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Mary and Her Unifying Role in Church
For the Wounded
In today’s society we see those who are wounded all around us. Whether we go out on the street, in the mall or even in our own homes they are there. Yes, they are even in our Churches. Often we even see ourselves as the ones who are suffering in our own brokenness. No matter where we look we see the wounded. At the same time Christ has promised peace to the broken hearted and has called all to become one with Him- to become the Body of Christ. What does this mean? Why don’t more people experience this peace or feel like they do not belong anywhere or to anyone? No doubt many would say they have no sense of belonging to the body of Christ. In other words they feel abandoned and alone. Even fewer people seem to ask why this is and what is it that we can do to remedy this. The thesis of my paper is that the role of Mary, as mother of the Church, is a gift that God has bestowed on us in our weakness to bring healing to those who are broken in the Church and as well as those all around us.
The Importance of Communion and Relationships
In a certain sense becoming part of the body of Christ means that we enter the family of God. That is we enter into a relationship with each other and with God. To be in the family of God implies a unique relationship with God and each other. To be in relation to God as a son or daughter means to be part of His Church. As the church is the sacrament of communion with God it means that when we enter into relationship with God in such a unique way that our relationships are both a sign of what grace effects in us and also accomplish the fulfillment of that grace. When we say we are part of the family of God it means that the natural family relationship is analogical to our relationship with God and each other. In a world where broken family relationships seem to becoming more frequent it appears increasingly difficult for many to enter into the fullness of the relationship that God has called all to enter into. After all if many no longer understand the roles of members in a natural family and often bear wounds from those who are called father, mother, brother or sister. If this is the case then how can they give themselves over to relationships based upon the supernatural fully? After all, the natural in many in ways lays the foundational building blocks of how we perceive the supernatural. If a person has no conception of loving father then often it is only with the greatest of difficulty that they will ever be able to perceive God as a loving Father.
In a family one of the first and strongest bonds is that between the children and their mother. The mother is always there in some way throughout the pregnancy and normally is one of the first people to greet the newborn child into the world. Mothers nurture their children. There are even biological factors (i.e. hormones, etc.) that contribute to the forging of the relationship between in addition to other early bonds. In short if all follows according to the nature of the mother and child relationship, in both biological and emotional aspects, the result is that a deep bond between the two that naturally develops. On the other end of life it is frequently noted that on battle fields when a soldier is dying the person they often call for is not a wife, girlfriend or father. Rather it is their mother whom they call upon in their last extremities.
There is a deep almost primeval desire to experience the love of our mother when we are suffering. Sometimes it seems that all else pales beside this desire and the rest of the world is tuned out. This development follows according to God’s natural plan and is meant to lead to greater things. It is this natural relationship that often forms the foundation of our future relationships in life. Sadly, due to the fact that we live in a fallen world this often does not occur. In fact it could be said that in spite of all our advances in technology and knowledge our various degrees of familial relationships are being greatly wounded in the process of trying to “transcend” our nature. Such are the tragic effects of man’s pride as exhibited in his attempt to be entirely “self-sufficient.”
Mary as Mother of God and our Mother
There are many factors that contribute to this brokenness. Whether it is actual abortion, the use of contraception, abuse, neglect, divorce, and so on there are many things which injure this foundational relationship of mother and child. It would seem that one of the most effective ways to solve this dilemma would be to heal this relationship at its root. In fact God chose to do just that. While Eve’s disobedience brought death, Mary’s obedience results in life. Due to Mary’s cooperation in the salvific work of Christ she is said to be the mother of all living. While Eve, the mother of all according to human nature, bestowed death upon her children Mary brings Christ, who was formed in the womb of a virgin, to us and thus brings to us the fruit of salvation. It is Mary’s claim to Divine maternity which is the reason she is called to be our mother. It is through the Divine Maternity we receive all graces from Christ and it is in this sense that Mary is Mediatrix.
Mary as Mother of the Church
Even though God willed from before time that Mary would become our mother it was not until Calvary that that decision was “confirmed in time” and fully actualized. It was at the cross that Mary was given to the Church when Jesus said to the apostle John behold your mother and to Mary behold your son. The Scripture says it was from that moment that the disciple took her into his home. We are all called to be disciples of Christ and to bring Mary into our homes. If we are to have Christ as our brother then Mary must be our Mother. If Mary is the Mother of all the redeemed then she is the Mother of the Church. In fact Paul VI proclaimed this title to belong properly to the Virgin Mary during the closing of the third session of the Vatican council. While this title was used by previous popes this statement by Paul VI was an official proclamation in the context of the council of Vatican II. It indicates that Mary is simultaneously the mother of each believer and the Church as a whole. There is no attempt to reconcile this to Mary’s status as a member of the Body of Christ but neither is it disputed.
As the natural realm is analogical of the supernatural order so is Mary’s role as our mother. At the same time what good mother would love her children and yet not feed or heal them when she has the ability to do so? Mary’s role as our mother pertains not just to our souls but also to our bodies for we are an intrinsic union of body and soul. Our mother Mary’s role is to bring God’s healing and salvation to our entire being. While this does not necessarily occur in an immediate manner nevertheless it is an intrinsic part of God’s redemptive plan. While the fullness of this healing of every member of the Church will be consummated at the end of time it also incrementally takes place in a certain sense through the sacraments. The sacraments are part of the dispensation of grace with which Mary cooperates, in a limited sense with their distribution, in this way she brings souls to Christ.
As mother of the church Mary’s role as mother unites each and every member of the Body of Christ. This singular privilege and role was given to her in light of God’s gift of the Divine Maternity to her and through her to us. Not only does she unite us to the head Christ through her obedience to the Divine plan of salvation but in her role as mother she unites us as sons and daughters of God. In a sense we were conceived in Mary’s agony at the Cross when she willingly gave her heart to be pierced in beholding her Divine Son being treated so despicably. In this travail of spirit the Church which was predestined in Christ came to birth through Mary. Mary’s love for her children is supernatural because they are truly her children in the supernatural order. As we each receive natural life through our mothers so in an analogous way we each receive the supernatural life through Mary.
Along these lines Fr James Mctavish makes the claim that God chose in Mary to reveal true unconditional love to us. He states that “the Hebrew word for mercy, rahamim, comes from rehem, a mother’s womb.” All that is good comes from God. The unconditional love that God bestows on those He receives is dispensed through the Virgin Mary. It is only fitting that we receive this “maternal love” of God through the blessed Virgin. This is not to say God could not have done otherwise but that before creation itself He freely chose Mary to fulfill this role. It is not accidental but eminently fitting according to our natural capacity for such a relationship. Mary was created to be our Mother and we were created to be her children. God could have redeemed us without Mary since His power is unlimited but it was not the plan of salvation that He had in mind. It is an amazing thing that He chose the natural to mirror His salvific work and vice versa. It is beautiful to think that in the earliest relationships we partake of in this life God is already communicating His salvific love to us.
As Mary is the most perfect mother she is the most tender and merciful to her children. Those who are broken and in pain should be encouraged to pray to Mary asking for her intercession. No doubt this is why our Lord granted to Mary the title our Lady of Perpetual Help. Mary is the loving mother who earnestly seeks out her wounded children seeking to bathe them in her tears and to bring them back to health. No matter how desperate one is recourse to Mary is to always be encouraged.
Mary’s Motherhood and its Relation to the Motherhood of the Church
Like God Mary also has mercy upon us. In fact Mary is the exemplar of the Church and of each single believer. We often observe little children imitating their parents from an early age. As we have received of the mercy of God through the Virgin Mary so we are called to distribute mercy to others. Through our participation in the mercy we have received through Mary’s motherhood we also can become vessels of healing and grace to those around us. In fact it is in the imitating of Mary that the Lumen Gentium likens the Church to a mother. In a sense it is in imitating Mary that the Church becomes a mother.
Just as Mary has mercy upon others the Church is also. The motherhood of the Church is lived out also by its distribution of the sacraments and its extension of charity lived out in hope through faith. Each believer is called to bonds of fervent charity with each other. If believers were to imitate the Virgin Mary then that would be an immense step to bringing healing to so many people in our parishes, families, and homes.
Mary’s Role of Fostering Unity in the Church
As we are all children of one mother there should be accord and harmony among all those who belong to Christ. Mary directly participates in the fostering of unity through her intercession and distribution of the graces won by Christ. Indirectly she participates in the actions of all who belong to the Church for they are called to imitate her acts of virtue. Whether it is through docility and obedience to legitimate authority or serving each other with humility the Church’s imitation of Mary fosters unity in the body of Christ. This aspect of Mary’s motherhood also has serious connections to ecumenism. If others are outside the Body of Christ we are called to intercede for them as Mary does and to offer ourselves for their salvation. This includes acts of loving kindness and gentle consideration. As the telos of love is communion so are the acts done in imitation of the Blessed Virgin’s works. In doing the work of our mother we do the work of Christ and participate in building up the Body of Christ- the Church.
