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On Christ’s Invitation to Chaos

Water is chaos. Water is death, disorder, ugliness, and confusion. As Holy Scripture teaches us, after God had made the heavens and the earth, the earth was, in its primal state, covered in water and “darkness was upon the face of the deep.” Yet, above these primordial depths fluttered the Spirit of God and by His Word He drew Creation from the waters.

The opening of Holy Scripture presents us with a pattern of God pulling order from disorder, life from death, and beauty from ugliness. As He pulled our world from the waters, so too will He pull salvation from chaos and death time and time again.

Remember the narrative of Noah’s Ark, and how God, in His anger, recalled the primordial waters of Creation to once again retake the face of the earth. Death, chaos, and destruction reigned. Yet, God again in His mercy drew forth salvation from the watery depths and humanity was made anew with Noah and his family.

Remember the narrative of the infant Moses laid upon the waters of the river Nile. As Noah had his Ark, so too did Moses have his basket—and what should have been his death became his salvation. For Pharaoh’s daughter drew him forth from the waters and named him Moses—meaning “to draw out.” His name, of course, is prophetic—because as he was drawn out from the Nile, so too will he draw Israel out of Egypt. Yet, once again water appears as death, as Israel becomes trapped on the banks of the Red Sea—but God turns what should have been death into life by allowing Israel to cross.

Note as well the fate of the Egyptians who were swallowed up in a watery death—a warning to us all of what happens if we attempt to navigate the chaos of this life without God.

We could also speak of how the waters of the Jordan River stood between Israel and the Promise Land or how Jonah, in his disobedience, was cast from his ship into waters and swallowed by a beast of the sea.

The entire pattern of God drawing forth salvation from the waters is perfected in the baptism of Jesus Christ. For here there is no ark or basket, but rather the very instrument of death itself—water—is made the tool of salvation. We are submerged in the baptismal waters to show our death with Christ, and, as God pulled forth Creation from the primordial waters of Genesis, so too are we drawn forth as new creatures in Jesus Christ. As St. Thomas Aquinas reminds us, Christ was not baptized to become holy, but to make the waters holy for us. God enters into death and the instrument of that death becomes the portal of our salvation.

This ancient symbolism of water representing chaos and death gives new insight into the ministry of our Lord Jesus Christ—we may recall His first miracle of turning water into wine or His later miracles of walking on water and rebuking the storm at sea. We may even start to understand why, when He cast the demons into the pigs, the demons drove the animals to be drowned in the waters. Time and time again, Holy Scripture uses water to demonstrate the authority of Jesus Christ over chaos and death.

Here, let us stop and ask: Why is any of this important to today’s Gospel? Well, have you ever wondered why Jesus chose fisherman for His first disciples? Why not choose carpenters like He and his earthly father? Why did He choose fisherman? To understand, we must apply the lessons learned since Genesis: that the waters represent a formless, primordial chaos.

For our Lord tells His first disciples, “Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men.”

He is not inviting His disciples to comfort or safety. For if one is going to be a fisherman, one must be upon the open waters. As God drew forth Creation from the formless depths of our primal earth, so too does He now invite His disciples to join Him in drawing forth a new Creation from the chaos of this world.

He calls them to be “fishers of men,” because as a man draws a fish out of the sea and into the boat, so too do the disciples of Christ draw souls out of the chaos of this world and into the Catholic Church. This is our calling. Our Lord asks us to endure the chaotic, stormy seas of this life for the sake of those souls who are still lost amongst its churning depths.

We must hear his call. We are to be “fishers of men,” and we will be in the chaos but not of it—we are called to draw souls out of the death of this life into the new life of Jesus Christ. We bring order to chaos, light to darkness, and hope to despair.

Our Lord has made the call—He has asked us to be fishers of men.

May we answer the call and “push out into the deep” to rescue souls from the watery chaos of this world.[1]

    [1] In the first reading from Isaiah (Is 8:23—9:3), the song of praise is from those souls drawn into the safety on the new Ark, the Catholic Church. It is not unremarkable that the road glorified is the “seaward” road. The second reading from St. Paul (1 Cor 1:10-13, 17) against divisions is a warning to not the chaos of the world enter the Church any more than a fisherman allows the waves of the sea into his boat. Finally, see Into the Deep: A Biblical Study on Chaos & Discipleship for a more in depth treatment of the allegory of water as chaos.

Baptism of Desire and Sacramental Character

The Church has traditionally taught that the desire for baptism, whether explicit or implicit, saves.[1] Yet, someone may ask, “If that person doesn’t receive the sacrament of baptism, is that person ‘fully Catholic’”?

If by “fully Catholic” one means “getting to heaven,” then the answer is yes. However, if by “fully Catholic” one means receiving the character/seal of baptism, then the answer is no. The Catechism teaches that the desire for Baptism “brings about the fruits of Baptism,” but “without being a sacrament” (CCC 1258). Since the character is only communicated through the sacrament (CCC 1121), it follows that the desire for Baptism does not communicate the sacramental character or seal.

What’s the significance of this? For this life, it simply means that the person wouldn’t enjoy the “rights within the Church” to participate in aspects of the life of the Church, such as the sacraments (CCC 1269). The character/seal is ordered to making the baptized “share in Christ’s priesthood” and constituting them as “a member of the Church according to different states and functions” (CCC 1121). Or, as Aquinas puts it, it gives a person the right “to do or receive something pertaining to the worship of the priesthood of Christ.”[2]

Concerning the afterlife, this lack of the character might not have any significance at all. The Church only definitively teaches that the seal remains at least until death.[3] Even if the character does remain in heaven, which is the general theological opinion,[4] the only implication would be that the souls that didn’t have it would experience beatitude in a lesser degree than those that did have it. But that’s not a problem because every soul will experience different degrees of beatitude in heaven depending on their state of charity.

