In these few weeks’ Sunday Gospel readings, we embark on reading the Bread of Life discourse found in John 6.
Last week, we saw Jesus asking Phillip: “Where can we buy some bread to eat?”
Obviously Jesus knew that the Apostles didn’t have enough money, neither did they possess the resources to go and get bread. Jesus knows it all.
Why then did Jesus “test” Phillip? What was He testing?
He was testing Phillip’s faith. He wanted to know if Phillip would believe that Jesus could do the impossible, He wanted to test if Phillip would respond with “Lord, this is all I have — 200 denarii. Take it. All I have is Yours. I know You can work wonders.”
Likewise, Jesus is asking us to do the same. In our lives, Jesus asks us to do something that we obviously don’t have the resources to do. Sometimes He asks us questions that we don’t know the answer to. And most times, we respond in a similar Phillip-fashion and tell God, “I only have this much, how can I do what You’re calling me to do?”
But the real test is this: can we respond to the Lord and tell Him “Lord, I only have so little. But the little I have is Yours. Take it, use it, and make it profitable for Your Kingdom here on earth.”
Are there times in our lives where we are so stricken with fear that we shut ourselves off completely to God? Are there times in our lives where we are like the crowd — we who only turn to God for the miracles and wonders that He can do? We often go to God for what He can give us, but we rarely go to God to offer what we have.
“Jesus showed himself to his disciples, and after they had eaten he said to Simon Peter, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me more than these others do?’ He answered, ‘Yes Lord, you know I love you.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Feed my lambs.’” (John 21:15)
Have you ever had to repair a spoiled phone? How do you know it is repaired? Is it when it can be switched on or after it has sent and received a message? I think probably the latter — for it is one thing to have a glowing brick and another to have a working phone.
Today we see how Jesus encounters and fixes a broken relationship. St. Peter, who had denied Jesus thrice, was a broken man — for though he could function, go fishing, eat and talk, yet he probably could not bring himself to speak to nor dare to hear what Christ had to say.
And so we see Jesus come and repair the broken relationship — acknowledging him by name, asking him a question, listening to his response and tasking him with a mission — feed His Sheep.
The question for us is; which broken relationship do I need to fix? How is my relationship with Jesus? How can I improve it?
Originally published on Instagram during Paschaltide.
The Apostles heard Jesus preach about the kingdom many times and they believed this kingdom was to come before His death. It is in this context that James and John, two beloved Apostles in the inner circle of Jesus, asked to be seated at His left and right hand (Mk 10:37).
Jesus’s reply was not so much an answer but a statement that
“His kingdom will not be of this world, and that to sit by His side is something so great it surpasses the angelic orders — which they did not yet merit.” (St. Theophylact)
Influenced by human feelings, the remaining Apostles became ridden with envy and felt indignant at James and John (Mk 10:41). Jesus however, intervenes and ‘called them to Him’ (Mk 10:42), teaching that the greatest amongst them must be their servant (Mk 10:43). Jesus substantiates His statement with living proof of Himself, since He came down from Heaven to give His life for the world (Mk 10:45).
This consistent theme of the “Suffering Servant” throughout the entirety of Mark’s Gospel is something beautiful and rich with wisdom. Jesus, like Christianity today, continues to challenge worldly norms even though the Church has always been in the minority. Catholics have been the only ones consistently speaking out against the world on intrinsic evils like Abortion, Euthanasia and Contraception. An inevitable blooming Culture of Death.
Yet, while the Church continues to guard and promulgate the Truth, she will always do so from the perspective of a Suffering Servant, not a demanding tyrant. The world will always mock and hate us, but as a wise man once told me — being hated by the world is a sign that you’re in the right Church. As the Saints have echoed through the centuries, “The Truth which subsists in the Church will always be rejected by the world.”
If I were not a Catholic, and were looking for the true Church in the world today, I would look for the one Church which did not get along well with the world; in other words, I would look for the Church which the world hated. My reason for doing this would be, that if Christ is in any one of the churches of the world today, He must still be hated as He was when He was on earth in the flesh.
If you would find Christ today, then find the Church that does not get along with the world. Look for the Church that is hated by the world as Christ was hated by the world. Look for the Church that is accused of being behind the times, as our Lord was accused of being ignorant and never having learned. Look for the Church which men sneer at as socially inferior, as they sneered at Our Lord because He came from Nazareth.
