Faith education for adults
Note: This page needs to be revised - hopefully soon, God willing!
Israel, Jesus and the Church –an overview of salvation history
“This is the revelation of God’s love for us, that God sent his only Son into the world that we might have life through him.”
In the first chapter to the Church in Ephesus Saint Paul praises God because we have been chosen before the creation of the world, predestined as adopted sons and daughters through Jesus Christ. Talk about a well thought out plan! And this plan wasn’t to be something abstract but revealed through the course of history and ultimately in the Person Jesus. A plan revealing the extent to which God loves us and that is guaranteed by Jesus as it has been sealed in his blood. Christians believe that by coming amongst us, representing us before God and ultimately surrendering his life to death Jesus established a new and everlasting covenant with God on behalf of God’s people defeating death once and for all. The significance of this new covenant is that God’s people are now gathered in the name of Jesus and called to enter into the mystery of his life, death and resurrection sharing in eternal life. Baptism, confirmation and Eucharist are the doorways that lead us into this great mystery of everlasting life and are appropriately called sacraments of initiation.
It is important to realize that this guy Jesus was Jewish and we will return to the significance of this again and again. A big role in Jewish society was to lead God’s people and so Jesus, being the son of God, was also the awaited messiah – meaning God’s anointed leader. He was to fulfil the role of king according to God’s promise of an unfailing heir to David. However the Jews did not want the type of kingdom that God had in mind and that Jesus offered. The type of king they wanted would free them from the tyrannical rule of the Roman Empire and not from slavery to their own sinfulness! And so even though the Jewish Scriptures anticipated the coming of Jesus, when he finally did come, they did not accept Him. In fact those in authority hated the guy and had him killed.
Those who plotted to get rid of Jesus had him killed because he was a threat to their authority. What a contrast! The authority of Jesus was evidenced by the way he lived his life. He was so manifestly good that his life was a reproach to the lives of those in authority but did those in authority change their lifestyle? No! Instead they turned against Jesus in hatred as it is written: “Let us lay traps for the upright man, since he annoys us and opposes our way of life, reproaches us for our sins . . . We see him as a reproof to our way of thinking . . . his kind of life is not like other peoples and his ways are quite different. In his opinion we are counterfeit . . . let us test him with cruelty and torture . . . let us condemn him to a shameful death.”
The History of Israel
Abraham is the father of the Jewish, Islamic and Christian faiths. In Abraham’s day there were heaps of gods to do stuff for you such as make your crops grow, to give good health or even make your wife pregnant! The God of Abraham was different. He was the only God and a personal God inviting a personal response. As it happened and lucky for us God made a covenant with Abraham saying “Look up at the sky and count the stars if you can. Just so will your descendants be.” Rightly so Abraham put his faith in Yahweh! Abraham had a son called Isaac, Isaac fathered Jacob. Jacob became known as Israel and gave birth to twelve sons that formed twelve tribes of Israel. One of his sons Judah was the father of the Jewish people but for simplicities sake I will use Jew and Israelite interchangeably! Israel’s testament is recorded in chapter 49 of the book of Genesis.
Chapter 39 of the book of Genesis commences an in depth story about Jacob explain how Israel became slaves in Egypt. It happened that in Jacob’s lifetime there was a great famine and so the Israelites were forced to find food in Egypt. Initially they enjoyed the favour of the Pharaoh but eventually they became slaves. Seemingly forgotten by God it was not until four hundred years later that God chose Moses to lead Israel out of captivity. At the command of God Moses led the Israelites out of Egypt, liberating them from the bonds of slavery. This event is called the Exodus and the Jewish feast of Passover recalls this Exodus from Egypt. During this flight from Egypt Moses received the Ten Commandments to govern the lives of God's people. This story is super important for several reasons. Firstly Matthew portrays Jesus as the new Moses. Secondly the Exodus is the foundational story of Israel because God reveals big time his predilection for God’s chosen people. Lastly the Passover remembrance is the context in which Jesus left us the memorial of the Eucharist. All these points will be discussed in depth later but for now let’s return to the unfolding drama!
Because the Jewish people were unable to keep God’s commandments their infidelity brought big trouble down upon them. Wanting a quick fix solution and instead of taking personal responsibility for their predicament, they implored God to give them a king so the king could fight their battles and resolve their problems. The first king Saul disobeyed God and so God raised-up David to be king. God said about David: “I have found David son of Jesse, a man after my own heart, who will perform my entire will.” The kingship of David is fulfilled in Christ. However the kingdom of God that Jesus is Lord over, is characterized by the two commandments that Jesus left us and which were evident in his own life. These are to love God and neighbour. By the sending of the Holy Spirit to anoint the Church at Pentecost Christians are empowered to live by Jesus’ commandments, to fulfil all of God’s commandments and to actively cooperate in bringing God’s kingdom into the world.
Questions to ponder!
- If you were Jesus how would you have revealed yourself to the Jews?
- Should the Jews have accepted Jesus?
- Why are Christians called to live by the 10 Commandments when they seem impossible to achieve?
The Church and the Kingdom of God
Jesus revealed God’s love for all humanity, not just for the Jews. The great expression of that love was when he surrendered his life on the Cross.
This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers.
Jesus’ giving of his life was a double surrender revealing God’s love for all people and Jesus’s particular filial love for his Father. And this is despite God willing Jesus sacrifice himself for sinners. In fact Jesus willingly shared in God’s plan to manifest God’s unfathomable mercy and love for all people. This revelation of God’s love is the core of Christian belief and is why the Church holds that the sign of the Cross symbolizes Christianity.
Jesus’ love characterized by the gift of self for the sake of another, binds together the community he founded. This community gathered to Jesus and bound by his love is known as the Church. The Church does not refer to buildings, rather the people of God gathered in the name of Jesus. The Church carries on the work of Jesus, actively cooperating with the risen Jesus to reveal God’s ‘crucified love’ to humanity and bring God’s kingdom into the world. The Eucharist commemorates and makes present that love in particular way and a way in which the Church can share in the Spirit of Jesus’ sacrificial love.
The Church as the Body of Christ
Saint Paul often refers to the Church as the Body of Christ. Using this analogy it’s easy to understand that the Church needs to be nourished by Jesus’ Body and Blood. The Church as the Body of Christ has different parts reflecting the unity and diversity of its members. As a Body it is animated by God’s Spirit and so we believe that the Church or the Body of Christ has a human and divine nature. Through faith and Baptism a person becomes a member of the Church, the Spirit filled people of God. More than this we become children of God, members of the Body of Christ and temples of the Holy Spirit.
Who is Jesus?
When we think about who Jesus is do we use the looking glass of faith or do we put on the spectacles of history? Our faith proclaims Jesus as the Son of God whereas history tells us he was a man, a historical person and a Jew! So who is Jesus and how do we reconcile claims of being divine and human?
Jesus is fully human and fully God. So does being one hundred percent human and one hundred percent God makes him some sort of freak? Nope, Jesus has a human nature and suffers the limitations of his humanity, but he is also a divine Person and always was! Jesus became human but remains a divine Person. In the beginning of John’s Gospel we learn that Jesus pre-existed the creation of the world and was with God, as God, for all eternity. His claim and our belief is that he is God’s Son, sharing in God’s divine nature. And we use the word Incarnation to refer to God’s Son taking on human nature and becoming a man. Also we claim that being God and by being born as a human being, Mary is the mother of God.
It is important to balance our beliefs about Jesus as the son of and therefore fully God with the knowledge that Jesus became a man to redeem humanity. During his earthly life he felt joy and anger, disappointment and uncertainty. In becoming man Jesus experienced the full range of human emotions and he also experienced the limitations of being human. Although he never sinned, Jesus, like all people endured trials, times of darkness, grief and suffering. Considered in this way it is easy to see why Jesus is referred to as the servant of God and even as the suffering servant of God. Saint Paul explains that Jesus “emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, becoming as human beings are; and being in every way like a human being, he was humbler yet, even to accepting death, death on a cross.” The prophet Isaiah wrote four songs about Jesus, the future suffering servant of God:
“Look, my servant . . . was so humanly disfigured that he no longer looked like a man . . . he was despised, the lowest of men, a man of sorrows, familiar with suffering . . . despised, for whom we had no regard. Yet ours were the sufferings he was bearing, ours the sorrows he was carrying, while we thought of him as someone being punished . . . whereas he was being wounded for our rebellions, crushed because of our guilt; the punishment reconciling us fell on him, and we have been healed by his bruises.”
Jesus establishes his Church
To establish his Church and enable all people of goodwill to share in his relationship with God as a son or daughter of God, Jesus provided a human structure to govern his Church, to teach his people and to sanctify his future brothers and sisters. To do this he chose his twelve apostles to be the pillars of his Church and he chose Simon Peter to be the first of the apostles. As we look back we understand that Peter was the first pope as Jesus gave him the authority to govern his Church. The apostles became the first bishops. Now God’s plan to bring God’s kingdom into the world is entrusted to Peter who represents Jesus.
The invitation of Jesus
Jesus invites us to become family. Our vocation may be as a married person, a single person, a lay missionary, a priest, a Bishop, a religious brother or sister! Above all let us remember we are called to become members of God's family, the Church, in which Jesus is the head.
Points to remember
- The Church is made of people.
- Jesus Christ lives in the members of his Church.
- Like Jesus, the Church has two natures - human and Divine.
- God reveals his plan of love through the Church.
- Does God have a plan for me and what has it to do with belonging to the Church?
- Does God have a plan for me and what has it to do with belonging to the Church?
Introduction to the New Testament
Most of the books of the New Testament were written between 50 and 100 A.D. Paul’s letters were written between 50 and 60 and the Gospels took their final shape between 70 and 100. Up till 180 the Church relied on the living voice of the Apostles and Fathers of the Church rather than ‘things from books.’ So, seemingly suddenly, around about 180 there appeared a New Testament. We know this as circa 180 Saint Irenaeus describes a closed canon of four Gospels which he refers to as four pillars of the Church. By 200 most of the Christian Church possessed a copy of the New Testament: four Gospels and sixteen other books. The New Testament was fixed circa 400 and included twenty-seven books.
To explain the ‘sudden’ appearance of the Gospels we can conclude that the authoritative teaching and preaching of the word shifted from the living voice of the Apostolic Fathers based on the words of Jesus, to a fixed reliable source of written accounts about Jesus that were found to be doctrinally sound. The reason for this is the perversion of the sayings of the Lord to suit ones’ own lusts and subsequently to deny resurrection and judgment. These ‘reliable’ documents were selected on the criteria of apostolicity, usage in the liturgical celebrations of the community of faith and the adherence to the rule of faith. The rule of faith is the crucial concept and refers to Christ’s birth, passion, resurrection, his conversation with his disciples after his resurrection and his second coming. The first official list of the New Testament canon was issued by Bishop Ambrose in 367.
There were three stages in the formation of the Gospels based on the life and teachings of Jesus: oral tradition, composition and acceptance. Most scholars accept Mark was the first Gospel and that Mark used a source document. Then Matthew and Luke used independently the Gospel of Mark and the same source document to produce their Gospels. John was written later and used independent sources.
The Bible We Study
The Bible is a collection of books that tell stories of God’s involvement in the lives of God’s chosen people. The Gospels tell us of Jesus’ involvement in the history of God’s chosen people. Because we accept that Jesus is God we believe the Gospels reveal who God is; what God is like and how we are all called to be the people of God. There are four Gospels that tell us about the life of Jesus and each story is narrated and recounted differently because each are told according to the memory of the author and of the community who lived out the story of God’s involvement in their lives. Therefore each Gospel reveals a different understanding of God according to the context of the particular Christian community, whilst, at the same time revealing the same truth about God’s salvation won for us through the coming of God’s Son into the world. God’s Holy Spirit revealed this truth to the human author who is said to be inspired by God. In this way the Gospels are also attributed to the Holy Spirit who is said to be the Divine author of all Sacred Scripture.
