Archive for the ‘St. Paul’ Category


The Supernatural Life: A Goal Above Our Nature – Frank Sheed

November 14, 2013

The drama of the Christian life is that, in acquiring the supernatural habits, we do not lose our natural habits. For all of us it is a lifelong struggle. And its scene is the will. The will is that in us which decides, and it decides according to what it loves. In obedience to God, our will is the point of contact through which the supernatural life flows to us. A mortal sin -- a serious and deliberate choice of our own will as against God's -- breaks the contact, we lose the virtue of charity, supernaturally we are dead. We may still have the habits of faith and hope, which can be lost only by sins directly against them; but they are no longer life-giving. Only charity makes the soul and its habits come alive. That is why "the greatest of these is charity."

The drama of the Christian life is that, in acquiring the supernatural habits, we do not lose our natural habits. For all of us it is a lifelong struggle. And its scene is the will. The will is that in us which decides, and it decides according to what it loves. In obedience to God, our will is the point of contact through which the supernatural life flows to us. A mortal sin — a serious and deliberate choice of our own will as against God’s — breaks the contact, we lose the virtue of charity, supernaturally we are dead. We may still have the habits of faith and hope, which can be lost only by sins directly against them; but they are no longer life-giving. Only charity makes the soul and its habits come alive. That is why “the greatest of these is charity.”

“Eye has not seen nor has ear heard, nor has it entered into the heart of man, what things God has prepared for those who love him.” So St. Paul tells the Corinthians, quoting Isaiah. Until we reach heaven, we shall not know what heaven is. But, in the inspired word of God, we are given glimpses. In heaven we shall know God in a new way, and love him according to the new knowledge.

We shall know, says St. Paul (1 Corinthians 13:12), as we are known. It is a mysterious phrase, more dark than light, but soliciting our own minds powerfully. We are not to know God with the same knowledge with which he knows us — for he knows infinitely and we are incurably finite — but with a knowledge similar in kind to his, different from our present way of knowing.

In the same verse, St. Paul makes another attempt to express the difference between our knowing here and our knowing there. “Here we see through a glass in a dark manner, but then face to face.” St. John (1 John 3:2) says, “We shall see him as he is.” And we remember Our Lord saying of the angels (Matthew 18:10), “They see the face of my heavenly Father continually.” Seeing is the key to life in heaven.

We can approach the meaning in two steps. First, those in heaven shall see God, not simply believe in him as now but see him. Here on earth we do not say that we believe in the existence of our friends, we see them; and seeing them, we know them. But, second, we shall see God “face to face,” see him as he sees us.

The Church has worked out for us a first beginning of the meaning of this. Concentrate upon the way we know our friends. We have an image of them, a picture, so that we know what they look like. But also our knowing faculty, our intellect, has taken them into itself. How? By the idea it has formed of them. By means of that idea, we know them. The richer the idea, the better we know them; if there is any error in our idea of them, to that extent we do not know them as they are. This is the way of human knowledge, the “seeing through a glass in a dark manner” which is the kind of seeing proper to human nature. It is the nature of our intellect to know things by means of the ideas it forms of them.

Here below we know God like that, by the idea we have formed of him. But in heaven, our seeing will be direct. We shall see him, not “through a glass,” we shall know him, not by means of an idea. Our intellect will be in direct contact with God; nothing will come between it and God, not even an idea. The nearest we can get to it, perhaps, is to think of the idea we now have of God; then try to conceive of God himself taking the place of the idea.

That is why the very essence of the life of heaven is called the Beatific Vision — which means the seeing that causes bliss.

Just as our knowing faculty, the intellect, so our loving faculty, the will, is to be in direct contact with God, nothing coming between, God in the will, the will in God, love without detour or admixture. So it will be with every one of our powers — energizing at its very fullest upon its supreme object. And that, if you will think about it, is the definition of happiness.

But observe that all this is based upon doing something which by nature we cannot do. The natural powers of man’s intellect fall short of seeing God direct by a double limitation: as we have seen, our natural way of knowing is always by means of ideas, so that we cannot see anything direct; and God, being infinite, can never be within the hold of our natural strength, or the strength of any finite being whatever.

Putting it bluntly, the life of heaven requires powers which by nature we do not possess. If we are to live it, we must be given new powers. To make a rough comparison: if we wanted to live on another planet, we should need new breathing powers, which by nature our lungs have not got. To live the life of heaven, we need new knowing and loving powers, which by nature our souls have not got.

