now there were set there six waterpots of stone, according to the manner of the purifying of the Jews, containing two or three measures apiece. [7] Jesus saith to them: Fill the waterpots with water. And they filled them up to the brim. [8] And Jesus saith to them: Draw out now, and carry to the chief steward of the feast. And they carried it. [9] And when the chief steward had tasted the water made wine, and knew not whence it was, but the waiters knew who had drawn the water; the chief steward calleth the bridegroom, [10] And saith to him: Every man at first setteth forth good wine, and when men have well drunk, then that which is worse. But thou hast kept the good wine until now.
[11] This beginning of miracles did Jesus in Cana of Galilee; and manifested his glory, and his disciples believed in him. [12] After this he went down to Capharnaum, he and his mother, and his brethren, and his disciples: and they remained there not many days. [13] And the pasch of the Jews was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem.

Praised be Jesus Christ!

Now and forever. Amen.

The next Luminous Mystery is the famous wedding feast at Cana, where Jesus turns water into wine. This is a story most of us are familiar with. The wine is running low at the wedding feast, which would be very embarrassing for the bridegroom (perhaps he was not wealthy, and could not afford much) if they ran out. Mary asks Jesus to help, then tells the waiters to do whatever Jesus says. He directs them to fill some jars with water and they take it to the steward, who marvels at how good the wine in the jars is.

However, as with all such stories, it's all the language of the time that we're no longer familiar with that really makes the story meaningful. There are certainly many layers here, so let's being unpacking some of them.

John Sets the Stage

This story is only recorded in John's Gospel. That should be our first clue that something really important is happening here, since John's Gospel works hard to reveal to us the Divine Nature of Our Lord. Within John's Gospel, in particular, the Eucharist is a clear thread that extends throughout its length. This story is part of that, and I will show how, but since the Eucharist is the focus of a later Mystery, I will only touch on it briefly.

The Third Day

John begins by stating "And the third day." From a chronological perspective, this is the third day of Jesus' active ministry. On the first day, Andrew, Simon Peter, and another Disciple began following Jesus, declaring Him to be the Messiah. On the second day, Philip and Nathaniel began following Jesus, declaring Him to be the Son of God, and King of Israel. And now this is the third day of His ministry, on which He performs His first miracle, "and his disciples believed in him."

But, by now, you should recognize that the "third day" has deeper theological significance. Mary and Joseph found Jesus "after three days," Jesus rises from the dead on the third day, and here in this story Jesus "manifested his glory" on the third day. The third day, then, is a day of manifested glory. By beginning this scene in this way, we are meant to understand that this event manifests Christ's glory.

The Pasch was at Hand

John closes the scene by letting us know this event immediately preceded the Pasch. This is important, because Jesus' ministry lasted the course of three years, and therefore three Paschs. This is the miracle of the first Pasch. We know the miracle of the third Pasch (His death and resurrection), but did you know that the multiplication of the loaves by which Jesus fed the five thousand also occurred during the Pasch?

These are the miracles of the three Paschs: 1) Jesus transforms water into wine, the wine is called the "Good Wine," 2) Jesus multiplies the loaves, everyone eats their fill, there are 12 baskets left over, 3) Jesus institutes the Eucharist at the Last Supper, and completes the Paschal meal at His death on the Cross.

I'll talk more about this during the 5th Luminous Mystery.

Mary Intercedes

I noted earlier that the bridegroom of this wedding feast was probably poor, and that's why they were running out of wine. Mary, who was poor herself, notices and very likely identifies with his need. So, she turns to Jesus for help. Not help for herself, but help for this poor man.

It may seem like a mundane need that Mary is responding to, but it may be proper to understand this as a sign of deeper things. Spiritually, we are all poor, we are all in need. We do not have the funds to purchase a richer life, we do not merit it. In our spiritual poverty, Mary, who is now rich indeed, intercedes on our behalf to Her Son, the source of all spiritual wealth. She identifies with us, in our need, in our spiritual poverty. She understands our struggles, and inability to rise to the challenge of spiritual glory.

Jesus Responds to His Mother

Jesus responds to Mary's request in a strange way. He says "Woman, what is that to me and to thee? my hour is not yet come." When you think about it, all Mary said to Him was "they have no wine." Clearly, by Jesus' response, much was understood from Mary's statement.


Jesus does not call Mary, "mother" (or some variant). He doesn't call her "Mary." He calls her "Woman." This has a great deal of significance. He is primarily recalling the name Adam gave to Eve, Woman.

In Genesis, after God creates Adam, this is what Adam is called all the way up until he names Eve "Woman." Eve didn't become known as Eve until after the Fall, when she became known as "mother of all the living." Eve's first name was "woman," and in naming her Woman, Adam named Himself Man. In the Hebrew, this is Ish, and Isha.

The point is that in the naming of her as Isha, and therefore Himself as Ish, He was giving Himself His own identity, His own calling, His own mission in the world. Likewise, when Jesus here calls Mary "Woman," He is declaring His mission in the world as beginning. She is the new Eve, He the new Adam, and this moment exacts the commencement of that mission.

