All posts by Ed Wills

In Persona Christi

From the very beginning of the Mass to the end, the priest acts in persona Christi. By this, it is understood that the priest is not acting as his own person, but as the person of Christ. It is Christ, not the priest, who affects the Sacrament. The priest is empowered by the Church through apostolic succession to celebrate the Mass, but it is Christ who makes the miracle.

“Christ is always present in his Church, especially in her liturgical celebrations. He is present in the Sacrifice of the Mass not only in the person of his minister, ‘the same now offering, through the ministry of priests, who formerly offered himself on the cross,’ but especially in the Eucharistic species [of bread and wine]. By his power he is present in the Sacraments so that when anybody baptizes, it is really Christ himself who baptizes. He is present in his word since it is he himself who speaks when the holy Scriptures are read in the Church. Lastly, he is present when the Church prays and sings, for he has promised ‘where two or three are gathered together in my name there am I in the midst of them.”

“Christ, indeed, always associates the Church with himself in this great work in which God is perfectly glorified and men are sanctified. the Church is his beloved Bride who calls to her Lord and through him offers worship to the eternal Father.” . . . which participates in the liturgy of heaven

“In the earthly liturgy we share in a foretaste of that heavenly liturgy which is celebrated in the Holy City of Jerusalem toward which we journey as pilgrims, where Christ is sitting at the right hand of God, Minister of the sanctuary and of the true Tabernacle. With all the warriors of the heavenly army we sing a hymn of glory to the Lord; venerating the memory of the saints, we hope for some part and fellowship with them; we eagerly await the Savior, our Lord Jesus Christ, until he, our life, shall appear and we too will appear with him in glory.” CCC; ⁋ 1088-1090

How are a priest and deacon different?

Priests and deacons are both ordained ministers of the Gospel. However, their service to the Church is quite different.

The deacon’s ministry originated in the Acts of the Apostles to serve the Church in many practical ways.

The Twelve called together the entire community of disciples and said, “It is not right for us to neglect the word of God in order to wait on tables. Therefore, brethren, we direct you to select from among you seven men of good reputation, men filled with the Spirit and with wisdom, to whom we may assign this task. We will then be able to devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.”

The entire community found this proposal to be acceptable, and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit, together with Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicholas of Antioch who was a convert to Judaism. They then presented these men to the apostles, who prayed and laid hands on them. Acts 6:2-6 NCB

A deacon, therefore, is a servant of the Church. Like the priest, he is an ordained clergy. However, his functions are limited and somewhat analogous to those of a Protestant minister. He:

  • Preaches
  • Baptizes
  • Marries
  • Buries
  • Ministers to the sick
  • Offers service to the poor

A priest is ordained to serve in persona Christi. He performs all the ministries of a deacon. But additionally, he celebrates the Eucharist and pronounces absolution.

What Holds the Mass Together

From the first days of the Church following the descent of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost, believers gathered for Mass daily. “They devoted themselves to the teaching of the apostles and to the communal life, to the breaking of the bread and to the prayers.” Acts 2:42 (NAB)

This fourfold pattern of worship continues to the present day. In each Mass, believers gather to listen to the writings of the Apostles in the gospels and their epistles. We come together in fellowship: greeting one another, discovering needs for assistance and prayer, and sharing our lives with one another. We celebrate the breaking of the bread, that is, the Eucharistic Feast. And, we pray for one another.

Over the last 2,000 years, the celebration has become more organized. We call this organization of worship liturgy. However, liturgy is not something cold and detached. Liturgy is an act of worship. The Greek word, liturgia, is translated “the prayers” in the verse quoted above.

In ancient Greece, ‘liturgy’ described a voluntary service to the state. In the Church, it has come to mean our service of worship to God. In the Mass, we gather for the Liturgy of the Word (reading of and reflection on Scripture) and the Liturgy of the Eucharist (the re-enactment of the sacrifice of Christ proclaimed in his Last Supper, experienced in his Passion and made present in each Mass.) Above all, the Eucharist is a celebration of thanksgiving, which is what the word ‘eucharist’ means. It is thanksgiving for the saving act of Christ by which we are redeemed from eternal death and made friends of God.

