by Melanie Bettinelli on May 20, 2013
The Hiding Place by Corrie Ten Boom
I liked this so much better than any other Holocaust book I’ve read with the possible exception of Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning. I wish I had read this at school instead of Anne Frank. But I suspect The Hiding Place is too Christian a book to make it to most school reading lists. And that’s what makes it so very amazing.
The Hiding Place of the title refers not only to the little hidden room at the top of the house in Haarlem where Corrie and her family hid their various Jewish refugees, but even more importantly to the image from the Psalms, God is really the hiding place.
I’ve been hearing about this book for a long time. First, from my former roommate, Niamh. It was one of her favorites. But later from various other sources. Still, it was a quote Niamh posted on Facebook that made me decide it was time to finally check it out:
“He turned to look at me, as he always did when answering a question, but to my surprise he said nothing. At last he stood up, lifted his traveling case off the floor and set it on the floor.
Will you carry it off the train, Corrie?” he said.
I stood up and tugged at it. It was crammed with the watches and spare parts he had purchased that morning.
It’s too heavy,” I said.
Yes,” he said, “and it would be a pretty poor father who would ask his little girl to carry such a load. It’s the same way, Corrie, with knowledge. Some knowledge is too heavy for children. When you are older and stronger, you can bear it. For now you must trust me to carry it for you.
And I was satisfied. More than satisfied—wonderfully at peace. There were answers to this and all my hard questions—for now I was content to leave them in my father’s keeping.”
That was definitely one of my favorite moments in the book. Corrie’s father seems like such a wise man.
There is another passage a little later where he displays the same kind of wisdom that moved me even more, though. Corrie is disturbed by her first encounter with death, the baby of a poor family her mother has adopted.
At last we heard Father’s footsteps winding up the stairs. It was the best moment in every day, when he came up to tuck us in. We never fell asleep until he had arranged the blankets in his special way and laid his hand for a moment on each head. Then we tried not to move even a toe.
But that night as he stepped through the door I burst into tears “I need you!” I sobbed. “You can’t die! You can’t!”
Beside me on the bed Nollie sat up. “We went to see Mrs. Hoeg,” she explained, “Corrie didn’t eat her super or anything.”
Father sat down on the edge of the narrow bed. “Corrie,” he began gently, “when you and I go to Amsterdam—when do I give you your ticket?”
I sniffled a few times, considering this.
“Why, just before we get on the train.”
“Exactly. And our wise Father in heaven knows when we’re going to need things, too. Don’t run ahead of him, Corrie. When the time comes that some of us will have to die, you will look into your heart and find the strength you need—just in time.”
And of course Father is proved right:
In front of us the proud face crumpled; Tante Jans put her hands over her eyes and began to cry. “Empty, empty! she choked at last through her tears. “How can we bring anything to God? What does He care for our little tricks and trinkets?”
And then as we listened in disbelief she lowered her hands and with tears still coursing down her face whispered, “Dear Jesus, I thank You that we must come with empty hands. I thank You that You have done all—all—on the Cross, and that all we need in life or death is to be sure of this.”
Mama threw her arms around her and they clung together. But I stood rooted to the spot, knowing I had seen a mystery.
It was Father’s train ticket, given at the moment itself.
This book was a treasure house of riches. I definitely need to buy a copy to read again and again. I also love Father’s wisdom when Corrie has her heart broken. I love Corrie sister Betsie and how she sees the good in everything and can find a light in any darkness, even in the most brutal of the SS guards. One of my favorite scenes is when they give thanks for the fleas.
Oh if you haven’t read this one, you really, really should.
by Melanie Bettinelli on May 16, 2013
HE SUFFERED DEATH
He was a man of suffering. Yet it was our infirmities that he bore, our sufferings that he endured, While we thought of him as stricken, as one smitten by God and afflicted. Like a lamb led to the slaughter or a sheep before the shearers…he was cut off from the land of the living, and smitten for the sin of his people. (Isaiah 53:3-4, 7-8)
He suffered death. What does this mean? How can God suffer? How can God die?
He suffered death, was buried and resurrected in fulfillment of the scriptures. He had to do this for the salvation of the world. The corrected translation stating “He suffered DEATH” instead of, “He suffered, died..” makes it clear to us believers what He suffered. He suffered death. Many of us have an intimate knowledge what death looks like. A person can rage against the dying of the light or just slip away, but the result is that our loved one is no longer there. Jesus, our savior and God-man, is the ultimate example for us.
