Reflections on the Creed: Part 10

Sr. Ann Astell

Professor, Notre Dame Department of Theology

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This is the tenth in a series of articles first printed in “Today’s Catholic.”
We are grateful for the permission of the editorial staff
to republish them here.

Previous articles in this series:
Reflections on the Creed: Part 1
Reflections on the Creed: Part 2
Reflections on the Creed: Part 3
Reflections on the Creed: Part 4
Reflections on the Creed: Part 5
Reflections on the Creed: Part 6
Reflections on the Creed: Part 7
Reflections on the Creed: Part 8
Reflections on the Creed: Part 9

“I believe in the communion of saints…”

“I believe in the communion of saints.” According to Jesuit theologian George Maloney, this statement of faith is “the one least understood among Christians and therefore the one that has least importance for practical Christian living.”

In issuing a “universal call of holiness” (Lumen Gentium, Chapter 5), the Second Vatican Council clearly intended to foreground this dogma, to render it understood and practical in the modern world, and to place it at the heart of the Church’s self-understanding. The communion of saints constitutes the Church in its very sociology. To be a member of the Church is simply to be called to sanctity — called by Christ and called by the saints.
What does “the communion of saints” mean and how is it important for our lives? The creed does not declare our belief simply in the existence of saints, but in the communion of saints, in their vital connection with each other.

St. Paul’s great realization was that the saints are the members of Christ’s Mystical Body, united in the “one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father” (Eph 4:5). By this definition, the “communion of saints” is the very life of Christ, which binds Christians together. Sharing the Scriptures, the teachings, charitable works, the joys and sorrows of Christian living, and the sacraments — above all, the Eucharist, which is Christ Himself, the food of martyrs — they live out and actually increase the communion of saints.

This mysterious bond in Christ is so deep, so real, that each one’s prayers, good works, suffering, and striving for sanctity affect the others. This holds true not only of Christians in direct contact with other — who see each other, work together, belong to the same family or parish. No, the communion of saints affects a spiritual connection between persons that overcomes the limits of time and space.

In Christ, what I do and offer in charity makes a difference in the lives of others — no matter in what hidden corner I stand. The Servant of God Joseph Kentenich (1885-1968) taught his followers this motto: “I sanctify myself for others.” What I eat at my table affects the hungry. What money I spend affects the poor. What and how I pray affect the prayers of others.

Belief in the communion of saints calls us to a deep responsibility for each other here and now. It also gives us hope, knowing that the saints who have preceded us on the earthly journey continue to intercede for us in Christ. As J. P. Kirsch explains, “The departed saints … are concerned about those still struggling.” The saints in heaven care for those on earth.

Because the saints in heaven are united with God, each Christian’s union with God on earth is also a communion with them. To live out of the truth of this communion, to realize its potential, is to crack open what is for many an unbreakable barrier, to achieve a vital communication between heaven and earth, between those living in time and those living in eternity. Our God is “the God of the living, not the dead” (Mt 22:32).

Whereas the Feast of All Saints invites the whole Church to look upward to the saints in glory, the Second Vatican Council gives us the same vision from the opposite direction. It invites us to see the Church on earth as the saints in heaven see it and call it to holiness. What unites the two perspectives is the faith of Christians, ancient and ever new, in the communion of saints.

Encounter, Illumination, and Conversion: On the Road to Damascus

Carolyn Pirtle, M.M., M.S.M.

Assistant Director, Notre Dame Center for Liturgy

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In celebrating the lives of her saints, rarely does the Church bestow more than one feast day on the same person. Even more rarely does she celebrate specific events in the lives of those saints other than the day of their birth into eternal life (the die natale). Therefore, tomorrow’s celebration – the Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul, Apostle – is one that deserves our contemplation.

Oscar Wilde once wrote, “Every saint has a past, and every sinner has a future.” The pithiness of the statement doesn’t belie its essential truth, and we see this readily in the story of St. Paul, or Saul, as he was known prior to his conversion. The Acts of the Apostles tell us that Saul avidly persecuted the first Christians, that he was not only present for the martyrdom of St. Stephen, but that “Saul was consenting to his execution” (Acts 8:1). At this point in the story, we would do well to pause and pretend that we don’t already know what happens next. That way, the intervening grace of God will take us by complete and utter surprise all the more.