Some Quick Facts
- The Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation (Dei Verbum) tells us: the Word of God is “the summons to salvation, so that through hearing it the world may believe, through belief it may hope, through hope it may come to love” (DV, 1).
- The Word of God teaches us “that truth which God, for the sake of our salvation, wished to see confided to the sacred Scriptures” (DV, 11). The Scriptures do not necessarily contain scientific or historical truths.
Making Sense of the Word of God
There are two simple yet contrasting ways to give meaning to, the Word of God.
A) Lectio Divina is a traditional way of ‘getting meaning’ from the
Bible by reading and praying over a text. Pope Benedict XXVI writes about the five stages in his Apostolic Exhortation Verbum Domini.
1. Lectio (a terms that literally means reading): The Pope suggests that the fundamental question to be answered at this stage is, 'what does the text mean'?
2. Meditatio (meditation): This stage is about reflecting on 'what does the biblical text say to us'?
3. Oratio (prayer): Moving from our head space to a heartfelt engagement with God, we spend time conversing with God and responding to the word of God. Pope Benedict asks 'what do we say to the Lord in response to his word'?
4. Contemplatio (contemplation): Having reached a deep level of personal engagement with God in prayer we reflect on our own lives asking 'what conversion of mind, heart and life is the Lord asking of us'?
5. Actio (action): Lastly we must put all of this into practice in our own life.
B) Another way of ‘meaning making’ is to consider the text as a narrative from three perspectives. Obtaining background information is the key to knowing the context and hence the true meaning of a story according to the mind of the human author, which can be then applied to our day and age.
- The world behind the text, meaning the historical background and circumstances from which the story emerges.
- The world of the text, meaning current events affecting the community to which the story was addressed.
- The world in front of the text, meaning applying the wisdom offered in that story to our current circumstances.
- This method of thinking about a text sheds light upon the historical context of the story, the story the author wants to tell within that context and finally how we interpret and apply that story to our lives.
Spend time familiarising yourself with your bible.
Appreciating the Portraits of God
If four guys were asked to paint a picture of me none of them would look the same and perhaps one or all or none would capture my likeness! But even though they will all have portrayed me differently nobody could argue that they were not attempts at capturing my likeness.
Now the Gospels are all different, written by different people in different communities and at different times! What stands behind them is a person. And not withstanding all the differences the unalterable truth these stories tell is of Jesus the Son of God who lived amongst us, was crucified and rose from the dead!
Jesus in the Gospel of Mark
The Gospel of Mark is commonly accepted to be the first written story arising from a Christian community about what God has done for us in Christ. It is easy to miss the importance of the first sentence where the author asserts that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. In Mark’s Gospel this fact is unknown to the disciples in the beginning and they are often criticised by Jesus for having no comprehension of who he is due to their minds being closed. Mark paints a picture of them as somewhat slow learners as he wants to emphasize that we must have a radical change of mind and heart to be able to know Jesus. We must embrace the suffering of life as well as the consolations God sends us, in order to fully understand the person and purpose of Jesus. Only by embracing the Cross of the Lord will we be true followers of Jesus and come to understand the true meaning of life.
Some Key Ideas in Mark:
- Jesus is proclaimed to be the Son of God in the first verse to let the reader in on what the disciples are ignorant of!
- At Jesus’ Baptism God reveals that Jesus is his Son, the beloved and that God’s favour rests on him.
- The minds of the disciples are closed and they are unable to fully understand who Jesus is. In particular they could not fathom the great mystery of the loaves as they didn’t perceive the bread miracle as signifying and anticipating God’s kingdom revealed to them before their eyes in the person of Jesus. Hence they failed to see Jesus with ‘spiritual eyes’ as he walked to them over the water, unable as they were to contemplate the greater truth of the person who wrought the miracle of the loaves. Note that this story was changed remarkably by Matthew whose purposely portrays Jesus and his relationship with his disciples differently.
- Jesus is presented as God-giving-among-us by the many signs that in him God’s kingdom has come into the world. Mark recounts stories about the way God miraculously provides for the people’s needs through the mediation of Jesus. Note that for Mark the bread miracles are specific signs about the person of Jesus being the Son of God. The giving of bread miraculously blessed by God supplies for the needs of the community gathered to him indicating he is truly God’s Son, the beloved on whom God’s favour rests.
- Mark understands the necessity of suffering and that rejection is a part of God’s plan.
- The pivotal point in Mark is Peter’s profession of faith in 8:27-30. The secrecy surrounding the messianic title ‘Christ’ is a literary device employed by Mark to teach people that discipleship is not based on miraculous signs; rather our faith is based upon following a crucified Jesus.
- Secrecy concerning Jesus and that he was the Messiah (meaning Christ or anointed by God).
- Stress on the humanity of Jesus.
- Stress on the role of suffering in Christian living. To be a Christian one must experience the same fate as Jesus; namely suffering.
- Disciples often misunderstand Jesus –they do not get who he is and how his ministry will lead him to his eventual rejection and death.
- No strong connection is made between the disciples and John the Baptist.
- No infancy narrative.
- Jesus goes ahead to Galilee after his resurrection clearly contradicting other Gospels.
- According to Mark Jesus ascends into heaven unlike Matthews’ Gospel as the latter wants to stress that Jesus is God-with-us (Emmanuel).
Key differences in Mark
Jesus in Matthew, Luke and John
Mark, Matthew and Luke when read together, give us a common view of Jesus due to the similarities in content, order and statements about him found in the three Gospels. This is why they are referred to as the Synoptic Gospels. The Gospel of John is based on the authors own experience of the mystery of Christ and source material available to him other than that used for the Synoptics. In sum, Mark, Matthew and Luke have a lot of similarities whilst John tells the story of Jesus in a markedly different way.
Matthews’ Gospel arises out of a community very familiar with Jewish custom and practice as opposed to Luke Gospel which gives the impression it is written for the civilized Greek reader. Perhaps the most striking feature of the Gospel is that Jesus is portrayed as the new Moses replacing him to become the new teacher, lawgiver and interpreter of God’s will for Israel. Matthew is the only author to refer to the Kingdom of Heaven. This Kingdom is associated with the community Jesus founded and entrusted to Peter. The Gospel of Matthew is often divided into five sections analogous to the five books of the Jewish Law (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers & Deuteronomy).
- The Kingdom of Heaven is announced in chapters 3-7
- The Kingdom of Heaven is preached in chapters 8-10
- The mystery of the Kingdom of Heaven 11:1-13:52
- The Church as the 1st fruit of the Kingdom of Heaven, chapters 13:53-18
- The advent of the Kingdom of Heaven in chapters 19-25
Luke’s’ Gospel presents Jesus as the universal saviour seeking out and saving what was lost and calling his disciples to do the same. Not surprisingly it is the Gospel where Jesus commands us to “be compassionate just as your Father is compassionate.” Compare this with Matthew who puts “be perfect just as your heavenly Father is perfect” on the lips of Jesus.
Luke uses specially sourced material about Jesus’ infancy including Mary’s prior consent to his birth and her subsequent Magnificat. In fact there are two infancy narratives woven together to show both the continuity and discontinuity between God’s promises to Israel in the persons of John the Baptist and Jesus. Journey, community meals, social justice in the service of the poor and outcast –all form special Lucan themes within the telling of the story of Jesus. The book of Acts forms the second part of the Gospel.
As an exercise reconcile Luke 4:16-30 and Jesus’ subsequent call of his 1st disciples in chapter 5:1-11 with the story of Jesus’ visit to Nazareth in Matthew 13:53-58 and Mark 6:1-6. Where the disciples called before or after Jesus’ visit? Does Gospel truth refer to historical and factual truth?
John’s Gospel is radically different telling the story of Jesus in terms of the signs he performs and the subsequent discourses the author employs to explain the signs. The author uses much symbolic language to explain who Jesus is. The purpose of the Gospel is that we “may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God and that believing this [we] may have life through his name.” Important themes include Jesus as the pre-existent Word of God found in the prologue and the Hour of Jesus. For John, Jesus’ ‘hour’ refers to his triumph on the Cross.
Study the following overview of the four Gospels and identify where you agree and disagree with the statements made about them.
Features of the Gospel
Traditionally attributed to John Mark who is believed to have written it in Rome circa 70AD.
Traditionally attributed to Matthew, a tax-collector and believed to have been written in Antioch circa 80-90AD.
|Attributed to Luke, a physician, the fellow worker & companion of Paul. Written in Greece or Syria circa 85AD. || Traditionally attributed to John, son of Zebedee, written in Ephesus or Syria
circa 80-100AD. |
Who is Jesus?
Focus on Jesus’ humanity (hugging, touching, hungering, angry, distressed, fearful and ignorant).
Jesus is greater than Moses.
Compassionate friend of sinners.
Stress on Jesus’ divinity.
Portrait of the disciples
Uncomprehending, argumentative, thinking in a human way. Ignorant to the end.
Radical, detached followers of Jesus who provide a model for the latter Church (in Acts).
| Those who have true faith i.e., the beloved. |
Emerging picture of the Christian community
Gentile community in Rome that failed under persecution (Nero).
Recovering from the fall of Jerusalem & the destruction of the Temple.
Written by a Gentile for a Gentile community who needed to settle down & give witness to Jesus in the midst of daily life (as the expected end didn’t come!).
Community are those expelled from the Synagogues.
God Calling –creation, sin and salvation
Creation and fall: the drama begins
Catholics don’t have to be evolutionists or creationists. It is enough to believe that in the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Creation is the foundation of God's plan of love for the world as God created in order to love his creation! This love amazes me. For me the most incredible thing is that God loved the world so much that he sent Jesus, his Son. What amazes me is not that God sent his Son knowing that Jesus would be rejected and would have to die, rather it is that Jesus didn’t revert back to ‘being God’ somewhere in the ‘ether.’ Jesus, who is God, became involved in the world and caught up in human affairs to share our life forever. Jesus will forever remain a human being –that’s amazing!
This suggests there is something special about who we are and what kind of life we are called to live. The fact Jesus remains fully human (whilst also being fully divine) causes us to rethink our dignity and our destiny as sons and daughters of God.
On reflection we can say there is something special about being human. One of the greatest gifts God has given humanity is our freedom as freedom is the key that allows us to accept God’s plan for us. Through our making free and informed –and good– choices we cooperate with God’s grace, become more like Jesus and hence more like God. Good choices allow us to enter into the mystery of God’s life! A famous theologian uses the analogy of a play to describe the continuing drama that unfolds between human beings and God. The play is full of drama precisely because we are called to exercise our freedom on the stage of God’s creation. Human beings are personally called by God to accept God’s grace and to take part in God’s play. The leading role is played by Jesus through whom grace is given and in whom we encounter our God.
Human beings loose the plot!
As children created in God’s image and likeness the storyline of God’s play was supposed to have a happy ending. Created to share in the life of God the story was to end by us enjoying life forever together with God. Sin prevented this from happening . . . What does this mean? What is sin? What are the consequences of sin?
In understanding what ‘sin’ is it must be foremost in our minds that it is our nature to be good –something clearly contrary to the ideas of highly influential thinkers such as Hobbes, Schopenhauer, Nietzsche and Freud. Human beings are not naturally destructive, aggressive, irrational, anti-social and anti-cultural animals. Yes, by nature we are born egoists, but this does not mean we are bad by nature. So, even if we were not ‘sinners,’ we would need to learn how to socialize in order to learn to love the people in our lives. Sadly we are born with a tendency to disrupt this growth and rupture our relations with others by making choices that seemingly benefit ourselves to the detriment of our life and the life we share with other people. This is because we do not anymore experience God’s presence (that draws us to all that is good, true and beautiful) prior to experiencing the presence of other people in our lives. This ‘loss’ of God in our lives is what we mean by and is the consequence of ‘original sin.’ This ‘lost relationship’ –this being ‘caught-up’ in the love of God, is supposed to form the basis of all of our relationships as it helps us to rise above our egoism to live for love alone.
