Tag Archives: Incarnation

Priests and a Priestly People

Are priests a class apart, separate from the rest of humanity? The Letter to the Hebrews, our weekday reading at Mass, offers an extended reflection on the priesthood of Jesus in the light of Jewish tradition of priesthood as it was found in the temple of Jerusalem. It throws light on the meaning of priesthood today.

Jesus is our new high priest, but he did not separate himself from the rest of humanity. He became fully human to bring humanity to God in sacrifice and praise. Here’s how St.Fulgensius of Ruspe explains it:

“When we speak of Christ’s priesthood, what else do we mean than the incarnation? Through this mystery, the Son of God, though himself ever remaining God, became a priest. To him along with the Father, we offer our sacrifice. Yet, through him the sacrifice we now offer is holy, living and pleasing to God. Indeed, if Christ had not sacrificed himself for us, we could not offer any sacrifice. For it is in him that our human nature becomes a redemptive offering.

When we offer our prayers through him, our priest, we confess that Christ truly possesses the flesh of our race. Clearly the Apostle refers to this when he says: Every high priest is taken from among us. He is appointed to act on our behalf in our relationship to God; he is to offer gifts and sacrifices to God.”

A priest embraces the mystery of the Incarnation, the saint says. Like Jesus, priests should embrace humanity in its weakness. Following him, they must embrace their own times and place and not isolate themselves from the world they live in.  Otherwise, how can they bring it to God?

All who are baptized share in the priesthood of Christ. Every Sunday, we gather as a priestly people. The priestly call belongs to us all. “Let us give thanks to the Lord, our God,” we say at Mass. We’re all called to a priestly role.

The Long Christmas Season

1 Jn 5:5-13
Lk 5:12-16

The Christmas season closes with the Feast of the Baptism of Jesus on Sunday. The season’s already ended for most people, however. The decorations are away. Valentine’s Day is coming up.

But it takes time to celebrate mysteries of God; more than a day or an hour or two. It takes time for the mysteries of God to sink in. And so we prepare for the celebration through the days of Advent. Then on Christmas Day the poor shepherds come from the dark hills to see the Child announced by the angels. A Savior is born for us, a Child is given to us. Yet, as the ancient carol says, “We scarce can take it in.”

The Feast of the Epiphany is a further reminder that the Child is the savior of all nations. He came, not just for one people, but for all. The Magi represent people far away and they bring him their greetings and gifts. Then, they leave to bring back the good news of his birth. That colorful story isn’t over; it’s still unfolding.

The Feast of the Baptism of Jesus may seem like a poor way to end the Christmas season, so far removed from the days and events of Jesus’ birth as it is. But baptism is about birth too, a birth that conquers death.

Jesus Christ “came through water and Blood,” St. John says in his First Letter today. His Spirit is given to us. It’s not enough to just look upon the mystery of the Incarnation. We’re meant to share his life, and baptism is a sign of our union with him.

We need time to understand all this, however. So the Christmas season is a long season. And we’ll celebrate again next year.

The Word Made Flesh

Because the Word was made flesh, St. Athanasius writes:
“He had then to take a body like ours. This explains the fact of Mary’s presence: she is to provide him with a body of his own, to be offered for our sake. Scripture records her giving birth, and says: She wrapped him in swaddling clothes. Her breasts, which fed him, were called blessed. Sacrifice was offered because the child was her firstborn. Gabriel used careful and prudent language when he announced his birth. He did not speak of “what will be born in you” to avoid the impression that a body would be introduced into her womb from outside; he spoke of “what will be born from you,” so that we might know by faith that her child originated within her and from her.
  By taking our nature and offering it in sacrifice, the Word was to destroy it completely and then invest it with his own nature, and so prompt the Apostle to say: This corruptible body must put on incorruption; this mortal body must put on immortality.
  This was not done in outward show only, as some have imagined. This is not so. Our Saviour truly became human, and from this has followed the salvation of humanity as a whole. Our salvation is in no way fictitious, nor does it apply only to the body. The salvation of the human being, that is, of soul and body, has really been achieved in the Word himself.
  What was born of Mary was therefore human by nature, in accordance with the inspired Scriptures, and the body of the Lord was a true body: It was a true body because it was the same as ours. Mary, you see, is our sister, for we are all born from Adam.
  The words of St John, the Word was made flesh, bear the same meaning, as we may see from a similar turn of phrase in St Paul: Christ was made a curse for our sake. Our  body has acquired something great through its communion and union with the Word. From being mortal it has been made immortal; though it was a living body it has become a spiritual one; though it was made from the earth it has passed through the gates of heaven.
  Even when the Word takes a body from Mary, the Trinity remains a Trinity, with neither increase nor decrease. It is for ever perfect. In the Trinity we acknowledge one Godhead, and thus one God, the Father of the Word, is proclaimed in the Church.

