MARY’S REMARKABLE INTERCESSION AT CANA

“On the third day there was a wedding at Cana in Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there.” (John 2:1)

In Luke’s Gospel we learn of the remarkable power associated with Mary’s voice, for as soon as Elizabeth heard the sound of Mary’s voice “the child leaped in her womb and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit” (Luke 1:41). Amazing, but true!

The power of Mary’s voice is also highlighted by John at the marriage at Cana. The first thing John tells us in his account is that there was a “marriage at Cana in Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there” (John 2:1). One might have thought that John would have said, “There was a marriage at Cana, and Jesus was there,” but no, John first tells us that Mary was there. Mary’s important intercessory role is thus being emphasized by John.

But John makes an even more remarkable point in this story. He tells us that Jesus’ time to perform his first miracle had not yet arrived. Jesus says, “My hour has not yet come” (John 2: 4). Would Mary dare tamper with the plans of Divine Providence, with the laid down tracts of predestination? Apparently so!

The power of Mary’s voice thus sounds again: “Do whatever he tells you,” she said to the servants (2:4), and so Jesus obeyed and right then and there changed the jars of water into wine! How significant was this miracle? John tells us: “This, the first of his signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested his glory; and his disciples believed in him” (2:11).

“Mary intervened at Cana for the needs of others, so she continues to make heavenly intercession for the needs of the saints on earth” (ICSB relying on CCC 969).

Oh Mary, Queen of Heaven, pray for us!

Thomas L. Mulcahy, M.A.

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WHY SPIRITUAL READING IS SUCH A GREAT HELP FOR GROWTH IN HOLINESS

(The First chapter of The Imitation of Christ published by Chapman and Hall in 1878.)

“Only God knows the good that can come about by reading one good Catholic book.” (St. John Bosco)

The incalculable importance of spiritual reading is the subject of this note. And our conclusion will simply be that spiritual reading is an incredibly important part of the spiritual life, something which we must make time for on a regular basis.

The correlation between spiritual reading and the prayer of meditation is well understood. Spiritual reading is the platform upon which we kindle the logs of meditation, until they flame-up into acts of affective praise, adoration and interior prayer, and when the flames die down, into resolutions for growth in holiness. Of course, on a given day, if we are dry, and we can only manage to muster a few loving aspirations to God, our spiritual reading will still be of great value as our minds are deeply nourished by Catholic truth, and we receive powerful advice from the great spiritual masters on how to overcome our faults and grow in holiness. Spiritual writers sometimes caution us to discern whether our time of meditation has regressed into mere spiritual reading, nevertheless, spiritual reading, in and of itself, is a highly valuable component of the spiritual life! As Father John Hardon observes:

“Spiritual reading is necessary as the normal way of nourishing the Christian faith, which means getting food for the mind so that the will and affections might love and serve God accordingly. I say the normal way, allowing for exceptions that simply prove the rule. We must take the ordinary means to preserve our physical life and the obligation is a grave one. Among these ordinary means none is more basic than food for the body. Without eating the body dies. And it is no comfort to say I am alive now and there is food outside of me. Either that food gets inside of me or I die. Being near me is not enough. I can be surrounded by food and starve. So too we must take the ordinary means to preserve our supernatural life and again the obligation is a grave one. Among these ordinary means none is more basic than food for the mind to nourish the faith. Without food for the mind the faith withers and dies, and there is no mental nourishment for the soul more available and accessible and providable than spiritual reading as just described. Not to nourish the mind, and in the mind the faith, with this food is to tempt Providence, which means to tempt God.”

And the great Father Faber adds this insight about the importance of spiritual reading:

“A person beginning the spiritual life with a taste for reading has a much greater chance of advancing and of persevering than one who is destitute of such a taste. Experience shows that it is really almost equal to a grace. The power of reading,… the taste for reading, [is] one of the most important of all the personal nonsupernatural qualifications for an inward life….He who begins a devout life without it [a taste for spiritual reading] may consider the ordinary difficulties of such a life multiplied in his case at least by ten.”

Still, the important correlation between spiritual reading and mental prayer is duly noted by the great spiritual writers:

“To our mind [spiritual reading] ranks equally with mental prayer and the other exercises of devotion in importance, and, in fact, it is so closely connected with these other exercises, especially the essential one of mental prayer, that without it – unless one finds a substitute,  – there is no possibility of advancing in the spiritual life; even perseverance therein is rendered very doubtful” (This Tremendous Lover, p. 101, by Father M. Eugene Boylan).

“The sixth means [to attain solid virtue] is spiritual reading. And we must be very careful in the choice of books. As a rule, we should prefer to all others those which touch the heart….Rodriguez is excellent for beginners. For those who are more advanced, The Imitation of Christ, the writings of Father Surin, Saint Francis de Sales, the Psalms and the New Testament, [and] the ‘Lives of the Saints.’ Our spiritual reading should be half prayer; that is to say, that in reading we should listen to the voice of God, and stop to meditate [engage in mental prayer] when we feel ourselves touched by what we read. We ought to read with a view to practice what we read” (Father Jean Grou, Manual for Interior Souls, p. 16).

“We must regard spiritual reading as being to meditation what oil is to the lamp” – F.W. Faber.

“Spiritual reading…is an intrinsic portion of a devout life, one of its actual and almost indispensable exercises. Prayer is the grand difficulty of most souls. Now, [spiritual] reading feeds and furnishes prayer. It supplies matter. It plants the wilderness. Rightly practiced spiritual reading obviates at least half the difficulties of meditation” – F.W. Faber.

Spiritual reading also tends to have the remarkable capacity to help us in our present needs. “We derive the greatest assistance from [spiritual] reading. Indeed, it is astonishing how pertinent all our reading seems to become when we are in difficulties. It is as if the Holy Ghost, rather than ourselves, had chosen what we should read; and it is he most assuredly who gives it now such a special unction and special message to our souls in their present straits” (Spiritual Conferences, p. 270).

In her excellent book, Am I Living a Spiritual Life?, acclaimed Catholic author, Dr. Susan Muto, urges us to find time each day for spiritual reading. She says: “The possibility of experiencing the touch of God in daily tasks increases in accordance with the time we spend in spiritual reading. The complaint of not having enough time to do spiritual reading might be traceable to an inability to put each aspect of life in its proper perspective. If my primary commitment is the love of God, then I’ll take time to imbibe his word. Professional life is important, but what about all the extras that get added to it? When I look over my day, I find there’s time to do spiritual reading, provided I use my time to the best advantage. We mustn’t forget that the Spirit is capable of illuminating some bland word or trite maxim so that our spirits are transformed in a brief moment of genuine attention [during spiritual reading]” (p.43-44, as edited).

Father Robert Eiten adds the following insights regarding the benefits of spiritual reading:

“Spiritual reading affects both our mind and our will. By spiritual reading our mind is uplifted, spiritually enlightened, given new ideas and new approaches to things; new motives are placed before it or the old ones are refreshed and renewed in our minds. We get new ways of looking at things and old truths are put under new labels. Our will is inspired and strengthened; enthusiasm is aroused in us; appeal is made to our hero instinct and our courage is renewed….Some might object that they have not [the] time for daily spiritual reading. If one is habitually neglecting such reading in general, sooner or later this neglect will show up in his conversation, correspondence, and dealing with others” (A Layman’s Way To Perfection, pp. 88-90).

CONCLUSION: For the reasons stated above it is quite important to set aside time each day for spiritual reading. It is not easy to persevere in the spiritual life, and the great spiritual writers have spoken as if spiritual reading is a necessary component of our perseverance. And frankly: – perseverance is everything!  Our spiritual reading is like a road map: it gives us the knowledge and insight we need to safely traverse the hazards of the spiritual journey and to stay on the path that leads to God and eternal life. And as this knowledge enters our minds and hearts it is to be expected that our spiritual reading will become as much prayer and petition as it is a private tutorial for growth in holiness. Without this spiritual road map – that is to say, without a commitment to spiritual reading – we are bound to get lost and confused in the noise of the world which drowns out spiritual life. It is thus important to keep a good Catholic book nearby for daily spiritual reading and nourishment.

I conclude with five recommendations for spiritual reading, but there is literally a full library of solid Catholic books to choose from:

  1. The Imitation of Christ by Thomas a Kempis
  2. Introduction to the Devout Life by St. Francis de Sales
  3. The Story of a Soul by St. Therese of Lisieux
  4. The Creator and the Creature by Father F,W. Faber
  5. Consoling the Heart of Jesus by Father Michael E. Gaitley

Tom Mulcahy, M.A.