Although we are aware that there is something wrong with the ‘human condition,’ men and women are called to be good people. Astonishingly it is our nature to be good! We know this as people naturally want and choose what they think is good. When people choose something bad they still think their choice will make their life better. So, in this way it is possible for people to make bad choices whilst believing their choices are good for them.
Here lies the problem: If human beings are, by nature inclined to goodness, why then do we make wrong choices?
Let us consider this question by considering what went wrong in the story of humanity from the very beginning. Adam made right choices because every choice was good as God ordained that all his desires were for things that were good for him. This is a matter of natural law. Adam grew in understanding and in wisdom because he realized every good thing came to him from God. Everything was meaningful because all was a gift from God signifying to Adam that God loved him. Between Adam and God developed a friendship based on love and trust.
However God did prohibit Adam from doing one thing making all other choices, choices of freedom. Adam was free to choose anything other than to eat of a certain fruit. This ‘anything’ represented any choice other than going against God’s will. As Adam made good choices he grew in knowledge of God and of God’s creation. When Adam gave in to temptation by ignoring his conscience and disobeying God, he lost all sense of what was true as his bad choice destroyed the original unity between himself, God and creation. Adams’ sin was of breaking faith and turning his back on God making God no longer a part of his life. Adam's sin consisted in thinking he knew better than God. Not having God –the source of life and order in the world – any longer a part of his life explains how ‘original sin’ is the origin of death, our sense of lacking in wellbeing and even why the world is chaotic.
Having turned his back on God Adam lost the ability to make good choices, meaning any choice that placed his relationship with God first. As a consequence the whole human race lacks the joy we once possessed as people living in harmony with God, with others and the world leading us to seek transient pleasures in material goods. We have become resolutely selfish and are no longer able to grow into social beings in a way that mirrors the perfect society within God in whose image and likeness we have been created. The ‘original sin’ has torn us from God temporarily cancelling God’s grand production –the dramatic story of God’s love for humanity. However sin is not the last word!
- Original sin is 'contracted', not 'committed'. Human nature is wounded by the deprivation of God's life it is created to be graced by. The deprivation of God’s presence is a deprivation of the grace of God.
- Sin was caused by a lack of trust in God's love that resulted in the desire to rebel.
- Adam's sin consisted in thinking he knew better than God; thinking there was something better to choose –something God could and would not give him where and when he wanted.
- Before disobeying God, everything Adam chose was good. After having sinned against God Adam could not tell what was good any more as God was not present in Adams’ life as before the ‘fall.’
Salvation –the second act
The second act of our drama involves us and our becoming friends with God again through the effects of Jesus’ life, death, resurrection, his ascension and the sending of his Spirit at Pentecost. Becoming friends requires our being liberated from the chaos of life by means of God gracing humanity by his presence once again. The human being who restored our friendship to God was Jesus. Jesus overcame human disobedience, selfishness and sin and reconciled humanity to God through his offering of his life to God as a living sacrifice. Because of Jesus’ act of love he now offers harmony, justice and beauty to a world disfigured by sin. Jesus has set creation free from its bondage to chaos, decay and death. As St Paul says Jesus “has become a life-giving Spirit.”
Jesus’ life and death reconciled the whole of creation to God creating for us a new way of being human! This gift of new life comes to us by our accepting the presence of the risen Jesus in our lives. This calls for faith and entails baptism and initiation into the mystery of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection. Through faith we regain our friendship with God and are once again able to hear and follow the call of God in our lives.
A Happy Ending
The way we have thought about the dramatic story that has unfolded between God and humanity challenges old legalistic theories of salvation such as Christ making satisfaction for sin, Christ ransoming us from the devil, atonement, penal substitution etc. These theories discount the fact that God was motivated by God’s love for his creation, not by the demands of strict justice. This motive found its expression in Jesus who, in becoming human, demonstrated his solidarity with the human condition and in accepting death on a cross revealed the extent of God’s saving love. This is how, in the Person of Jesus, God’s Love reconciled the whole of creation to God. And this is why we call Jesus the new Adam, because everything is renewed by him. It is not so much that through him we somehow merit salvation; rather Jesus has opened up a doorway through which he can lead us back to God. Through our faith in Jesus a new horizon of possibilities are opened up to us as his life, death, resurrection, ascension and the sending of his Spirit are as one key to the gate of God’s kingdom. Unlocking this gate Jesus frees us to once again be capable of making good choices that lead to God –choices that lead us away from selfishness towards other people in whom we encounter God, in whom we encounter the Spirit of the risen Christ. Like Adam in paradise this is how we are called to live with God, together forever. There is a happy ending after all!
Understanding the origin of sin
In our relationship with God sin is best understood as a deal breaker. Once a lady I was instructing expressed her disappointment at my omitting to blame Eve for the first sin and so I started to reflect on what this biblical truth could mean. In the second creation story in the book of Genesis the theme of Eve’s sin is plainly evident. The point made is that it isn’t licit to know things just because it pleases us to know. The dramatic story explains the generation of the original sin in terms of Eve’s lack of trust in the goodness of ‘her’ world that in fact testified to the goodness of God who created it! God created it for her and Adam and so God was to be trusted to have things in hand and to be looking after her and Adam’s best interests. She didn’t need to know nor could she know everything. All she needed was to trust in God!
God as creator had established a natural law ordaining that knowledge of the world and the gaining of wisdom –insight into God’s loving motives– were possible only within the boundaries of the relationship she and Adam had with their Creator.
God established that knowledge and wisdom are gained when our experience of the world is referred back to God who created it! Knowledge and wisdom are the fruit of humanities fidelity to God
And in accordance with God’s plan Adam and Eve were maturing in their knowledge of God and in wisdom through the exercise of freedom. However, when put to the test curiosity led Eve to anxious concerns for her future happiness. When agitated by the serpent the immature woman became unfaithful by turning to her own resources for her future wellbeing! Through this lack of trust in God Eve broke the deal she and Adam had with God. Instead of entrusting her concerns to God she turned to herself for answers! In this way sin, born of pride and fuelled by a lack of trust arose from the rebellious choice to live without the help of God.
How do we enter into the story? We are born into a world of insecurity compounded by the consequence of sinful actions of generations of men and women. And although human nature is not created bad we are wounded because we are born into this existing environment of ill will. So before we can reflect regaining our freedom and coming to mature knowledge of God let us apply the story of the fall to ourselves.
The psychodynamic of sin
Psychologically we have formed and internalized relationships to male and female signifiers. Dream states reveal these constructs through an inner representation of male and female figures that in reality have shadow-like existences within the self or mind and form a part of one’s person. Perhaps Eve represents our deep desire to be secure in the knowledge we are loved and that everything is ok. This desire to be unconditionally cared for could be said to be a feminine yearning within every person. We can enter into the story of the first sin by recognizing this dynamic forms a drama on the deepest level of our existence as between ourselves and God. Further we can recognize that God is the one in whom we can trust to fulfil this yearning to be loved in a way so profoundly it completes us interiorly and mentally.
A model to understand the loss of paradise
Once I wrote “What is ahead of us on our journey is way better than our wildest imagining. I try to live with the attitude of my heart remaining open in order to reach out and beyond, to live ecstatically if you like. This demands change but the rewards are infinite … I have often thought that one’s inner journey to wholeness, to being fully alive and to personal integrity is captured analogously by the relationship between the area, the radius and the circumference of a circle. We are that circle but a circle in a world of billions with whom we share life. We must transcend our egoistical ways of living in order to enter into an ever fuller, richer experience of life which we share with billions of others. For me this journey is signified by the number pi. Radiating from the centre the ‘self’ must let go of all that hinders ‘it’ from journeying towards ‘its’ circumference and wholeness and a fuller experience of life. This journey of encountering and sharing life with all the people we meet in our lives, signified by the number pie, is infinite. The journey can also be describes as the flight from selfishness towards selflessness and life!
Even if the analogy is incorrect I think it conveys the sense of ecstatic living and helps explain why change and letting go is critical to personal growth and being fully alive. You never lose what you let go of within your 'self' but are able to embrace ‘it’ in a new more integrated and profound way. This way of living is about embracing life to the full, sharing more richly in the moment and above all living in the moment through forging new relationships on a personal level. Through these relationships our lives interpenetrate and enrich the lives of each other! All this by letting go and putting away our prejudices, fears, resentments, anxieties and entering into the transcendental realm of interpersonal relationships where we encounter truth, beauty and goodness in our lives. And these relationships that establish ourselves in right relationship with other people at the same time create within us an inner unity. Thus we come to peace with ‘the world’ by unifying our inner relationship to the world.”
The model is of persons communing together through fully embracing the gift of life in which we all share and have our being. This gift is transpersonal, woven into the experience of all but proper to interpersonal relationships through which new mental life is forged and created –leading also to new physical life. God pours the gift of life into us to be received to the full through our sharing it to the full. Sin is the rupturing our relationship to life sourced in God and vitalized in the new relationships we create. When God is no longer a part of our lives the source of life ceases to well up and overflow. Instead, being directed to selfish ends, mental life implodes in upon itself, ceases to vitalize our relationships and eventually even physical life ceases to exist.
In adding God to the above analogy as Life itself, receiving and sharing this gift depends on our inner orientation to God the source of all life and ultimate good. And as harmony is necessary within social systems the vitalization of our relationships is dependent on our mentally letting go and rising above selfish interests. Self-transcendence is the key to loving other people as ourselves and thus enriching the life we share in common. But as God is not only the source but the summit of this dynamic of interpersonal love, we can only love selflessly if we are enraptured by the love of God who loves us in every moment and on an individual basis. Summing up, three areas come into play within this system: our inner mental life, our social life and our faith life! Our inner ‘self’ must open out to receive ‘the world’ within its mental constructs by being radically open to the pursuit of goodness; for this inner transformation to occur and for our being able to love all people as ourselves we must recognizing one another’s personal dignity and solidarity; and for all this to occur and for the system itself to be vitalized, our mind must recognize and embrace God’s personal love for us!
On the basis of this model sin, as the loss of life, occurs in three dimensions of our personal mental life: the psychodynamic, the psychosocial and the phenomenological. Countering the effect of sin similarly occurs on these three levels. So as we journey through life our goal is to integrate goodness within our self and within our worldview (by our entering wholeheartedly into the dimension of interpersonal relationships). We do this by living in the moment of grace and thus enraptured by the love of God. Why that? Because only the experience of God’s love makes us complete within ourselves, bringing us to peace with ourselves and others.
As created in the Image of God we have the capacity to share in the life of God through the choices we make in life. Jesus has taught us certain principles that allow us to embrace life to the full! Let us consider the temptation of Jesus:
Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led around by the Spirit in the wilderness for forty days being tempted by the devil. And He ate nothing during those days, and when they had ended, He became hungry. And the devil said to Him, “If You are the Son of God, tell this stone to become bread.” And Jesus answered him, “It is written,
Human beings shall not live on bread alone.’”
And he led Him up and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time. And the devil said to Him, “I will give You all this domain and its glory; for it has been handed over to me, and I give it to whomever I wish. Therefore if You worship before me, it shall all be Yours.” Jesus answered him, “It is written,
You shall worship the Lord your God, him alone you must serve.”
And he led Him to Jerusalem and had Him stand on the pinnacle of the temple, and said to Him, “If You are the Son of God, throw Yourself down from here; for it is written, ‘He will command his angels concerning you to guard you.’ And ‘On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’”
And Jesus answered and said to him, “It is said,
You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.”
When the devil had finished every temptation, he left Him until an opportune time.