Means of Fostering Devotion to Mary
While the theoretical aspects of Mary’s Role as mother have been discussed at length it does remain to discuss the practical side of this. How do we make the teachings of the Church regarding Mary widely known and applied in the life of the Church today? The first way of doing this is sound homilies that address the beauty of Mary’s role and of her as God’s gift to us. Fostering Marian devotions also aid believers in knowing and experiencing the beautiful role of Mary in salvation history and her relationship to us. Devotions place her image before our hearts and minds in a very tangible and concrete manner. Another way is to for each person to strive to imitate the virtues of the Blessed Virgin in obedience to the exhortations of Lumen Gentium. Furthermore, examples of individuals in the Body of Christ living out an authentic relationship with filial devotion to the Blessed Virgin are another powerful witness of love and holiness of life. Such people inevitably share the gifts the Blessed Virgin gives them with the multitudes who enter their lives. When someone is receiving the love of any member of the Body of Christ they are also experiencing the motherly love of Mary and of God Himself. In a certain sense this concretizes/ makes present a love that was not previously so tangible to the individual beholding it. In reality in as much as such love participates in the Divine life according to the order of charity there is no distinction for properly speaking it is the love of the Triune God which by grace we participate in and through our giving and receiving of it. In a certain sense, albeit limited God love becomes ours when it is lived out in devotion to the blessed Virgin and those she loves. After all the love that Mary exhibits is from the plentitude of grace she receives from her Master.
There is a natural desire to have a mother that is always there for us. While the wounds of many are deep from broken relationships and abandonment by others Mary is God’s solution for those who desperately want a good mother. There is a natural capacity in the human heart for someone to fill this God created role and Mary as the perfect mother to fill it. Obviously one cannot be naïve in thinking fulfillment will occur right away or even be observable in a quantifiable way during this life in any particular person. It may be that the suffering a person endures continues right up until the end of this life. In fact this often is the case. Yet at the same time a person can experience comfort in knowing that they are not abandoned in their suffering. One of the most basic fears of each human person is the fear of being utterly alone. Many fear that there is no purpose to this life and suffering. Often it seems to many that when they are failing or have died they will be forgotten and abandoned… forever. In a certain sense Mary is God’s loving remedy for us to experience His divine love in a very tangible and concrete manner. Through the blessed Virgin God lets us know that we are never alone. She is His promise to us that we will never be abandoned if we cry out to our Mother.
The blessed Virgin Mary is God’s answer to a broken world. Mary provides us with a tangible way to relate to our natural capacity and need for maternal love. In this sense Mary is God’s gift to mankind. Her maternal gift of love unites the Body of Christ by example and ontologically under the headship of Christ. Therefore the more legitimate love of Mary flourishes in the body of Christ the more unified the Body of Christ is. The more unified the Body is the deeper the level of communion is in the body of Christ and the greater the depth of communion with the Trinity that the members of the Church experience. Each individual believer participates in this unity in as much as it participates in the communion of the Body of Christ.
As Mary is Mother of the Church and the Church is the sacrament of unity then in a certain limited Mary can also be considered in a certain sense to be the sacrament of unity as well. As love of each member of the natural family unites the natural family so analogously the love of each member of the Body of Christ for each other and for their mother unifies the Body of Christ in ever unfolding levels of ever deepening communion. The end of this communion is not merely love of each other but that the members of the Body of Christ experience an ever deepening love of each other as seen in light of the love God has for each person He created out of and for love.
Catholic Church. Catechism of the Catholic Church PART TWO THE CELEBRATION OF THE CHRISTIAN MYSTERY. 1992. On November 21, 1964, at the close of the third session of the Second Vatican Council, the Holy Father dedicated the following words to the honor of the Blessed Virgin Mary, at the end renewing the Consecration first made by Pope Pius XII in 1952. (accessed December 4, 2018).
—. The Catechism of the Catholic Church PART ONE THE PROFESSION OF FAITH. 1992. http://www.vatican.va/archive/ccc_css/archive/catechism/p1s2c1p6.htm (accessed December 4, 2018).
FITZGIBBONS, . RICHARD P. Children of Divorce: Conflicts and Healing. March 9, 2017. https://www.hprweb.com/2017/03/children-of-divorce-conflicts-and-healing/ (accessed December 4, 2018).
FLEISCHMANN, JONATHAN. Mother of Mercy. November 29, 2015. https://www.hprweb.com/2015/11/mother-of-mercy/ (accessed December 4, 2018).
LUMEN GENTIUM. n.d. Vatican.va. (2018). Lumen gentium. [online] Available at: http://www.vatican.va/archive/hist_councils/ii_vatican_council/documents/vat-ii_const_19641121_lumen-gentium_en.html [Accessed 4 Dec. 2018]. (accessed December 4, 2018).
MCTAVISH, JAMES. Mary, Mother of Mercy. Christ the Power of Merciful Love. March 21, 2012. https://www.hprweb.com/2012/03/mary-mother-of-mercy-christ-the-power-of-merciful-love/ (accessed December 4, 2018).
Palyo, Robert. “The Church as Sacrament.” Ecclesiology Lecture. Yonkers, September 11, 2018. 1.
Pope Paul VI. On November 21, 1964, at the close of the third session of the Second Vatican Council, the Holy Father dedicated the following words to the honor of the Blessed Virgin Mary, at the end renewing the Consecration first made by Pope Pius XII in 1952. November 21, 1964. https://www.ewtn.com/fatima/papal-documents/pope-paul-VI/1964Paul6.htm (accessed December 4, 2018).
An Exegesis of Matthew
On the Power of the Son of Man
17 When they saw him, they worshiped him; but they doubted. 18 Then Jesus
approached and said to them, “All power in heaven and on earth has been given to
me. 19 Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name
of the Father and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all
that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the
This passage is the last of appearances of Christ to the disciples presented in the gospel of Matthew.
Often this passage is referred to as the Great Commission as it involves the disciples being charged with
a mission by Christ. Integral to this mission is the fact that because all power is given to Christ and He is
always with the disciples they now have received the power to fulfill their mission. The thesis of this
paper is that the meaning of the whole passage is deeply connected to the fact that all authority in
heaven and earth is given to Jesus. The paper will analyze exactly what is meant by this reference to
Christ’s authority and how it relates to the commission, baptism, and the commandments given by
Christ to his disciples.
Chapter 28 of Matthew concludes the Gospel. In many ways this chapter ties all of Matthew
together and provides for the raison d’etre for the continuation of the Christian community. The Great
Commission provides the context for the passion and resurrection for without it while there would be the
resurrected Jesus Christ there would no sense of direction or connection with the disciples and their
purpose in life after the resurrection. It is the Great Commission which provides a plan of action for the
disciples and gives them a sense of mission. This mission will result in a more complete separation from
the contemporary Judaism and yet has its roots in the earlier teachings of Jesus Christ.
Matthew 28 comes after the Passion of Christ which is followed by the account of His
Resurrection. Obviously the trauma of the events surrounding the passion of our Lord produced a state
of shock in the disciples. They had recently seen their beloved teacher, the man they acclaimed as
messiah, brutally tortured and finally dying. One of them even betrayed the man of whom Peter said
“you are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” 2 In fact nearly all of them abandoned their beloved
Master. It would seem that the bond uniting the group of disciples was irretrievably broken. No doubt
1 Mt 28:17-20 (NAB)
2 Mt 16:16 (NAB)
many of the disciples were shaken to the core of their being. Next they received word from the women
who came running from the tomb that Jesus was alive and was to meet the disciples in Galilee. There is
no subsequent passage after Matthew 28 as it concludes the gospel.
Matthew’s account of the Great Commission is unique. The other gospels do not correspond to
Mt 28:16- 20 in a direct manner. Rather while Mark 16:14- 20 and Mt 28:16-20 do have connections it
would seem that the events are distinct from each other. There are some elements in Mark 16:14-18 that
are similar but the surroundings are different. In Mark 16:7 the women are commanded to tell the
disciples to go to Galilee to meet Christ but unlike the account in Matthew their fear prevented them
from doing so. It may be that Mary Magdalene went back alone and after seeing Christ then relayed the
message to the disciples as described in Mark’s account. In Mark 16:14 it is uncertain whether the
disciples actually meet Christ in Galilee as they are rebuked for their unbelief and hardness of heart.
Thus the disciples are represented more negatively in Mark than Matthew. 3 In Matthew 28:17 while
there is a mention of doubt there is no rebuke from Christ. In addition to that it occurs at a mountain top
and there is no mention of a table. In Mark 16 there is more of an emphasis on the signs that will
accompany the disciples. By these signs following them there is an implication of the disciples being
granted power but there is no explicit mention of how it is conferred other than by faith in Christ. 4 In Mt
28:16-20 the passage is more concerned with emphasizing that Christ will never abandon the disciples.