For heaven our natural life is not sufficient; we need supernatural life. We can have it only by God’s free gift, which is why we call it grace (the word is related to gratis). Sanctifying grace will be our next topic. Everything the Church does is connected with it, and it can be understood but cloudily if we do not grasp what it is.

Sanctifying Grace
When we come to die there is only one question that matters — have we sanctifying grace in our souls? If we have, then to heaven we shall go. There may be certain matters to be cleared, or cleansed, on the way, but to heaven we shall go, for we have the power to live there. If we have not, then to heaven we cannot go; not because we lack the price of admission, but because quite simply our soul lacks the powers that living in heaven calls for.

It is not a question of getting past the gate, but of living once we are there; there would be no advantage in finding a kindly gate-keeper, willing to let us in anyhow. The powers of intellect and will that go with our natural life are not sufficient; heaven calls for powers of knowing and loving higher than our nature of itself has. We need super-natural life, and we must get it here upon earth. To die lacking it means eternal failure.

We must look at grace more closely if we are to live our lives intelligently. Two things about it must be grasped. First: It is supernatural, it is wholly above our nature, there is not even the tiniest seed of it in our nature capable of growing, there is nothing we can do to give it to ourselves. We can have it only as God gives it, and he is entirely free in the giving. That, as we have seen, is why it is called grace; and because its object is to unite us with God, it is called sanctifying grace.

Second: Even the word supernatural does not convey how great a thing it is. It is not simply above our nature, or any created nature. It enables us to do — at our own finite level, but really — something which only God himself can do by nature; it enables us to see God direct. That is why it is called “a created share in the life of God.” That is why those who have it are called “sons of God”; a son is like in nature to his father; by this gift we have a totally new likeness to our Father in heaven.

Giving us this new life, God does not give us a new soul with new faculties. He inserts it, sets it functioning, in the soul we already have. By it our intellect, which exists to know truth, is given the power to know in a new way; our will, which exists to love goodness, is given the power to love in a new way.

We get the supernatural life here on earth. Not until we reach heaven will it enable us to see God face to face and love him in the direct contact of the will. But even on earth its elevating work has begun; it gives the intellect a new power of taking hold of truth — by faith; it gives the will new powers of reaching out to goodness — by hope and by charity (which is love).

Faith, then, does not mean simply feeling that we believe more than we used to; hope does not mean simply feeling optimistic about our chances of salvation; charity does not mean simply feeling pleased with God. All three may have their effect on our feelings; but they are not feelings; they are wholly real.

Even this first beginning is beyond our natural powers, the powers we are born with. “Unless a man is born again, he cannot enter the Kingdom of God,” Jesus tells Nicodemus (John 3:3). The supernatural life in our souls is a new fact, as real as the natural life we have to start with. The powers it gives are facts too; they enable us to do things which without them we could not do. They are as real as eyesight, and considerably more important. Without eyesight, we could not see the material world. But without sanctifying grace we should not be able to see God direct, which is the very essence of living in heaven.

Not only that. Here below we should not be sharers of the divine life, sons of God, capable already of taking hold of God by faith and hope and charity, capable of meriting increase of life. This increase of life must be realized; one can be more alive or less, and our life in heaven will differ according to the intensity of faith and hope and charity in our souls when we come to die.

We shall go on to consider these three virtues in detail. Meanwhile concentrate upon one truth: grace is not just a way of saying that a soul is in God’s favor; it is a real life, with its own proper powers, living in the soul; and he who has it is a new man.

A soul with sanctifying grace in it is indwelt by God. Here the reader may raise a question. Since every created thing has God at the very center of its being, maintaining it in existence, surely all things whatsoever are indwelt by God. In what can God’s indwelling of the soul by grace differ from that?

That first presence of God by which we exist is not called indwelling, for this word means God making himself at home in the soul, and it is not merely fanciful to think that this can only be by invitation. About the first presence we have no choice; we did not invite God to bring us into being, and it is not because we ask him that he keeps us in being. The choice is wholly his. No request of ours would move him to withdraw his presence; in the depths of hell he is there, maintaining each spirit in existence. It is a fearful thing to have nothing of God but his presence, to have existence from him and nothing more, refusing all the other gifts that the creature needs and only God can give.

