Tag Archives: communion

A Theophany of Communion

Icon of the Transfiguration by Alexander Ainetdinov. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0.

Feast of the Transfiguration (Year A)

Matthew 17:1-9

Jesus took Peter, James, and his brother, John, and led them up a high mountain by themselves.

The Transfiguration on Mount Tabor, the last of the biblical theophanies, unfolded the deepest secret of divinity hidden from Moses on Mount Sinai and Elijah on Mount Horeb. 

Unlike the Old Testament theophanies, in which God spoke to his prophet one on one, or “face to face,” three witnesses were present on Mount Tabor. The first peculiarity of this mountain theophany was its communal aspect. Jesus took a trinity of disciples, Peter, James and John, his inner circle.

And he was transfigured before them;  his face shone like the sun and his clothes became white as light. And behold, Moses and Elijah appeared to them, conversing with him.

A trinity of mortals suddenly found themselves beholding a trinity of prophets in the dazzling light of the transfigured Christ. Jesus, the fulfillment of the Law and the Prophets (Moses and Elijah), exchanged greetings with his predecessors.

James and John were speechless, but Peter felt compelled to say or do something, anything.

Then Peter said to Jesus in reply, “Lord, it is good that we are here. If you wish, I will make three tents here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.”

“He hardly knew what to say, they were so terrified,” Mark reported (9:6). Peter was ready to take charge of the situation, though he barely understood what was happening. His instinct for hospitality came forth spontaneously as he offered to house Jesus and his illustrious companions. Jesus was, after all, his house guest. 

While he was still speaking, behold, a bright cloud cast a shadow over them, then from the cloud came a voice that said,“This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.” 

“The heavens are my throne,
the earth, my footstool.
What house can you build for me?
Where is the place of my rest?” (Isaiah 66:1)

The same voice that spoke to Isaiah now spoke out of the cloud, but it was no longer solitary. The God of Isaiah who could not be confined in houses made by human hands has a Son! With the Father and the Son, the third person of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit, was also present in the light of glory. 

This was the second time the son of a carpenter from Nazareth was addressed by the Father as “my beloved Son.” The first time was at Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan (Mark 1:11). 

When the disciples heard this, they fell prostrate and were very much afraid.

The traditional icon above portrays Peter on the left, kneeling, John in the center falling prostrate with his back to the light, and James knocked backward in awe. 

But Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Rise, and do not be afraid.” And when the disciples raised their eyes, they saw no one else but Jesus alone.  

The unearthly light disappeared, but what an unforgettable experience! It would seem that anyone who witnessed Jesus in such blazing glory should have had enough confidence to stand fast with him in the garden of Gethsemane. But that was not so. And perhaps that was why Jesus ordered silence.

As they were coming down from the mountain, Jesus charged them, “Do not tell the vision to anyone until the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.”

The Cross was the pivot between two extremes. The mortality of the Cross stood as crux between the glory of incorruptible divinity on Mount Tabor, and the glory of incorruptible humanity at the resurrection. The infinite and the finite, divinity and humanity, entered into incorruptible, inseparable, indivisible glory in the multi-personal unity of the Trinity three days after the crucifixion.

Whereas Moses and Elijah only knew God as monad, and therefore spoke to him as a bride to a bridegroom, the marriage of humanity and divinity opened the way to a communion of persons transcending the marriage of two natures. At the Transfiguration, Peter, James and John, a trinity of disciples, received a foretaste of the multi-personal communion of saints in Trinitarian Light.

-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

Signs of the Kingdom

Icon of Jesus and the Centurion

Matthew 8:5-17

Jesus’ fame as a healer spread far and wide in Palestine, attracting not only lepers but foreigners like the Roman centurion. Jews did not associate with either group; one was “unclean,” the other was “Gentile.” Both were sources of defilement. 

Jesus tore down walls of division by his compassion towards all people regardless of race, gender, physical and psychological condition, or social status. He must have felt an affinity for the centurion who showed such an unusual compassion for his servant, for under Roman law slaves were classified with tools and chattel. An infirm slave was considered disposable. As the noble centurion reached across social boundaries to help his fellow man, Jesus transcended racial boundaries and offered to go to his Gentile home—a transgression of Jewish law— and heal his servant.

The centurion said in reply, “Lord, I am not worthy to have you enter under my roof; only say the word and my servant will be healed. For I too am a man subject to authority, with soldiers subject to me. And I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and to another, ‘Come here,’ and he comes; and to my slave, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.”