Regardless of whether the seal remains, the important thing is that the baptism of desire does indeed save. And in that sense every soul in heaven is “fully Catholic.”   [1] For the Church’s teaching on the explicit desire for Baptism, see The Council of Trent, Canons on the Sacraments in General, Can. 4; Decree on Justification, Chap.4; Catechism of the Catholic Church, par. 1259; Cf. Aquinas, Summa theologiae [ST] III, q. 66, aa. 11-12; q. 68, a. 2. For the Church’s teaching on the implicit desire for Baptism, see Catechism of the Catholic Church, par. 1260. [2] Aquinas, ST III, q. 63, a. 6, ad 3. [3] See Ludwig Ott, Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma (St. Louis, MO: B. Herder Book Company, 1957), 335. [4] See Ibid.

Make a Resolution to Love

As the new year begins and many of us make resolutions, some concrete and realistic, others perhaps less so, the words of Jesus may be especially discouraging: “You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Mt. 5:48). Our Lord is not addressing, of course, economic, academic, or aesthetic perfection. In other words, the Christian life does not demand that we become rich or supremely intelligent or beautiful. Instead, Jesus is speaking of moral perfection, a natural and supernatural integrity of life and action. But even if we have narrowed our focus, this command of Jesus may seem unreasonable, and an unreasonable command is no real command at all. The good news is that the heights of holiness can indeed be reached with God’s gracious help. Were Christ asking us to pull ourselves up by our spiritual bootstraps, the command would indeed be impossible. Enlivened and empowered by God’s grace, however, a life of holiness is within our grasp.

What does this life of holiness entail? St. John Paul II reflects on the biblical answer to this question in his encyclical Veritatis splendor. Though human life can be complicated and convoluted, the life of holiness requires, above all else, something simple: love. But this word is often distorted today, becoming very much like the squishy, vapid resolutions I mentioned above. Love is reduced to a feeling, an emotional state, and thus reduced to something turbulent and temporary. When Jesus speaks about love, on the contrary, it is something mighty, something profound, something worthy of animating one’s life.

For St. John Paul II, as for the entire Christian tradition, looking to Jesus shows us the path to love. I would like to draw out three essential elements of love. First, love (for example, the kind of love we find in virtuous friendships) involves willing the good of another person, and not for any perceived benefit but for the person’s own sake. While there is an emotional love proper to the human person, the love we are speaking about is fundamentally an act of the will. And because it is such an act, it is not subject to the turbulence and transience of emotional love. Consider a married couple that has been together for 40 years. There are bound to be days when the married persons do not feel in love with each other. Nevertheless, though emotional love when rightly ordered is a good that often accompanies voluntary love, voluntary love transcends emotional love. This distinction between love as an emotion and love as an act of the will explains at least part of the complex reality of divorce in the United States. Because couples confuse the two, often they base a relationship on emotional love and neglect the higher, more stable form of love that wills the good of the other in season and out of season, “in sickness and in health,” as the marriage rite puts it. When emotional love ceases or, God forbid, turns to hatred and resentment, the relationship itself crumbles.

Where do we see this aspect of love exemplified in the life and teaching of Jesus? We see it in His entire life of obedience to the Father for our sake, but especially in His willingness to die on the Cross. In the garden, our Lord’s humanity cannot help but cry out, “Let this cup pass from me.” And yet, because His human will is perfectly conformed to the Father’s will, He can say, “Yet not my will but Thine be done” (Mt. 26:39). It is a fearful thing to approach death, and thus we see Jesus in distress and sweating blood (Lk. 22:44). But He never ceased to will the good of our salvation. We too are meant to show our love for God in acts of obedience: “If you love me, keep my commandments” (Jn. 14:15). For those of us who are still imperfect, our emotions may militate against this saying of our Lord. After all, sometimes I may not feel like obeying God; it may feel better in the short term to pursue bodily pleasure and eschew higher goods. For those who have reached the heights of holiness, however, there is an emotional joy that accompanies obeying God. Love, as St. John Paul II says, is ready to live out the loftiest challenges. In this life, love is inextricably tied to self-giving, to sacrifice. Here, of course, Jesus is the ultimate example. We are not called merely to a fleeting emotional love but to a love that endures all for the sake of the beloved.

The second aspect of love is that it is always founded and grounded in the truth. This is quite a controversial point today, since many people have so absolutized the human will that whatever one chooses to pursue, to love, is justified, and justified precisely because one has chosen it. On the contrary, to state the matter simply, we cannot love what we do not know. Notice the respective implications of these opposing views. For the modern view of love, founded in an understanding of the will as an unfettered power to choose anything whatsoever, might makes right. The person with the stronger will inevitably wins out. Consequently, human relationships devolve into power struggles, occasions to manipulate and dominate others. For the classical view, founded in an understanding of the will as an intellectual appetite, all human beings are beholden to the wise and good order that God has created. Our willing must be in conformity with the truth about the created order, about the human person, and about God. When we choose something contrary to the truth, we are not free persons but slaves. The truth really does set us free (Jn. 8:32), and set us free primarily so that we may love as we ought.