But the indwelling is by invitation. If we receive sanctifying grace in infancy, the sponsor extends the invitation on our behalf; as we come to the use of reason, we make the invitation our own. At any time we can withdraw it, and God’s indwelling ceases, leaving us only his presence. The God who indwells is the Blessed Trinity. Father and Son and Holy Spirit make the soul their home, acting upon the soul, energizing within it, while it responds to their life-giving, light-giving, love-giving energy. That essentially is the process of sanctifying grace.

Faith, Hope, Charity
By it the soul has new powers — the theological virtues of faith, hope, and charity; the moral virtues of prudence, justice, temperance, and fortitude; the Gifts of the Holy Spirit.

The first three are called “theological” because they have God not only for their end but for their object. It is worth our while to pause upon the distinction. All our actions should have God for their end or purpose; that is, they should be aimed to do his will, to praise him and thank him and bring us closer to him. But they cannot all have God for their object.

The organist plays for the glory of God, the cook bakes a cake for the love of God; God is the end of their action. But he is not the object. The object of one is the organ, of the other the cake; the organist who makes God and not the organ the object of his playing will produce strange noises; the cook who makes God and not the cake the object of her action will produce an inedible mess; neither will glorify God.

The moral virtues have God for their end, but for their object they have created things — how we shall best use these to bring us to God. But for the theological virtues, God is object as well as end. By faith we believe in God, by hope we strive towards God, by charity we love God.

God is their object. God is also in a special sense their cause. They are wholly from him. By faith we have a new power in the intellect, enabling us to accept whatever God reveals simply because he reveals it. We may see it as mysterious, we may feel that it is beyond us, we may not see how to fit it in either with some other of his revealed truths or with our own experience of life.

But we do not doubt that what he says is so. By faith the soul accepts him as the source of truth. And it does so, not by its own power but his. He gives the power, not our own reasoning. He sustains faith in us. Our hold upon anything we have arrived atfor ourselves can never be surer than the mental process by which we got to it. Our faith rests upon God who initiates and sustains it.

Faith is the root of the whole supernatural life. With it come hope and charity and the rest. The soul is alive with them. To its own natural life of intellect and will, there is now added this new and higher life. The new life, like the old, is actually in the soul, as the power of sight is in the eye. And it never leaves the soul unless we withdraw the invitation.

Next we shall look more closely at hope and charity, with a glance at sin, by which the invitation is withdrawn.

Faith is directed to God as supremely truthful, hope to God as supremely desirable, charity to God as supremely good. Faith we have already glanced at; it is the simple acceptance of God as our teacher.

Hope is more complex. There are three elements in it; it desires final union with God, sees this as difficult, sees it as attainable. The nature of hope comes out more clearly as we see the two ways of sinning against it, by presumption and by despair.

Despair will not believe in the attainability, the sinner seeing himself as beyond the reach of God’s power to save. Presumption ignores the difficulty, either by assuming that no effort on our part is necessary since God will save us whatever we do, or by assuming that no aid from God is necessary since our own effort can save us unaided. The answer to both is St. Paul’s “I can do all things in him that strengthens me.”

Charity is simple again. It is love of God. As a necessary consequence it is love of all that God loves, it is love of every image or trace or reflection of God it finds in any creature. Many writers prefer the word “love” rather than “charity.” But “love” has such a variety of meanings in daily speech — including lust!  – that its use can mislead. One might tell oneself that one is committing adultery through love.

Charity is less likely to lend itself to that kind of misuse. Whatever the soul in charity loves, it loves for what of God is in it, the amount of God’s goodness it expresses or mirrors. This is true love, since it means loving things or persons not for what we can get out of them but for what God has put into them, not for what they can do for us but for what is real in thent. It means loving things or persons for what they are, and it is rooted in loving God for what he is. (This we have already noted is the strongest reason for learning what he is — that is, for studying theology.)

Supernatural Habits
Faith, hope, and charity are called habits by the theologians, and this is not simply a technicality. If we think over our natural habits, we see that there is a real change in ourselves after we acquire them, something in our very natures leading us to act in certain ways — to drink cocktails, for instance, or answer back sarcastically. We say that a given habit grows on us. Really it grows in us, becomes second nature. The theologians apply the word to any modification, whether in body or soul, which disposes us either to do things we did not do before or to do more easily or competently things we did. The skill of a pianist is a habit.