Saul was party to an execution; he was, for all intents and purposes, an accessory to murder (assuming he didn’t actually assist in the deed itself). And he was hell-bent on continuing his war on the followers of Jesus in the city of Damascus, as we continue reading in Acts: “Now Saul, still breathing murderous threats against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues in Damascus, that, if he should find any men or women who belonged to the Way, he might bring them back to Jerusalem in chains” (Acts 9:1-2). We know how the story continues from there: en route to Damascus, a blinding flash of light knocks Saul from his horse, and a voice from the sky says, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” (Acts 9:4b). The voice identifies himself as Jesus, and instructs Saul to continue to the city, where he is to be met by a disciple named Ananias.

In one of the most dramatic accounts of the New Testament, Saul encounters the Risen Christ – not in physical form as the Apostles did after the Resurrection, but as a voice resounding from the midst of a blinding light. Since he had taken it upon himself to persecute Jesus’ followers, Saul no doubt had heard of Him; perhaps he had even heard Him preach in the synagogue in Jerusalem. Yet, until that very moment, Saul’s heart had been hardened to the possibility that Jesus was indeed the Messiah, to the point where he was ready to kill in order to prevent the spread of the Good News. This is hardly the kind of man we would imagine God to want on His team, and hardly the kind of man we would imagine capable of playing for that team. However, “nothing is impossible for God” (cf Lk 1:37), and the light of grace pierces through what seemed to be an impenetrable darkness surrounding Saul’s heart. Physically, Saul enters into the darkness as he is struck blind; spiritually, the illumination of his soul has just begun.

Following the encounter on the road, Scripture says that “for three days [Saul] was unable to see, and he neither ate nor drank” (Acts 9:9). I imagine this time as a period of ascetic penance: Saul demonstrated remorse for the sins he had committed against the followers of Jesus and contemplated how his life would have to change in light of what had happened on the road to Damascus. In his hunger, thirst, and blindness, Saul longed for fulfillment and enlightenment, and slowly came to the realization that they could only come through Christ.

Indeed, it is only after Saul has been stricken blind that he is able to see clearly for the first time. The resounding voice of Jesus on the road serves as a death knell to his former way of life, and the three days he spent in darkness parallel the three days Christ Himself spent in the darkness of the tomb. After three days, Ananias heals Saul of his physical blindness and he emerges from this experience an entirely changed man, one who has been made new in the light of Jesus the Messiah. The scales falling from Saul’s eyes symbolize a sloughing off of a former way of life, a casting away of the blindness that kept him from seeing the truth: that Jesus is the Son of God, the Messiah, the One who saves the human race from sin and death. Indeed, he is so far removed from his former way of life that he is no longer known as Saul but as Paul; even his name has been made new in the light of his identity as a follower of Jesus. The light of Christ shatters the darkness of Saul’s soul and grants to him a new vision, one that will impel him to spend the rest of his life (and beyond) leading others to Jesus.

Another pause in our story so that we may contemplate the person of Ananias. He had heard of Saul, of the horrible things he had done to the disciples of Jesus, and of the fact that he was at that moment on his way to Damascus to continue wreaking havoc. For Ananias, seeking out this man’s company undoubtedly would have resulted in imprisonment or worse. If I had been in his sandals, I would have kept a low profile in Damascus until Hurricane Saul moved on. But such is not the will of God for Ananias. God calls to Ananias, who shows fidelity in his discipleship by responding immediately… until he hears what it is that God actually wants him to do. God wants Ananias to lay his hands on Saul so that he may regain his sight. Perhaps Ananias felt that Saul had gotten what he deserved, and that his reign of terror over the Christian people might finally be at its end. Surely he must have thought it a key strategic error to heal the man who had been causing such harm, and he expresses his concerns to God. Nevertheless, God insists, saying, “This man is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before Gentiles, kings, and Israelites, and I will show him what he will have to suffer for my name” (Acts 9:15b). Again, if I were Ananias and had heard all of that, I still would have been tempted to say, “Really? Him?” Fortunately for Saul, and fortunately for us, Ananias displayed more trust in God, and although he still might have been afraid for his life, he accepted God’s will and sought Saul out, healing him of his blindness and initiating him into the Christian faith through baptism. Without the cooperative faith of Ananias, Paul might have remained in the darkness; he might have remained Saul. Ananias, too, underwent a conversion – a turning away from his previous assumption of how God works and an embracing of a new vision, a new understanding that God’s ways are not our ways. As Paul would later attest in his first letter to the Corinthians, “God chose the foolish of the world to shame the wise, and God chose the weak of the world to shame the strong, and God chose the lowly and despised of the world, those who count for nothing, to reduce to nothing those who are something, so that no human being might boast before God” (1 Cor 1:27-9).