 

References: The book by Susuan Muto, Am I Leading a Spiritual Life?, is co-authored by Father Adrian van Kaam. The quotes from Father Faber are from his book, Spiritual Conferences. In the conclusion, where I talk about the challenge of perseverance and the necessity of spiritual reading, I am drawing from Father Faber.

Image: The lead image is from Wikipedia (Public Domain, U.S.A.)

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FIVE COMPONENTS OF A WELL-MADE PRAYER

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your request to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:6-7)

In this note we will review five essential qualities or components of a well-made prayer, relying on one of the Church’s greatest spiritual writers, Father Jean Nicolas Grou (1731-1803). Evelyn Underhill, one of the great writers on Christian mysticism, once remarked that Father Grou’s work, How to Pray, is “one of the best short expositions of the essence of prayer which has ever been written.”

According to Father Grou the five essential components of a well-made prayer are that it be made: attentively, reverently, lovingly, confidently and perseveringly. Here are condensed and edited comments from Father Grou pertaining to these five qualities of a well-made prayer.

PRAY ATTENTIVELY: “A prayer addressed to God, whether to pay him homage or to plead with him for our highest interests, must be attentive to the point of keeping all our powers concentrated on [God]. But let me ask you this: when you pray do you seriously wish to be attentive? Is it your first care to recollect yourself and think [about] what you are going to do? If you do not begin by this [recollection], you do not prepare yourself for so holy an action, and you are responsible for your distractions.”

PRAY REVERENTLY: “The very idea of prayer involves that of reverence and humility. He who prays is a creature; it is God to whom he prays. What is God compared with the creature? What is the creature compared with God? This thought alone ought to fill us with the deepest humility; how much greater will this humility be when we remember that we are sinners and that God is infinitely holy. If you do not feel this, if you do not approach God with a profound sense of your own nothingness, you should mistrust your prayer.”

PRAY LOVINGLY: “The third characteristic of prayer is that it is loving. God desires to be loved as much as he is respected, and the Holy Spirit, who is the eternal love of the Father and the Son, inspires no prayer that is not a prayer for love and a prayer which leads to love. It is love which must inspire the Christian to pray: love must be the final aim [of his prayer], and the increase of love must be its fruit.” This takes us back to what I have said before: it is the heart that prays and therefore loves or aspires to love.”

PRAY CONFIDENTLY: “Confidence is the fourth characteristic of the prayer that is taught to us of the Holy Spirit. When the [Holy Spirit] makes us pray, it is plain that he influences us to ask only such things as he has resolved to give us, and that the first thing he grants us is a firm confidence that we shall obtain our requests. This is the confidence the [Holy Spirit] answers and inspires. It is our part to respond to it and not let our confidence be weakened  by any fear or any kind of reasoning. We see in the Gospels that Jesus Christ’s miracles were all performed in response to faith. That faith [Jesus] sought was not just the faith in divine power, but rather the hope he would grant what was asked. If the Spirit of God were the only wind that blew on you, he would incline and urge your heart in the direction of confidence.”

PRAY PERSEVERINGLY: “Lastly, the prayer produced by the Spirit is persevering. Let us be humble and patient and never let us doubt that, if our requests tend to the glory of God and our own salvation, they will be granted in the end. If our requests are not granted, it is because they will attend neither to his glory nor our own benefit; and so we should not wish to obtain them. God has promised to open the door to him who knocks, but he has not said that he would not keep him waiting. He has fixed the right time to give us the boon, and likewise the right time for us to be inspired with the first thought of seeking it. Whenever we have reason to believe that this thought is from him, we must persevere in our prayer, being certain that he will reward our perseverance.”

Concluding Prayer of Father Grou: “Oh my Savior, teach me to pray then no more in my own way and according to human wisdom, but according to the method of the Holy Spirit. May the [Holy Spirit] quicken me and pray in me with those ‘groanings which cannot be uttered’ of which thine Apostle [Paul] speaks. Amen.”

Thomas L. Mulcahy, M.A.

Reference: My edition of How to Pray by Father Grou is published by The Upper Room. My edited quotes are from pages 32-41, Chapter Three. The book itself elaborates in much more detail on these five essential points and is highly recommended. Note as well that How to Pray is taken from a much larger work of Father Grou called The School of Jesus Christ, a very difficult book to find in English. The quote from Evelyn Underhill is in the forward of How to Pray. Spiritual writers balance “our nothingness,” our indigence, our great need for God against the complementary truth of our dignity as children of God.

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A SHORT REFLECTION ON THE PRESENT RELEVANCE OF FATIMA

“We would be mistaken to think that Fatima’s prophetic mission is complete” (Pope Benedict XVI)

May 13 is the Feast of Our Lady of Fatima, so I offer this short reflection on the continuing relevance of Fatima.

Archbishop Fulton Sheen once observed that only those living by faith really understand what is happening in the world. In other words, we must try to interpret what is going on in the world through the eyes of faith. In light of the “great, supernatural facts” of the apparitions at Fatima in 1917, I make the following four observations:

1. The continuing loss of the Christian and Catholic faith in Europe and the United States seems staggering and ongoing (thus increasing dramatically in the Western world “the society of the unbaptized”). This means that atheism and agnosticism are becoming powerful forces in the West, and the prospects for their future growth seems unstoppable.

2. The egregious clergy sex abuse scandal in the Catholic  Church has greatly harmed the Church and is only accelerating  # 1. above.

3. The constant and unchangeable teaching of the Catholic Church, that there are absolute moral norms that cannot be violated, is under profound attack even at the highest levels of Church authority, as modernist clergy seek to find ways of accommodation for those who do not accept Catholic teaching (especially) in the area of sexual morality (and allegations of heresy by credible scholars such as the eminent Dominican Father, Aidan Nichols, have arisen) .

4. The incredible and truly remarkable impetus of the LGBT revolution means that the world being presented to our young people is radically different from the Christian world view, especially pertaining to family and sexual ethics (not to mention the fluidity of sexual identity).

In his book, Catholic ProphecyThe Coming Chastisement Yves Dupont offers the following conclusion:

“I regard it as certain that there will be two different stages. The first stage will only be the beginning of sorrows [see Matt. 24:8], and it will be shortened for the sake of the elect, and the Gospel will then be preached throughout the world. This will be the period of peace under the Great Monarch, the period of conversion and general prosperity which we and our children may enjoy – in short, the period of peace promised by Our Lady of Fatima” (p.91).

Another great scholar of Catholic prophecy, Father Edward Conner, in his book Prophecy for Today, sees the general sequence of prophetic events unfolding in this manner:

A. “Before the Gospel is preached and accepted in all the world, there shall come world wars and insidious doctrines accompanied by widespread persecution.

B. This era shall be terminated by the the direct interference of God destroying the evil systems or persons responsible for the persecutions; and through the leadership of a great civil ruler and a great spiritual leader, a period of peace will come during which nations will hear and accept the true Faith [this period of peace coincides with the Fatima prophecy of a period of peace].”

C. A great apostasy will follow [and Antichrist will come, leading to the Second Coming of Jesus Christ and the end of the world as set forth in Holy Scripture].”

A seminal and very long book on Catholic prophecy published in 1996, Trial, Tribulation and Triumph, by Desmond A. Birch, generally agrees that there will be a minor chastisement (meaning not the final chastisement at the end of the world), a period of peace, a major chastisement (Antichrist), and then the Second Coming of Jesus Christ.

As to the minor chastisement, which will be followed by a period of peace, these are the first three elements in Birch’s long chronology of how it will come about: (1) “At some point in the future, the corrupt faithless age we live in now will come to an end either through inner conversion of sufficient number of people who turn to prayer, sacrifice, and penance,—or there will be a chastisement. This would be a Minor Chastisement preceding the Age of Peace. St Louis de Montfort described this Age of Peace as the Age of Mary. (2) If this chastisement is not averted through conversion, the Latin Church will be afflicted by heresy and schism. (3) The chastising elements will come in two forms, (a) man made and (b) Heaven-sent” (page 553). Following his description of this minor chastisement, Birch goes on to describe the period of peace which will result, and then the rise of Antichrist and the end of the world.

key insight of Birch is that the minor chastisement prophesied at Fatima (if not averted by prayer and penance) will come by way of heresy and schism entering the Church.

