Archive for the ‘Bishop Fulton J. Sheen’ Category

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The Earth’s Most Serious Wound 3 – Fulton J. Sheen

January 13, 2014
Yet this incident on the road to Emmaus revealed that the most powerful truths often appear in the commonplace and trivial incidents of life, such as meeting a fellow traveler on a road. Christ veiled His Presence in the most ordinary roadway of life. Knowledge of Him came as they walked with Him; and the knowledge was that of glory that came through defeat. In His Glorified Life as in His public life, the Cross and glory went together. It was not just His teachings that were recalled; it was His sufferings and how expedient they were for His exaltation.

Yet this incident on the road to Emmaus revealed that the most powerful truths often appear in the commonplace and trivial incidents of life, such as meeting a fellow traveler on a road. Christ veiled His Presence in the most ordinary roadway of life. Knowledge of Him came as they walked with Him; and the knowledge was that of glory that came through defeat. In His Glorified Life as in His public life, the Cross and glory went together. It was not just His teachings that were recalled; it was His sufferings and how expedient they were for His exaltation.

The third installment of a wonderful chapter from the Life of Christ. Widely proclaimed a classic work of Christian faith, Life of Christ has been hailed as the most eloquent of Fulton J. Sheen’s many books. The fruit of many years of reflection, prayer, and research, it is a dramatic and moving recounting of the birth, life, Crucifixion, and Resurrection of Christ, and a passionate portrait of the God-Man, the teacher, the healer, and, most of all, the Savior, whose promise has sustained humanity for two millenia.

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Guards And Bribery
After the women had gone to notify the Apostles, the guards, who had been standing about the tomb, and who were witnesses to the Resurrection, came into the city of Jerusalem and told the chief priests all that had been done. The chief priests immediately assembled a meeting of the Sanhedrin, the express purpose of which was to bribe the guards.

These offered a rich bribe to the soldiers;
Let this, they said, be your tale,
His disciples came by night and stole Him away,
While we were asleep.
If this should come to the ears of the governor,
We will satisfy him,
And see that no harm comes to you.
The soldiers took the bribe,
And did as they were instructed; and this
Is the tale which has gone
Abroad among the Jews, to this day.
Matthew 28:12-15

The “rich bribe” contrasted rather strongly with the meager thirty pieces of silver which Judas received. The Sanhedrin did not deny the Resurrection; in fact, they bore their own unbiased testimony to its truth. And that same testimony they carried to the Gentiles through Pilate. They even gave the money of the temple to the Roman soldiers whom they despised; for they had found a greater hate. The money Judas had returned they would not touch because it was “blood money.” But now they would buy a lie to escape the purifying Blood of the Lamb.

The bribery of the guard was really a stupid way to escape the fact of the Resurrection. First of all, there was the problem what would be done with His Body after the disciples had possession of it. All that the enemies of Our Lord would have have to do to disprove the Resurrection would be to produce the Body.

Quite apart from the fact that it was very unlikely that whole guard of Roman soldiers slept while they were on duty, it was absurd for them to say that what had happened, happens when they were asleep. The soldiers were advised to say they we asleep; and yet they were so awake as to have seen thieves and know that they were disciples. If all of the soldiers were asleep, they could never have discovered the thieves; if a few of them were awake, they should have prevented the theft.

It is equally improbable that a few timid disciples should attempt to steal their Master’s Body from a grave closed by stone, officially sealed, and guarded by soldiers without awakening the sleeping guards. The orderly arrangement of the burial cloths afforded further proof that the Body was not removed by His disciples.

The secret removal of the Body would have been to no purpose so far as the disciples were concerned, nor had any of them even thought of it; for the moment, the life of their Master was a failure and a defeat. The crime was certainly greater in the bribers than in the bribed; for, the council was educated and religious; the soldiers were untutored and simple. The Resurrection of Christ was officially proclaimed to the civil authorities; the Sanhedrin believed in the Resurrection before the Apostles. It had bought the kiss of Judas; now it hoped it could buy the silence of the guards.

Broken Hearts And Broken Bread
On that same Easter Sunday, Our Blessed Lord made another appearance to two of His disciples who were on their way to a village named Emmaus, which was a short distance from Jerusalem. It was not so long ago that their hopes had been burning brightly, but the darkness of Good Friday and the burial in the tomb caused them to lose their gladness. No subject was more in men’s minds that particular day than the Person of Christ.

As they were discoursing with sad and anxious hearts on the awful incidents of the last two days, a Stranger drew near to them. Their eyes, however, were held fast so that they did not recognize that it was the Risen Savior; they thought Him to be an ordinary traveler. As the story unfolded, it became clear that what blinded their eyes was their unbelief, had they been expecting to see Him, they might have recognized Him.

Because they were interested in Him, He vouchsafed His Presence; because they doubted His Resurrection, He concealed the joy and knowledge of His Presence. Now that His Body was glorified, what men saw of Him depended on His willingness to reveal Himself and also on the disposition of their own hearts. Though they did not know Our Lord, they nevertheless were ready to enter into, discussion with the Stranger concerning Him. After listening to their long discussion, the Stranger asked:

What talk is this you exchange between you
As you go along, sad faced?
Luke 24:17

Obviously, the reason these disciples were sad was because of their bereavement. They had been with Jesus; they had seen Him arrested, insulted, crucified, dead, and buried. Sorrow afflicts woman’s heart when she loses the beloved; but men generally become perplexed in mind rather than heart at a similar loss; theirs was the sorrow of a shattered career.

The Savior with His infinite wisdom did not begin by saying “I know why you are sad.” His technique was rather to draw them out; a sorrowful heart is best consoled when it relieves itself. Their sorrow would have a tongue and speak, He would have ear and reveal. If they would but show their wounds, He would pour in the oil of His healing.

One of the two, whose name was Cleophas, was the first to speak. He expressed amazement at the ignorance of the Stranger Who was apparently so unfamiliar with the events of the last few days.

What, art thou the only pilgrim in Jerusalem
Who has not heard of what has happened
There in the last few days?
Luke 24:18

The risen Lord asked:

What happenings?
Luke 24:19

He called their attention to facts. They apparently had not gone deeply enough into the facts for proper conclusions. The cure for their sorrow was in the very things that disturbed them, to see them in their right relations. As with the woman at the well, He asked a question, not to get information, but to deepen knowledge of Himself. Then not Cleophas alone but also his companion told Him what had happened. They spoke:

About Jesus of Nazareth, a prophet
Whose words and acts had power with God,
And with all the people; how the chief priests,
And our rulers, handed Him over
To be sentenced to death, and
so crucified Him.
For ourselves, we had hoped that it
Was He who
was to deliver Israel; but now,
To crown it all, to-day is the third Day since it befell.
Some women, indeed, who belonged to our company,
Alarmed
us; they had been at the tomb early in the morning
And could not find His Body; whereupon
They came back and told us that they had seen
A
vision of angels, who said that He was alive.
Some of those who were with us went to the tomb,
And found that all was
as the women had said,
But of Him they saw nothing.
Luke 24:19-24

These men had hoped great things, but God, they said, had disappointed them. Man draws a blueprint and hopes that God in some way will rubber-stamp it; disappointment is often due to the triviality of human hopes. Original drawings now had to be torn up — not because they were too great, but because in the eyes of God they were too little. The hand that broke the cup of their petty desires offered a richer chalice. They thought that they had found the Redeemer before He was crucified, but actually they had discovered a Redeemer crucified.

They had hoped for a Savior of Israel, but were not expecting a Savior of the Gentiles as well. They must have heard Him say on many occasions that He would be crucified and rise again, but they could not fit catastrophe into their idea of a Master. They could believe in Him as a Teacher, as a political Messias, as an ethical reformer, as a savior of the country, a deliverer from the Romans, but they could not believe in the foolishness of the Cross; nor did they have the faith of the thief hanging on the cross.

Hence they refused to regard the evidence of which the women had told them. They were not sure even that the women had seen angels. Possibly it was only an apparition. Furthermore, it was the third day which had come and gone, and He had not been seen. But all the while they were walking and talking with Him.

There seemed to be a double purpose in the appearance of Our Savior after His Resurrection, one to show that He Who died had risen, the other, that though He had the same Body, it was now glorified and not subject to physical restrictions. Later on, He would eat with His disciples to prove the first; now, as with the Magdalen whom He forbade to touch Him, He stressed His risen state.

With these disciples as with all of the Apostles, there was no predisposition to accept the Resurrection. The evidence for it had to make its way against doubt and the most obstinate refusals of human nature. They were among the last people in the world to credit such a tale. One might almost say that they were resolved to be miserable, refusing to enquire into the possibility of the truth of the story. Resisting both the evidence of the women and the confirmation of those who had gone to verify their story, the final word was that they had not seen the risen Lord.

Then the risen Savior said to them:

Too slow of wit, too dull of heart,
To believe all those sayings of the prophets!
Was it not to be expected that the Christ
Should undergo these sufferings,
And enter so into his glory?
Luke 24:25, 26

They are accused of being foolish and slow of heart, because if they had ever sat down and examined what the prophets had said about the Messias — that He would be led like a lamb to slaughter — they would have been confirmed in their belief. Credulity toward men and incredulity toward God is the mark of dull hearts; readiness to believe speculatively and slowness to believe practically is the sign of sluggish hearts.

Then came the key words of the journey. Previously, Our Blessed Lord had said that He was the Good Shepherd, that He came to lay down His life for the Redemption of many; now in His glory, He proclaimed a moral law that in consequence of His sufferings men would be raised from a state of sin to fellowship with God.

The Cross was the condition of glory. The Risen Savior spoke of a moral necessity grounded on the truth that everything that happened to Him had been foretold. What seemed to them an offense, a scandal, a defeat, a succumbing to the inevitable was actually a dark moment foreseen, planned, and preannounced. Though the Cross seemed to them incompatible with His glory, to Him it was the appointed path thereto. And if they had known what the Scriptures had said of the Messias, they would have believed in the Cross.

Then going back to Moses and the whole line of prophets,
He began to interpret the words
Used of Himself by all the Scriptures.
Luke 24:27

He showed to them all the types and all the rituals and all the ceremonials that were fulfilled in Him. Quoting from Isaias He showed the manner of His death and Crucifixion and His Last Words from the Cross; from Daniel, how He was to to become the mountain that filled the earth; from Genesis, how the seed of a woman would crush the serpent of evil in human hearts; from Moses, how He would be the brazen serpent that would be lifted up to heal men of evil, and how His side would be the smitten rock from which would come the water of regeneration; from Isaias, how He would be Emmanuel, “God with us”; from Micheas, how He would be born in Bethlehem; and from many other writings He gave them the key the mystery of God’s life among men and the purpose of His coming.

At last they arrived at Emmaus. He made it appear as if I were about to continue His journey along the same road, just once before when a storm was sweeping the lake, He made appear as though He would pass by the boat of the Apostles. The two disciples begged Him, however, to stay with the Those who have good thoughts of God in the day will not readily surrender them at nightfall. They had learned much, but they knew that they had not learned all. They still did not recognize Him, but there was a light about Him which promised to lead to a fuller revelation and dissipate their gloom. Their invitation to be a guest He accepted, but immediately He acted as the Host for:

When He sat down at table with them,
He took bread, and blessed, and broke it,
And offered it to them; whereupon their eyes
Were opened, and they recognized Him;
And with that, He disappeared from their sight.
Luke 24:30, 31

This taking of the bread and breaking it and giving it to them was not an ordinary act of courtesy, for it resembled too closely the Last Supper at which He bade His Apostles to repeat the Memorial of His death as He broke the bread which was His Body and gave it to them.

Immediately on the reception of the Sacramental Bread that was broken, the eyes of their souls were opened. As the eyes of Adam and Eve were opened to see their shame after they had eaten the forbidden fruit of the knowledge of good and evil, so now the eyes of the disciples were opened to discern the Body of Christ.

The scene parallels the Last Supper: in both there was a giving of thanks; in both, a looking up to heaven; in both, the breaking of the bread; and in both, the giving of the bread to the disciples. With the conferring of the bread came a knowledge which gave greater clarity than all the instructions. The breaking of the bread had introduced them into an experience of the glorified Christ. Then He disappeared from their sight. Turning to one another, they reflected:

Were not our hearts burning within us
When He spoke to us on the road,
And when He made the Scriptures plain to us?
Luke 24:32

His influence upon them was both affective and intellectual: affective, in the sense that it made their hearts burn with love; and intellectual, inasmuch as it gave them an understanding of the hundreds of preannouncements of His coming. Mankind is naturally disposed to believe that anything religious must be striking and powerful enough to overwhelm the imagination.

Yet this incident on the road to Emmaus revealed that the most powerful truths often appear in the commonplace and trivial incidents of life, such as meeting a fellow traveler on a road. Christ veiled His Presence in the most ordinary roadway of life. Knowledge of Him came as they walked with Him; and the knowledge was that of glory that came through defeat. In His Glorified Life as in His public life, the Cross and glory went together. It was not just His teachings that were recalled; it was His sufferings and how expedient they were for His exaltation.

The disciples immediately returned and went back to Jerusalem. As the woman at the well in her excitement left her water pitcher at the well, so these disciples forgot the purpose of their journey to Emmaus and went back to the Holy City. There they found the eleven Apostles gathered together, and with them other followers and disciples. They recounted all that had happened on the way and how they recognized Him in the breaking of the bread.

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The Earth’s Most Serious Wound 2 – Fulton J. Sheen

January 10, 2014
“Mary.” John 20:15 That voice was more startling than a clap of thunder. She had once heard Jesus say that He called His sheep by name. And now to that One, Who individualized all the sin, sorrow, and tears in the world and marked each soul with a personal, particular, and discriminating love, she turned, seeing the red livid marks on His hands and feet, she uttered but one word: Rabboni!

“Mary.” John 20:15 That voice was more startling than a clap of thunder. She had once heard Jesus say that He called His sheep by name. And now to that One, Who individualized all the sin, sorrow, and tears in the world and marked each soul with a personal, particular, and discriminating love, she turned, seeing the red livid marks on His hands and feet, she uttered but one word: Rabboni!

The second installment of a wonderful chapter from The Life of Christ.

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The Lord now began the first of His eleven recorded appearances between His Resurrection and Ascension: sometimes to His Apostles, at other times to five hundred brethren at once, at some other times to the women. The first appearance was to Mary Magdalen, who returned to the sepulcher after James and John had left it. The idea of the Resurrection did not seem to enter her mind either though she herself had risen from a tomb sealed by the seven devils of sin.

Finding the tomb empty, she broke again into a fountain of tears. With her eyes cast down as the brightness of the early sunrise swept over the dew-covered grass, she vaguely perceived someone near her who asked:

Woman, why art thou weeping?
John 20:13

She was weeping for what was lost, but His question took away the curse of tears by bidding her to stop her tears. She said:

Because they have carried away my Lord;
And I cannot tell where they have taken Him.

John 20:14

There was no terror at seeing the angels, for the world on fire could not have moved her, so much had grief mastered her soul. When she had said this, she turned and saw Jesus standing; and she knew not that it was He. She thought He was the gardener — the gardener of Joseph of Arimathea. Believing this man know where the Lost One could be found, Mary Magdalen went down on her knees and asked:

If it is thou, Sir, that hast carried Him off,
Tell me where thou hast put Him,
And I will take Him away.
John 20:15

Poor Magdalen! Worn from Good Friday, wearied by Holy Saturday, with life dwindled to a shadow and strength weakened to a thread, she would “take Him away.” Three times did she speak of “Him” without defining His name. The force of love was such as to suppose no one else could possibly be meant.

Jesus said to her:

Mary.
John 20:15

That voice was more startling than a clap of thunder. She had once heard Jesus say that He called His sheep by name. And now to that One, Who individualized all the sin, sorrow, and tears in the world and marked each soul with a personal, particular, and discriminating love, she turned, seeing the red livid marks on His hands and feet, she uttered but one word:

Rabboni!
John 20:16

(which is the Hebrew for “master”). Christ had uttered “Mary” and all heaven was in it. It was only one word she uttered, and all earth was in it.

After the mental midnight, there was this dazzle; after hours of hopelessness, this hope; after the search, this discovery; after the loss, this find. Magdalen was prepared only to shed reverential tears over the grave; what she was not prepared for was to see Him walking on the wings of the morning.

Only purity and sinlessness could welcome the all holy Son of God into the world; hence, Mary Immaculate met Him at the door of earth in the city of Bethlehem. But only a repentant sinner, who had herself risen from the grave of sin to the newness of life in God, could fittingly understand the triumph over sin. To the honor of womanhood it must forever be said: A woman was closest to the Cross on Good Friday, and first at the tomb on Easter Morn.

