Holy Saturday has always been for me a day of subdued joy. It is not yet the day of resurrection, but we are past the time of agony; the contest has been decided, but the victor not yet announced.
The Christian’s life is one of following Christ’s pattern. Even though he was the Son of God in person, he took on himself weakness and weariness, a life of loneliness and wandering; even though we are baptized into the Trinity and have become adopted children of God, freed from the sin of our parents, we live this life in frailty and sorrow. Christ died as a sacrifice for the world’s sins, and then rose in triumph over death; we will all die in union with him, offering ourselves to God, and on the last day we will rise in the likeness of his risen glory.
But between our bodily death and the day of judgment, we will live in Holy Saturday. The world will be unaware of our victory in Christ. Our agony will be over, the time of weakness and loneliness gone, but our triumph will not yet be apparent.
Easter is when we pre-live the end of the all things. This may be one reason why so many people feel more emotion at Christmas time, which has become wrapped up with family and gifts and wreathes and trees and on and on: Christmas is more in this world, because recalls the entering of God into this our vail of tears, and it brings us the solace of Christ here with us now. Easter is more glorious in itself, and of course it commemorates something that has already happened, but Easter is more about the future. Right now we are alive in the spirit, but still dead in the flesh, as Christ was during his earthly life. Of course the risen Christ is brings the resurrection of our souls, but the fact is that our ultimate conformity to the risen Christ will come on a day whose glory we cannot yet comprehend, with a joy we cannot yet comprehend.
Today, we contemplate the end of everything familiar to us and the expectation of unimaginable glory. It is not quite sad, but not yet the exhilaration that awaits us—a few hours from now.
As I prepared for my PEAK classes earlier this month, I was struck by how rich a fare the Sermon on the Mount offers in comparison with the homilies I have heard about it. One good example is the saying about the speck in a brother’s eye (Matt 7:3-5):
Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, “Let me take the speck out of your eye,” when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.
Every homily I have ever heard on this saying reduces it to one simple point: we tend to notice others’ faults and not our own, so we should pay attention to our own faults instead of the faults of others.
True to the point of truism. But the Lord’s words are denser than that. I can spot at least three amazing truths tucked away in this short saying that go beyond the standard homily. Continue reading “Christ on the moral eye”
One of the pleasures of teaching in a comprehensive theology program is that I often have to teach outside of my zones of specialization. This spring I taught a senior-level course with lots of Catholic Social Teaching, a topic that somehow never came up in all my years of theological training. It was only my second time to teach the course, so in many ways I was learning along with my students.
This time around, I saw more clearly the many implications of the famous “principle of subsidiarity,” classically defined in Pius XI’s encyclical Quadragesimo Anno:
Just as it is gravely wrong to take from individuals what they can accomplish by their own initiative and industry and give it to the community, so also it is an injustice and at the same time a grave evil and disturbance of right order to assign to a greater and higher association what lesser and subordinate organizations can do. For every social activity ought of its very nature to furnish help to the members of the body social, and never destroy and absorb them.
This semester, students at WCC set their theology teachers a theme: the liturgy. Teachers chose topics within the theme, and students arranged the topics into a semester-long series. Just like that, the students gained for themselves a full “practicum” on the liturgy, while each teacher has only to give two or three talks. It’s a great arrangement!
Recently, I was tapped for a talk on “the theology of the Mass” or “how the Mass is a sacrifice.” You can download it here, or listen online:
Students loved the talk, but they seemed especially excited about the explanation of transubstantiation in the Q&A.
By the way, I’m wondering whether I should post more of these recordings or even start a podcast. Your feedback would be helpful.
I recently received some questions about how the family is an image of the Trinity. Hans Urs von Balthasar famously mapped the relationships in a family onto the relationship within the Trinity, such that the child in a family is seen as the proceeding love of the husband and the wife and so corresponds to the Holy Spirit who proceeds as the love of the Father and the Son. Scott Hahn picked up that outline in his popularization of Trinitarian theology. Is this a good way to talk about the Holy Spirit?
It can be difficult to dispute Trinitarian theories, because the Trinity is the deepest mystery of our faith. And within the Trinity, the Holy Spirit is arguably the most mysterious of the three persons: What does God’s “breath” or “wind” actually mean? Scripture tells us so little about him!
But our scarcity of information about the Holy Spirit is one reason I would resist describing the Holy Spirit in terms of the child proceeding from a husband and a wife. We have so very few things that we can say for certain about the Holy Spirit that each gleam of light is precious. One of the very few solid things the Church has defined about the Holy Spirit is that he does NOT proceed as a son.
When we speak of the child as the proceeding love of the husband and the wife, I think we get into difficulties on the side of marriage as well. Although beautiful and noble in itself, the union of husband and wife ultimately finds its goal and completion when it is subordinated to the good of children. Speaking of the child as though it WERE the union of husband and wife confuses the two ends of marriage to allow union (the lesser good) to gobble up children (the greater good).
All things considered, I think it best to follow the example of John Paul II. He spoke of the family as an image of the Trinity, but he kept his comparison at the level of “communion of persons.” The family is the first natural communion of persons, and so it points to even more primal Trinitarian communion. John Paul did not attempt to make the Father line up with a husband, the Son with a wife, and the Holy Spirit with a child. When you press the likeness that far, you end up in difficulties.