The second secret of Fatima, given to the seers on July 13, 1917, coincides with the general prophetic understanding of a chastisement and then a coming period of peace. It states (as verbatim from the Vatican website) the following:

“You have seen hell [the children’s vision of hell is the first secret] where the souls of poor sinners go. To save them, God wishes to establish in the world devotion to my Immaculate Heart. If what I say to you is done, many souls will be saved and there will be peace. The war is going to end: but if people do not cease offending God, a worse one will break out during the Pontificate of Pius XI. When you see a night illumined by an unknown light, know that this is the great sign given you by God that he is about to punish the world for its crimes, by means of war, famine, and persecutions of the Church and of the Holy Father. To prevent this, I shall come to ask for the consecration of Russia to my Immaculate Heart, and the Communion of reparation on the First Saturdays. If my requests are heeded, Russia will be converted, and there will be peace; if not, she will spread her errors throughout the world, causing wars and persecutions of the Church. The good will be martyred; the Holy Father will have much to suffer; various nations will be annihilated. In the end, my Immaculate Heart will triumph. The Holy Father will consecrate Russia to me, and she shall be converted, and a period of peace will be granted to the world.”

Saint John Paul II was known as the “Fatima Pope,” devoting himself profoundly to the Fatima message following his having been shot and almost killed in St. Peter’s Square on May 13, 1981 (the anniversary of the first apparition of Mary at Fatima). Sister Lucia, the Fatima seer, confirmed that Pope John Paul II’s 1984 consecration of Russia to the Immaculate Heart of Mary had been “accepted by Heaven” (see Fatima for Today, p.260). On May 13, 1982, Pope John Paul II spoke the following words during a homily given in Fatima, Portugal:

“In the light of a mother’s love we understand the whole message of the Lady of Fátima. The greatest obstacle to man’s journey towards God is sin, perseverance in sin, and, finally, denial of God. The deliberate blotting out of God from the world of human thought. The detachment from him of the whole of man’s earthly activity. The rejection of God by man…. [He] reads it again with trepidation in his heart, because he sees how many people and societies—how many Christians—have gone in the opposite direction to the one indicated in the message of Fátima. Sin has thus made itself firmly at home in the world, and denial of God has become widespread in the ideologies, ideas and plans of human beings.”

Russia’s error, the attempt to construct a society without reference to God, is spreading rapidly to the West. The future of Christianity is under profound attack. Can the Church meet this challenge? Or will it submit, more and more, to the spirit of the world?

Our Lady of Fatima, pray for us.

Respectfully submitted for your consideration,

Thomas L. Mulcahy, M.A.

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SOME FINAL THOUGHTS ABOUT THE DIRECTION OF THE CATHOLIC CHURCH FROM FATHER JAMES SCHALL

“O Timothy, guard the deposit entrusted to you. Avoid the irreverent babble and contradictions of what is falsely called ‘knowledge,’ for by professing it some have swerved from the faith.” (1 Timothy 6: 20-21)

Father James V. Schall, S.J., the prolific Catholic author, philosopher and theologian, who taught at Georgetown for many years, died on April 17, 2019. He was 91 years old. “Schall was ‘one of the great treasures of American Catholic academics,’ a writer for Catholic News Service once wrote in reviewing two of his more than 30 books.” Less than a year before he died, Father Schall wrote an important essay entitled: “Why Be (or Continue to Be) Catholic?” –  a fairly provocative title from a sober minded priest. There is a link to this article at the bottom of this post, but I have taken the liberty of selecting four quotes (which I have captioned below) from Father Schall’s article as expressive of his deep concerns about the present difficulties in the Catholic Church:

Quote No.1. THE LOSS OF INTELLECTUAL ACUMEN IN THE CHURCH

“In the past several years, I have perceived a noticeable loss of intellectual acumen that the Church gained with John Paul II and Benedict. Many are upset by this lack of depth, especially more recent converts who came into the Church with the help of the vigorous thinking we still see in these two popes. But the main reason for the decline of Church membership is the desire to be like others in modern society. Many want Catholic teaching to be viewed and interpreted through a modern lens.”

Quote No. 2. HERETICS WITHIN THE CHURCH

“In thinking about these things, I again take my cue from the ‘heretics’ who refuse to leave the Church but stay in it to transform it, as they say, into their image of modernity. In the end, they can find no place else to go. They are already wrapped within modernity’s orbit. The effort from within to transform Christianity into modernity, to align its basic premises with those of the modern world, seems like a plausible, shrewd tactic. Many have already made this transition.”

Quote No. 3. WHY REMAIN CATHOLIC?

“Why should we continue to be Catholic?” Much of the controversy that swirls around the Holy Father has, at its origin, the feeling that certain basic—once-thought non-negotiable—principles and practices have been denied or at least implicitly allowed to pass away. Under the aegis of finely tuned “mercy” and “discernment,” a method has been developed that would justify this accommodation of the Church to that modernity and its principles that everyone seems eager to embrace.”

Quote No. 4. CAN WE CONTINUE TO BE CATHOLIC TODAY?

“Only if one thing remains true and upheld. Only if the same teachings and practices that were handed down and guaranteed down the ages remain the foundation of the Church. This revelation in all its ramifications is what best explains human meaning and destiny. If the substance of this revelation is not upheld, the question is no longer a merely human problem of whether or not to be loyal to a tradition. It is the breakdown of revelation itself since it is no longer credible on its own terms. The guarantee of Christ is to be with us till the end, with the central teachings and practices of his life at the center. If this content and sequence is not maintained in a living way, i.e., in a thoroughly nuanced but plain way, we have no reason still to be Catholic.”

CONCLUSION:

Father Schall was an expert on the famous convert, G.K. Chesterton, so in Father Schall’s honor I close with these famous and critically important words from Chesterton’s great book, Orthodoxy.

“People have fallen into a foolish habit of speaking of orthodoxy as something heavy, humdrum, and safe. There never was anything so perilous or so exciting as orthodoxy. It was sanity: and to be sane is more dramatic than to be mad…

It is easy to be a madman: it is easy to be a heretic. It is always easy to let the age have its head; the difficult thing is to keep one’s own. It is always easy to be a modernist; as it is easy to be a snob. To have fallen into any of those open traps of error and exaggeration which fashion after fashion and sect after sect set along the historic path of Christendom–that would indeed have been simple. It is always simple to fall; there are an infinity of angles at which one falls, only one at which one stands. To have fallen into any one of the fads from Gnosticism to Christian Science would indeed have been obvious and tame. But to have avoided them all has been one whirling adventure; and in my vision the heavenly chariot flies thundering through the ages, the dull heresies sprawling and prostrate, the wild truth reeling but erect” (Chapter 6).

Please say a prayer for the soul of Father James Schall. Pleas pray for the Church.

Thomas L. Mulcahy, M.A.

Link:  https://www.crisismagazine.com/2018/why-be-or-continue-to-be-catholic

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THE GREAT SIGN THAT YOU LOVE GOD!

Jesus replied: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matthew 22: 37-39)

“In the evening of our life, we shall be judged by love” (St. John of the Cross)

I once had the idea of getting a tattoo on my forearm, saying: DON’T FORGET TO LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR. I never got the tattoo, but the principle remains the same – it is very easy to forget our obligation to love our neighbor. And sometimes it even seems as if we are programmed to find fault with our neighbor.

As good as we may be our corrupt and fallen nature is quite capable of nurturing resentment and contempt (dare I even mention hatred) towards our neighbor. And yet one of the foremost ways our virtue is tested is through the way we treat and interact with other people. In this sense there are numerous occasions to act virtuously each day because most of us are constantly coming into contact with other people, and even with difficult characters who test our virtue to the max. It would be a mistake to think that in this world of many temptations the devil fails to tempt us against the love of neighbor. In other words, we need to be on our guard and recognize when we are being tempted against the love of neighbor. To not recognize these temptations is the occasion for many falls – even serious falls.

We may even say to ourselves during such a temptation: “Ah, I see my heart is being moved not to like this guy; I will have to greatly check this impulse to speak unkindly to him, and I will give my best effort to act charitably towards him. Jesus help me.”

This whole matter of combating temptations against the love of neighbor is quite important, for the GREAT SIGN that we love God is our love of neighbor. Father Garrigou-Lagrange explains this principle quite well, relying on Saint Thomas Aquinas.

St. Thomas [states]: “Primarily and essentially, the perfection of the Christian life consists in charity, principally as to the love of God, secondarily as to the love of our neighbor, both of which are the matter of the chief commandments of the divine law. . . . Secondarily and instrumentally, however, perfection consists in the observance of the counsels.” The great sign of the love of God is precisely love of one’s neighbor. Christ Himself says so, and we cannot insist too strongly on this point: “A new commandment I give unto you: That you love one another, as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this shall all men know that you are My disciples, if you have love one for another” (John 13:34-35). This love of our neighbor is the great sign of the progress of the love of God in our hearts, so much so that St. John adds: “He that saith he is in the light, and hateth his brother, is in darkness even until now” (1 John 2:9). “We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love the brethren. . . . Whosoever hateth his brother is a murderer” (1 John 3:14-15).  (The Three Ages of the Interior Life, p. 154).