Look for the Church which is accused of having a devil, as Our Lord was accused of being possessed by Beelzebub, the Prince of Devils. Look for the Church which, in seasons of bigotry, men say must be destroyed in the name of God as men crucified Christ and thought they had done a service to God.
Look for the Church which the world rejects because it claims it is infallible, as Pilate rejected Christ because He called Himself the Truth. Look for the Church which is rejected by the world as Our Lord was rejected by men.
Look for the Church which amid the confusions of conflicting opinions, its members love as they love Christ, and respect its Voice as the very voice of its Founder, and the suspicion will grow, that if the Church is unpopular with the spirit of the world, then it is unworldly, and if it is unworldly it is other worldly. since it is other-worldly, it is infinitely loved and infinitely hated as was Christ Himself. But only that which is Divine can be infinitely hated and infinitely loved. Therefore the Church is Divine.”
Jesus said to his disciples:
“This is my commandment: love one another as I love you.
No one has greater love than this,
to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.
You are my friends if you do what I command you.
I no longer call you slaves,
because a slave does not know what his master is doing.
I have called you friends,
because I have told you everything I have heard from my Father.
It was not you who chose me, but I who chose you
and appointed you to go and bear fruit that will remain,
so that whatever you ask the Father in my name he may give you.
This I command you: love one another.”
Two lines from this Gospel passage may seem contradictory at first glance:
You are my friends if you do what I command you.
I no longer call you slaves,
because a slave does not know what his master is doing.
First of all, Jesus tells us we are friends, not slaves—if we do what He commands us. Wait. Do friends normally take orders from one another? Then He says we are not slaves because we know what our Master is doing. But…do we really? At the time He spoke these words, his apostles had no idea that He was about to suffer and die (though, to be fair, it’s not like He didn’t warn them). The disciples seemed pretty clueless most of the time about what Jesus was really up to. Can we truly say that we know what our Master is doing? I think more often we feel we are flying blind, having to trust Him without really understanding what His plan is. After all, so much of our Catholic worldview is grounded in the concepts of mystery and faith.
What do we mean when we speak of the mysteries of God? Encountering mystery does not mean that we’ll never know the answers and should simply give up trying to understand. Rather, it means that no matter how deeply we study this complex truth, there will always be more layers of understanding to peel back, always something new to learn. Our human understanding is limited, but with God we can go deeper and deeper, until we are united fully with God in Heaven and can participate in His perfect understanding.
The more we plumb the depths of these mysteries, the more we grow in both understanding and wonder. But in order to get anywhere we must first have faith. We cannot grasp at this understanding for ourselves; we must draw closer to God so that He can help us see. We must trust Him. Our hearts must be open to soak in His wisdom, rather than trying to sharpen our own, which is a losing battle. Understanding the mysteries of God requires more than just intelligence; it requires divine relationship. It requires friendship with Jesus.
And Jesus offers us that friendship as a great, unmerited gift. We can begin to understand what He is doing—though it be far beyond our depth—through our love for Him. He says, “You are my friends if you trust me. And if you trust me, you will follow my commandments.” Our obedience springs from love and gratitude rather than fear and servitude. We can rest in the knowledge that we are loved and chosen, and we can return that love by recognizing Jesus in others and loving one another.
We are not mere servants; we are friends. And we are made to delight in a Love that is greater than we can comprehend. When we remain in Him, we can begin to bear the fruits of understanding, cultivated through love alone.
1. Andrea del Sarto, The Last Supper / PD-US
2. Ford Madox Brown, Jesus Washing Peter’s Feet / PD-US
Today, the Church invites us to recall the visitation of our Blessed Mother (pregnant with Christ) to her cousin Elizabeth (pregnant with John the Baptist). This visitation cannot be overlooked because it reveals to us why Catholics have always believed that Mary is the NEW Ark of the Covenant. Consider these typologies from the Old to the New:
God the Holy Spirit overshadowed and then in-dwelled the Ark (Ex 40:34) 👉 The Holy Spirit came upon Mary and the Power of the Most High overshadowed her. (Lk 1:34)
David said: “How can the Ark of the Lord come to me?” (2 Sam 6:10) 👉 Elizabeth said: “Why is this granted me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” (Lk 1:43)
David danced with all his might when the Ark arrived (2 Sam 6:13,14) 👉 John the Baptist leaped in Elizabeth’s womb when Mary arrived (Lk 1:41).
