Month: January 2019

POWER LEADING TO LIFE: A SHORT COMMENTARY ON JUSTIFICATION IN ROMANS

“God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us” (Romans 5:5)

The overarching theme of Romans (chapters 1-8) is POWER leading to LIFE. Thus Paul says at Romans 1:16:

“For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile.”

This POWER flows from Christ’s resurrection:

“[Jesus] who through the Spirit of holiness was appointed the Son of God in power by his resurrection from the dead: Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 1:4).

The general condition of humanity before the Gospel is powerlessness, both for Jew and Gentile. “We have already brought the charge against Jew and Greek alike that they are under the domination of sin” (Romans 3:9). Even compliance with the “works of the law” in the Old Testament economy is insufficient for justification: “a man is justified by faith apart from the works of the law” (Romans 3:28).

Our reconciliation and justification comes from faith in Jesus Christ (chapters 4-5). “At the appointed time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for us godless men” (Romans 5:6). This justification by faith flows not only from Jesus’ sacrificial, atoning death, but also from the power flowing from his resurrection! “Jesus who was handed over to death for our sins and raised for our justification” (Romans 4:25).

Moreover, flowing from this gift of justifying faith is HOLY SPIRIT POWER! “We have gained access by faith to the grace in which we now stand, and we boast of our hope for the glory of God….And this hope will not leave us disappointed, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us” (Romans 5:5).

Paul then asks: does this grace of justification give us immunity from sin?, to which he essentially answers: HELL NO! “Are we to say, ‘Let us continue in sin that grace may abound?’ Certainly not!” (Romans 6:1-2). Why is this? Because through faith we have been baptized into the sin-forgiving death of Jesus and the new life giving resurrection of Jesus. “Through baptism into his death we were buried with him, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might live a new life” (Romans 6:4). “Do not, therefore, let sin rule your mortal body” (Romans 6:12).

We then come to chapter seven of Romans where we encounter this mysterious, representative man who is struggling so mightily with the power of sin in his flesh. He cries out: “For I do not what I want, but the very thing I hate (7:15), and, “when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand” (7: 21). Is Paul speaking of himself here, or of Israel, or of the “universal plight of all men” (ICSB)? Whichever the case may be, the powerlessness this man feels in the flesh (in his human weakness) has a solution: it is the HOLY SPIRIT who will give him – give us – victory over sin through our new life in the Spirit!

The flesh may be weak, but the Holy Spirit is POWER! And as Paul foreshadowed at Romans 5:5, the Holy Spirit has been given to us! We are not on our own in our fight against sin. We have a most powerful ally: the indwelling Holy Spirit. Here is the solution to the man’s problem in Romans 7: through faith in Jesus Christ, received in baptism, we have access to the Holy Spirit.

“Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin” (7:24-25). “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death” (8:1-2).

And if you think Paul is being subtle in pointing out the Holy Spirit as the solution to this man’s problem, think again! In chapter 8 of Romans, Paul makes reference to the Holy Spirit some 18 times! He uses the didactic method of repetition in order to drill into our minds that we have victory over sin in the power of the Holy Spirit! The following verses are representative:

“Those who live according to the flesh have their minds set on what the flesh desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. The mind governed by the flesh is death, but the mind governed by the Spirit is life and peace. The mind governed by the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so. Those who are in the realm of the flesh cannot please God.

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.

Therefore, brothers and sisters, we have an obligation—but it is not to the flesh, to live according to it. For if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live.

For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God” (Romans 8: 5-14).

Conclusion: Do you know why St. Paul never allows even a shade of unethical conduct in his Epistles? Because the Holy Spirit empowers you to lead a holy life. Paul is utterly taken up by the reality of the Christian life. He is ablaze to the core with the Holy Spirit. The hero of the Christian life is the Holy Spirit. His full power has been unleashed, as Paul points out, by Jesus’ death and resurrection. This is a radical quality of Christian morality. God has given you the Holy Spirit! This is a supernatural reality made possible by Jesus’ death and resurrection. It is a reality perceived by faith, and received in baptism. Holiness is a POWER. The Gospel has come to you in POWER! You are justified, you are set right with God, because Jesus has given you access to the full power of the Holy Spirit, who gives you victory over sin, because of His indwelling, sanctifying presence in your soul. The power of the Holy Spirit is the principle of LIFE! The death and resurrection of Jesus is therefore the engine which carries us along to the state of justification. “Romans 8 unveils the solution to the problem laid out in Romans 7. It is a divine solution orchestrated by the Trinity. The Father sent the Son to redeem the world from sin (8:3) and sent the Spirit to raise the world from death to new life (8:9-13)” (ICSB). See the source for this conclusion under References below.