We do not have a God who cannot sympathize with our weakness. Jesus suffered the pain of the cross for all mankind. His gentle mother had to stand and watch it happen to her son:
The crucifixion began.Jesus was quickly thrown backward, with His shoulders against the wood. The legionnaire felt for the depression at the front of the wrist. He drove a heavy, square wrought-iron nail through the wrist and deep into the wood. Quickly, he moved to the other side and repeated the action, being careful not to pull the arms too tightly, but to allow some flexion and movement. The patibulum was then lifted into place at the top of the stipes, and the titulus reading “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews” was nailed into place.
The left foot was pressed backward against the right foot. With both feet extended, toes down, a nail was driven through the arch of each, leaving the knees moderately flexed. The victim was now crucified.
As Jesus slowly sagged down with more weight on the nails in the wrists, excruciating, fiery pain shot along the fingers and up the arms to explode in the brain. The nails in the wrists were putting pressure on the median nerve, large nerve trunks which traverse the mid-wrist and hand. As He pushed himself upward to avoid this stretching torment, He placed His full weight on the nail through His feet. Again there was searing agony as the nail tore through the nerves between the metatarsal bones of this feet.
At this point, another phenomenon occurred. As the arms fatigued, great waves of cramps swept over the muscles, knotting them in deep relentless, throbbing pain. With these cramps came the inability to push Himself upward. Hanging by the arm, the pectoral muscles, the large muscles of the chest, were paralyzed and the intercostal muscles, the small muscles between the ribs, were unable to act. Air could be drawn into the lungs, but could not be exhaled. Jesus fought to raise Himself in order to get even one short breath. Finally, the carbon dioxide level increased in the lungs and in the blood stream, and the cramps partially subsided.
Dr Truman Davis, published at OurCatholicFaith.org
He suffered death. Jesus, who fed the multitudes and raised Lazarus, permitted this outrageous, horrible death to happen to Himself. Even while they taunted Him, He asked the Father to forgive them. We believers do not know the eternal fate of the sinners there excepting the repentant thief. No matter what happened to those who said ‘Crucify Him!’ the days he suffered death, was buried and rose from the dead made it possible for heaven to be opened for us.
But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels, for the suffering of death, crowned with glory and honour: that, through the grace of God, he might taste death for all. Hebrews 2: 9
What are your thoughts? What else can we learn from “he suffered death”?
Priest’s Wife blogs at Fear Not Little Flock where she shares her experience of being a Byzantine Catholic priest’s wife in a country that does not expect and sometimes does not accept a married man as a Catholic priest.
Read all the entries in the Blog Series: Credo: Professing the Creed for the Year of Faith.
by Melanie Bettinelli on May 09, 2013
We learned that there is a chasm the size of the Grand Canyon between the Church’s sophisticated theology of the lay apostolate and the lived spiritual experience of the majority of our people. And this chasm has a name: discipleship. We learned that the majority of even “active” Catholics are still at an early, essentially passive stage of spiritual development. We learned that our first need at the parish level isn’t catechetical. Rather, our fundamental problem is that most of our people are not yet disciples. They will never be apostles until they have begun to follow Jesus Christ in the midst of his Church.
We learned that at the parochial level, we have accepted this chasm between the Church’s teaching and Catholics’ lived relationship with God as normative, and this has shaped our community culture, our pastoral assumptions, and our pastoral practices with devastating results. We discovered, to our surprise and dismay, that many pastoral leaders do not even possess a conceptual category for discipleship. As long as this holds true, the theology of the laity and the Church’s teaching on social justice and evangelization will remain beautiful ideals that are, practically speaking, dead letters for the vast majority of Catholics.
Forming Intentional Disciples: The Path to Knowing and Following Jesus. Dom handed me this book a while back and I’ve been reading it slowly for months. It’s the kind of book that I need to chew on, to think over. (And now, having come to the end, I think I need to re-read.) As I read a bit and then let it sit I have found its ideas percolating. I’ve found myself referring to it to help me think about other topics, other books. Weddell’s book is one of those that has drastically changed the way I see the Church and the world of faith and that in a very helpful way.
There are some things I didn’t like about the first time I read it that made it hard to get through, but the second time they seemed less important. The one hurdle I had in reading it was that much of the language felt like “inside baseball.” Weddell’s use of the term “disciple” being the primary example. I felt very uncomfortable with the word “disciple” the first time I read the book because I really didn’t understand how she was using it. As she says in the book, I didn’t really have a mental category for it and it took getting to the end to really be able to stretch my mind around it. The second read through makes so much more sense.
I do think this book is essential to the conversation about the new evangelization. It diagnoses the root problem of the contemporary American Church in rather frightening detail and then sets out a plan to address them. Weddell herself says that there are many gaps in her understanding and many questions left to answer. This book doesn’t try to set out definite answers, but rather lays out what Weddell has learned through more than a decade of her work with the Catherine of Siena Institute, a ministry whose mission is to equip parishes to form lay apostles.