According to Father Garrigou Lagrange, we may even be called to the heroic love of neighbor as we grow in the perfection of charity:

St. Thomas points out also that in the perfect, charity toward one’s neighbor, the great sign of our love of God, extends not only to all in general, but as soon as the occasion presents itself to each of those with whom the perfect have relations, not only to friends but to strangers and even to adversaries. Moreover, this fraternal charity is intense in them, reaching even to the sacrifice of exterior goods and of life itself for the salvation of souls, since Christ said: “This is My commandment, that you love one another, as I have loved you” (John 15:12). We see this charity in the apostles after Pentecost, when they were “rejoicing that they were accounted worthy to suffer reproach for the name of Jesus” (Acts 5:41). This is also what made St. Paul say: “But I most gladly will spend and be spent myself for your souls” (2 Cor. 12:15). (The Three Ages of the Interior Life, p.160).

A great spiritual writer, Father Grou, reminds us of the difficulties we experience in loving our neighbor. He says: “Yes, the love of our neighbor, in a true sense, is much more painful to nature than the love of God, although it is also true that these two loves cannot be separated. Thus our neighbor is the cause of almost all the faults with which devout people have to reproach themselves, and how many of these kind of faults do they commit without perceiving them, without having any idea of having done so, and which they would have a difficulty in acknowledging” (Manual For Interior Souls, p. 145).

Father Grou also suggests the means to overcome this difficulty: “But to attain to this [love of neighbor] it is clearly to be seen that we must continually renounce ourselves, and keep ourselves always in a state of dependence upon God, always united to Him by prayer, always attentive and faithful to His inspirations. The exact observance of the two great precepts of the law of the Gospel is undoubtedly worth all the trouble we may have to take in subjecting ourselves for that end to those teachings of the interior life which may be hard and painful to human nature” (Manual For Interior Souls, p. 146).

The love of neighbor should be a special object of our prayers, of our daily examination of conscience, and of our sacramental life. Only God can give us the grace we need to truly carry out this commandment of brotherly love.

CONCLUSION: One of the greatest obligations we have here on planet earth is to love our neighbor. The devil knows this and tempts us to disparage and dislike our neighbor. These temptations, nevertheless, are the “raw material” out of which we grow in holiness – precisely because they provide us with the opportunity to act virtuously, overcoming our repugnances and dislikes, by choosing to act charitably towards our neighbor.

“For love is a flower that grows in any soil, works its sweet miracles undaunted by autum frost or winter snow, blooming fair and fragrant all the year, and blessing those who give and those who receive” (Louisa May Alcott).

Indeed, this love is so powerful that it will transcend the seasons of this life, lasting throughout eternity, never ending as the Apostle tells us (1 Corinthians 13: 8,13), but forged first here on our earthly pilgrimage during this time of testing.

Thomas L. Mulcahy, M.A.

 

References: The idea for this post came from Father Grou’s observation that we can sometimes experience even great temptations against the love of neighbor (see p. 177 of the Manual For Interior Souls). From this point of Father Grou I came to a much more profound realization that I need to be on guard against such temptations. It is Father Faber who points out that our temptations are the raw materials out of which we make acts of virtue.

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JESUS IS RISEN! IT IS TRUE!

                “God raised this Jesus; of this we are all witnesses.” (Acts 2:32)

It’s a very embarrassing moment for a lawyer trying a case in front of a jury when the judge says, “Please call your next Witness,” and that next witness hasn’t shown up. Witnesses are very important (and nothing is more valuable to a lawyer than a competent, credible and honest witness), and this concept of “witness,” of credible witnesses, has a definite place in Christianity (indeed, in the painting above we see the risen Christ appearing to the apostles along the shore of Lake Tiberias – as recorded in John 21).

In 2 Peter 1:16 the concept of witness is elaborated upon by the apostle, who says:

For we did not follow cleverly devised stories when we told you about the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ in power, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty.” (2 Peter 1: 16)
 
And at John 21:24 another apostle – obviously John – signs his affidavit of authenticity at the end of his Gospel by stating:
 
“This is the disciple who testifies to these things and who wrote them down. We know that his testimony is true.” (John 21: 24-25)
 

The Catechism of the Catholic Church tells us that the Resurrection of Jesus Christ was a real and historical event: “The mystery of Christ’s resurrection is a real event, with manifestations that were historically verified, as the New Testament bears witness” (CCC 639). Clearly there are aspects of our Lord’s Resurrection which transcend the limitations of time and space – still the event itself was witnessed in history and dramatically changed the lives of those who witnessed it. Peter, speaking on the day of Pentecost, says:God raised this Jesus; of this we are all witnesses” (Acts 2:32)

Relying on his apostolic credentials, Saint Paul writes powerfully about the historical reliability of  Jesus’ Resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15, stating: 

“For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all, as to one untimely born, He appeared to me also.”  (1 Cor. 15: 3-8)

The Apostle speaks here of the living tradition of the Resurrection which he had learned after his conversion at the gates of Damascus” (CCC 639). In this famous passage (just quoted above) Paul mentions 500 hundred witnesses to Jesus’ resurrection, and he further adds that some of these witnesses have died, which means that most are still alive and can provide corroborating testimony! Five hundred witnesses would make for a long trial!

The great Biblical scholar C.H. Dodd comments on this concept of witness as it pertains to the resurrection. He states: “The main weight [regarding the truth of Jesus’ Resurrection] … is placed on the testimony that Jesus was ‘seen’ alive after death, by a number of his followers….” (The Founder of Christianity, page 167). Dodd adds: Something had happened to these men, which they could describe only by saying they had ‘seen the Lord’. This is not an appeal to any generalized ‘Christian experience’. It refers to a particular series of occurrences, unique in character, unrepeatable, and confined to a limited period” (p.168). Dodd therefore concludes:

“[For] the original witnesses [the resurrection of Jesus was] an immediate, intuitive certainty. They were dead sure they had met with Jesus, and there was no more to be said about it….Now they were new men in a new world, confident, courageous, enterprising, the leaders of a movement which made an immediate impact and went forward with an astonishing impetus.” (p. 170)
 
Almost all of these apostles went on to convincingly confirm that they witnessed the resurrected Jesus with the witness – the Greek word “martyr” literally means witness – of their own lives, which is a most powerful testimony. Who are we today – some 2000 years later – but the living beneficiaries and stewards of the most important testimony ever given: “CHRIST IS RISEN! ALLELUIA!

Tom Mulcahy, J.D.

Image: James Tissot, Christ Appears on the Shore of Lake Tiberias (Public Domain, U.S.A.)
References: The Founder of Christianity by C.H. Dodd, The Catechism of the Catholic Church, and The Ignatius Catholic Bible Study on 1 Corinthians 15.

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THE MEANING OF LIFE

      “I came that they may have life, and may have it abundantly” (John 10:10)

We know that life is a mystery –  and yet we want to understand why there is life, and so much life. The other morning there was a loud noise coming from the back gutter of my house, so I opened a window upstairs and a bunch of Blue jays flew away – a beautiful sight to see! Everywhere we go the world is teeming with life – life, beautiful life!

But it was not supposed to be so! From everything I’ve read, inanimate matter, which preceded organic life, is utterly incapable of generating biological life. Like everywhere else in the universe, there should be physics and chemistry, but the stunning world of biology on planet earth is quite a surprise!!, and in a very real sense it is something akin to the miraculous. “The evolution of modern cells is arguably the most challenging and important problem the field of Biology has ever faced” (Carl Richard Woese, famous American microbiologist).

“…no life, no biology, only physics and chemistry….we only have evidence that it happened on one planet, after a lapse of half a billion to a billion years.  So the sort of lucky event we are looking at could be so wildly improbable that the chances of its happening, somewhere in the universe, could be as low as one in a billion billion billion in any one year.  If it did happen on only one planet, anywhere in the universe, that planet has to be our planet—because here we are talking about it”  (Richard Dawkins, Climbing Mount Improbable).

The Catholic Church claims to repeat on its altars each day this stunning transformation of inanimate or non-living matter into biological life through, anthropologically speaking, the incantation of a priestly blessing over bread and wine. The whole thing seems (without faith) wildly improbable, and yet in the well documented literature of Eucharistic miracles there appears to be compelling evidence that it has happened on more than one occasion. Amazing, but then again biological life itself is wildly improbable (see Joan Carroll Cruz’ well researched book, Eucharistic Miracles, which documents many stunning miracles of such sort)!

