The power of Christ’s blood

From the Catecheses by Saint John Chrysostom, bishop

Crucifixion_woodcutFrom the Catecheses by Saint John Chrysostom, bishop

If we wish to understand the power of Christ’s blood, we should go back to the ancient account of its prefiguration in Egypt. “Sacrifice a lamb without blemish,” commanded Moses, “and sprinkle its blood on your doors.” If we were to ask him what he meant, and how the blood of an irrational beast could possibly save men endowed with reason, his answer would be that the saving power lies not in the blood itself, but in the fact that it is a sign of the Lord’s blood. In those days, when the destroying angel saw the blood on the doors he did not dare to enter, so how much less will the devil approach now when he sees, not that figurative blood on the doors, but the true blood on the lips of believers, the doors of the temple of Christ.

If you desire further proof of the power of this blood, remember where it came from, how it ran down from the cross, flowing from the Master’s side. The gospel records that when Christ was dead, but still hung on the cross, a soldier came and pierced his side with a lance and immediately there poured out water and blood. Now the water was a symbol of baptism and the blood, of the holy Eucharist. The soldier pierced the Lord’s side, he breached the wall of the sacred temple, and I have found the treasure and made it my own. So also with the lamb: the Jews sacrificed the victim and I have been saved by it.

“There flowed from his side water and blood.” Beloved, do not pass over this mystery without thought; it has yet another hidden meaning, which I will explain to you. I said that water and blood symbolised baptism and the holy Eucharist. From these two sacraments the Church is born: from baptism, “the cleansing water that gives rebirth and renewal through the Holy Spirit,” and from the holy Eucharist. Since the symbols of baptism and the Eucharist flowed from his side, it was from his side that Christ fashioned the Church, as he had fashioned Eve from the side of Adam. Moses gives a hint of this when he tells the story of the first man and makes him exclaim: “Bone from my bones and flesh from my flesh!” As God then took a rib from Adam’s side to fashion a woman, so Christ has given us blood and water from his side to fashion the Church. God took the rib when Adam was in a deep sleep, and in the same way Christ gave us the blood and the water after his own death.

Do you understand, then, how Christ has united his bride to himself and what food he gives us all to eat? By one and the same food we are both brought into being and nourished. As a woman nourishes her child with her own blood and milk, so does Christ unceasingly nourish with his own blood those to whom he himself has given life.

-Second Reading in the Office of Readings (Liturgy of the Hours), Good Friday

The Triduum

The three holiest days of the church year.

Tonight, the table hosts a meal.
Tomorrow, the cross provides a place of execution.
Saturday, the tomb becomes a holding place for a man’s body,
a place of sorrow and of wondering.

But then, the table, the cross, and the bodies of men
become altars on which the daily sacrifices of life are
united to the eternal sacrifice of Christ the High Priest.

God renews His eternal “Yes” to mankind.
“It is very good.”
“I make all things new.”

The end leads back to the beginning.
The beginning of these three days is tied to their end.
The three days in one.
The pivotal day of eternity.

Which pattern? Adam or Jesus?

Image © rghenry – stock.adobe.com

After the switch of liturgical seasons mid-week at Ash Wednesday, it might be hard to remember that just last Sunday, the Gospel reading at Mass reminded us that “No one can serve two masters… You cannot serve God and mammon.” (c.f. Matthew 6:24)

In that Gospel, Jesus put before his followers the choice between serving the things of God, or being mastered by and serving the desires of the flesh on earth.

Fast forward to this weekend, the first Sunday of Lent, and we find the story of Adam and Eve tempted by the serpent in the Garden of Eden (the fall that led to Original Sin), contrasted against the story of Jesus tempted by the devil at the end of his fast of forty days and nights in the desert.