In the above Gospel Jesus teaches us principles concerning our inner relationship to God, the attitude we have towards our ‘worldly’ relationships and of our awareness of the active presence of God in our life. Jesus is tempted to engage in fantasies which corrupt the mind by distorting the ‘truth’ about himself, the world and God. The three main fantasies concern a) the gratification of his sense appetites; b) his possessing stuff; c) his being exulted to a high position in the ‘eyes of men’ thus putting himself at the centre of the his world. Contrary to the corrupted world-view presented by the devil we can learn from Jesus the truth:
- About the source of all good: We cannot rely on our own resources as God gives life and God alone is able to satisfy our hunger for life. A sense of inner dissatisfaction and personal anxiety caused by our ‘fall from grace’ cannot by ameliorated through the gratification of our bodily senses;
- About God’s kingdom: As created beings it is right to set our mind to building up God’s kingdom by serving one another and contributing to the common life we share. We must learn to provide for each other’s needs instead of trying to take whatever we can for ourselves and alienating ourselves from the common life;
- About our purpose in life: As people equal in God’s sight we cannot justify acting as if we are the centre of importance and assert our own interests above those of others. Instead of inflating our sense of self we are to accept our life is at the service of others trusting that God will look after our interests and will graciously support our every step on life’s journey. Instead of making ourselves the centre of our world, we are destined to become temples of the living God by being the centre from which God’s life blossoms outwards.
These temptations occurs on different levels of the self. The first temptation aims to rupture one’s mental relationship to what is good –the most fundamental orientation of one’s self to God on the psychodynamic level. Interiorly Jesus teaches us to choose what ‘is objectively good’ rather than what ‘feels good.’ Even if God, as the source of all that is good, transcends our experience of life we are created to seek after God. In all simplicity God alone satisfies our deepest needs by making us whole within ourselves because God is the source of life.
On the personal level we must labour to bring about God’s kingdom. We must discern what is most beneficial to our common life, achieve that common good through the sharing of resources and above all learn to abide in harmonious social relationships.
To pour ourselves out for each other we must humbly entrust ourselves to God and live in the moment of grace. This is the remedy for sin because through faith alone can we experience the liberating presence of God and be led by the Spirit to share ever more richly in the God’s life-giving activity in our world. Faith makes us temples of the living God –a phenomena that enraptures, frees and invigorates us– making us capable of sharing that experience with others and enriching their lives.
The origin of sin, the deal breaker arose from Eve’s discontent and curiosity –she seemingly needed to know matters that were naturally beyond her grasp. Instead of trusting in the wisdom of God, Adam and Eve consciously chose to live without God in their lives. This infidelity and their ‘falling’ from grace meant a life without God as the source of life, love, harmony and inner peace. We are born into this world of anxiety and slavery through having turned away from God. We too experience this wounding loss of the presence of God and perpetuate its effect in our personal lives on three levels. Firstly as infidelity to God as the source of all life, occurring within the deepest recesses of one’s self. Secondly as infidelity to God on the social level by not putting the common life above our own selfish interests. Lastly as infidelity to God by our failure to live in his presence at every given moment.
Who is God?
The Old Testament conveys many different ideas about Israel’s God of the Covenant such as Lord of history, Saviour (referring to the Exodus and the return from Exile) and Creator of the world. Because of God’s continual involvement in their lives, God’s people progressed in their understanding of ‘this God’ whose care for them was evident. Eventually they came to realize that the God of the Covenant was as a Father to Israel, attributing to God titles such as Word, Spirit and Wisdom in order to describe God’s providential action in their lives. All these Old Testament ideas influence the way the New Testament writers speak of Jesus and his role of revealing ‘who’ God is, how God saves us and how his Spirit is active in our lives. The Scriptures climax in the New Testament because the Gospels and letters reveal to us who Jesus really is, how Jesus reveals who God is and how God offers salvation through his Son. This is the starting point from which has arisen a long history of reflection and debate about what Christians believe in.
The God of Jesus Christ
Any understanding of God must ultimately refer back to Jesus because Jesus reveals to us who God is in virtue of being both God and man. One of the most wonderful truths that Jesus revealed is that God is our Father. Jesus revealed that God is a personal and intimate deity unlike any other –unlike other capricious, impersonal or otherwise false images people have taken God to be. Ancient Greek philosophers thought of God in such terms as the Supreme Being, the 1st cause, the One from whom all things emanated, the Supreme Idea, Fate etc. These and other inadequate notions of God are made redundant by Jesus who has revealed that his Father is our Father. Jesus has revealed that God is our Father and therefore is a personal and intimate God in whom we can place our trust.
We are familiar with the prayer Jesus taught us. The ‘Our Father’ contains the sum of all good things we hope for and which Our Heavenly Father wants to give us. This prayer teaches us that happiness is attained by our strivings for holiness through our consistent effort to reconcile our daily living with the demands of God’s kingdom. However to be able to live in such a manner Jesus teaches us to ask daily for nourishment from our Father. Note that forgiveness is essential, as is God’s guidance and protection. In all things we ask that the Father’s will be done!
God is personal
Our Creed, which is based on what Jesus has said and done, claims that God is both One in being and three distinct Persons. Hence the Trinity is a mystery because we cannot fathom the fact that God is a singular community although we can grasp that unity in God is brought about by the love each Person of the Trinity has for each other. So the consequence of this mystery is plain –we are called to imitate this perfect community of love. We are called to enter into the mystery of the personal and intimate love within God. And as we become more able to share in God’s life we become capable of giving ourselves to other people, to come closer to them, to know them more personally and to love them more intimately.
We call the mystery of the Trinity a mystery of faith because although Jesus has revealed it to us, it is beyond the ability of reason without the light of faith to figure out that God has always existed, is One and is three distinct Persons. This mystery is expressed by our receiving baptism in the name of the Father, in the name of the Son and in the name of the Holy Spirit. This does not mean that each Person acts individually as God´s activity is inseparable! It does mean, however, that when we are baptised each divine Person is present according to the way they personally relate to us. Hence we attribute to each Person titles such as Creator, Redeemer and Sanctifier to signify the work of the Father, Son and the Holy Spirit.
As mentioned, the significance of God as Trinity is that God is a perfect society of Persons and we are called to this state in virtue of our Baptism. Faith in this mystery we call Trinity is faith in triune love. Faith demands that our love mirrors the reality of God´s love in which we are immersed and are subjects of! In light of the revelation of the eternal society of Persons communing in triune love, it becomes clear why Jesus insisted on the unity of his followers and that their lives were patterned on the unity and love he, the Father and the Spirit possess amongst themselves.
In summary, the mystery of the Trinity is firstly a lesson to Christians about charity. On a deeper level this mystery teaches us that we can only be complete as persons when we meet the requirements of communal living. Obviously this requirement is charity –the donation of one´s self to another out of love. This charity is the bond of our unity and the guarantee of our individual happiness, teaching us that love unifies whilst heightening our sense of who we are as persons. This is the key to understanding God as Trinity.
- Reflect upon: How do I understand the meaning of my being created in the image and likeness of God? How does this facilitate my mirroring the perfect society of persons otherwise known as the Trinity?
What we profess to believe about God
The most ancient symbols of faith are the baptismal creeds that refer to baptism in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The oldest is the “Apostles Creed” that was used by the Church of Rome. However we also are familiar with the Nicene Creed that stems from the Council of Nicea in 325AD and the Council of Constantinople (381AD). Either Creed can be professed during the Sunday Liturgy of the Eucharist.
- Take time to compare the Creeds.
I believe in one God, the Father almighty, maker of heaven and earth, of all things visible and invisible.
I believe in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Only Begotten Son of God, born of the Father before all ages.
God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, consubstantial with the Father; through him all things were made.
For us men and for our salvation he came down from heaven, and by the Holy Spirit was incarnate of the Virgin Mary, and became man.
For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate, he suffered death and was buried, and rose again on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures.
He ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead and his kingdom will have no end.
I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life, who proceeds from the Father and the Son, who with the Father and the Son is adored and glorified,
who has spoken through the prophets.
I believe in one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church.
I confess one baptism for the forgiveness of sins and I look forward to the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come. Amen.
1. I believe in God, the Father almighty, Creator of heaven and earth,
2. and in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord,
3. who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary,
4. suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried;
5. he descended into hell; on the third day he rose again from the dead;
6. he ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of God the Father almighty;
7. from there he will come to judge the living and the dead.
8. I believe in the Holy Spirit,
9. the holy catholic Church, the communion of saints,
10. the forgiveness of sins,
11. the resurrection of the body,
12. and life everlasting.
Salvation, grace and sacrament
In the chapter on creation, sin and salvation we considered salvation in terms of our individual choices for or against the presence of God in our lives. We described our journey of faith as a journey towards salvation; towards the presence of God in our lives who’s Spirit of Love frees us from our self-centred way of living to enjoy a life of communion with God and neighbour. In contrast sin was described as a turning away from God, from our neighbour and hence away from salvation. When we think about it, salvation has different aspects –individual, communal, temporal– all pointing to a single future reality. Individually one must enter into a dramatic relationship with God who saves us by the grace of Christ but this gift is intended equally for all people. In fact our salvation is not complete until every person of goodwill is saved by God. Salvation is something we are in together! Salvation is our final destiny achieved by our being-with-God as a community bound together in communion by the Spirit of God’s love. In fact the whole of creation will be saved; transformed by God forming an integral part of our future life where heaven and earth will coexist together.
- The narrower sense of salvation implies individual transformation through entering into a dramatic relationship with Jesus: “Our homeland is in heaven and it is from there that we are expecting a Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transfigure our wretched bodies into the mould of his glorious body through the working of the power which he has to bring all things under his mastery.”
- But salvation is communal and involves the whole universe! Salvation is a broad concept involving deliverance and judgment, bodily resurrection and the future restoration of the whole of creation “with the intention that the whole creation itself might be freed from its slavery to corruption and brought into the same glorious freedom as the children of God.”
- These ways of thinking about salvation refer to one single future reality.
The single future we aspire to requires the present day fellowship of the whole people of God. Grace is what makes such fellowship possible. Grace is the unifying presence of God interwoven in our lives. That presence is for us the fullness of life and the fount all that is good, true and beautiful. As such it attracts us thereby liberating us from selfish tendencies as we embrace the life-giving presence of God within our lives and relationships. Thus grace is both healing, giving us the ability to love like God, and at the same time creates a heightened experience of one another through the experience of new life and love poured into our relationships.
We cannot make God present and so grace is the gratuitous gift of God ‘breaking’ into our lives restoring us to friendship with God. Just as sunshine creates light in darkness, the gift of God’s presence in our life (grace) emanates goodness, beauty and truth. This presence is naturally attractive and restores our ability to make positive ecstatic choices that turn us towards each other in the spirit of God’s Love. Saint Peter specifically states grace makes us sharers in the divine nature meaning grace makes us share in the life of God. This gift raises us to the dignity of being a son or daughter of God calling us to become persons who love with the very Love of God we receive, and who bring forth God’s Spirit in the world. Grace makes us more alive, heightening and enriching our experience of the world in which we live and are a part of. In sum the gift of grace –of God’s presence in our lives –recreates us as individuals whilst deepening our fellowship with others.
- Whilst salvation involves our striving for true community, grace is what confers this fellowship. Sacraments are rites by which God gives us God’s gifts of sacramental grace. “Sacraments . . . confer sacramental grace, forgiveness of sins, adoption as children of God, conformation to Christ and membership in the Church.”
A Sacrament is a sign of grace conferred through a structured ritual called a rite. Sacramental rites bring into effect what they signify, making God present in our lives in a way founded on the mystery of Christ’s life. Baptism is the sacrament of belonging to God. Through baptism we share in the life of God the Father, Son and the Holy Spirit. It is the sacrament of adoption making us sons and daughters of God. And whilst baptism is about our being united with God, confirmation is about remaining united and growing in union with God. Growing in fellowship requires the gift of divine Love in which we share in the very love of God. Confirmation is the sacrament through which we receiving this gift from the Holy Spirit. And although baptism and confirmation are gifts that create and deepen fellowship with God and neighbour, the Eucharist nourishes our love and is therefore necessary for growth in communion.
