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"Today the concept of truth is viewed with suspicion, because truth is identified with violence. Over history there have, unfortunately, been episodes when people sought to defend the truth with violence. But they are two contrasting realities. Truth cannot be imposed with means other than itself! Truth can only come with its own light. Yet, we need truth. ... Without truth we are blind in the world, we have no path to follow. The great gift of Christ was that He enabled us to see the face of God".Pope Benedict xvi, February 24th, 2012

The Church is ecumenical, catholic, God-human, ageless, and it is therefore a blasphemy—an unpardonable blasphemy against Christ and against the Holy Ghost—to turn the Church into a national institution, to narrow her down to petty, transient, time-bound aspirations and ways of doing things. Her purpose is beyond nationality, ecumenical, all-embracing: to unite all men in Christ, all without exception to nation or race or social strata. - St Justin Popovitch

BENEDICTUS MOMENTS

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Monday, 24 January 2011

The Christian Mystery



When God became man in Palestine, a new relationship was created between Heaven and earth, Eternity and time; and there came into existence the ‘fullness of time’ which culminated in the “kairos” of Jesus, and the ‘last times’ (eschaton).

 The “fullness of time” was a direct result of the Incarnation and from Jesus’ true identity as God-man.   Just as we identify the persons of the Blessed Trinity only by their relationships with one another, we call God the Father “Father” because of his relationship to the Son, and the Word is “Son” only because of his relationship to the Father, and the Holy Spirit is breathed forth by the Father to become the mutual union of Love between the Father and Son, so the identity of Jesus as a human being can only be thought of correctly in his relationship to his Father in the Holy Spirit, and to the human race in the same Holy Spirit, and especially to the Church.   This relationship to the human race is not something that happened after the Incarnation: it is the very meaning of the Incarnation and a dimension of his identity as the Christ.  The title by which Jesus described himself, ‘Son of Man’, implies this corporate personality.  Kings in the ancient Middle East were considered the personification of their people: what happened to them was considered to have happened to all their subjects.   If they were praised, all felt uplifted; if they were insulted or wounded all screamed for vengeance.  What was a pious fiction in the mystique of oriental royalty is literally true of Jesus because of the action of the Holy Spirit from the moment of his conception, uniting him both in the Holy Trinity as Son of God and to the whole human race as Son of Man: this double union constitutes his identity.. Archbishop John Zizioulas writes:
The Holy Spirit does not intervene a posteriori within the framework of Christology, as a help to overcoming the distance between an objectively existing Christ and ourselves; he is the one who gives birth to Christ and to the whole activity of salvation, by anointing him and making him Kristos (Lk 4: 13).   If it is truly possible to confess Christ as the truth, this is only because of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 12, 3).   And as a careful study of 1 Cor. 12 shows, for St Paul, the body of Christ is literally composed of the charismata of the Spirit (charisma = membership of the body).   So we can say without risk of an exaggeration that Christ exists only pneumatalogically , whether in his distinct personal particularity or in his capacity as the body of the Church and the recapitulation of all things.
Such is the great mystery of Christology, that the Christ-event is not an event defined in itself – it cannot be defined in itself for a single instant even theoretically  - but it is an integral part of the economy of the Holy Trinity.    To speak of Christ means speaking at the same time of the Father and the Holy Spirit.   For the Incarnation as we have just seen is formed by the work of the Spirit and is nothing else than the expression and realization of the will of the Father.

Hence, everything that Jesus did in life was directly related to his place in the Blessed Trinity and also related to the whole human race of all times and places; and the Holy Spirit is the link at both levels.   It can be said that, during his life on earth, Jesus lived about thirty three years of ordinary “horizontal” history and was crucified at the end of it, and that the empty tomb took place three days later around two thousand years ago. However, as God-made-man, there was another “vertical” dimension to his life: he had a relationship with his Father through the Holy Spirit, and it was the Holy Spirit who placed him in contact with all times and, by so doing, made Christ the meaning of all time, making him the universal focal point of all history.     For this reason, Christ’s time is called the “fullness of time”.