Jesus’s entire mission hinges on the fact that we cannot love what we do not know. That is why the Son, the only one who has seen the Father (Jn. 1:18), comes to reveal the Father to us, so that we may know and love Him. This is our Lord’s prayer: “O righteous Father, the world has not known thee, but I have known thee; and these know that thou hast sent me. I made known to them thy name, and I will make it known, that thy love with which thou hast loved me may be in them, and I in them” (Jn. 17:25-26). It is our job, then, whether by reflecting on the order of creation or on God’s word in Holy Scripture, to know God so that we may love Him all the more.

Finally, love should be focused on God; one should love God above all else. This is true even on the natural level, though for fallen man this is impossible without God’s healing grace. It is all the truer on the supernatural level, since we are called in charity to love God firstly and others, even sinners, out of love for God. God is to be loved above all else because love is of things lovable, and God is most loveable. Indeed, He is goodness itself and the source of all that is good. “God is love,” as 1 Jn. 4:8 says. When we place God first, when we love Him above all else, our other loves become rightly ordered. We are able to love our spouses, our children, our neighbors, our coworkers better when these loves are enlivened and perfected by love of God. Jesus Himself says when asked which is the greatest commandment, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And the second is like it, You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” The entire Christian life hinges on these two commandments. They are inseparable, yes, but one is higher: love of God.

As we continue in this new year, let us remember with St. John Paul II that at the heart of our moral and spiritual journey toward perfection is love, a love that wills the good of the other for his own sake, a love that is always grounded in the truth, a love that is ordered first and foremost to the God who is love. Even if our other resolutions fall through, fulfilling the commandment of love will make this year fruitful.

Happy Is He Who Prays with the Church

Each feast day, St Therese of Lisieux's sister Pauline would read Dom Guéranger’s commentary on the Mass in order to prepare their minds and hearts. St. Therese writes of this experience, “How I loved the feasts! You knew how to explain all the mysteries hidden under each, and you did it so well that they were truly heavenly days for me.”[1]

Dom Prosper Guéranger was a Benedictine monk who was instrumental in the liturgical reform movement of nineteenth-century France as well as the re-founding of Solesmes Abbey. Our Lady of Clear Creek Monastery is part of the Solesmes Congregation and thus becomes a connection between our diocese and the history of Solesmes and Dom Guéranger.

Founded in 1010, the Benedictine Priory of Solesmes was closed in 1791 as a result of the anti-Church sentiment in France during the French Revolution. In 1831, the buildings of the priory which had survived the French Revolution but had fallen into neglect were put up for sale by the French Government. Father Guéranger realized that if he could buy the priory it would be an opportunity to re-establish the Benedictine religious life to France, which was all but lost after the French Revolution. With the help of private donations, Guéranger succeeded in acquiring the Priory of Solemnes, and in 1832, religious life under the Rule of St. Benedict returned to France. “Prayer which had been interrupted, has been resumed.”[2] In 1837, the Priory of Solesmes was made the Abbey of Solesmes and Dom Prosper Guéranger was appointed Abbot and Superior General of the Benedictines of the Congregation of France.

One of the results of re-establishing the Benedictine monastic tradition to France was that Dom Guéranger was able to focus on studying the Church’s liturgy. In 1841, Guéranger began writing The Liturgical Year, a fifteen-volume work which explains day by day the liturgical year of the Church, including the Mass and the Divine Office. After the devastating years during and following the French Revolution, in order to strengthen the Church, he recognized the importance of the laity having an understanding of the liturgy.

But this liturgical prayer would soon become powerless were the faithful not to take a real share in it, or at least not to associate themselves to it in heart. It can heal and save the world, but only on the condition that it be understood. Be wise, then, ye children of the Catholic Church, and obtain that largeness of heart which will make you pray the prayer of your mother.[3]

His hopes were that he could revitalize the Church by introducing the faithful to the prayer of the Church with explanations and commentaries. As seen in the life of St. Therese of Lisieux, The Liturgical Year made it possible for the lay faithful to come to know the prayer of the Church and participate in the liturgy in a way that was impossible before it was published. Saints read his work and were strengthened in their faith. Thus it is fitting that in 2005 the cause for beatification was opened for Servant of God Dom Prosper Guéranger.

Dom Prosper Guéranger died in 1875 after finishing nine of the fifteen volumes. The other six volumes were completed by another Benedictine monk under Dom Guéranger’s name. The Liturgical Year is today still considered one of the most important resources for liturgical studies. In addition to studying the liturgical year, Dom Guéranger also helped to recover and re-establish the use of authentic Gregorian Chant in the liturgy. May his work inspire us even today as we seek to draw closer to our Lord in the sacred liturgy. [1] Àngel de les Gavarres, Thérèse, The Little Child of God’s Mercy: Her Spiritual Itinerary in the Light of Her Autobiographical Manuscripts (Washington, D.C.: ICS Publications, 1999), 23. [2] Dom Prosper Guéranger, O.S.B., The Liturgical Year: Volume I – Advent (New Hampshire: Loreto Publications, 2000), 5. [3] Guéranger, The Liturgical Year: Volume I – Advent, 5-6.

The Nativity of our Lord: The Feast of this Awe-filled Mystery

As we prepare for the coming of Christ at Christmas, it seemed proper to spend some time with a few sermons of Saint Peter Chrysologus, particularly those dealing with the seasons of Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany.