In celebrating the conversion of St. Paul, we might be tempted to wish for a blinding flash of light that would knock us to the ground and eliminate our desires for those things in our lives that lead us from Jesus. I know that I’ve certainly wished for the clarity Paul seemed to have in the immediate wake of his encounter with Christ. However, it’s important to remember that Paul’s conversion was no one-time-only event; it continued for the rest of his life. As we see from his writings, Paul continued to struggle with temptation, fatigue, frustration, and persecution; yet he continued to turn his face toward Christ, continued to say “yes” to the will of God and “no” to that which clouded his vision, and in so doing, he fulfilled the command of Christ to “proclaim the Gospel to every creature” (Mk 16:15), and forever changed the course of human history.

Reflections on the Creed: Part 9

John C. Cavadini, Ph.D.

McGrath-Cavadini Director,
Institute for Church Life
Professor of Theology, University of Notre Dame

 

This is the ninth in a series of articles first printed in “Today’s Catholic.”
We are grateful for the permission of the editorial staff to republish them here.

Previous articles in this series:
Reflections on the Creed: Part 1
Reflections on the Creed: Part 2
Reflections on the Creed: Part 3
Reflections on the Creed: Part 4
Reflections on the Creed: Part 5
Reflections on the Creed: Part 6
Reflections on the Creed: Part 7
Reflections on the Creed: Part 8

We can sometimes forget that the Church is something we “believe” in. This must mean that the Church is more than the sum of its visible parts. We don’t say, “I believe in Amtrak,” or in other commonly visible things, unless we are using the expression “believe in” to mean “give a vote of confidence.” “I believe in you,” when spoken to a son or daughter who is an athlete, means, “I have confidence you will succeed.” Nor is the expression used of the Church as we use it of someone who may not exist, such as, “I believe in Santa Claus.” The Church obviously exists.
When we say, “I believe … in the holy catholic Church,” we are saying we believe that the visible society or group that we see is not all there is to the Church. Membership in the Church is not defined by talent, skill, nationality, race or sex. It is not defined by mental or physical ability, nor is one disqualified by disability, mental or physical. It is not a matter of age.

The mystery of the Church is that it is a visible society of human beings that is not defined as a group by any of the human qualifications, achievements or accomplishments that define all other visible social groups. The Church is not even defined by the moral virtue of her members, for then we would be placing our faith in something that is purely human. What group of people has enough virtue to be declared the Church of Jesus Christ? Who would decide who was virtuous enough?

It is the love of Christ that creates the Church and is her fundamental identity. The wonder of the Church is that she is a visible society defined by something invisible, something we are not capable of producing on our own. The bond among members of the Church that makes them the Church is the self-giving, sacrificial love of Christ, poured out on the Cross and made truly present in the sacraments, especially the Eucharist. Members of the Church are not just members of a club that has certain human qualifications for membership, but members of Christ Himself, members of His Body. The closest human analogy to this is the union of husband and wife, whose mutual love forms such a close union that they are members of each other, “one flesh,” though they remain separate individuals. Just as the identity of husband and wife is defined by the self-giving love that mutually creates each other as spouses, so the Church is defined by the self-giving love of Christ, before any merit or achievement on the part of the Church or any member of the Church. To say that the Church is the “spouse” or “bride” of Christ is to say that Christ’s love is what creates the Church, binding the members into one flesh, one Body, one Christ.

This love of Christ is mediated to us “sacramentally,” that is, “mysteriously” (but effectively!) in the sacraments, above all, the Eucharist. The Eucharistic body is the one formed by the sacrifice of Christ, and not by the virtues or qualifications of the members thus bound. The Church is therefore both “holy,” because constituted by the love of Christ, and always in need of purification, because those bound are not perfected, but are being purified by the sacrificial love that makes them one. Encountering the Church, in faith, is always mysteriously encountering this love. Such is the beauty of the mystery of the Church in which “we believe.”

Family Prayer and Ignatian Contemplation

Fred and Lisa Everett

Co-Directors, Office of Family Life
Diocese of Ft. Wayne-South Bend

This is the first of two videos from Fred and Lisa Everett, offering insights on building up a life of prayer within families. In this installment, the Everetts encourage an Ignatian approach to family prayer, reflecting on the stories of the Gospels in a way that engages and speaks to the imaginations of children.