Mary was always at His feet. She was there as she anointed Him for burial; she was there as she stood at the Cross; now in joy at seeing the Master, she threw herself at His feet to embrace them. But He said to her with a restraining gesture:

Do not cling to Me thus;
I have not yet gone up to My Father’s side.
John 20:17

Her tender tokens of affection were directed to Him more as the Son of Man than as the Son of God. Hence He bade her not to touch Him. St. Paul would have to give the Corinthians and Colossians the same lesson:

Even if we used to think of Christ in a human fashion,
We do so no longer.

2 Corinthians 5:16

You must be heavenly-minded, not earthly-minded;
You have undergone death, and
Your life is hidden away now with Christ in God.

Colossians 3:2

Her tears, He suggested, were to be dried not because she had seen Him again, but because He was the Lord of heaven. When He had ascended to the right hand of the Father, which signified the Father’s power; when He would send the Spirit of Truth, Who would be their new Comforter and His inner Presence, then indeed would she truly have Him for Whom she yearned — the risen glorified Christ.

It was His first hint, after His Resurrection, at the new relationship He would have with men, of which He spoke so fluently the night of the Last Supper. He would have to give the same lesson to His disciples who were too preoccupied with His human form, by telling them that it was expedient for Him to leave. Magdalen wished to be with Him as she was before the Crucifixion, forgetting that the Crucifixion was endured for glory and for the sending of His Spirit.

Though the Magdalen was humbled by this prohibition of Our Savior, she nevertheless was destined to feel the exaltation of bearing tidings of His Resurrection. The men had grasped the significance of the empty tomb, but not its relation to Redemption and victory over sin and evil. She was to break the precious alabaster box of His Resurrection so that its perfume might fill the world. He said to her:

Return to My brethren and tell them this;
I am going up to Him Who is My Father and your Father
Who is My God and your God.
John 20:17

This was the first time He ever called His Apostles “My Brethren.” Before man could be an adopted son of God, he had to be redeemed from enmity with God.

Believe Me when I tell you this;
A grain of wheat must fall into the ground
And die, or else it remains nothing more
Than a grain of wheat;
But if it dies, then it yields rich fruit.

John 12:24

He took the Crucifixion to multiply His Sonship into other sons of God. But there would be a vast difference between Himself as the natural Son and human beings, who through His Spirit would become the adopted sons. Hence, as always, He made a rigid distinction between “My Father” and “Your Father.” Never once in His life did He say “Our Father” as if the relationship were the same between Himself and men; His relation to the Father was unique and incommunicable; Sonship was by nature His; only by grace and adoption were men sons of God:

The Son Who sanctifies and the sons who are sanctified
Have a common origin, all of them;
He is not ashamed then, to own
Them as His brethren.
Hebrews 2:11

Nor did He tell Mary to inform the Apostles that He was risen but rather that He would ascend. The Resurrection was implied in the Ascension, which was as yet forty days off. His purpose was not just to stress that He Who had died was now alive but that this was the beginning of a spiritual Kingdom which would become visible and unified when He sent His Spirit.

Obediently, Mary Magdalen hastened to the disciples who were “mourning and weeping.” She told them she had seen the Lord and the words He had spoken to her. What reception did her tidings receive? Once again, skepticism, doubt, and unbelief. The Apostles had heard Him speak in figure, symbol, parable and straightforward speech of the Resurrection which would follow His death, but:

When they were told that He was alive
And that she had seen Him,
Could not believe it.
Mark 16:11

Eve believed the serpent; but the disciples did not believe the Son of God. As for Mary Magdalen and any other woman who might tell of His Resurrection:

To their minds the story seemed madness,
And they could not believe it.
Luke 24:11

It was a forecast of the way the world would receive the news of Redemption. Mary Magdalen and the other women did not at first believe in the Resurrection; they had to be convinced. Neither did the Apostles believe. Their answer was “You know women! Always imagining things.”

Long before the advent of scientific psychology, people were afraid of their minds playing tricks on them. Modern incredulity in the face of the extraordinary is nothing compared to the skepticism which immediately greeted the first news of the Resurrection. What modern skeptics say about the Resurrection story, the disciples themselves were the first to say, namely, it was an idle tale.

As the original agnostics of Christianity, with one assent the Apostles dismissed the whole story as a delusion. Something very extraordinary must happen, and some very concrete evidence must be presented to all of these doubters, before they overcome their reluctance to believe.

Their skepticism was even more difficult than modern skepticism to overcome, because theirs started from a hope that was seemingly disappointed on Calvary; this was far more difficult to heal than a modern skepticism, which is without hope. Nothing could be further from the truth than to say that the followers of Our Blessed Lord were expecting the Resurrection and, therefore, were ready to believe it or to console themselves for a loss that seemed irreparable.

No agnostic has written about the Resurrection anything that Peter and the other Apostles had not already had in their own minds. When Mohammed died, Omar rushed from his tent, sword in hand, and declared that he would kill anyone who said that the Prophet had died. In the case of Christ, there was a readiness to believe that He had died, but a reluctance to believe that He was living. But perhaps they were permitted to doubt, so that the faithful in centuries to come might never be in doubt.

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The Earth’s Most Serious Wound – Fulton J. Sheen

January 9, 2014
Out of all the disciples and followers there were only five "watching": three women and two men, like the five in the parable who awaited the coming of the Bridegroom. All of them were without suspicion of the Resurrection.

Out of all the disciples and followers there were only five “watching”: three women and two men, like the five in the parable who awaited the coming of the Bridegroom. All of them were without suspicion of the Resurrection.

 

A wonderful chapter from the Life of Christ

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In the history of the world, only one tomb has ever had a rock rolled before it, and a soldier guard set to watch it to prevent the dead man within from rising: that was the tomb of Christ on the evening of the Friday called Good. What spectacle could be more ridiculous than armed soldiers keeping their eyes on a corpse? But sentinels were set, lest the Dead walk, the Silent speak, and the Pierced Heart quicken to the throb of life.

They said He was dead; they knew He was dead; they would say He would not rise again; and yet they watched! They openly called Him a deceiver. But, would He still deceive? Would He, Who “deceived” them into believing they won the battle, Himself win the war for life and truth and love?

They remembered that He called His Body the Temple and that in three days after they destroyed It, He would rebuild It; they recalled, too, that He compared Himself to Jonas and said that as Jonas was in the belly of the whale for three days, so would He be in the belly of the earth for three days and then would rise again. After three days. Abraham received back his son Isaac, who was offered in sacrifice; for three days Egypt was in a darkness that was not of nature; on the third day God came down on Mount Sinai.

Now, once again, there was worry about the third day. Early Saturday morning, therefore, the chief priests and the Pharisees broke the Sabbath and presented themselves to Pilate, saying:

Sir, we have recalled it to memory that
This deceiver, while He yet lived, said,
I am to rise again after three days.
Give orders, then, that His tomb shall
Be securely guarded until the third day;
Or, perhaps, His disciples will come
And steal Him away.
If they should then say to the people,
He has risen from the dead, this last
Deceit will be more dangerous than the old.
Matthew 27:63, 64

Their request for a guard until the “third day” had more reference to Christ’s words about His Resurrection than it did to the fear of the Apostles stealing a corpse and propping it up like a living thing in simulation of a Resurrection. But Pilate was in no mood to see this group, for they were the reason why he had condemned Innocent Blood. He had made his own official investigation that Christ was dead; he would not submit to the absurdity of using Caesar’s armies to guard a dead Jew. Pilate said to them:

You have guards; away with you,
Make it secure as you best know how.
Matthew 27:65

The watch was to prevent violence; the seal was to prevent fraud. There must be a seal, and the enemies would seal it. There must be a watch, and the enemies must keep it. The certificates of the death and Resurrection must be signed by the enemies themselves. The Gentiles were satisfied through nature that Christ was dead; the Jews were satisfied through the Law that He was dead.

And they went and made the tomb secure,
Putting a seal on the stone
And setting a guard over it.

Matthew 27:66

The King lay in state with His guard about Him. The most astounding fact about this spectacle of vigilance over the dead was that the enemies of Christ expected the Resurrection, but His friends did not. It was the believers who were the skeptics; it was the unbelievers who were credulous.

His followers needed and demanded proofs before they would be convinced. In the three great scenes of the Resurrection drama, there was a note of sadness and unbelief. The first scene was that of a weeping Magdalen who came to the grave early in the morning with spices, not to greet the Risen Savior, but to anoint His dead Body.

Magdalen At The Grave
In the dim dawn of Sunday morning several women were seen approaching the tomb. The very fact that the women brought spices proved that they did not expect a Resurrection. It seemed strange that such should have been the case after the many references by Our Lord to His death and His Resurrection.

But evidently the disciples as well as the women, whenever He predicted His Passion, seemed to remember more His death than His Resurrection. It never occurred to them as a possible thing; it was foreign to their thoughts. When the stone was rolled to the door of the sepulcher, not only was Christ buried but also all of their hopes. The only thought the women had was to anoint the body of the dead Christ — an act that was born of despairing and as yet unbelieving love. Two of them, at least, had witnessed the burial; hence their great concern was the practical act:

Who is to roll the stone away for us
From the door of the tomb?
Mark 16:3

It was the cry of hearts of little faith. Strong men had closed the entrance to the tomb by placing this huge stone against it; their worry was how to remove the barrier in order that they might carry out their errand of mercy. The men would not come to the tomb until they were summoned — so little did they believe.

But the women came, only because in their grief they sought consolation in embalming the dead. Nothing is more anti-historical than to say that the pious women were expecting Christ to rise from the dead. The Resurrection was something they never expected. Their minds were not made up of the kind of material on which such expectations could grow.

But as they approached, they found the stone rolled back. Before their arrival, there had been a great earthquake, and an angel of the Lord, who descended from heaven, rolled back the stone and sat upon it:

His face shone like lightning,
And his garments were white as snow;
So that the guards trembled for fear of him
And were like dead men.
Matthew 28:4

When the women came near they saw that the stone, great as it was, had been rolled away already. But they did not immediately jump to the conclusion that His Body had risen. Their conclusion could be that someone had removed the body. Instead of the dead Body of their Master, they saw an angel, whose countenance was as lightning and his raiment as snow and who said to them:

No need to be dismayed;
You have come to look for Jesus of Nazareth,
Who was crucified; He has risen again;
He is not here.
Here is the place where they laid Him
Go and tell Peter and the rest of His disciples
That He is going before you into Galilee.
There you shall have sight of Him
As He promised you.
Mark 16:6-8

To an angel, the Resurrection would not be a mystery, but His death would be. For man, His death was not a mystery, but His Resurrection would be. What had been natural to the angel, therefore, was now made the subject of the announcement. The angel was one keeper more than the enemies had placed about the Savior’s grave, one soldier more than Pilate had appointed.

The angel’s words were the first Gospel preached after the Resurrection, and it is the one that went back to His Passion, for the angel spoke of Him, as “Jesus of Nazareth Who was crucified:” These words conveyed the name of His humanity, the humility of His dwelling place, and the ignominy of His death; in all three, lowliness, ignominy, and shame are brought in comparison with His rising from the dead. Bethlehem, Nazareth, and Jerusalem are all made the identifying marks of His Resurrection.

The angel’s words: “Here is the place where they laid Him,” confirmed the reality of His death and the fulfillment of the ancient prophecies. Tombstones bear the inscription: Hic jacet or “Here lies.” Then follows the name of the dead and perhaps some praise of the one departed. But here in contrast, the angel did not write, but expressed a different epitaph: “He is not here.”

The angel called on the women to behold the place where their Lord’s Body had been laid, as though the vacant tomb was’ evidence enough of the fact of the Resurrection. They were directed to hasten immediately and give intelligence of the Resurrection. It was to a virgin woman that the birth of the Son of God was announced. It was to a fallen woman that His Resurrection was announced.

Those who saw the empty grave were bidden to go to Peter who had tempted Our Blessed Lord once from the Cross and had three times denied Him. Sin and denial could not choke Divine love. Paradoxical though it was, the greater the sin, the less the belief, and yet the greater the repentance from sin, the greater the belief.

It was to the lost sheep panting in the wilderness that He came; it was the publicans and the harlots, the denying Peters and the persecuting Pauls to whom the most persuasive entreaties of love were sent. To the man who was named a Rock and who would have tempted Christ from a Cross, the angel now sent through the women the message, “Go tell Peter.”

The same individualizing prominence given to Peter in the public life was continued in the Resurrection. But though Peter was mentioned here with the Apostles of whom he was the head, the Lord appeared to Peter alone before He revealed Himself to the disciples at Emmaus. This was evident from the fact that later on the disciples would say that He appeared to Peter. The glad news of Redemption was thus given to a woman who had fallen and to an Apostle who had denied; but both of whom had repented.

Mary Magdalen, who had in the darkness moved ahead of her companions, noticed that the stone had already been rolled to one side, while the entrance stood wide open. A quick glance revealed that the grave was empty. Her first thought was of the Apostles, Peter and John, to whom she ran in excitement. According to Mosaic Law a woman was ineligible to bear witness.

But Mary did not bring them tidings of the Resurrection; she was not expecting it. She assumed that He was still under the power of death, as she told Peter and John:

They have carried the Lord away from the tomb
And we cannot tell where they have laid Him.

John 20:2

Out of all the disciples and followers there were only five “watching”: three women and two men, like the five in the parable who awaited the coming of the Bridegroom. All of them were without suspicion of the Resurrection.

In their excitement both Peter and John ran to the sepulcher, thus leaving Mary far behind. John was the better runner of the two, and arrived there first. When Peter arrived, they both went into the sepulcher, where they saw linen cloths lying about, as well as the veil they had put on the head of Jesus; but this was not with the linen cloths; but was wrapped up by itself.

What had taken place was done decently and in order, not by a thief nor even a friend. The Body was gone from the tomb; the original bindings around His Body were found in their convolutions. If the disciples had stolen the Body, they would not in their haste have unwrapped it and left the linen cloths. Christ had risen out of them by His Divine power. Peter and John

Had not yet mastered what was written of Him,
That He was to rise from the dead.
John 20:9

They had the facts and the evidence of the Resurrection; but they did not yet understand its full meaning.

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Nicodemus, the Serpent And The Cross – Fulton J. Sheen

January 8, 2014
Our Blessed Lord in His talk with Nicodemus proclaimed Himself the Light of the World. But the most astounding part of His teaching was that He said no one would understand His teaching while He was alive and that His death and Resurrection would be essential to understanding it. No other teacher in the world ever said that it would take a violent death to clarify his teachings. Here was a Teacher Who made His teaching so secondary that He could say that the only way that He would ever draw men to Himself would be not by His doctrine, not by what said, but by His Crucifixion.

Our Blessed Lord in His talk with Nicodemus proclaimed Himself the Light of the World. But the most astounding part of His teaching was that He said no one would understand His teaching while He was alive and that His death and Resurrection would be essential to understanding it. No other teacher in the world ever said that it would take a violent death to clarify his teachings. Here was a Teacher Who made His teaching so secondary that He could say that the only way that He would ever draw men to Himself would be not by His doctrine, not by what said, but by His Crucifixion.

Not having received a welcome in the temple which was His Father’s house, Jesus did not force the issue. That earthly temple would fade away and He, the true Temple wherein God dwells, would rise again in glory. For the moment, He limited Himself to proving that He was the Messiahs by teaching and miracles. During these few days, He worked many more miracles than are recorded; and the Gospel states that many, seeing the miracles He wrought, believed in Him. One of the members of the Sanhedrin admitted not only that the miracles were authentic but also that God had to be with Him Who worked these signs.

A Pharisee, and one of the rulers of the Jews,
Came to see Jesus by night.
John 3:1

By all worldly standards Nicodemus was a wise man; he was well versed in the Scriptures, a religious man, inasmuch as he belonged to one of the sects, the Pharisees, that insisted on the minutiae of external rites. But Nicodemus was not, at least in the beginning, a fearless man, for he chose to talk with Our Blessed Lord at a time when the mantle of darkness hid him from the eyes of men.