Thomas L. Mulcahy, M.A.

References: As you can see, I am relying on the notes in the Ignatius Catholic Study Bible. But primarily I am relying on notes I typed up years ago from a class on the Epistles of Saint Paul. I don’t even remember the name of the professor, but the entire conclusion above, and the whole theme of power leading to life, and of the Holy Spirit being the hero of the Christian life, comes directly from his lectures, and the notes I took. He was a Jewish convert, teaching at the St. Mary’s Campus in Orchard Lake Village, MI. Finally, I have also relied extensively on Dr. Scott Hahn’s excellent audio series on Romans.

From the Catechism of the Catholic Church:

“The grace of the Holy Spirit has the power to justify us, that is, to cleanse us from our sins and to communicate to us “the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ” and through Baptism:

‘But if we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him. For we know that Christ being raised from the dead will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. The death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves as dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus’ [Romans 6: 8-11].

Through the power of the Holy Spirit we take part in Christ’s Passion by dying to sin, and in his Resurrection by being born to a new life; we are members of his Body which is the Church, branches grafted onto the vine which is himself:

‘[God] gave himself to us through his Spirit. By the participation of the Spirit, we become communicants in the divine nature. . . . For this reason, those in whom the Spirit dwells are divinized’ [Saint Athanasius].”   (nos. 1987-1988)

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THE HUMANITY OF THE UNBORN CHILD IN THE OLD TESTAMENT

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 “…the mere possibility of harming [life not yet born] is completely foreign to the religious and cultural way of thinking of the [Old Testament] People of God.”  (Saint Pope John Paul II, The Gospel of Life, no.44)

 I am looking at the Old Testament – the Hebrew Bible – and I am reflecting on a remarkable phenomenon: that amidst pagan and even demonic cultures the Hebrew people affirmed in a most remarkable way the humanity of the unborn child. Illustrative verses include:

“Then the word of the LORD came to me, saying: “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you; before you were born I sanctified you; I ordained you a prophet to the nations.” (Jeremiah 1:4-5) 

“What then shall I do when God rises up? When He punishes, how shall I answer Him? Did not He who made me in the womb make them? Did not the same One fashion us in the womb?” (Job 31:14-15) 

“For You formed my inward parts; you covered me in my mother’s womb. I will praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; marvelous are Your works, and that my soul knows very well.” (Psalm 139:13-14) 

“Behold, children are a gift of the LORD, The fruit of the womb is a reward.” (Psalm 127:3)

Pope John Paul II, commenting on the Old Testament affirmation of life from its very inception in the womb, states:

“How can anyone think that even a single moment of this marvellous process of the unfolding of life could be separated from the wise and loving work of the Creator, and left prey to human caprice? Certainly the mother of the seven brothers did not think so; she professes her faith in God, both the source and guarantee of life from its very conception, and the foundation of the hope of new life beyond death: ‘I do not know how you came into being in my womb. It was not I who gave you life and breath, nor I who set in order the elements within each of you. Therefore the Creator of the world, who shaped the beginning of man and devised the origin of all things, will in his mercy give life and breath back to you again, since you now forget yourselves for the sake of his laws’ (2 Mac 7:22-23).”  (The Gospel of Life, no. 44)

The magnificent revelation in the Old Testament that both man and woman are created in the image and likeness of God (Genesis 1:27) was the foundation of a unique culture of life for the Hebrew people, from which would one day come a Savior safely hidden away in the womb of the Virgin before that first Christmas day.

Tom Mulcahy, M.A.

Ref. The photo is of my daughter, Molly, when she traveled to the 2014 March for Life in Washington D.C. all the way from Benedictine College in Kansas.