From the beginning, Christians have celebrated the Eucharist and in a form whose substance has not changed despite the great diversity of times and liturgies. It is because we know ourselves to be bound by the command the Lord gave on the eve of his Passion, “Do this in remembrance of me.”

We carry out the Lord’s command by celebrating the memorial of his Sacrifice. In so doing, we offer to the Father what he has himself given us: the gifts of his creation, bread and wine. By the power of the Holy Spirit and by the words of Christ, these gifts become the Body and Blood of Christ. Thus, Christ is truly and mysteriously made Present.

The Eucharist is a sacrifice of thanksgiving to the Father, a blessing by which the Church expresses her gratitude to God for all his benefits, for all that he has accomplished through creation, redemption, and sanctification. Eucharist means first of all “thanksgiving.” CCC ⁋ 1356-1357, 1360

True Christian Doctrine

Very early in the history of the Church confusions and disagreements were plentiful regarding the nature of true Christian doctrine. We see this even in the New Testament epistles written by the Apostles as they tried to clarify the true teachings of our faith. After the death of the Apostles, those trained by them and appointed to lead the Church into the future continued the task of keeping the faith true to the teaching of the Apostles. Bishop Irenaeus worked hard to keep Christianity true to the teachings of the Apostles. He was trained and appointed by Saint Polycarp who was himself trained and appointed by St. John the Evangelist. In this excerpt from his work, “Against Heresies” he explains the true Christian doctrine with great clarity and precision.

 

The Lord, coming into his own creation in visible form, was sustained by his own creation which he himself sustains in being. His obedience on the tree of the cross reversed the disobedience at the tree in Eden; the good news of the truth announced by an angel to Mary, a virgin subject to a husband, undid the evil lie that seduced Eve, a virgin espoused to a husband.

As Eve was seduced by the word of an angel and so fled from God after disobeying his word, Mary in her turn was given the good news by the word of an angel, and bore God in obedience to his word. As Eve was seduced into disobedience to God, so Mary was persuaded into obedience to God; thus the Virgin Mary became the advocate of the virgin Eve.

Christ gathered all things into one, by gathering them into himself. He declared war against our enemy, crushed him who at the beginning had taken us captive in Adam, and trampled on his head, in accordance with God’s words to the serpent in Genesis: I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed; he shall lie in wait for your head, and you shall lie in wait for his heel.

The one lying in wait for the serpent’s head is the one who was born in the likeness of Adam from the woman, the Virgin. This is the seed spoken of by Paul in the letter to the Galatians: The law of works was in force until the seed should come to whom the promise was made.

He shows this even more clearly in the same letter when he says: When the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman. The enemy would not have been defeated fairly if his vanquisher had not been born of a woman, because it was through a woman that he had gained mastery over man in the beginning, and set himself up as man’s adversary.

That is why the Lord proclaims himself the Son of Man, the one who renews in himself that first man from whom the race born of woman was formed; as by a man’s defeat our race fell into the bondage of death, so by a man’s victory we were to rise again to life.

 

Fishers of Men

When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at the knees of Jesus and said, “Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man.” For astonishment at the catch of fish they had made seized him and all those with him with fear. Also, James and John, the sons of Zebedee, who were partners of Simon were awestruck. Jesus said to Simon, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men.” Luke 5:8-10

I was raised in the Methobapticostal tradition that emphasized the concept that Jesus had given us a job to do. Go into all the world and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. When you read the Acts of the Apostles that is exactly what they did. Peter and Paul carried the gospel into the Roman provinces of Northern Africa, Persia, Asia Minor, Greece and the Italian peninsula. Thomas carried the gospel into Chaldea and as far as India. Tradition has Joseph of Arimathea taking the gospel to the Celts of the British Isles. Of the apostolic churches, it was only the Roman Catholic Church that continued the apostolic zeal to carry the gospel into regions of China, Japan, Polynesia, and the Americas.

But culturally there is a different attitude toward evangelization today. Early Catholic priests like Junipero Serra lived to evangelize the Native American population. But as immigration brought thousands of Catholic immigrants into this country, the Catholic Church in America made a conscious decision to avoid evangelization. When the first seminary was established in Baltimore the bishops decided to not have any classes on evangelization as it might hurt the very fragile relationship between Catholics and Protestants.