Why is this book so important? Because we have failed:
Only 30 percent of Americans who were raised Catholic are still “practicing”—meaning they attend Mass at least once a month.
Nearly a third of self-identified Catholics believe in an impersonal God.[. . .] only 48 percent of Catholics were absolutely certain that the God they believed in was a God with whom they could have a personal relationship.
Recently my sister was telling me about the new parish she’d joined and how she was surprised that the pastor devoted a sizable portion of his homily to addressing some specific Protestant objections to Catholicism. When she commented on it she learned that a new evangelical megachurch was deliberately targeting Catholics at that parish, trying to lure them in. According to Weddell, they stand a good chance of being pretty successful unless the Catholic parish takes steps not just to counter the Protestant arguments but to actively nourish the spiritual maturation of the adults in the parish, to help them become intentional disciples.
In the first part of her book Weddell lays out some surprising insights into the normative experience in Catholic parishes and why the old assumptions are not longer valid.
[I really wanted to organize this blog entry and polish it up. But I’ve been sitting on it a week and still haven’t got a vision of what it should be. All I have is a bit list of passages that I marked. So I’m just going to throw up a bunch of quotes with no comment from me. Feel free to comment on any of them. These are from about the first third to half of the book. I want to write a separate post about the latter half or two thirds or whatever of the book. Later.
Anyway. I hope this book opens up some conversations. It hit a lot of nerves and touched on a lot of themes I’ve been exploring and conversations I’ve been having. But I’m in too much of a muddle right now to really do it justice. So better to just do what I can and see what happens, Right?]
What’s wrong with cultural Catholicism as a paradigm
One of the deepest convictions of evangelical culture is that every person, whether raised inside a Christian tradition or not, has a personal decision to make about whether he or she will live as a disciple of Jesus Christ. [. . .] In contrast, Catholic pastoral practice still assumes that religious identity is largely inherited and stable throughout one’s life span. [. . .] What we have taken as normative is, in fact, the far end of the “religious bell curve.”
Since the late sixteenth and early sevententh centuries, the Catholic retention strategy has been (a) childhood catechesis and (b) sacramental initiation. [. . .] Setting out to give every Catholic child a solid catechetical background was an extraordinary vision hat had never before been attempted. The endeavor was deeply influenced by a Renaissance optimism about the power of education. The assumption was that a carefully nurtured religious identity acquired in childhood would endure throughout life.
[. . .]
But the evidence suggests that what worked in the seventeeth century does not work in the twenty-first. Pew researchers found that attending CCD, youth groups, and evn Catholic high schools made little or no difference in whether or not an American Catholic teen ended up staying Catholic, becoming Protestant, or leave to become “unaffiliated.”
Our pastoral practice still operates on the presumption that although most Catholic teens vanish after Confirmation, they will find their way back when they are ready to get married and especially when they have children. One huge problem with this paradigm is that Catholic marriage rates are, in fact, plummeting.
We can no longer depend upon rites of passage or cultural, peer, or familial pressure to bring the majority back.
In the twenty-first century, cultural Catholicism is dead as a retention strategy, because God has no grandchildren. In the twenty-first century, we have to foster intentional Catholicism rather than cultural Catholicism.
+ + +
Personal attachment to Christ is normative
The majority of Catholics in the United States are sacramentalized but not evangelized. They do not knew that an explicit, personal attachment to Christ—personal discipleship—is normative Catholicism as taught time and time again by the apostles and reiterated by the popes, councils, and saints of the Church.
If a living relationship with Christ and, therefore, his Father and the Holy Spirit, does not exist, we have not succeeded in “transmitting” the faith. The faith has not been transmitted unless the Person and the relationship at the center of the faith have been transmitted. And we can’t successfully transmit the relationship at the center of the faith unless we ourselves consciously participate in that relationship.
The common working assumption that we encounter is that personal discipleship is a kind of optional spiritual enrichment for the exceptionally pious or spiritually gifted.
To the extent that we don’t talk explicitly with one another about discipleship, we make it very, very difficult for most Catholics to think about discipleship.
+ + +
Simon Peter’s “drop the net” decision is what we mean by “intentional.” From the moment he dropped his nets to follow Jesus, he was a disciple.
Intentional discipleship is not accidental or merely cultural. It is not just a matter of “following the rules.” A disciple’s primary motivation comes from within, out of a Holy Spirit-given “hunger and thirst for righteousness.”
In the twenty-first century, Catholic pastoral practice is still largely based on what could be called an “infant paradigm,” rather than am “adult paradigm.” What do I mean? We often function as though the initiation of a young child into the faith is the practical spiritual norm. [. . .] This paradigm also assumes that a baptized child will pick up the Catholic faith from the family and the parish as naturally and inevitably as he or she learns language and culture. The faith is communicated,and the child trustingly accepts and believes it. The child will inherit a stable, lifelong religious identity and practice from the family and the parish, a Catholic identity that will move seamlessly into adulthood, resulting in slow spiritual growth over a lifetime. There is little expectation of distinct internal turning points, much less of an overt “conversion” experience.