The connection between their mission and the power they receive is based on remaining in Christ’s
presence. 5 There is no explicit mention of miracles in Mt 28:16- 20 as there is in Mark 16:14- 20 but
that is implicitly assumed as they are given the power of Christ who earlier in Matthew’s gospel worked
miracles. Despite this the main emphasis in Matthew 28 is the abiding presence of Christ in the
3 Morna D. Hooker, The Gospel According to Saint Mark, Black’s New Testament Commentaries (Peabody:
Hendrickson Publishers, 1997), 389.
4 Ibid., 390.
5 Curtis Mitch and Edward Sri, The Gospel of Matthew, Catholic Commentary on Sacred Scripture (Grand Rapids:
Baker Academic Press, 2010), 372.
6Kurt Aland, Jesus Appears to the Eleven on a Mountain in Galilee, Synopsis of Gospels: English Edition, (New
York: American Bible Society), 322.
In relation to the power of Christ in the gospel of Matthew there are numerous references to the
Son of Man which indicates its thematic importance to understanding Matthew. The title Son of Man
expresses simultaneously Christ’s abasement in light of the Incarnation and Passion as well as His
exaltation as reflected through the Resurrection and subsequent glorification. While the phrase son of
Man doesn’t appear in Mt 28:16-20 there is an implied reference to Dan 7:14 which speaks of one “like
a son of man.” 7
The Literary View of Matthew’s View of the Mountains
In the Gospel of Matthew a number of important events occurred on a mountain. They are the
third temptation (as it is listed in Matthew), the Sermon on the Mount. The next occurs when Jesus goes
up a mountain to pray alone. Coming down from that mountain He walks of the Sea of Galilee to reach
the disciples who are struggling against the waves of the sea. The next mention of a mountain records
the healing of the lame, blind and subsequent feeding of the four thousand. In Matthew 17 the
Transfiguration occurs on what is emphasized as a high mountain. The next mountain mentioned is the
Mount of Olives. It is on the Mount of Olives that the Last Supper occurs on and that the Passion begins
and ends. Here the Resurrection also occurs as well. The final mountain mentioned in the Gospel of
Matthew is the one on which the disciples meet Jesus for the last time in the Gospel of Matthew and on
which they receive the Great Commission. 8 Traditionally in the Scriptures mountains are regarded as
places where one interacts with the divine in a unique way. 9 Whether the mountain of the
Transfiguration was highest due to its degree of revelation of the divine in Jesus or due to its physical
elevation or both is not absolutely certain. Perhaps it is an issue of both and instead either/ or for
While it is possible that all these mountains mentioned by Matthew are all different in reality it is
irrelevant to his point. In Matthew 28 occurs the seventh mention of a mountain as being the scene of
events in the life of Christ and his disciples. As there is only one word in Greek that is translated as
mount/ mountains this indicates that the significance of each of these events is interrelated on some
level. 10 The fact that the seventh time a mountain is the locus of Christ’s activity would seem to be
7 Ulrich Luz, The Theology of the Gospel of Matthew, (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1995), 116.
8 Terence Donaldson, Jesus on the Mountain: A Study in Matthew, (Sheffield, UK: JSOT Press, 1985), 3.
9 Ibid., 13, 25.
significant. As seven in the Hebrew mind indicated completeness and the divine it would seem that
Matthew’s message is completed with the Great Commission. In a certain sense it indicates that the
physical presence of Christ working on the earth as He did prior to the Resurrection is now completed.
It is on the eighth day that the work of the Church on earth begins in a new way and in a certain sense
the Great Commission is God’s plan for the beginning of a new Creation of heaven and earth.
Along the theme of Matthew’s view of mountains it would seem not to be coincidental that
Mount Zion, the Temple Mount, is never mentioned as a mountain even though it was frequented by
Jesus a number of times according to Matthew’s testimony. It would seem on that on the temple Mount
that the divine was veiled and its interaction with men was not on the same elevation as the other
mountain scenes. While Divine Son is not recognized in the Temple, His Father’s house, He is
worshipped in other places. Yet even though the Son of God is previously worshipped in other places in
Matthew’s gospel He is not worshipped on a mountain until the seventh reference of the events
occurring on a mountain in Matthew 28. 11 In many ways the “revelation mountain” in Matthew 28 is
the perfect completion of Christ’s revelation of His Divinity for Matthew. It is important to note that
while in the first mention of mountain in Matthew the devil is requesting worship from Jesus that in the
last mention it is Jesus who is being worshiped. 12
Doubts and Redoubts
As it had been mentioned earlier the disciples had recently seen their beloved Master whom they
believed to be the Christ suffer an agonizing death. Is it any wonder that Mathew indicates in verse 16
that while the disciples worshipped him there was some who doubted? A number of scholars dispute
whether all doubted some, some of the eleven doubted or whether the eleven were accompanied by
some who doubted. 13 According to Luz, this passage is more appropriately translated as the disciples
were divided between two opinions regarding the appearance of Jesus. 14
10 James Strong, Strong’s Expanded Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2009), s.v.
11 James Strong, Strong’s Expanded Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2009), s.v.
12 Ulrich Luz, Matthew 21-28, Hermeneia (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2007), 621.
13 Daniel J. Harrignton, The Gospel of Matthew, Sacra Pagina 1 (Collegeville: Liturgical Press, 1991), 414.
14 Ulrich Luz, Matthew 21-28, Hermeneia (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2007), 623.
This passage is interesting because the root for the word doubt, διστάζω, Mt 28:17 is connected
to only two passages in the New Testament and both instances are in the gospel of Matthew. This does
not seem to be a coincidental choice of words upon Matthew’s part. The second instance that διστάζω is
connected to occurs in the account in Matthew of Christ walking on the Sea of Galilee. 15 In this account
between 3am to 6am Christ walks towards the disciples who are in the midst of the stormy seas. At first
the disciples are afraid for they think that Jesus is a ghost but then Christ says to them “Take courage it
is I.” 16 Peter then says if it is you call me. After Jesus says comes Peter gets out of the boat and walks to
Jesus but seeing the wind he fears and calls on Christ to save him. It is here as Jesus reaches out to Peter
that he says to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” The second Scripture verse that διστάζω
is connected to is here in Mt 14:31. Διστάζω as the root indicates a divided mind which is understood as
vacillation and uncertainty and is translated as doubt. 17 It would seem that the phrase “little faith” is
connected with doubt in both passages as Mathew’s use of it in MT 28:17 is not likely to be
coincidental. The passages are meant to evoke each other. Both are connected with Galilee. One occurs
on the mountain while the other occurs on the sea but it does occur after Jesus descends from an
unnamed mountain in Galilee. It is not certain whether this is the same mountain in Mt 28 but there is a
clear connection in either case.
In Mt 28 it is unclear whether Jesus was already present before the disciples arrived but either
way the disciples journeyed towards Him. In Mt 14 the Jesus walks towards the disciples but then Peter
comes towards Jesus part of the way. After Christ saves Peter they journey together towards the other
disciples in the boat. It would seem that this doubting is connected with journeying towards Christ.
There is faith because the disciples draw near Christ but at the same time they are double minded since
still seem to have doubts. Yet just like Christ reaches out to save Peter so in Mt 28:18 does Jesus come
to draw near to the eleven disciples. This time he does not rebuke the disciples for their little faith.
Rather, Christ goes on to say “I am with you always, until the end of the age.” 18 Just like in Mt 14:27
Jesus in Mt 28:20 he reminds them that that He is the “I am” and is with them. Since Christ is with them
15 James Strong, Strong’s Expanded Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible, (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2009), s.v.
“doubt, doubted.” See 1365
16 Mt 14:27 (NAB)
17 Donald A. Hagner, Matthew 14- 28, Word Biblical Commentary 33B, (Dallas, TX: Word Books, 1995 ), 885.
18 Mt 28:20 (NAB)
until the end of the world the disciples can trust Him to save them (Mt 14:31) even when they
experience doubt. As they approach Christ and reach out to Him it would seem their faith grows and as
their faith grows they also draw nearer to Christ.
In Mt 14:33 the account concludes with Jesus getting into the boat after which the disciples
worship Him calling Him “the Son of God.” In Mt 28:17 they also worship Him. It is no coincidence
that in Mt 28:18 it next says “and Jesus came.” It would seem that the approach of Christ saves all and
increases the faith of the disciples. As Christ draws nearer the faith of the disciples increases as the
result of being saved by Him- not only from the storms of life but from winds of unbelief.