Today, there is a pervasive attitude that religion doesn’t matter. You can be Jewish, Christian, Buddhist, Muslim, Animist, or Atheist. It doesn’t really matter as long as you don’t hurt anyone. Evangelization is viewed as being rather rude. Recently, an evangelical missionary was killed trying to preach the gospel to an isolated tribe in the Indian Ocean who were protected by law from contact with the modern world. Rather than being hailed as a martyr, he was denounced as a criminal and those who assisted him were imprisoned.

I see this as an over-correction of the evangelical attitude of the 19th and early 20th century, in which preachers and missionaries taught that converts must become like them, embrace American and European cultural mores and beliefs to be Christian. Or else, they were all simply going to hell. Even within Christian nations like ours Catholics generally believed the Protestants were going to hell and Protestants believed the Catholics were going to hell. Being raised protestant I can tell you that various groups of Protestants were convinced other Protestants were going to hell. Even many Southern Baptists believed the Northern Baptists were going to hell and I presume vice versa. Since few today even believe there is a hell, the whole impetus for evangelization seems to have gone away.

According to a recent Pew Research Group Poll, the most popular religious group for Americans under the age for 40 is “None.” Now, as in the days of the Apostles, we need to take the call to be fishers of men seriously.

To understand what Jesus was calling Peter and the apostles, and us for that matter to do when he said, “I will make you fishers of men,” we must look at how Jesus fished for souls. How did Jesus evangelize?

  • He went about doing good and teaching others to do good.
  • He healed the sick and delivered those who were oppressed.
  • He called all people to live lives of authentic faith.
  • To be accepting and not judgmental.
  • To extend mercy and not condemnation.
  • To extend assistance to the poor.
  • To visit the lonely.
  • To encourage the fainthearted.
  • To build faith and belief in him, the Son of God.

That is evangelization, Jesus’ style. Let’s not think about saving the world right now. Let’s just think about saving ourselves. Do we dare ask ourselves the question, “How authentic is our faith? Do we experience the love and peace Jesus promised? Especially in the Eucharist? Do we invite others to share in our joy?”

Many Catholics see our faith as a religion of guilt. God as an angry judge which we try to imitate. Like the Islamic morality police, we sit comfortably in our certainty of rightness as we avoid, judge and condemn those who do not fit in or measure up. Mass is an obligation, not a healing fountain. If that is how we see our religion, no wonder we don’t invite others to join in. Perhaps, we think we are doing them a favor.

We come to mass. We sing, we pray, we receive the bread and the wine, but do we recognize it is the Holy God who is in our midst that drives us cry “I am a sinful man,” as Peter did? Are we sufficiently moved by what we experience here to take Jesus outside to our family, friends, co-workers, associates and bring them the gospel of Christ?

Jesus calls us to be fishers of men.

Why? Faith in Christ properly understood does not bring guilt and fear but delivers from guilt and fear ushering in the forgiveness, freedom, and healing of Christ. If we have experienced forgiveness, freedom and healing then we should be compelled to invite those we love to experience the same. A phrase heard repeatedly in the Gospels is “Come and see.” Too often we think evangelization is telling people that they are wrong. They need to clean up their act and come to church. But evangelization is simply directing people to Jesus. “Come and see.” You don’t need to clean up your act to meet my expectations or anyone else’s. Invite Jesus into your problems, your weaknesses, your failures. Let Jesus be Master. Let Jesus be Lord. “Come and see.”

How do we do that?

  1. First, by caring.
  2. Second, by listening.
  3. Third, by praying.
  4. Finally, by inviting.

When it becomes evident to your friends and coworkers that you care about them, they will start taking off their Facebook face and start sharing with you, their struggles. Take time to listen. Give compassion as Jesus did. Pray with them and for them. Invite them to come to mass with you. “Hey, I’m going to mass at___ this weekend. How about I pick you up. We can go to mass then I’ll take you to lunch/dinner and we can talk about it.” What if they say, I’m not Catholic? Well, tell them you actually don’t have to be Catholic to attend mass. What if they say, “I’m Baptist, or Methodist.” “Do you attend church? Where do you go? I bet we can find a service time there that doesn’t interfere with my mass time. I’ll go to mass and still pick you up and go with you to your church?” Yes, it will not hurt you to go to church twice in the same day for the sake of your friend. And if you are able to help a fallen away Baptist become an on fire, fully saved, holy rolling Baptist you have done good for the Kingdom of God. It is not about church membership. It is about connecting hurting people with Jesus who alone can heal their pain.