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SAINT HELP: THE BIBLICAL FOUNDATIONS FOR PRAYING TO THE SAINTS IN HEAVEN

  • “I will spend my heaven doing good upon earth. I will let fall from heaven a shower of roses.” (Saint Therese of Lisieux)

                                                                       

    Introduction: My brand new 2019 Church calendar is full of feast days for saints who are already in Heaven, and to whom God has given the power – as members of the mystical body of Christ – to greatly aid those of us who are still advancing on our earthly journey. This note touches upon ten points underlying the biblical foundations for such intercessory prayer (and, at a minimum, it certainly makes good sense to pray to a Saint on the day of his or her Feast, and to ask that Saint for a special favor that day consistent with his or her own spiritual journey and gifts).

    1.  In the New Testament (at Hebrews 12:1) we are told that the saints who lived before us form a “great cloud of witnesses” who “surround” us and are therefore keenly interested in the struggles we are enduring as part of the body of Christ. The Ignatius Catholic Study Bible states:

    “Images of the faithful departed [in Hebrews 12:1] cheering us on hints at the communion and intercession of the saints. It shows that the Church in heaven is neither cut off from nor disinterested in the pilgrim Church on earth but is actively solictious of her salvation.” 

    2. In the Book of Revelation, where we actually get a glimpse of what is going on up in Heaven, we see the saints (called elders) in Heaven bringing the prayers of God’s holy people on earth before the Lamb, Jesus (see Rev. 5: 8-9). This is an example of the charity that exists between the saints on earth (the church militant) and the saints in Heaven (the church triumphant).

    3. Having died in Christ the saints in Heaven are not dead (we pray to living saints); in fact, they are more alive than ever, being fully united to the infinite merits of Christ. As Jesus said at Mark 12: 26-27, speaking of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, our God is not the God of the dead, “but of the living.” And as the author of Hebrews says, “You have come to Mt. Zion…to the heavenly Jerusalem…to the [living] spirits of just men made perfect” (Hebrews 12: 22-24). The Catechism of the Catholic Church (at no. 965) states:

    “Being more closely united to Christ, those who dwell in heaven fix the whole Church more firmly in holiness. . . . They do not cease to intercede with the Father for us, as they proffer the merits which they acquired on earth through the one mediator between God and men, Christ Jesus . . . . So by their fraternal concern is our weakness greatly helped.”

    4. We see from the Book of Revelation, which shows us the activities of Heaven, that the saintly martyrs under the altar (in Heaven) cry out to the Lord for vindication (Rev. 6: 9-11). We see here the saints in heaven petitioning the Lord for justice with respect to events taking place on earth.

    5. Another New Testament verse which demonstrates that the saints who lived before us are still active in the body of Christ is Mark 9:4 where, during his transfiguration, Jesus talks with Elijah and Moses.

    6. Some people quote 1 Timothy 2: 5, which states that Jesus is the one mediator between God and man, to argue against the doctrine of the intercession of the saints. But in fact if you read the verses immediately before 1 Tim. 2: 5, you will see that Paul clearly sees no conflict between intercessory prayer and Christ’s unique role as the one mediator. For example, at 1 Tim. 2: 1-3 Paul “urges that supplications, prayers, intercessions and thanksgivings be made for all men….” Thus, it is clear that Christ’s role as the one mediator empowers those in the body of Christ to act as intercessors.

    7. The saints are powerful intercessors on our behalf because they are joined to God like branches are joined to a vine, forming, in essence, one organism which is kept alive by Christ’s own life. Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior, puts it this way in the Gospel of John (Chapter 15):

    I am the vine

    You are the branches

    Whoever remains in me, with me in him

    Will bear much fruit

    8. We see in the Book of Revelation that the saints (in this instance, the apostles) assist Jesus even in passing judgment. Revelation 20: 4 states: “Then I saw some thrones [the thrones of the twelve apostles], and I saw those who are given the power to be judges take their seats on then.” The saints, therefore, are not inactive in heaven; they are working with Christ to bring salvation history to its final stages.