Saint Peter Chrysologus was appointed Bishop of Ravenna by Pope Sixtus III sometime around the year 431. At the time, Ravenna was the political capital of the Western Roman Empire. According to the legend of the saint, the people of Ravenna had chosen their own man for bishop, but St. Peter the Apostle and St. Appolinaris had come to Pope Sixtus III in a vision and instructed the Pope to name Peter Chrysologus bishop. St. Peter Chrysologus was known for his gifts as a shepherd to his people and a preacher. Of his writings, there are 176 sermons attributed to his name as well as a pastoral letter written to the heretic Eutyches. It is believed by scholars that of the 176 sermons, 168 are authentic writings of the saint. He was proclaimed a Doctor of the Church in 1729 by Pope Benedict XIII.

Known as the Doctor of Homilies, as a preacher, St. Peter’s sermons were short. “He frequently stated that he did not want to weary his hearers by speaking too long.”[1] Even though his sermons were short, they were beautifully crafted and theologically rich, earning him the epithet Chrysologus or “the Golden Orator.” While Christianity had become the official religion under Emperor Theodosius the Great in the late fourth century, there were still many at the beginning of the fifth century who were influenced by the old pagan religions. The focus of most of St. Peter’s sermons was the moral conversion of his flock. That he truly cared for the people he shepherded, desiring their conversion and salvation, is apparent in the sermons. “You are my life, my saving encouragement, and my glory. Therefore, I cannot suffer you to remain ignorant of what God gave me to know.”[2] His passion was for saving souls and his gift was to be able to share in his sermons difficult theological ideas in an easily understood and pastoral manner.

Preface II in the Eucharistic prayer for the Mass of the Nativity of the Lord could be a description of St. Peter Chrysologus’ thoughts present in his sermons regarding the Nativity. It is a beautiful prayer reminding us that in Christ’s Incarnation there is not only the salvation of man, but also the restoration of the unity of all creation which was disordered with the first sin in the Garden.

For on the feast of this awe-filled mystery,

though invisible in his own divine nature,

he has appeared visibly in ours;

and begotten before all ages,

he has begun to exist in time;

so that, raising up in himself all that was cast down,

he might restore unity to all creation

and call straying humanity back to the heavenly Kingdom.[3]

With this prayer in mind, we can now turn to the words of St. Peter Chrysologus and see how he expresses the same themes in his homilies.

For Peter Chrysologus, the Incarnation of Christ is always an awe-filled mystery. This mystery begins with the Annunciation. In one of his sermons, Chrysologus ponders the meaning of the Archangel Gabriel’s words when he proclaims to Mary, “the Lord is with thee.” “‘The Lord is with Thee.’ Why is the Lord with you? Because He is coming to you not merely to pay a visit, but He is coming down into you in a new mystery, that of being born.”[4] In another sermon the great saint asks us to turn our thoughts to the mystery of Christ in Mary’s womb.

Then ponder this in your heart: Can you fathom the mystery of the Lord’s birth? Do you deserve to enter into the resting place of that bosom, where the heavenly King, with all the full majesty of His divinity, finds His repose? Ought you, as a rash witness with human eyes and bodily senses, to gaze on the virgin’s conceiving? Can you, as a bystander, contemplate with daring reverence the very hands of God fashioning for himself the holy temple of a body within the womb of the mother?[5]

In Mary’s womb God became flesh and blood and shared in our human nature while Mary became the tabernacle of Our Lord and the Mother of God.

In the Gospel of Matthew, we are told that “Jesus was born in Bethlehem, of Judea, in the days of Herod” (Matt. 2:1). Both Bethlehem and Judea are particular places, both of which can be visited today, while “in the days of Herod” allows us to pinpoint a particular time in human history. As Preface II states, at Jesus’ birth God appears visibly and enters into time. St. Peter Chrysologus expresses it beautifully when he says,

He who made man from undefiled earth, without any process of birth, He Himself by being born fashioned His human nature from an undefiled body. The hand which with dignity raised earth to our image also with dignity assumed flesh for our restoration.[6]

That Christ assumes flesh for our restoration is a direct reference to the Fall in the Garden.

The first man, Adam, the father of the race, the origin of all posterity, lost by his sin the good of nature, the freedom of his race, and the life of his offspring…. Thus it is that Christ was born to elevate those prostrate in an earthy seed up to a heavenly nature.[7]

In Christ’s Incarnation it is not just man who is restored, but all of creation is restored as well. In his sermons there is a cosmological view in which all of creation celebrates the coming of our Savior.

So, what God commands an angel relates. His spirit fulfills it and His power brings it to perfection. The virgin believes it, and nature takes it up. The tale is told from the sky, and then proclaimed from all the heavens. The stars show it forth, and the Magi tell about it. The shepherds adore, and the beasts are aware. As the prophet testified: "The ox knoweth his owner, and the ass his master’s crib." [8]

All of creation participates and celebrates the Nativity of our Lord.

As we prepare for the coming of Christ this Christmas, let us remember that it is part of the mystery and beauty of the Church, that the same truth preached during Advent and Christmas by St. Peter Chrysologus in fifth century Ravenna, is the same truth our pastors will preach to us on Christmas day. “Today, Christ, who is the King of peace, has come forth with His peace and routed all discord, banished dissensions, and dissipated conflicts.”[9] May we all experience the peace of Christ who routes discord and dissipates conflicts this Christmas.