The centurion’s declaration of faith astounded Jesus. The Roman did not know Christ as the Son of God, but ascribed divine power and authority to him, intuiting by his spirit that Jesus could heal at a distance.

When Jesus heard this, he was amazed and said to those following him, “Amen, I say to you, in no one in Israel have I found such faith. I say to you, many will come from the east and the west, and will recline with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob at the banquet in the Kingdom of heaven, but the children of the Kingdom will be driven out into the outer darkness, where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth.” And Jesus said to the centurion, “You may go; as you have believed, let it be done for you.” And at that very hour his servant was healed.

The racially exclusive court of heaven suddenly widened to include Gentiles in Jesus’ vision of the eternal Kingdom. The presumed heirs may find themselves disinherited, Jesus warned. Heaven is not a national birthright, but the universal communion of the faithful. 

After the leper and the centurion, Jesus returned to Peter’s house where he was staying and healed a third person of marginalized status in Israel—a woman. Peter’s mother-in-law immediately began to serve him as soon as she was healed of her fever. 

Jesus’ love knew no bounds as he healed every disease and infirmity. God had truly come in the flesh to reveal the secret of heaven: “Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or else believe me for the sake of the works themselves” (John 14:11). 

As wonderful as miracles are, Jesus wanted above all to lead his people to faith in his Father: “Unless you people see signs and wonders you will not believe,” Jesus admonished (John 4:48). He stood immovably silent in the presence of the sensation-seeking Herod (Luke 23:98-9).

The healing of body, soul and spirit in this world is a sign of the world to come when all divisions in the Body of Christ will be healed and brought to union and communion in the Father, Son and Holy Spirit—the miracle of miracles.

-GMC

Let All Creation Praise the Lord!

Ten Thousand Things Say, “Amen!”
©️2020 by Gloria M. Chang

The Chinese Bible translates Logos (Word) in the Prologue of St. John’s Gospel as Tao (literally, the Way)—the universal and transcendent guiding principle in the cosmos. The “ten thousand things” is an expression that means everything that exists.

“The great Tao flows everywhere, both to the left and to the right.
The ten thousand things depend upon it; it holds nothing back.
It fulfills its purpose silently and makes no claim.”

Lao Tzu, Tao Te Ching, chapter 34
Translated by Gia-Fu Feng and Jane English

Jars of Clay

Icon of Elijah with the Widow and Her Son by an anonymous Russian icon painter (from the Tretyakov Gallery)

1 Kings 17:7-16, Psalm 4, Matthew 5:13-16

“You are the light of the world”—a torch lit by the transfiguring Light of the Trinity. All things seen in this Light reveal hidden mysteries beyond our cosmic frame of reference.

The story of Elijah and the widow opens a window onto eternity. The poor woman is appointed by God to take care of Elijah’s needs because his brook had run dry, but she is at the end of her rope. She has the heart to do all she can for the prophet, but reality stares her in the face. Her cupboard is empty except for “a handful of flour” and “a little oil.” She and her son are about to die, she tells Elijah. 

Elijah said to her, “Do not be afraid. Go and do as you propose. But first make me a little cake and bring it to me. Then you can prepare something for yourself and your son. For the LORD, the God of Israel, says, ‘The jar of flour shall not go empty, nor the jug of oil run dry, until the day when the LORD sends rain upon the earth.’” She left and did as Elijah had said. She was able to eat for a year, and Elijah and her son as well; the jar of flour did not go empty, nor the jug of oil run dry, as the LORD had foretold through Elijah.

The miracle of the self-replenishing jar and jug is a snapshot of life in the Trinity, where Persons are always empty yet always full. On earth individuals live a “balanced” life divided between self-care and care for others. If we do not take time to be alone, eat, sleep and recuperate, we “burn out.” Giving and receiving in the earthly condition entails energy loss. In the Trinity, however, solitude (unique distinction) and communion (mutual indwelling of diverse persons) are simultaneous without any loss.

How is this so? Each person is whole and entire, not a part of a whole. In ultimate reality there is no such thing as “coordination,” which is a harmonious functioning of parts. The Trinity is Whole-Whole-Whole, not a harmony. 

“The Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Spirit is God. And yet they are not three Gods, but one God,” the Athanasian creed states. Each Divine Person is the Whole Divinity. Each human person is the whole humanity. Persons of the deified humanity in Christ are brought into communion with the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

There is nothing in the spacetime continuum that can serve as an example because all things in material extension are in a condition of parts outside of parts. Nothing escapes it except persons, who transcend it. Individuals in time exhibit all the properties of parts. Individuals coordinate, cooperate, subordinate, etc. A close examination of language, which is linked to matter, reveals the fact. The prefix co- of coordinate means “together” or “jointly,” indicating a harmony of parts. Persons are not coordinated or subordinated, but Wholes dwelling in Wholes in a condition Jesus calls angelic (Matthew 22:30; Mark 12:25).