Reflections on the Creed: Part 8

Timothy P. O’Malley, Ph.D.

Director, Notre Dame Center for Liturgy

Editor, Oblation:  Catechesis, Liturgy, and the New Evangelization

Editor, Church Life:  A Journal for the New Evangelization

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This is the eighth in a series of articles first printed in “Today’s Catholic.”
We are grateful for the permission of the editorial staff to republish them here.

Previous articles in this series:
Reflections on the Creed: Part 1
Reflections on the Creed: Part 2
Reflections on the Creed: Part 3
Reflections on the Creed: Part 4
Reflections on the Creed: Part 5
Reflections on the Creed: Part 6
Reflections on the Creed: Part 7

“I believe in the Holy Spirit…”

Gratitude is easy to forget. A newlywed couple as the early days of marriage pass into the quotidian nature of married life may cease to see their lives with one another as gift. A teacher, once in awe of the opportunity to cultivate wisdom among her students, soon sees her work as an onerous task to be completed. A child growing up in a household suffused with loving kindness may gradually become blinded to the mundane beauty of such an existence. The expectation that love is owed to us, rather than received as a free gift, slowly moves us away from a posture of gratitude.

In some sense, our belief in the Holy Spirit suffers from the gradual fall from gratitude that is often a consequence of maturation in the Christian life. The Christian life inscribes us in the order of gift, of grace, of the Triune God who is love. The Father begets the Son before time itself, revealing to us that God’s very identity is self-gift. The Son offers Himself completely to the Father, an offering manifested in Jesus who loves unto the end in obedience to the will of the Father. And this self-gift, this order of love, is the Holy Spirit.

The Holy Spirit moves upon the waters in creation, overshadowing the whole created order in the love of the Father and the Son. The Holy Spirit dwells with Israel as she pilgrims through the desert, immersing the nation in God’s pedagogy of grace, inscribing His law of love upon tablets of stone, as well as the heart. The Spirit descends upon the prophets, whose vision is transfigured to see each breach of the covenant (no matter how small) as a spousal transgression against the God who first loved Israel into existence.

This same Spirit enacts this love in the course of world history, such that even in the darkest moments of exile, God’s gift of love is a light to the nations, a promise that all humanity will be transfigured through the energetic work of God in the concrete structures of the world. The hope for the Messiah, pervading the writings of the prophets, is fanned by the Spirit.

The Spirit who dwelt with Israel in the desert now overshadows Mary. She is conceived without sin through the power of the Spirit, precisely that her very life might be inscribed in the logic of gratitude, of self-gift that is the Triune God. Her speech in the Gospel of Luke, her willingness to enter into God’s very history of salvation, is itself a gift from the Holy Spirit received in love and then offered back to the Father in her love of the Son.

This transformation of our humanity begun in Mary is completed in Jesus the Christ, the one anointed with the Spirit. Everything that is human is taken up into divine life through the Word made flesh. His deeds and His words are a breathing forth of the Holy Spirit for the life of the world, the reorientation of our humanity as an instrument for divine mercy. Yet Christ does not give the fullness of the Spirit in the Gospel of John until He is raised up on the Cross. Why?   Precisely because the Holy Spirit is nothing less than the completeness of divine love manifested on the Cross. It is the total gift of the Son to the Father, and the Father’s acceptance of this sacrificial love made evident in the Resurrection of the Son. And when Christ encounters His disciples as resurrected, He breathes forth the Spirit upon the humanity of the Apostles. The Apostles and the whole Church through Baptism are now taken up into the mission of the Triune God through the life of the Church.

Therefore in Baptism, the Christian receives the Holy Spirit and is inscribed into the gratuitous love of the Father and the Son through the Holy Spirit. Our whole lives can be conceived now as grace. Not because we have reached the perfection of love on our own, grasping it as an individual achievement, a merit badge of Christian discipleship. Nor because all that we see in the world is a gift of God, a response of gratitude; facets of the world remained entrenched in the darkness of sin.

Instead, as the Christian enters more deeply into the Church, into the body of Christ and temple of the Holy Spirit, our lives become grace. Our memories and imaginations are so taken over by the narrative of salvation that we cannot help but perceive our own experience, our existence as a participation in the unfolding work of the Spirit.