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On Christ’s Invitation to Chaos

Water is chaos. Water is death, disorder, ugliness, and confusion. As Holy Scripture teaches us, after God had made the heavens and the earth, the earth was, in its primal state, covered in water and “darkness was upon the face of the deep.” Yet, above these primordial depths fluttered the Spirit of God and by His Word He drew Creation from the waters.

The opening of Holy Scripture presents us with a pattern of God pulling order from disorder, life from death, and beauty from ugliness. As He pulled our world from the waters, so too will He pull salvation from chaos and death time and time again.

Remember the narrative of Noah’s Ark, and how God, in His anger, recalled the primordial waters of Creation to once again retake the face of the earth. Death, chaos, and destruction reigned. Yet, God again in His mercy drew forth salvation from the watery depths and humanity was made anew with Noah and his family.

Remember the narrative of the infant Moses laid upon the waters of the river Nile. As Noah had his Ark, so too did Moses have his basket—and what should have been his death became his salvation. For Pharaoh’s daughter drew him forth from the waters and named him Moses—meaning “to draw out.” His name, of course, is prophetic—because as he was drawn out from the Nile, so too will he draw Israel out of Egypt. Yet, once again water appears as death, as Israel becomes trapped on the banks of the Red Sea—but God turns what should have been death into life by allowing Israel to cross.

Note as well the fate of the Egyptians who were swallowed up in a watery death—a warning to us all of what happens if we attempt to navigate the chaos of this life without God.

We could also speak of how the waters of the Jordan River stood between Israel and the Promise Land or how Jonah, in his disobedience, was cast from his ship into waters and swallowed by a beast of the sea.

The entire pattern of God drawing forth salvation from the waters is perfected in the baptism of Jesus Christ. For here there is no ark or basket, but rather the very instrument of death itself—water—is made the tool of salvation. We are submerged in the baptismal waters to show our death with Christ, and, as God pulled forth Creation from the primordial waters of Genesis, so too are we drawn forth as new creatures in Jesus Christ. As St. Thomas Aquinas reminds us, Christ was not baptized to become holy, but to make the waters holy for us. God enters into death and the instrument of that death becomes the portal of our salvation.

This ancient symbolism of water representing chaos and death gives new insight into the ministry of our Lord Jesus Christ—we may recall His first miracle of turning water into wine or His later miracles of walking on water and rebuking the storm at sea. We may even start to understand why, when He cast the demons into the pigs, the demons drove the animals to be drowned in the waters. Time and time again, Holy Scripture uses water to demonstrate the authority of Jesus Christ over chaos and death.

Here, let us stop and ask: Why is any of this important to today’s Gospel? Well, have you ever wondered why Jesus chose fisherman for His first disciples? Why not choose carpenters like He and his earthly father? Why did He choose fisherman? To understand, we must apply the lessons learned since Genesis: that the waters represent a formless, primordial chaos.

For our Lord tells His first disciples, “Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men.”

He is not inviting His disciples to comfort or safety. For if one is going to be a fisherman, one must be upon the open waters. As God drew forth Creation from the formless depths of our primal earth, so too does He now invite His disciples to join Him in drawing forth a new Creation from the chaos of this world.

He calls them to be “fishers of men,” because as a man draws a fish out of the sea and into the boat, so too do the disciples of Christ draw souls out of the chaos of this world and into the Catholic Church. This is our calling. Our Lord asks us to endure the chaotic, stormy seas of this life for the sake of those souls who are still lost amongst its churning depths.

We must hear his call. We are to be “fishers of men,” and we will be in the chaos but not of it—we are called to draw souls out of the death of this life into the new life of Jesus Christ. We bring order to chaos, light to darkness, and hope to despair.

Our Lord has made the call—He has asked us to be fishers of men.

May we answer the call and “push out into the deep” to rescue souls from the watery chaos of this world.[1]

    [1] In the first reading from Isaiah (Is 8:23—9:3), the song of praise is from those souls drawn into the safety on the new Ark, the Catholic Church. It is not unremarkable that the road glorified is the “seaward” road. The second reading from St. Paul (1 Cor 1:10-13, 17) against divisions is a warning to not the chaos of the world enter the Church any more than a fisherman allows the waves of the sea into his boat. Finally, see Into the Deep: A Biblical Study on Chaos & Discipleship for a more in depth treatment of the allegory of water as chaos.

Baptism of Desire and Sacramental Character

The Church has traditionally taught that the desire for baptism, whether explicit or implicit, saves.[1] Yet, someone may ask, “If that person doesn’t receive the sacrament of baptism, is that person ‘fully Catholic’”?

If by “fully Catholic” one means “getting to heaven,” then the answer is yes. However, if by “fully Catholic” one means receiving the character/seal of baptism, then the answer is no. The Catechism teaches that the desire for Baptism “brings about the fruits of Baptism,” but “without being a sacrament” (CCC 1258). Since the character is only communicated through the sacrament (CCC 1121), it follows that the desire for Baptism does not communicate the sacramental character or seal.

What’s the significance of this? For this life, it simply means that the person wouldn’t enjoy the “rights within the Church” to participate in aspects of the life of the Church, such as the sacraments (CCC 1269). The character/seal is ordered to making the baptized “share in Christ’s priesthood” and constituting them as “a member of the Church according to different states and functions” (CCC 1121). Or, as Aquinas puts it, it gives a person the right “to do or receive something pertaining to the worship of the priesthood of Christ.”[2]

Concerning the afterlife, this lack of the character might not have any significance at all. The Church only definitively teaches that the seal remains at least until death.[3] Even if the character does remain in heaven, which is the general theological opinion,[4] the only implication would be that the souls that didn’t have it would experience beatitude in a lesser degree than those that did have it. But that’s not a problem because every soul will experience different degrees of beatitude in heaven depending on their state of charity.