It is in this sense that the theological virtues are habits. They are really in our very souls, and they enable us to do things which without them would be impossible for us. They differ from natural habits in the way we acquire them. A natural habit is acquired gradually, as we repeat some particular action over and over again; supernatural habits are given to us in an instant by God. They differ again in the way they are lost. To be rid of a natural habit — drinking cocktails again — we must make a long series of efforts; supernatural habits are lost by one mortal sin against them. But while we have them, habits they are, in the meaning just given.

The drama of the Christian life is that, in acquiring the supernatural habits, we do not lose the natural habits. Our soul has the supernatural power to act towards God, but it has a natural habit of acting for self, ignoring God. It has the supernatural ability to make the unseen its goal, but a natural habit of being overwhelmed by the attractions of the visible. By steadily acting upon such natural habits as run counter to the supernatural we may, with our own efforts and God’s grace, bring our nature and its habits wholly into harmony with supernature and the habits that belong to it.

For all of us it is a lifelong struggle. And its scene is the will. The will is that in us which decides, and it decides according to what it loves. In obedience to God, our will is the point of contact through which the supernatural life flows to us. A mortal sin — a serious and deliberate choice of our own will as against God’s — breaks the contact, we lose the virtue of charity, supernaturally we are dead. We may still have the habits of faith and hope, which can be lost only by sins directly against them; but they are no longer life-giving. Only charity makes the soul and its habits come alive. That is why “the greatest of these is charity.”

If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.

Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

Love never ends. But as for prophecies, they will come to an end; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will come to an end. For we know only in part, and we prophesy only in part; but when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end.

When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways. For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.
St. Paul 1 Corinthians 13


Learning Catholic Time – Derek Jeter

November 10, 2011

Francisco Ribalta, (baptized June 2, 1565, Lérida, Spain—died Jan. 12, 1628, Valencia), Spanish painter who was one of the first artists to be influenced by the new realism initiated by Caravaggio in Italy. Ribalta’s use of light and shadow to give solidity to his forms made him the first native Spanish tenebroso (a painter who emphasizes darkness rather than light), and he was a major influence on later Spanish painters.

One of the things that totally blew by me in my conversion was the nature of time to a Catholic believer. The risen Christ forces a believer to confront a different notion of what time is and how we navigate through it. Paul was the first to expound upon time and faith and used many curious expressions that focused on the former. One such phrase, “in the fullness of time,” seemed to refer to God’s sending of the Son at the most propitious moment (Galatians 4:4) in human history. Some have suggested the apostle had the Roman empire in mind with its roads and common language (Greek) which helped to facilitate the spread of the gospel and the work of Paul in moving about to contribute to that dissemination.

But it is far more likely that the apostle had something more biblical and Jewish in mind when he used the phrase “the fullness of time.” For Paul was convinced that God has a plan for his creation and for human history, a plan that had been, was and was going to be part of Israel’s history and shaped by a sequence best described in the language of the prophets and apocalyptic seers that populate the Old Testament. Benedict XVI comes neatly to the point here:

The subject of the Resurrection unfolds a new perspective, that of the expectation of the Lord’s return. It thus brings us to ponder on the relationship among the present time, the time of the Church and of the Kingdom of Christ, and the future (eschaton) that lies in store for us, when Christ will consign the Kingdom to his Father (cf. 1 Corinthians 15:24). Every Christian discussion of the last things, called eschatology, always starts with the event of the Resurrection; in this event the last things have already begun, and, in a certain sense, are already present.
Pope Benedict XVI, Saint Paul

Fr. Jean Corbon, in his seminal The Wellspring of Worship refers to a “river of life” that he sees forming the flow of energies that was inaugurated by the Resurrection. A river that literally overflows time and spills into the lives of the people of God as liturgy:

On this day of birth the river of life becomes LITURGY as it spreads out from the tomb and reaches us in the incorruptible body of Christ. Its wellspring is no longer the Father alone but also the body of his Son, since this is henceforth wholly permeated by his glory. If it be true that the drama of history is the interplay of God’s gift and man’s acceptance of it, then the drama reaches its climax, and its eternal beginning, on this day, because these two energies are now joined together forever. The consent of the Son to his eternal birth from the Father completely permeates the body of his humanity.