    9.  Our mutual prayer for one another is very valuable. As James states in the New Testament: “pray for one another, that you may be healed” (5: 16). Paul, himself, offers up intercessory prayer on behalf of the community (Romans 1: 9). Now, in Heaven, Paul’s prayers united with our own are even more efficacious for the body of Christ. Paul also teaches that the sacrifices of one Christian for the benefit of another are profitable (see 2 Cor. 12: 15 and 2 Tim. 4: 6). Even veneration of the relics of a saint can benefit the body of Christ: It is said of St. Paul that “so remarkable were the miracles worked by God at Paul’s hands that the handkerchiefs or aprons which had touched him were taken to the sick, and they were cured of their illnesses, and evil spirits came out of them” (Acts 19: 11-12). The point here is clear: the prayers and sacrifices of one member of the body of Christ can benefit another member. The saints in heaven are members of the body of Christ!

    10.  All genuine prayer is ultimately directed to God (and originates from the grace and prompting of the Holy Spirit). Intercessory prayer is merely the joining of our prayers or needs with the prayers of the saints on earth or in heaven; intercessory prayer is therefore one example of the unity that exists between Christ and all believers (“all of us, in union with Christ, form one body” – Romans 12: 5). To claim that intercessory prayer detracts from our relationship with Christ would be as absurd as claiming that the love of neighbor detracts from the love of God when, in fact, the love of God and the love of neighbor are inseparable commandments (“anyone who says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, is a liar” – 1 John 4: 20). The saints in Heaven are fully united to Christ; they do not compete with Jesus for our prayers, but rather in union with Jesus they share in His life as members of the family of God. As the Catechism states:

    “2683 The witnesses who have preceded us into the kingdom, especially those whom the Church recognizes as saints, share in the living tradition of prayer by the example of their lives, the transmission of their writings, and their prayer today. They contemplate God, praise him and constantly care for those whom they have left on earth. When they entered into the joy of their Master, they were “put in charge of many things.” Their intercession is their most exalted service to God’s plan. We can and should ask them to intercede for us and for the whole world.”

    Tom Mulcahy, M.A.

    References: I have no doubt composed this note from information gathered from having listened to numerous Scott Hahn tapes. See, for example, Dr. Hahn’s tape series, Answering Common Objections. I’m sure other apologetic materials figure in as well. A great spiritual writer states: ”In a certain sense the Feast of All Saints seems to me to be greater than that of Easter or the Ascension because this mystery perfects our Lord. But Jesus as Head is not perfect except in union with all His members, who are the Saints. This Feast is very glorious…for all the excellence of the perfection of the saints is nothing more than an emanation of His Spirit poured forth on them” (Father Olier).

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THE GREAT VALUE OF HUMBLE, PERSEVERING PRAYER ACCORDING TO SAINT THOMAS AQUINAS

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(Saint Thomas Aquinas as depicted by Gentile da Fabriano, circa 1400, Public Domain, U.S.A.)

SPEAK LIFE BY WATCHING OVER VERY CAREFULLY WHAT YOU SAY TO OTHER PEOPLE!

                                “Little girl, I say to you, get up!” (Mark 5:41)

There is a popular Christian song by Toby Mac in which he encourages us to “speak life” to other people who are hurting. In the accompanying video to the song we see broken people brought back to life, so to speak, by encouraging words that speak life. Here are a few words from the song:

So speak life, speak life
To the deadest darkest night
Speak life, speak life
When the sun won’t shine and you don’t know why
Look into the eyes of the broken hearted
Watch them come alive as soon as you speak hope

Jesus spoke life, and, moreover, he is the Way, the Truth and the Life (John 14:6). One day Jesus entered the home of a twelve year old girl who had died, and he spoke words of life to her, commanding her to rise and get up, and amazingly, she did (see Mark 5: 22-43)! Jesus not only spoke words of life, but of Eternal Life, of unceasing life. “In the preaching of Jesus,” says Father Garrigou-Lagrange, “everything is immediately directed to eternal life.” Jesus is the principle of Eternal Life.