Ark remained in the house of O’bede’dom for three months (2 Sam 6:11) 👉 Mary remained three months with Elizabeth (Lk 1:56).
Unless this is all purely coincidence, one can only conclude that the Catholics are correct. Mary was designated by God to be the New Ark of the Covenant carrying the Word into the world.
We must ponder deeply in our hearts what this means. In the Old Testament, the Ark was so perfectly pure that Uzzah was struck dead just for touching it. Think about it, that was the Old Testament. All Christians today believe that the New Testament brings the Old Testament to fulfilment. Which means Mary by logic, is much GREATER than the Old Ark.
Luke further substantiates this in the Magnificat:
“My soul MAGNIFIES the Lord, ALL generations will call me BLESSED!” (Lk 1:46,48).
Friends, let us all remember that our Blessed Mother’s role is and always will be to MAGNIFY the Lord (think of a magnifying glass).
Mary does not bring salvation, but she will ALWAYS bring us closer to her Son, that we can be assured of. I can personally testify to that. Since I’ve started devotion to Mary a few months ago, I have noticed changes in my life that are incredible and irrefutably due to Mary’s intercession. And the best part? I love Jesus so much more than I ever did before!
Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it. (Mk 10:15). One of my favorite verses from the synoptic Gospels.
What does Jesus mean when He says we must be like a ‘child’? The short answer: “A child is a more complete human being than he will ever be again.”
A child possesses humility and simplicity in the fullest sense. A child has the capacity for total joy and total surrender. A child’s reactions to other people are absolute, his trust is without question or doubt. His values are true; he is untouched by the materialism of grown-up people.
To go back to childhood means that we must get back true values, instead of those that are based on materialism, public opinion and snobbery. Above all, we must regain the courage that is partly a boundless zest for living and partly an unquestioning trust in an all-powerful love.
This is exactly the type of child-like disposition we need when we “confess our sins to one another, and pray for one another” (Jas 5:16). It is no surprise therefore, that Jesus took them [children] in His arms and blessed them, laying His hands upon them. (Mk 10:16)
Deuteronomy 4:32-40, Psalm 33, Romans 8:14-17, Matthew 28:16-20
CCC 234: “The Most Holy Trinity is the central mystery of Christian faith and life. It is the MYSTERY OF GOD in himself. It is therefore the source of all the other mysteries of faith, the light that enlightens them. It is the most fundamental and essential teaching in the “hierarchy of the truths of faith.”
Just let that sink in – the Holy Trinity is the MYSTERY OF GOD Himself.
In Matthew’s Gospel, he beautifully opens up with the Emmanuel Prophecy when the Angel told Mary that her son would be called Emmanuel (God is with us). At the end of the Gospel, Jesus fulfills this by literally telling us that He (God) WILL be with us, forever till the end of time! Many people miss this, but Matthew’s Gospel concludes on Jesus’s Divinity.
It is in this context that Jesus reveals His Triune Divinic nature when He commands all His followers to Baptize in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. For Catholics, we do this every day when we make the sign of the cross. We must not forget this Great Commission whenever we call upon the Holy Trinity.
I’d like to close with a fun fact: the word ‘Trinity’ is NOT found in the Bible. Instead, the Doctrine of the Trinity was written and declared infallibly by Pope Dionysius:
“The most sacred proclamation of the Church of God, making of it the Trinity, as it were, three powers and three distinct substances subsisting in one being… [Some heretics] proclaim that there are in some way three gods, when they divide the sacred unity into three substances foreign to each other and completely separate.” (A.D. 262)
Today, (thank God for this) all Christians accept this Sacred Tradition, which was hard fought for. The Doctrine of the Trinity is a prime example of why we need to recognize the Church as an infallible interpreter and why we can’t just rely on the Bible alone. After all, Jesus did leave us a Church, not a book!
There are only two charcoal fires (Greek: anthrakia) mentioned in the whole Bible, and they are both in the Gospel of John. The first anthrakia mentioned was in the high priest’s courtyard, where the gatekeeper said to Peter, “You are not one of this man’s disciples are you?” and Peter says, “I am not.” Questioned like that two more times, Peter, now warming himself at the same fire, DENIES being a disciple of Jesus two more times (c.f. Jn 18:18, 25-27).
The second anthrakia mentioned was on the shore of the Sea of Galilee, apparently prepared by the Risen Christ (Jn 21:9). Here, the very same Peter was questioned; “Do you love me?” and the disciple now affirms his ALLEGIANCE three times.