- Sacraments enable the saving action of Jesus Christ to transform us by providing a structure for the experience of God in our lives.
- Christian growth is a continual process requiring continual nourishment and this is why we receive the Eucharist often.
The Relationship between Baptism, Confirmation and Eucharist
Baptism is the gift of God’s life given to us that unveils the presence of God in our life. Confirmation is the gift that unveils the presence of the Spirit or Person of divine love. Baptism is the doorway to the presence of God whilst confirmation is the gateway to the presence of Love with which we love God and our neighbour. The Eucharist enables us to grow as persons through our uniting ourselves to Jesus’ ongoing love for God and the world. How? The grace of baptism and confirmation mature through regular reception of Jesus’ Body and Blood that nourishes our love enabling us to enter into the mystery of Jesus’ sacrificial offering of himself to the Father. These three sacraments fully initiate us into the life of faith; the life through which we are graced by the presence of the living God and find nourishment to offer our lives back to God especially by loving our neighbour in the Spirit of Christ’s love.
- Salvation comes from Christ through his Church as Christ acts ‘in’ and through the sacramental rites to confer God’s grace.
- The Eucharist is the sacrament of Christian maturity as it nourishes and perfects our love by enabling us to share in the mystery of Jesus’ love for God and God’s Church.
The Broad Horizon: The relationship between Grace and Salvation
Before entering into the next section of study focussing in depth on the sacraments of baptism, confirmation, Eucharist and penance, let us revisit the concepts of grace and salvation. Firstly read the reflection about grace and then consider where grace is leading us. It draws us not to a pot of gold but the golden era of our lives yet to come! Grace anticipates and draws us towards the coming kingdom and our complete salvation, meaning salvation that anticipates the resurrection of all people of goodwill and the inauguration of God’s future kingdom.
Note how the broad sense of salvation embraces many other beliefs of the Christian faith. Take the time to firstly read the following reflection on grace and then to relate back to the ideas of grace and salvation the following:
- Resurrection – numbers 204-205
- Communion of Saints – numbers 194-195
- Final judgment – numbers 215-216; 134-135
- Heaven, hell and purgatory – numbers 209-213
Homily adapted from the first Sunday of the ‘Year of Grace’ 2012-2013
Because grace is so enigmatic oftentimes you will be hard pressed to get a straight answer as to what grace is. What is it –God’s favour, God dwelling in our heart, encountering God as two or three meet in the name of Jesus, receiving the Holy Spirit for the forgiveness of sins?
Everyone can understand when I point to an apple and say “say this is an apple and it does what an apple does” and when I put toffee on top I would say “this is a toffee apple and what it does is taste yummy!” Like the toffee added to the apple, grace is something that is added to our human nature –it is the God stuff. Like adding toffee to the apple to make it a toffee apple, adding grace changes us. So when God adds some grace to our human nature what does it become and what does it do? Saint Augustine says grace is the stuff which heals us from sin, so what it becomes is human nature restored to its intended glory. Saint Thomas Aquinas says well –yea, but what the God-stuff really does is it makes us able to share in God’s life: he reckons grace elevates our nature so we are able to share in the divine life. So what Saint Augustine wants to say is grace heals us our nature at its roots so we become whole again and on the other hand, Saint Thomas wants to tell us grace lifts us up making our nature able share in God’s life.
But neither of these explanations account for the experience of God in our lives. God graces us with his presence in the here and now. Pinning down this experience is the same as arriving at the end of a rainbow. Although the rainbow is within our experience of the world it always draws us beyond. Grace is exactly like that –it is the presence of God in our lives that heals us and draws us beyond to become more. The secret is grace (the presence of God in our lives) is what both heals and elevates our nature, healing us and drawing us to reach beyond our natural capacity to share in God’s life. If we think about grace as a rainbow –God’s display of God’s glory and beauty in our life, then we can say we experience God in our lives in a real way, just as we experience any rainbow.
The first hurdle to understanding grace is about the way we think about God’s presence and here the analogy of a rainbow helps us. The second is to realize that the enigma of God being present in our life is personal. Grace is God’s personal presence in our lives calling us into relationship with him, into dialogue. God calls us personally and we respond to the call of God’s love personally. God’s healing grace is a personal invitation to us, to choose to enter into the mystery of God’s life. Grace is that which awakens us to experience the presence of God. Much like the sunlight that erupts into a rainbow, which is a spectrum of natural light, grace erupts into a spectrum of supernatural light, bringing the light of God’s presence to us in various ways. In fact in receiving confirmation we receive seven gifts of the Spirit that help us respond to the God of divine love. And so grace draws us individually to enter into a dramatic, life-long love affair with God. Indeed grace awakens us to the fact we are sons and daughters of God, setting us free to love one another and to enjoy the company of God for all eternity.
Sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation
In the last chapter we considered salvation as God leading us back to be with him forever through grace and sacrament. Sacraments are the ‘doorways’ to God’s grace that lead us there! As we enter through them we share fully in a particular aspect of God’s manifest love. Each particular sacrament is a structured encounter with the saving action of God’s love revealed by Jesus.
The sacraments are divided into those of Christian initiation (Baptism, Confirmation, and Holy Eucharist); of healing (Penance and Anointing of the Sick); and those at the service of communion and mission (Holy Orders and Matrimony). Baptism is the doorway to all the other sacraments and the Eucharist is the source of all grace! And in a singular way the Eucharist perfects the grace of baptism and confirmation which mature through regular reception of Jesus’ Body and Blood. Reception of communion nourishes our love, enabling us to enter more completely into the mystery of Jesus’ sacrificial offering of himself to the Father forming the sacrificial dimension of the Eucharistic celebration.
Again in the last chapter sacraments of baptism and confirmation are understood as entering into Jesus own filial relationship with his heavenly Father and his own personal relationship with the Holy Spirit. In fact we just learnt in the last chapter … Through baptism we share in the life of God the Father, Son and the Holy Spirit. It is the sacrament of adoption making us sons and daughters of God. And whilst baptism is about our being united with God, confirmation is about remaining united and growing in union with God. Growing in fellowship requires the gift of divine Love in which we share in the very love of God. Confirmation is the sacrament through which we receiving this gift from the Holy Spirit. And although baptism and confirmation are gifts that create and deepen fellowship with God and neighbour, the Eucharist nourishes our love and is therefore necessary for growth in communion.
As you engage the material in the catechism try to make a distinction in the way it presents and teaches sacraments of initiation and the relational and personal understanding of Christian initiation presented by the author. In particular compare and contrast number 268:
“The effect of Confirmation is a special outpouring of the Holy Spirit like that of Pentecost. This outpouring impresses on the soul an indelible character and produces a growth in the grace of Baptism. It roots the recipient more deeply in divine sonship, binds him more firmly to Christ and to the Church and reinvigorates the gifts of the Holy Spirit in his soul. It gives a special strength to witness to the Christian faith” with what we have studied in the last chapter “Baptism is the gift of God’s life given to us that unveils the presence of God in our life. Confirmation is the gift that unveils the presence of the Spirit or Person of divine love. Baptism is the doorway to the presence of God whilst confirmation is the gateway to the presence of Love with which we love God and our neighbour.” I argue that as baptism “bestows … the gifts of the Holy Spirit” the way confirmation reinvigorates this gift is that as we are confirmed we enter into a personal relationship with the third Person of the Trinity, the Spirit of God’s love. This is the gift of the Holy Spirit received through the laying of hands and the Bishop or his representative saying “Be sealed with the gift of the Holy Spirit.”
To complete lesson eight follow the structured presentation outlined in the “Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church” and then browse through the points that follow “Reflection on confirmation.” Lesson eight on baptism and confirmation commences with number 251 through to and including number 270. http://www.vatican.va/archive/compendium_ccc/documents/archive_2005_compendium-ccc_en.html
Reflection on confirmation
I sometimes use a power point presentation to teach year six students about how through confirmation they were about to receive God’s Fire of Love into their hearts! Below are some of the dot points to reflect upon. Note how this teaching is harmonizes with the teaching in the Compendium to the Catechism.
Confirmation enables us to experience the fire of God's love so we can share this love with others. This burning love gives us strength and courage and also enlightens our minds, giving us great wisdom.
- Through baptism we come to share in God’s life. When we are confirmed we are given the Holy Spirit in such a special way we become like Jesus.
- But how?
- Confirmation gives us the strength to act like Jesus acted because when we are confirmed we are filled with God’s love. This love gives us new energy to be able to act like Jesus.
- What begins in baptism is completed through confirmation in which we receive the special strength of the Holy Spirit.
Sealed with the Gifts of the Holy Spirit
- At Pentecost the Holy Spirit descended upon the Apostles so they would be able to fulfil the mission Jesus entrusted to them. This is because the Holy Spirit enabled them to fully understand what Jesus had taught them and gave them the courage to do it.
Doing what Jesus did
- When we are confirmed the Holy Spirit gives us seven gifts so that we can be like Jesus and continue his work and spread his love. These gifts help us to respond to God's love.
The gifts we need
- Sometimes it is hard to live as Jesus taught.
- We need the special strength of the Holy Spirit to help us love one another and guide us in all that we do! What could the Holy Spirit give us to help us be like Jesus?
- Wisdom, understanding, knowledge, right judgment, courage, reverence and wonder & awe
The seven gifts
Wisdom is a gift of the Holy Spirit that gives us the ability to see everything as God sees. Wisdom helps us see how God’s plan of love guides all things to their fulfilment.
Understanding gives us the ability to understand the meaning of God’s actions in our lives as the Holy Spirit gives light to our minds enabling us to see how God is present amongst us.
Knowledge is a gift of the Holy Spirit that lets us know God better. The more we know God the more we will love him!
The gift of right judgment helps us discern what the right thing to do is in different circumstances. It is a gift of the Holy Spirit that guides us in the decisions we make.
Courage! The fiery love of the Holy Spirit gives Christians an inner strength that allows them to overcome all fear in doing what is right. Christians are the strongest people in the world!
Reverence or piety is a gift of the Holy Spirit that makes us loving and devoted children of God, our Father. This gift deepens our awareness of just how much God loves us.
We experience wonder and awe because the Holy Spirit draws us close to God –and this can be really intense! We don’t need to be afraid because we can trust Jesus, our best friend, who leads us in the Spirit into a relationship with his Father. This gift helps us to cling to God!
Christians are known by their Fruits: Nine fruits of the Holy Spirit
Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Kindness, Goodness, Trustfulness, Gentleness, Self-control
- How does receiving the gifts of the Holy Spirit help you become more like Jesus?
- Describe how one of these gifts might help you to face difficulties in your life?
- Describe one of the fruits of the Holy Spirit in your life.
Come, O Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful, and kindle in them the fire of Your love.
The Sacrament of the Eucharist
Lesson nine covers the sacrament of the Eucharist numbers 271-294 in the “Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church.” In addition to the catechetical material in lesson nine, the introduction to that lesson is as follows:
Celebrating the Eucharist (or ‘The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass’)
‘Jesus took some bread and said “This is my body which is for you, do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way he took the cup and said “This is the new covenant in my blood. When you drink it, do this in memory of me”’
The genesis of the Eucharist goes back to a Thursday night about two thousand years ago! Jesus and his twelve closest friends were gathered in the upper room of a house in Jerusalem celebrating a special meal called the ‘Passover.’ This meal was celebrated in memory of the Exodus of the Israelites from Egypt. The ‘Passover’ calls to mind how God helped God’s people to become free from physical slavery. Jesus transformed the meaning of this celebration which has now, for Christians, come to be known as the Last Supper. Instead of God intervening in the world to free his people from physical slavery, God sent Jesus to reveal God’s love and free humanity from an inner slavery to sin. When we celebrate the memorial of The Last Supper we are making present God’s liberating grace that frees us from our limited corrupted selves to become sons and daughters of God. Entering into the Eucharistic celebration we offer thanksgiving to God with Jesus and enter into the mystery of his sacrificial offering of his life to the Father so we may perpetuate that offering in our lives, become liberated by that love and share it with the world. To be able to love like this, Jesus gives us his Body and Blood as nourishment.