God calls from his throne, “I love you. Will you take my message of love to a hurting world?”

I think we want to see God on his golden throne, judging the world, giving those who irritate us their comeuppance. We get confused because in this fallen world God’s throne is a cross. His crown is a weave of thorns. His scepter of iron is a nail driven through his hands and feet. And his judgment is “Father, forgive them. They don’t know what they are doing.”

Are we willing to share in that throne? To be a fisher of men, we must be willing to make personal sacrifice in the effort. It cost Peter and Paul their lives. If you are going to be the gospel to the lonely, it will cost you some time. You will sacrifice some convenience.

We can evangelize our world not because they might go to hell, but because they are already in their personal hell of their own making, and you can be the one who can show them a way out.

The voice of the Lord is calling from his throne, “Whom can I send? Who will go for us?” Will we answer, “Here I am. Send me.”

What do you want most out of life?

We begin our relationship with God when we reach out to him not for what we want from him, but for his sake alone. For the sake of his presence. For the sake of his name. We abandon our selves to love God for who he is.

 

Our relationship with God is to be so intensely loved by Jesus in our unworthiness, that his love makes us worthy.

 

You have counted us worthy to stand in your presence and minister to you. Eucharistic Prayer of Hippolytus 250 ad

 

Who or what do you love above all else? God is love, and for our love to be true, it must find its source ad its sustenance in God.

 

Jesus to me is honey in the mouth, music in the ear, a song in the heart. Bernard of Clairvaux

 

The true measure of loving God is to love him without measure. Bernard of Clairvaux

 

Marilyn Monroe is a tale of sadness as she repeatedly left those she loved behind to pursue her number one love of worldly fame. I do mention the tragic story of Marilyn Monroe to judge her. Surely her life of enduring an abusive step-father and being raised in an orphanage as well as a dozen foster homes left an injured soul, not knowing how to find healing. At sixteen she married a sailor during the second world war, but caught the eye of a photographer who offered fame and fortune. She divorced her husband to pursue her modeling and acting career. Her career was indeed the stuff of legend. Beginning as a pinup model she became the sex symbol of the 1950s. She starred in 29 films and became a cultural icon. During her career she married twice, first to baseball great, Joe DiMaggio and later to playwright, Arthur Miller. However, both marriages dissolved as she kept returning to fame and applause. Eventually she died alone by committing suicide.

 

Jesus asked the question, “What do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul?” Mark 8:36

On Loving God

Bernard of Clairvaux wrote a commentary on the Song of Songs as well as the book, Loving God in which he wrote: there are four degrees of love:

  • Love of self for self’s sake.
  • Love of God for self’s sake.
  • Love of God for God’s own sake.
  • Love of self for God’s sake.

 

These four degrees of love are a journey through which we discover the true love of God.

 

The first degree is the human condition. It is where we all begin our journey. We love ourselves. We want our toys. Others exists as a means of giving us attention, affection, and a sense of significance. We use others for our own purposes. We enter relationships only for what we can get out of them not for what we can give. I have met with many married couples on their way to divorce. One common theme I hear is “He/she no longer meets my needs.” That is a sure indication they are living in the first degree of love, seeking self-satisfaction and not sacrificially giving themselves to the other.

 

This is not as the precept ordains but as nature directs: “No man ever yet hated his own flesh” (Ephesians 5:29). But if, as is likely, this same love should grow excessive and, refusing to be contained within the restraining banks of necessity, should overflow into the fields of voluptuousness, then a command checks the flood, as if by a dike: “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.” Bernard of Clairvaux. On Loving God

 

The second degree is basic religion. We love God only for what we can get from God. We go to church and receive the sacraments so we can go to heaven. We look down on those who do not measure up to our religious standards. We are very public in our religious practice because we want others to think of us as good god-fearing people. We seek positions of control in our religious group so our authority over others can make us feel good about ourselves. Surely, God is taking notice of how good we are and how much we do for him. These were the Pharisees of Jesus’ day who did all the religious thing right but didn’t recognize God when he was at their dinner table.