As a result of this anointing with superabundant life Jesus rises and becomes “Christ” to the fullest possible extent. It is this covenant between his two energies, the divine and the human, that makes the risen Christ the inexhaustible wellspring of the liturgy. In the past, the river of life had been in a state of kenosis in his body, being hidden and limited there by his mortal flesh; like the first Adam, Jesus was a “living soul”. But when he rises from the tomb he has become “a life-giving spirit” (1 Corinthians 15:4).

Henceforth, in his integral humanity — nature, will, energy Jesus is alive. He is united to the Father and radiates the glory of God from his own body; being united to the wellspring he gives life (see John 5:20-21 and 26-27). The river of life can now flow forth from the throne of God and from the throne of the Lamb. The liturgy has been born; the Resurrection of Jesus is its first manifestation.

Let us not imagine this event as being a thing of the past! True enough, it occurred at one point in our history; it was an event and not a symbol. But it also occurred “once and for all”. [See Romans 6:10 and the Letter to the Hebrews passim; the phrase is used only with reference to the death and the Resurrection and Ascension of Jesus.] The events in which we are involved happen once, but never once and for all; they pass and, passing, belong to the past. The Resurrection of Jesus is not in the past, for if it were Jesus would not have conquered our death. Above and beyond its historical circumstances, which are indeed of the past, the death of Jesus was by its nature the death of death.

But the event wherein death was put to death cannot belong to the past, for then death would not have been conquered. To the extent that it passes, time is prisoner of death; once time is delivered from death, it no longer passes. The hour on which the desire of Jesus was focused “has come, and we are in it” forever; the event that is the Cross and Resurrection does not pass away.

More than that, it is the only true event in all of history. All other events are dead and will always be dead; this one alone remains. “Christ has been raised from the dead and will never die again” (Romans 6:9). He was not brought back to life in the manner of Lazarus or the daughter of Jairus or the son of the widow of Nain. These individuals began a mortal life once again and finally died for good.

In the case of Christ and him alone rising meant passing through death and passing, with the whole of his humanity, beyond death. He pierced the wall of death and therefore the wall of mortal time. This corning of the Word of life into our flesh and into the very abyss of our death alone deserves to be called an “event”, because due to it all the walls of death have collapsed, and life has sprung up in their place. The hour in which the Word with a loud cry handed over his Breath of love so that men might live is no longer in the past; it is, it abides, it lives on through history and sustains it.

This unprecedented power that the river of life exercises in the humanity of the risen Christ — that is the liturgy! In it all the promises of the Father find their fulfillment (Acts 13: 32). Since that moment the communion of the Blessed Trinity has ceaselessly been spreading throughout our world and flooding our time with its fullness. Henceforth the economy of salvation takes the form of liturgy.

When seen in this perspective, the question of the relation between celebration and life becomes secondary. The important thing is the relation of both to the paschal event that wells up at the heart of every event. In the living Christ who “is not here” but is risen and who fills all things and holds the keys of death, the heart of God and the heart of man are as it were the two heartbeats of the heart of history. There the wellspring flows.
Fr. Jean Corbon, The Wellspring of Worship

This was the radical new covenant that the biblical prophets envisioned after the years of idolatry and injustice, violence and oppression they had witnessed. They imagined a future time of true worship that would include all nations, a new era of justice for Israel and for all, an age of peace and security, wherein “the lion lies down with the lamb:”

 “A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots. The spirit of the Lord shall rest on him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord. His delight shall be in the fear of the Lord. He shall not judge by what his eyes see, or decide by what his ears hear; but with righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth; he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked. Righteousness shall be the belt around his waist, and faithfulness the belt around his loins. The wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them. The cow and the bear shall graze, their young shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder’s den. They will not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain; for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.”
 (Isaiah 11:1-9).

When this sort of vision failed to materialize, the later prophets and their heirs, the apocalyptic visionaries, imagined a radical disjunction between the present age and the age to come, an abrupt transition from the one to the other prefaced by great upheavals in normal human life and even in the cosmos itself.