Between Adam’s temptation in the first reading and Jesus’s temptation in the Gospel, the second reading ties the two together:

Just as through one transgression condemnation came upon all,
so, through one righteous act, acquittal and life came to all.
For just as through the disobedience of the one man
the many were made sinners,
so, through the obedience of the one,
the many will be made righteous.”
– Romans 5:18-19

This Sunday, Adam is presented as the “type” (defined as “a person or thing symbolizing or exemplifying the ideal or defining characteristics of something”) of the one who fell for the temptation of the devil and chose the things of the flesh – the fruit of the tree in the garden that he had been commanded to avoid.

Jesus is presented as the new Adam, the true ideal who chooses the will of God and the ways of God, even through the three-fold temptation of the devil. First, the devil asks Jesus to turn stones to bread, calling upon his bodily hunger. Then, the devil calls upon Jesus’ trust in God’s word that he would command angels to bear him up and protect him, tempting him to throw himself from the parapet of the temple. Finally, the devil appeals to the power of God, tempting Jesus to worship him in order to gain all the kingdoms of the earth.

In this choice, Jesus faced the same reality he placed before his followers in last Sunday’s Gospel: Will you choose the things of God or the things of earth?

Adam chose the things of earth, Jesus chose the way of God. And immediately after this choice in the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus begins his ministry in Galile and starts to call his disciples.

Through Adam’s disobedience, humanity encountered the judgement that stems from the effects of original sin. Through God’s choice to send his only son to save us, and through Jesus’s obedience and eventual crucifixion and resurrection, humanity enjoys the benefits of the in-flowing of God’s grace and Holy Spirit.

Our choice: Which pattern?

As our Lenten journey begins, we have the choice presented to us again, for the second Sunday in a row: Will we choose the ways and the things of the earth, or will we choose the ways and the things of Heaven?

Will we follow the pattern of Adam, or the pattern of Christ?

The deliberate sacrifices, penances, and spiritual exercises we invite into our daily routines in our Lenten journey present the opportunity for us to invite Christ more deeply into our hearts and minds. Let us pray for the grace to daily choose to conform our lives and our very being more toward his will.

In time, we might find ourselves choosing to sacrifice a little comfort in order to help provide for another person’s deeper needs, conforming to the pattern of Christ who avoided the temptation to turn the stones into bread.

In time, we might find ourselves trusting in God even more in the highs and lows of life, without taking risks or cutting corners and trusting him to save us when we throw ourselves from the parapets of daily life, following the pattern of Christ who trusted in God but did not put him to the test.

In time, we might find ourselves resting contentedly in what God provides for us and in the peace of his loving embrace, despite the trials of daily life. In this, we will find ourselves conforming more to the pattern of the Christ who wouldn’t worship Satan to gain the principalities of the earth, but instead kept his allegiance to the true God and thus carried all souls with him to the promise of eternal life.

Or, in time, we find ourselves falling more and more into the trap of the sins which pull us further into mammon: Pride. Envy. Wrath. Gluttony. Lust. Sloth. Greed.

In the desert of this Lenten journey, let us pray for the grace to see the moments of each day when we have the choice between God and mammon, between conforming to the pattern of Christ or conforming to the pattern of Adam. Let us pray for the grace to see the right choices, to carry our crosses, and to grow in our faith life and our journey towards God and heaven.

A final word, from St. Augustine…

While we are traveling the way of the Lord, you see, we should at one and the same time be fasting from the vanity of the present age, and feasting on the promise of the age to come; not setting our hearts on this one, feeding our hearts lifted up to that one.”
– Sermon 263A

“No divisions among you”

Today’s Second Reading, from the first chapter of Paul’s first letter to the Church at Corinth, is very appropriate in our current world and political climate:

“I urge you, brothers and sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ,
that all of you agree in what you say,
and that there be no divisions among you,
but that you be united in the same mind and in the same purpose.
For it has been reported to me about you, my brothers and sisters,
by Chloe’s people, that there are rivalries among you.
I mean that each of you is saying,
“I belong to Paul,” or “I belong to Apollos,”
or “I belong to Cephas,” or “I belong to Christ.”
Is Christ divided?
Was Paul crucified for you?
Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?
For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel,
and not with the wisdom of human eloquence,
so that the cross of Christ might not be emptied of its meaning.”