We come, then, to the person of Jesus Christ, who claims to be “the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6). In his teachings he accentuates over and over again the central point that the meaning of life is eternal life. “In the preaching of Jesus everything is directed immediately toward Eternal Life” (Father Garrigou-Lagrange). The Gospel of John, in fact, is often referred to as the “Gospel of Eternal Life.” Now we have this amazing phenomenon that a group of apostles witnessed the dead cellular structure of Jesus’ crucified body come back to life! Jesus, in fact, went out of his way to demonstrate to the apostles – and on more than one occasion – that his resurrected body was a real, human body, the very body he had before his death (“Look at my hands and my feet. It is I myself! Touch me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have” – Luke 24:39).

Thus, the apostles were not left wondering whether they had seen Jesus in the flesh following his death and burial – Jesus went out of his way on multiple occasions to make sure that they had!  And these apostles were men that went on to live heroic lives, to suffer and die for what they had witnessed, spawning the amazing rise of the Christian faith despite insurmountable obstacles, and without any resort to violence.

The mystery of life most certainly involves the stunning interplay between inanimate, inert matter and living things. And perhaps in this light it should not be so stunning, after all, that God can bring dry bones back to life! (see Ezekiel 37).

Thomas L. Mulcahy, M.A.

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WHO WAS SAVED IN THE SCARLET LETTER?

“Is not this better [said Dimmesdale to Hester on the scaffold] than what we dreamed of in the forest?” (Chapter 23)

Henry James, the famous novelist, wrote a note about The Scarlet Letter in which he called it “the finest piece of imaginative writing yet put forth” in the United States. His main criticism of the novel was that it contained “a great deal of symbolism…I think, too much.” The point, however, is that symbolism is very important to understanding The Scarlet Letter, and in this short note I will make much of two very important symbols used by Nathaniel Hawthorne in the novel, namely, the scaffold and the forest. I will maintain that the scaffold is a symbol of salvation, and the forest a symbol of freedom from conventional moral restraints. Especially by the use of these two symbols, I hope to demonstrate that all four of the main characters in The Scarlet Letter – Hester Prynne, Arthur Dimmesdale, Mr. Roger Chillingworth and Pearl – were saved (and by saved I am referring ultimately to the Christian meaning of that term, although it has other meanings as well).

Let me get straight to my main point (knowing that you are already familiar with the facts of the novel): no one is saved in The Scarlet Letter unless he climbs up upon the scaffold. In other words, the pathway to salvation in the novel is directly connected to the scaffold. Dimmesdale flees the scaffold, or mounts it in a cowardly and imaginary fashion under the cover of darkness, when no one can see him, and thus suffers incredible interior pain throughout the course of the novel due to the concealment of his sin (and Hawthorne’s psychological description of Dimmesdale’s acute suffering is quite remarkable). Hester Prynne, by contrast, who was forced to undergo the public humiliation of standing on the scaffold (as described in the opening chapters) fairs much better. Her mental well-being and fortitude is impressive, and her growth in virtue as described by Hawthorne in Chapter 13 results in her being called a “Sister of Mercy.” Nevertheless, there is a temptation within Hester’s soul that attracts her to the illusion of salvation offered by the forest (and one can naturally sympathize with her attraction to the type of (seemingly) liberating moral calculus offered by the forest given the Puritanical oppression she has heroically endured).

But the forest is not the pathway to true salvation. In that famous scene near the end of the novel, where Dimmesdale and Hester meet in the forest, the temptation is placed in their hearts to see in their love something greater than the moral restraints that prohibit it, Hester arguing that their forbidden love “had  a consecration of its own.” Their plan of escape, which can never amount to a true escape, is to get out of Boston and sail to England, and live a new life (along with their daughter, Pearl). The forest thus symbolizes a freedom not found in the civilized world, a freedom that would romantically overshadow (or overpower) the stigma of sin. But the narrator (speaking for Hawthorne) comments:

“Such was the sympathy of Nature—that wild, heathen Nature of the forest, never subjugated by human law, nor illumined by higher truth—with the bliss of these two spirits! Love, whether newly born, or aroused from a deathlike slumber, must always create a sunshine, filling the heart so full of radiance, that it overflows upon the outward world. Had the forest still kept its gloom, it would have been bright in Hester’s eyes, and bright in Arthur Dimmesdale’s!” (Chapter 18).

But as soon as Dimmesdale leaves the forest and reenters the civilized world he is attacked by diabolical temptations so vehement that he is on the verge of saying blasphemous, vile and wicked things to people passing by (most of whom are associated with his congregation).  At some point, upon returning home, Dimmesdale must sense or discern that his spiritual life is under attack (“…am I given over utterly to the fiend?” he wondered on his walk home) and that no amount of miles between himself and Boston can ever really solve his underlying problems of guilt and concealment. This is clearly supposition on my part, but it seems to be confirmed later when Dimmesdale says to Chillingworth, “Ha, tempter! Methinks thou art too late,” which evidences the Reverend’s change of heart (and one theory is that Dimmesdale’s change of heart was the result of his preparation for his Election Day sermon, but in any event Hester recognizes a definite change in him on Election Day before he delivers the sermon). Thus, the true path to freedom for Dimmesdale will be to mount the scaffold of guilt and confession, to “unconceal” to all what he has been hiding for seven years. It is on the wooden beams of the scaffold that he can unveil his heart to the crowd, and reveal publicly his true situation.

I thus turn to the final, dramatic scene on the scaffold that takes place after the procession on the day of the Governor’s inauguration, following Reverend Dimmesdale’s very moving Election Day sermon, three days after the meeting of Hester and Dimmesdale in the forest. In the lengthy but crucial quotes set forth below (from chapter 23) you can see clearly that Dimmesdale, Hester, Pearl and Chillingworth all make it on to the scaffold, which I have referred to as a symbol of salvation in the novel. Here we find Dimmesdale being helped by Hester and Pearl to mount the scaffold of his final confession (one might even say, in proper context, being helped to carry his cross).

“Hester Prynne,” cried Dimmesdale, with a piercing earnestness, “in the name of Him, so terrible and so merciful, who gives me grace, at this last moment, to do what—for my own heavy sin and miserable agony—I withheld myself from doing seven years ago, come hither now, and twine thy strength about me! Thy strength, Hester; but let it be guided by the will which God hath granted me! This wretched and wronged old man is opposing it with all his might!—with all his own might, and the fiend’s! Come, Hester, come! Support me up yonder scaffold!”

The crowd was in a tumult…they remained silent and inactive spectators of the judgment which Providence seemed about to work. They beheld the minister, leaning on Hester’s shoulder, and supported by her arm around him, approach the scaffold, and ascend its steps; while still the little hand of the sin-born child was clasped in his. Old Roger Chillingworth followed, as one intimately connected with the drama of guilt and sorrow in which they had all been actors, and well entitled, therefore, to be present at its closing scene.

“Hadst thou sought the whole earth over,” said [Chillingworth], looking darkly at the clergyman, “there was no one place so secret,—no high place nor lowly place, where thou couldst have escaped me,—save on this very scaffold!”

The salvific nature of the scaffold is thus confirmed by Chillingworth who states that Dimmesdale’s only escape from Chillingsworth’s evil machinations is the scaffold. The dramatic scene on the scaffold thus continues:

“Thanks be to Him who hath led me hither!” answered the minister.

Yet he trembled, and turned to Hester with an expression of doubt and anxiety in his eyes, not the less evidently betrayed, that there was a feeble smile upon his lips.

“Is not this better,” murmured he, “than what we dreamed of in the forest?” ***

“For thee and Pearl, be it as God shall order,” said the minister; “and God is merciful! Let me now do the will which he hath made plain before my sight. For, Hester, I am a dying man. So let me make haste to take my shame upon me!”

And so we finally reach the climax of the novel, Dimmesdale’s powerful confession of guilt:

Partly supported by Hester Prynne, and holding one hand of little Pearl’s, the Reverend Mr. Dimmesdale turned to the dignified and venerable rulers; to the holy ministers, who were his brethren; to the people, whose great heart was thoroughly appalled, yet overflowing with tearful sympathy, as knowing that some deep life-matter—which, if full of sin, was full of anguish and repentance likewise—was now to be laid open to them. The sun, but little past its meridian, shone down upon the clergyman, and gave a distinctness to his figure, as he stood out from all the earth, to put in his plea of guilty at the bar of Eternal Justice.