This “fullness of time” came into existence in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary and was completed and reached perfection in Christ’s death which was his doorway into eternity.  Thus his life was united to all human lives, and his sufferings were united to all human sufferings, and his fidelity was united to all men in their infidelity and sin. He bore our sufferings and sins, changing suffering into a way to God, seeking and obtaining pardon for all sin, and giving to transient human life a value and a hope it would never have had without him, the capacity to receive eternal life as sons of God, and the means to bring this about.   What is impossible for men is possible for God.   By means of the Christian Mystery, God was making the impossible possible, “But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.” (Jn 1, 12).. Because Christ was directly related to all times and places by the activity of the Spirit during his time on earth, God’s revelation in and through Christ in the past became as much God’s revelation to us in the present as it was to his contemporaries.  Thus, when the Church sings, “Hodie, Christus natus est”, it is celebrating our contact with the birth of Jesus, which we come to know about through the word of God and celebrate as a true theophany in the liturgy.  The activity of the Holy Spirit does not take the event out of the past and put it in the present; he simply bridges the gap between past and present, because the Spirit is outside time and has the same relationship with all times.   We are “contemporaries” with Christ’s birth, life, death and resurrection in the Spirit.       This fact does not merely justify the “hodie” of the liturgy, it also justifies Catholic devotion to the “Divine Child” or to the “Infant of Prague”, or to the Passion of Christ in its historical details, as the Franciscans and Passionists have favoured.   Thus, although the death of Christ is an historical event, the memory of which has been passed down from one generation to the next, it is also a reflection of the presence in each generation of the Holy Spirit who makes the event the supreme revelation of God to us in the present, in spite of being an event in the past.

Nevertheless, his death is not only the climax of the ‘fullness of time’, it is also Christ’s kairos, the time that will truly last for ever, the time that is actually present in the liturgy because it is a dimension of Christ himself..   To discover this we must look at his death from a completely different angle, as the radical self-giving in love by Jesus himself, an offering for all eternity because it is without limits, a total submission to the will of the Father without reserve or limitation. This self-offering was Christ’s act of voluntarily   dying in loving obedience to the Father; and it became a permanent dimension of the risen Christ, an essential characteristic of the eternal relationship of his glorified humanity to the Father, without losing contact with its historical context, because there is no time in heaven.  Thus he is depicted in the Book of Revelation as the Lamb “slain but standing” ().   Fr Jean Corbon writes of Christ’s death:
Above and beyond its historical circumstances, which are indeed of the past, the death of Jesus was by its nature the death of death.   But the event wherein death was put to death cannot belong to the past, for then death would not have been conquered.   To the extent that it passes, time is the prisoner of death; once time is delivered from death, it no longer passes.   The hour on which the desire of Jesus was focused “has come, and we are in it” forever; the event that is the Cross and Resurrection does not pass away.        
(The Wellspring of Worship by Jean Corbon, Ignatius Press, pg 56)
Thus, by means of his ascension into the presence of his Father, this passage of Jesus through death and resurrection has become the permanent means for human beings and even for the whole universe to be transformed into sharers of the divine life.  Hence, we who live in time are destined to ascend, through his death and resurrection, into the presence of the Father.   By dying on the cross and entering heaven by resurrection-ascension, Christ has brought about a new way of being human.   By passing through his death to share in his resurrected life, the whole creation is destined to be transformed into “the new heaven and new earth” spoken about in the Apocalypse; and this is already a living reality in Christ in heaven.   It is into this reality that the Church passes every time it celebrates Mass.   His pasch has become our pasch, his mystery our mystery.  We are baptised into his death and resurrection and celebrate the same mystery of our participation in this process at every Mass.   Once in his presence, we receive eternal life from the Father, a life that belongs by right to the human nature of the risen and ascended Christ, but which he shares with us through the Spirit who makes us one body with him.   Sharing in his human nature that has been transformed by resurrection, we share in his divine life and also share in his joy

When we ‘ascend’ in the Mass to the heavenly sanctuary into the presence of the Father through the veil that is Christ’s flesh, our baptism and confirmation are renewed.  In the words of St Ambrose, “By his Ascension, Christ passed into his mysteries.” Corbon, “The Wellspring of Worship, pg 98).   In our communion with the risen Christ in heaven, all our sacraments, our baptism and confirmation, our ordination or marriage, are rejuvenated and become again and again, active means of grace, because we have been united by the Spirit to their Source who is Christ.       The death of Christ is like a black hole through which the whole human race, and indeed, the whole of creation have to pass in order to bring into existence a ‘new heaven and a new earth’.