Because absolute diversity and absolute identity (oneness) are simultaneous without coordination, subordination, or any kind of “connection” between the two, they are always in mint condition without loss. There is no balancing act in the realm of personal communion. There are no scales or measures. There is no gain or loss. There is no burn out. Diversity and unity are complete, whole, absolute, and without mixture. Not even a preposition connects them: “the Three One God,” in the words of St. Gregory of Nazianzus (Oration 40.41).

Ultimate reality exceeds the limits of thought which is inextricably tied to matter. To think is an action in time. There is a beginning and an end to a process of thought. Logical strings and logarithms, musical scores and poetic meters—any kind of thought requires time. Time is inseparable from space and matter. Therefore thought itself vanishes in ultimate communion where the Trinity is “all in all.” 

Diversity is preserved in communion without spatial dimension and separation. In spacetime, diversity requires a condition of parts outside of parts. The properties demonstrated by Jesus’ resurrected body, however, indicate that spiritualized matter has some of the qualities we now attribute to mind. For example, while in New York we can think of California and travel there mentally. A spiritualized body may be able to pop here and there instantaneously, at the “speed of thought,” to use a limping figure. (How can there be speed beyond spacetime?)

The widow’s jar is a figure of persons—jars of clay containing the infinite treasure of the Triple Light. “Let light shine out of darkness… to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:6-7).

“In that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you” (John 14:20), Jesus promised. In the Trinity, the Light of Three Faces will shine upon us and we will rejoice “more than when grain and wine abound” (Psalm 4:7). 

May the salt of divine grace season our hearts and minds, and may the Light of the All-Holy Trinity shine in us that the world may glorify the heavenly Father.

-GMC

In the Image of the Trinity

With the revelation of the Trinity, the totality of reality is bathed in a new light. Every domain of human life is transformed. What does a tri-personal universe look like?

Let us listen to St. Gregory of Nazianzus, also called “The Theologian” (Oration 40.41):

This I give you to share, and to defend all your life, the One Godhead and Power, found in the Three in Unity, and comprising the Three separately, not unequal, in substances or natures, neither increased nor diminished by superiorities or inferiorities; in every respect equal, in every respect the same; just as the beauty and the greatness of the heavens is one; the infinite conjunction of Three Infinite Ones, Each God when considered in Himself; as the Father so the Son, as the Son so the Holy Ghost; the Three One God when contemplated together; Each God because Consubstantial; One God because of the Monarchia. No sooner do I conceive of the One than I am illumined by the Splendor of the Three; no sooner do I distinguish Them than I am carried back to the One. When I think of any One of the Three I think of Him as the Whole, and my eyes are filled, and the greater part of what I am thinking of escapes me. I cannot grasp the greatness of That One so as to attribute a greater greatness to the Rest. When I contemplate the Three together, I see but one torch, and cannot divide or measure out the Undivided Light. 

The personal God who spoke to Moses in a cloud “face to face, as a man speaks to a friend” (Exodus 33:11) has revealed himself in Jesus Christ as simultaneously and primordially Three and One. Father, Son and Holy Spirit are absolutely diverse and absolutely one. Each Person is the “Whole” divinity without dividing or sharing it in an ineffable manner beyond logical categories. The Trinity is “divided without division” in St. Gregory’s faltering words (Oration 39.11). More elegantly put in another translation, the Trinity is “divided indivisibly” or “undivided dividedly.” 

Minds “captive to obey Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5) can no longer think of “God” or divinity in abstraction from the Three Persons. Eternal life is knowing the Father and the one whom he sent, Jesus Christ (John 17:3), by the inspiration of the Spirit of truth (John 16:13). The Three are One and the One is Three inseparably, both in reality and in thought. 

In discourse about the historical unfolding of divine revelation we speak of the “God of Abraham and Moses,” but after Pentecost, we habitually pray and live in the love of the Trinity. 

Humanity in the image of the Trinity means that absolutely diverse persons are each and every one stewards of the one human nature without division. “Indivisibly divided” and “undivided dividedly,” persons in communion transcend blood lines, tribes, languages and cultures. The notion of “family” becomes a communion that encompasses all persons without exclusion. If persons are absolutely unique and unrepeatable, there are actually no “relatives” in ultimate reality. In the realm of personal communion transcending the earthly condition of divided individuals, the “distance” between one person and another is exactly the same, that is, non-existent. Distance comes from measure, but in personal communion distinction transcends and takes the place of measure.