“People of New England!” cried he, with a voice that rose over them, high, solemn, and majestic,—yet had always a tremor through it, and sometimes a shriek, struggling up out of a fathomless depth of remorse and woe,—“ye, that have loved me!—ye, that have deemed me holy!—behold me here, the one sinner of the world! At last!—at last!—I stand upon the spot where, seven years since, I should have stood; here, with this woman, whose arm, more than the little strength wherewith I have crept hitherward, sustains me, at this dreadful moment, from grovelling down upon my face! Lo, the scarlet letter which Hester wears! Ye have all shuddered at it! Wherever her walk hath been,—wherever, so miserably burdened, she may have hoped to find repose,—it hath cast a lurid gleam of awe and horrible repugnance round about her. But there stood one in the midst of you, at whose brand of sin and infamy ye have not shuddered!”

It seemed, at this point, as if the minister must leave the remainder of his secret undisclosed. But he fought back the bodily weakness,—and, still more, the faintness of heart,—that was striving for the mastery with him. He threw off all assistance, and stepped passionately forward a pace before the woman and the child.

“It was on him!” he continued, with a kind of fierceness; so determined was he to speak out the whole. “God’s eye beheld it! The angels were forever pointing at it! The Devil knew it well, and fretted it continually with the touch of his burning finger! But he hid it cunningly from men, and walked among you with the mien of a spirit, mournful, because so pure in a sinful world!—and sad, because he missed his heavenly kindred! Now, at the death-hour, he stands up before you! He bids you look again at Hester’s scarlet letter! He tells you, that, with all its mysterious horror, it is but the shadow of what he bears on his own breast, and that even this, his own red stigma, is no more than the type of what has seared his inmost heart! Stand any here that question God’s judgment on a sinner? Behold! Behold a dreadful witness of it!”

With a convulsive motion, he tore away the ministerial band from before his breast. It was revealed! But it were irreverent to describe that revelation. For an instant, the gaze of the horror-stricken multitude was concentred on the ghastly miracle; while the minister stood, with a flush of triumph in his face, as one who, in the crisis of acutest pain, had won a victory. Then, down he sank upon the scaffold! Hester partly raised him, and supported his head against her bosom.

But could there possibly be grace for the evil Mr. Chillingworth who kneels down next to Dimmesdale on the scaffold? The scene continues:

Old Roger Chillingworth knelt down beside him, with a blank, dull countenance, out of which the life seemed to have departed.

“Thou hast escaped me!” he repeated more than once. “Thou hast escaped me!”

“May God forgive thee!” said the minister. “Thou, too, hast deeply sinned!”

He withdrew his dying eyes from the old man, and fixed them on the woman and the child.

And then we come to one of the most touching scenes in the book which speaks to the remarkable transformation of the child, Pearl, who is, in essence, given her humanity back upon the the scaffold (she who had been made essentially unreal by her father’s concealment) .

“My little Pearl,” said he, feebly,—and there was a sweet and gentle smile over his face, as of a spirit sinking into deep repose; nay, now that the burden was removed, it seemed almost as if he would be sportive with the child,—“dear little Pearl, wilt thou kiss me now? Thou wouldst not, yonder, in the forest! But now thou wilt?”

Pearl kissed his lips. A spell was broken. The great scene of grief, in which the wild infant bore a part, had developed all her sympathies; and as her tears fell upon her father’s cheek, they were the pledge that she would grow up amid human joy and sorrow, nor forever do battle with the world, but be a woman in it. Towards her mother, too, Pearl’s errand as a messenger of anguish was all fulfilled.

Finally, just before he dies, Dimmesdale says his goodbye to Hester.

“Hester,” said the clergyman, “farewell!”

“Shall we not meet again?” whispered she, bending her face down close to his. “Shall we not spend our immortal life together? Surely, surely, we have ransomed one another, with all this woe! Thou lookest far into eternity, with those bright dying eyes! Then tell me what thou seest?

“Hush, Hester, hush!” said he, with tremulous solemnity. “The law we broke!—the sin here so awfully revealed!—let these alone be in thy thoughts! I fear! I fear! It may be, that, when we forgot our God,—when we violated our reverence each for the other’s soul,—it was thenceforth vain to hope that we could meet hereafter, in an everlasting and pure reunion. God knows; and He is merciful! He hath proved his mercy, most of all, in my afflictions. By giving me this burning torture to bear upon my breast! By sending yonder dark and terrible old man, to keep the torture always at red-heat! By bringing me hither, to die this death of triumphant ignominy before the people! Had either of these agonies been wanting, I had been lost forever! Praised be his name! His will be done! Farewell!”

That final word came forth with the minister’s expiring breath. The multitude, silent till then, broke out in a strange, deep voice of awe and wonder, which could not as yet find utterance, save in this murmur that rolled so heavily after the departed spirit.”

So then, who was saved? And I reply: all of them! We can see rather easily from the quotes above how God’s mercy fell upon Dimmesdale and Pearl, but what about Chillingworth and Hester?

Did Dimmesdale’s prayer of mercy for Chillingworth on the scaffold work? Apparently so. We read in the novel that “nothing was more remarkable than the change which took place, almost immediately after Mr. Dimmesdale’s death, in the appearance and demeanor of the old man known as Mr. Chillingworth.” Is one act of great charity sufficient to save a soul? We read that Chilingworth died “within the year,” but that in his last will and testament he bequeathed (rather amazingly) “a very considerable amount of property, both here and in England, to little Pearl, the daughter of Hester Prynne,” all of which supported a very fine existence for Pearl (who Hawthorne intimates got married and had a child across the sea). All of this evidences a changed heart and a saved soul for the man who had been the very embodiment of revenge.

But what about Hester Pyrnne? Did she go back to the forest, so to speak, to find her salvation there (on her own terms)? We know that “for many years” after Dimmesdale’s death she left New England and ventured somewhere “across the sea.” But Hester ultimately returns to New England because, as Hawthorne tells us, “there was a more real life here for Hester Pyrnne…here had been her sin; here, her sorrow, and here was yet to be her penitence.” And there from her cottage, where she had so long lived in isolation, Hawthorne tells us she ministered to the needs of women “who besought her counsel” because they were wounded in love or could find none at all. And so ends The Scarlet Letter, and the woman who wanted to flee New England ends her life there in gentle penitence, caring for other women harmed by the difficulties of life and love.

And the “A” on Hester stands for “Able,” and the scaffold she three times stood upon for salvation.

Thomas L. Mulcahy, M.A.

Image: Hester Prynne & Pearl before the stocks, an 1878 illustration for the book by Mary Hallock Foote (Public Domain, U.S.A.)

Note/References: The critical essays in The Scarlet Letter, A Norton Critical Edition were valuable (see especially the essays by Carpenter, Fogle and Stewart). Hoffman adds: “The salvation of Pearl depends upon Dimmesdale. Until he acknowledges himself her father she can have no human patrimony, and must remain a Nature-spirit, untouched by the redemptive order that was broken in her conception” (p. 371). One could also argue that the salvation of Chillingworth depended upon Dimmesdale. It was Dimmesdale, too, who seems to have played a certain role in the salvation of Hester. The unity of these four main characters on the scaffold at the end of the novel warrants additional reflection.

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TEN POINTS TO CONSIDER REGARDING THE RESURRECTION OF JESUS CHRIST

“I want to know Christ and the power of His resurrection” (Philippians 3:10)

 

INTRODUCTION:

Reflecting on our Lord’s resurrection is always a profitable exercise. Indeed, if someone were to ask you why you  are a Christian, would not the best response be that you believe in the risen Christ? Yes! We are Christians because we believe that Jesus Christ rose from the dead! We read in Acts that “with great power the apostles bore witness to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great favor was accorded them all” (4:33). We meditate on the Lord’s resurrection because it is the source of great power and favor, a power so great that it will one day raise up the bodies of all believers to Eternal Life! Here, then, are ten short reflections regarding the resurrection of Jesus.

1. Jesus is the Resurrection and the Life

Jesus tells Martha, “I am the Resurrection and the Life” (John 11:25). Frankly, the verse is quite stunning and seems to me to be one of those special verses that’s geared up to have a high-level impact on our lives. Ask Martha, for she saw Jesus raise her brother back to life after Lazarus had been dead in the tomb four days. Certainly this is a verse we should meditate on! Deep reflection on this verse will no doubt “increase the temperature of our love for Jesus” as we see, more and more, that the resurrected Jesus is the source of blessings so transformative in scope that it would probably blow our minds if we could presently experience the unspeakable joys of Heaven that await us. But right here on planet earth it is a great comfort to know that the power of Jesus’ resurrection is flowing forth to us through so many channels of grace, thus giving us strength and hope to persevere through so many of life’s trials and difficulties. In short, we need POWER to persevere, and Jesus is the Resurrection and the Life, which means he is the source of amazing power (sufficient even to overcome death)! In any event, I expect this verse to “do a good work in your soul” if you make it the subject matter of a short meditation, or even if you just repeat it continuously throughout the day with joy in your heart.