In the ancient world the sea often represents chaos and in that sense uncertainty. With the
approach of Christ the waves of the sea are stilled as well as the winds of unbelief which stirred them
up. So with the approach of Christ in Mt 28:18 the unbelief of the disciples vanishes and the waves of
uncertainty are stilled. For Matthew henceforth the disciple’s faith is firmly founded on Christ as the
Rock. It is fitting this final revelation of Christ occurs on a mountain which is a geological foundation
that is usually associated with being made of rock or having a foundation of rock and possessing an
enduring, solid nature. The contrast between the mountain and the sea is connected by the unique root
word διστάζω and the fact that in both instances the disciples worship Christ as the Son of God. In the
first instance of διστάζω Jesus descends from on high (comes down after praying on the mountain) to
meet the soul tossed to and fro by winds of unbelief. While unbelief results from little faith, increasing
faith results from a growing certainty. This growing certainty is a form of seeing the Person of Christ
with spiritual eyes. As such the genuine faith is based on a Person and not merely random words/
statements that are disconnected from that Person. In the second instance where διστάζω occurs Christ
ascends the mountain and calls his disciples to be with Him. It is in and through Christ’s personal
presence that the faith of the disciples is made to be enduring and firm in nature. Their faith is now
rooted in their experience of Christ and is rooted in perceiving His Divine nature and power. Since they
realize the nature of Christ it is in accordance with Scriptural tradition that they ascend the mountain to
worship God. Since divinity of Christ is now the foundational stone of their faith this completely
transforms them. They are no longer the weak, unbelieving men they once were. The greater the faith
the more closely united the person is to Christ. 19
The Power of the Son of Man
In Mt 28:18 after Jesus comes to the disciples he states “All authority in heaven and earth has
been given to me.” Luz states that this power includes all power over creation and that this relates to the
humanity of Christ according to the Chalcedonians as the Divinity of Christ is immutable. According to
this argument as member of the Trinity the Son can’t receive more power as it already belongs properly
to the Son by nature. 20 This is consonant with what is said of one like the Son of Man in Daniel 7:14
where it is stated that he too is given an “everlasting dominion.” In fact the word for power, ἐξουσία, in
Mt 28:18 is the same as in the in Daniel 7:13, 14 of the LXX which speaks of the power/dominion of
one like the son of man. 21 It is well known that Jesus applied the term Son of Man to Himself during
His earthly ministry. In fact Christ uses the phrase Son of Man to refer to himself over 28 times in the
gospel of Matthew and numerous times in the other gospels. 22 There is a link between “one like a son of
man” in Daniel 7 and Mt 28 that is not merely accidental and no doubt would have been familiar to the
hearers of Matthew’s gospel with the Septuagint translation and its reference to all power given to one
like a son of man. 23 By connecting ἐξουσί in Mt 28 with Dan 7 and combined with the fact that in
Mt14:33 Jesus is worshipped as the Son of God it would appear that the implicit claim of Christ is that
the title Son of Man refers to the same person who is considered to be the Son of God and is the messiah
foretold in the Old Testament.
It is true that numerous modern commentators ascribe to the son of man passage in Dan 7:13, 14
as representing an angel. 24 This interpretation is based mostly on the angelogy discovered in the Dead
Sea Scrolls and its popularity is of recent origin. Yet this attribution seems to be premature. If there was
such a strong connection to the prolific angelogy of the Qumran communities then it would seem that
the phrase son of man used would frequently occur in reference to the angels in the documents. In fact it
19 Donald A. Hagner, Matthew 14- 28, Word Biblical Commentary 33B,(Dallas, TX: Word Books, 1995 ), 886.
20 Ulrich Luz, Matthew 21-28, Hermeneia (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2007), 624, 625.
21 John P. Meier, Matthew, New Testament Message 3, (Wilmington, DE: Michael Glazier Inc., 1981), 369.
22 James Strong, Strong’s Expanded Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2009), s.v.
23 Scriptures were written usually for communities and not primarily for individuals. Furthermore the LXX was a
translation of the Old Testament widely known and nearly universally accepted in the ancient world during Matthew’s time.
24 Joseph A. Fitzmyer,. The One Who Is to Come, (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publ, 2007), 58, 59 .
doesn’t occur a single time. 25 It seems strange that this fact is regarded as insignificant by a number of
In Dan 7:13- 14 Hartman claims what is really meant is the holy ones/ saints of the most high
that are mentioned in Dan 7:27. 26 At first glance his conclusion seems compelling. His refutation that
the term does not refer to an angelic being is persuasive for there is definitely an intrinsic link between
Dan 7:13- 14 and Dan 7:27 and such an explanation seems to create more problems than it would solve.
At the same time Harman’s claim that the term “one like a son a man” is not intended to describe an
actual person is also highly problematic. The main concern is that the figure in Dan 7:13 comes with the
clouds. There is no record of any earthly figure having an entourage of clouds. Therefore the one who is
like the son of man must have a supernatural origin despite Collin’s reservations. 27 For the holy ones/
saints to come with the clouds would indicate they possessed a divine/ supernatural origin prior to
receiving all the dominion and kingdoms and prior to obtaining an everlasting kingdom and before all
dominions shall obey them. In fact such a people would be divine before having any divine prerogatives/
attributes. This appears at best to be a highly illogical position.
Hartman claims that to regard the son of man figure as a messianic figure would be eisegesis. He
states that Daniel must be interpreted by what went before and not what comes after. In a sense he is
correct. At the same time author of Daniel and those prior to him evidently felt that the ultimate
authority and interpretation of their works did not belong merely to themselves but were in relationship
with the divine. To write off the supernatural element of Scripture without solid evidence would also be
an eisegetical exercise. Whether one believes in God or not it was evident that the inspiration of the
book is regarded to be Divine by the writer of Daniel. 28 Therefore by nature the work doesn’t
necessarily preclude a future revelation of its deeper meanings according to the mind of either the
human or the divine author. In fact the Sitz im Leben of the author of the work would seem to be open to
25 H. J. Harold , “The Dead Sea Scrolls and the Son of Man in Daniel, 1 Enoch, and the New Testament Gospels:
An Assessment of 11QMELCH (11Q13),” The Dead Sea Scrolls in Context: Integrating the Dead Sea Scrolls in the Study of
Ancient Texts, Languages, and Cultures. ed. Armin Lange, Emanuel Tov, and Matthias Weigold. (Boston, MA: Brill, 2011),
26 Louis F. Hartman and Alexander A. Di Lella, Daniel , The Anchor Bible 23, (New York: Doubleday, 1978),
27 John J. Collins, Daniel, 1-2 Maccabees, Old Testament Message 15, (Wilmington: Michael Glazier Inc, 1981),
28 Ibid., 72.
that for it also develops previous themes of Scripture. To not place Scripture in the context of other
Scripture would be to strip it of its meaning and render any attempt at interpretation useless. Therefore
there is no justification to rule out a messianic interpretation as the concept may have been in a seed
form at the time of the composition of the work. The holy ones/ saints are suffering and need to be
rescued. Thus it is no wonder that the son of man figure later came to be seen as messianic. 29 The
simple reason is a messiah by definition is one who saves others.
Along these lines a possible way to explain Dan 7 is that the son of man represents a unique and
actual person who is mystically united to the holy ones/ saints and represents them as a collective whole.
In fact this explanation would seem to avoid a number of the pitfalls that beset the other explanations.
Furthermore it complements Pauline Theology as presented in Col 1:10-23 where Christ is the head of
His body the Church and revealed as a divine figure towards which all of creation is directed to as its
source. This imagery is further developed by Eph 1:17-23 which indicates Christ and His Body to be the
fullness of all things. 30 The striking reference of both these Pauline passages to Dan 7:13 indicate that
in the mind of the early Church Mt 28:16-20 was deeply connected with the figure of one like the son of
man coming in power. In Dan 7:13,14 the son of man has all power given to Him which in Dan 7:27 is
also given to the holy ones/ saints. There is an ever deepening connection between all these passages
according to this interpretation. In Mt 28:18- 20 Christ receives power/ authority over all and this power
is given to His disciples, the holy ones/ saints, to usher in the fullness of His kingdom as it is in Dan
7:27 and elaborated upon in Col 10-23 and Eph 1:17-23.
Christ’s kingdom is also analogous to the rock in Dan 2:43-45. For the power of the kingdom
will spread throughout creation by the disciples bringing others into the Kingdom of Christ which is
synonymous with Christ and His body. It is through the faith of believers in Christ that His kingdom
reigns on earth. 31 In a sense the Church as the body of Christ which grows in power as it grows in size
as the rock in Dan 2 does and in doing so progressively shatters the other kingdoms. 32 Yet at the same
29 Louis F. Hartman , “Daniel.” In The Jerome Biblical Commentary, ed. Raymond E. Brown, Joseph A. Fitzmyer,
and Roland E. Murphy, (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1968), 449.