Nicodemus is the “night character” of the Gospel, for whenever we meet him, it is in darkness. This first visit is definitely described as being at night. Later on at night, as a member of the Sanhedrin, it was he who spoke in defense of Our Lord, saying that no man should be judged before having a hearing. On Good Friday in the darkness after the Crucifixion, Joseph of Arimathea came:

And with him was Nicodemus
The same who made his first visit to Jesus by night;
He brought with him a mixture of myrrh and aloes
Of about a hundred pounds’ weigbt.
John 19:39

Despite the fact that there were social impediments to discourage his showing any interest in Our Divine Lord, he nevertheless did Come to see Him when He was in Jerusalem for the Passover. He came to do reverence to Christ, and he learned quickly that this kind of reverence was not enough. Nicodemus said to Him:

Master, we know that Thou hast come from God
To teach us; no one, unless God were with him,
Could do the miracles which Thou doest.
John 3:2

But though Nicodemus had seen the miracles he was not yet ready to confess the Divinity of Him Who worked them. He was still holding back a little, for he veiled his personality under the official “we.” This is a trick intellectuals sometimes use to escape personal responsibility; it is meant to imply that if a change is needed it must be for society at large, rather than for their own hearts. Later on, during this night conversation, Our Lord chided Nicodemus as a “teacher” for still being ignorant of many prophecies. In this, Our Lord was showing Himself to be a Teacher too.

But before the dawn had broken on their long discussion, Our Lord proclaimed that though He was a Teacher, He was not merely that; He was first and foremost a Redeemer. He affirmed that not human truth in the mind, but a rebirth of the soul, purchased through His death, was essential for being one with Him. Nicodemus began by calling Him a teacher; by the end of their meeting Our Lord had proclaimed Himself a Savior.

The Cross reflected itself back over every incident in His life; it never shone so brilliantly on one who knew the Old Testament as it did this night. This Pharisee had thought Him to be only a Master or a Rabbi, but he discovered in the end that there was healing in what had always been thought up to then to be a curse; namely, a Crucifixion.

Our Blessed Lord, in answer, bade him to leave the order of worldliness.

Believe me when I tell thee this;
A man cannot see the Kingdom of God
Without being born anew.
John 3:3

The idea that stood out in the beginning of the discussion between Nicodemus and Our Lord was that spiritual life was different from physical or intellectual life. The difference between spiritual life and physical life, Jesus was telling him, was greater than that between a crystal and a living cell. Spiritual life is not a push from below; it is a gift from above. A man does not really become less selfish and more liberal-minded until he becomes a follower of Christ. There must be a new birth generated from above.

Every person in the world has a first birth from the flesh. But Jesus said that a second birth from above is necessary for the spiritual life. So necessary is it, that a man “cannot” enter the Kingdom of God without it; He did not say “will not,” for the impossibility is real. As one cannot lead a physical life unless born to it, so neither can one lead a Divine life unless born of God. The first birth makes us children of our parents; the second makes us children of God. The emphasis is not on self-development, but on regeneration; not on improving our present state, but on completely changing our status.

Overcome by the loftiness of the idea suggested to him, Nicodemus asked for greater clarity. He could understand a man’s being what he is, but he could not understand a man’s becoming what he is not. Nicodemus understood about redecorating the old man, but not about creating an entirely new man. Hence the question:

Why, how is it possible that a man
Should be born when he is already old?
Can he enter a second time, into his mother’s womb, And so come to birth?
John 3:4

Nicodemus did not deny the doctrine of the new birth. He was a literalist; he doubted the exactness of the term “born.” Our Blessed Lord answered the difficulty:

Believe me, no man can enter into the Kingdom of God
Unless birth comes to him from water
And from the Holy Spirit.
What is born by natural birth
Is a thing of nature,
What is born by spiritual birth
Is a thing of Spirit.
Do not be surprised, then,
at My telling thee You must be born anew.
John 3:5-7

The illustration of Nicodemus was inadequate. It only applied to the realm of flesh. Nicodemus could not enter into his mother’s womb a second time to be born. But what is impossible for the flesh is possible for the spirit. Nicodemus had expected instruction and teaching, but instead, he was being offered regeneration and rebirth. The Kingdom of God was presented as a new creation.

When a man issues from the womb of his mother he is only a creature of God, as a table is the creation, in a lesser degree, of the carpenter. No man in the natural order can call God “Father”; to do this man would have to become something he is not. He must by a Divine gift share in the nature of God, as he presently shares in the nature of his parents.

Man makes that which is unlike him; but he begets that which is like him. An artist paints a picture, but it is unlike the artist in nature; a mother begets a child and the child is like her in nature. Our Lord here suggests that over and above the order of making or creation, is the order of begetting, regeneration, and rebirth by which God becomes our Father.

Evidently, Nicodemus was startled out of his purely intellectual approach to religion, for Our Blessed Lord said to him, “Do not be surprised.” Nicodemus wondered how this effect of regeneration could be produced. Our Lord explained that the reason why Nicodemus did not understand this second birth was that he was ignorant of the work of the Holy Spirit. A few moments later, He suggested that just as His death would reconcile mankind to the Father, so would mankind be regenerated by the agency of His Holy Spirit. The new birth Our Lord hinted at would escape the senses and is known only by its effects on the soul.

Our Blessed Lord used an illustration of this mystery, “You cannot understand the blowing of the wind, but you obey its laws and thus harness its force; so also with the Spirit. Obey the law of the wind, and it will fill your sails and carry you onward. Obey the law of the Spirit and you will know the new birth. Do not postpone relationship with this law simply because you cannot fathom its mystery intellectually.”

The wind breathes where it will
And thou canst hear the sound of it,
But knowest nothing of the way it came
Or the way it goes;
So it is, when a man is born
By the breath of the Spirit.
John 3:8

The Spirit of God is free and always acts freely. His movements cannot be anticipated by any human calculations. One cannot tell when grace is coming or how it will work on the soul; whether it will come as a result of a disgust with sin, or of a yearning for a higher goodness. The voice of the Spirit is within the soul; the peace which It brings, the light which It sheds, and the strength which It gives, are unmistakably there. The regeneration of man is not directly discernible to the human eye.

Though Nicodemus was a sophisticated scholar, he was, nevertheless, perplexed by the sublimity of the doctrine that he was hearing from the One Whom he called Master. His interest as a Pharisee had been not in personal holiness, but in the glory of an earthly kingdom. He now asked the question:

How can such things come to be?
John 3:9

Nicodemus saw that the Divine life in man is not just a question of being; it also involves the problem of becoming, through a power that is not in man but only in God Himself.

Our Lord explained that His teaching was something that no mere human could ever have thought out. There was, therefore some excuse for the ignorance of the Pharisee. After all, no man had ever gone up to heaven to learn the heavenly secrets and had then returned to earth to make them known. The only one who could know them was He Who had descended from heaven, He Who as God had become man, and was now speaking Nicodemus. Our Lord for the first time referred to Himself as the Son of Man. At the same time, He was implying that He was something more than that; He was also the only-begotten Divine Son of the Heavenly Father. He was, in fact, affirming His Divine and human natures.

No man has ever gone up into heaven;
But there is One Who has come down from heaven,
The Son
of Man, Who dwells in heaven.
John 3:13

This was not the only time that Our Lord spoke of His reascension into heaven or of the fact that He had come down from heaven. To one of His Apostles He said:

Believe Me when I tell you this;
You will see heaven opening,
And the angels of God going up and coming down
Upon the Son of Man.
John 1:51

It is the will of Him Who sent Me,
Not My own will, that I have come
Down from heaven to do.
John 6:38

He Who comes from above
Is above all men’s reach;
The man who belongs to earth
Talks the language of earth,
But one who comes from heaven
Must be beyond the reach of all.
John 3:31

Is not this Jesus, they said,
The son of Joseph,
Whose father and mother
Are well known to us?
What does He mean by saying:
I have come down from heaven?
John 6:42

What will you make of it,
If you see the Son of Man
Ascending to the place where
He was before?
John 6:63

Our Lord never spoke of His Heavenly, or Risen Glory without bringing in the ignominy of the Cross. Sometimes He spoke of the glory first as He was doing now with Nicodemus, but the Crucifixion had to be its condition. Our Lord lived both a heavenly life and an earthly life; a heavenly life as the Son of God, an earthly life as the Son of Man.

While continuing to be one with His Father in Heaven, He gave Himself up for men on earth. To Nicodemus, He affirmed that the condition on which man’s salvation depended would be His own Passion and death. He made this clear by referring to the most famous foreshadowing of the Cross in the Old Testament.

And this Son of Man must be lifted up,
As the serpent was lifted up by Moses
In the wilderness; so that those who
Believe in Him may not perish,
But have eternal life.
John 3:14-15

The Book of Numbers relates that when the people murmured rebelliously against God, they were punished with a plague of fiery serpents, so that many lost their lives. When they repented, Moses was told by God to make a brazen serpent and set it up for a sign, and all those bitten by the serpents who looked upon that sign would be healed.

Our Blessed Lord was now declaring that He was to be lifted up, as the serpent had been lifted up. As the brass serpent had the appearance of a serpent and yet lacked its venom, so too, when He would be lifted up upon the bars of the Cross, He would have the appearance of a sinner and yet be without sin. As all who looked upon the brass serpent had been healed of the bite of the serpent, so all who looked upon Him with love and faith would be healed of the bite of the serpent of evil.

It was not enough that the Son of God should come down from the heavens and appear as the Son of Man, for then He: would have been only a great teacher and a great example, but not a Redeemer. It was more important for Him to fulfill the purpose of the coming, to redeem man from sin while in the likeness of human flesh. Teachers change men by their lives; Our Blessed Lord would change men by His death.

The poison of hate, sensuality, and envy which is in the hearts of men could not be healed simply by wise exhortations and social reforms. The wages of sin is death, and therefore it was to be by death that sin would be atoned for. As in the ancient sacrifices the fire symbolically burned up the imputed sin along with the victim, so on the Cross the world’s sin would be put away in Christ’s sufferings, for He would be upright as a priest and prostrate as a victim.

The two greatest banners that were ever unfurled were the uplifted serpent and the uplifted Savior. And yet there was an infinite difference between them. The theater of one was the desert, and the audience was a few thousand Israelites; the theater of the other was the universe and the audience, the whole of mankind. From the one came a bodily healing, soon to be undone again by death; from the other flowed soul-healing, unto life everlasting. And yet one was the prefigurement of the other.

But though He came to die, He insisted that it would be voluntary, and not because He would be too weak to defend Himself from His enemies. The only cause for His death would be love; as He told Nicodemus:

God so loved the world,
That He gave up His only-begotten Son
So that those who believe in Him
May not perish, but have eternal life.
John 3:16

On this night, when an old man came to see the Divine Master Who had startled the world with His miracles, Our Lord told the story of His life. It was a life that began not in Bethlehem, but existed from all eternity in the Godhead. He Who is the Son of God became the Son of Man because the Father sent Him on a mission of redeeming man through love.

If there is anything that every good teacher wants, it is a long life in which to make his teaching known, and to gain wisdom and experience. Death is always a tragedy to a great teacher. When Socrates was given the hemlock juice, his message was cut off once and for all. Death was a stumbling block to Buddha and his teaching of the eightfold way. The last breath of Lao-tze rang down the curtain on his doctrine concerning the Tao or “doing nothing,” as against aggressive self-determination.

Socrates had taught that sin was due to ignorance and that, therefore, knowledge would make a good and perfect world. The Eastern teachers were concerned about man being caught up in some great wheel of fate. Hence the recommendation of Buddha that men be taught to crush their desires and thus find peace. When Buddha died at eighty, he pointed not to himself but to the law he had given. Confucius’ death stopped his moralizings about how to perfect a State by means of kindly reciprocal relations between prince and subject, father and son, brothers, husband and wife, friend and friend.

Our Blessed Lord in His talk with Nicodemus proclaimed Himself the Light of the World. But the most astounding part of His teaching was that He said no one would understand His teaching while He was alive and that His death and Resurrection would be essential to understanding it. No other teacher in the world ever said that it would take a violent death to clarify his teachings. Here was a Teacher Who made His teaching so secondary that He could say that the only way that He would ever draw men to Himself would be not by His doctrine, not by what said, but by His Crucifixion.

When you have lifted up the Son of Man,
You will recognize that it is Myself you look for.
John 8:28

He did not say that it would even be His teaching that they would understand; it would rather be His Personality that they would grasp. Only then would they know, after they had put Him to death, that He spoke the Truth. His death, then, instead of being the last of a series of failures, would be a glorious success, the climax of His mission on earth.

Hence, the great difference in the statues and pictures of Buddha and Christ. Buddha is always seated, eyes closed, hands folded across a fat body. Christ is never seated; He is always lifted up and enthroned. His Person and His death are the heart and soul of His lesson. The Cross, and all it implies, is once again central in His life.

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The Assumption and the Modern World — Fulton J. Sheen, Ph.D., D.D.

October 18, 2013
The first overshadowing for Mary was to give birth to the Head of the Church; this second overshadowing is to give birth to His Body as she is in the midst of the Apostles abiding in prayer. The third transition is the Assumption, as she becomes the first human person to realize the historical destiny of the faithful as members of Christ's Mystical Body, beyond time, beyond death, and beyond judgment.

The first overshadowing for Mary was to give birth to the Head of the Church; this second overshadowing is to give birth to His Body as she is in the midst of the Apostles abiding in prayer. The third transition is the Assumption, as she becomes the first human person to realize the historical destiny of the faithful as members of Christ’s Mystical Body, beyond time, beyond death, and beyond judgment.

The definition of the Immaculate Conception was made when the Modern World was born. Within five years of that date, and within six months of the apparition of Lourdes where Mary said, “I am the Immaculate Conception.”

Charles Darwin wrote his Origin of Species, Karl Marx completed his Introduction to the Critique of the Philosophy of Hegel (“Religion is the opium of the people”), and John Stuart Mill published his Essay on Liberty. At the moment the spirit of the world was drawing up a philosophy that would issue in two World Wars in twenty-one years, and the threat of a third, the Church came forward to challenge the falsity of the new philosophy. Darwin took man’s mind off his Divine Origin and fastened it on an unlimited future when he would become a kind of God.

Marx was so impressed with this idea of inevitable progress that he asked Darwin if he would accept a dedication of one of his books. Then, following Feuerbach, Marx affirmed not a bourgeois atheism of the intellect, but an atheism of the will, in which man hates God because man is God. Mill reduced the freedom of the new man to license and the right to do whatever he pleases, thus preparing a chaos of conflicting egotisms, which the world would solve by Totalitarianism.

If these philosophers were right, and if man is naturally good and capable of deification through his own efforts, then it follows that everyone is immaculately conceived. The Church arose in protest and affirmed that only one human person in all the world is immaculately conceived, that man is prone to sin, and that freedom is best preserved when, like Mary, a creature answers Fiat to the Divine Will.

The dogma of the Immaculate Conception wilted and killed the false optimism of the inevitable and necessary progress of man without God. Humbled in his Darwinian-Marxian-Millian pride, modern man saw his doctrine of progress evaporate. The interval between the Napoleonic and Franco-Prussian Wars was fifty-five years; the interval between the FrancoPrussian War and World War I was forty-three years; the interval between World Wars I and II, twenty-one years. Fifty-five, forty-three, twenty-one, and a Korean War five years after World War II is hardly progress. Man finally saw that he was not naturally good. Once having boasted that he came from the beast, he now found himself to be acting as a beast.

Then came the reaction. The Optimistic Man who boasted of his immaculate conception now became the Pessimistic Man who could see within himself nothing but a bundle of libidinous, dark, cavernous drives. As in the definition of the Immaculate Conception, the Church had to remind the world that perfection is not biologically inevitable, so now in the definition of the Assumption, it has to give hope to the creature of despair. Modern despair is the effect of a disappointed hedonism and centers principally around Sex and Death. To these two ideas, which preoccupy the modern mind, the Assumption is indirectly related.

The primacy of Sex is to a great extent due to Sigmund Freud, whose basic principle in his own words is:

“Human actions and customs derive from sexual impulses, and fundamentally, human wishes are unsatisfied sexual desires. Consciously or unconsciously, we all wish to unite with our mothers and kill our fathers, as Oedipus did unless we are female, in which case we wish to unite with our fathers and murder our mothers.”

The other major concern of modern thought is Death. The beautiful philosophy of being is reduced to Dasein [Being somewhere], which is only in-der-Welt-sein [A being-in-the-world]. There is no freedom, no spirit, and no personality. Freedom is for death. Liberty is contingency threatened with complete destruction. The future is nothing but a projection of death. The aim of existence is to look death in the eye.

Jean-Paul Sartre passes from a phenomenology of sexuality to that which he calls “nausea,” or a brazen confrontation of nothingness, toward which existence tends. Nothing precedes man; nothing follows man. Whatever is opposite him is a negation of his ego, and therefore nothingness. God created the world out of nothingness; Sartre creates nothingness out of the world and the despairing human heart. “Man is a useless passion.”