The Prayer Of Jeremiah The Prophet:
Remember, O Lord, what has come upon us: consider and behold our reproach.
Our inheritance is turned over to aliens, our houses to strangers.
We are become like orphans without a father, our mothers are as widows.
We must pay for the water we drink; the wood we get must be bought.
We are dragged by the neck; no rest is given to the weary.
We have given our hand to Egypt and to the Assyrians to get bread enough.
Our fathers have sinned and are not, and we have borne their iniquities.
Slaves have ruled over us; there was none to redeem us from their hand.
We fetched bread at the peril of our lives because of the sword in the desert.
Our skin is scorched as an oven because of the violence of hunger.
They ravished women in Zion and virgins in the cities of Judah.
Princes were hung up by their hands; no respect was shown to the elders.
Young men were shamefully used and boys collapsed under the loads of wood.
The old men have gone from the gates, young men from the choirs of singers.
All joy is gone from our hearts; our dancing is turned into mourning.
The crown is fallen from our head; woe to us because we have sinned.
For this our heart has become sick; therefore our eyes have grown dim.
Because of Mount Zion that is destroyed jackals prowl all over it.
But you, O Lord, will remain forever, your throne from generation to generation.
Why do you forget us forever, forsake us for so many long days?
Restore us, Lord, to you and we shall be restored; renew our days as from the beginning.
But you have utterly rejected us, furiously angry against us.

Jerusalem, Jerusalem, return to the Lord your God.

Michael Gorman describes the following: “for Paul, the event of Jesus Christ was God’s perfectly timed means of effecting the transition from this age to the age to come, fulfilling the prophetic vision of something new and yet old:

“If anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation!”
(2 Corinthians 5:57).

But Paul saw this apocalyptic event occurring in two parts — commonly referred to as the first and second comings of Christ — with an intervening era in which the two ages overlap (1 Corinthians 10:11) and during which period the present age is already beginning to pass away (1 Corinthians cf. Romans 13:11  12). We may describe this framework, which is fundamental to understanding Paul, as follows:

  1. Apocalyptic Intervention 1: In the coming, death, resurrection, and exaltation of Jesus in the fullness of time, God has inaugurated the age-to-come, or new creation, promised by the prophets.
  2. The Current Overlap of the Ages the inaugurated new age currently overlaps with the present age.
  3. Apocalyptic Intervention 2,  In the not-too-distant future, God will act once again, beginning with the return or appearing of Jesus, to end the present age and bring the age-to-come into its glorious fullness.”

Paul said that we live in the intervening time between the first act and the second apocalyptic interventions; the present age, which he saw as “the overlap of the ages:”

“For the grace of God has appeared [Greek epephane], bringing salvation to all, “training us to renounce impiety and worldly passions, and in the present age to live lives that are self-controlled, upright, and godly, while we wait for the blessed hope and the manifestation [Greek epithaneian] of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ.
(Titus 2:11-13)

For Paul this new life of salvation in the present age is life “in Christ.” Gorman tells us that this phrase points to a central and complex dimension of Paul’s experience and theology, an experience shaped by the Risen Christ that we all experience:

Furthermore, the language can be reversed, as Paul also experiences the presence of Christ within — Christ in me/you/us (e.g., Galatians 2:20; Romans 8:10; Colossians 1:27). This is both a personal, though not private, and a corporate experience. It is also described in terms of the indwelling presence of the Spirit (e.g., Romans 8:9, 11)

 To further complicate things, Paul can also speak about life in the Spirit. For Paul, the Spirit is the down-payment on and guarantee of the fullness of the life to come (2 Corinthians 1:22; 5:5; Ephesians 1:13-14), when the final act in God’s salvation drama takes place.

Life in Christ during this overlap of the ages is to be characterized by constant careful consideration of both the first intervention and the second. That is, those in Christ experience in the liturgy that looks both back to the past events of incarnation, cross, and resurrection, on the one hand, and ahead to the future events of return, resurrection, and renewal, on the other, what has been called the Anamnesis in the Eucharistic prayer.

Gorman sees the kind of existence arising from this interpretation as bifocal — focused on two things, in two directions, so that the present becomes shaped by both the past and the future:

By “bifocal” I mean having two foci in opposite directions (that is, bi-directional), unlike bifocal glasses that permit one to focus on different objects in the same direction. To be in Christ, both personally and corporately, is to have one’s life, one’s story shaped by the two-part drama of God’s apocalyptic intervention. It is to be caught in the middle — a challenging but exciting time to be alive.
Michael J Gorman, Reading Paul

So how do we live in this Catholic Time with this bifocal perspective? Benedict XVI in his book on Paul poses the question in the light of the expectation of Christ’s parousia: “Let us ask ourselves: what are the basic convictions of Christians as regards the last things: death, the end of the world?”