2. The Resurrection of Jesus is a Saving Event

Besides being an historical event, the resurrection of Jesus is primarily a saving event. In this light Saint Paul teaches that Jesus was “delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification” (Romans 4:25). The Resurrection of Jesus “is more than a miracle and motive for faith. It is a saving event in its own right, since the dying and rising of Jesus together constitute the victory over sin and death. Baptism gives us a share in this double victory, for through it we die to sin and rise to new life with Christ” (Ignatius Catholic Study Bible, p. 263).

“The Paschal mystery has two aspects: by his death, Christ liberates us from sin; by his Resurrection, he opens for us the way to a new life. This new life is above all justification that reinstates us in God’s grace, ‘so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life’ Justification consists in both victory over the death caused by sin and a new participation in grace. It brings about filial adoption so that men become Christ’s brethren, as Jesus himself called his disciples after his Resurrection: “Go and tell my brethren.” We are brethren not by nature, but by the gift of grace, because that adoptive filiation gains us a real share in the life of the only Son, which was fully revealed in his Resurrection” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 654).

We cannot discount the resurrection of Jesus as a saving event because it is only through His risen life that we are brought into that “newness of life” which constitutes the fullness of our salvation. “We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life” (Romans 6:4). Therefore, “if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come” (2 Corinthians 5:17).

3. The women as the first witnesses to Jesus’ resurrection powerfully affirm its authenticity.

One scholar of the Lord’s resurrection, Professor William Lane Craig, offers the following insights regarding the very first witnesses to the resurrection – who were all women with respect to encountering the empty tomb and the risen Lord himself (see John 20: 10-18; Matthew 28: 1-10). “Certainly these women were friends of Jesus. But when you understand the role of women in first-century Jewish society, what’s really extraordinary is that this empty tomb story should feature women as the discovers of the empty tomb in the first place. Women were on a very low rung of the social ladder in first-century Palestine….Women’s testimony was regarded as so worthless that they weren’t even allowed to serve as legal witnesses in a Jewish court of law. In light of this, it’s absolutely remarkable that the chief witnesses to the empty tomb are these women who were friends of Jesus. Any later legendary account would have certainly portrayed male disciples as discovering the tomb – Peter or John, for example. The fact that women are the first witnesses to the empty tomb is most plausibly explained by the reality that- like it or not – they were the discovers of the empty tomb. This shows that the Gospel writers faithfully recorded what happened, even if it was embarrassing (The Case For Easter, pp. 49-50).”

4. There were multiple resurrection appearances by Jesus which left the apostles fully convinced that Jesus had risen from the dead.

For quick reference here is a summary of the ten resurrection appearances of Jesus (eleven if you include the appearance to St. Paul on the road to Damascus). Here’s the link:

The Ten Resurrection Appearances of Jesus Christ | Believersweb.org

It is a point not to be underestimated that Jesus made multiple resurrection appearances over the course of forty days. Thus, the apostles were not left wondering whether they had seen Jesus in the flesh following his death and burial – Jesus went out of his way on multiple occasions to make sure that they had! Consequently, you have complete unanimity among the remaining eleven apostles that they had seen the risen Christ. By way of contrast, we don’t have a case here where six of the apostles claimed to have seen the resurrected Christ, whereas three denied it, and two were not sure. And these were men that went on to live heroic lives, to suffer and die for what they had witnessed, spawning the amazing rise of the Christian faith despite insurmountable obstacles, and without any resort to violence.

As the great Biblical scholar C.H. Dodd states:   “The main weight [regarding the truth of Jesus’ Resurrection] … is placed on the testimony that Jesus was ‘seen’ alive after death, by a number of his followers….” (The Founder of Christianity, page 167).  Something had happened to these men, which they could describe only by saying they had ‘seen the Lord’. This is not an appeal to any generalized ‘Christian experience’. It refers to a particular series of occurrences, unique in character, unrepeatable, and confined to a limited period” (p.168). Dodd therefore concludes:

“[For] the original witnesses [the resurrection of Jesus was] an immediate, intuitive certainty. They were dead sure they had met with Jesus, and there was no more to be said about it….Now they were new men in a new world, confident, courageous, enterprising, the leaders of a movement which made an immediate impact and went forward with an astonishing impetus.” (p. 170)

5. Through the Risen Christ comes the full outpouring of the Holy Spirit 

“The Resurrection of Jesus is the total outpouring of the Spirit in the world, the flowing into creation of the immense flood which pours out from the Father in the Son” (F.X. Durwell, Holy Spirit of God, page 10). The Catechism of the Catholic Church amplifies Father Durrwell’s insight:

“This fullness of the Spirit was not to remain uniquely the Messiah’s, but was to be communicated to the whole messianic people. On several occasions Christ promised this outpouring of the Spirit, a promise which he fulfilled first on Easter Sunday and then more strikingly at Pentecost. Filled with the Holy Spirit the apostles began to proclaim “the mighty works of God,” and Peter declared this outpouring of the Spirit to be the sign of the messianic age. Those who believed in the apostolic preaching and were baptized received the gift of the Holy Spirit in their turn” ( CCC #1287).

In the theology of Saint Paul it is the saving power of the Gospel that empowers us to lead holy lives. The guiding theme of Paul’s Letter to the Romans, according to a former professor of mine from years ago, is power leading to life. We are in a state of moral helplessness without the saving power of the Gospel. But where does this power leading to life come from? It comes from the resurrection of Jesus Christ! As Paul states at the very beginning of Romans:

“This letter is from Paul, a slave of Christ Jesus, chosen by God to be an apostle and sent out to preach his Good News. God promised this Good News long ago through his prophets in the holy Scriptures. The Good News is about his Son. In his earthly life he was born into King David’s family line, and he was shown to be the Son of God when he was raised from the dead by the power of the Holy Spirit. He is Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 1: 1-4).

The full power of the Holy Spirit is unleashed by Jesus’ resurrection. Christ’s resurrection has ushered in the messianic age where the people of God will be led by the Holy Spirit! As Paul states in Romans 8:

“You, however, are not in the realm of the flesh but are in the realm of the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God lives in you.  And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, they do not belong to Christ.  But if Christ is in you, then even though your body is subject to death because of sin, the Spirit gives life because of righteousness.  And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies because of his Spirit who lives in you” (8:9-11).

In short, through the eschatological power of Christ’s resurrection we who have faith in Christ live in the realm of the Spirit, which is the POWER which enables us to be truly holy.

6.. The Eucharist is intrinsically linked to the Resurrection of the body of Jesus

There is no Holy Eucharist without the body and blood of Jesus Christ. And what is this body and blood of Jesus Christ but the resurrected Jesus! Jesus had certainly lost a tremendous amount of blood during his passion, and his body was badly mangled, but his physical life was restored to him – and gloriously so – by his resurrection. When we go to Mass, therefore, we go to the resurrection, and we receive the resurrected Christ – body, blood, soul and divinity.

The “Catholic Church professes that, in the celebration of the Eucharist, bread and wine become the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit and the instrumentality of the priest. Jesus said: ‘I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world. . . . For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink (Jn 6:51-55). The whole Christ is truly present, body, blood, soul, and divinity, under the appearances of bread and wine—the glorified Christ who rose from the dead after dying for our sins. This is what the Church means when she speaks of the ‘Real Presence’ of Christ in the Eucharist. This presence of Christ in the Eucharist is called ‘real’ not to exclude other types of his presence as if they could not be understood as real (cf. Catechism, no. 1374). The risen Christ is present to his Church in many ways, but most especially through the sacrament of his Body and Blood” (United States Conference of Catholic Bishops).

7. Jesus instituted the Sacrament of Confession during one of his resurrection appearances.

Jesus wished to continue his ministry of the forgiveness of sins through the Apostles and their successors. Thus, following his glorious resurrection, Jesus conferred on the apostles the power to forgive sins, a power Jesus himself had exercised during his earthly ministry. It is recounted in John’s Gospel that, during a resurrection appearance, Jesus met with the apostles and said to them, in particular: “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I send you. And when he said this, he breathed on them , and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven: if you retain the sins of any, they are retained” (John 20: 21-23)

Confession, thus, is a Resurrection gift from Jesus who has passed on his ministry of forgiving sins (what we call the Sacrament of Confession) to the apostles and their successors.  From our Lord’s Resurrection blossomed this great gift for the
church! 
Paragraph 1461 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church thus states:

Since Christ entrusted to his apostles the ministry of reconciliation, bishops who are their successors, and priests, the bishops’ collaborators, continue to exercise this ministry. Indeed, bishops and priests, by virtue of the Sacrament of Holy Orders, have the power to forgive all sins “in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”

I don’t know how to say this: forgiveness of sins is the greatest need every person has. Jesus, in His Infinite Wisdom, and in His genius as the leader of souls, has willed that forgiveness of sins be readily available from his priests, where the concrete actions of forgiveness, absolution, and spiritual guidance can take place in a powerful and effective manner appropriately tailored to our human situation, and leading thus to an authentic spiritual resurrection of our souls!