Agnosticism and Pride were the twin errors the Church had to meet in the Doctrine of the Immaculate Conception; now it is the despair resulting from Sex and Death it has to meet in this hour. When the Agnostics of the last century came in contact with the world and its three libidos, they became libertines. But when pleasure diminished and made hungry where most it satisfied, the agnostics, who had be come libertines by attaching themselves to the world, now began in disgust to withdraw themselves from the world and became philosophers of Existentialism.

Philosophers like Sartre, and Heidegger, and others are born of a detachment from the world, not as the Christian ascetic, because he loves God, but because they are disgusted with the world. They become contemplatives, not to enjoy God, but to wallow in their despair, to make a philosophy out of it, to be brazen about their boredom, and to make death the center of their destiny. The new contemplatives are in the monasteries of the jaded, which are built not along the waters of Siloe [A pool in the Tyropoean Valley, just outside the south wall of Jerusalem, where Jesus Christ gave sight to a man born blind.], but along the dark banks of the Styx.

These two basic ideas of modern thought, Sex and Death, are not unrelated. Freud himself hinted at the union of Eros and Thanatos. Sex brings death, first of all because in sex the other person is possessed, or annihilated, or ignored for the sake of pleasure. But this subjection implies a compression and a destruction of life for the sake of the Eros. Secondly, death is a shadow which is cast over sex. Sex seeks pleasure, but since it assumes that this life is all, every pleasure is seasoned not only with a diminishing return, but also with the thought that death will end pleasure forever. Eros is Thanatos. Sex is Death.

From a philosophical point of view, the Doctrine of the Assumption meets the Eros-Thanatos philosophy head on, by lifting humanity from the darkness of Sex and Death to the light of Love and Life. These are the two philosophical pillars on which rests the belief in the Assumption.

  1. Love. The Assumption affirms not Sex but Love. St. Thomas in his inquiry into the effects of love mentions ecstasy as one of them. In ecstasy one is “lifted out of his body,” an  experience which poets and authors and orators have felt in a mild form when in common parlance, “they were carried away by their subject.”On a higher level, the spiritual phenomenon of levitation is due to such an intense love of God that saints are literally lifted off the earth. Love, like fire, burns upward, since it is basically desire. It seeks to become more and more united with the object that is loved. Our sensate experiences are familiar with the earthly law of gravitation which draws material bodies to the earth. But in addition to terrestrial gravitation, there is a law of spiritual gravitation, which increases as we get closer to God. This “pull” on our hearts by the Spirit of God is always present, and it is only our refusing wills and the weakness of our bodies as a result of sin which keep us earth-bound. Some souls become impatient with the restraining body; St. Paul asks to be delivered from its prison house.If God exerts a gravitational pull on all souls, given the intense love of Our Lord for His Blessed Mother which descended, and the intense love of Mary for Her Lord which ascended, there is created a suspicion that love at this stage would be so great as “to pull the body with it.” Given further an immunity from original sin, there would not be in the Body of Our Lady the dichotomy, tension, and opposition that exists in us between body and soul. If the distant moon moves all the surging tides of earth, then the love of Mary for Jesus and the love of Jesus for Mary should result in such an ecstasy as “to lift her out of this world.”

    Love in its nature is an Ascension in Christ and an Assumption in Mary. So closely are Love and the Assumption related that a few years ago the writer, when instructing a Chinese lady, found that the one truth in Christianity which  was easiest for her to believe was the Assumption. She personally knew a saintly soul who lived on a mat in the woods, whom thousands of people visited to receive her blessing. One day, according to the belief of all who knew the saint, she was “assumed” into heaven. The explanation the convert from Confucianism gave was: “Her love was so great that her body followed her soul.” One thing is certain: the Assumption is easy to understand if one loves God deeply, but it is hard to understand if one loves not.

    Plato in his Symposium, reflecting the Grecian view of the elevation of love, says that love of the flesh should lead to love of the spirit. The true meaning of love is that it leads to God. Once the earthly love has fulfilled its task, it disappears, as the symbol gives way to reality. The Assumption is not the killing of the Eros, but its transfiguration through Agape. It does not say that love in a body is wrong, but it does hold that it can be so right, when it is Godward, that the beauty of the body itself is enhanced.

    Our Age of Carnality which loves the Body Beautiful is lifted out of its despair, born of the Electra and Oedipus incests, to a Body that is Beautiful because it is a Temple of God, a Gate through which the Word of Heaven passed to earth, a Tower of Ivory up which climbed Divine Love to kiss upon the lips of His Mother a Mystic Rose.

    With one stroke of an infallible dogmatic pen, the Church lifts the sacredness of love out of sex without denying the role of the body in love. Here is one body that reflects in its uncounted hues the creative love of God. To a world that worships the body, the Church now says: “There are two bodies in heaven, one the glorified human nature of Jesus, the other the assumed human nature of Mary. Love is the secret of the Ascension of one and of the Assumption of the other, for Love craves unity with its Beloved. The Son returns to the Father in the unity of Divine Nature; and Mary returns to Jesus in the unity of human nature. Her nuptial flight is the event to which our whole generation moves.”

  2. Life. Life is the second philosophical pillar on which the Assumption rests. Life is unitive; death is divisive. Goodness is the food of life, as evil is the food of death. Errant sex impulses are the symbol of the body’s division from God as a result of original sin. Death is the last stroke of that division. Wherever there is sin, there is multiplicity: the Devil says, “My name is Legion; there are many of us.” (Mark 5:9)But life is immanent activity. The higher the life, the more immanent is the activity, says St. Thomas. The plant drops its fruit from a tree, the animal drops its kind for a separate existence, but the spiritual mind of man begets the fruit of a thought which remains united to the mind, although distinct from it. Hence intelligence and life are intimately related. Da mihi intellectum et vivam.[ Give me understanding, that I may live] God is perfect life because of perfect inner intellectual activity. There is no extrinsicism, no dependence, no necessary outgoing on the part of God.Since the imperfection of life comes from remoteness to the source of life and because of sin, it follows that the creature who is preserved from original sin is immune from that psychological division which sin begets.

    The Immaculate Conception guarantees a highly integrated and unified life. The purity of such a life is threefold: a physical purity which is integrity of body; a mental purity without any desire for a division of love, which love of creatures apart from God would imply; and finally, a psychological purity which is immunity from the uprising of concupiscence, the sign and  symbol of our weakness and diversity. This triple purity is the essence of the most highly unified creature whom this world has ever seen.

    Added to this intense life in Mary, which is free from the division caused by sin, there is still a higher degree of life because of her Divine Motherhood. Through her portals Eternity became young and appeared as a Child; through her, as to another Moses, not the tables of the Law, but the Logos was given and written on her own heart; through her, not a manna which men eat and die, but the Eucharist descends, which if a man eats, he will never die. But if those who commune with the Bread of Life never die, then what shall we say of her who was the first living Ciborium [A chalice-like vessel used to contain the Blessed Sacrament.] of that Eucharist, and who on Christmas day opened it at the communion rail of Bethelehem to say to Wise Men and Shepherds: “Behold the Lamb of God Who takes away the sins of the world”?

    Here there is not just a life free from the division which brings death, but a life united with Eternal Life. Shall she, as the garden in which grew the lily of divine sinlessness and the red rose of the passion of redemption, be delivered over to the weeds and be forgotten by the Heavenly Gardener? Would not one communion preserved in grace through life ensure a heavenly immortality? Then shall not she, in whose womb was celebrated the nuptials of eternity and time, be more of eternity than time? As she carried Him for nine months, there was fulfilled in another way the law of life: “And they shall be two in one flesh”

    No grown men and women would like to see the home in which they were reared subjected to the violent destruction of a bomb, even though they no longer lived in it. Neither would Omnipotence, Who tabernacled Himself within Mary, consent to see His fleshly home subjected to the dissolution of the tomb. If grown men love to go back to their homes when they reach the fullness of life, and become more conscious of the debt they owe their mothers, then shall not Divine Life go back in search of His living cradle and take that “flesh-girt paradise” to Heaven with Him, there to be “gardenered by the Adam new”?

    In this Doctrine of the Assumption, the Church meets the despair of the world in a second way. It affirms the beauty of life as against death. When wars, sex, and sin multiply the discords of men, and death threatens on every side, the Church bids us lift up our hearts to the life that has the immortality of the Life which nourished it. Feuerbach said that a man is what he eats. He was more right than he knew. Eat the food of earth, and one dies; eat the Eucharist, and one lives eternally. She, who is the mother of the Eucharist, escapes the decomposition of death.

    The Assumption challenges the nothingness of the Mortician philosophers in a new way. The greatest task of the spiritual leaders today is to save mankind from despair, into which Sex and Fear of Death have cast it. The world that used to say, “Why worry about the next world, when we live in this one?” has finally learned the hard way that, by not thinking about the next life, one cannot even enjoy this life.

    When optimism completely breaks down and becomes pessimism, the Church holds forth the promise of hope. Threatened as we are by war on all sides, with death about to be rained from the sky by Promethean fires, the Church defines a Truth that has Life at its center. Like a kindly mother whose sons are going off to war, she strokes our heads and says: “You will come back alive, as Mary came back again after walking down the valley of Death.” As the world fears defeat by death, the Church sings the defeat of death. Is not this the harbinger of a better world, as the refrain of life rings out amidst the clamors of the philosophers of death?

    As Communism teaches that man has only a body, but not a soul, so the Church answers: “Then let us begin with a Body.” As the mystical body of the anti-Christ gathers around the tabernacle doors of the cadaver of Lenin, periodically filled with wax to give the illusion of immortality to those who deny immorality, the Mystical Body of Christ bids the despairing to gaze on the two most serious wounds earth ever received: the empty tomb of Christ and the empty tomb of Mary. In 1854 the Church spoke of the Soul in the Immaculate Conception. In 1950 its language was about the Body: the Mystical Body, the Eucharist, and the Assumption.

    With deft dogmatic strokes the Church is repeating Paul’s truth to another pagan age: “Your bodies are meant for the Lord.” There is nothing in a body to beget despair. Man is related to Nothingness, as the Philosophers of Decadentism teach, but only in his origin, not in his destiny.

    They put Nothingness as the end; the Church puts it at the beginning, for man was created ex nihilo.[ out of nothing] The modern man gets back to nothingness through despair; the Christian knows nothingness only through self-negation, which is humility. The more that the pagan “nothings” himself, the closer he gets to the hell of despair and suicide. The more the Christian “nothings” himself, the closer he gets to God. Mary went so deep down into Nothingness that she became exalted. Respexit humilitatem ancillae suae. [He has regarded the low estate of his handmaiden." (Luke 1:48)] And her exaltation was also her Assumption.

Coming back to the beginning … to Eros and Thanatos: Sex and Death, said Freud, are related. They are related in this sense: Eros as egotistic love leads to the death of the soul. But the world need not live under that curse. The Assumption gives Eros a new meaning. Love does lead to death. Where there is love, there is self-forgetfulness, and the maximum in self-forgetfulness is the surrender of life. “Greater love than this no man has, that he lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:13) Our Lord’s love led to His death. Mary’s love led to her transfixion with seven swords. Greater love than this no woman has, that she stand beneath the Cross of her Son to share, in her own way, in the Redemption of the world.

Within three decades the definition of the Assumption will cure the pessimism and despair of the modern world. Freud, who did so much to develop this pessimism, took as his motto: “If I cannot move the Gods on high, I shall set all hell in an uproar” That uproar which he created will now be stilled by a Lady as powerful as an “army drawn up in battle array.” The age of the “body beautiful” will now become the age of the Assumption.

In Mary there is a triple transition. In the Annunciation we pass from the holiness of the Old Testament to the holiness of Christ. At Pentecost we pass from the holiness of the Historical Christ to the holiness of the Mystical Christ or His Body, which is the Church. Mary here receives the Spirit for a second time. The first overshadowing was to give birth to the Head of the Church; this second overshadowing is to give birth to His Body as she is in the midst of the Apostles abiding in prayer. The third transition is the Assumption, as she becomes the first human person to realize the historical destiny of the faithful as members of Christ’s Mystical Body, beyond time, beyond death, and beyond judgment.

Mary is always in the vanguard of humanity. She is compared to Wisdom, presiding at Creation; she is announced as the Woman who will conquer Satan, as the Virgin who will conceive. She becomes the first person since the Fall to have a unique and unrepeatable kind of union with God; she mothers the infant Christ in Bethlehem; she mothers the Mystical Christ at Jerusalem; and now, by her Assumption, she goes ahead like her Son to prepare a place for us. She participates in the glory of Her Son, reigns with Him, presides at His Side over the destinies of the Church in time, and intercedes for us, to Him, as He, in His turn, intercedes to the Heavenly Father.

Adam came before Eve chronologically. The new Adam, Christ, comes after the new Eve, Mary, chronologically, although existentially He preceded her as the Creator a creature. By stressing for the moment only the time element, Mary always seems to be the Advent of what is in store for man. She anticipates Christ for nine months, as she bears Heaven within her; she anticipates His Passion at Cana, and His Church at Pentecost. Now, in the last great Doctrine of the Assumption, she anticipates heavenly glory, and the definition comes at a time when men think of it least.

One wonders if this could not be the last of the great Truths of Mary to be defined by the Church, Anything else might seem to be an anticlimax after she is declared to be in heaven, body and soul. But actually there is one other truth left to be defined, and that is that she is the Mediatrix, under Her Son, of all graces. As St. Paul speaks of the Ascension of Our Lord as the prelude to His intercession for us, so we, fittingly,  should speak of the Assumption of Our Lady as a prelude to her intercession for us. First, the place, heaven; then, the function, intercession.

The nature of her role is not to call Her Son’s attention to some need, in an emergency unnoticed by Him, nor is it to “win” a difficult consent. Rather it is to unite herself to His compassionate Mercy and give a human voice to His Infinite Love.

The main ministry of Mary is to incline men’s hearts to obedience to the Will of Her Divine Son. Her last recorded words at Cana are still her words in the Assumption: “Do whatever He shall say to you.” Added to these is the Christian prayer written by Francis Thompson to the daughter of the ancient Eve:

The celestial traitress play,
And all mankind to bliss betray;
With sacrosanct cajoleries,
And starry treachery of your eyes,
Tempt us back to Paradise.

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Love and Sorrow – Fulton J. Sheen, Ph.D., D.D.

October 11, 2013
Henry Ossawa Tanner painted La Sainte-Marie in the same year as L’Annunciation, (1898) but here the Blessed Virgin has an expression of consternation and sorrow. One has to look closely to realize it is really a Madonna and Child. The Child is represented by a shrouded bundle at her feet, identifiable only by a halo over the Child’s unseen head. Also, the hem of Mary’s garment is stained with what appears to be blood. The general interpretation is this takes place after Simeon’s prophesy to Mary of the sorrow that would pierce her heart, because of her Son’s suffering. This also normally hangs in the Philadelphia area but at Olney’s hidden gem, the Museum of La Salle University.

Henry Ossawa Tanner painted La Sainte-Marie in the same year as L’Annunciation, (1898) but here the Blessed Virgin has an expression of consternation and sorrow. One has to look closely to realize it is really a Madonna and Child. The Child is represented by a shrouded bundle at her feet, identifiable only by a halo over the Child’s unseen head. Also, the hem of Mary’s garment is stained with what appears to be blood. The general interpretation is this takes place after Simeon’s prophesy to Mary of the sorrow that would pierce her heart, because of her Son’s suffering. This also normally hangs in the Philadelphia area but at Olney’s hidden gem, the Museum of La Salle University.

 

A chapter from The World’s First Love by our beloved Fulton Sheen.

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Pleasure is the bait God uses to make creatures recognize their destiny, whether it be that of eating for the sake of the individual health, or mating for the sake of society. God also puts a limit on pleasure; one of these is a “fed-up-ness,” which comes from nature, the other is that of the woman, who is most reasonable when man is most irrational. In this domain of the flesh, man is liberty, woman, the law.

If, then, a woman is not taught carnal pleasure by the man, two effects will follow: first, her restraining power will create continency and purity. Since pleasure is outgoing, she will become more inward and self-possessed, as if hugging a great secret to her heart. Desire is anticipation, pleasure is participation, but purity is emancipation.

The second effect is just the opposite, namely, sorrow. She who lives without pleasure not only gives up something, she receives something it may be the hatred of those who see in her the enemy of the flesh, whether they be man or woman. Such is the story of virgins like Agatha, Cecilia, Susanna and, in our day, Maria Goretti. As the sun hardens mud, so purity provokes those who are already sinners to hardness of heart, persecution, and violence.