+ + +
Our problem is not that there is a shortage of vocations but that we do not have the support systems and leadership in place to foster the vast majority of vocations that God has given us. Most fundamentally when we fail to call our own to discipleship, we are unwittingly pushing away the vast majority of the vocations God has given us.
In the Catholic tradition, the word vocation is not a synonym for vocational career. A vocation is a supernatural mystery that emerges from a sustained encounter with Christ. It is a transforming, sanctifying path and work of love to which Christ calls us. A vocation builds on our natural qualities but carries us far beyond what we would imagine.
+ + +
What do you think? Have you read the book? Are you interested in reading it? You can listen to an interview with Sherry Weddell on Boston’s The Good Catholic Life if you want to get more flavor of what the book is about.
I haven’t yet got to the part that intrigued me most, the thresholds of conversion. Stay tuned.
by Melanie Bettinelli on May 02, 2013
HE WAS CRUCIFIED UNDER PONTIUS PILATE
“Christus… suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilate.”
“…upon the accusation of the principal men among us, Pilate had condemned him to a cross.”
“Jesus… was arrested, tried, and sentenced by Pontius Pilate to be scourged, and finally executed on a cross…. Many modern scholars consider … his crucifixion… to be historically certain…”
—Wikipedia, “Crucifixion of Jesus,” accessed May 1, 2013
“…he was crucified under Pontius Pilate…”
The opening phrases of the Creed plunge us into God’s mysterious nature. The creed is finite and made of words; the words drop pins in the map of the Infinite, if only to keep us from getting lost.
- “One” God means “no less, no more,” leaving unsaid the shape and structure of the Trinity.
- “Father,” familiar, stands for shadow of something more real, more fatherly.
- “Almighty” seems straightforward until you contemplate how free we are to wonder at it.
- “Incarnate,” the fleshiest term of all, contains in one word the most bewildering of the mysteries.
But then, all of a sudden, we come up against something that anyone can understand:
He was crucified under Pontius Pilate.
Here we have not an article of faith, but an article of history.
It is a news report;
if we take the long view, it is a current event.
Pontius Pilate is not just one man’s name, either.
It means a place,
Anyone who was crucified “under Pontius Pilate”
(note the passive voice)
when it was a Roman province,
ruled by Emperor Tiberius,
by the authority of its prefect,
the fifth man to hold that office,
sometime between A.D. 26 and A.D. 36.
That he was crucified under Pontius Pilate is not only our creed.
It’s also the creed of history,
the academic consensus.
The crossbeam fell into place, and the weight of it drove the tall
upright beam a bit farther into the ground
—this is the pivot-point of the creed, and the pivot-point of history,
a pin not just in our map,
but in all the maps.
That crux is fixed
there and then,
because history is something which does not repeat;
because history is nothing that can be tested or rechecked or
history is not “what happens,”
history is “what happened,”
don’t you think sometimes about him?
Behold the man,
leaving his wife in her bed,
going to his work,
dreary some days like any man’s toil;
If only he could have had that dream,
dreamed that all generations would invoke his name,
he might have been sore afraid indeed.
partly thanks to Pilate,
whose name, or part of it, is carved on a stone found in Caesarea Maritima
(DIS AUGUSTIS TIBERIÉUM PONTIUS PILATUS PRAEFECTUS IUDAEAE FECIT DEDICAVIT)
—we all know that once upon a time, men and women could approach and touch Him at will;
that once upon a time, He could not slip away into the crowd.
There was a time and place that it was all present,
incarnate just a few hours more,
a moment that the world has acknowledged ever since,
one place where the believer’s Jesus is the historian’s Galilean.
no meat in that argument, however the debaters gnaw on context.
If we can all agree on anything, it’s this:
that he was crucified under Pontius Pilate.
On this pin hangs a living drop that trembles over the dry paper,
and at any moment it may make contact,
swiftly disappear into the page,
from there to silently wick and spread outward, staining the whole.
What are your thoughts? What else can we learn from “he was crucified under Pontius Pilate”?
Erin Arlinghaus blogs at Bearing Blog
Read all the entries in the Blog Series: Credo: Professing the Creed for the Year of Faith.
by Melanie Bettinelli on April 26, 2013
This is what Adoration looks like. A dozen children, four moms, one grandmother, and an excellent priest who believes that children, yes even the youngest children, can get to know Jesus in this wonderful way. I think the oldest child here is 8. The youngest is Lucia, at 3 months, but the next youngest is a little lad who is only one month older.