So one anthrakia sets the threefold denial of discipleship, while the other anthrakia sets the threefold affirmation of discipleship. Coincidence? Knowing John’s Gospel, such symbology is likely not by chance. And who is to say that the association does not go back to Jesus himself, helping Peter to realize that the denier is being given a fresh start in his relationship to the Lord. This beach scenario is not only a matter of astounding forgiveness; it is also of commissioning: “Feed my lambs; feed my sheep.”
I’ve once asked a bunch of friends before – “Why did Jesus mention feeding his Lambs and then his Sheep? Like, what’s the difference?” This verse is deeply theological and the Church has the best answer: Jesus is commissioning Peter here to become not just leader of the laity (lambs); but also leader of the clergymen (sheep); symbolized through the young and mature in the flock.
Peter is given an opportunity to demonstrate the love he professed by sharing in the mission of the risen Lord. Ultimately, it is going to be a matter of being led where he does not want to go. Loving the head shepherd means obeying his commandments – even if it means becoming the first Pope, which would ultimately lead to his martyrdom.
During Religious Moral education (RME) lessons in school, the question was asked: “Do we take the Bible literally? If we don’t take the Bible literally, then does it mean that it’s not true?”
I replied inviting the students to compare the following texts:
“Looking into a patient’s eyes can provide a doctor with a wealth of information regarding your general health. Swelling or puffiness around the eyes may indicate allergies or infections or even kidney problems. Your doctor will compare both eyes and note any signs suggestive of allergies like redness, irritation or small lines that indicate persistent rubbing.”
— from a health magazine
“Look into my eyes
You will see
What you mean to me
Search your heart
Search your soul
And when you find me there,
you’ll search no more.”
— from Bryan Adams’ song Everything I Do
Is the science text true and the song text false?
I think that if an eye surgeon were to examine my corneas and say that he has seen “what I mean to him”, I would sue for malpractice.
Then again if I were to tell my wife when celebrating our wedding anniversary that “I see signs of allergies… small lines” when I look into her eyes, I would be sued for malpractice.
We concluded the lesson by saying that yes, we take the Bible literally, but according to the correct literary genre, which is dependent on the intention of the author.
Not all texts are meant to be written and understood in the same way for the same purpose.
A literal and a symbolic text are true in their OWN WAY but not true in the SAME WAY.
We concluded the lesson by pointing out that we need to use the same lens when we look at Genesis chapter one and scientific descriptions of the beginning of the Universe.
The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass was prefigured in the sacrifices of the Old Testament, which had polyvalent significance. Animal and plant sacrifices were used to atone for sins, offer thanksgiving and worship to God, and seal covenants, entering into communion with the Almighty.1 The Mass, as the true sacrifice of Calvary, is the fulfillment and perfection of all the sacrifices offered before, which could not infinitely merit as Christ did.
The first pleasing sacrifice recorded in the Old Testament is that of Abel, who was a shepherd.2 He “offered a holocaust of the firstlings of his flock to the Lord his God with true devotion and as a recognition of his subjection to the Divine Majesty,”3 in faith and integrity.4 God, Who “looks at the heart”5 and knows the interior dispositions of men, accepted his offering but rejected Cain’s. Cain, who was already a wicked sinner,6 became envious of his brother Abel and killed him.7 Thus, the first recorded sacrifice was linked with the spilling of innocent blood, the first murder in human history. Similarly, Christ the Good Shepherd humbly,8 faithfully, lovingly, and obediently9 offered Himself as the perfect unblemished Lamb of God and the firstborn of creation,10 the best He could offer to the Father, and was killed unjustly by sinners.
In the Mass, both Abel’s and Cain’s offerings are apparent, symbolizing the taking up of all creation and human history into the Divine Sacrifice which renews the earth, overcomes sin and gives us new, eternal life. Cain’s offering from the fruits of his garden is a prototype of Jewish and Catholic offerings of bread and wine, through which “we offer to God His own creation, (acknowledging) our total dependence on the Creator, (praising) His generosity and the goodness of His gifts.”11 Like Cain’s offering, which was obtained through farming the land with the sweat of his brow,12 ours is procured through the concerted work of human civilization.13 Abel’s worthy offering is discernible in what the offerings of us unworthy sinners, the offerings which cannot merit salvation by themselves, are transformed into—the perfect sacrifice of Christ the Paschal Lamb, Who is both the Divine Gardener and the Good Shepherd of souls.