Key aspects of celebrating Eucharist
- Jesus changed bread and wine into his Body and Blood.
- It is real food that is spiritual nourishment.
- Jesus gave himself totally in the Eucharist anticipating his giving of his life on the Cross.
- Jesus gave us the Eucharist so his Body (the Church) may find enough nourishment to love in that same spirit of sacrificial love.
- After the meal Jesus instructed the twelve to ‘Do this in memory of me.’
The Parts of the Mass (or Eucharist)
This includes the entrance procession, sign of the cross and greeting, a penitential rite, the Gloria and the opening prayer.
Liturgy of the Word:
This includes the readings from the Bible, the homily, the Creed and the general intercessions.
Liturgy of the Eucharist:
This includes the Preparation of the gifts, the Eucharistic prayer and Communion: we offer our gifts to God to become a holy, living sacrifice and God offers us the gift of himself in the Eucharist.
This includes any announcements, a blessing and a dismissal.
Now continue reading from the compendium numbers 271-294 to complete your studies on the sacrament of the Eucharist.
The Sacrament of Penance
Through the sacraments of initiation we come to share fully in the life of God. However the new life God gives us can be weakened and even lost because of sin. Therefore Jesus willed that his Church continue his work of healing through the sacrament of penance and reconciliation.
The sacrament of reconciliation has four elements:
- Contrition - the essential act of penance, on the part of the penitent, is contrition. Contrition is a clear and decisive rejection of the sin committed together with a resolution not to commit it again.
- Confession - accusation of sins.
- Absolution – God absolves all sin through the ministry of the priest.
- Satisfaction –the penance imposed by the priest help repair the damage caused by sin. Satisfaction should not be reduced to mere formula to be recited, but should consist of acts of worship, charity, mercy or reparation.
Grave and venial sin
The sacrament of reconciliation makes two clear distinctions between grave and venial sin. Grave (mortal sin) is an act that destroys our communion with God. It has to be ‘committed’ with full knowledge and deliberate consent, i.e., one must really, freely want to turn away from God, choosing to hate God. This is hard to do as often mitigating circumstances reduce the severe nature of these acts. Any sin that is not mortal is termed ‘venial.’
The Church’s Law on the Sacrament of Penance (Code of Canon Law)
959In the sacrament of penance the faithful who confess their sins to a legitimate minister, are sorry for them, and intend to reform themselves obtain from God through the absolution imparted by the same minister forgiveness for the sins they have committed after baptism and, at the same, time are reconciled with the Church which they have wounded by sinning.
987 To receive the salvific remedy of the sacrament of penance, a member of the Christian faithful must be disposed in such a way that, rejecting sins committed and having a purpose of amendment, the person is turned back to God.
988 §1. A member of the Christian faithful is obliged to confess in kind and number all grave sins committed after baptism and not yet remitted directly through the keys of the Church nor acknowledged in individual confession, of which the person has knowledge after diligent examination of conscience.
§2. It is recommended to the Christian faithful that they also confess venial sins.
989 After having reached the age of discretion, each member of the faithful is obliged to confess faithfully his or her grave sins at least once a year.
991 Every member of the Christian faithful is free to confess sins to a legitimately approved confessor of his or her choice, even to one of another rite.
How do I make a good confession?
Reconciliation has four elements –contrition, confession, satisfaction and absolution. The most important aspect of any confession is a thorough examination of one’s conscience to know what sins we have committed. So even before we make our confession we need to prepare ourselves well. During this process the admission of sin normally moves us to contrition because we feel sorry for what we have done. When you have reached this stage you are ready to confess your sins.
- Confession is the next step. Once we know what needs to be confessed we go into the confessional and sit in front of the priest or behind a veil. We start by making the sign of the Cross and say words similar to “Forgive me (or “Bless me”) father for I have sinned, my last confession was so many months (weeks) ago. I accuse myself of the following sins …”
- The priest will normally respond to you by addressing the areas that are troubling you. Then he will give you a penance –normally set prayers. You will accept that you have to make satisfaction by agreeing to do the penance by saying “Yes father” or similar words.
- Next you will be asked to make an act of contrition. You will say these or similar words: “O my God because you are so good I am sorry for sinning against You and with the help of Your grace I will try not to sin again.” Normally set prayers of contrition will be in front of you.
- Next the priest will absolve you saying “God the Father of mercies through the death and resurrection of his Son has reconciled the world to Himself and sent among us the Holy Spirit for the forgiveness of sins through the ministry of the Church. May God give you pardon and peace and I absolve you from your sins in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”
- The priest will dismiss you and then you are to make your act of penance (satisfaction).
Now to complete this chapter read numbers 295-312 in the “Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church.”
“We pray whenever we turn our hearts to Him or direct any act of ours towards Him; so much so, indeed, that our life becomes a continual prayer when our activities are constantly directed towards God” Saint Thomas Aquinas.
Prayer is an act of self-transcendence. It is like gazing into the eyes of our beloved in order to somehow to lose one’s self in them and become one with them. It is only different from the way we fall in love in that the object of our desire transcends our grasp, frustrating us no end. I think this is why St John of the Cross talks about the wounding effect of God’s love that we experience during intense times of prayer. God is always loving us but our inability to possess God leaves us wounded as our hearts are created to experience this love lost by sin. We need to learn to open ourselves up to the presence of God and this is what prayer is.
Dedication to God: Prayer is the offering and dedication of ourselves to God. A loving and dedicated attitude towards God opens our mind and heart to the presence of God, making us more able to discern the will of God. The effect of prayer is growing closer to God through the remaking of our minds, the transformation of our nature and the discernment of God's will.
A Surge of the heart: Prayer reflects our love and desire for God. If we love someone, we want to be with them and so if we love God we want to be with him through prayer. Prayer is simply giving our attention and affection to God because we love Him. Saint Teresa of Lisieux says “for me, prayer is a surge of the heart; it is a simple look turned toward heaven, it is a cry for recognition and of love, embracing both trial and joy”.
Ways of praying
The way we pray changes and matures as our faith develops and our relationship to God through our faith in Jesus, deepens. As we pray Jesus reveals God to us personally by the power of the Holy Spirit. The best way to begin to know God is by meditating on the Word of God and the mysteries of Jesus’ life (such as the rosary). Meditation is prayer using our mind to think and reflect on the goodness of God. This enkindles our love for God in our hearts. Praying out aloud or verbal prayer is also a good way to focus our mind and be able to meditate on God. Those who persevere in mental prayer will experience a growing love and affection for God which we call prayer of desire or the prayer of the heart. Once desire and love for God grow prayer becomes simple and natural. A fire grows in one’s heart and the whole of our life becomes a prayer because all things are done in the prayerful presence of God. Once this stage is reached the heart rests in the loving presence of its spouse contemplating, or simply gazing on Him. The mind is used only to rekindle this fire of love. Often that prayerful person will not want to think about God, he or she will just want to be with God.
Reflecting on how you could pray better
- Do you understand what is prayer is?
- What types of prayer help you come closer to God?
Broad Perspectives on the Practice of Christian Prayer
“The service of the poor is to be preferred to all else and to be performed without delay. If at a time set aside for prayer, medicine or help has to be brought to some poor man, go and do what has to be done with an easy mind, offering it up to God as a prayer” Saint Vincent De Paul.
The highest form of prayer is the celebration of the Eucharist. It is a different kind of prayer as its sacramental nature enables us to enter into the mystery of Jesus’ offering of himself to God on the Cross. Other great prayers are the Rosary, the Stations of the Cross, devotional prayers, table prayers etc. But ask yourself are acts of mercy acts of prayer? Saint Vincent De Paul would seem to suggest they are! What about Aquinas?
Are Corporal works of Mercy considered prayer according to Saint Aquinas and Saint Vincent?
1. Feeding the hungry.
2. Giving drink to the thirsty.
3. Clothing the naked.
4. Sheltering the homeless.
5. Visiting the sick.
6. Visiting the imprisoned.
7. Burying the dead.
Are Spiritual works of Mercy considered prayer according to Saint Aquinas and Saint Vincent?
1. Instructing the ignorant.
2. Counseling the doubtful.
3. Admonishing sinners.
4. Comforting the afflicted.
5. Forgiving offenses.
6. Bearing wrongs patiently.
7. Praying for the living and the dead.
The last aspect covered by this introductory chapter on prayer is that of recognizing our prayer life, our sacramental and moral lives all are interwoven into our singular life helping us to grow as persons through growth in love of God and neighbour. In recognition of this interrelationship please chew over numbers 431 and 432 in the compendium on prayer, sacraments and the Love of God and neighbour.
Prayer: Our Inner Life
Prayer remakes our mind uniting our heart to God. In this process of transformation or transfiguration our will becomes harmonious with God’s will for us. As an exercise look up the following passages: Mark 3:21; Mark 4:10-13; Mark 6:51-52; Mark 7:17-18; Mark 8:17 and Romans 12:2 and consider how the disciples initially did not understand Jesus. Prayer remedies our ignorance. It is the path to knowledge of God, of enlightenment and of true discipleship!
Prayer is like opening a doorway and the beginning of a new adventure. Personal prayer, as an act of transcendence, opens ourselves up to the presence of God making us one with God. This union at its deepest level frees us to become one with the will of God; to become one with the Spirit of love and enter into the fullness of life. Now we are going to take an in depth look at prayer and how our mind is transformed by the action of the Holy Spirit so we may become one with God in the unity of the Holy Spirit.
Our interior life refers to who we are ‘inside’ and describes the core of our being and our awareness of our ‘self.’ The word we use for this life within ourselves that animates us is spirit –traditionally thought of as the soul and being the principle of life and intelligence. The aim the spiritual life is that our inner living being is open to and vitalized by the Spirit of God. This happens through prayer because our spirit, including its intellectual and volitional aspects, is ‘turned’ towards and seeks to become one with the Spirit of God.
Prayer is a catalyst to a persons’ development in their relationship with self, other people and God as prayer sheds light on these relationships. Prayer unveils God’s goodness, beauty and truth within the experience of ourselves (intrapersonal), others (transpersonal) and God (transpersonal) in a way that opens us to embracing life beyond our own self. To describe this process of growth, unification and reconciliation through prayer, we need to firstly address self and self-possession. We need to understand who we are and how we live within our world.
Self-possession refers to the way we intentionally think about our ‘self’ in the world. This influences the way we actively seek to possess for ourselves what we think is good. In our mind if we conceive of our life as having no relationship to the ‘world’ we will always be at loggerheads with the ‘world’ in which we live, act and have our being. According to this materialistic view the ‘world’ will always be something we intend to take from, to possess what we seem to need from it, for ourselves. This belief of a dichotomy existing between our self and the ‘world’ reflects a real dichotomy we have within our mind concerning the way we think about ourselves! This belief wrongly justifies a materialistic worldview and a selfish outlook. However if our relationship to the world expresses our belief in our being a part of the world, we can accept Jesus’ teaching to die-to-self to gain true life!
Our ‘self’ is defined by the way we seek basic goods. If in our mind we think of ourselves as being open to ‘the world’ in a way that embraces all living beings we ‘stand’ in proper relationship to the world. This worldview is one of being a part of and belonging to a world that both transcends and includes our life. Having this open mindedness we get that our world belonging inclusively and not exclusively to our ‘self’ because we share the world and our experience of it with other persons. And our striving to possess life and the associated feelings of wellbeing, happiness and contentment will be made by our being a part of and our being a contributor to ‘the world.’ Ultimately what we are seeking within the experience of our shared life is God the sustainer of life:
During our life we define our self by the way we seek God as our ultimate good through our seeking lesser and associated goods including food, sleep, a sexual partner, a stable environment in which to live etc. These goods help us to possess and live life to the full; however we mistake these lesser goods for our true good –to possess God’s Holy Spirit that is the source and wellspring of our life. Prayer opens our mind to this dimension of life –the spiritual dimension.