  1. Their first conviction is the certainty that Jesus is Risen and is with the Father and thus is with us forever. And no one is stronger than Christ:

[Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all day long; we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Romans 8: 35-40]

for he is with the Father, he is with us. We are consequently safe, free of fear. This was an essential effect of Christian preaching. Fear of spirits and divinities was widespread in the ancient world. Today too, missionaries alongside many good elements in natural religions encounter fear of the spirits, of evil powers that threaten us. Christ lives, he has overcome death, he has overcome all these powers. We live in this certainty, in this freedom and in this joy. This is the first aspect of our living with regard to the future.

2.  The second is the certainty that Christ is with me. And just as the future world in Christ has already begun, this also provides the certainty of hope. The future is not darkness in which no one can find his way. It is not like this. Without Christ, even today the world’s future is dark, and fear of the future is so common. Christians know that Christ’s light is stronger, and therefore they live with a hope that is not vague, with a hope that gives them certainty and courage to face the future.

3.  Lastly, their third conviction is that the Judge who returns at the same time as Judge and Savior has left us the duty to live in this world in accordance with his way of living. He has entrusted his talents to us. Our third conviction, therefore, is responsibility before Christ for the world, for our brethren and at the same time also for the certainty of his mercy. Both these things are important. Since God can only be merciful, we do not live as if good and evil were the same thing.This would be a deception. In reality, we live with a great responsibility. We have talents, and our responsibility is to work so that this world may be open to Christ, that it be renewed. Yet even as we work responsibly, we realize that God is the true Judge. We are also certain that this Judge is good; we know his Face, the Face of the Risen Christ, of Christ crucified for us. Therefore we can be certain of his goodness and advance with great courage.

Another element in the Pauline teaching on eschatology is the universality of the call to faith which unites Jews and Gentiles, that is, non-Christians, as a sign and an anticipation of the future reality. For this reason we can say that we are already seated in Heaven with Jesus Christ, but to reveal the riches of grace in the centuries to come (Ephesians 2:6f.), the after becomes a before, in order to show the state of incipient fulfillment in which we live. This makes bearable the sufferings of the present time, which, in any case, cannot be compared to the future glory (cf. Romans 8:18).

We walk by faith, not by sight, and even if we might rather leave the body to live with the Lord, what definitively matters, whether we are dwelling in the body or are far from it, is that we he pleasing to him (cf. 2 Corinthians 5:7-9).

4.  Finally, a last point that might seem to us somewhat difficult. At the end of his First Letter to the Corinthians, Saint Paul reiterates and also puts on the lips of the Corinthians a prayer that originated in the first Christian communities in the Palestinian area: Maranà, thà! which means literally, “Our Lord, come!” (16:22). It was the prayer of early Christianity and also of the last book of the New Testament, Revelation, which ends with it: “Come, Lord Jesus!”

“Can we pray like this too? It seems to me that for us today, in our lives, in our world, it is difficult to pray sincerely for the world to perish so that the new Jerusalem, the Last Judgment and the Judge, Christ, may come. I think that even if, sincerely, we do not dare to pray like this for a number of reasons yet, in a correct and proper way, we too can say, together with the early Christians: “Come, Lord Jesus!”

We do not of course desire the end of the world. Nevertheless, we do want this unjust world to end. We also want the world to be fundamentally changed, we want the beginning of the civilization of love, the arrival of a world of justice and peace, without violence, without hunger. We want all this, yet how can it happen without Christ’s presence? Without Christ’s presence there will never be a truly just and renewed world. And even if we do so in a different way, we too can and must also say, completely and profoundly, with great urgency and amid the circumstances of our time: “Come, Lord Jesus!

Come in your way, in the ways that you know. Come wherever there is injustice and violence. Come to the refugee camps, in Darfur, in North Kivu, in so many parts of the world. Come wherever drugs prevail. Come among those wealthy people who have forgotten you, who live for themselves alone. Come wherever you are unknown. Come in your way and renew today’s world. And come into our hearts, come and renew our lives, come into our hearts so that we ourselves may become the light of God, your presence.

In this way let us pray with Saint Paul: Maranà, thà! “Come, Lord Jesus!” and let us pray that Christ may truly be present in our world today and renew it.”
Pope Benedict XVI, Saint Paul



Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 272 other followers