The second significant sacrifice was that of Noah. His family and representatives of each animal species were saved by the shelter of the Ark he built. After surviving the cataclysmic inundation which washed the world clean of sin, he built an altar upon reaching dry land and offered holocausts to God.14 Holocausts are sacrifices “in which the whole victim was consumed by fire upon God’s altar, and no part was reserved for the use of priest or people.”15 God was pleased with Noah’s offering and made a covenant promising never again to eliminate humanity with a flood, and commanded his family to “increase and multiply, and fill the earth.”16 Similarly, upon Jesus’ resurrection from the dead after immolating Himself to the last drop of His Precious Blood which purifies mankind of sin, He offered Mass as a todah or Jewish thanksgiving sacrifice for His conquest of death as well the deliverance of His people from drowning in sin.17 A todah “begins by recalling some mortal threat and then celebrates man’s divine deliverance from that threat.”18 Before breaking the bread at Emmaus, Jesus explained how the Scriptures pertained to His Passion.19 “Both the todah and the Eucharist present their worship through word and meal. Moreover, the todah, like the Mass, includes an unbloody offering of unleavened bread and wine.”20 Rabbis prophesied that at the coming of the Messiah, all sacrifices would cease except the todah, whichwould continue eternally.21 At the end of each Mass we are commanded to go forth and spread the Good News, so that all nations may be baptized and the children of God multiplied,22 and saved in the Ark of the Barque of Peter.
God is infinitely pleased with Jesus’ wholehearted sacrifice, which established a New Covenant saving mankind from the eternal effects of sin.23 St Anselm wrote that “Christ could have redeemed us by spilling a single drop of His precious blood. Divine justice could have been appeased, man’s fall and all our subsequent sins—from Cain’s slaughter of Abel to the mass murder of Europe’s Jews—could have been blotted out by the blood Jesus shed… at His circumcision.”24 However, “it may be that Jesus so emptied Himself to show the immensity of His charity, to give us a tantalizing peek at the secret love that fuels the Trinity… Christ would undertake no minimal intervention, no frugal-but-fair exchange of a drop of the God-Man’s blood for the billion petty squalors we pile up every day. Instead, He overwhelms us, explodes our sensibilities, and offers us in the Cross an appalling spectacle that thousands of years of contemplation can never exhaust.”25
Thirdly, the sacrifice which Abraham was called upon to make of his only son Isaac is a prototype of the sacrifice of God’s only Son. Abraham is depicted as a faithful servant of God, obeying His call to leave his family and homeland for a foreign country where God promised to make of him a great nation;26 God said: “In thee shall all the kindred of the earth be blessed.”27 Abraham frequently offered animal sacrifices to God, building altars in various places,28 and made a covenant with God in this manner.29 Finally, God tested his fidelity by commanding him to offer his beloved Isaac as a holocaust on Mount Moriah.30 Although Abraham had waited many years for God to fulfill His promise of giving him progeny so this was a very confusing and heartbreaking command, he placed God first and obeyed Him unquestioningly: “And he took the wood for the holocaust, and laid it upon Isaac his son.”31 In so doing, he became an enduring example of utmost fidelity, and God blessed him for his obedience, renewing His promise. Furthermore, Abraham’s words to Isaac, “God will provide Himself a victim for a holocaust, my son,”32 became prophetic of Jesus’ sacrifice.33 Jesus was completely obedient to the Father’s will,34 entering into the family of mankind and establishing a holy people for God through His ministry and death upon the wood of the Cross. “In fact, the site where Jesus died, Calvary, was one of the hillocks on Moriah’s range.”35 In the Mass, the People of God proclaim Christ’s death,36 remembering God’s everlasting fidelity and pledging their faithfulness in return. In the sacrificial meal, “the consumption of what belongs to God, the sitting at the table of God, is the sign of friendship and communion with God.”37
Fourthly, the Eucharist (literally, “thanksgiving”) takes after the thanksgiving sacrifice of bread and wine offered by the priest-king Melchizedek of Salem (a toponym meaning “peace”) upon Abraham’s victory in battle.38 Christ the Prince of Peace, King of the Heavenly Jerusalem,39 likewise offers bread and wine as His body and blood, a thanksgiving sacrifice for His triumph over sin and death. The scriptures identify Christ as “a priest forever in the Order of Melchizedek,”40 contrasting His unbloody sacrifice of bread and wine with the animal sacrifices of the Levites, which ended with the destruction of the Temple.41 As St Paul wrote: “If then perfection was by the Levitical priesthood, (for under it the people received the law,) what further need was there that another priest should rise according to the order of Melchizedek, and not be called according to the order of Aaron? …There is indeed a setting aside of the former commandment, because of the weakness and unprofitableness thereof.”42 Unlike the sacrifices of the Levites, “the sacrifice of Melchizedek was a universal priesthood, not the privilege of a particular caste.”43 Christ’s sacrifice as the Paschal Lamb was foreshadowed by the daily Levitical sacrifices of lambs,44 but far surpassed them, wholly accomplishing what they only did in part: atonement for the sins of all mankind. He continues to offer His sacrifice through priests of every nation.