The desire to pray, even in mutilated words of love, is a gift of the Spirit stirring up our heart. Any act of justice we perform, any deed of love no matter how small, is a manifestation of this Spirit for the world to behold. All that we have is a gift bestowed by the Spirit to be offered to the Father in love, in faithful imitation of the obedience of the Son.

Thus, the Holy Spirit processes from the love of the Father and the Son. The Spirit processes into the Church, which is the Body of Christ, into the individual hearts of believers. This same Spirit processes through our very bones, our whole souls, so that we begin to perceive our lives as gifts to be offered to the Father. This procession of love transfigures our humanity, making us into saints, visible icons of divine love for the world. This work of the Spirit is total gift, the work of grace itself in the concrete historical milieu of men and women throughout time. Not a work that we think up, that we engineer on our own, but a work that the Triune God performs through the mediation of our humanity, however inadequate it is.

The more grateful we are, the more we are inscribed into the logic of self-giving love that is the Cross and Resurrection, the more our hearts are opened to receive and to breathe forth the Spirit for the life of the world. Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of Thy faithful, and enkindle in them the fire of Thy love.

Reflections on the Creed: Part 7

Fr. Mark Gurtner

Judicial Vicar, Diocese of Ft. Wayne-South Bend
Pastor, Our Lady of Good Hope Church, Ft. Wayne, IN

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This is the seventh in a series of articles first printed in “Today’s Catholic.”
We are grateful for the permission of the editorial staff to republish them here.

Previous articles in this series:
Reflections on the Creed: Part 1
Reflections on the Creed: Part 2
Reflections on the Creed: Part 3
Reflections on the Creed: Part 4
Reflections on the Creed: Part 5
Reflections on the Creed: Part 6

‘…from there He will come to judge the living and the dead…’

Karl Barth, a well-known Protestant theologian, once said this: “Someday, a company of men will process out to a church yard and lower a coffin and everyone will go home; but one will not come back, and that will be me.” It sobers us to realize that one day we will die. This is a reality that our culture attempts to ignore, to put off, even to escape. We try everything in our power to stay young. It is drilled into us that we must eat right, exercise right, do everything in our power to stave off death, and while taking care of our bodies properly is a duty, we cannot live as if to hold off death forever. Death will come to us, indeed, to all of us.

It is also certain that after death we will all be judged. As the Letter to the Hebrews reminds us, “Just as it is appointed that human beings die once, and after this the judgment” (Heb 9:27).  However, this judgment is not some kind of random event in which the judge metes out reward or punishment based on whim or preference. It is by the grace that Jesus won on the Cross that we come to salvation, but God does not force salvation on us. We must respond to the grace that He offers us, and the judgment after death is a judgment concerning our “yes” or “no” to God, our “yes” or “no” to following in His way. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church beautifully puts it, “Then will the conduct of each one and the secrets of hearts be brought to light. Then will the culpable unbelief that counted the offer of God’s grace as nothing be condemned. Our attitude about our neighbor will disclose acceptance or refusal of grace and divine love. On the last day Jesus will say: ‘Truly I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me’” (CCC, §678).

Jesus is the One who will judge each of us. He is the universal Judge, and He has won this right by His Cross. Again, as the Catechism beautifully puts it, “Christ is Lord of eternal life. Full right to pass definitive judgment on the works and hearts of men belongs to Him as redeemer of the world. He ‘acquired’ this right by His Cross. The Father has given ‘all judgment to the Son.’ Yet the Son did not come to judge, but to save and to give the life He has in Himself. By rejecting grace in this life, one already judges oneself, receives according to one’s works, and can even condemn oneself for all eternity by rejecting the Spirit of love” (CCC §679).

So as we contemplate this mystery of the judgment, on the one hand we must always have before us the truth that all of us will die and come to judgment before the throne of God. We cannot fall into laziness regarding the seriousness of our salvation, nor can we fall into the trap of our modern culture, which seems to believe that one can live in any way whatsoever and find salvation. On the other hand, we should always be filled with great hope, the hope that God wishes every human person to be saved. God never ceases in His work of leading us through our earthly life to final salvation where we will be perfectly united with all the saints and where God will be all in all.