30 Lectionary year A http://usccb.org/bible/readings/052817-ascension.cfm
31 Jerome, The Great Commission 4.28.18-20, in Matthew 14- 28, ed. Manlio Simonetti, Ancient Christian
Commentary on Scripture, NT 1b, (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2002), 313.
32 Kenton L. Sparks, “Gospel as Conquest: Mosaic Typology in Matthew 28:16-20,” The Catholic Biblical
Quarterly 68 (2006): 661.
time Christ is present not just with the Church on a whole but each individual member for they would
cease to be connected to the one Body if they are not in relation to the Head. 33 In this way Christ has
promised His presence with each believer will remain until the end of the world. Thus it is through
baptism in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit that God through faith in Christ unites Himself to
each disciple. It is through baptism that the kingdom of God triumphs over sin and the kingdoms of
darkness which oppose God’s work in the world. 34 While some scholars contest a late date or addition
due to the triadic baptismal formula this objection to the originality of the passage and its early
composition are not serious objections. This formula was firmly established by the time the Didache was
formulated and can be seen in Pauline theology as well. 35
A New Command
In Mt28:20 Jesus instructs His disciples to teach those they baptize to obey all that He has
commanded them. This passage hearkens back to the experience of Moses in Ex 24. In doing so there
are also connections to Mt17 where the Transfiguration occurs. 36 Each event occurs on a mountain. In
Ex 24 Moses and others are summoned up a mountain to worship God. Later in the passage Moses goes
up further and receives the commandments which instruct the Israelites how to live. In Mt 28:20 here
too the disciples are called to come and worship God in the Person of the Son. Here they also receive
instructions. Yet unlike the lengthy instructions given to Moses the instructions given to the disciples are
remarkably shorter. It would seem they had no need of lengthy instruction. In fact as Christ is with them
it would seem that instead they were already observing the entirety of the law. 37 In between Ex 24 and
Ex 35 the Israelites sinned and rejected God by worshipping a golden calf. Subsequently more
commands were added to the law they observed. It would seem that disobedience in the Old Testament
resulted in more laws to guide those who so easily err. Whereas to those who already observe the law
there is no need for more commandments. Here even the law given to Moses is shortened and
superseded. In fact in Mt 17 at the Transfiguration the disciples were told to listen to Christ- not Moses.
33 Chrysostom, Commentary on Matthew 4.28.14, in Matthew14- 28, ed. Manlio Simonetti, Ancient Christian
Commentary on Scripture, NT 1b, (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2002), 313.
34 Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2 nd ed. (Washington, DC: United States Catholic Conference, 2000), 1023,
35 W.F. Albright and C.S. Mann, Matthew, The Anchor Bible 26, (New York: Doubleday, 1987), 362, 363.
37 Heb 10:16-17 (NAB)
Since the disciples have received the spirit of Christ which lives in them it is apparent that the law given
to Moses is no longer needed. 38 Indeed in Mt 28:20 the phrase I am with you always, to the end of the
age” evokes the name Emmanuel, God with us, in Mt 1:23. 39 Thus the disciples are to teach what Christ
has engraved upon their hearts and minds. Even so the Christ who has done this will remain always with
them to provide guidance when needed for they will never be truly alone so long as they remain with
Christ. At the same time the conclusion of the Gospel of Matthew evokes its beginning in the infancy
narrative for the God who came to us as a child is ever new and always with us till the end of the age.
The authority given to the disciples in Mt 28 is essentially that of identity with Christ as the Son
of Man and the Son of God. These two sonships provide a bridge whereby the disciples can be
reconciled to God and enter His kingdom which is essentially the Person of Jesus Christ. In entering into
relationship with Christ they become part of His body the Church. As a member of the body of Christ
they share in His authority over all things. The passages in Dan 7:13, 14 and Dan 28 provide a bridge to
more fully understand the unique sharing of Christ’s power with His disciples. Yet this sharing of
Christ’s power is so much more than merely a temporal power as it is a share in the divine life that is
ordinarily received through baptism. Essentially this power/ authority flows from the disciple’s share in
the Divine life of the Trinity and which is handed done to the present day by the Church.
At the same time as one enters into relationship with the divine one becomes conformed to Christ
and desires to obey the commands of God which are now written on their hearts and permeate their
minds. The main reason all power is given to the disciples is due to the fact that God is with them
always and thus has given them a share in His authority and power. Naturally as God desires the spread
of the kingdom so do the disciples and so they act in obedience to Christ’s injunction. The power and
authority are related to the commission to baptize and teach in that they flow from union with Christ.
With a share in the Divine Life comes a share in the power that flows from it. The desires of the heart
are also inflamed by the Divine Life as its essence is Divine Love. This prompts genuine believers to
share this power instead of hoarding it. Thus all creation, except the Head, is subject to those who follow
38 Gal 3:20 (NAB)
39 Daniel J. Harrington, The Gospel of Matthew, Sacra Pagina 1 (Collegeville: Liturgical Press, 1991), 415.
Christ. The power and authority shared are essentially inseparable from the Divine Life. In fact the
power/ authority shared flow from the dwelling of the Godhead in the human heart and the prerogatives
that flow from such a relationship.
Aland, Kurt. “Jesus Appears to the Eleven on a Mountain in Galilee. Synopsis of Gospels: English
Edition. New York: American Bible Society, 1985.
Albright,.W.F. and Mann , C.S. Matthew The Anchor Bible 26. New York, NY: Doubleday, 1987.
Catechism of the Catholic Church. 2 nd ed. Washington, DC: United States Catholic Conference, 2000.
Chrysostom. Commentary on Matthew 4.28.14. In Matthew14- 28, edited by Manlio Simonetti. Ancient
Christian Commentary on Scripture, NT 1b. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2002.
Collins, John J. Daniel, 1-2 Maccabees, Old Testament Message 15. Wilmington, DE: Michael Glazier
Donaldson, Terence. Jesus on the Mountain: A Study in Matthew. Sheffield, UK: JSOT Press, 1985.
Harrington , Daniel J.. The Gospel of Matthew. Sacra Pagina 1. Collegeville: Liturgical Press, 1991.
Hartman, Louis F. and. Di Lella, Alexander A. Daniel. The Anchor Bible 23. New York: Doubleday,
Hagner, Donald A. Matthew 14- 28. Word Biblical Commentary 33B. Dallas, TX: Word Books, 1995.
Harold , H. J. “The Dead Sea Scrolls and the Son of Man in Daniel, 1 Enoch, and the New Testament Gospels: An
Assessment of 11QMELCH (11Q13).” The Dead Sea Scrolls in Context: Integrating the Dead Sea Scrolls in the
Study of Ancient Texts, Languages, and Cultures. edited by Armin Lange, Emanuel Tov, and Matthias Weigold,
341-366 Boston, MA: Brill, 2011.
Hartman, Louis F.. “Daniel.” In The Jerome Biblical Commentary, edited by Raymond E. Brown,
Joseph A. Fitzmyer, and Roland E. Murphy, 446- 460. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1968.
. Hooker, Morna D. The Gospel According to Saint Mark. Black’s New Testament Commentaries.
Peabody: Hendrickson Publishers, 1997.
Fitzmyer, Joseph A. The One Who Is to Come. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publ, 2007.
Jerome. The Great Commission 4.28.18-20. In Matthew14- 28, edited by Manlio Simonetti. Ancient
Christian Commentary on Scripture, NT 1b. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2002.
Luz, Ulrich. The Theology of the Gospel of Matthew. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press,
Meier, John P. Matthew, New Testament Message 3. Wilmington, DE: Michael Glazier Inc, 1981.
Mitch, Curtis and Sri, Edward. The Gospel of Matthew, Catholic Commentary on Sacred Scripture
Grand Rapids: Baker Academic Press, 2010.
Sparks, Kenton L. “Gospel as Conquest: Mosaic Typology in Matthew 28:16-20.” The Catholic Biblical
Quarterly 68, (2006): 651-663.
Strong, James. Strong’s Expanded Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible. Nashville, TN: Thomas
United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. May 28, 2017 – The Ascension of the Lord. n.d.
http://usccb.org/bible/readings/052817-ascension.cfm (accessed December 14, 2018).
On the Freedom to Be Nothing
Submission from a friend
|Abstract:While many today think that true freedom entails an unlimited version of self-creation there is little discussion on the necessity of an enduring identity for an entity to be free. The purpose of this paper is to address that need and demonstrate the logical contradictions that necessarily follow upon such a radical view of freedom. In its place the author seeks to propose an alternative view that is logically consistent and authentically Catholic.|
The contemporary understanding of what makes an act moral is significantly different from the views once prevalent in western society. To analyze the differences between the once prevalent views and those which are frequently expressed in the public arena of today it is advantageous to study it in the context of a concrete application such as abortion. Studying the positions of both sides on this issue can elucidate their respective principles and logical connections. There are legions of secular and religious world views regarding abortion but for reasons of brevity it is best to limit the secular view point to that enunciated by the Supreme Court and that of Thomistic moral theology. Once the contemporary view is unfolded in regards to its logical connections and foundational principles then the Thomistic view will be contrasted with it. The conclusion of this paper will analyze of which system is more aligned with reality as it is.