Finally, the Passover sacrifice and meal is the prime archetype, the Jewish tradition which Christ transformed into the Eucharistic celebration.45 “Just as God, on the eve of the liberation of the people of Israel from the slavery of Egypt, instituted the Passover as a memorial of His wondrous deeds in the Exodus, so Jesus gave us a memorial to this wondrous event on the eve of the sacrifice of His life. This established a new unbreakable covenant relation between God and man, a relationship of love, friendship, and remission of sin… What the Lord does here… is to engage in prophetic action. In anticipation Christ prefigures what will happen on the Cross, namely, the one and perfect sacrifice where He will offer Himself for the salvation of many.”46 Moreover, “the apostles have to be involved in this sacrificial meal, since it took place for their sake… They have to consume these gift offerings.”47 The Passover is not a mere memorial of the Exodus, but “the foundation event of the Jewish nation” is “made present and actual in a very real sense in the course of the liturgy.”48 It is “a living memorial, one filled with the reality of that which it commemorates.”49 Likewise, in the Mass, we “recall and relive” Christ’s “‘exodus,’ His passing over from this world to the Father, the foundation events of the New Israel.”50
Christ is the new Passover Lamb, Whose blood saves His people from death. “For that innocent lamb without spot was a figure betokening our Savior Christ, the very innocent Lamb of whom Saint John the Baptist witnessed: ‘Ecce agnus Dei qui tollit peccata mundi’ (Lo, the Lamb of God which taketh away the sins of the world),51 by whose immolation and sacrifice on the cross, and by His holy body received into ours as that lamb was into theirs, His faithful folk should be delivered out of thralldom of the devil’s dominion.”52 “According to the Gospels, Jesus did not finish the Last Supper. At least, He did not finish it in the Upper Room.”53 He finished it by His death.
Mankind’s sins—original sin and personal sin—separate us from God, rendering us incapable of offering right worship.54 “Burdened by our sins, we cannot approach God and live.”55 God, being an infinite Being and infinitely Good, Holy and Just, is infinitely offended by sin. Only Christ the God-Man was and is able to offer a pure sacrifice which infinitely and eternally atones for the sins of men.56 The sacrifices of the Old Testament could not make infinite satisfaction for sinful humanity; Christ alone is the ultimate scapegoat.57 The Sacrifice of the Mass may be described as a reversal of the Old Testament sacrifices, because “here the sacrifice is no longer brought by mankind to God, as in the Old Testament and in non-Christian religions; it is rather God Himself who ‘offers Himself up’ in the person of His Son to mankind.”58 Christ is both Priest and Victim, offering an eternal sacrifice.
The sacrifice of Christ is continued in the sacrifice of the Mass because it “keeps its memory alive and applies its fruits,”59 enabling the faithful who live after the time of Christ’s earthly ministry to participate in His eternal sacrifice and receive the graces which flow from it.60 In the Mass the historical events of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection are made present to us and “transform our very being much beyond what psychological remembrance is capable of.”61 Furthermore, the Mass is more than the commemoration and re-presentation of the Passion: “In the Eucharistic celebration the whole Pasch of Christ is present, that is, His incarnation, passion, death and His resurrection, glorification and the descent of the Spirit”—the whole “mystery of salvation.”62 Moreover, the Mass is eschatological, a taste of future glory as we share Christ’s life and participate “in the eternal life of the Triune God,”63 the endpoint of salvation. “The Eucharist continues the Incarnation… To say that in the Eucharist the bread and wine remain what they are but acquire a new signification would contradict the logic of the Incarnation. Christ was not simply a prophet who pointed out the way to the Father; He was the way to the Father. He did not just communicate the truth about God, He was the Word of God. The believer comes to the Father, not by the way and the truth that are signified by Christ, but through Christ Himself, Who is the Way, the Truth and the Life.”64 The Mass is a foretaste of Heaven,65 and the highest form of prayer conforming us to Christ, allowing us to participate in His saving work.