The day Mary declared: “I know not man” she not only affirmed that she was untaught by pleasures, but she also brought her soul to such a focused inwardness for God’s sake that she became a Virgin not only through the absence of man, but also through the presence of God. The secret that she kept was no other than the Word! Bereft of the pleasures of the body but not of all joys, she could sing to her cousin, Elizabeth: “My soul doth rejoice in the Lord.”

On the other hand, Mary was also a Woman of Sorrow. To love God immediately and uniquely makes a woman hated. The day she brought her Babe, her Divine Love, to the Temple, the old priest Simeon told her that a sword her soul would pierce. The hour the Roman sergeant ran the spear into the Heart of Christ, he pierced two hearts with one blow the heart of the God-man for Whom Mary gave up the knowledge of pleasure, and the heart of Mary, who gave her beauty to God and not to man.

No one in the world can carry God in his heart without an inner joy, and an outer sorrow; without singing a Magnificat to those who share the secret, and without feeling the thrust of a sword from those who want freedom of the flesh without the law. Love and sorrow often go together. In carnal love, the body swallows the soul; in spiritual love, the soul envelopes the body. The sorrow of the first is never to be satisfied; one who wants to drink the ocean of love is unhappy if limited to a mere cup with which to drink. The sorrow of the second love is never being able to do enough for the beloved.

In the human love of marriage, the joys of love are a prepayment for its duties, responsibilities, and, sometimes, its sorrows. Because the crosses lie ahead in human love, there is the Transfiguration beforehand, when the face of love seems to shine as the sun, and the garments are as white as snow.

There are those who, like Peter, would wish to capitalize the joys and to make a permanent tabernacle of love on the mountaintops of ecstasy. But there is always the Lord, speaking through the conscience and saying that to capture love in a permanent form one must pass through a Calvary. The early transports of love are an advance, an anticipation, of the real transports that are to come when one has mounted to a higher degree of love through the bearing of a Cross.

What most human love forgets is that love implies responsibility; one may not fool with the levers of the heart in the vain hope of escaping duties, fidelity, and sacrifice for the beloved. So-called birth control, which assists in neither birth nor control, is based on the philosophy that love is without obligations. The real problem is how to make humans realize the sacredness of love how to induce mothers to see a Messiahship in the begetting of children.

The best way to achieve this would surely be to bring forward the example of a woman who would accept the responsibilities of love without the prepayment of pleasure one who would say: “I will do it all for nothing! I will accept the bearing of a child, the responsibility of his education, a share in His world mission,” without even asking for the ecstasies of the flesh.

Such is the role of the Blessed Mother. She undertook marriage, birth, a share in the Agony, all for the love of God, not asking the initial joys to prepare her for those trials. The best way to convince mankind that it must take the medicine which cures is to take it oneself and without the sugar coating, yet never wince because of its bitterness. The Sisters of Charity in the poor sections of our cities, the missionaries caring for the victims of leprosy these give inspiration to all social workers. The former do their work for nothing except the love of God, and thus they keep before the world the ideal of a disinterested affection for the hungry and the sick.

In the Annunciation, God told Mary, through an angel, that she would conceive without the benefit of human affection and its joys that is, with no payment of pleasure to herself. She thus dissociated carnal joys and social responsibilities. Her sacrifice was a rebuke to those who would snare the music by breaking the lute, pick up the violins of life and never produce a tune, lift a chisel to marble and yet never bring forth a statue.

But it also gave courage to those whose burdens are heavier than their pleasures to those who have children destined for death when they are hardly launched on the sea of life, to those who find their love’s surrender betrayed and even despised. If Our Lord allowed Mary to suffer the trials that even the most grieved mother could suffer such as to have her Son pursued by the totalitarian soldiers at two years of age, to be a refugee in a foreign country, to point to a Father’s business which would end in death, to be arrested falsely, to be condemned by His own people, and to suffer the taking-off in the prime of life it was in order to convince mothers with sorrows that trials without pleasures can be overcome, and that the final issues of life are not solved here below.

If the Father gave His Son a Cross and the Mother a sword, then somehow sorrow does fit into the Divine Plan of life. If Divine Innocence and His Mother, who was a sinless creature, both underwent agonies, it cannot be that life is a snare and a mockery, but rather it is made clear that love and sorrow often go together in this life, and that only in the next life is sorrow left behind.

Christians are the only people in history who know that the story of the Universe has a happy ending. The Apostles did not discover this until after the Resurrection, and then they went through the ancient world shouting and screaming the excitement of the good news. Mary knew it for a long time, and in the Magnificat sang about it, even before Our Lord was born.

Great is the sorrow of a woman when her husband abandons his responsibility to her, and seeks what he calls “freedom” from what is his own flesh and blood. What the woman feels in such abandonment is akin to what the Church feels in heresy. Whenever, through history, those who are the members of her Mystical Body isolate themselves from her flesh and blood, not only do they suffer in their isolation, but the Church suffers still more.

The irresponsibility of love is the source of life’s greatest tragedies, and as the Church suffers more than the heretic, so the woman probably suffers more than the erring man. She stands as the “other half of that man, a constant reminder to him and to society that what God joined together has, by a perverse will, been rent asunder. The husband may have left his spouse to teach another woman pleasure; but the wife remains as the unfinished symphony, clamoring for spiritual understanding.

A civilization which no longer stands before God in reverence and responsibility has also renounced and denounced the dignity of woman, and the woman who submits and shares in such a divorce of responsibility from love stands in such a civilization either as a mirage or a pillar of salt.

The world is not shocked at seeing love and sorrow linked arm in arm, when love is not perfect; but it is less prepared to see immaculate love and sorrow in the same company. The true Christians should not be scandalized at this, since Our Lord is described as the Man of Sorrows. He Who came to this earth to bear a Cross might conceivably drag it through His Mother’s heart.

Scripture suggests that He schooled and disciplined her in sorrow. There is an expression used today, always in a bad sense, but which, if used in the right sense, could apply to the relations between Our Lord and His Blessed Mother, and that is “alienation of affections.” He begins detaching Himself from His Mother, seemingly alienating His affections with growing unconcern only to reveal at the very end that what He was doing was introducing her through sorrow to a new and deeper dimension of love.

There are two great periods in the relations of Jesus and Mary, the first extending from the Crib to Cana, and the second, from Cana to the Cross. In the first, she is the Mother of Jesus; in the second, she begins to be the Mother of all whom Jesus would redeem in other words to become the Mother of men.

From Bethlehem to Cana, Mary has Jesus as a mother has a son; she even calls Him familiarly, at the age of twelve, “Son,” as if that were her usual mode of address. He is with her during those thirty years, fleeing in her arms to Egypt, living at Nazareth, and being subject to her. He is hers, and she is His, and even at the very moment when they walk into the wedding feast, her name is mentioned first: “Mary, the Mother of Jesus, was there.”

But from Cana on, there is a growing detachment, which Mary helps to bring on herself. She induced her Son to work His first miracle, as He changed her name from Mother to Woman, the significance of which will not become clear until the Cross. Readers of Genesis will recall how God promised that Satan would be crushed through the power of a woman. When Our Lord tells Mary that they are both in[127 volved in the manifestation of His Divinity, she practically sends Him to the Cross by asking for the first of the miracles and, by implication, His Death. A year or more later, as a devoted Mother, she follows Him in His preaching.

It is announced to Our Lord that His Mother is seeking Him. Our Lord with seeming unconcern, turns to the crowd and asks: “Who is my Mother?” (Matthew 12:48) Then, revealing the great Christian mystery that relationship is not dependent on flesh and blood but on union with Divine Nature through grace, He adds: “If anyone does the will of my Father who is in heaven, he is my brother, and sister, and mother.” (Matthew 12:50)

The ties that bind us to one another are less of race than of obedience to the Will of God. From that text originated the titles of “Father” “Mother,” “Brother,” and “Sister,” as used throughout the Church to imply that our relations are in Christ rather than in human generation. He Who called His Mother, “Woman,” is now telling us and her that we can enter a new family with her, as He has already taught us to enter into new bonds with His Own Heavenly Father. If we can call God “Our Father,” then we can call her “Our Mother,” if we do the Will of the Father.

The mystery comes to an end at Calvary when, from the Cross, Our Lord now hearkens back to Cana and again uses the word “Woman,” the title of universal motherhood. Speaking to her of all of us who will be redeemed by His Precious Blood, He says: “Behold thy Son.” Finally, to John who, unnamed, stood for us, He said: “Behold thy Mother.” She becomes our Mother the moment she loses Her Divine Son.

The mystery is now solved. What seemed an alienation of affection was in reality a deepening of affection. No love ever mounts to a higher level without death to a lower one. Mary dies to the love of Jesus at Cana, and recovers Jesus again at Calvary with His Mystical Body whom He redeemed. It was, for the moment, a poor exchange, giving up her Divine Son to win us; but in reality, she did not win us apart from Him. On that day when she came to Him preaching, He began to merge the Divine Maternity into the new motherhood of all men; at Calvary He caused her to love men as He loved them.

It was a new love, or perhaps the same love expanded over the wider area of humanity. But it was not without its sorrow. It cost Mary something to have us as sons. She could beget Jesus in joy in a stable, but she could beget us only on Calvary, only in labors great enough to make her Queen of Martyrs. The Fiat she pronounced when she became the Mother of God now becomes another Fiat, like unto Creation in the immensity of what she brought forth. It was also a Fiat which so enlarged her affections as to increase her pains.

The bitterness of Eve’s curse that she would bring forth her children in sorrow is now fulfilled, and not by the opening of a womb, but by the piercing of a heart, as Simeon had foretold. It was the greatest of all honors to be the Mother of Christ; but it was also a great honor to be the Mother of Christians. There was no room in the inn for that first birth; but Mary had the whole world for her second.

Here, at last, is the answer to the query, “Did Mary have other children besides Jesus ?” She certainly did. Millions and millions of them! But not according to the flesh. He alone was born of her flesh; the rest of us were born of her spirit. As the Annunciation tied her up with Divinity before the coming of Her Divine Son, so this word from the Cross tied her up with all humanity until His Second Coming. She was a child of that chosen section of humanity called “the seed of Abraham,” the scion of that long line of royalty and kings who hand on to her Divine Son the “throne of His Father David.”

But, as the new Eve, she hands on to her Son the heritage of the whole human race, from the day of Adam until now; and through her Son she breaks the boundaries of that limited blessing to the seed of Abraham, and pours it out upon every nation, race, and peoples. Her moment in history was the “fullness of time”; this phrase meant that the human race had at last produced a representative worthy of becoming the chosen vessel of the Son of God. “One who comes into his property while he is still a child has no more liberty than one of the servants, though all the estate is his.” (Galatians 4:1)

Our Lord is not immersed in history, but Mary is. He comes to earth from outside time; she is within time. He is the suprahistorical; she, the historical. He is the Eternal in time, she is the House of the Eternal in time. She is the final meeting place of all humanity and all history. Or, as Coventry Patmore says:

Knot of the cord Which binds together all and all unto their Lord.

At the end of the story of love and sorrow, we see that love needs a constant purification, and this happens only through sorrow. Love that is not nourished on sacrifice becomes trite, banal, and commonplace. It takes the other for granted, makes no more professions of love because it has sounded no new depths. Our Lord would not have His Mother’s love on one plane of ecstasy while on this earth; He would universalize it, expand it, make it Catholic. But to do this, He had to send Her Seven swords of sorrow which enlarged her love from the Son of Man to the sons of men.

Without this deepening, love falls into one of two dangers: contempt or pity contempt because the other no longer pleases the ego, pity because the other is worthy of some consideration without love. Had Our Divine Lord not called Mary into the fellowship of His suffering, had she been dispensed from Calvary because of her Majesty as His Mother, she would have had contempt for those who took the life of her only Son, and only pity for us who had no such blessing.

But because He first identified Himself with our human nature at Bethlehem, later with our daily tasks at Nazareth and with our misunderstandings at Galilee and Jerusalem, and finally with our tears and blood and agonies at Calvary, He gave to us His Mother and, to all of us, the lesson that love must embrace mankind or suffocate in the narrowness of its ego. Summoned by Him, to share His daily Cross, her love expanded with His own and reached such, a peak of universal identification that His Ascension was paralleled by her Assumption. He, Who inspired her to stand at the foot of the Cross as an active participant in its redemption, would not be remiss in crowning such love with union with Him where love would be without sorrow, or where sorrow would be swallowed up in joy.

Love never becomes a cult without a death. How often does even human love come into the full consciousness of the other’s devotedness, until the death of the partner? History becomes legend after death, and love becomes adoration. One no longer keeps any memory of the other’s faults, or what was left undone; all is surrounded in an aureole of praise. The ennui of life fades away; the quarrels that hurt evaporate, or else they are transformed into souvenirs of affection. The dead are always more beautiful than the living.

In the case of Mary, we have no memories of her imperfections fading away, for she was “blessed among women”; but we do have such a deepening of love as to produce a cult. He, Who sacrificed Himself for us, thought so much of His Death that He left a Memorial of it and ordered its re-enactment in what is today known as the Mass. His love, that died, became adoration in the Eucharist.

Why, then, should not she who gave Him that Body with which He could die, and that Blood which He could pour forth, be remembered, not in adoration, but in veneration, and as long as time endures? But if , along with the God Who is the Man of Sorrows and who entered into His Glory, there is a creature, a Woman of Sorrows who accompanied Him into that glory, then we all have an inspiration to love through a cross and with it, that we, too, may reign with Christ.

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What Love Is – Fulton J. Sheen, Ph.D., D.D.

August 29, 2013
In Divine service and in marriage, therefore, there should be a generosity which goes quite beyond the limits of justice. The neighbor who offers to come in for an hour to help and stays two; the doctor who in addition to a professional call "drops in just to see how you are"; the husband and wife who vie with one another in love; all have understood one of the most beautiful effects of love: its zeal, which makes them fools for one another. "We are fools for Christ's sake." (1 Corinthians 4:10)

In Divine service and in marriage, therefore, there should be a generosity which goes quite beyond the limits of justice. The neighbor who offers to come in for an hour to help and stays two; the doctor who in addition to a professional call “drops in just to see how you are”; the husband and wife who vie with one another in love; all have understood one of the most beautiful effects of love: its zeal, which makes them fools for one another. “We are fools for Christ’s sake.” (1 Corinthians 4:10)

It takes three to make love, for lover and beloved are bound together on earth by an ideal outside both. If we were absolutely perfect, we would have no need of loving anyone outside ourselves. Our self-sufficiency would prevent a hankering for what we have not. But love itself starts with the desire for something good. God is good. God is being, and therefore has no need of anything outside Himself. But we have being: Creation may be described as the introduction of the verb “to have” into the universe.

What makes us creatures is the fact that we are dependent; all that we have, we have received. Because we are not perfect, we constantly strive to make up for what is lacking, or to complement our having by having more. The craving for private property, for example, is one of the natural aspirations of man, for by it man hopes to enlarge his personality and to extend himself by owning things.

Love Has Three Causes: Goodness, Knowledge And Similarity.
It is possible for man to mistake what is good for him, but it is impossible for him not to desire goodness
. The prodigal son was right in being hungry: he was wrong in living on husks. Man is right in trying to fill up his life, his mind, his body, his house with what is good; he may be wrong perhaps in what he chooses as a good. But without the desire for goodness, there would be no love, whether it be love of country, love of friend, or love of spouse. Through love every heart seeks to acquire a perfection or a good which it lacks, or else to express the perfection that it already has.

It follows then that all love is produced by goodness, for goodness by its nature is lovable. It may be difficult to understand why certain people are loved, but of this we can be sure: those who love see a goodness in them which others do not see. God loves us because He puts His Goodness into us and finds it there. We love certain creatures because we find goodness in them. Saints love those whom no one else loves, because after the manner of God, they put goodness into other people and find them lovable.

If it be asked why the drunkard loves alcohol, why the libertine loves perversion, or why the criminal loves stealing, it is because each of them sees some good in what he does. What each seeks is not the highest moral good, for endowed with free will, each can always choose a partial rather than a total good, thus making a god of his appetites. Evil in order to be attractive must at least wear the guise of goodness. Hell has to be gilded with gold of paradise, or men would never want its evil.

If evil were always called by its right name, it would lose much of its appeal. When the exaggerations and perversions of sex are called the “Kinsey Report,” they give an air of scientific goodness to that which would have no appeal if it were called “lust.” Goodness by its nature is lovable, and love finds it impossible not to pursue goodness. Goodness is perfective of our being, and thus compensates for the meagerness of our having.