– 1 Corinthians 1:10-13, 17

A New Heart

5th Sunday of Lent, Year C

Christ and the Woman Taken in Adultery, Poussin (1653)

Christ and the Woman Taken in Adultery, Poussin (1653)

Something New

Remember not the events of the past,
the things of long ago consider not;
see, I am doing something new!
Now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?
– First Reading (Is 43:18-19a)

St. Paul opens his Letter to the Romans speaking of those who “became vain in their reasoning” and fall into idolatry and many sorts of adulterous and unnatural acts of the body, even calling them “heartless”. (Rom 1:24-32 NABRE) He continues referring to this hardness of heart later in his letter, teaching that he has mercy upon whom he wills, and he hardens whom he wills.” (Rom 9:18)

But Christ came to begin something new. The Word, the second person of the Trinity, was the fullness of Truth and the fullness of reason. He was, in fact, the personification of the truth of natural law written into our human hearts.

He knew the temptations that we each face, and the falls that we may occasionally have in this life, and He came to redeem us from them.

We with Hardened Hearts

And in today’s Gospel, the story of the woman caught in adultery, Jesus comes face to face with one of us with hardened heart…

The Pharisees press Jesus…

“Now in the law, Moses commanded us to stone such women.
So what do you say?”
They said this to test him,
so that they could have some charge to bring against him.
Jesus bent down and began to write on the ground with his finger.
But when they continued asking him,
he straightened up and said to them,
“Let the one among you who is without sin
be the first to throw a stone at her.”
Again he bent down and wrote on the ground.
And in response, they went away one by one,
beginning with the elders.
So he was left alone with the woman before him.
Then Jesus straightened up and said to her,
“Woman, where are they?
Has no one condemned you?”
She replied, “No one, sir.”
Then Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you.
Go, and from now on do not sin any more.”
– John 8:5-11

God himself comes face to face with a heart hardened with sin, and shows himself as what he is: truth, love, and mercy.

In fact, he also faces the crowd with hardened hearts and asks them to consider softening them. He asks them to drop the stones from their hands and accept a softening of their own stony hearts.

He extends mercy, shows love, and asks her – and them – to return to truth.

New Hearts, True Hearts

A frequent reading in the Liturgy of the Hours through Lent has long been one of my favorite passages of the Bible. It speaks precisely of God’s desire to take our hardened hearts and replace them with new hearts, hearts of the flesh of truth.

I will sprinkle clean water over you to make you clean; from all your impurities and from all your idols I will cleanse you. I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I will put my spirit within you so that you walk in my statutes, observe my ordinances, and keep them. (Ezek 36:25-27)

Oh, how I love this passage. How I love the gentle mercy of Jesus. How I love the idea of my own heart, hardened by sin, being made new by Jesus. Softened, re-made into a heart of flesh.

I, like every other man and woman, have fallen short in living the life of grace that God gave me in the waters of Baptism. I have fallen out of relationship with God.

I am thankful that, through the redemption won on the cross, Jesus is able to extend his hand, turn back those who would stone me, and offer me a new heart of flesh. I long to be in His truth and grace, and to keep His commands.

Praise God for the gift of mercy in reconciliation, which allows us to return to Him and sing, as the Psalmist, “The Lord has done great things for us; we are filled with joy.” (Ps 126)

We’re Ready, Lord

2nd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C

Wedding Feast at Cana

Wedding Feast at Cana

This Sunday’s Gospel comes from the beginning of the second chapter of John (John 2:1-11). It’s the familiar story of Jesus’ first public miracle at the Wedding Feast at Cana.

Leading up to that event, it’s interesting to consider everything that happened in the first chapter of John: We hear the famous “In the beginning was the Word..” testimony, then the introduction of John the Baptist – the forerunner, then “The Word became flesh”. John came to give testimony, then “the next day”, Jesus called Andrew and Simon Peter to follow him. Then “the next day”, Jesus found and called Philip and Nathanael.