Inklings of a New Evangelization: Treebeard and the Language of Reality

Miriam Marston

Assistant Director of Theology Programs, Theological Institute for the New Evangelization

St. John’s Seminary, Boston, MA

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Other columns in series:
The Beacons Are Lit

Of Myths and Maps

Inside the Song

A Word on Wonder

A Word on Tooks
Secondary Worlds and Primary Truths

Escape and the Good Catastrophe

“Real names tell you the story of the things they belong to in my language, in the Old Entish as you might say.  It is a lovely language, but it takes a very long time to say anything in it, because we do not say anything in it,
unless it is worth taking a long time to say and listen to.” ~ The Two Towers

* * *

It was Gimli the dwarf who broke in suddenly.  “The words of this wizard stand on their heads,” he growled, gripping the handle of his axe.
“In the language of Orthanc help means ruin, and saving means slaying, that is plain.”
~ The Two Towers

I have selected these quotes in order to illustrate two contrasting approaches toward language: the first speaker is Treebeard, who is, as his name suggests, a kind of tree – but one who has been awakened by the power of the elves, and who has walked Middle Earth since time out of mind.  The second quote cleverly sums up the nature of Saruman’s use of language, and as the “right hand man” of the wicked Sauron, his role in the corruption of Middle Earth is significant, and his influential words have much to do with his abominable successes.

If there were a certain grammar of reality in Tolkien’s world, then Treebeard could have very presumably written the lexicon. And he would have spent several human life-times fashioning such a work, for it is his creed that something really worth doing shouldn’t be done with haste.   But on the other side of the Middle Earth drama, we have the wizard Saruman, whose entire scheme depends on the deconstruction of this grammar of reality, and the enthronement of all that steals truth and life away from the world, replacing them with lies and metal.

Consider these words of Saruman:

“There need not be, there would not be, any real change in our designs,
only in our means.”

Tom Shippey, in his book “J.R.R. Tolkien: Author of the Century” makes the point that Saruman’s message “is all nonsense, summed up by the word ‘real’…  What does ‘real’ mean when Saruman says ‘real change’? … When people say things like ‘no real change’, they mean there is going to be a major change, but they would like you to pretend it is minor, and too often we do.”

Saruman makes promises of peace and goodwill, which sound attractive enough to be compelling, but vague enough to render the listener a little suspicious, at least the listener who isn’t easily taken in by words at their face value.  It’s helpful to recall that words are often (and unfortunately) subject to a kind of inflation and deflation, and it is this economy of words that Saruman plays to his advantage, in his efforts to win members to his side. Buying into the mere “face value” of a word has gotten us into trouble before.  Consider, for instance, the metaphysical error of nominalism, the effects of which can still be identified and felt today.  Why would Saruman have made a rather good nominalist?  Well, what does nominalism tell us?  It’s rather a question of what it does *not* tell us.  Briefly: this view proposes that names do not tell us much about the reality of the thing it is naming (can you hear Treebeard’s sorrowful sigh yet?) nor do they correspond to any universal categories.   As Gimli remarks with a dwarfish growl, Saruman could speak persuasively of help and saving, but would, in truth, mean ruin and slaying.  The words and the realities just don’t match up, and language is more a matter of convention rather than a dependable tool which serves to reasonably delineate the differences between things.

Now, Tolkien never wrote about nominalism, but then again, he never wrote about the British railway network or the benefits of eating clementines, and I’m sure he had some opinions about those.  We do, however, hear in the slow and deliberate voice of Treebeard a kind of refutation of a nominalist worldview.  In fact, I have little doubt that Treebeard would have led that medieval march against nominalism, as he led the Ents in their march against the treacheries of Saruman.

Tolkien never wrote about the New Evangelization, either (although he has greatly contributed to it through his work, touching and converting hearts that would have otherwise never heard the Good News).  But I suspect he would have agreed that part of the task in this era of evangelizing is to recover the lively connections between faith and reason, and that the bridge between the two is a healthy and fruitful understanding of reality.  Which means we need a proper way to talk about it. So what if we sat back and took an honest, and even Entish, look at some of the words we use? Isn’t it curious that our culture has become so fractured over words like love and marriage?   It might be explained by the fact that these, and a number of other words, are no longer firmly attached to any fixed realities.  They float around like balloons, waiting to be temporarily tethered to whatever situation or experience arises, and which needs a suitable name.  There are other ways to be careful about how we go about using language — what if we weren’t so “hasty” with providing a running online commentary of our lives?  Sure, social media tools make it possible to share nearly every thought that crosses our mind – but might we consider sharing less, or at least sharing things which build up reality, rather than diminish it?  On a related note, if Treebeard were on Facebook, I imagine he’d update his status every hundred years or so, as per his usual pace of conducting affairs.  And he would never survive in the Twitter-sphere; he would be mortified at the thought of being limited to 140 characters.