The idea of distance arises from the experience of measuring. To measure a certain length one begins with a standard, such as a meter stick. The length to be measured is then quantified in units of the standard. 

In the world of measures, individuals are compared using standardized tests, meter sticks, scales and thermometers. This is possible because individuals exist in a quantifiable condition of material extension. Biological descent, blood lines and genetics are all woven from the fabric of material extension. One individual is measured against another, compared, weighed, valued (and sometimes devalued). 

Persons, however, cannot be measured. Unlike individuals who are cut from one material fabric, persons transcend divisibility. Each person contains the whole human nature, a reality that is invisible to the physical eye and unmeasurable. Persons are also wholly distinct, one from another, transcending relativity. Things that are relative and comparable have a shared foundation in relative degrees. Not so with persons. In the image of the Trinity, the one deified human nature in Christ is not participated in degrees but encompassed whole and entire by each and every person. 

Much more could be said about this, but we can only live, think and write one day at a time.

-GMC

Mysteries Too Deep

John 16:23-28

“On that day” of rejoicing, Jesus says, “you will not question me about anything.” But on this day, “whatever you ask the Father in my name he will give you.”

At this hour, Jesus speaks to us in figures. But “the hour is coming when I will no longer speak to you in figures but I will tell you clearly about the Father.”

One possible reading of these statements is to understand Jesus’ use of time words such as “day” and “hour” in the light of eternity. The time for asking, questioning, and dialogue is now while we are living in the state of earthly division. When we see the Father “face to face” on the day of eternity, words will no longer be necessary. We will be of one mind and heart with the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, distinguished only by the uniqueness of each person within the communion. 

“On that day you will ask in my name, and I do not tell you that I will ask the Father for you.” In multiple translations, Jesus says that he will not ask or pray to the Father on our behalf on that day. Why not? 

The implication is that the Father will embrace us directly, when we are fully incorporated into the Body of Christ. Christ came to unite what was divided to free us to be whole persons. Unlike the present state of division in which persons experience one another as parts outside of parts in material extension, in that hour of communion in the Trinity, each person in the Eternal Womb of the Father will be whole and entire, rejoicing and enjoying the unique and unrepeatable gift of one another. 

Communion will be radically wholesome and self-giving, unlike the atomized, individualistic condition in which we now find ourselves. Matter itself will be transfigured, with spiritual properties as witnessed in Christ’s resurrected body. “All mine are thine, and thine are mine,” as in the life of the Trinity, save each unique identity. Divine Love is diversity-in-unity.

The Father receives us with open arms through the Son whom he sent, for “he who has seen me has seen the Father.” We who follow in the footsteps of Christ also go back to the Father.

Thus ends this reflection in limping figures. Where concepts fail, may the love of the Trinity lift us up on eagle’s wings.

-GMC

Thoughts Upon The Cross: Speak Life

by Howard Hain

Sandro Botticelli, The Last Communion of Saint Jerome, early 1490s (detail)

Botticelli, “The Last Communion of Saint Jerome”, early 1490s, (detail), The Met


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Heal us.

In the form of bread.

Our tongues like cribs.

You come to rest.

A sacred place.

A mother watches.

A father can hardly believe.

Greatness simply conceived.

Silent.

Yes let us be.

Help us not to speak.

No words can be.

No thoughts except those that flee.

Yes.

Hold our tongues.

Into quiet place.

Stillness.

Let us wait.

Till hear You cry.

A hungry child.

Tucked in for night.

A drop of milk.

In reality blood.

In the form of wine.

The angels sing.

Holiness explodes.

Heaven down to earth.

Saints to and fro.

Blessings forth.

Grace abounds.

The sick are healed.

The blind can see.

The lonely find friends.

Children unwanted?

They finally reach home.

We look.

We see.

We wonder.

How could it be?

It’s Him!

It’s Him.

Right there.

The One nailed to the tree.

Alive again.

Within my mouth.

And at my right hand.

And to the left.

And straight ahead.

And there!

Yes, there too!

In that hopeless situation.

We thought all was lost.

But, no, it’s Him.

He really does care.

And He calls us over.

To Himself.

And yes.

Silence changes forms.

It’s again time to speak.

What else can we do?

The Eternal One.

The Son of Man.

The Conqueror of Strife.

Let us smile at one another.

Let us speak life.


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http://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/435728

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