God the Father spoke words of life and encouragement to Jesus, saying, “This is my beloved son, in whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 17:5). Have you spoken life-giving words to your children as the Eternal Father did to Jesus? Speak life…and watch them come alive as soon as you speak hope! Let me say this: the Word of Life spoken by the Father (and from all eternity) is Jesus Christ (“and the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us” – John 1:14). Jesus is Life. Draw closer to Him.

But how often do we not speak life? Worse than that, how often do we speak words of spiritual death? How often do we hurt other people because of mean or poorly chosen words?

The great Dominican and German mystic, Tauler, gives us this all-important advice:

“We must bridle the old, natural tongue. Children, above all arts, learn the art of guarding your tongue, and be careful about what you say, or no good will ever come of you. See to it that your words are to God’a honor, to your neighbor’s improvement, and to your own peace…. Your conversation should rest upon a solid basis of virtue rather than on glib speaking and subtleties. And you should speak with restraint and advisedly. By ill-considered words you can bring [great harm] on yourselves and on your hearers” (Spiritual Conferences, p. 184).

We should reflect deeply on the life-giving power of kind words. The great spiritual writer, Father Faber, says there is “hardly a power on earth equal to” kind words. He further points out that there are so many “fortunate opportunities” to be kind. When you think about it, the opportunity for great heroism may never come our way, but we can say kind things all day long! And what do kind words cost us (asks Faber)? Virtually nothing! But what is lost if we fail to speak kindly? As Faber points out, kind words are not only remedial, helping those in need of encouragement, they actually produce happiness. He says, “how often have we ourselves been made happy by kind words.” It “would be worth going through fire and water to acquire the right and to find the opportunity of saying kind words.”

Faber says that “not only is kindness due everyone, but a special kindness is due everyone.” And “is there any happiness in the world like the happiness of the disposition made happy by the happiness of others?,” Faber asks. “There is no joy to be compared with it.” “Kindness is the turf of the spiritual world, whereon the sheep of Christ feed quietly beneath the Shepherd’s eye.”

Jesus speaks life. We see throughout the Gospels the tremendous and extraordinary power Jesus possessed to affirm others! People in the presence of the most dire circumstances suddenly find their lives transformed by the dynamic, affirming presence of Jesus. Whether it be the woman at the well, Zacchaeus (the dishonest tax collector), the woman caught in adultery, the man who came to Jesus through an opening in the roof, or the immoral woman who dried Jesus’ feet with her hair, Jesus is authentically open to them, he makes time for them, he affirms and does not condemn them, and ultimately he liberates them from the tyranny of sin. Thus, as one example, he says to the woman caught in adultery: “Has no one condemned you? Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more” (John 8:10-11). And Zacchaeus comes away from his encounter with Jesus vowing to make restitution to all those he has defrauded (Luke 19:8).

Dear friend, speak life! And to do this we must learn the art of watching over very carefully what we say so that we are not – once again – “hung by the tongue.” Learn the art of guarding your tongue, and in the process you will become, more and more, a person who speaks life to the benefit of all who share in the grace of your kind and transforming speech!

Thomas L. Mulcahy, M.A.

P.S. Here is a link to Toby Mac’s song, Speak Life   

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZeBv9r92VQ0

Spiritual principle: The key and tremendously important spiritual principle being advanced here is watchfulness, whereby we keep a keen spiritual eye on what we are thinking and saying so as to bring our thoughts and speech under the law of Christian charity. Saint Paul says that we “take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ” (2 Cor. 10:5).
Image: Raising of Jairus’ Daughter by Ilya Repin (Public Domain, U.S.A.)

References: The quotes from Father Faber are from his famous essay,  “Kindness,” in his book, Spiritual Conferences (TAN). Although a long essay it is well worth reading and meditating on. Faber’s point that a special kindness is due to everyone, if taken to heart, has the power to increase our personal holiness. One word of caution: kindness and praise must be sincere and genuine. A false kindness, a calculated kindness, is easily detected. That is why we should pray to the Holy Spirit for the supernatural growth of the virtue of kindness. I am also relying on a beautiful little book entitled, Born Only Once: The Miracle of Affirmation by Dr. Conrad W. Baars, a Catholic psychiatrist. The great spiritual writer, Father Lallemant, once said:   “Everything in Jesus is a principle of eternal life.”