If one is asked why he is in love with a particular person, he may, if he is a logician, put his argument into some such form as this:

It is our nature to love goodness:
But X is good:
Therefore, I love X.

As we have said, this goodness is not always moral goodness; it can be physical goodness, or utilitarian goodness. A person is then loved because of the pleasure he gives, or because he is useful, or because “he can get it for you wholesale.” But good he must be, under one of his aspects, otherwise he would not be loved.

The second cause of love is knowledge. A woman cannot love a man unless she has had at least some knowledge of him. “Introduce me to him” is a demand for knowledge preceding love. Even the dream girl of the bachelor has to be constructed out of fragments of knowledge. The unknown is the unloved. The love of the animal begins with the knowledge that comes through its senses, but the knowledge of man comes from his senses and his intellect. As love comes from knowledge, so hatred comes from want of knowledge. Bigotry is the fruit of ignorance.

Though at the beginning, knowledge is the condition of love, in its latter stages love can increase knowledge. A husband and wife who have lived together for many years have a new kind of knowledge of one another which is deeper than any spoken word, or any scientific investigation; it is knowledge that comes from love, a kind of intuitional perception of what is in the mind and the heart of the other. It is possible to love more than we know. A simple person in good faith may have a greater love of God than a theologian, and as a result a keener understanding of the ways of God with the heart than psychologists have. Goodness alone in isolation from knowledge could not prompt love; it must first be proposed to the mind and understood as good.

Knowledge can be either abstract or emotional. Geometry is abstract knowledge, but knowledge about sex is emotional knowledge. An isosceles triangle arouses no passions, but sex knowledge can do so! Those who advocate indiscriminate sex education to prevent sexual promiscuity forget that, because of the emotional tie-up, sex knowledge could lead to sex disorders. It is argued that if a man knew there was typhoid fever in a house, he would lose the desire to go into it. True, but the knowledge of sex is not the same as the knowledge of typhoid fever. No one has a “typhoid” passion to break down doors with quarantine warnings, but the human being does have a sex passion, which needs a control.

One of the psychological reasons why decent people shrink from vulgar sex discussion is because by its very nature it is not a communicable kind of knowledge. Its method of communication is so personal as to make the two who are involved shrink from making it general. It is too sacred to be profaned. It is a psychological fact that those whose knowledge of sex has passed to a unifying love in marriage are least inclined to bring it back from the realm of their inner mystery to that of public discussion. It is not because they are disillusioned about sex but because it has passed on to love, and only two can share its secrets.

On the other hand, those whose knowledge of sex has not been sublimated into the mystery of love, and who therefore are most frustrated, are those who want to talk incessantly about sex matters. Husbands and wives whose marriages are characterized by infidelity are most loquacious on sex; fathers and mothers whose marriages are happy never speak about it. Their knowledge has become love; therefore they do not need to gossip about it. They who presume to know so much about sex actually know nothing about its mystery, otherwise they would not be so gabby about it.

The third cause of love, besides goodness and knowledge, is similarity. This is a denial of the oft-repeated axiom that “opposites attract.” Opposites do attract, but only superficially. Tall men marry short girls; fast talkers marry good listeners; and tyrants marry Milquetoasts. But in a more profound way, it is not unlikeness but likeness which attracts.

The likeness between persons can be twofold: one arises from two persons having the same quality actually, as, for example, a mutual love of music. This likeness causes the higher love of friendship, in which one wishes good to the other as to himself. This is what is meant when it is said that two persons are a “perfect match,” or “they were made for each other.”

The other kind of likeness arises from one having potentially, or by way of desire or inclination, a quality which the other has actually, for example, a poor girl wanting to marry a rich man. The stingy man loves the generous man because he expects from him something he desires. The vicious man can love the virtuous man when he sees virtue in conformity with what he would like to be. This kind of likeness causes love of concupiscence, or a friendship founded on usefulness or pleasure. In this kind of love, the lover loves himself more than his friend. That is why, if the friend ever prevents him from realizing what he wants, his love turns to hate.

Because we are imperfect beings, we seek to remedy our lack by possessions. Thus people who are “naked” on the inside, in the sense that they have no virtue in their soul, try to compensate for it by excessive luxury on the outside. What one person lacks it is hoped the other will supply. Because the human heart desires beauty as its perfection, the ugly young man seeks to marry a beautiful rather than an ugly girl. On the surface, it would seem that his ugliness is the opposite of her beauty, but really it is his love of beauty (which he does not possess actually), which attracts him to that which is beautiful.

The loves of all hearts are so many mirrors revealing their characters. Weak men in high positions surround themselves with little men, in order that they may seem great by comparison Capitalists who became rich because they struck some of God’s wealth in the earth, love to build libraries to parade a learning which they do not possess. They love in appearance that which is similar to what they love in hope and desire. The woman who wishes to be a social climber will cultivate friends who are “useful,” because of this similarity. They have what she wants to have: social prestige. Saints love sinners, not because they both have vice in common, but because the saint loves the possible virtue of the sinner. The Son of God became the Son of Man because He loved man.

On this subject no one has written with greater precision than St. Thomas Aquinas, who in his monumental summary of Divine Wisdom points out that there are four effects of love. Because he envisages love as something higher than sex or a biological function, his observations apply in varying degrees to both human and Divine love. These four effects of love are: unity, mutual indwelling, ecstasy, and zeal.

All love craves unity. This is evident in marriage where there is the unity of two in one flesh. When a person loves anything, he sees it as fulfilling a need and seeks to incorporate it to himself, whether it be the wine that he loves, or the science of the stars. In friendship, the other person is loved as another self, or the other half of one’s soul. One seeks to do the same favors for him as one would do for oneself, and thus intensify the bond of union between the two.

Whether it be love of wisdom, spouse, or friend, love is a unifying principle of both lover and beloved. Aristotle quotes Aristophanes as saying: “Lovers would wish to be united into one, but since this would result in either one or the other being destroyed, they seek a suitable or becoming union, to live together, speak together, and share the same interests.”

Because love creates unity, we have explained why some heroic souls are willing to take on the sufferings and sins of others. A loving mother faced by a child’s pain would take on that pain, if she could, in order to free her child of it. She feels the pain as her own, because her love has made her one with the infant. Just as love in the face of pain takes on the pain because of oneness with the beloved, so love in the face of evil takes on the sins of others, because of oneness with the beloved.

This sacrificial love reached its highest psychological expression in the Garden of Gethsemane, where Christ so identified Himself with sinners that He began to sweat crimson drops of blood. It reached its greatest physical expression on Calvary, when He offered His life for those whom He loved. But before Gethsemane and Calvary, the law that love tends to unify the lovers produced the Incarnation, in which God, Who loved man, became man to save him from his sins.

As saints become one with Our Lord through the identification of their will with God’s Will, so those who love unto marriage become “two in one flesh.” The human heart would never be reaching out for unity, either socially, economically, or sexually, were there not within it a fundamental sense of incompleteness, which only God can perfectly satisfy. The sense of emptiness in a person pushes him on to overcome his deficiencies, until ultimately he becomes one with what he loves.

Incidentally, since love produces unity, it follows that one must be careful about that with which he is ultimately unified. Unity with God is necessarily immortal love. A love that has no higher destiny than the flesh will share the corruption of the flesh. Our Lord made the fact of sex identification one of the reasons for His condemnation of divorce. “But I tell you that the man who puts away his wife (setting aside the matter of unfaithfulness) makes an adulteress of her, and whoever marries her after she has been put away, commits adultery.” (Matt. 5:32)

Sex love creates a completeness between man and woman which goes far beyond any other unities of the social or political order! That is why the State which respects the family unity as the basis of civilization is much more unified than a civilization which ignores it. A divorce-ridden civilization is already in cause, a disrupted civilization. It may take a few decades for the cracks in the family to become earthquakes in the political order, but one must not conclude, because its tombstone is not yet erected, that the civilization is not already dead. “Thou dost pass for a living man, and all the while art a corpse.” (Apocalypse. 3:1)

The State may break the outer bond uniting husband and wife through divorce, but it can never break the inner bond which unity in one flesh has created. To justify their breaking of the unity, they may say: “Love has deceived me.” Rather it is they who have deceived love. And their deceit began with the day when they confused love and “sex thrill.” They never loved in the first place, for love never takes back that which it gives, even in unfaithfulness. God never takes back His love, though we are sinners. We may betray Him, but He never abandons us.

Mutual indwelling, the second effect of love, literally means that in love one inheres or exists in the other. The passion of love is not satisfied with mere possession but even seeks to assimilate the other into itself. There is hardly a woman in the world who has ever held a babe, who did not say: “This child is so sweet. I would like to eat it.” Hidden in these words is the mystery of assimilation which reaches its peak in Holy Communion, where the God Incarnate satisfies our desire for complete inherence with His Divinity and Humanity, under the form and appearance of bread.

If love did not imply inherence, there would be no psychological explanation for the fact that the harm and injury which is done to our friends can be felt as done to us. This love in the supernatural order becomes an inherence which is identical with fixation. Sanctity is fixation in the love of God. Married love is fixation in human love for the love of God. “He who dwells in love dwells in God, and God in him.” (1 John 4:17)

This indwelling of the thing or person loved is a fact in an intellectual as well as an affective way. The astronomer loves the stars, and he has the stars in his head, not in their material being but in a manner which is peculiar to his spiritual intellect. But if the universe were not in his head, he could not love the universe. Here the thing loved is in the lover. In affection, the lover inheres in the beloved, and the beloved in the lover.

What is it that makes the lover so curious and interested in all that the beloved does? Why is every tiny gift treasured, every word recalled again and again to memory? Why is every scene colored by the vision of the beloved, if it be not that in some way there is no peace without complete inherence of the one in the other? No lover is ever satisfied with a superficial knowledge of the one loved.

The lover of music can never have too much knowledge of music. The lover of God never knows the words “too much.” Those who accuse others of loving God or religion too much, really do not love God at all, nor do they know the meaning of love. Those who are united in love, enjoy and are pained at the same things. The Psalmist who loved God would say that his heart was cast down at the thought of those who broke the law of God.

This mutual inherence, as the second effect of love, adds something to unity in marriage. Unity of the flesh now becomes unity of the mind and heart. The intermittent carnal oneness demands another kind of unity than the flesh. St. Paul says husband and wife ought to act toward one another “as if married in the Lord”; that is, as conscious of their vocation to be one in Christ. As Elizabeth Barrett Browning wrote: “Two human loves make one divine.” Mutual inherence is much more than a sharing of interests and an exchange of properties: rather these are the effects of a deeper fellowship which reaches into the core of their being.

Love that is held together only by the flesh is as fragile as the flesh, but love which is held together by a spiritual oneness and based on a love of a common destiny, is truly “until death do us part.” What makes a true mutual inherence is not the sharing of the same sensations of pleasure. Rather the “sister-soul” and “brother- soul” are formed in the daily communion with the same joys, sorrows, efforts, and sacrifices. One can yearn for another after knowing flesh unity, but it is impossible to yearn for another after soul unity.

It is not enough just to share the same words and the same enjoyments; one must also share the same silences. “Mary treasured up all these sayings, and reflected on them in her heart.” (Luke 2:19) Those who do not yet love one another deeply have need of words; those who deeply love, thrive on silences.

The third effect of love is ecstasy, which means being “carried out of oneself.” In a broad kind of way, because love makes the lover dwell on the beloved, he is to some extent already taken out of himself. Adolescents are often surprised that their elders know they are in love. But the fumbling with tasks and the skipping of meals indicate they are in a dreamer’s state. They are already lifted out of their natural way of acting.

The Greeks describe a strong love as “madness,” not in the sense of abnormality, but inspiration. The poet who was inspired was said to be “mad” with his love, as in romantic language today, the lover describes himself as being “mad” over his beloved. Employers are not reluctant to allow their employees to take a week or two off, knowing that they are practically useless during the time of “ecstasy.” As Shakespeare wrote: “This is the very ecstasy of love.” Later on they are said to be “getting down to earth,” as if to imply that previously they had their heads in the heavens.

The professors who are absent-minded about their studies, to the extent that on rainy nights they put the umbrella to bed and stand in the sink all night, are proving that love makes us indifferent to our ordinary surroundings. Where there is great love, people can put up with every manner of hardship because of the quality of love which lifts them up from their environment.

The hovel of the husband and wife who are in love is not nearly as boring as the rich apartment of the husband and wife who have ceased to love one another. The saint, like Vincent de Paul, has such a love of God’s poor that he forgets to feed himself. The particular spiritual phenomenon of levitation, in which saints in their ecstasies are lifted bodily off the ground, is a still higher manifestation of a love in which matter seems powerless to restrain the spirit.

The difference between love of humans and love of God is that in human love, ecstasy comes at the beginning, but in the love of God it comes only at the end after one has passed through much suffering and agony of soul. The flesh first has its feast, and then the fast and sometimes the headache. The spirit has first the fast, and then the feast. The ecstatic pleasures of marriage are in the nature of a “bait,” luring lovers to fulfill their mission, and they are also a Divine credit extended to those who later on will have the burden of rearing a family.

No great ecstasy of flesh or spirit is ever given for permanent possession without casting out something. There is a price tag on every ecstasy! The glory of an Easter Sunday cost a Good Friday. The privilege of the Immaculate Conception was an ecstasy given before the payment, but Mary had to pay for it at the foot of the Cross. Our Lord gave her “credit” but she later paid the debt.

Young couples who equate marriage and the thrill often refuse to reimburse Nature with children and thus lose love, as the violinist with a gift for music, who does not practice, loses the gift. “Take the talent away from him.” (Matt. 25:28) The first love is not necessarily the lasting love. The thrill of the young priest at his First Solemn Mass, and the near ecstasy of the nun at her clothing, are like “candy” given by God to urge them to climb spiritually. Later on the sweetness is taken away, and it takes a supreme effort of the will to be all one ought to be. So with the honeymoon of marriage. The term itself indicates that at first the love is honey, but afterwards it is as changeable as the moon.

The first ecstasy is not the true ecstasy. The latter comes only after purging trial, fidelities through storm, perseverance through mediocrities, and pursuit of Divine destiny through the allurements of earth. The deep ecstatic love that some Christian fathers and mothers have after passing through their Calvaries is beautiful to behold. True ecstasy is really not of youth, but of age. In the first ecstasy, one seeks to receive all that the other can give. In the second ecstasy, one seeks to give everything to God. If love is identified with the first ecstasy, it will seek its duplication in another, but if it is identified with unifying, enduring love, it will seek the deepening of its mystery.

Too many married people expect their partner to give that which only God can give, namely, an eternal ecstasy. If man or woman could give that which the heart wants, he or she would be God. Wanting the ecstasy of love is right, but expecting it in the flesh that is not on pilgrimage to God is wrong. The ecstasy is not an illusion; it is only the “travel folder” with its many pictures urging the body and soul to make the journey to eternity. If the first ecstasy reaches its climax, it is an invitation not to love another, but to love in another way. And the other way is the Christ Way.

Zeal, the fourth effect of love, is that particular passion which makes us want to spread and diffuse the love which we know, and to exclude everything which is repugnant to it. The romantic lover seeks out those companions who will listen to his praise of the beloved, and to whom he can show her picture. The saint in love with Christ becomes a missionary and travels even into lands where the name of Christ has never been heard, in order that other hearts may share the passion for the Tremendous Lover. In carnal love, St. Thomas says, “husbands are said to be jealous of their wives, lest association with others prove a hindrance to their exclusive individual right. In like manner, those who seek to excel, are moved against those who are above them, as though they were a hindrance to their own ambitions.”

In the higher lover of friendship, zeal is not only positive, such as becomes apostleship in religion, but is also negative, in the sense that it seeks to repel all that is contrary to the will of God. When Our Lord entered the Temple of Jerusalem and found it prostituted by the buyers and sellers, He fashioned a whip of cords and drove them out: “I am consumed with jealousy for the honor of the house.” (John 2:17)

From the mother bird defending her nest of young to the martyr dying for the Faith, love pours itself out in zeal of the right kind. But the wicked can also be zealous for the evil which they love, whether it be the miser for his gold, or the adulterer for his accomplice, or the Communist for his world revolution. Those things for which we would spend our energy to defend, or die to keep, are the measures of our zeal! Love is the cause of everything we do. The subjects we talk about, the persons we hate, the ideals we pursue, the things that make us angry, these are indicators of our hearts. Few realize how much they betray their characters in revealing what their hearts love most. “Out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaketh.” If our loves are wrong, our lives are wrong, as well.