Regardless of whether the seal remains, the important thing is that the baptism of desire does indeed save. And in that sense every soul in heaven is “fully Catholic.”   [1] For the Church’s teaching on the explicit desire for Baptism, see The Council of Trent, Canons on the Sacraments in General, Can. 4; Decree on Justification, Chap.4; Catechism of the Catholic Church, par. 1259; Cf. Aquinas, Summa theologiae [ST] III, q. 66, aa. 11-12; q. 68, a. 2. For the Church’s teaching on the implicit desire for Baptism, see Catechism of the Catholic Church, par. 1260. [2] Aquinas, ST III, q. 63, a. 6, ad 3. [3] See Ludwig Ott, Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma (St. Louis, MO: B. Herder Book Company, 1957), 335. [4] See Ibid.

Make a Resolution to Love

As the new year begins and many of us make resolutions, some concrete and realistic, others perhaps less so, the words of Jesus may be especially discouraging: “You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Mt. 5:48). Our Lord is not addressing, of course, economic, academic, or aesthetic perfection. In other words, the Christian life does not demand that we become rich or supremely intelligent or beautiful. Instead, Jesus is speaking of moral perfection, a natural and supernatural integrity of life and action. But even if we have narrowed our focus, this command of Jesus may seem unreasonable, and an unreasonable command is no real command at all. The good news is that the heights of holiness can indeed be reached with God’s gracious help. Were Christ asking us to pull ourselves up by our spiritual bootstraps, the command would indeed be impossible. Enlivened and empowered by God’s grace, however, a life of holiness is within our grasp.

What does this life of holiness entail? St. John Paul II reflects on the biblical answer to this question in his encyclical Veritatis splendor. Though human life can be complicated and convoluted, the life of holiness requires, above all else, something simple: love. But this word is often distorted today, becoming very much like the squishy, vapid resolutions I mentioned above. Love is reduced to a feeling, an emotional state, and thus reduced to something turbulent and temporary. When Jesus speaks about love, on the contrary, it is something mighty, something profound, something worthy of animating one’s life.

For St. John Paul II, as for the entire Christian tradition, looking to Jesus shows us the path to love. I would like to draw out three essential elements of love. First, love (for example, the kind of love we find in virtuous friendships) involves willing the good of another person, and not for any perceived benefit but for the person’s own sake. While there is an emotional love proper to the human person, the love we are speaking about is fundamentally an act of the will. And because it is such an act, it is not subject to the turbulence and transience of emotional love. Consider a married couple that has been together for 40 years. There are bound to be days when the married persons do not feel in love with each other. Nevertheless, though emotional love when rightly ordered is a good that often accompanies voluntary love, voluntary love transcends emotional love. This distinction between love as an emotion and love as an act of the will explains at least part of the complex reality of divorce in the United States. Because couples confuse the two, often they base a relationship on emotional love and neglect the higher, more stable form of love that wills the good of the other in season and out of season, “in sickness and in health,” as the marriage rite puts it. When emotional love ceases or, God forbid, turns to hatred and resentment, the relationship itself crumbles.

Where do we see this aspect of love exemplified in the life and teaching of Jesus? We see it in His entire life of obedience to the Father for our sake, but especially in His willingness to die on the Cross. In the garden, our Lord’s humanity cannot help but cry out, “Let this cup pass from me.” And yet, because His human will is perfectly conformed to the Father’s will, He can say, “Yet not my will but Thine be done” (Mt. 26:39). It is a fearful thing to approach death, and thus we see Jesus in distress and sweating blood (Lk. 22:44). But He never ceased to will the good of our salvation. We too are meant to show our love for God in acts of obedience: “If you love me, keep my commandments” (Jn. 14:15). For those of us who are still imperfect, our emotions may militate against this saying of our Lord. After all, sometimes I may not feel like obeying God; it may feel better in the short term to pursue bodily pleasure and eschew higher goods. For those who have reached the heights of holiness, however, there is an emotional joy that accompanies obeying God. Love, as St. John Paul II says, is ready to live out the loftiest challenges. In this life, love is inextricably tied to self-giving, to sacrifice. Here, of course, Jesus is the ultimate example. We are not called merely to a fleeting emotional love but to a love that endures all for the sake of the beloved.

The second aspect of love is that it is always founded and grounded in the truth. This is quite a controversial point today, since many people have so absolutized the human will that whatever one chooses to pursue, to love, is justified, and justified precisely because one has chosen it. On the contrary, to state the matter simply, we cannot love what we do not know. Notice the respective implications of these opposing views. For the modern view of love, founded in an understanding of the will as an unfettered power to choose anything whatsoever, might makes right. The person with the stronger will inevitably wins out. Consequently, human relationships devolve into power struggles, occasions to manipulate and dominate others. For the classical view, founded in an understanding of the will as an intellectual appetite, all human beings are beholden to the wise and good order that God has created. Our willing must be in conformity with the truth about the created order, about the human person, and about God. When we choose something contrary to the truth, we are not free persons but slaves. The truth really does set us free (Jn. 8:32), and set us free primarily so that we may love as we ought.