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ARE YOU BORN AGAIN?

“Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit” (John 3:5)

As you can see from the painting above, the Pharisee Nicodemus came to Jesus at night (John 3:2). The night, illuminating in its own unique way, will reveal to Nicodemus things that had escaped his attention during the busy day. After all, Jesus is the light of the world (John 8:12), and the “true Light which…enlightens every man” (John 1:9).

But the darkness also symbolizes Nicodemus’ fear and ignorance. Nicodemus came to Jesus under the cover of night for fear of being seen by his fellow Pharisees. And Nicodemus’ ignorance – his being in the dark –  is seen by his inability to see that Jesus is not talking about a physical rebirth but a spiritual one.

In the “dark night” that spiritual writers talk about enlightenment doesn’t come all at once – no, such illumination is preceded by trials and tribulations, by misunderstandings, and by humiliations of the worst kind. Nevertheless, the scriptures attest that “surely the darkness shall hide me, and night shall be my light” (Psalm 139:11), and from “the recesses of the darkness he discloses, and brings the gloom forth to the light” (Job 13:22). In the physical darkness Nicodemus’ own darkness and ignorance is exposed by Jesus, and all of this is nothing short of “sheer grace” for Nicodemus, who will no doubt ponder and reflect deeply on Jesus’ words.

Jesus: “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” (3: 3)

Nicodemus:  “How can a man be born when he is old? He cannot enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born, can he?” (3:4)

Jesus: “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. (3:5)

The commentators agree that there is a mix up here. By saying that a person must be born again, Jesus is using the interpretation of the Greek word anothen which means “from above,” whereas Nicodemus applies the other permissible usage of anothen which means “again”.  As one Bible commentary states:

“The Greek expression can mean either ‘again’ or ‘from above’. Nicodemus takes it to mean ‘again’, as though Jesus requires a physical rebirth to enter the kingdom. This is a misunderstanding. Jesus instead calls for a spiritual rebirth ‘from above’ (CCC 526). The Greek expression always means ‘from above’ elsewhere in John ( see 3:31; 19:11, 23).” (Ignatius Catholic Study Bible).

According to one commentary referenced below, the “vast majority” of scholars agree that the “water and the Spirit” mentioned by Jesus in John 3:5 refers to baptism, and the Catholic teaching is that baptism causes an actual spiritual regeneration. “Baptism not only purifies from all sins, but also makes the neophyte ‘a new creature,’ an adopted son of God, who has become ‘a partaker of the divine nature,’ member of Christ and co-heir with him, and a temple of the Holy Spirit” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 1265; see also, 1215, which states “This sacrament is also called ‘the washing of regeneration and renewal by the Holy Spirit,’ for it signifies and actually brings about the birth of water and the Spirit  without which no one ‘can enter the kingdom of God’.”).”

“Through baptism we have already received the seed of eternal life, for through it we received sanctifying grace which is the radical principle of that life….” (Father Garrigou-Lagrange).

In conclusion, to be born again means to be born from above in the birth of water and the Holy Spirit which is brought about in the sacrament of baptism.

But what happened to Nicodemus? Did his “dark night” ultimately deepen his understanding and lead to his conversion? The Gospel of John tells us that after Jesus had died “Nicodemus…who had first come to him by night, came bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about a hundred pounds’ weight. They [Jospeh of Arimathea and Nicodemus] took the body of Jesus, and bound it in linen cloths with the spices, as is the burial custom of the Jews.” John further tells us by implication that it was still light out because the Sabbath (sundown Friday) was “close at hand,” so that Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus laid Jesus’ body in a garden “in a new tomb where no one had ever been laid” (see John 19: 38-41).

If, at the beginning of John’s Gospel we encounter Nicodemus in the darkness of night (Chapter 3), by the end of the gospel we find him walking in the light, carrying the blessed body of Jesus (Chapter 19), and lovingly placing it in the tomb of resurrection.

According to Wikipedia, “in the current Roman Martyrology of the Catholic Church, Nicodemus is commemorated along with Saint Joseph of Arimathea on August 31.”

Thomas L. Mulcahy, M.A.