The Gospel of St Mark is said to be simply an account of the Passion of Christ, with a long prologue which tells of his public ministry, and an epilogue which tells of his Resurrection.  It is clear that, for St Mark, his Passion is the most important revelation of all.   St Matthew’s account links the death of Christ in apocalyptic fashion with the emptying of the tombs and the resurrection of the dead (Mt 27, vv 51 – 54).   St John’s Gospel also attaches to Christ’s death on the cross many of the ideas that belong to the Last Day in other gospels.   For instance, when Jesus is lifted up (crucified) he will draw all men to himself (); in the cross, Jesus and his Father are glorified (); and the crucifixion is the Judgement of the world ( ).   Moreover, the coming of the Holy Spirit into the world is linked with Christ’s death on the cross(   )..   He tells Simon Peter before the crucifixion that he is going on a journey and that Si Peter cannot go with him now, but that one day he will be able to go (Jn 13 )   It implies that accompanying Jesus through death to resurrection is a future option for Simon Peter, and for us.   It is not only a historical memory, however direct may be our contact with this event through the memory of the Church: through it Christ in the ‘fullness of time’ and we in our own time pass into the ‘eschaton’. .

In his “presentation” of Liturgia y Oracion by Fr Jean Corbon, Prof. Felix Maria Arocena of the University of Navarre in Spain tells us that there is an altar in the church of the Convento de San Bernadino de Siena in Bergamo which illustrates the confluence of our historic memory of the Passion with our participation in Christ’s sacrifice of the Mass.   Caravaggio so painted his picture of the Passion that, every time the priest elevates the host at Mass, we become aware of the two ways in which we are brought into contact with the cross, with the historical event through the memory of the Church as depicted in the painting, and with the same event as our door into eternity, our way to God through the Eucharist.  On Good Friday and Holy Saturday, the Church takes its normal emphasis away from the Eucharist in which the death and resurrection of Christ are united together as one single mystery, and concentrates on the historical event where the resurrection was in the future, and Jesus cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me!”.   We do this because, through the action of the Holy Spirit, the crucifixion of Jesus is the clearest and most intimate theophany (manifestation of God) in human history, not only for Our Lady and St John on the day, but for us and for all believers until the end of time.



This passage of Jesus through death to resurrection and ascension into the presence of the Father is celebrated for all eternity by the angels and saints in heaven, as they share the joy of the Father at the arrival in heaven of his only begotten Son, and they share in the joy of Jesus as he is accompanied by those whom he has saved – “A great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages” from all times and places – streaming into the heavenly Jerusalem with him.   This is the heavenly liturgy.

One direct result of the ascension was the pouring out of the Holy Spirit on the Church at Pentecost.  In this reason we can say that the ascension of Christ is the epiclesis which is the cause of every other epiclesis in Catholic liturgy.   Indeed, Pentecost is the origin of the Liturgy of the Church.   According to P. Jean Corbon OP, (The Wellspring of Worship, ch 8,The Liturgy, Synergy of the Spirit and the Church ), the Liturgy is brought about by the synergy (harmony or synchronization between two “energies” or activities) between the activity of the Holy Spirit and that of the Church which brings about the Church’s liturgy.   In this relationship, the Church is pure need, but the Holy Spirit enables it to do what would be impossible without the Spirit. (B)

The Liturgy is celebrated in ordinary time; but, because the Father is always sending his Holy Spirit at the request of his Son - the epiclesis is implicit in the whole liturgy all the time because, without the Holy Spirit, it would not be liturgy - the Church is participating in the new relationship between Eternity and time, between heaven and earth, and between the events of Christ's life and death in the past and the Church's present, and in the passage through death to resurrection to ascension that is the destiny for the whole universe.   This is what is meant by the Christian Mystery.
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