Jesus’s entire mission hinges on the fact that we cannot love what we do not know. That is why the Son, the only one who has seen the Father (Jn. 1:18), comes to reveal the Father to us, so that we may know and love Him. This is our Lord’s prayer: “O righteous Father, the world has not known thee, but I have known thee; and these know that thou hast sent me. I made known to them thy name, and I will make it known, that thy love with which thou hast loved me may be in them, and I in them” (Jn. 17:25-26). It is our job, then, whether by reflecting on the order of creation or on God’s word in Holy Scripture, to know God so that we may love Him all the more.

Finally, love should be focused on God; one should love God above all else. This is true even on the natural level, though for fallen man this is impossible without God’s healing grace. It is all the truer on the supernatural level, since we are called in charity to love God firstly and others, even sinners, out of love for God. God is to be loved above all else because love is of things lovable, and God is most loveable. Indeed, He is goodness itself and the source of all that is good. “God is love,” as 1 Jn. 4:8 says. When we place God first, when we love Him above all else, our other loves become rightly ordered. We are able to love our spouses, our children, our neighbors, our coworkers better when these loves are enlivened and perfected by love of God. Jesus Himself says when asked which is the greatest commandment, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And the second is like it, You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” The entire Christian life hinges on these two commandments. They are inseparable, yes, but one is higher: love of God.

As we continue in this new year, let us remember with St. John Paul II that at the heart of our moral and spiritual journey toward perfection is love, a love that wills the good of the other for his own sake, a love that is always grounded in the truth, a love that is ordered first and foremost to the God who is love. Even if our other resolutions fall through, fulfilling the commandment of love will make this year fruitful.

Happy Is He Who Prays with the Church

Each feast day, St Therese of Lisieux's sister Pauline would read Dom Guéranger’s commentary on the Mass in order to prepare their minds and hearts. St. Therese writes of this experience, “How I loved the feasts! You knew how to explain all the mysteries hidden under each, and you did it so well that they were truly heavenly days for me.”[1]

Dom Prosper Guéranger was a Benedictine monk who was instrumental in the liturgical reform movement of nineteenth-century France as well as the re-founding of Solesmes Abbey. Our Lady of Clear Creek Monastery is part of the Solesmes Congregation and thus becomes a connection between our diocese and the history of Solesmes and Dom Guéranger.

Founded in 1010, the Benedictine Priory of Solesmes was closed in 1791 as a result of the anti-Church sentiment in France during the French Revolution. In 1831, the buildings of the priory which had survived the French Revolution but had fallen into neglect were put up for sale by the French Government. Father Guéranger realized that if he could buy the priory it would be an opportunity to re-establish the Benedictine religious life to France, which was all but lost after the French Revolution. With the help of private donations, Guéranger succeeded in acquiring the Priory of Solemnes, and in 1832, religious life under the Rule of St. Benedict returned to France. “Prayer which had been interrupted, has been resumed.”[2] In 1837, the Priory of Solesmes was made the Abbey of Solesmes and Dom Prosper Guéranger was appointed Abbot and Superior General of the Benedictines of the Congregation of France.

One of the results of re-establishing the Benedictine monastic tradition to France was that Dom Guéranger was able to focus on studying the Church’s liturgy. In 1841, Guéranger began writing The Liturgical Year, a fifteen-volume work which explains day by day the liturgical year of the Church, including the Mass and the Divine Office. After the devastating years during and following the French Revolution, in order to strengthen the Church, he recognized the importance of the laity having an understanding of the liturgy.

But this liturgical prayer would soon become powerless were the faithful not to take a real share in it, or at least not to associate themselves to it in heart. It can heal and save the world, but only on the condition that it be understood. Be wise, then, ye children of the Catholic Church, and obtain that largeness of heart which will make you pray the prayer of your mother.[3]

His hopes were that he could revitalize the Church by introducing the faithful to the prayer of the Church with explanations and commentaries. As seen in the life of St. Therese of Lisieux, The Liturgical Year made it possible for the lay faithful to come to know the prayer of the Church and participate in the liturgy in a way that was impossible before it was published. Saints read his work and were strengthened in their faith. Thus it is fitting that in 2005 the cause for beatification was opened for Servant of God Dom Prosper Guéranger.

Dom Prosper Guéranger died in 1875 after finishing nine of the fifteen volumes. The other six volumes were completed by another Benedictine monk under Dom Guéranger’s name. The Liturgical Year is today still considered one of the most important resources for liturgical studies. In addition to studying the liturgical year, Dom Guéranger also helped to recover and re-establish the use of authentic Gregorian Chant in the liturgy. May his work inspire us even today as we seek to draw closer to our Lord in the sacred liturgy. [1] Àngel de les Gavarres, Thérèse, The Little Child of God’s Mercy: Her Spiritual Itinerary in the Light of Her Autobiographical Manuscripts (Washington, D.C.: ICS Publications, 1999), 23. [2] Dom Prosper Guéranger, O.S.B., The Liturgical Year: Volume I – Advent (New Hampshire: Loreto Publications, 2000), 5. [3] Guéranger, The Liturgical Year: Volume I – Advent, 5-6.

The Nativity of our Lord: The Feast of this Awe-filled Mystery

As we prepare for the coming of Christ at Christmas, it seemed proper to spend some time with a few sermons of Saint Peter Chrysologus, particularly those dealing with the seasons of Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany.