We began with O Salutaris Hostia. The moms sang off of printed sheets, most of the kids just listened. But they were hearing it, soaking it in. Then Father gave a nice little talk to the kids, talking about Jesus, inviting them to listen to Him and to bring Him their thoughts and concerns. A short period of quiet and then the children talked about Jesus, explained what they had prayed about, if they wanted to. I had to take Lucy to the back to nurse her as she got quite fussy at this point.
Then a brief prayer, the prayer the little children were taught by an angel at Fatima:
My God, I believe, I adore, I hope, and I love You. I ask pardon for those who do not believe, do not adore, do not hope, and do not love You.
Then the children prayed their petitions. There was a little boy who wanted to pray for soldiers and people killed in war, and people in hospitals. Sophie had a bunch. She wanted to pray for all the people who made up their own gods instead of worshiping Jesus. She also wanted to pray for people who couldn’t walk or use their feet and were in wheelchairs and in the hospital. And for people who had died who didn’t know Jesus. She’s never spoken up before, but today she was little miss chatty. Though she hasn’t yet learned not to interrupt.
I’d like to note that mine were the only children running around all the other children stayed nicely put on the rug. Anthony and Ben did actually kneel down once or twice, but mostly they were jumping off that bottom step, kicking the pews, and being boys.
Bella and Sophie both did the thing where they lay down on the floor and kick their feet. But then they both did a passable job of kneeling at the end. And at the very end both stood in line sweetly for a special benediction.
Adoration ended with praying the Divine Praises and singing the Tantum Ergo. There was another song in the middle that I can’t remember. Finally as Father carried the Host back to the tabernacle, we sang Holy God We Praise Thy Name. Sophie’s favorite. I love that the format has room for the beautiful Latin hymns, the sense of the sacred and profound mystery ad ritual, as well as the personal and intimate. No, these kids aren’t quite ready to make a quiet Holy Hour, but they get it. They know they have spent a special time with Jesus. It wasn’t watered down for them but it was made accessible to them.
It’s probably been at least six months since the last time we went. This time I was able to see a profound difference in Ben who was especially sweet today. In the past couple of weeks he’s seemed to have turned a corner and has got over whatever it was that he had against religion and has started sometimes kneeling in church and praying along at dinner and bedtime prayers and even making the sign of the cross sometimes and who was heard to say he wanted to go to Mass to see Jesus. At the end of Adoration he declared: I like to come and see Jesus. And he was very excited about the holy card of St Teresa that he received and the pretty flowers and loved making a cross.
We got there half an hour early, I was planning to let them run off some steam at the playground behind the church but the school kids were there and there were just too many of them. My timid children preferred to go right into the church. Where they proceeded to run up and down the aisles while I nursed Lucia. They said hi to their favorite saints and admired the stained glass.
After Adoration we did a little craft, making pipe cleaner crosses. Perfect fun. Then once the school kids had cleared off the playground, we did go out and run around. And had a picnic lunch on the fly, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, strawberries, apples, raisins, cheese. Gabriel pushed Bella on the tire swing.
Then when we got home, a mystery. A picture of Blessed Teresa of Calcutta was leaning against the front step. No note or anything. Um. Ok.
And just for fun, Lucia in her car seat, happy as can be:
When Dom took Bella for a walk this morning he said it was delightful to see the world through her eyes. He saw a yard full of weeds, she said, those people are so lucky to have so many flowers. He saw a dilapidated house, she saw that it was painted a beautiful shade of blue. He saw ratty old silk flowers tossed by the wind, she saw a treasure to bring home to her sister and brothers.
by Melanie Bettinelli on April 18, 2013
FOR OUR SAKE
“For Our Sake”
The our in the Creed is a terrible temptation to me.
When people talk about the sacrificial love of Christ, I have a tendency to start doing math. Well, if it was for all of our sake, Christ saved an astounding number of people through his crucifixion. In fact, he saved more people than I can try and picture (even with Knuth Paper Stack Notation). The current population of the United States is over three hundred million. I can write that number down, but I can’t get an intuitive picture of how many people that is. And I can’t actually differentiate it from the number of people in the world (nearly seven billion) or the number of people who have ever lived, let alone the number of people who will have ever lived. It’s an unreasonable number.
Which starts to make Christ’s love feel reasonable.
And as I’m wondering all this, I’ve managed to shrink myself to invisibility in the the great throng of people washed in Christ’s blood. If we’re spreading out his sacrifice among all of us, I’m hardly redeemed by his death. Once we average it out, I can’t lay claim to more than one thorn-puncture. And, honestly, I’m more one platelet in that wound than the wound itself.