Image: Jesus and Nicodemus by William Hole (Public Domain, U.S.A.)

References: Ignatius Catholic Study BibleThe Gospel of John (audio presentation) by Scott Hahn; for a more detailed account of why John 3: 5 applies to baptism, see on-line Mark Brumley’s article, “Are Catholics Born Again?”; and  Ascent of Mt. Carmel by Saint John of the Cross (I have in this note made a comparison between the dark night of the soul discussed by Saint John of the Cross and Nicodemus’ experience of darkness, and this could be considered a spiritual or allegorical interpretation). Regarding John 3:5, a commentary at biblestudytools.com says: “Except one be born of water. By far the vast majority of scholars consider the word “water” in this verse as a reference to Christian baptism. The Cambridge Bible says “the outward sign and inward grace of Christian baptism are here clearly given, and an unbiased mind can scarcely avoid seeing this plain fact.”

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THE POWER OF JESUS’ HOLY NAME

“Therefore God exalted [Jesus] to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth” (Phil. 2: 9-10)

“Jesus” literally means “he saves.” It is thus a saving name, or rather a name full of saving power.

Why is Jesus’ name more powerful than all other names (indeed, more powerful than all other names combined)? – because Jesus has been resurrected, because Jesus has ascended into Heaven, because Jesus has been crowned Lord of all creation, and because, enthroned in Heaven, Jesus always lives to make intercession for you (Hebrews 7:25). This is power. This is the power of invoking Jesus’ name!

The Catechism of the Catholic Church states (at 519):

All Christ’s riches “are for every individual and are everybody’s property.” Christ did not live his life for himself but for us, from his Incarnation “for us men and for our salvation” to his death “for our sins” and Resurrection “for our justification”. He is still “our advocate with the Father”, who “always lives to make intercession” for us (Hebrews 7:25). He remains ever “in the presence of God on our behalf, bringing before him all that he lived and suffered for us” (Hebrews 9:25).

Therefore, an easy yet powerful way to grow closer to Jesus is to simply hold His name in great reverence. The basic assumption for this devotion is that Jesus’ name is full of power and grace. The Church apparently agrees with this assessment because it sets aside January 3 as the Feast of the Most Holy Name of Jesus. It is a reminder to us to greatly reverence Jesus’ name the rest of the year. What an awesome New Year’s resolution that would be! Imagine the growth in holiness you would experience if you kept that resolution.

Father Paul O’Sullivan writes that the “Holy Name of Jesus fills our souls with a peace and a joy we never had before.” He adds that the “Name of Jesus is the shortest, the easiest and the most powerful of prayers. Everyone can say it, even in the midst of his daily work. God cannot refuse to hear it.”

“The frequent repetition of this Divine name [Jesus],” says Father O’Sullivan, will save you from much suffering and great dangers.” It seems to me the key to this devotion is to say Jesus’ name with great reverence and love, calling to mind – without even having to think about it – all that Jesus is and means to us. This is a formula which will clearly increase our love for Jesus and will maintain us in a spirit of faith. We should never forget that faith is one of the most important virtues in the spiritual life (it is a theological virtue, literally meaning “God-directed”).

Father O’Sullivan encourages us to “understand clearly the meaning and value of the Name of Jesus.” He adds that the “Holy Name of Jesus saves us from innumerable evils and delivers us especially from the power of the devil, who is constantly seeking to do us harm.” He says that “every time we say ‘Jesus,’ we are saying a fervent prayer for…all that we need.”

If you are looking for a simple devotion, filled with power, this is it! Father O’Sullivan assures us that the simple devotion of reverently saying Jesus’ name throughout the day has amazing power. And, as Father Faber states, what do we need more in the spiritual life than “power” to overcome our tepidity and weakness.

“[Mary] will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21). May the most holy name of Jesus be on your lips and in your heart throughout the year.

Thomas L. Mulcahy, M.A.

References: The Wonders of the Holy Name by Father Paul O’Sullivan (TAN). “With the release of the revised Roman Missal in March 2002, the feast [of the Most Holy Name of Jesus] was restored as an optional memorial in the Ordinary Form on January 3” (from catholicculture.org).

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