Self-determination in light of the ‘truth’
Through prayer our mind is enlightened enabling us to define ourselves in light of who we are in relation to the world and God. Prayer draws us out of ourselves and our minds are remade to reflect the greater truth of the world in which we live and are a part. This spiritual dynamic of drawing out of self and opening up to transcendental goods is the basis for the conversion of our self to the truth in which our relationship to others and God become the ‘end’ good of all of our spiritual and moral choices. We seek goodness, beauty, truth and unity of life as these qualities point to God and lead us to our goal of possessing the fullness of life found in God alone. For this reason we have an insatiable desire for transcendental goods. Without prayer, our insatiable desires seek satisfaction through our appetites for lesser goods such as food, sex or alcohol that give us a sense of wellbeing, but are not the source of our wellbeing.
Spiritual growth depends on our orientation to transcendental goods; goods that we insatiably desire and that guide us in our seeking and possessing God. Seeking transcendental goods is a spiritual exercise but we find satisfaction in our relationships as it is intrinsic to human nature to find fulfilment within community within which God’s Spirit subsists. However as God’s Spirit dwells within and yet transcends our human relationships, self-possession involves our having relationships within the ‘world’ as well as a distinct faith relationship with God.
Seeking Goodness, Beauty and Truth in the World
As social beings we seek our fulfilment in a world of other people. Human community is structured upon a network of interpersonal relationships. When we live in harmony and agreement –in peace and justice– God’s Holy Spirit is able to dwell within and enrich these relationships. Therefore the relationships we enjoy satisfy our appetite for God’s goodness, beauty, truth and unity. However our appetite is insatiable and we hunger for something deeper –the fruit of faith; namely the revelation of God’s Holy Spirit present in human society.
Seeking Goodness, Beauty and Truth through Faith
All goodness, beauty, truth and life come from God. It is through faith in Jesus that we come to know and possess God who is the source of all that is good. Therefore we need to grow in our Christian faith to become one with God in Christ and find fulfilment as human beings created in God’s image. This union or self-possession of God deepens through the stages of personal spiritual growth. These stages can be described as:
- The fundamental orientation of our self to transcendental goods;
- The fundamental ordering of our self to the good of human society in which God’s Holy Spirit dwells;
- The fundamental ordering of our self to the society of God through our personal relationship with God’s Holy Spirit.
Prayer, personal transformation and union with God
Prayer is necessary for human development as only the grace of God can remedy our weakness, draw us from egoism and enable us to live peaceably with other people and God in faithfulness and integrity. God’s Love must be a part of the equation. This Love we experience through faith calls us to conversion, to live spiritual lives and ultimately to live according to the Spirit of God. These stages of faith development correspond to our self-development. Through faith our self is ‘converted’ and oriented to transcendental goods; through faith and living the spiritual life our self is ordered to the good of human society; and through faith we come to live a life unified by the Holy Spirit and our whole being is espoused to God.
The Stages of Faith
Self seeking the universal good:
The first stage, conversion is characterized by our actively turning towards God and all that is good, beautiful and true. This stage produces a radical change of life. Prayer is often verbal and repetitious.
Self seeking the particular good:
The next stage, the spiritual life, is what I refer to as a life tending towards spiritual values and ideals. It is a life tending towards human beatitude and virtuous living within the context of human society. Through mental prayer we reflect on God’s love as this helps us to live a life whereby all of our particular actions are informed by God’s love. This stage brings much illumination and insight as our mind is remade due to the presence of the Holy Spirit in our life who opens our minds to the truth about God, ourselves and the world. In this way, reflecting on all that is good, beautiful and true in life, prayer is often enlightening and consoling.
Self seeking personal union with God:
However our prayer changes as we grow as our love for God becomes stronger. In this stage our love is purified because only possessing the eternal source of all that is good, true, beautiful, will satisfy us. And as the object of our intention is spiritual and attainable only through faith, hope and love, our prayer becomes empty, meaningless and dry as we strive to possess God who’s Spirit transcends our nature and eludes our perception. This stage is characterized by our desire for God on whom we have set all of our affections. We search for God in all things and ultimately, through faith and by the grace of God, we become one in spirit with God by our will becoming one with the will of God.
Prayer transforms our minds, helping us to convert our ‘self’ from selfish living to a life of self-integration into human society in which God dwells. Prayer helps us develop the gifts of the Holy Spirit so we can we become one in spirit with the Person of God’s love. In this way we are set free to become other ‘Christs’ in the world, living lives moulded by the pattern of his death. Like Jesus we ourselves will become life-giving spirits and contributors to the world.
The three necessary helps for converting our self to Christ, for developing the character of Christ within our self and for living by the Spirit of Christ are: ongoing conversion through monthly confession; prayer and reflection on the Word of God (including the rosary) to aid us live virtuous lives; entering into the mystery of God’s Love by offering our self with Christ when we participate in the Eucharist.
The Word of God and Gospel Values
The Bible teaches us a radical way to live but the only way to love! As the Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation (Dei Verbum) tells us: the Word of God is “the summons to salvation, so that through hearing it the world may believe, through belief it may hope, through hope it may come to love” (DV, 1).
The Word of God teaches us “that truth which God, for the sake of our salvation, wished to see confided to the sacred Scriptures” (DV, 11). Hence the Scriptures do not necessarily contain scientific or historical facts that we can claim to be divinely revealed truths.
The Value of Family Life
“They are no longer two . . . but one flesh. So then, what God has united, human beings must not divide.” The community we first come to know is family. Family life is founded upon the self-giving love of each spouse who joins the whole of their life to each other. This love wells up from the fountain of divine love so we can say spousal love is caught-up, fortified and indeed mirrors the self-giving love within the Trinity. Rightly family life is a microcosm of society that should form the fabric of all cultures.
Texts to reflect upon
Brotherly correction –Matthew 18:15-18
Prayer in common –Matthew 18:19-20
Forgiveness –Matthew 18:21-22
The Value of humble service –Luke 17:7-10
Discipleship –Luke 14:25-27
The gratuity of God and Christian justice –Luke 6:38
The golden rule –Matthew 7:12
Beatitude –Matthew 5:1-12
LIVING IN ACCORDANCE WITH GOD”S COMMANDMENTS
Commanded to love
“I give you a new commandment: you must love one another; you must love one another just as I have loved you”
“To love is to live according to his commandments: this is the commandment which you have heard since the beginning, to live a life of love”
Love Fulfills the Law
Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law. The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery,” “You shall not murder,” “You shall not steal,” “You shall not covet,” and whatever other command there may be, are summed up in this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no harm to a neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.”
Love is rule of life
“We are ruled by Christ's love for us, now that we recognize that one man died for all men, which means that all men take part in his death . . . so that those who live should no longer live for themselves, but only for him who died and was raised to life for their sake”
Living in love
16 And so we know and rely on the love God has for us.
God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them.”
We know that we have come to know him if we keep his commands. Whoever says, “I know him,” but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in that person. But if anyone obeys his word, love for God is truly made complete in them. This is how we know we are in him: Whoever claims to live in him must live as Jesus did.”
RESPONDING TO THE WORD OF GOD
“Anyone who does not take his cross and follow in my footsteps is not worthy of me. Anyone who finds his life will lose it; anyone who loses his life for my sake will find it.” 
“Shoulder my yolk and learn from me”
Read from Matthew 18:21-35.
Do Not Judge
Read from Matthew 7:1-5.
WHAT IS YOUR EXPERIENCE OF THE FOLLOWING PASSAGES?
Trust in Providence – Read From Matthew 6:25-34
Standards – Read from Matthew 5:38-48
The Pharisee and the Tax collector – Read from Luke 18:9-14.
Greatness – Read from Luke 22:24-27.
Treasure – Read from Luke 12:33-34.
Good Samaritan – Read from Luke 10:29-37.
Mission of the seventy two – Read from Luke 10:1-12.
How we understand what is good – Read from Matthew 6:22-23
Words – Read from Matthew 12:33-36.
True Family of Jesus – Read from Matthew 12:46-50.
JESUS ENTRUSTS US TO HIS MOTHER
“Behold, your Mother! And from that hour the disciple took her to his own home.”
He who keeps the word of Christ, grows perfect in the love of God.”
By raising Jesus from the dead, God has vindicated Jesus as “the Holy and Just One” and final judgment is now given over to the crucified and glorified Christ. There are two main sources of data concerning the resurrection of Jesus from the dead:
The empty tomb tradition is a secondary testimony which corroborates the implications of the primary testimony of the appearances of Jesus - if Jesus has conquered death then his body cannot still be in the tomb!
The appearances of Jesus
The primary testimony of the appearances display a common pattern for experiencing the risen Jesus, the climactic point of which is the moment of recognition which brings together a likeness from the past (sameness) with a change in the present (difference)
Easter involves three transformations:
- Jesus undergoes a transition from one mode of existence to another, which is indicated by the element of difference;
- The disciples undergo a conversion experience enabling them to experience forgiveness, overcome their guilt and be empowered to become the new agents of God’s kingdom;
- The message is transformed – Jesus preached the kingdom but the disciples preach the crucified and risen Jesus.
Although no one actually saw the resurrection happen, the disciples of Jesus soon came to believe in the resurrection. The empty tomb story and the appearance stories played a major role in the disciples coming to believe in the resurrection. The most famous resurrection formula is from St Paul’s first letter to the Christian community in Corinth.
“The tradition I handed on to you in the first place, a tradition which I myself received, was that Christ died for our sins, in accordance with the scriptures, and that he was buried; and that on the third day, he was raised to life, in accordance with the scriptures; and that he appeared to Peter; and later to the Twelve.”
Belief in the resurrection is central to our understanding of salvation and it gives rational integrity to the Christian faith. St Paul writes that “if Christ had not been raised, then our proclamation has been in vain and your faith has been in vain.” So it is our belief in the Resurrection that ushers in a new age for the people of God who can live their lives in the firm expectation of receiving eternal life. This expectation is expressed in a letter to the Corinthians.
“Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. But each in turn: Christ, the firstfruits; then, when he comes, those who belong to him.”
Appearances of the Risen Christ
Appearances of the risen Christ were the major catalyst which led the first Christians to accept and proclaim his resurrection. And although the resurrection is not described in the New Testament what is described instead is appearances of Jesus to his friends. These experiences resulted in the transformation of the frightened, confused disciples who, after Pentecost, were empowered by the Holy Spirit to proclaim the good news to the world.
Compare and Contrast the Following Texts:
- Appearance to the women -28:9-10
- Appearance in Galilee -28:16-19
- The ‘longer ending’-16:9-20
- Mary, companions, two disciples ‘under another form,’ the Eleven.
- The road to Emmaus 24:13-35
- Appearance to the apostles in Jerusalem 24:36-43
- Appearance to Mary 20:11-18
- Appearance to the disciples 20:19-31
- Appearance on the shore of Tiberias 21:1-14
THE EFFECT OF THE RESURRECTION ON CHRISTIAN LIVING
We noted that the Resurrection brought about three transformations 1) the transition of Jesus from one mode of existence to another; 2) conversion and empowerment of the disciples; 3) a transformed message that Christians are baptized into the death of Christ and “we too should begin living a new life.” Ponder how the resurrection should make our “bodies instruments of uprightness” and what it means to be “dead to sin and alive for God in Christ Jesus.”