Why do I want to flinch away from my personal relationship with Christ’s suffering and death? Well, any number of reasons. Some days I want to shy away from a feeling of guilt —averaged out among us all, the marginal cost of my sin isn’t so large. And some days I just don’t want to look at the grotesqueness of Christ’s crucifixion—I feel a bit like the girlfriend of Van Gogh; what on earth can you say to suffering and sacrifice offered to you as a gift? I have to bite back a “But really, you shouldn’t have. At least not on my behalf!”
But what I received isn’t just the gift of Christ’s sacrifice and suffering, it’s the gift of His love. His love for me, personally, caused him to be willing to endure death on a cross, so that I could have the chance to participate in the perfect love he shares with our Father. If it could have happened another way, He would presumably have done that, but His actions aren’t motivated by a macabre masochism, but by an intense desire to experience the fullness of truth and telos.
It’s His boundless love that moved him to suffer death for me personally, and love isn’t diminished when it’s spread out over many people. But just repeating catechism to myself isn’t enough to cause me to stop trying to use my ‘our’ loophole to minimize the depth of Christ’s love (and my accompanying terror at having a gift I can’t repay).
If I can’t figure out how to think about infinite love spread out over infinite people, I can use that perplexedness as a way to be united to everyone else who feels simultaneously guilty and grateful for receiving such a gift. When I stand next to my my brothers and sisters in Christ and say the word “our” with them at Mass, I don’t need to stand outside them, counting up the census. I can notice that love that overwhelms us, and overwhelms our ability to comprehend its magnitude, has given me one more gift—a way to be united to every other person in the group.
What are your thoughts? What else can we learn from “for our sake”?
Leah Libresco grew up as an atheist but was received into the Church in November 2012. She writes about religion, philosophy, and more musical theatre than you’d expect at Unequally Yoked
Read all the entries in the Blog Series: Credo: Professing the Creed for the Year of Faith.
by Melanie Bettinelli on April 14, 2013
It is the condescension of the Incarnation, God’s stooping low to join us as one of us, that “blows open” the mind, introducing the human spirit for the first time to an adequate conception of God’s otherness and transcendence. What Thomas implies is this: only a reality that is not a being in the world, even the supreme being, could ever become a creature while at the same time remaining true to itself. The God who comes to join us in Jesus Christ must be a reality with a greater “stretch,” a greater flexibility, a greater power of being than we could possibly have imagined. Whatever notion one might have had of God must be discarded in the presence of the incarnate Word; even the highest titles of praise fall short of the glory revealed in the face of Christ. That God creates and governs the world, that God loves and nurtures the beings of the universe, even that God guides us to a life after death—all that was, to varying degrees, accepted and believed prior to the Incarnation. But that God would become a creature while still remaining God, that God would take on all of the “weakness of his handiwork,” feeling limitation, suffering, death itself, that was simply unimaginable before Jesus Christ. That was simply too great to be hoped for, simply too ludicrous to be believed. In Paul’s terms, “a stumbling block for the Jews and a folly for the Gentiles.”: It is in this unheard of surprise, Thomas hints, that the true revelation takes place, for it is only in this shock that we realize how marvelous God is and therefore what a transcendent destiny is open for us.
If God had not become incarnate, if God had not joined us in our creatureliness, God would remain a limited, finite good, still to some degree restricted in love. In a word, the Christian discovers in Jesus Christ that God’s being is fully ecstatic. God’s nature is to go beyond himself, to step outside of himself, to forget himself in love.
both quotes from Thomas Aquinas: Spiritual Master by Fr. Robert Barron.
*The image is a sculpture built based on a 3D digital reconstruction of the the body of Jesus based on data from the Shroud. Cardinal Seán and a group of 29 priests of the Archdiocese of Boston have traveled on an Easter pilgrimage to the Holy Land this week and this is one of the photos Dom’s colleague, George Martell, has taken as he’s documented their journey. To see more visit The Good Catholic Life’s blog coverage of the Holy Land Pilgrimage.
by Melanie Bettinelli on April 11, 2013
AND BECAME MAN
Nearly everything I love about Christianity is summed up in those words: He became a man. For us.
Before my conversion, I sometimes mused about God. If he did exist, what would he be like? Would he be a distant ruler, an autocrat who took delight in controlling puppets with his endless regulations? Or would he be the warm, fuzzy b.f.f. that some Christians conjured—the blue-eyed, neatly coiffed dreamboat who floated along beside us, making everything peachy?
Neither option was appealing. The first seemed ridiculous. If there was a God, it seemed he would want more from his creatures than staunch adherence to arbitrary rules. On the other hand, if he were too fuzzy and floaty, I wouldn’t be able to stomach it. Were these my only choices—tyrant or cotton candy vendor?