 

His goodness once realized draws us to love Him unselfishly, yet more than our own needs impel us to love Him selfishly. Bernard of Clairvaux. On Loving God

 

The third degree of love is true faith. We love God for who he is, not what he can do for us. We go to church to worship, to pray, to seek fellowship with other so we can discover ways to help them. We volunteer for the jobs no one wants. We are servants as Christ was a servant. Our prayer life is characterized by worshiping God for his goodness and his character. We pray for the needs of others. We give our own needs to God as well, but always seeking God’s will in our lives, not our own. “Thy will be done.”

 

No longer do we love God because of our necessity, but because we have tasted and seen how gracious the Lord is. Bernard of Clairvaux. On Loving God

 

The fourth degree of love is empowering gratitude. We are grateful to God the good and the bad we see in ourselves. For our gifts as well as our weaknesses. For our successes as well as our failures. We are grateful to God for our relationships, even those we find difficult. We go to church to give thanks God for his limitless goodness and love, to truly participate in the Eucharist of the Mass. Our gratitude releases the power of God in our lives and the lives of others. We see miracles follow us, but few notice. That is okay because we live only to please God alone and in secret.

 

I would count him blessed and holy to whom such rapture has been given in this mortal life, for even an instant to lose yourself, as if you were emptied out and lost and swallowed up in God, is no human love; it is heavenly. Bernard of Clairvaux. On Loving God

God is Love

Most of us are aware that God loves us. However, that does not adequately express the truth that God is Love. Because love is not something God does. It is who he is. His entire nature is love. He always views us and all people and all things through love. He cannot see us in any other way. God cannot get mad at us or disappointed in us and stop loving us. He is love and always relates to us as love.

 

St. Thomas Aquinas is considered by many to be the greatest scholastic of the Middle Ages. In 1273, on the feast of St. Nicholas he was celebrating Mass when he had a spiritual experience that so affected him that he ceased all writing, leaving his Summa Theologiae unfinished. Brother Reginald was his secretary to whom he had dictated much of his work. He was troubled over Thomas’ sudden decision to quit writing. Thomas told him, “I can write no more. I have seen things that make my writings like straw.”

 

Thomas never described what he saw or experienced during that mass. However, we do know that afterwards he took to reading and rereading The Song of Songs. As he lay on his deathbed, his last request was to have someone read to him the Song of Songs as he passed into eternity. It seems to me that St. Thomas received a revelation of the love of God, and in the light of that revelation, nothing else mattered.

God’s love for us is sometimes compared to a father’s love, other times to a mother’s love. Christ is sometimes referred to as our elder brother. But more often, Jesus is presented as our bridegroom. No wonder a love song often aptly expresses our relationship with him.

That relationship is described in the book, Song of Songs. It opens with the bride speaking.

Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth—
for your love is more delightful than wine.
Pleasing is the fragrance of your perfumes;
your name is like perfume poured out.

Then the groom speaks
“How beautiful you are, my darling!
Oh, how beautiful!”

The bride adores her bridegroom.
“Like an apple tree among the trees of the forest
is my beloved among the young men.
I delight to sit in his shade,
and his fruit is sweet to my taste.
Let him lead me to the banquet hall,
and let his banner over me be love.
Arise, come, my darling;
my beautiful one, come with me.”

The bridegroom adores his bride.
“My dove in the clefts of the rock,
in the hiding places on the mountainside,
show me your face,
let me hear your voice;
for your voice is sweet,
and your face is lovely.”

Together
“I am my Beloved’s, and You are mine.”

What a beautiful expression of our relationship with Christ. He loves us so much that the died for us. And we love him with all of the life he has given us.

We live in a society in which people are afraid to make a commitment. Especially a lifelong commitment. Who knows what the future holds? It is easier to play it safe and keep permanence at arm’s length.

We can be afraid of losing ourselves in the power of love, especially God’s love.  The truth is we find our true selves in the power of God’s love.