It would be a missed opportunity if I got too far in the discussion about words and their corresponding realities without even a mention of the Word of God – if there was ever a word which overflowed with meaning and reality, it would be this one.  It is a word that perfectly embodies everything it promises to be: the Word doesn’t just tell us about the way, the truth and the life – it is all of these things, and gloriously, beautifully so.  God had merely to speak this Word into the void, and the universe leapt to life.  If that does not demonstrate the splendid link between word and reality, then nothing else will.

In the end, we can see that Saruman, for all his slippery and distorted words, could not hold against the thundering tide of courage and love, which spoke the language of true and lasting things.  His words were so slippery, they eventually escaped even his own evil grasp, and faded into shadow.  It is fitting that the essence of Saruman eventually became reduced to little more than a wisp of grey mist.  It represents the thin and shallow reality of the words that he believed had served him so well, and the empty promises he thought would carry him to the heights of power and dominion over all of Middle Earth.   Instead, his fortress of lies crumbled and his colorless ashes were carried off by the cold and westerly wind.

And lastly, there’s something fitting about the Ents being trees and speaking the way they do, using language as a compass which points to the actualities of things.  Trees, in addition to having colorful leaves and knobby branches, have roots. It begs the question: how deep do our own roots go? We can hear Treebeard’s whisper linger in the air long after we’ve returned The Lord of the Rings to the bookshelf; a voice that tells us that we must be rooted in reality if we hope to say anything valuable at all.

The Intimacy of Love: On the Holy Family

John C. Cavadini, Ph.D.

McGrath-Cavadini Director, Institute for Church Life
Professor of Theology, University of Notre Dame

 

 

In all the traditional icons of the Nativity, St. Joseph is depicted in the lower left hand corner of the picture, usually in green (I think), conversing with an old man. The seemingly wise old man represents the devil, who is trying to persuade Joseph that such a thing as a virginal conception and birth is absurd. The mystery of St. Joseph and his marriage to the Blessed Mother is also part of the Nativity tradition. It’s why the Feast of the Holy Family falls within the Octave of Christmas. The marriage of Joseph and Mary is a true marriage, where everything is writ large and invested with the most beautiful secrets of trust and love. These are represented in the icon by the panel with Joseph and the old man. Joseph received his own annunciation but unlike Mary’s, no permission is asked of him, though they are betrothed. Number one cause of possible resentment. Then the seemingly absolute contradiction of “conception/birth” and “virginal.” These very hard “secrets” were, according to St. Ignatius of Antioch, hidden from the Prince of this World from eternity. Here he is, tempting Joseph, sure that these things cannot happen. Since he is so convinced, it is proof that these are mysteries of profound love. The devil does not believe in love. It is “hidden” from him.

Wouldn’t this be the supreme challenge to a marriage? Requiring not just Mary to hold these things in her heart, but Joseph to believe what the angel has revealed and to accept that it is a fait accompli and that Mary has a higher allegiance? And yet, in his trust in God Joseph reveals he has a higher allegiance too. Their shared higher allegiance, exchanged over the sharing of the most intimate secrets proper only to husband and wife, define them as husband and wife; and in their shared love and trust, the “secrets” hidden from all eternity remain hidden, as marital intimacy, until “the hour has come” and Jesus, nourished by sharing in this gift of intimacy as a child, must, like all children, grow up and be Himself, and so the Word boldly spoke forth all that was in His heart from the Father. Yet a non-docetic Christology must hold that in some way these secrets were imparted to Him through the sacrament — and I use the word advisedly — of the bound hearts of Joseph and Mary. This marriage, we can see in the icon above, was not exempt from all of the trials that all married couples endure, but absorbed in love.

But the devil never understands this intimacy; the devil sees only pragmatic alliances, and so is always resolved on intruding and trying to convince spouses that what happiness they have shared is an illusion, that the reality is the difficulties and not the joys. He is trying to convince Joseph that the cracks of darkness in the icon that show the cave and represent death, is the truth, and not the offspring of light that already sets the darkness into relief.  Yet we who see the icon know the truth, the light shined in the darkness and “the darkness has not overcome” the true Light that enlightens every person who comes into the world.