Good Night, Irene

Irene got our attention this weekend on the east coast of USA, from Miami to Washington to New York City and to Boston. The hurricane took over television, governments, businesses, transit systems, entertainments as nothing else has done since the terror attack on the World Trade Center ten years ago. For a couple of days, Irene turned our regular human preoccupations upside down.

Mayor Bloomberg and other government officials kept referring to “Mother Nature”   when they spoke of her. Respect her, they said, and for the most part we listened, though typically some of “Mother Nature’s” children ignored her threats.

Jim Keane, SJ, has a piece in the America Blog entitled “The Mountains Melt Like Wax,”where he asks what our expanding knowledge of creation means for our faith in the Incarnation of Jesus Christ and our understanding of our place as humans in this world. We’re not only learning more about weather systems like Irene, but we’re  also finding out much more about a “Mother Nature” who’s more complex, more powerful, older and more mysterious than we ever thought. She demands respect.

“If our notion of time keeps expanding, and our notion of space does the same, that particular moment of the Incarnation can seem more and more vanishingly discrete.” Sharing this mystery we humans have to wonder about our place in an expanding picture of the universe.

Keane points to Christian thinkers like  Roger Haight, SJ, Elizabeth Johnson, CSJ, William Lynch, SJ, Teilhard de Chardin, SJ and David Toolan, SJ. who faced this question.

I would add Thomas Berry, CP.

We like to see ourselves and our human world as the center of everything, and then Irene comes along. Jim Keane put it this way: “In other words, recognizing the immensity of space and the eternity of time might prove a valuable wakeup call for all of us:  it’s not just about you, pal.”

Besides expanding knowledge of our universe, how about Irene? Is she part of a wakeup call? If so, it’s not wise to sing “Good night, Irene.”

His Kindness Has Appeared

Following Jesus in his earthly life doesn’t only mean  reconstructing his life in the light of the scriptures and the historical sciences. St. Bernard reminds us that Jesus is the Word of God who reveals God to us. In him “the kindness and love of God has been revealed and  we receive “abundant consolation in this pilgrimage, this exile, this distress.”

Before he appeared as human, God’s kindness lay concealed, Bernard says. “Of course it was already in existence, because the mercy of the Lord is from eternity, but how could we know it was so great? It was promised but not yet experienced: hence many did not believe in it. At various times and in various different ways, God spoke through the prophets, saying I know the plans I have in mind for you: plans for peace, not disaster…”

“What greater proof could he have given of his mercy than by taking upon himself what needed mercy most? Where is there such perfect loving-kindness as in the fact that for our sake the Word of God became perishable like the grass? Lord, what is man, that you make much of him or pay him any heed?”

“See how much God cares for us. See what God thinks of us, what he feels about us. Don’t look at your own sufferings; look at God’s sufferings. Learn from what he was made for you, how much he makes of you; let his kindness be seen in his humanity.”

“ The lesser he has made himself in his humanity, the greater has he shown himself in kindness. The more he humbles himself on my account, the more powerfully he engages my love. The kindness and humanity of God our Saviour appeared says St Paul. The humanity of God shows the greatness of his kindness, and he who added humanity to the name of God gave great proof of this kindness.”