The Call to Holiness
Baptism restores us to friendship with God not because we merit our reconciliation but because it is a free gift to us. What Jesus did to reconcile us to God make us at rights with God or at one with God. This is the beginning of our journey to holiness as being made just by the grace of Christ and cooperating with that grace to live a life in conformity to Christ, are entirely different things.
We call ‘being made just’ justification. It happens by accepting God’s free gift of grace that renews the interior person of the believer. The grace of justification we receive at baptism for the forgiveness of sin always brings with it a gift of new life. This gift is given new vigour when the Holy Spirit is received in confirmation. However for a person to be made effective in active love, that love requires nourishment and to be conformed to Jesus’ offering of himself to the Father. To be made effective in active love or sanctified a person must both receive and enter into the mystery of the sacrifice of the Mass.
Sanctification or being made holy is about entering into the mystery of Jesus’ offering of his body and blood leading to his death, Resurrection, Ascension and the sending of his Spirit upon the Church. This mystery at the heart of the Eucharistic celebration is called the paschal mystery and is the fountain from which the Church’s activity and power flows. When we enter the paschal mystery by offering our self in union with Jesus to the Father we become other Christs and co-workers in salvation history.
- Sanctification or holiness is the fruit of our participating in the Eucharist and becoming one with Jesus’ offering of himself to God. We need to be nourished by the Body and Blood of Jesus to have strength to participate in Jesus’ offering.
- Through our full, active and conscious participation in the Eucharist the gifts of the Spirit received in Baptism and Confirmation mature, enabling a Christian to become truly effective in active love for God and neighbour.
“Christians are united to the Eucharistic sacrifice of Christ in such a way that their moral life is an act of spiritual worship.”
Our personal sanctification involves the entire people of God for whom Jesus sacrificed himself as he offered himself to the Father. This is because God’s gift of reconciliation and salvation is incomplete until each and every person of goodwill is saved as one body. We cannot be holy and live an isolated existence if our salvation is connected to the common salvation of all. Our work as co-redeemers for the salvation of all sanctifies our life, meaning there is a direct correlation between our being made holy and our meeting the needs of the body of Christ. Holiness can be defined as possessing those virtues that enable us to act in a way that meets the needs of the Church. Saints exercise these virtues in a heroic manner as their actions are informed by an equally heroic love for God and God’s people, the Church.
Saints of God
The Church has many examples of Saints who strove to fully respond to God’s love. In this sense to try is to be perfect. Saints intercede for us and can share with us their gifts according to the virtues they practiced on earth. Saints are true friends that are alive to us in an unseen but real way. They love us and their help is unfailing for those who ask of it!
Some examples of saints include Saint Frances of Paola, Saint Seraphim of Sarov, Saint Francis of Assisi, Saint Joseph, Saint Joseph Cupertino, Blessed Mother Teresa, Saint Anthony, Saint Dominic, Saint Mary of the Cross MacKillop, Saint Clare, Saint Benedict, Saint Leopold Mandic, Saint (Padre) Pio, etc.
They all had one thing in common – they strove to love God and their neighbour as themselves no matter what it cost them. Their lives inspire us to want to become saints. Saints were not always perfect but they, in spite of having made many mistakes, persevered in doing good and in trusting in the mercy of God. They kept trying to love with the same love with which Jesus loved and which, ultimately, led him and them to surrender their lives for us.
Models and Intercessors: We are called to imitate the lives of the saints and ask for their intercession. The Compendium teaches us that just as “Holiness is the vocation of each of her members and the purpose of all her activities. The Church counts among her members the Virgin Mary and numerous Saints who are her models and intercessors.”
Saints as Guides for Prayer: “The saints are our models of prayer. We also ask them to intercede before the Holy Trinity for us and for the whole world. Their intercession is their most exalted service to God’s plan. In the communion of saints, throughout the history of the Church, there have developed different types of spiritualities that teach us how to live and to practice the way of prayer.”
You will take on the name of a Saint at confirmation. What Saint have you chosen to be your patron?
Devotion to the person who was once known as Mary is often a point of conflict as some claim that devotion is owed to God alone. The correct position is that we worship God and venerate the Saints because of their excellence they received from God. Mary herself was aware that her dignity was due to God who favoured her so highly, as she exclaimed “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord . . . the Almighty has done great things for me.” In fact embracing the idea of her greatness gives us a clear indication of our own dignity as children of God.
Broadly there are two approaches to Marian devotion. Mostly her devotees seek her mediation and advocacy to receive special favours but some seek her help to be true disciples asking instead for the grace to unite themselves more closely to the suffering of her Son. Simply some want what they can get whilst others seek the grace to give of themselves and to become living sacrifices united to Jesus in his offering of himself to the Father.
We are called to help each other and make sacrifices for each other so we all may be acceptable to God. Our Lady plays the role of mediator and advocate before the Father making it possible that through her intercession her Son lives in us by the power of the Holy Spirit. Put bluntly she helps us to participate in Jesus’ offering of himself on the Cross. Just as she was then intimately associated with Jesus in the work of redemption 2000 years ago so she is also now!
Although arguments about Marian devotion are polarised, there are four main teachings about the Lady who once was Mary. They are: 1) Mary’s divine motherhood; 2) Her perpetual virginity; 3) Her immaculate conception; 4) Her Assumption into heaven body and soul. Let us now consider the material presented in the compendium.
Now continue reading from the compendium numbers 94-100, 196-199 and 562-563 to complete your studies on Mary. Additionally you may like to research the twenty mysteries of the rosary.
Lent, Holy Week, Easter Triduum, Ascension and Pentecost
Lent is a period of forty days (not Sundays) devoted to prayer, fasting, abstinence and penance. It is a penitential season of prayer and self-denial. Its purpose is our conversion and spiritual renewal by means of enforced acts of self-control and detachment whilst at the same time praying for God’s help to amend our lives. Our conversion finds expression through our helping others.
- Self-control is the habit of renouncing certain things we find pleasurable to help us to gain mastery over our physical nature. Self-control helps us to order our physical appetites so that our actions may tend to our spiritual wellbeing.
- Detachment frees us from ourselves and other obstacles to the practice of Christian charity. Detachment helps us on our journey to union with God classically referred to as spiritual espousal or marriage!
Participation in the Church’s liturgy is essential to the season of Lent, particularly participation in Holy Week and the Easter Triduum. Lent begins on Ash Wednesday where we hear Jesus calling us to give alms, to pray to our heavenly Father and to fast in secret. Then we receive ashes on our forehead so to publically profess our guilt before God and to express our desire for inward conversion.
Knowing what the Code of Canon Law says about penance, fasting and abstinence can also be helpful:
Code of Canon Law
Days of Penance
Can. 1249 The divine law binds all the Christian faithful to do penance each in his or her own way. In order for all to be united among themselves by some common observance of penance, however, penitential days are prescribed on which the Christian faithful devote themselves in a special way to prayer, perform works of piety and charity, and deny themselves by fulfilling their own obligations more faithfully and especially by observing fast and abstinence, according to the norm of the following canons.
Can. 1250 The penitential days and times in the universal Church are every Friday of the whole year and the season of Lent.
Can. 1251 Abstinence from meat, or from some other food as determined by the Episcopal Conference, is to be observed on all Fridays, unless a solemnity should fall on a Friday. Abstinence and fasting are to be observed on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday.
Can. 1252 The law of abstinence binds those who have completed their fourteenth year. The law of fasting binds those who have attained their majority, until the beginning of their sixtieth year. Pastors of souls and parents are to ensure that even those who by reason of their age are not bound by the law of fasting and abstinence, are taught the true meaning of penance.
Can. 1253 The conference of bishops can determine more precisely the observance of fast and abstinence as well as substitute other forms of penance, especially works of charity and exercises of piety, in whole or in part, for abstinence and fast.
Holy Week refers to the last week of Lent and the week before Easter. It includes Palm Sunday, the Chrism Mass, Holy Thursday and Good Friday. The Easter Triduum is the period of three days that begins with the Mass of the Lord's Supper on the evening of Maundy Thursday and ends with the celebration of Easter. The Triduum is a three day celebration of the death and resurrection of Jesus.
- Palm Sunday starts with a procession commemorating the day when Jesus rode into Jerusalem and was hailed King. Then we listen to the Gospel telling us how the people subsequently changed their minds and killed him!
- During the Chrism Mass the Bishop consecrates the oils for the sick, for the catechumens and the oil of Chrism. Also the priests, with their Bishop, renew their vows.
- Holy Thursday celebrates the Last Supper and Jesus’ service of love in washing his disciple’s feet. A brief homily is meant to explain the institution of the Eucharist and the priesthood and also Jesus command of brotherly love: “Tonight we remember the Last Supper, the night on which Jesus was betrayed. At Supper, Jesus loving those who were his own even to the end, offered his body and blood to the Father under the appearance of bread and wine. These he gave to the apostles to nourish them, then he enjoined the priesthood on them so they may perpetuate Jesus’ offering of himself, so we may share in Jesus’ sacrifice and be nourished by his body & blood. Tonight’s Mass is 1st of all the memorial of the institution of the Eucharist, that is of the memorial of the Lord’s Passover, by which under sacramental signs Jesus perpetuates among us the sacrifice of the New Law. The washing of the feet is a visible sign of this law –it gives expression to how we might put into practice Jesus’ sacrifice of Love outside of the Mass– that is, how we might put into practice Jesus’ command of brotherly love.”
- On Good Friday we especially venerate the Cross.
- The Saturday Vigil Mass is the beginning of the Easter season and during the liturgy the elect receive the sacraments of initiation.
The Easter Season begins after the Easter Vigil, includes the Ascension of Jesus into heaven and ends on the great feast of Pentecost.
- Beginning of Lenten preparation.
 1 John 4:9.
 2 Samuel 7:12-13
 Wisdom 2:12-20.
 Genesis 15:5.
 Genesis 35:10.
 Acts 13:22.
 Acts 13:23.
 1 John 3:16.
 Philippians 2:7-8.
 Isaiah 52:13-53:6.
 Matthew 16:18.
 Letter of Polycarp 7, 1
 Pope Benedict XVI, Verbum Domini (Citta’ del Vaticano, Librea Editrice Vaticana, 2010), 86.
 Mark 1:11.
 Luke 6:36.
 Matthew 5:48.
 John 20:31.
 1 Corinthians 15:45.
 Luke 14:1-13.
 Phil 3:20-21.
 Rom 8:21.
 2 Peter 1:5.
 Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, 230.
 The numbers refer to the topics outlined in the ‘Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church,’ available online.
 Librea Editrice Vaticana, Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church (Strathfield, St Pauls Publications, 2005) 263.
 I Corinthians 11:23-26.
 Librea Editrice Vatican, Code of Canon Law: Latin-English Edition: New English Translation (Washington: Canon Law Society of America, 1983).
 Cf. Rom. 12:1-2.
 This is at loggerheads with Freud’s theory of sublimation who taught the process of deflecting sexual instincts into acts of higher social valuation. Freud’s theory of libido and personal development must be unveiled as the consequence of original sin and discarded. Instead we must embrace the Augustinian notion of our desires finding their fulfilment in God alone.
 Cf. Philippians 3:10.
 1 Corinthians 15:45.
 Matthew 19:6.
 John 13:34.
 2 John 6.
 Romans 13:8-10.
 2 Corinthians 5:14,15
 1 John 4:16.
 1 John 2:3-6.
 Matthew 10:38, 38.
 Matthew 11:29.
 John 19:27.
 1 John 2:5.
 Acts 3:14.
 Acts 17:31.
 1 Corinthians 15:3-5.
 1 Corinthians 15:14.
 1 Corinthians 15:20-23.
 Romans 6:4.
 Romans 6:13.
 Romans 6:11.
 Librea Editrice Vaticana, Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church (Strathfield, St Pauls Publications, 2005), 429.
 Librea Editrice Vaticana, Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church (Strathfield, St Pauls Publications, 2005), 165.
 Ibid., 564.
 Luke 1:46-49.