The sacrifices of the Old Testament all point toward the Sacrifice of Christ, the cause of mankind’s salvation. In the Mass, the sacrifices of Abel, Abraham and Melchizedek are explicitly mentioned in the Roman Canon,66 and the Passover Lamb is evoked by the Agnus Dei. “If… Holy Scripture tells us that these offerings were a sweet odor before God, the reason was because they were types of the sacrifice of Christ the Lord.”67 The Mass enables all generations of Catholics to participate in the one Sacrifice of Christ, and applies His saving merits to individual souls.
When I was young, my mother would bring me to the library every week. Because I was a voracious reader, she did not worry whether I would read the books I checked out. But she did make a rule to help me choose the right books, and it has stuck with me ever since.
I could check out as many “meat and potatoes” books as I wanted, but only one or two “twinkies.” The difference is clear, the substantial books that would help my mind grow were “meat and potatoes” and the books that would simply entertain my mind were “twinkies.” This simple rule has helped me discern my media consumption throughout my entire life. Thanks to this rule, I am careful not to feed my mind a regular diet of sugar and partially hydrogenated oils.
Many reports focused on what they considered to be Pope Benedict”s “claim” that there were no animals in the stable at the birth of Jesus. Interestingly, the only line which could possibly be construed as a claim that there were no animals at the birth is: “In the Gospel, there is no reference to animals at this point.” Pope Benedict goes on to affirm the likely presence of animals, but simply notes that the Gospel makes no mention of them. This is hardly news-worthy.
I have a sneaking suspicion that one reporter skimmed the book, picked a few things to sensationalize and the rest of the media outlets copied and pasted. I would chalk this up to the norm in mediocre media coverage and move on, but I am particularly saddened in this instance because most people, including many faithful Catholics, will likely stop at reading the news articles. Many people feel they do not have the time to read this or any of the books the pope has written. They are scholarly, dense with profound ideas, and hence, for some, difficult to wade through.
But, of all three books in the series, this is the one to start with! It is short and very readable. Many people have told me they don”t read the pope”s books because they are “not smart enough.” But I am convinced that anyone can read Pope Benedict – he has a very clear and straightforward style of writing. You just have to read slowly!
And this book is worth a slow read – one that savors, digests and metabolizes.
For me, this book and the others in the series, have been very enlightening, especially in understanding how one can read Scripture in the modern world with reason and faith. In the world of exegesis, or interpretation of Scriptural texts, the historical critical method is king. This method focuses on the historical origins of a text and compares them to other texts written at the time. This is a valid way to approach Scripture, one that the pope himself approves of, but if used exclusively and not in union with faith, it can drain Scripture of its life. Reading some modern exegetes is like dissecting a dry bone, it is all reason and “fact” based conjecture. Rather than applying reason that is lifted on the wings of faith, much of modern exegesis falls straight to the ground, like a dull, uninspiring rock.
Unfortunately, accepting the historicity of much of the Gospel is laughable in some of these circles and simple faith is seen as naive. In his book, Pope Benedict makes it clear that simple faith is not laughable. At one point, he writes strongly: ” what Matthew and Luke set out to do, each in his own way, was not to tell “stories” but to write history.” He also defends the historicity of the miracles of the virgin birth and Jesus” resurrection with strong words: “These two moments – the virgin birth and the real resurrection from the tomb – are the cornerstones of faith. If God does not have power over matter, then he simply is not God.”
Throughout the book, Pope Benedict responds to current trends in Scripture scholarship and modern thought in a way only he can. With humility and grace, Benedict opens up the Gospel both faithfully and reasonably. Using the Church Fathers, modern and age-old scholarship, his own exegesis and personal, prayerful reflection, Pope Benedict presents the infancy narratives in a way that is comprehensible, reasonable, historically-based, and at the same time faithful and inspiring.
It is a rare feat, and one that faithful Christians will be learning from for years to come.
So, come on – do your faith a favor – and get a few extra copies for friends.
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