Category Archives: spirituality

Trinitarian Cosmos

Slavic icon of creation

15th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year A)

Isaiah 55:10-11; Romans 8:18-23; Mattthew 13:1-23

Thus says the LORD: Just as from the heavens the rain and snow come down and do not return there till they have watered the earth, making it fertile and fruitful, giving seed to the one who sows and bread to the one who eats, so shall my word be that goes forth from my mouth; my word shall not return to me void, but shall do my will, achieving the end for which I sent it.

In the light of St. John’s Prologue, this colorful, poetic prophecy of Isaiah is suggestive of the Trinitarian presence within creation: the Holy Spirit of life and fertility continually waters the earth, and the efficacious Word proceeding from the mouth of the Father unfailingly fulfills his will. The divine presence permeating all things assumed the entire cosmos and humanity in the Person of the Son, and bestowed upon them the seed of immortality by the grace of the Holy Spirit.

From the smallest quark to the furthest galaxies, all of creation “awaits with eager expectation the revelation of the children of God.” Humankind and the cosmos are not two, but one in spiritual and metaphysical solidarity. The deification of the cosmic, multi-personal Body began at the moment of the Woman’s “Fiat!” on behalf of Adam and his children. 

We know that all creation is groaning in labor pains even until now; and not only that, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, we also groan within ourselves as we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies.

The Greek original for “bodies” is actually singular. Our Body encompasses the universe which is turned as one (uni-versum) towards the Trinity, and our communion personalizes every particle of matter. Nature is not impersonal but bears the stamp and breath of Three Divine Faces shining from within. At the level of matter, the immeasurable cosmos with its billions of light-years dwarfs the human figure, but each and every child of Adam utterly transcends it in person—the hidden “who” begotten in the Father’s Womb in the image of his Son. From the beginning, Adam’s vocation as King of the Universe was to divinize and personalize the universe in his Body. During this time of exile and return, something akin to consciousness—a mysterious desire—continues to radiate from matter in its yearning and groaning for transfiguration.

Christ, King of the Universe, fulfilled Adam’s vocation by crucifying in our Body the primal rebellion and making possible our adoption as children of the Father. However, the task remains for each person to freely respond in grace and be “baptized into his death” (Romans 6:3), dying to ego-separation from the whole and rejoining the One Many communion in the Trinity.

Personal response in the hidden depths of the heart is known only to the Father who knows us better than we know ourselves. The subjective element in receptivity is primary in Jesus’ parable of the Sower. The Holy Spirit whispers continually within and without both in nature and in divine revelation, but persons are ultimately responsible for tilling a fertile ground for the seed to take root, flourish, and bear fruit. Hidden in the bosom of the Father, we can help one another without conscious awareness. The receptivity of one mysteriously awakens the receptivity of others by virtue of our metaphysical unity. A single good thought or intention sends out an energetic love in synergy with the Spirit more powerful than all the invisible lines of force in electromagnetism. 

“The ultimate end of the whole divine economy is the entry of God’s creatures into the perfect unity of the Blessed Trinity” (Catechism of the Catholic Church 260). 

-GMC

“What sort of man is this?”

13th Week in Ordinary Time, Tuesday (Year II)

Matthew 8:23-27

“Lord, save us! We are perishing!”

The cry of the storm-tossed disciples was the cry of mortal Adam thrust into a broken world full of dangers and out-of-control tempests. Adam’s son Jesus, unbroken by sin, slept like a baby on a cushion in Edenic tranquility. 

He said to them, “Why are you terrified, O you of little faith?” Then he got up, rebuked the winds and the sea, and there was great calm. The men were amazed and said, “What sort of man is this, whom even the winds and the sea obey?”

This “sort of man” was none other than the paradisal man of the forgotten garden who ruled with gentleness and calm over the whole of creation as king. The winds and the sea recognized his voice immediately amid the din of terror and returned to peace. Harmony and grace emanated from every fiber of Adam’s being in the cosmic garden, a memory never forgotten by the elements. Adam’s friendship with the Father in the garden held all things together.

Due to the loss of oneness, the scattered shards of Adam have lived in fear within and without ever since the expulsion. Fundamental to oneness was trust among all the creatures, shepherded by their little king. 

