Today's Wisdom

Those who do not pass from the experience of the cross to the truth of the resurrection condemn themselves to despair! For we cannot encounter God without first crucifying our narrow notions of a god who reflects only our own understanding of omnipotence and power
Pope Francis

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Henri Boulad: The Scandal of the Incarnation

In spite of spiritual sickness and weakness with the temptations of materialist attractions by the media that surround me, I turned to the homily delivered in French by the Jesuit scholar Fr. Henri Boulad, S.J. on the first Sunday of Advent. I heard the magnificent and beautiful story of God which I wish to share here. Henri Boulad took his point of departure from Isaiah 63: 19 "Oh, that you would rend the heavens and come down..." This reading, in which Isaiah cries out to God, is very moving, said Boulad. "You, who created heavens and earth, are enthroned in the seventh heaven, inaccessible. For God to be God he must be the Most High, inaccessible One. This the God of the Greeks, the God of Pagans, the God of Muslims and, to some extent, the God of the Old Testament. Except that in the Old Testament we discern a God that is close, a God that descends, is interested in Man, and speaks to Man. There is already in the Old Testament a development in the way in which God prepares Man for the revelation of the incarnation of Jesus Christ." This cry for God to rend the heavens and come down - Is it possible? Is it possible that the Most High becomes the Most 'debased' a theme taken up by Christian Bobin in his book "Le Très-Bas"?questions Boulad. This is a question that probably many of us ask or eventually ask: Is it humanly-speaking possible that if God exists, he would not only respond to prayers, but come in the flesh to deliver us from evil and grant us freely eternal joy? It is not that I care about God. I care about myself. I want to live without decay and grow without aging or disease nor suffering and death. Let us listen.
Henri Boulad then asks "Why do we love Pope Francis?But what is the relationship?" And I add "Why do we love St. Pope John Paul II?" John Paul II danced with the youth, reached out to them in the four corners of the earth, kissed children, blessed the sick, and showed that solidarity between peoples exist in both joy and suffering when days before his death he was unable to speak to the crowds, yet insisted on showing them the suffering man himself. This is also the courage of Pope Francis. Fr. Boulad said "You may not remember Pope Pius XII, a serious man and a saint, that reigned in the 1940s and 1950s. And Pius XII was carried by 10 men over the 'Sedia Gestatoria' and enthroned with his head bearing the papal tiara (made of three crowns and bearing a globe surmounted by a cross). Hardly accessible, Pope Pius XII contemplated and blessed the crowds from the throne. Today Pope Francis descends into the street to visit the people on-drugs, street kids, and the refugees. These are two faces of the Church and two faces of God. Which one impresses you most?  The first who makes people tremble - a bit like Moses who was naive. People who do not understand any language other than force need such an awesome God. This inapproachable God is on the mountain. He does not reveal himself except through lightning, thunder, and earthquakes. People tremble in his presence. Anyone who came close to the mountain was immediately electrocuted. At least 'you will know that I am GOD'! There are people who do not understand a language other than this. There is a religion that is yet built upon this image of God -The Olympic god Zeus was a bit like [the Israelites understood] God in Sinai."

Fr.Henri Boulad then briefly traces the development of an "imperial" Church since Emperor Constantine's Edict of Milan in 313 (which granted Christians their religious freedom in the Roman Empire). He thinks that a powerful papacy was not necessary. It took generations and centuries of development for the Church to recognize the new 'style' of the papacy ushered by St. Pope John XXIII (pope 1958-1963). Who said the reform undertaken by the Church could be finished in one year or one century? Those are millions, if not billions, of souls that need the Church. Here I would like to remind my fellow Christians about St. Pope Pius X (pope 1903-1914). Pius X was a humble pontiff too like Pope Francis with disdain for the material riches and luxury dwellings in the Vatican who wanted to "restore everything in Christ". Pope Pius XII, mentioned above, canonized Pius X and moreover it was precisely Pius XII who ushered the reforms in Biblical studies which the Ecumenical Council Vatican II proclaimed (see the documents of Vatican II here). It was Blessed Pope Pius IX in the 19th century whose words of "invincible ignorance", inspired by the Gospel as interpreted by the Fathers, opened the way for Vatican II to recognize the possibility of salvation of non-Christians if they sincerely repent and follow the dictates of their conscience developed under the guidance of the Spirit of God. The chain goes back all the way to heroes of faith such as St. Francis of Assisi, the first humanist, and St. Thomas Aquinas, the Angelic Doctor. The openness of the Church to the Greek philosophy allowed him to baptize Aristotle (with approval by the papacy) and usher the great scientific exploration of nature on its own. Go to earlier centuries and you will discover St. Pope Gregory the Great who evangelized entire nations in the 6th century. But still earlier on, you will find St. Pope Leo I whose diplomatic skills convinced Attila the Hun not to sack Rome but rather to receive Christ and form the beginning of a growing civilization in the 5th century...In my opinion, I could not imagine the great evangelization of the world throughout many centuries without a powerful Roman papacy. How could a whole Western civilization develop if the papacy surrendered to the greed of non-Christians? How would an education system have been built without the influence of the papacy for many centuries? How could the Aquitanian Christian army defeat Muslim forces threatening Christian Europe at Toulouse in 721 AD if they did not have the Christian support of the papacy?   How could Charles Martel defend Europe against the Muslim forces at Tours in 732 AD if he did not have the Christian support of the papacy?  How could Charlemagne initiate the Carolingian Renaissance and open Europe to the Greek classics in the 9th century? It was providential that St. Peter, rock of the Church appointed by Christ, was martyred in Rome for the eventual recognition by the Roman Emperors of his Lord Jesus. When today the Catholic Church is persecuted along with other Christian Churches, it is only the pope's voice that is listened to while the Christian mission has reached out to nearly all of Asia and Africa.  The Church is in Latin America where Pope Francis came from. She is in North America, Europe, and Australia. Thanks to a papacy that united the faithful, remained faithful to the ancient tradition yet developed the Catholic moral teachings and doctrines under the Holy Spirit's inspiration. It is not Pope Francis who is carrying the Church but the Holy Spirit moving her from within.