8. The Resurrection appearances of Jesus point to the sacramental life of the Church

At no. 1116 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church it states that “Sacraments are ‘powers that comes forth’ from the Body of Christ, which is ever-living and life-giving. They are actions of the Holy Spirit at work in his Body, the Church. They are ‘the masterworks of God’ in the new and everlasting covenant.” In the following resurrection appearances Jesus alludes to, or makes reference to, the sacramental life of the Church.

Baptism:  “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit….” (Matthew 28:19; see also Mark 16:16).

Eucharist:  “Then the two told what had happened on the road [to Emmaus], and how they had recognized Jesus in the breaking of the bread” (Luke 24:35). See CCC 1329, which states, in part: “The Breaking of Bread…. It is by this action that his disciples will recognize him after his Resurrection, and it is this expression that the first Christians will use to designate their Eucharistic assemblies; by doing so they signified that all who eat the one broken bread, Christ, enter into communion with him and form but one body in him.“

Confession:  “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven: if you retain the sins of any, they are retained” (John 20: 22-23). See number 7 above.

Confirmation:  “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I send you. And when he said this, he breathed on them, and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit” (John 20: 21-22). The Catechism of the Catholic Church cites this verse at no. 1287 in its section on the Sacrament of Confirmation. “Here we see that the risen humanity of Jesus has become a sacrament of the divine Spirit” (Ignatius Catholic Study Bible, p. 199). See also CCC 1116.

Priesthood.  Jesus, by empowering the apostles with the priestly function of forgiving sins in John 20: 21-23, confirms the existence of the ministerial priesthood. Moreover, when Jesus reconfirmed Peter as the head of the Church during his resurrection appearance to the apostles by the Sea of Tiberias (see John 21: 1-19), he simultaneously reaffirms the duty of the ministerial priesthood to care for his sheep (“Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” “Yes, Lord,” he said, “you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Feed my lambs” (John 21: 15 ). See also CCC 1551 (in the section on the Sacrament of Holy Orders) which references John 21: 15.

Anointing of the Sick:  “[T]hey will place their hands on sick people, and they will get well” (Mark 16:18). The Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 1507, references this verse in its section on the Anointing of the Sick, saying, “The risen Lord renews this mission [of healing the sick] – “In my name . . . they will lay their hands on the sick, and they will recover” –  and confirms it through the signs that the Church performs by invoking his name. These signs demonstrate in a special way that Jesus is truly ‘God who saves.’ ”

Marriage:  I do not believe there are any direct references to marriage in the resurrection appearances of Jesus. However, St. Paul speaks to the sacramental nature of marriage in Ephesians 5 by stating that husbands should love their wives as Christ loved the Church (“Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the Church. . . . This is a great mystery, and I mean in reference to Christ and the Church” – Eph 5:25, 32); and during his earthly ministry no one spoke more strongly about the divine origin of marriage, as well as its indissolubility, than Jesus (see Matt. 19: 3-10). The power flowing from Jesus’ resurrection is therefore the catalyst for life-long sacramental marriage between a man and a woman (“By coming to restore the original order of creation disturbed by sin, [Jesus] himself gives the strength and grace to live marriage in the new dimension of the Reign of God” – CCC 1615).

9. Jesus’ wounds are a special manifestation of his resurrection.

One of the most fascinating aspects of Jesus’ resurrection is the existence of wounds of crucifixion on his resurrected body (see John 20: 20). We are all familiar with the apostle Thomas being invited by the resurrected Jesus to touch his wounds (John 20:27). And at Luke 24: 36-41 Jesus appeared to his disciples saying “Peace to you.” But Luke recounts that the apostles “were startled and frightened, and supposed they that they saw a spirit.” Jesus then said: “Why are you troubled, and why do questionings arise in your hearts? See my hands and feet , that it is I myself; handle me; and see; for a spirit has not flesh and bones as you see that I have.” The Ignatius Catholic Study Bible relates that Jesus’ reference to his hands and feet in this passage pertains to “the nail marks” which “demonstrate that Jesus’ risen body is the same body that was crucified only days earlier. He carries these marks of his earthly sacrifice with him when he ascends into heaven (Rev. 5:5).”

The Catechism of the Catholic Church states:

“By means of touch and the sharing of a meal, the risen Jesus establishes direct contact with his disciples. He invites them in this way to recognize that he is not a ghost and above all to verify that the risen body in which he appears to them is the same body that had been tortured and crucified, for it still bears the traces of his Passion. Yet at the same time this authentic, real body possesses the new properties of a glorious body: not limited by space and time but able to be present how and when he wills; for Christ’s humanity can no longer be confined to earth, and belongs henceforth only to the Father’s divine realm” (no. 645).

The spiritual lesson here is that Jesus, even in his resurrected body, never wants us to forget how much he suffered in order to prove his love for us and secure our salvation. As a gifted spiritual writer once said, let us never forget the sufferings of the Lord. Father Faber adds: “O for some corner, the least, the lowest, and the last in the world to come [Heaven], where we may spend an untired eternity in giving silent thanks to Jesus Crucified!”

A wonderful reflection on our Lord’s glorious wounds, building on the thoughts of Saint Thomas Aquinas, can be accessed via the following link:

Glorious Wounds—Christ’s and Ours – Homiletic & Pastoral Review

10. Jesus reestablished Peter as head of the Church during one of his resurrection appearances.

In one of the most beautiful of his resurrection appearances, Jesus appeared to the disciples by the Sea of Tiberias (John 21: 1-25), “and none of the disciples dared ask him, ‘Who are you?’ They knew it was the lord’” (John 21: 12-13). And they ate breakfast together, utilizing a charcoal fire (John 21: 9). Here, again, we see Jesus hard at work building up his apostles to ready them for the demanding work of evangelization. In this instance, Jesus directed his comments to Peter, stating:

“Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” “Yes, Lord,” he said, “you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.” Again Jesus said, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” He answered, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Take care of my sheep.” The third time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, “Do you love me?” He said, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Feed my sheep. Very truly I tell you, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.” Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God. Then he said to him, “Follow me!” (John 21: 15-19)

Peter had previously stood by a charcoal fire in John 18 when he denied Jesus three times. Now, in the presence of another charcoal fire, and in order to restore and reaffirm Peter as head of his Church, Jesus leads Peter to express love for Jesus three times. Each of these three times Jesus implores Peter to take care of his sheep, and on the third time Jesus alludes to Peter’s manner of death, where Peter will “stretch out [his] hands” on a cross in imitation of Jesus.

.CONCLUSION:

Jesus is the resurrection and the life. All power in heaven and earth has been given to him (Matthew 28:18). “I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which [God] has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people, and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is the same as the mighty strength he exerted when he raised Christ from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every name that is invoked, not only in the present age but also in the one to come. And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way” (Ephesians 1: 18-23).

The historical authenticity of the resurrection of Jesus’ body from the dead is well proven by the Gospel writers, especially by the numerous accounts they provide of Jesus’ resurrection appearances, and the subsequent witness of the apostles shows they were fully convinced that Jesus had risen from the dead. Indeed, almost all of these apostles went on to convincingly confirm that they witnessed the resurrected Jesus with the witness – the Greek word “martyr” literally means witness – of their own lives, which is a most powerful testimony. Moreover, Jesus demonstrates by his resurrection his great concern for the Church – this by establishing the Sacrament of Confession during one appearance, and by reaffirming Peter as head of the Church on another, and by the retention of his sacred and glorious wounds on his resurrected body in order to remind us that by “his wounds you have been healed” (1 Peter 2:24). Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, is the source of all good things for us! Gather in for your eternal welfare the incredible “POWER flowing from his resurrection” (Phil 3:10).

Thomas L. Mulcahy, M.A.

References: I see the use of Father Faber phraseology in the first reflection, such as will “increase the temperature of your love,” and will do a “good work in your soul,” and make it the “special object” of your prayer or meditation, and we are “in need of power.” The tone and content of the first reflection is certainly under the influence of Faber who often states that in our earthly condition we could not tolerate the torrents of Heavenly joy. The second reflection originates from Dr. Scott Hahn’s tape series on the resurrection, where he places a special emphasis on the resurrection as a saving event, with special reliance on F.X. Durwell’s works on the resurrection.

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