What is that to Me and to Thee?

Given Jesus' address to Mary as Woman, His following statement appears to make less sense: what is that to me and to thee? What does that have to do with us? That seems like a backhanded comment, similar to "mind your own business." If we didn't recognize the title "Woman" to have the theological significance that it does, we might even think calling her this is a further put down.

Rather, the opposite is true. Here, Jesus is affording Mary a great honor. In this, Jesus is inviting Mary to "sound the gong" so to speak. The key to getting this is in the phrase "and to thee." If Jesus was just saying "I don't care," then He would simply have say "what is that to me?" But He didn't, He included her in His question. What is it to "me and to thee." He is taking them together.

While this fits well with He and she as being the new Adam and Eve, it actually fits better if we understand Him to be referring to their royal positions as King and Queen Mother. In this context, "Woman" takes on the added meaning of "Gebirah" or "Great Lady." The phrase "what is that to me and to thee" then becomes a question of significance? What meaning does this have before us, as King and Queen?

This gives context to Mary's intercession here. In the Royal Line of David, the Queen Mother had, as one of her responsibilities, to listen to the requests of the people, and to distribute the King's wealth according to the peoples' needs, and her sound judgement. Here, Mary, as Queen Mother, has heard the need of this, her subject, and has brought the need to the King.

The need is material. Jesus' reign is spiritual. So, Jesus rightly asks what significance this need has to them, as rulers of the Heavenly Kingdom. He doesn't ask this because He doesn't care. He asks because He is allowing the Queen Mother to define which needs of their Kingdom will be met, at the very moment His Kingdom is being established. She responds as a good mother would: by working to meet both the material and the spiritual needs of the people.

In the way Mary responds to this question, she reveals to us how it is we may benefit from the wealth of His treasury: "Whatsoever he shall say to you, do ye." Do whatever He says.

My Hour is not yet Come

This reference to His "Hour" is a reference to His Passion, Death, and Resurrection, by which Jesus makes the wealth of His spiritual treasury available to the world. This is the link to that work. His salvific "hour" has not yet arrived. Nevertheless, the work of His Kingdom, as authorized by His Mother, was to start that very hour, to care for the physical needs of His people, to heal them, to teach them, to deliver them from demons.

And so, obedient to His mother, in adherence to the fourth commandment, and as an honor to His Queen Mother, allowing her to define the scope of His Kingdom's work, and in respect of the New Eve, who by her very nature gives Him an understanding of His work as a man, Jesus performs His first miracle, by turning water into win.

Six Waterpots

That's certainly not the end of the story, though. Jesus meets the immediate, material need of the bridegroom, but He does so with deep significance. He tells the waiters to take six waterpots and fill them to the brim. The first thing we should note is that these waterpots were "according to the manner of the purifying of the Jews." Once again, we return to the Purity Laws of the Jews. According to such laws, both the vessels that would be used for food, as well as the people who were about to eat, had to be washed first for purification, otherwise they would be considered unclean.

It is no coincidence that Jesus chose purification jars in this miracle. If this turning of water into wine is to be a sign of the Eucharist, then we must understand that this sign is one of purification.

The waterpots are already 2 to 3 measures full. In other words, as is obvious from the context of the story (running out of wine), these jars have already been used, and are no longer full. These jars are large, also, each holding somewhere between 20 to 30 gallons. And at this point in the story, they're about one half to three quarters full, each.

Jesus doesn't tell them to empty the jars first, then refill them to the brim. He simply tells them to fill the jars to the brim. So the waters themselves are the same purifying waters that were used to make the vessels and people clean for the feast. Thus, these are a sign of Baptism, a purifying water in which one bathes to become clean.

However, they are then transformed into wine; a drink that is consumed. Thus, these are a sign of the Eucharistic blood of Christ, by which He purifies our souls.

And the chief steward, tasting the wine, and recognizing its superiority over the "regular" wine, called it the "good wine." Indeed, Jesus is the Good Wine.

The Wedding Feast

I feel it is important, at this time, to remind you that this is a wedding feast. With all this talk of the Eucharist, I feel their might be too much emphasis on that right now. Not that there can be too much emphasis on the Eucharist. I just want to remind that this is a wedding, and we can put greater focus on the Eucharist at a later time.

Jesus has discourses on marriage in other parts of the Gospels. And in those discourses, He talks about the meanings and purposes and indissolubility of marriage. Nevertheless, I would argue that it is this occasion, this wedding feast at Cana, which inaugurates marriage as a Sacrament. I make this argument because the special graces of marriage are that of abundance, of blessing. And that's really what this story is all about.

Mary, the Queen Mother, decides this would be the moment Jesus begins to bless His people. Jesus fills the six very large purity jars to the brim. Jesus transforms the water into wine. That is, He makes a drink of necessity into a drink of abundance and blessing and celebration.

And these are the special graces of a Sacramental marriage. Marriage alone is a natural good; for the couple, for the children, and for the wider society. But a Sacramental marriage is one of abundant blessing and grace.

I hope you've enjoyed this Mystery. Thanks for reading!