What zeal is to religion, fidelity and fecundity are to marriage: devotion to the person loved, and the extension of that love in the family. This fidelity is not born of habit which is akin to organic or economic necessity; rather, it is an affirmation that this person has an absolute significance for life. This kind of zeal not only crushes all alien biological desires; it also is based on the fact that the other person is the one whom God has willed for us, “for better or for-worse, for richer or poorer, until death do us part.” As Euripides said: “He is not a lover who does not love forever.” And as Shakespeare sang:

Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments. Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove:
O no; it is an ever-fixed mark,
That looks on tempests, and is never shaken;
It is the star to every wandering bark,
Whose worth’s unknown, although his height be taken.

Love’s not Time’s fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
Within his bending sickle’s compass come:
Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
But bears it out even to the edge of doom.
If this be error, and upon me prov’d,
I never writ, nor no man ever lov’d.

Zeal also manifests itself spiritually, in bringing other souls to God and physically, by begetting children for God. Fruitfulness is the natural effect of the love of tree and earth, of missionary and pagan, of husband and wife. Love does not thrive on moderation. Zeal is generosity. The love that measures the sacrifices it will make for others takes the edge off aspirations.

Our Lord said that zealous love had two characteristics first, it is forgiving, and second, it recognizes no limits. It is forgiving, because it knows that God’s forgiveness of me is conditioned upon my forgiveness of others. Love never wears magnifying glasses in looking on the faults of others. Married life requires this zeal in the shape of forbearance, which is not a gritting of teeth in the face of annoyance, nor the cultivation of indifference; it is, rather, a positive and constructive action putting love where it is not found. One feels under an obligation more exquisite and divine than a marriage contract.

Zeal knows no limits. It never pronounces the word “enough.” Our Lord said that after His followers had done all they were supposed to do, they were to consider themselves as “unprofitable servants.” Knocking the boundaries out of love, He said: “But I tell you that you should not offer resistance of injury; if a man strikes thee on the right cheek, turn the other cheek also towards him; if he is ready to go to law with thee over thy coat, let him have it and thy cloak with it; if he compels thee to attend him on a mile’s journey, go two miles with him of thy own accord.” (Matt. 5:39, 41)

In Divine service and in marriage, therefore, there should be a generosity which goes quite beyond the limits of justice. The neighbor who offers to come in for an hour to help and stays two; the doctor who in addition to a professional call “drops in just to see how you are”; the husband and wife who vie with one another in love; all have understood one of the most beautiful effects of love: its zeal, which makes them fools for one another. “We are fools for Christ’s sake.” (1 Corinthians 4:10)

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The Differences Between Sex and Love – Fulton J. Sheen, Ph.D., D.D.

August 28, 2013
Real love, on the contrary, admits the need, the thirst, the passion, the craving, but it also admits an abiding satisfaction by adhesion to a value which transcends time and space. Love unites itself to being and thus becomes perfect; sex unites itself to non-being and thus becomes irritation and anxiety

Real love, on the contrary, admits the need, the thirst, the passion, the craving, but it also admits an abiding satisfaction by adhesion to a value which transcends time and space. Love unites itself to being and thus becomes perfect; sex unites itself to non-being and thus becomes irritation and anxiety

It takes three to make Love in Heaven–
Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

It takes three for Heaven to make love to earth–
God, Man, and Mary, through whom God became Man.

It takes three to make love in the Holy Family–
Mary, and Joseph, and the consummation of their love, Jesus.

It takes three to make love in hearts–
The Lover, the Beloved, and Love.

To that Woman
Who taught the sublime mystery of Love,
Mary Immaculate,
This life is dedicated

That nations, hearts, and homes may learn
That love does not so much mean to give oneself to another
As for both lovers to give themselves to that Passionless Passion,
Which is God.

The following is the first chapter of Bishop Sheen’s Three To Get Married

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Love is primarily in the will, not in the emotions or the glands. The will is like the voice; the emotions are like the echo. The pleasure associated with love, or what is today called “sex,” is the frosting on the cake; its purpose is to make us love the cake, not ignore it.

The greatest illusion of lovers is to believe that the intensity of their sexual attraction is the guarantee of the perpetuity of their love. It is because of this failure to distinguish between the glandular and spiritual–or between sex which we have in common with animals, and love which we have in common with God–that marriages are so full of deception.

What some people love is not a person, but the experience of being in love. The first is irreplaceable; the second is not. As soon as the glands cease to react with their pristine force, couples who identified emotionalism and love claim they no longer love one another. If such is the case they never loved the other person in the first place; they only loved being loved, which is the highest form of egotism.

Marriage founded on sex passion alone lasts only as long as the animal passion lasts. Within two years the animal attraction for the other may die, and when it does, law comes to its rescue to justify the divorce with the meaningless words “incompatibility,” or “mental torture.” Animals never have recourse to law courts, because they have no will to love; but man, having reason, feels the need of justifying his irrational behavior when he does wrong.

There are two reasons for the primacy of sex over love in a decadent civilization. One is the decline of reason. As humans give up reason, they resort to their imaginations. That is why motion pictures and picture magazines enjoy such popularity. As thinking fades, unrestrained desires come to the fore.

Since physical and erotic desires are among the easiest to dwell upon, because they require no effort and because they are powerfully aided by bodily passions, sex begins to be all-important. It is by no historical accident that an age of anti-intellectualism and irrationalism, such as our own, is also an age of carnal license.

The second factor is egotism. As belief in a Divine Judgment, a future life, heaven and hell, a moral order, is increasingly rejected, the ego becomes more and more firmly enthroned as the source of its morality. Each person becomes a judge in his own case.

With this increase of selfishness, the demands for self-satisfaction become more and more imperious, and the interests of the community and the rights of others have less and less appeal. All sin is self-centeredness, as love is otherness and relatedness. Sin is the infidelity of man to the image of what he ought to be in his eternal vocation as an adopted son of God: the image God sees in Himself when He contemplates His Word.

There are two extremes to be avoided in discussing married love: one is the refusal to recognize sexual love, the other is the giving of primacy to sexual attraction. The first error was Victorian; the second is Freudian. To the Christian, sex is inseparable from the person, and to reduce the person to sex is as silly as to reduce personality to lungs or a thorax.

Certain Victorians in their education practically denied sex as a function of personality; certain sexophiles of modern times deny personality and make a god of sex. The male animal is attracted to the female animal, but a human personality is attracted to another human personality. The attraction of beast to beast is physiological; the attraction of human to human is physiological, psychological, and spiritual.

The human spirit has a thirst for the infinite which the quadruped has not. This infinite is really God. But man can pervert that thirst, which the animal cannot because it has no concept of the infinite. Infidelity in married life is basically the substitution for an infinite of a succession of finite carnal experiences. The false infinity of succession takes the place of the Infinity of Destiny, which is God.

The beast is promiscuous for an entirely different reason than man. The false pleasure given by new conquests in the realm of sex is the ersatz for the conquest of the Spirit in the Sacrament! The sense of emptiness, melancholy, and frustration is a consequence of the failure to find infinite satisfaction in what is carnal and limited. Despair is disappointed hedonism The most depressed spirits are those who seek God in a false god!

If love does not climb, it falls. If, like the flame, it does not burn upward to the sun, it burns downward to destroy. If sex does not mount to heaven, it descends into hell. There is no such thing as giving the body without giving the soul. Those who think they can be faithful in soul to one another, but unfaithful in body, forget that the two are inseparable. Sex in isolation from personality does not exist! An arm living and gesticulating apart from the living organism is an impossibility. Man has no organic functions isolated from his soul.

There is involvement of the whole personality. Nothing is more psychosomatic than the union of two in one flesh; nothing so much alters a mind, a will, for better or for worse. The separation of soul and body is death. Those who separate sex and spirit are rehearsing for death. The enjoyment of the other’s personality through one’s own personality, is love. The pleasure of animal function through another’s animal function is sex separated from love.

Sex is one of the means God has instituted for the enrichment of personality. It is a basic principle of philosophy that there is nothing in the mind which was not previously in the senses. All our knowledge comes from the body. We have a body, St. Thomas tells us, because of the weakness of our intellect. Just as the enrichment of the mind comes from the body and its senses, so the enrichment of love comes through the body and its sex. As one can see a universe mirrored in a tear on a cheek, so in sex can be seen mirrored that wider world of love. Love in monogamous marriage includes sex; but sex, in the contemporary use of the term, does not imply either marriage or monogamy.

Every woman instinctively realizes the difference between the two, but man comes to understand it more slowly through reason and prayer. Man is driven by pleasure; woman by the meaning of pleasure. She sees pleasure more as a means to an end, namely, the prolongation of love both in herself and in her child. Like Mary at the Annunciation, she accepts the love which is presented to her by another. In Mary, it came directly from God through an angel; in marriage, it comes indirectly from God through a man.

But in both instances, there is an acceptance, a surrender, a Fiat: “Let it be unto me according to thy word.” (Luke 1:28) The pagan woman who has not consciously thought of God is actually half woman and half dream; the woman who sees love as a reflection of the Trinity is half woman and half Spirit, and she waits upon the creative work of God within her body. Patience thus becomes bound up with her acceptance. Woman accepts the exigencies of love, as the farmer accepts the exigencies of nature, and waits, after the sowing of the seed, the harvest of autumn.

But when sex is divorced from love there is a feeling that one has been stopped at the vestibule of the castle of pleasure; that the heart has been denied the city after crossing the bridge. Sadness and melancholy result from such a frustration of destiny, for it is the nature of man to be sad when he is pulled outside himself, or exteriorized without getting any nearer his goal.

There is a closer correlation between mental instability and the animal view of sex than many suspect. Happiness consists in interiority of the spirit, namely, the development of personality in relationship to a heavenly destiny. He who has no purpose in life is unhappy; he who exteriorizes his life and is dominated, or subjugated, by what is outside himself, or spends his energy on the external without understanding its mystery, is unhappy to the point of melancholy.

There is the feeling of being hungry after having eaten, or of being disgusted with food, because it has nourished not the body, in the case of an individual, or another body, in the case of marriage. In the woman, this sadness is due to the humiliation of realizing that where marriage is only sex, her role could be fulfilled by any other woman; there is nothing personal, incommunicable, and therefore nothing dignified.

Summoned by her God-implanted nature to be ushered into the mysteries of life which have their source in God, she is condemned to remain on the threshold as a tool or an instrument of pleasure alone, and not as a companion of love. Two glasses that are empty cannot fill up one another. There must be a fountain of water outside the glasses, in order that they may have communion with one another. It takes three to make love.

Every person is what he loves. Love becomes like unto that which it loves. If it loves heaven, it becomes heavenly; if it loves the carnal as a god, it becomes corruptible. The kind of immortality we have depends on the kind of loves we have. Putting it negatively, he who tells you what he does not love, also tells what he is. “Amor pondus meum: Love is my gravitation,” said St. Augustine.

This slow conversion of a subject into an object, of a lover into the beloved, of the miser into his gold, of the saint into his God, discloses the importance of loving the right things. The nobler our loves, the nobler our character. To love what is below the human, is degradation; to love what is human for the sake of the human, is mediocrity; to love the human for the sake of the Divine, is enriching; to love the Divine for its own sake is sanctity.

Love is trinity; sex is duality. But there are many other differences between the two. Sex rationalizes; love does not. Sex has to justify itself with Kinsey Reports, “But Freud told us,” or “No one believes that today”; love needs no reasons. Sex asks science to defend it; love never asks “Why?” It says, “I love you.” Love is its own reason.

“God is love.” Satan asked a “Why?” of God’s love in the Garden of Paradise. Every rationalization is farfetched and never discloses the real reason. He who breaks the Divine Law and finds himself outside of Christ’s Mystical Body in a second marriage, will often justify himself by saying: “I could not accept the Doctrine of Transubstantiation.” What he means is that he can no longer accept the Sixth Commandment.

Milton wrote an abstract and apparently a philosophical treatise on “Doctrine and Discipline of Divorce,” in which he justified the divorce on the grounds of incompatibility. But the real reason was not what he set down in the book; it was to be found in the fact that he wished to marry someone else while his wife was living. What is important is not what people say, but why they say it.

Too many assume that the reason people do not come to God is because they are ignorant; it is more generally true that the reason people do not come to God is because of their behavior. Our Lord said: “Rejection lies in this, that when the light came into the world men preferred darkness to light; preferred it, because their doings were evil. Anyone who acts shamefully hates the light.” (John 3:19, 20) It is not always doubt that has to be overcome, but evil habits.

From another point of view, sex seeks the part; love the totality. Sex is biological and physiological and has its definite zones of satisfaction. Love, on the contrary, includes all of these but is directed to the totality of the person loved, i.e., as a creature composed of body and soul and made to the image and likeness of God. Love seeks the clock and its purpose; sex concentrates on the mainspring and forgets its mission to keep time. Sex eliminates from the person who is loved everything that cannot adapt itself to its carnal libido.

Those who give primacy to sex for that reason are anti-religious. Love, however, does not concentrate on a function, but on personality. An organ does not include the personality, but the personality includes the organ, which is another way of repeating the theme: love includes sex, but sex does not include love.

Love concentrates on the object; sex concentrates on the subject. Love is directed to someone else for the sake of the other’s perfection; sex is directed to self for the sake of se]f-satisfaction. Sex flatters the object not because it is praiseworthy in itself, but rather as a solicitation. It knows how to make friends and influence people. Most sound minds resent flattery because they see the egotism behind the screen of altruism.

 

The ego in sex pleads that it loves the alter ego, but what it loves is really the possibility of its own pleasure in the other ego. The other person is necessary for the return of the egotist upon himself. The egotist finds himself constantly being encircled by non-being, purposelessness, meaninglessness; he has the feeling of being exploited. Refusing to be related to anything else, he soon sees that nothing is for him: The whole world is against him!

But love, which stresses the object, finds itself in constantly enlarging relationships. Love is so strong it surpasses narrowness by devotedness and forgetfulness of self. In history, the only causes that die are those for which men refuse to die. The more love grows, the more its eyes open to the needs of others, to the miseries of men, and to compassion. The remedy for all the sufferings of the modern brain lies in the enlargement of the heart through love, which forgets itself as the subject and begins to love the neighbor as the object. But he who lives for himself will eventually find that nature, fellowman, and God are all against him. The so-called “persecution complex” is the result of egotism. The world seems against him who wants everything for himself.

Sex is moved by the desire to fill a moment between having and not having. It is an experience like looking at a sunset, or twirling one’s thumbs to pass the time. It rests after one experience, because glutted for the moment, and then waits for the reappearance of a new craving or passion to be satisfied on a totally different object. Love frowns upon this notion, for it sees in this nothing but the killing of the objects loved for the sake of self-satisfaction. Sex would give birds flight, but no nests; hearts emotions but no homes; throw the whole world into the experience of voyagers at sea, but with no ports.

Instead of pursuing an Infinite which is fixed, it substitutes the false infinity of never finding satisfaction. The infinite then becomes not the possession of love but the fruitless search for love, which is the basis of so many psychoses and neuroses. The infinite then becomes restlessness, a merry-go-round of the heart which spins only to spin again.

Real love, on the contrary, admits the need, the thirst, the passion, the craving, but it also admits an abiding satisfaction by adhesion to a value which transcends time and space. Love unites itself to being and thus becomes perfect; sex unites itself to non-being and thus becomes irritation and anxiety. In love, poverty becomes integrated into riches; need into fulfillment; yearning into joy; chase into capture. But sex is without the joy of offering. The wolf offers nothing when he kills the lamb. The joy of oblation is missing, for the egotist by his very nature seeks inflation. Love gives to receive. Sex receives so as not to give. Love is soul contact with another for the sake of perfection; sex is body contact with another for the sake of sublimation.

A body can exhaust itself, but it cannot nourish itself. If man needed only nourishment, he could devour love as he devours food. But having a Spirit which needs the Divine Love as a unitive force, he can never be satisfied by devouring the love of another person. A potato has a nature; a man is a person. The former can be destroyed as a means to an end; the human may not. Sex would turn man into a vegetable and reduce a person to an animal. Sex makes hungry where most it satisfies, for the person needs the person, and a person is a person only when seen in an image of God.

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The Transfiguration – Fulton J. Sheen

March 29, 2013
The Transfiguration can not only be seen as foreshadowing of the glorification or the resurrection, but it is the promise that discipleship can bring both to this life and the life to come.