It was in ancient and authentic Christianity that I found my answer and that answer was surprisingly free of the stereotypes to which I’d cynically clung. The God of Catholicism was the source of a truth so rich, so odd, so unlikely, and so profoundly moving that when I actually grasped what it meant—that He became man for us—I could do nothing but drop to my knees.
“The only-begotten Son of God, wanting to make us sharers in his divinity, assumed our nature, so that he, made man, might make men gods.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, para. 460 (quoting St. Thomas Aquinas))
As if human existence isn’t strange enough, God decided to join us in the muck. As if He hadn’t already given us enough—in His Word as Scripture, through His guidance, by way of His prophets, and in His patient, repeated revelation—He gave us Himself. He whispered to us the most intimate Word He could speak. He became man.
Love one another as I have loved you.
What an amazing teacher He is. Like all good teachers, He knows that the best way to make His point is to get right down to the level of the student. To say, “Ah, yes, this is how you’re seeing things. I know how it looks to you, but let me show you a new way to understand.” The brilliant teacher leads by example, models the way, says, “Look! This is how I do it. You can do it this way, too. Really. You can do this.”
And became man.
How odd. And how perfect.
What are your thoughts? What else can we learn from “and became man”?
Former atheist Karen Edmisten is a convert to Catholicism and the author of After Miscarriage, The Rosary, and Through the Year With Mary. She blogs at Karen Edmisten (The Blog with the Shockingly Clever Title).
Read all the entries in the Blog Series: Credo: Professing the Creed for the Year of Faith.
by Melanie Bettinelli on April 08, 2013
This morning at breakfast Bella was busy coloring a picture of the annunciation that I’d printed off for her yesterday. When she’d finished coloring she decided she wanted to add some text. So she found her Bible story book and began to copy out the words from the story: “God sent the angel Gabriel to a little town called Nazareth…” She back to copying them out at dinner tonight (after taking off most of the day for playing) and still at it after Dom had tucked her into bed when I went in to say goodnight.
Once again I was struck at how she finds her own little ways to observe the liturgical events that mean something to her. And also how unschoolers are right, children who are allowed to follow their passions will learn well beyond any curriculum we could set them. If I’d tried to assign copywork, even something a fraction of the length, she’d have melted into a sobbing puddle. But when it was her own idea, she went at it with a will. Catechesis and art and handwriting all accomplished as well as a great satisfaction. She even pointed out to me that she’d done the floor in black and white squares just like Vermeer in his painting of the lace maker.
Something New, Something Other: An Annunciation Diptych Joanne McPortland’s reflection on similarities between artistic depictions of the annunciation and of Mary Magdalene’s encounter with the risen Christ.
There is the certain similarity of positions, although in the Annunciation it is Mary of Nazareth who turns away while the angel my kneel before her, and in the Noli me tangere Mary of Magdala falls to her knees while the Risen Christ turns slightly away. There is the tradition that both encounters occur in a garden—the walled garden (or closed room, with a garden visible beyond) of Mary’s virginity, the burial garden in which the Magdalene mistakes Jesus for a gardener—with its echoes of the reversal of the Expulsion from Paradise. Both begin with a greeting that overcomes fear, and both conclude with immediate evangelical action: Mary of Nazareth hastes to the hill country to be with her kinswoman, Elizabeth; Mary of Magdala speeds to her brothers with the good news.
There are other resonances that act like open and close parentheses. Mary of Nazareth wonders how she can be with child without ever having known the embrace of the flesh; the Risen Christ refuses Mary of Magdala’s fleshy embrace. (Neither is meant as a rejection of the embodied love by which God blesses marriages and families, but a signal that Something New, Something Other is happening here.) A filled womb, an empty tomb. The first time we hear of Mary of Nazareth in the scriptural story of Jesus; the last time we hear of Mary of Magdala.
by Melanie Bettinelli on April 04, 2013
WAS INCARNATE OF THE VIRGIN MARY
The Incarnation is “The Thing”
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God; all things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” John 1: 1-5
This has long been one of my favorite passages from the Bible. I picked it out for my Confirmation banner back in eighth grade.
It’s much harder to explain why I liked it so much. I think it comes from such a different place than anything else in the Gospels; reaching out to us from a place outside of time and human existence and yet at the same time brings us more deeply into the great mystery of God reaching down into our own history and taking on a human body, human emotions and a human nature. Really it’s a bit like the Incarnation itself – presenting the limitless to the limited, the infinite to the finite. Besides, sometimes I find my mind just completely blown by the concept that “Jesus has a body.”