Faith and divine friendship restore this original, simple trust and bring us into kinship with the soil, plants, animals, winds, seas, sun, moon and stars. The cruciform tree of life planted in the center of the exiled cosmos beckons us to eat and drink of it as one Body, and return to the Father’s garden.

-GMC

Letting Go

Our Lady of Guadalupe

13th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A

Matthew 10:37-42

Jesus said to his apostles: “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever does not take up his cross and follow after me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”

The way of the Cross is paved with losses one after the other. In searching for the pearl of great price, illusion after illusion peels away until we arrive at the dimensionless core: nada. We brought nothing into this world, and we can take nothing out of it (Job 1:21). 

Losing our life to find it is essentially giving up what was never ours to begin with. Not a breath or a heartbeat is our own achievement. We are, at bottom, ex nihilo—created out of nothing. At the border between being and non-being the mind disappears into a cloud of unknowing and can see no further, as Ultimate Reality lies beyond the dyad of thinker and thought. 

If the possessive pronoun “mine” is really an illusion, we are simply stewards of time, life, relationships and circumstances. Each person is dealt a certain set of cards to be played in a limited space of time. 

We did not choose our parents, culture, epoch, blood type, height, race, gender, strengths, weaknesses, etc. Our individual selves in this world are fragments of Adam, borrowed elements for the exercise of our personal freedom in this journey to our eternal Source. Returning in Christ to the Father, we become whole and distinct persons, possessing in common the union of all fragments as our own Body. What is possessed by all is possessed by none. “All mine are thine, and thine are mine” (John 17:10).

Familial ties belong to our fragmented, biological condition. Persons transcend and encompass all tribes, cultures, nations and tongues. Even the biological role of the Blessed Virgin Mary was  provisional and limited to her earthly sojourn. In communion with the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Mary is an indescribably glorious person transcending the root of Jesse and the Davidic line. 

To the woman who said, “Blessed is the womb that bore you, and the breasts that you sucked!” Jesus responded, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it!” (Luke 11:27) In no way was Jesus diminishing the role of Mary—the Theotokos was the exemplar of all those who “hear the word of God and keep it”—but her physical motherhood was put into perspective. Neither Jesus nor Mary are Jews in heaven, but persons transcending all cultures. From Our Lady of Guadalupe to Our Lady of Akita, Our Lady of Fatima to the Black Madonna, Mary is Mother to all nations and races.

Apparitions to humankind necessarily use forms and names in order to reach our limited mode of knowing. Communion in the Trinity transcends the dyad of motherhood and fatherhood, but we are like children being gathered into the bosom of the Father. 

Divine love (agape) gives parents, children, siblings and friends the freedom to follow Christ wherever he wants to lead them. Clinging to our loved ones and boxing them in to satisfy our own needs is against reality. A child born into the world is not ours, but the Father’s. By letting go, we flow with the grace of the Holy Spirit through Christ to the Father.

Spiritual motherhood and fatherhood are universal: we may offer a “cup of cold water” to Christ’s “little ones” anytime, anywhere, opening our hearts to the family without boundaries.

-GMC

Children of the Heavenly Father

Icon of Desert Fathers and Mothers

I Kings 21:17-29, Matthew 5:43-48

Jesus said to his disciples: “You have heard that it was said, You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your heavenly Father, for he makes his sun rise on the bad and the good, and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what recompense will you have? Do not the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet your brothers only, what is unusual about that? Do not the pagans do the same? So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

The journey to become “children of the heavenly Father” is infinitely short and infinitely long—a journey to the center of the heart where the Trinity dwells. 

That place of tranquility in the still, silent center is what the desert tradition calls hesychia (from the Greek, meaning stillness, quiet, rest, silence). In this state, a person has conquered the passions through prayer, watchfulness and self-denial. A watchman is alert, awake and aware, like the wise servants waiting for their master to return from the marriage feast (Luke 12:35-38), or the five wise virgins who had their lamps alight when the bridegroom came (Matthew 25:1-13). 

The desert tradition also calls this state of tranquility apatheia (passionlessness)—a condition of inner equanimity when one is no longer moved against the will by thoughts and emotions. The person is fully aware of every action proceeding from thought and emotion, and takes responsibility for it. 