"Jesus is a revelation. Jesus is a revolution" says the Jesuit scholar Henri Boulad. But what kind of revolution? "Jesus empties heaven and moves the [Divine presence] to be among us: Emmanuel." and continues "Is it possible that God makes such a radical move? I have a response here to our Muslim brothers who think it is impossible. For them God cannot descend from heaven without losing his honor and dignity."

Now listen carefully because here Henri Boulad summarizes the Christian Mystery in as simple language as possible "If Jesus Christ is an illusion...If Christianity is a sheer mystification...If God did not come to us and did not descend from his heaven...If he did not take the radical and seemingly impossible leap of the incarnation, then he ceases being credible - he ceases being love - he ceases being God."

Let us reflect. Here is the message: 

"The scandal of the Incarnation, which means that we cannot believe that God could debase himself , becomes the key and the supreme proof  that this is the truth"

"But a God in heaven well served who looks to me and says 'You suffer. Have courage. Perhaps one day you will be with me in my heaven' is not God. A God who says 'Patience. I am fine here but you over there can suffer' is not God. This is the false God that we, often, figure that he sends us prophets from time to time to console us' . NO, NO. NO. This God who looks to me with a telescope is not my God. I do not want him."

"If there is a phenomenon of atheism today in the West as well as in Egypt, it is precisely because men say we are in fact better than God. The walk that I walk to help when I see a hungry person or a thirsty one or a person without faith, can't God do it? Has he no choice regarding his honor?"

"No. He did it. This is the supreme proof of the Christian Mystery. Do not look somewhere else. 'Oh, that you would rend the heavens and come down...' He descended. No more seventh heaven..."

"The only God I can believe, love and worship is the God Jesus Christ because he descended to me."

"'Oh, that you would rend the heavens and come down...' "

And the great preacher and Jesuit scholar Henri Boulad finished here his homily.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Jim Reposkey on Awaiting Christ

Yesterday Sunday November 30 marked the first Sunday of Advent celebrated in the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Toronto. In the homily of the Mass at St. Alphonsus Church, Fr. James Reposkey, C.PP.S., one of the most prolific homilists in Canada, reflected on the Biblical readings. Here I paraphrase him on a few points as I understood them. Referring to the first reading from Isaiah 63, 64 "Why do you let us wander, O LORD, from your ways, and harden our hearts so that we fear you not?  Return for the sake of your servants" (Is. 63: 16B-17) Fr. Jim spoke passionately about our need for God in time of desolation when everything seems to have been desecrated. In his fear for the People of God eight centuries before Christ, Isaiah cried out to God asking the Lord to deliver Israel from the hands of tyrants who had taken them captives. Are not we captives today to the materialist world? Is not the Church under attack today? But as St. Paul declares to the Corinthians "I give thanks to my God always on your account for the grace of God bestowed on you in Christ Jesus, that in him you were enriched in every way,
with all discourse and all knowledge, as the testimony to Christ was confirmed among you, so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift as you wait for the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ." (1 Cor. 1) we too must thank God for the grace and gifts he bestowed on us in Christ. God knows the hearts that prayed, and the hands that worked for his glory. He knows the services given in the day care, school, parish, catechists and the new council of the Knights of Columbus to those in need of help both spiritual and material. And yet, Christ alerts us “Be watchful! Be alert! You do not know when the time will come. It is like a man traveling abroad. He leaves home and places his servants in charge, each with his own work, and orders the gatekeeper to be on the watch. Watch, therefore; you do not know when the Lord of the house is coming, whether in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or in the morning. May he not come suddenly and find you sleeping. What I say to you, I say to all: ‘Watch!’” (Mk 13: 33-37). In Advent we are called to watch and watch. He was already born 2000 years ago -He will not be reborn. Yet, we need to be reborn and renewed in Christ. For this, he sent his Holy Spirit and left us himself in his body and blood,which we partake of  in the Eucharistic thanksgiving. The body of Christ is holy. Please go to confession to receive it in grace. In all Churches of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Toronto, there will be on December 10 a full day for confession in the sacrament of Penance/Reconciliation all morning, afternoon and evening. May the peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with all.

Today's Quote

"Behold I make all things new." (Revelation 21:5)


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