Attempting to provide a legal justification for abortion the Supreme Court stated: “At the heart of liberty is the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life.” The first fact to be noticed is the assumption that both the universe and a living individual capable of thought are regarded to exist in some concrete manner. The second presupposition is the individual is a unique type of being that is implicitly assumed to be human. It is assumed each human actively thinks and has the right to self-determination which is not limited by anything except the individual human’s thought and the legitimate self-determination of other humans. It should be noted there is no attempt to define what type of being a human is other one that that is engaged in some nebulous act of thinking. There is no real context which places the human being in specific and necessary relations to the rest of the universe. Rather everything outside the individual is defined in terms of human thought and has no intrinsic value in itself. “One has liberty because they think.” The label “human” is relegated to an entity that is actively thinking and does not include any being that merely has the potency for thinking. An extension of this is that only those who are known to actually think in the present are considered to have rights. Prior to the active mode of thinking and subsequent to its cessation the entity under consideration is not regarded as human and therefore has no claim to human rights.
Another problem not considered is that the act of thinking cannot be detected through our senses unless it is communicated by an entity to another in physical act or spoken word. The mere presence of electrical activity in the human brain cannot conclusively demonstrate that the subject under analysis is actually thinking. The conclusion one necessarily must arrive at then is that the criteria for the bestowal of human rights under such a system is completely subjective in nature. In other words, rights are essentially granted to human beings by other human beings who have received the ability to grant human rights ad infinitum. Yet according to all scientists it is a scientific fact that humans have not always existed. Therefore the question arises as to how humans ultimately achieved this right of determining whether another human entity possesses the subjective criteria to be declared fully human arises. Merely because the determination is made by multiple humans of the highest authority does not change this concern. If humans have not always existed then how did the first humans obtain human rights if they are something that must be acknowledged by other humans as meeting their subjective criteria? There is no way to answer this question without an appeal to a “pre-existing entity.”
The intimate connection of the act of thinking with rights identifies the act of thinking with rights. Thoughts cannot be fully expressed unless acted upon in the exterior manner. Thus to inhibit the thoughts/ desires of another is regarded as potentially impeding their liberty. As humans have the almost unlimited ability to think of “anything” the conclusion is that they have the right to do anything that doesn’t impede what is subjectively determined to be the just extent of another human’s freedom. A corollary to that argument is that since humans have the ability to perceive reality as to be something other than what it is, then any restriction upon that ability is an infringement upon their liberty. There is no mention of any necessity of conforming to reality as it objectively is. Rather the context indicates that the human individual can only experience liberty when they can bring reality into alignment with their subjective conception of it.
Due to this there is no provision for a common reality to which we all belong. Thus there can be no telos (the end purpose) for anything except that which a human individual deigns to bestow on it. Obviously, such a telos only has a transitory duration due to the transitory nature of human life. In some ways then everything is merely a label which has no permanence or definitive nature. There is no objective truth according to such a mode of thinking as the subjective mind is all that exists. Individuals are thought to have the right to conceive of themselves as they wish and to act according to that self-conception. They are merely a thought thinking of itself. A contradictory feature of this mode of thought is that the individual which thinks has no definitive nature and thus is what they conceive of their self at any given moment. Consequently they have no permanent identity. This conception of humanity provides no limit or content to human identity and has led to the conception of “women trapped in men’s bodies” and so on. They hold there are no absolute limits to human thought in framing of reality and the greatest good is the liberty to mold reality according their own imagination. The only way to obtain this good is to actively make reality align with their imagination of it. In a sense they create reality in their own image calling what aligns most closely with their desires good. Anything which opposes such radical attempts at redefinition of one’s self is considered evil with the degree of evil being positively correlated with the degree of obstruction to the individual’s desires.
The contemporary view of the individual as possessing the unlimited right to conform reality to their whims is highly problematic. The Supreme Court statement has indicated that there are no limits to human rights except laws that protect the rights of other individuals. Thus it must be that they consider the right of the individual to be absolute when the individual is considered in isolation from other human individuals. This stems from a negative conception of liberty as a situation in which nothing can place just limits upon an individual except the rights of other human individuals. Even the Court itself is composed of individuals who presumably possess the same rights they have ruled others have. The first premise is there are no greater entities other than individual human beings. Otherwise it would be the case that humans were created for a particular reason and subject to the design of a greater entity. Since there is no appeal to an authority greater than that of human authority it must be the case that the Court regards humans as either having no cause, as causing themselves in an ultimate manner or being caused by inferior or equal entities. In any of these three cases it would be obvious that humans are free to do as they wish since they are not subject to other entities.
In addition humans are regarded as essentially formless and therefore implicitly lack a permanent identity. This is the consequence of the Supreme Court effectively stating the individual is free to reconceive themselves if their reconception does not violate the “rights” of other individuals. All obstacles to human individuals transforming themselves into anything they desire are viewed as a violation of their liberty. There is no provision for the concept of human nature in such an ideology since the individual is regarded as essentially as having no permanent identity except an ability unrestricted by reality to reconceive itself and the entire universe. In that sense a human individual can be anything and everything. Yet a thing with no defining limitations, a something that can be anything, is in reality nothing. Only nothing has no defining limitation of its nature. Otherwise one poses a logical contradiction. One cannot speak of anything without limiting it to be one thing or another thing. Once a thing transforms into something else it loses its very identity and existence. If there are no defining limitations of a human individual then to speak of its dignity is meaningless. It is akin to pure potency but in actuality pure potency does not exist as it would cease to be pure potency and would be a concrete thing. Even God cannot become something other than God. In a sense He is limited by being Himself. Changing into something other than God is to cease being God. If one can become something other than they are then that identity didn’t belong to them in the proper sense to begin with. For one to lose their identity is to cease to exist. While humans are not in precisely the same situation as God, to become anything other than that unique human individual is not an exaltation of the human individual but rather an obliteration of the human individual. Essentially the Supreme Court is denying that human individuals have a permanent identity as that would impinge upon their right to liberty. This leads a denial of the reality of one’s own being. It leads to a denial of one’s purpose and declares that their life is ultimately meaningless which is illogical and leads to many psychological problems.
Obviously such a view differs from that of Thomistic philosophy. First Thomistic philosophy states that humans have a definite nature, place in the universe, and purpose. As such humans have a distinct identity that is rooted in objective reality. To share in human nature requires not the presence of actual of rational thought but the possibility of it. Since the human capacity to think entails the senses it is prerequisite to have a human body. To be human is defined not by subjective standards but objective observations that the entity has the possibility of engaging in human activity. Since humans have a definite nature as individuals each human being experiences a unique relationship with reality and therefore a singular telos. In some ways this is an obvious statement for it is rooted in the principle of identity.
If something can possess the identical relationships with something else it must not merely be a clone but be identical. If there were two points of reality that were in identical relationships with everything else then they are necessarily identical. In other words there are not two things but one. Their relationship with each other would not be of two things but of one thing since to be identical their relationships would have to be identical as well. Rather the fabric of realty is so interwoven that nothing else can truly take the place of something else. This is due to all those unique relationships with not only what is immediate to each thing but what is distant due to those myriads of unique relationships that form the sum total of what we call reality. Yet if each relationship is unique then there must be a unique meaning to each and every entity that forms reality. Each relationship of every thing is not arbitrary as they are not random. Relationships flow from nature and not randomness. The very concept of relationships between things requires a certain degree of order. Order can only be perceived and created by an intellect. The order of all things can only be perceived and created by an intellect that knows all things. Intrinsic to the concept of order is purpose. For nothing can be ordered if it has no purpose. While each thing shares in possessing a unique purpose considered on a whole their purposes are united (though not identical) with that of the thing we call reality. The purpose of each individual rational thing can only be fully attained the fullest union with the Intellect that is the source of all purpose and order. The purpose of our intellects is to perceive order. In contemplating the source and order of all things our intellect reaches their fullest actuality which is our purpose. To become most fully ourselves we need to accept objective reality. To try to be something other than what we are can only lead to a denial of our very identity and purpose. If we miss our purpose in life we will always be unsatisfied as there will always be something missing. Our complete identity is only found in our fullest actuality which is only found when we completely embrace our purpose in life. It is only in that we can be completely ourselves.