Three Fiats

A common expression in the Latin Scriptures is the word, “Fiat.” It is usually translated, “Let it be,” or some variation. On the surface, it appears a form of acquiescence, a reluctant acceptance. However, in reality, it is a channel of great power.

 

The first instance in Scripture is in the first chapter of Genesis. God spoke space, time, and the universe into existence with the command, “Let there be light.” Fiat lux.

 

Another fiat we are all familiar with is the affirmation of the Blessed Virgin given to the angel Gabriel at the Annunciation. “Let it be done to me according to your word.” Fiat mihi secundum verbum tuum. And at that moment, God became Man.

 

A third fiat I offer for reflection is spoken by the priest during the Mass. “Let these gifts of bread and wine become for us the body and blood of you dearly beloved Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. The wording varies between Eucharistic prayers, but the understanding remains the same as the traditional Latin mass, Fiat ut nobis Corpus et Sanguis dilectíssimi Fílii tui Dómini nostri Jesu Christi. And common elements of bread and wine are transubstantiated into the body, blood, soul and divinity of our Lord.

 

Fiat, of course, is not a magic word. It will not reveal secrets or win a lottery for us. However, when spoken sincerely in accordance with the perfect will of God, it releases the power that created the universe and brings the natural world into submission to its Creator. That is the power of surrender.

 

How often in life do we find ourselves confounded and in need of a miracle? That miracle awaits us in the act of our will and the power of our speech. Fiat mihi secundum voluntatem tuam Domine. “Let it be done to me according to your will, O Lord.” We too often miss the miracle because we want it on our terms. We want God to submit to our will and purpose like a magician for hire. But when we, by act of will and word, offer ourselves in submission to God, we receive His miracle. Perhaps we desire deliverance but receive martyrdom instead. Perhaps we want physical healing but receive redemptive suffering instead.

 

We do not know the road God has for us, but submission means we trust him without reservation. We do know that the God who loves us so much that he suffered and died on a cross for us has chosen a road that leads us to salvation, fulfillment, and joy. Let us trust God enough to offer him our fiat, and watch the miracle happen.

Focus on the Subtle

When I was a small business consultant, I would often discuss the essential practice of focusing on the important and not only the immediate. To be certain, the immediate requires our attention. However, if all we do is focus on the immediate, the important will grow to a critical mass that threatens to destroy the business venture.

Similarly, in the spiritual life, we must learn to distinguish between the subtle and the apparent. If we focus only on the apparent, we will miss the gentle, leading of God’s Holy Spirit and find ourselves trapped in legalism and external forms.

As Elijah discovered, God’s voice is always heard in the still, small voice. (1 Kings 19:9-18) The accuser shouts in the apparent, encouraging pride in the individual and dissension in the body of Christ. The accuser resides in that form of godliness that denies its power. (1 Timothy 3:1-5)

So how do we focus on the subtle?

Jesus taught us to retire to our inner sanctum and pray to our Father in secret. (Matthew 5:6) By this Jesus is directing us to have a private prayer life that is characterized by quiet contemplation of God and inner gratitude towards God.

Jesus condemned the act of proudly proclaiming prayers in public so that our piety would be noticed by those around us. The issue Jesus is warning us of is not praying in public. He often prayed in public. But he steers us away from ego, vanity and pride. Prayer (public or private) should arise from our humble submission to God’s will and word.

In our inner sanctum of quiet stillness, we can shift our attention away from the cares and concerns that threaten to plunge us into the abyss of fear, doubt and inadequacy. We turn full-faced into God’s mercy, love, provision, and power. God is our supply and in him we lack nothing. Our cup overflows with God’s goodness. In Christ, there is no need of desire for ego, vanity or pride.

It is so easy in our complex and busy lives to feel anxious and overwhelmed. But we will never find peace in trying to accomplish everything others try to burden us with. It is only in silencing the world and focusing on the subtle presence of God who never leaves or forsakes us that we will find the help and strength we need.

So, in the midst of our turmoil, let us all pause, take a deep breath, and bring our focus on the subtle presence of God. Let us hear his still, small voice in the sound of silence. And let us move forward with the words of Jesus in our hearts, “In this world you will have trouble. But be of good cheer. I have overcome the world.” John 16:33