The state of being tossed in the storm of thoughts and emotions may be compared to the troposphere—the lowest layer of the atmosphere where weather occurs. Rain, sunshine, snow, hail, mist, clouds, etc… thoughts and emotions change continuously.

Above and beyond this tropospheric state, the person in hesychia/apatheia can observe with clarity the thoughts and emotions as they come and go, and act freely rather than by impulse or habit. Prayer, watchfulness and self-denial lead a person to interior freedom.

Self-conquest by the grace of the Holy Spirit allows one to sit in the lap of the heavenly Father and appreciate how “he makes his sun rise on the bad and the good and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust.” The One who provides the weather for the earth is infinitely above it, and therefore perfectly loving and detached. Love and detachment go hand in hand. Above the spiritual troposphere, Jesus had compassion on those who hated him because he saw clearly that they were injuring themselves far more than they injured him. Such is the divine state to which we are called.

A watchful Eve and Adam would have stopped the serpent in his tracks as soon as the words, “Did God say…?” slipped out. A watchful Cain would have left his gift at the altar and reconciled himself with his brother before making his offering. 

There is hope for the Ahabs and Jezebels of the world. Murderers, robbers, prostitutes and ruffians became some of the holiest saints in the desert. Holiness is open to all, just like the sun and the rain.

-GMC

St. Justin, Philosopher and Martyr (c.100-165 AD)

Justin-Martyr
Justin Martyr

We need Christians today like St. Justin, the 2nd century philosopher, we remember June 1. “We need to make our teaching known,” he said. Still true in our day.

In Justin’s time, philosophers were the mentors and teachers of Roman society and were welcomed in the forum and private homes of the Roman world. St. Paul addressed them in Athens with limited success.

Born in Nablus in Palestine of Greek parents, Justin studied all the philosophers of his time in Alexandria, Athens and Ephesus. It may have been in Ephesus around the year 130 that he encountered Christianity when, walking along the seashore, he met an old man who told him the human heart could never be satisfied by Plato but “the prophets alone announced the truth.”

“After telling me these and other things…he went away and I never saw him again, but a flame kindled in my soul, filling me with love for the prophets and the friends of Christ. I thought about his words and became a philosopher..” (Dialogue 8)

Justin was influenced, not only by Christian teaching, but also by the example of Christians he met:

“I liked Plato’s teaching at first and enjoyed hearing evil spoken about Christians, but then I saw they had no fear of death or other things that horrify, and I realized they were not vicious or pleasure-loving at all.” (Apology 2,12)

Forum q
Ruins of the Roman Forum

As a philosopher Justin championed the cause of Christians who were increasingly being attacked by society. Donning a philosopher’s cloak he taught and wrote in Rome about the year 150 AD. He was a new kind of Christian, a Christian philosopher engaging Roman society on its own terms. He gave Christianity a Roman face and voice.

Justin defended Christians against the charge they were atheists and enemies of the Roman state. Christians were good citizens, he wrote, who pray for Rome, though they don’t worship in temples, who had no statues of gods or who did not participate in the religious rites of the state.  Justin’s writings give us a unique picture of 2nd century Christianity and early Christian worship.

In his “Dialogue with Trypho, the Jew” Justin offered the traditional Christian defense of Christianity to a Jewish antagonist. The Jewish prophets predicted the coming, the death and resurrection of Jesus, Justin argues.

In the documents of Vatican ii, Justin is recognized as an early example of Christian ecumenism. (Evangelium Nuntiandi 53) Through the Word of God all things came to be, he said.  The Word became flesh in Jesus Christ, but Justin linked the biblical Word to the Logos of the philosophers. “Seeds of the Word” were scattered throughout the world, Justin claimed. Every human being possesses in his mind a seed of the Word, and so besides the prophets of the Old Testament, pagan philosophers like Heraclitus, Socrates and Musonius lead us to Jesus Christ, Justin said. (Apology 1,46)

A prolific writer and teacher, Justin was an early Christian intellectual using his talents to promote his faith, Unfortunately only three of his writings come down to us. Other Christian intellectuals followed him, using the tools of philosophy, to dialogue with the Greco-Roman world.

Finally, rivals in Rome pressed charges against Justin as an enemy of the state and he was  brought before a Roman judge along with six companions. Sentenced to death, they were beheaded probably in the year 165 AD. The official court record of their trial  still survives.