According to the Thomistic philosophy the greatest happiness is found in conforming to reality as “embodied” in other things as well as the reality “embodied” in our nature. There are material and non-material aspects of humans that uniquely pertain to human nature. This entails that our bodies are an essential part of what it means to be human. If that is so then our bodies are an intrinsic component of our very identity as a human being. To reject our biological bodies is to reject our very humanity. Happiness is only found in fulfilling our purpose by living completely in accord with our nature. In a certain sense everything is dependent upon its nature. One aspect of human nature is potency for the act of reasoning- not only the act of thinking. In addition, an authentic presentation of the Thomistic view holds that human individuals cannot be adequately understood in isolation from their unique relations with other aspects of reality. As humans are mutable in their relations they are subject to change and ultimately have a First Cause that is causeless- namely God. Due to this unique relationship humans have with their Creator, human individuals have no purpose outside that of which is of Divine origin. Humanity is composed of concrete individual human beings that all have different relationships to each other and the universe. Thus each human individual has a unique purpose in the larger purpose of the total sum of reality. A corollary of this is that human individuals cannot be truly free without properly understanding their unique relationship with God. Human freedom can be obtained only through understanding the Divine purpose for humanity while simultaneously cooperating with it according to one’s particular concrete situation and unique relationship with God.
The Thomistic view emphasizes that there is a defining limit and purpose to what it means to be a human individual. Such a limitation gives meaning and purpose to human life since it presumes a subject that has a permanent identity. This is in contrast to the view espoused by the Supreme Court which by defining liberty in a negative manner conceives the human individual as completely isolated from the restraints of nature. Such a mode of thinking obliterates the identity and consequently the freedom and dignity of the human individual. Furthermore, when a human individual is considered in isolation from its First Cause it has no purpose for its existence. Where there is no purpose there is no possibility of hope since hope requires an attainable goal. The Supreme Court’s definition of liberty as the ability to limitlessly reconceive everything also prohibits the possibility of attaining a permanent goal. Such liberty is merely the license for unending activity that has no lasting meaning or purpose. Under the guise of liberty the Court promulgated a doctrine that essentially denies any real meaning or purpose to the existence of the human individual. Is it any wonder it deems the murder of children as inconsequential? After all during the early stages of a baby in the womb it is difficult to impossible to determine whether they are capable of rational thought. Obviously babies have the possibility of rational thought but the Supreme Court requires more than that so their lives are forfeit. According to this mode of thought such children are not regarded as worthy of being permitted to live. Such callousness is the only logical outcome of such an ideology that denies purpose and an enduring identity.
The same is true of the modern exaltation of sodomy and attempts to change the gender of human individuals. According to that mode of thought there is no consideration that bodies have unique and complementary purposes and therefore are not meant to be used interchangeably. When archaeologists find a primitive tool they try to determine its function by considering its design. That the purpose of something is inherent in how it was designed is common knowledge. To use something contrary to its design is to act contrary to its design. For example a cell phone makes a poor hammer but an effective means of communication. If someone were to use a cellphone interchangeably with a hammer they would lead a very frustrated life. If we regard something as basic as a hammer to have a unique purpose then why is the human body which is much more complex considered as not having a unique and more consequential purpose? After all, the human body is even more fragile in many ways than a cell phone. It too can be damaged or broken if not used in a manner consonant with its design/ purpose. To constantly use one’s body contrary to its design would bring much more dissatisfaction to a person than using a cell phone as a hammer. An individual’s body is much more an intrinsic aspect of their very identity than any cell phone could ever be. Therefore damage to one’s body would cause much more damage to their very identity than any injury to a mere material possession. Since the body is an intrinsic part of the identity any use not in accord with its design would also injure the non-material part of a human’s identity. Injuring one’s self never takes the pain away but only magnifies it. To frustrate one’s purpose is to destroy one’s identity. Destroying one’s identity doesn’t lead to a metamorphosis but rather to more pain and degradation. Such tenets lead to a debasement of the value of the human individual and encourage an unrealistic vision of happiness that can never be obtained in any permanent sense. If the grass can always be greener on the other side of the fence then there is no way one can ultimately attain the fullness of happiness. Sadly, such modes of thinking teach people to hate what opposes their futile pursuit of happiness. In doing so they reject the only means by which they can find lasting happiness.
In closing it seems paramount to acknowledge that true freedom can only be found by living a life in accord with a definite purpose rooted in the totality of reality- particularly the reality of one’s nature. If we fight reality or human nature, we destroy ourselves. True freedom is found not in being “anything” but in living out our unique purpose and reaching the fullness of our identity. It is only in accepting the truth presented by reality and becoming all that we are meant to be that we can find true happiness and liberty. The Thomistic view in its defense of human nature and the necessary limitations objective reality places upon us through natural law makes it clear that an authentic definition of human freedom needs to be based on a correct ontological understanding of what a human individual is. Ultimately our purpose is only found in a unique communal relation with God.
Homily on the Transfiguration
Submission from a friend
And He was transfigured in their sight. It seems to our modern minds almost impossible to believe. Most of us never experience such extraordinary events in our lives. One may ask what does this have to do with my own ordinary life- it seems to have no relevance. We may even say it could never happen to me. However, its application to our lives is not so distant in time or place.
In 1858 a poor girl lived in France. In fact her family was so poor that her younger brother spent much time in church not praying but scraping the wax off the floor to dull the pains of hunger. Few of us have ever tasted the painful effects of such ordinary poverty. Such was the life of Bernadette Soubirous. It was to her that our Lady appeared in February of that year during the dead of winter. It was during those visits that Bernadette herself was transfigured with a light not of this world. Even her own mother once gasped saying she couldn’t recognize her own daughter- such was the change effected in Bernadette. We even have the testimony of many other eye witnesses who had originally come to the see her not out respect or belief but curiosity. Yet they who had moments earlier belittled Bernadette and the apparitions were struck to the heart with awe before the sight. The universal testimony of all the witnesses corroborated the extraordinary nature of the event. Still some doubted for faith does not believe in spite of the testimony of our eyes and minds. Rather faith believes despite the prideful conception of our own intelligence- it is a grace granted to those who are poor in their own sight.
Perhaps we may wish that we too could see the glory our Lord as the disciples did on the mountain or even its reflection in Bernadette. It all sounds so romantic. We believe that if only we could see a miracle all our doubts would be removed and then we could be like the saints. We over estimate ourselves and fail to see our true state. Perhaps we would even belittle St Peter for saying Lord it is good for us to be here. Let us build three booths for you Moses and Elijah. After all it would seem that he of all people should have more presence of mind. Yet all too often we also want the Lord remain with us on our own terms. We want not to take up our cross and follow Him but to stay where we are and have God cater to us. We want the glory without the inconvenience. We want the transfiguration without the cross.
Yet God’s thoughts are not our thoughts. The purpose of the transfiguration was to help the disciples realize that Jesus did not come so that they could remain on the mountain forever to behold the glory of his transfiguration. Rather our Lord came to open the doors of heaven itself. We are called to even greater heights than any mountain on earth. The transfiguration that St Bernadette experienced was a mere reflection of the glory and freedom of her lot in heaven. It was a reflection of Our Lord’s transfiguration which we also are called to share in.
Our Lady once told Bernadette that she did not promise her happiness in this world but in the next. So it is with us. That is why we should not seek to find lasting happiness in our job, possessions, or even those dearest people we love on earth. We cannot remain here forever- our passage through this life is brief and short. The same applies to the things we love on earth. Rather we are called to ascend to a higher mountain- that of Calvary for that is where our cross is. It is there that we will meet our Lord face to face and behold his glory- for that is the pathway to the highest mountain- heaven itself. How does this relate to our everyday life? It means that those annoying or painful events and even the people who cross us are our pathway to heaven. They are the cross which we are called to embrace as Jesus bore our sins and those of the whole world. Therefore let us patiently love others realizing that it is through those little crosses we enter the joy that is heaven. Let us daily be merciful to others and patient with God’s love for them. Let us sacrifice ourselves for the heavenly good of our neighbor by sharing the love of the Good News with them in deed and word. Let us not be ashamed of the cross. Despite the fact that our everyday life often seems ordinary and commonplace it is by our faithful struggle to climb those ordinary mountains of life by which we ascend to heaven.
With the love of God and for the crosses of Christ let us now prepare to receive with love and reverence Jesus whom lovingly bore us as His cross.
A Pre-Cana talk in a Post Christian Culture
Submission from a friend
Welcome to the first in a series of pre-Cana conferences. I am grateful to have the opportunity of being with you as you are laying the foundations of your future as a married couple. I am sure that many of you are looking forwards to sharing the wonderful mystery that bonds a husband and wife. The vocation to the married life is a beautiful gift from God. When a man and a woman marry they are meant to be God’s gift to each other. No doubt each of you in this room can testify to experiencing God’s gift of beauty in the person you are preparing to marry. If that were not the case no one would be here in this room.