The Third Day

Then, in today’s Gospel, “On the third day…” falls our wedding.

Right out of the gate, we’ve come through the Christmas season in which we recall and celebrate “The Word made flesh” in the person of Jesus Christ, we see his public manifestation at his Baptism as the Christmas season ends, and we’re propelled right through the calling of the first Apostles and into the middle of Jesus’ first miracle.

Jesus doesn’t waste any time, and yet it’s notable that this “first wedding” falls on the third day – preparing us for the wedding feast of the Lamb coming later, on our next “third day” at Easter.

I’ve always loved the way this story unfolds… the wedding party has been continuing, and the guests have drunk fully of their host’s generosity.

When the wine runs dry, Mary takes the concern to her son first. At first, he seems to pushes her away. But she just turns to the servers, saying, “Do whatever he tells you.”

So much to learn from Mary – first, that she’ll always turn to our Lord on our behalf. Second, she trusts that if we listen and follow his way, he will provide. Third, he responds to her prompting.

The Miracle

And then the miracle. The servers cooperate with Jesus and fill the stone water jars as instructed, and without any hesitation, Jesus has them draw from them and take it to the headwaiter, who observes that it’s not water, but the finest wine to date!

I’d imagine that at that point, those first disciples were sold! In fact, the Gospel concludes noting how “the disciples began to believe in him.”

The Water, The Wine

What might that water represent for us in our lives today? What might the wine it becomes represent?

In the second reading from the First Letter to the Corinthians (1 Corinthians 12:4-11), we hear about the many talents in the body of Christ…

Brothers and sisters:
There are different kinds of spiritual gifts but the same Spirit;
there are different forms of service but the same Lord;
there are different workings but the same God
who produces all of them in everyone.
To each individual the manifestation of the Spirit
is given for some benefit.
To one is given through the Spirit the expression of wisdom;
to another, the expression of knowledge according to the
same Spirit;
to another, faith by the same Spirit;
to another, gifts of healing by the one Spirit;
to another, mighty deeds;
to another, prophecy;
to another, discernment of spirits;
to another, varieties of tongues;
to another, interpretation of tongues.
But one and the same Spirit produces all of these,
distributing them individually to each person as he wishes.

And the verse in the Alleluia before the Gospel reminds us:

God has called us through the Gospel
to possess the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ

Grace + Water = Wine?

We’re called to let the grace of God work through us and our God-given talents, and how we live the Gospel, to help lead by example, and to DO things that create positive change in the world around us.

What is the “water” in the world around me today? What could use the grace of God sweetening it into fine wine?

  • Does my wife need a bit more of my time to help strengthen our relationship and keep us close?
  • Does one of my sons need an extra hug, some encouragement, or just some time shooting some hoops together at the end of a rough day at school?
  • Does that older lady need a hand getting out of church and into her car in that thin layer of ice?
  • Does that guy need a hand getting that pile of lumber into the back of his truck?
  • Does that fearful expectant mother need a little bit more encouragement and prayer?

Live It… Proclaim It!

The more we tune into that grace and focus it into the way we live our daily lives, the more we’ll become “other Christs” – Bread Alive in the world today for others. We’ll see more of the water of daily life around us becoming the fine wine of grace-touched hearts and lives.

In one of the hymns at morning prayer in the breviary this week, this verse caught my ear:

The faith that first must be possessed,
Root deep within our inmost breast;
And joyous hope in second place,
Then charity, thy greatest grace.

In Christs’s coming, the three heavenly graces have been revealed and imparted to us: The faith of Baptism, the hope inherent in his call, and the charity his grace bids us impart to the world around us. Between last week’s Gospel and this week’s, we’re ready to encounter the world, bringing our Christian character to this Ordinary time.

We’ll not only live, but we may even lead others to sing with us the Psalm… “Proclaim his marvelous deeds to all the nations!”

Like the first disciples who followed you from those first few days, into the wedding at Cana, and then on your journey, we’re ready, Lord. Thank you for your call. Thank you for your grace. Help us to do your work today.