“The Son of God… worked with human hands; he thought with a human mind. He acted with a human will, and with a human heart he loved. Born of the virgin Mary, he has truly been made one of us, like to us in all things except sin.” (CCC 470)
This really is a stunning concept – and rather a gritty one – that Christ took on a human body. He needed to have his diaper changed as a baby. He nursed at Mary’s breast. He was tempted. He was tired. He had to be taught things. Doesn’t it just pulverize any human conception of pride in being above menial tasks or dealing with gritty reality?
And at the same time the Incarnation is a most sacred reality, made manifest in each Sunday Mass when the congregation is instructed to bow during this part of the creed.
Fr. Robert Barron’s book, Catholicism: A Journey to the Heart of the Faith has an introduction entitled, “The Catholic Thing”, in which he explains that the Incarnation is the Catholic “thing”. This really surprised and amazed me because not only did I not have a clear sense of the unifying principle of Catholicism, but I don’t think I had never really, truly considered the question before.
Not only is the Incarnation, God becoming one of us, central and essential to our faith, but it has numerous manifestations (which Fr. Barron elucidates in his Catholicism book and DVD Series) which are critical, not only to our own faith, but to the way in which we share the faith in a world greatly in need of truth, hope and love. What this means, in a nutshell is that Christ is present to us today, not only through the historical enfleshment of Jesus in a human body and in the Eucharist throughout the ages, but also in more subtle ways, through the ages, through things like Sacred Music, Catholic art and architecture, and most especially, through other people.
This brings me to a rather interesting paradox that I find to be rather poetic and interesting. And that is that we are both supposed to find Christ in others (Matthew 25:40) and to be Christ for others (Corinthians 12)…
Christ has no body now, but yours. No hands, no feet on earth, but yours. Yours are the eyes through which Christ looks compassion into the world. Yours are the feet with which Christ walks to do good. Yours are the hands with which Christ blesses the world.
— St. Teresa of Avila
Bearing Christ to the World, Like Mary
One thing that the modern feminist movement doesn’t “get” about the Catholic faith is that the Church teaches that “the highest honor of our race” is a woman. It is Mary, who willingly first gave Christ a real human body and thus bore him into our world, who is the perfect template for our role in changing the world.
We are all asked if we will surrender what we are, our humanity, our flesh and blood, to the Holy Spirit and allow Christ to fill the emptiness… What we shall be asked to give is our flesh and blood, our daily life - our thoughts, our service to one another, our affections and loves, our words, our intellect, our waking, working, and sleeping, our ordinary human joys and sorrows - to God. To surrender all that we are, as we are, to the Spirit of Love in order that our lives may bear Christ into the world… Our Lady has made this possible. Her fiat was for herself and for us, but if we want God’s will to be completed in us as it is in her, we must echo her fiat. (Caryll Houselander, The Reed of God)
We need to be Christ to our families first. Not only does this build a foundation for the rest of our relationships and provide a “school of relationships” for ourselves and for our children, but it strengthens all of society, which is so desperately in need of the simple witness of happy, loving families.
We know by faith that Christ is in our own family; it is He whom we foster in our children. When you tell your child a story, when you play a game with your little son, you tell a story, you play a game with the Christ Child. (Caryll Houselander, The Reed of God)
Isn’t it a wonderful thing that these simple little things, like reading a story or playing a game, are good and important? When I was a young wife with two small children, there was a particular moment, that it first really hit me that: “Whatever you do to the least of my brothers you do to me,” applies to my husband and children. I stopped right then and there to bake chocolate chip cookies to surprise my husband with when he got home from work.
Of course this great concept of bringing Christ to others goes beyond our families too. I have long thought that the best and most powerful way to make our country more pro-life, is to become more pro-life people ourselves, by treating every person that we encounter with the kind of reverence with which we would treat Christ.
This reverence is a very important starting point. From it naturally follows many other things, especially the willingness to share the burdens and sufferings of others, to console them, as was so eloquently expressed by Pope Benedict XVI in his Encyclical On Hope:
Indeed, to accept the “other” who suffers, means that I take up his suffering in such a way that it becomes mine also. Because it has now become a shared suffering, though, in which another person is present, this suffering is penetrated by the light of love. The Latin word con-solation, “consolation,” expresses this beautifully. It suggests being with the other in his solitude, so that it ceases to be solitude.
This kind of love, both rooted in Christ and Christ-bearing, is a transformative, restorative love. It authenticates our beliefs to the world (think of Mother Teresa). It is a powerful weapon against relativism and despair. It is not dependent on wealth or intelligence or beauty or worldly success or peaceful life circumstances.
Only Christ-bearers can restore the world to life and give humanity back the vitality of love. (Caryll Houselander, The Reed of God)
What are your thoughts? What else can we learn from “was incarnate of the Virgin Mary”?
Read all the entries in the Blog Series: Credo: Professing the Creed for the Year of Faith.