Naturally we are drawn to what is good by nature. The power of desire that draws us to what is good is what we often called love. Now when we say to someone the words “I love you” we are implicitly saying that there is something good and valuable about that person and therefore they are worthy of being loved. When we are drawn to the good in another we are seeking what we do not already possess for if we already possessed it we would not pursue it. We only seek what we do not yet have. Once what is naturally good is obtained, which was not previously possessed, it completes the person who gains it. The lover seeks the beloved because they seek completion. The goal and purpose of marriage is perfection of the spouses here and for the life to come.
In fact when the in the account of creation, presented by the Scriptures, God calls everything that He created to be good. Man is created but then God said it was not good for man to be alone. In response to that God created the first woman and established the first human marriage. It was only after this that God calls everything very good. The reason for this is that men and woman in marriage naturally complete each other. In a certain sense according to the Scriptures the establishment of marriage completed God’s act of creation and laid a foundational order upon which the entire world was created for. Yet in as much the spouses complete each other the attraction is not towards the self but to the other. While each spouse is drawn towards the good that is in the other neither spouse is yet perfect. For if that were the case each spouse wouldn’t be drawn towards each other as they would already possess all that is good and therefore would have no desire for the other. In a sense the imperfection of each spouse provides a foundational vocation for the other spouse. When we love something we desire to make it better and more perfect. If a man and a woman love each other they desire the best for each other. If spouses can obtain for the other something that is perfect and will last forever then that is what a true love will sacrifice itself for. Yet nothing that exists solely in this life will last forever. Even the most beautiful diamond ring can eventually suffer from the ravages of time and be turned to dust. The best material gift is but a mere shadow of the treasure that is fitting for a strong and deep love. If one’s love boils down to baubles and trinkets that will disintegrate with the passing of time then such a love is not lasting nor worthy of the name. If one’s love is based only on the physical attractiveness of the lover then such a love is nothing but a weak imitation of love and is properly named lust. As such it should be spurned and shunned.
An authentic love is not what usually appears in the movies. Nor is marital love merely an emotion. Such love is only for those whose feeble imitation of love is too weak to withstand the storms of life. It lacks commitment and a sense of duty. Furthermore it lacks any sense of honor or nobility as it seeks only to fill an immediate desire and gives little or nothing of itself in return. Such a version of love feeds like a parasite on its partner and when the partner has nothing more to feed off of or when it finds a more delectable host it leaves. Such is the “love” which society holds up as an idol for us these days. Such love is properly called an infatuation as it lacks a firm commitment and the self-sacrificial nature of an authentic love. Its foundation is merely a combination of utility and emotion. It will never last the all the storms of life as it is based on what the other can give and not out of a genuine concern for the other person. One should flee from such infatuous love as it feeds on the beloved like a vulture feeds on a carcass. It is only there because there is something to eat.
Real love reaches far beyond itself and seeks eternity. It drinks deeply of the dregs and gives all that is in its power to its beloved. Genuine love gives all of itself and more. Marriage is not for the faint hearted. When a man and woman come before the priest to be married they are making the commitment to become one flesh. In a certain sense they are no longer two separate individuals in regards to their earthly existence. Rather they are united so deeply and intimately by a bond that can only be dissolved by death. Yet Christ raised marriage above the earthly level of existence and made it a sacrament. In elevating marriage Christ made Christian marriage a source of graces for those whom are united by the bond of matrimony. As a sacrament the foundational purpose of a sacramental marriage is founded in and orientated to heaven.
In Genesis after uniting Adam and Eve in marriage God told them to be fruitful and multiply. One of the main reasons marriage was instituted was so that couples may cooperate with God’s creative action in bringing humans into existence. As the human person is created for union with God so marriage was created in order that those whom are united in marriage can participate in God’s plan of salvation. Having said that if a couple seeks the carnal pleasures of marriage while trying to avoid the responsibilities of marriage they cannot enter into a sacramental marriage. It would be like trying taking a car home from the dealership without any intention of paying for it. If you are not willing to live up to the obligations of buying a car then you do not own it.
In God’s plan marriage is not orientated only to the salvation of the spouses who have contracted marriage but also to their children. One of the main purposes of marriage is that married couples participate God’s plan of creation. In the act of procreation married couples participate in God’s act of creation of the human person whose intended destiny is heaven. It is God who infuses the soul into the body which the married couple has cooperated to bring into existence. By design each human person was created for the love of God. It is through a deep and abiding love that God accomplishes His plan of salvation. By nature God has designed each one of us for heaven. In a sense marriage is God’s means for creating heaven. While sadly not all souls attain heaven nevertheless it is the purpose for which we are all created.
It may seem a harsh statement that not all souls attain heaven. Yet heaven is merely another word for communion with God and therefore those who love him. No one can force someone to love them- love always involves a free choice. It would be wrong to try to force someone to love them against their will. Someone who tries to force someone to love and marry them against their will does not genuinely love that person. Yet God loves us so much that He respects our free will and will not force us to love Him if we make a firm decision not to. In heaven our love is purified and completed for each other and for God. The genuine love of a married couple for each other is but an earthly shadow of the love we are created to experience in heaven. Heaven is the full consummation of the love only foreshadowed by the love of a husband and wife for each other.
If heaven is to be a communion of persons it requires a relationship of persons. Obviously for a relationship to exist there has to be more than one person involved or else there is no relationship. If heaven is designed to be the perfection of our relationships here on earth it is a sad thing that those God created for relationship never experience its fullness. Yet what about those persons whose very existence depends upon the choices of other person’s? What of those souls God has created for the possibility of sharing their lives here on earth and whose purpose is heaven? I speak of children for they are created to be the fruits that grace a happy marriage. I say a happy marriage since to be truly happy is to love and be loved.
To love and be loved means to share one’s very being with another. Lovers enter marriage to experience this love in its fullness and God has ordained that such a love is by nature fruitful. It is to reach out through the expanses of time and space to those in a distant era. For in raising children spouses share their love with those who are to come. No wonder in the very beginning of the Scriptures it says that God said “it was not good for man to be alone.” For it is through communion with the perfect that the imperfect is perfected.
Ultimately when the world is old and tired and no longer can stagger on for lack of strength love will not die. Rather than perish with what changes love will meet its perfection. Nothing God has created will truly perish until it has attained its purpose. As God is all powerful when He creates something its eternal purpose is never is lost. As the final purpose of love is completion and union with God real love will never die for true love is only found at its source in God.
The purpose of marriage is eternal union with God not only for the spouses but for their children, their children’s children and so on. Marriage is not for the faint hearted but for those who love can meet eternity. Yet what can be said of those whose love is so feeble that it has no taste for eternity? What of those whose love can only encompass the here and now and has no vision of eternity? Such love will eventually perish for it can’t reach further than itself in the here and now. So it is with those who are unwilling to share their love with something greater than themselves. Sadly they miss the eternal purpose of love for others and in doing so they will lose it in the end for themselves.
Today as you all begin to prepare for entering the holy bond of marriage I ask each one of you to seriously consider are you willing to give of yourselves to each other for something that will last beyond your death in this life. When you come before the altar your commitment is not only to each other during your lives but also to all those who will come after you and to God Himself. If one cannot accept the whole they will lose even that part that they try to hold onto for in doing so they mar its beauty and refuse to let it take shape according to its own nature and design. In clutching the part they want they rend the very fiber of its being. this is why when a man and women come together before God in marriage they must be willing to accept all the love that God sends them. To practice contraception and sterilization is to refuse God’s entrustment of a child. In doing so the spouse seeks to destroy the very foundation that their love is built upon. A marital love that refuses to embrace the gift of a child becomes stunted and will never reach its eternal purpose. Sadly many couples these days live in such a manner but rarely do they realize what nor whom they are missing. Their happiness in this life will never be complete because someone is always missing. In heaven they may find healing for that emptiness as only God can fill such a deep hole. A job, money, travel, social class nor even friends can fill those empty seats at the dinner table or answer for our lack of love. For a married couple to reject the love of a child is to reject the God who sent them. It is to deny God the possibility of participating with the couple in fashioning a soul whose purpose is heaven.
No wonder so many who have rejected children in this manner are sad towards the end of their lives. They finally begin to realize that everything they valued most in life will have to be left behind in death. The only things we can hope to receive again after death are the love of God and those who have journeyed with us towards Him. Everything else is lost forever.
So in closing I would like to encourage each one of you to be open to God’s love and gift of children. Love begets love in truly receiving love our love grows deeper. Some of you may have many such gifts. Some may not have any. The important thing is not how many children a couple has but their openness to receiving and returning God’s love and the love of their spouse. If we do that then we should have accomplished our purpose in this life and shall attain the eternal consummation of that love in heaven.