The Transfiguration can not only be seen as foreshadowing of the glorification or the resurrection, but it is the promise that discipleship can bring both to this life and the life to come.

Three important scenes of Our Lord’s life took place on mountains. On one, He preached the Beatitudes, the practice of which would bring a Cross from the world; on the second, He showed the glory that lay beyond the Cross; and on the third, He offered Himself in death as a prelude to His glory and that of all who would believe in His name.

The second incident took place within a few weeks, at most, of Calvary, when He took with Him to a high mountain Peter, James, and John — Peter the Rock; James destined to be the first Apostle-martyr; and John the visionary of the future glory of the Apocalypse. These three were present when He raised from the dead the daughter of Jairus. All three needed to learn the lesson of the Cross and to rectify their false conceptions of the Messiahs. Peter had vehemently protested against the Cross, while James and John had been throne-seekers. All three would later on sleep in the Garden of Gethsemane during His agony. To believe in His Calvary, they must see the glory that shone beyond the scandal of the Cross.

On the mountaintop, after praying, He became transfigured before them as the glory of His Divinity flashed through the threads of His earthly raiment. It was not so much a light that was shining from without as the beauty of the Godhead that shone from within. It was not the full manifestation of Divinity which no man of earth could see; nor was His body glorified, for He had not risen from the dead, but it possessed a quality of glory. His crib, His carpenter trade, His bearing opprobrium from enemies were a humiliation; fittingly there should also be epiphanies of glory, as the angels’ song at His birth and the voice of the Father during the baptism.

Now as He nears Calvary, a new glory surrounds Him. The voice again invests Him in the robes of the priesthood, to offer sacrifice. The glory that shone around Him as the Temple of God was not something with which He was outwardly invested, but rather a natural expression of the inherent loveliness of “Him who came down from heaven.” The wonder was not this momentary radiance around Him; it was rather that at all other times it was repressed.

As Moses, after communing with God, put a veil over his face to hide it from the people of Israel, so Christ had veiled His glory in humanity. But for this brief moment, He turned it aside so that men might see it; the outgoing of these rays was the transitory proclamation to every human eye of the Son of Righteousness. As the Cross came nearer, His glory became greater. So it may be that the coming of the anti-Christ or the final crucifixion of the good will be preceded by an extraordinary glory of Christ in His members.

In man, the body is a kind of a cage of the soul. In Christ, the Body was the Temple of Divinity. In the Garden of Eden, we know that man and woman were naked but not ashamed. This is because the glory of the soul before sin shone through the body and became a kind of a raiment. Here too in the Transfiguration the Divinity shone through humanity. This was probably mud more natural than for Christ to be seen in any other pose namely, without that glory. It took restraint to hide the Divinity that was in Him.

And even as He prayed, the fashion of His face
Was altered, and His garments
Became white and dazzling;
And two men appeared conversing with Him,
Moses and Elias, seen now in glory;
And they spoke of the Death
which He was to achieve at Jerusalem.
Luke 9:30, 31

The Old Testament was coming to meet the New. Moses the publisher of the Law, Elias the chief of the Prophets — both of them were seen shining in the Light of Christ Himself Who, as the Son of God, gave the Law and sent the Prophets. The subject of conversation of Moses, Elias and Christ was not what He had taught, but His sacrificial death; it was His duty as Mediator which fulfilled the Law, the Prophets and the Eternal Decrees. Their work done, they pointed to Him to see the Redemption accomplished.

Thus did He keep before Him the goal of being “numbered with the transgressors,” as Isaias had foretold. Even in this moment of glory, the Cross is the theme of the discourse with the celestial visitors. But it was death conquered, sin atoned and the grave despoiled. The light of glory which enveloped the scene was joy like the “Now let me die,” which Jacob said on seeing Joseph, or like the Nunc Dimittis which Simeon uttered on seeing the Divine Babe. Aeschylus, in his Agamemnon, describes a soldier returning to his native land after the Trojan War and in his joy saying that he was willing to die. Shakespeare puts the same joyful words on the lips of Othello after the perils of voyage:

If it were now to die
‘Twere now to be most happy;
for, I fear,
My soul hath her content so absolute
That not another comfort like to this
Succeeds in unknown fate.

But in the case of Our Lord, it was as St. Paul said, “Having joy set before Him, He endured the Cross.”

What the Apostles noticed as particularly beautiful and glorified were His face and His garments — the face which later would be splattered with blood flowing from a crown of thorns; and the garments, which would be a robe of scorn with which sneering Herod would dress Him. The gossamer of light which now surrounded Him would be exchanged for nakedness when He would be stripped on a hill.

While the Apostles were standing at what seemed to be the very vestibule of heaven, a cloud formed, overshadowing them:

And now, there was a voice which said
To them out of the cloud,
This is My beloved Son,
In whom I am well pleased;
To Him, then, listen.
Matthew 17:6

When God sets up a cloud it is a manifest sign that there are bonds which man dare not break. At His baptism, the heavens were opened; now at the Transfiguration they opened again to install Him in His office as Mediator, and to distinguish Him from Moses and the Prophets. It was heaven itself that was sending Him on His mission, not the perverse will of men. At the baptism, the voice from heaven was for Jesus Himself, on the Hill of the Transfiguration it was for the disciples.

The shouts of “Crucify” would be too much for their ears if they did not know that it behooved the Son to suffer. It was not Moses not Elias they were to hear, but Him who apparently would die like other teacher, but was more than a prophet. The voice  was testified to the unbroken and undivided union of Father and Son; it recall also the words of Moses that in due time God would raise up from Israel One like Himself Whom they should hear.

The Apostles, awakening at the brilliance of what they had seen, found their spokesman, as almost always, in Peter.

And just as these were parting from Him,
Peter said to Jesus, Master
It is well that we should be here;
Let us make three booths in this place,
One for Thee, and one for Moses,
And one for Elias.
But he spoke at random.
Luke 9: 33, 34

A week before, Peter was trying to find a way to glory without the Cross. Now he thought the Transfiguration a good short cut to salvation by having a Mount of the Beatitudes or a Mount the Transfiguration without the Mount of Calvary. It was Peter’s second attempt to dissuade Our Lord from going to Jerusalem be crucified.

Before Calvary he was the spokesman for all the who would enter into glory without purchasing it by self-denial and sacrifice. Peter in his impetuosity here felt that the glory which God brought down from the heavens, and of which the angels sang at Bethlehem, could be tabernacled among men without a war against sin. Peter forgot that as the dove rested his foot only after the deluge, so true peace comes only after the Crucifixion.

Like a child, Peter tried to capitalize and make permanent this transient glory. To the Savior, it was an anticipation of what was reflected from the other side of the Cross; to Peter, it was a manifestation of an earthly Messianic glory that ought to housed. The Lord Who called Peter “Satan” because he would have a crown without a Cross now ignored his non-crucial humanism, for He knew that “he spoke at random.” But after the Resurrection, Peter would know. Then he would recall the scene, saying:

We had been eye-witnesses of His exaltation.
Such honor, such glory was bestowed on Him
By God the Father, that a voice came to Him
Out of the splendor which dazzles human eyes;
This, it said, is My beloved Son,
In Whom I am well pleased; to Him, then, listen.
We, his companions on the holy mountain,
Heard that Voice coming from heaven, and now
The word of the prophets gives us more
Confidence than ever. It is with good reason
That you are paying so much attention to that Word;
It will go on shining, like a lamp in
Some darkened room, until the dawn breaks,
And the day star rises in your hearts.
2 Peter 1:16-20

 

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Bethlehem – Fulton J. Sheen

July 18, 2011

Bethlehem, the nativity church in the 1920s.

Caesar Augustus, the master bookkeeper of the world, sat in his palace by the Tiber. Before him was stretched a map labeled Orbis Terrarum, Imperium Romanum. He was about to issue an order for a census of the world; for all the nations of the civilized world were subject to Rome. There was only one capital in this world: Rome; only one official language: Latin; only one ruler: Caesar. To every outpost, to every satrap and governor, the order went out: every Roman subject must be enrolled in his own city. On the fringe of the Empire, in the little village of Nazareth, soldiers tacked up on walls the order for all the citizens to register in the towns of their family origins.

Joseph, the builder, an obscure descendant of the great King David, was obliged by that very fact to register in Bethlehem, the city of David. In accordance with the edict, Mary and Joseph set out from the village of Nazareth for the village of Bethlehem, which lies about five miles on the other side of Jerusalem. Five hundred years earlier the prophet Micheas had prophesied concerning that little village:

And thou, Bethlehem, of the land of Juda,
     Art far from the least among the princes of Juda,
For out of thee will arise a leader who is to be
     The shepherd of My people Israel.
Matthew 2:6

Joseph was full of expectancy as he entered the city of his family, and was quite convinced that he would have no difficulty in finding lodgings for Mary, particularly on account of her condition. Joseph went from house to house only to find each one crowded. He searched in vain for a place where He, to Whom heaven and earth belonged, might be born. Could it be that the Creator would not find a home in creation? Up a steep hill Joseph climbed to a faint light which swung on a rope across a doorway. This would be the village inn. There, above all other places, he would surely find shelter. There was room in the inn fir the soldiers of Rome who had brutally subjugated the Jewish people; there was room for the daughters of the rich merchants of the East; there was room for those clothed in soft garments, who lived in the houses of the king; in fact, there was room for anyone who had a coin to give the innkeeper; but there was no room for Him Who came to be the Inn of every homeless heart in the world. When finally the scrolls of history are completed down to the last words in time, the saddest line of all will be: “There was no room in the inn.”

Out to the hillside to a stable cave, where shepherds sometimes drove their flocks in time of storm, Joseph and Mary went at last for shelter. There, in a place of peace in the lonely abandonment of a cold windswept cave; there, under the floor of the world, He Who is born without a mother in heaven, is born without a father on earth.

Of every other child that is born into the world, friends can say that it resembles his mother. This was the first instance in time that anyone could say that the mother resembled the Child. This is the beautiful paradox of the Child Who made His mother; the mother, too, was only a child. It was also the first time in the history of this world that anyone could ever think of heaven as being anywhere else than “somewhere up there”; when the Child was in her arms, Mary now looked down to Heaven.

In the filthiest place in the world, a stable, Purity was born. He, Who was later to be slaughtered by men acting as beasts, was born among beasts. He, Who would call Himself the “living Bread descended from Heaven,” was laid in a manger, literally, a place to eat. Centuries before, the Jews had worshiped the golden calf, and the Greeks, the ass. Men bowed down before them as before God. The ox and the ass now were present to make their innocent reparation, bowing down before their God.

There was no room in the inn, but there was room in the stable. The inn is the gathering place of public opinion, the focal point of the world’s moods, the rendezvous of the worldly, the rallying place of the popular and the successful. But the stable is a place for the outcasts, the ignored, the forgotten. The world might have expected the Son of God to be born — if He was to be born at all — in an inn. A stable would be the last place in the world where one would have looked for Him. Divinity is always where one least expects to find it.

No worldly mind would ever have suspected that He Who could make the sun warm the earth would one day have need of an ox and an ass to warm Him with their breath; that He Who, in the language of Scriptures, could stop the turning about of Arcturus would have His birthplace dictated by an imperial census; that He, Who clothed the fields with grass, would Himself be naked; that He, from Whose hands came planets and worlds, would one day have tiny arms that were not long enough to touch the huge heads of the cattle; that the feet which trod the everlasting hills would one day be too weak to walk; that the Eternal Word would be dumb; that Omnipotence would be wrapped in swaddling clothes; that Salvation would lie in a manger; that the bird which built the nest would be hatched therein — no one would ever have suspected that God coming to this earth would ever be so helpless. And that is precisely why so many miss Him. Divinity is always where one least expects to find it.

If the artist is at home in his studio because the paintings are the creation of his own mind; if the sculptor is at home among his statues because they are the work of his own hands; if the husbandman is at home among his vines because he planted them; and if the father is at home among his children because they are his own, then surely, argues the world, He Who made the world should be at home in it. He should come into it as an artist into his studio, and as a father into his home; but, for the Creator to come among His creatures and be ignored by them; for God to come among His own and not be received by His own; for God to be homeless at home — that could only mean one thing to the worldly mind: the Babe could not have been Clod at all. And that is just why it missed Him. Divinity is always where one least expects to find it.

The Son of God made man was invited to enter His own world through a back door. Exiled from the earth, He was born under the earth, in a sense, the first Cave Man in recorded history There He shook the earth to its very foundations. Because He was born in a cave, all who wish to see Him must stoop. To stoop is the mark of humility. The proud refuse to stoop and, therefore, they miss Divinity. Those, however, who bend their egos and enter, find that they are not in a cave at all, but in a new universe where sits a Babe on His mother’s lap, with the world poised on His fingers.

The manger and the Cross thus stand at the two extremities of the Savior’s life. He accepted the manger because there was no room in the inn; He accepted the Cross because men said, “We will not have this Man for our king.” Disowned upon entering, rejected upon leaving, He was laid in a stranger’s stable at the beginning, and a stranger’s grave at the end. An ox and an ass surrounded His crib at Bethlehem; two thieves were to flank His Cross on Calvary. He was wrapped in swaddling bands in His birthplace, He was again laid in swaddling clothes in His tomb — clothes symbolic of the limitations imposed on His Divinity when He took a human form.

The shepherds watching their flocks nearby were told by the angels:

This is the sign by which you are to know Him;
     You will find a Child still in swaddling clothes,
Lying in a manger.

Luke 2:12

He was already bearing His Cross — the only cross a Babe could bear, a cross of poverty, exile and limitation. His sacrificial intent already shone forth in the message the angels sang to the hills of Bethlehem:

This day, in the city of David,
     A Savior has been born for you,
The Lord Christ Himself.

Luke 2:11

Covetousness was already being challenged by His poverty, while pride was confronted with the humiliation of a stable. The swathing of Divine power, which needs to accept no bounds, is often too great a tax upon minds which think only of power. They cannot grasp the idea of Divine condescension, or of the “rich man becoming poor that through His poverty, we might be rich.” Men shall have no greater sign of Divinity than the absence of power as they expect it — the spectacle of a Babe Who said He would come in the clouds of heaven, now being wrapped in the cloths of earth.

He, Whom the angels call the “Son of the most High,’ descended into the red dust from which we all were born, to be one with weak, fallen man in all things, save sin. And it is the swaddling clothes which constitute His “sign.” If He Who is Omnipotence had come with thunderbolts, there would have been no sign. There is no sign unless something happens contrary to nature. The brightness of the sun is no sign, but an eclipse is. He said that on the last day, His coming would be heralded by “signs in the sun,” perhaps an extinction of light. At Bethlehem the Divine Son went into an eclipse, so that only the humble of spirit might recognize Him.

Only two classes of people found the Babe: the shepherds and the Wise Men; the simple and the learned; those who knew that they knew nothing, and those who knew that they did not know everything. He is never seen by the man of one book; never by the man who thinks he knows. Not even God can tell the proud anything. Only the humble can find God.

As Caryll Houselander put it, “Bethlehem is the inscape of Calvary, just as the snowflake is the inscape of the universe.” This same idea was expressed by the poet who said that if he knew the flower in a crannied wall in all its details, he would know “what God and man is.” Scientists tell us that the atom comprehends within itself the mystery of the solar system.

It was not so much that His birth cast a shadow on His life, .and thus led to His death; it was rather that the Cross was there from the beginning, and it cast its shadow backward to His birth. Ordinary mortals go from the known to the unknown submitting themselves to forces beyond their control; hence we can speak of their “tragedies.” But He went from the known to the known, from the reason for His coming, namely, to be “Jesus” or “Savior,” to the fulfillment of His coming, namely, the death on the Cross. Hence, there was no tragedy in His life; for, tragedy implies the unforeseeable, the uncontrollable, and the fatalistic. Modern life is tragic when there is spiritual darkness and unredeemable guilt. But for the Christ Child there were no uncontrollable forces; no submission to fatalistic chains from which there could be no escape; but there was an “inscape” — the microcosmic manger summarizing, like an atom, the macrocosmic Cross on Golgotha.

In His First Advent, He took the name of Jesus, or “Savior”; it will only be in His Second Advent that He will take the name of “Judge.” Jesus was not a name He had before He assumed a human nature; it properly refers to that which was united to His Divinity, not that which existed from all eternity. Some say “Jesus taught” as they would say “Plato taught,” never once thinking that His name means “Savior from sin.” Once He received this name, Calvary became completely a part of Him. The Shadow of the Cross that fell on His cradle also covered His naming. This was “His Father’s business”; everything else would be incidental to it.

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