Saint Peter Chrysologus was appointed Bishop of Ravenna by Pope Sixtus III sometime around the year 431. At the time, Ravenna was the political capital of the Western Roman Empire. According to the legend of the saint, the people of Ravenna had chosen their own man for bishop, but St. Peter the Apostle and St. Appolinaris had come to Pope Sixtus III in a vision and instructed the Pope to name Peter Chrysologus bishop. St. Peter Chrysologus was known for his gifts as a shepherd to his people and a preacher. Of his writings, there are 176 sermons attributed to his name as well as a pastoral letter written to the heretic Eutyches. It is believed by scholars that of the 176 sermons, 168 are authentic writings of the saint. He was proclaimed a Doctor of the Church in 1729 by Pope Benedict XIII.

Known as the Doctor of Homilies, as a preacher, St. Peter’s sermons were short. “He frequently stated that he did not want to weary his hearers by speaking too long.”[1] Even though his sermons were short, they were beautifully crafted and theologically rich, earning him the epithet Chrysologus or “the Golden Orator.” While Christianity had become the official religion under Emperor Theodosius the Great in the late fourth century, there were still many at the beginning of the fifth century who were influenced by the old pagan religions. The focus of most of St. Peter’s sermons was the moral conversion of his flock. That he truly cared for the people he shepherded, desiring their conversion and salvation, is apparent in the sermons. “You are my life, my saving encouragement, and my glory. Therefore, I cannot suffer you to remain ignorant of what God gave me to know.”[2] His passion was for saving souls and his gift was to be able to share in his sermons difficult theological ideas in an easily understood and pastoral manner.

Preface II in the Eucharistic prayer for the Mass of the Nativity of the Lord could be a description of St. Peter Chrysologus’ thoughts present in his sermons regarding the Nativity. It is a beautiful prayer reminding us that in Christ’s Incarnation there is not only the salvation of man, but also the restoration of the unity of all creation which was disordered with the first sin in the Garden.

For on the feast of this awe-filled mystery,

though invisible in his own divine nature,

he has appeared visibly in ours;

and begotten before all ages,

he has begun to exist in time;

so that, raising up in himself all that was cast down,

he might restore unity to all creation

and call straying humanity back to the heavenly Kingdom.[3]

With this prayer in mind, we can now turn to the words of St. Peter Chrysologus and see how he expresses the same themes in his homilies.

For Peter Chrysologus, the Incarnation of Christ is always an awe-filled mystery. This mystery begins with the Annunciation. In one of his sermons, Chrysologus ponders the meaning of the Archangel Gabriel’s words when he proclaims to Mary, “the Lord is with thee.” “‘The Lord is with Thee.’ Why is the Lord with you? Because He is coming to you not merely to pay a visit, but He is coming down into you in a new mystery, that of being born.”[4] In another sermon the great saint asks us to turn our thoughts to the mystery of Christ in Mary’s womb.

Then ponder this in your heart: Can you fathom the mystery of the Lord’s birth? Do you deserve to enter into the resting place of that bosom, where the heavenly King, with all the full majesty of His divinity, finds His repose? Ought you, as a rash witness with human eyes and bodily senses, to gaze on the virgin’s conceiving? Can you, as a bystander, contemplate with daring reverence the very hands of God fashioning for himself the holy temple of a body within the womb of the mother?[5]

In Mary’s womb God became flesh and blood and shared in our human nature while Mary became the tabernacle of Our Lord and the Mother of God.

In the Gospel of Matthew, we are told that “Jesus was born in Bethlehem, of Judea, in the days of Herod” (Matt. 2:1). Both Bethlehem and Judea are particular places, both of which can be visited today, while “in the days of Herod” allows us to pinpoint a particular time in human history. As Preface II states, at Jesus’ birth God appears visibly and enters into time. St. Peter Chrysologus expresses it beautifully when he says,

He who made man from undefiled earth, without any process of birth, He Himself by being born fashioned His human nature from an undefiled body. The hand which with dignity raised earth to our image also with dignity assumed flesh for our restoration.[6]

That Christ assumes flesh for our restoration is a direct reference to the Fall in the Garden.

The first man, Adam, the father of the race, the origin of all posterity, lost by his sin the good of nature, the freedom of his race, and the life of his offspring…. Thus it is that Christ was born to elevate those prostrate in an earthy seed up to a heavenly nature.[7]

In Christ’s Incarnation it is not just man who is restored, but all of creation is restored as well. In his sermons there is a cosmological view in which all of creation celebrates the coming of our Savior.

So, what God commands an angel relates. His spirit fulfills it and His power brings it to perfection. The virgin believes it, and nature takes it up. The tale is told from the sky, and then proclaimed from all the heavens. The stars show it forth, and the Magi tell about it. The shepherds adore, and the beasts are aware. As the prophet testified: "The ox knoweth his owner, and the ass his master’s crib." [8]

All of creation participates and celebrates the Nativity of our Lord.

As we prepare for the coming of Christ this Christmas, let us remember that it is part of the mystery and beauty of the Church, that the same truth preached during Advent and Christmas by St. Peter Chrysologus in fifth century Ravenna, is the same truth our pastors will preach to us on Christmas day. “Today, Christ, who is the King of peace, has come forth with His peace and routed all discord, banished dissensions, and dissipated conflicts.”[9] May we all experience the peace of Christ who routes discord and dissipates conflicts this Christmas.