Sunday, April 28, 2013

The Early Church I-4: The origins of the Pope in Rome

 Wait! Have you read sections 1 - 3? If not you may read them here! Please feel free to comment.

Section 1: Prologue and History
Section 2: Organization of the Early Church 
Section 3: Why are we called "Catholic"?

(Part II is now out! Since this is part I, I'll just link to II-1. If you're interested and enjoy this series, please see the next parts.)

I-4: The rise of Rome

If Peter, the Apostles, and Paul met in Jerusalem when and why did Rome come into the picture? As is the case with the Apostles in general, they went out and preached to a number of towns and cities. Just as Christ gathered a community around him—the Apostles and disciples—the Apostles likewise gathered many to themselves. Communities were founded where the Apostles labored. When the Apostles felt that it was time to move on and that the situation in this or that place was stable they appointed a man to take charge of the community there.

While their labors were important there was something that further solidified their authority in the minds of people. This was martyrdom. The word “martyr” literally means witness, that is a “witness to the faith.” Tradition holds that both Peter and Paul were martyred in Rome. We have already seen the influence Peter and Paul had while they lived. We have numerous written accounts of authors in the early Church who attest to Peter and Paul's labors in Rome and that they ultimately gave their lives.
The throne of the Cross, placed in Rome where Peter sits on His right, Paul His left.

Why should their death in Rome, however, be any source or reason for authority to be placed there? We have seen, first of all, that the Apostles appointed men to be their successors and co-workers within their specific ministry. While the Apostles had a specific mission to all the faithful, the Apostles among themselves also had specific missions. Peter was given the keys, called to strengthen his brothers, and commanded to feed Christ's sheep (Jn 21:15-17). Paul, likewise, was the apostle to the Gentiles (Rm 11:13). This charge was not given to the other Apostles. The early Church believed that God's providence was not coincidental, but very intentional. Christ died in Jerusalem because it was necessary that the perfect sacrifice would be made in the only place sacrifices could be made. Where the Apostles died, for them at least, was not coincidence but deigned by His will.

Secondly, we find in Scripture that the blood of the just and holy turn the Lord's ear most of all. From the very beginning the blood of Abel cried to God from the soil (Gen 4:10). Indeed, all sacrifices made by the Jews were meant to be clean and without blemish. Their blood was spilled on the altar to be symbolic, among many things, of the contrition of a people. Eventually this this blood offering was modified. Psalm 51 states “My sacrifice, God, is a broken spirit; God, do not spurn a broken, humbled heart … [and] then you will be pleased with proper sacrifice” (51:19, 20). Christ's blood was offered as sacrifice, first at the holy Eucharist he gave us and then on the Cross. Finally in heaven, those who stand before God's throne are the ones who “have survived the time of great distress; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb” (Rev 7:14).

The blood of the martyrs became holy ground. Their intercession was sought and miracles were worked in Christ name through devotion to them.
(Perpetua and Felicity)

All this being said, the place where someone was martyred was considered holy ground. The place of Christ's crucifixion was a source of veneration and prayer. The same became true of the saints and martyrs. To this very day the places of their death have churches erected in their place. This practice is an ancient one, originating with the Apostles and early Christians who venerated the death of holy men and women who gave their lives for the faith. The blood that was shed because of Christ became holy ground. The bishops who were killed because they were leaders and followers of Christ became especially important. The blood of Peter and Paul carried great weight as a result.

But even if some aren't convinced of this argument, it only stands to look at how the early Church regarded the ministry of Peter and Paul, those Peter chose as his successor in Rome, and how Rome was regarded.

Tertullian, writing in Carthage at about 200 AD, said, “Come now, you who would indulge a better curiosity, if you would apply it to the business of your salvation, run over the apostolic churches, in which the very thrones of the Apostles are still preeminent in their places … since you [in Carthage] are close upon Italy, you have Rome, from which there comes even into our own hands the very authority of apostles themselves. How happy is its church, on which apostles poured forth all their doctrine along with their blood … against such a discipline thus maintained admits no gainsayer” (Tertullian, The Prescription Against Heretics, quoted from Sommer (We Look for a Kingdom) 186. Gainsayer means “one who opposes or contradicts.”)

Irenaeus of Lyons (in France), writing in the late 2nd century (about 175-180 AD), claims that one can dispel rumor and error “by indicating that tradition derived from the Apostles, of the very great, the very ancient, and universally known Church founded and organized at Rome by the two most glorious apostles, Peter and Paul; … It is a matter of necessity that every Church should agree with this Church, on account of its preeminent authority" (Against Heresies, III.iii.2).

Irenaeus is also a great help to our understanding of those who succeeded Peter as successor in Rome. His influential work is one I will return to when I discuss Apostolic succession and his work stands as one of the most significant works in our entire history.

The bishops from among the churches across the Empire often sought each others advice. We saw already that Paul sought out Peter in Jerusalem (cf. Gal 1:18) and he again went to Jerusalem with others to decide on matters pertaining to the whole Church (cf. Acts 15). We have numerous letters of bishops consulting one another. Often times new communities and newly elected bishops would seek the advice of older bishops and older communities.

The most powerful example of this, and the only one I'll focus on (out of concern for length) is Clement's letter to the church in Corinth. This a benchmark letter, written around 96 AD, and one that was so revered by early Christians that many saints considered it to be Scripture. So powerful was its message that numerous churches throughout the Empire sought to make a copy for themselves.

A brief background to the situation in Corinth. There had been a sort of uprising in the church at Corinth where younger men from the presbytery and community deposed and turned against the bishop, older presbyterate, and the elders of Corinth. Those in Corinth could not resolve the issue internally and the scandal caused by the whole ordeal became a large concern to the surrounding communities. Many, including those in Corinth, contacted Rome to interfere and Clement and those on Rome did. This letter stands as proof of other Churches going to Rome, even after the death of the Apostles, to seek counsel and authoritative speech. Not much is known about this uprising, perhaps because of the successful resolution that Clement's letter had among them.

The letter opens up in a telling way. It is not a letter from one man to another, but rather from one Church to another. It says “The Church of God which resides as a stranger in Rome to the Church of God which is a stranger at Corinth.” This is important because it is not at the bequest of a man, but a letter that demands a response. He says “You, therefore, prime movers of the schism, submit to the presbyters, and bending the knees of your hearts, accept correction and change your minds" (1 Cor sec. 57). These words echo Peter who said “Likewise you younger members, be subject to the presbyters … the chosen one at Babylon [i.e., the Church in Rome] sends you greeting” (1 Pet 5:5, 13).

Clement further cements the sternness of his letter as well as his expectations for a speedy resolution. He writes, “But should any disobey what has been said by Him through us, let them understand that they will entangle themselves in transgression and no small danger" (1 Cor sec. 59).

Clement wrote this letter in order to reestablish peace among the Corinthians and secure order for all the faithful there. He sent an entourage of prominent men from (most likely) his presbyterate to them, men who were “worthy and prudent men, who have led blameless lives among us from youth to old age” and this was done “to make you feel that our whole care has been, and is, directed toward establishing speedy peace in your midst" (1 Cor sec. 63).

The letter produced its effect. The power of its reasoning, the influence of Rome, and the mixture of charity and discipline in its writing established in Rome what was expected of it—an authoritative voice, founded on the unique ministry of Peter, that helped to direct the many communities of Christianity when disagreement, error, or dissent arose.

As such, the notions put forth by some that the papacy was a medieval invention, the scheming of those who desired power, or that it is worthless was not the opinion of the early Church, nor should it be ours.

Epilogue: Lessons

What are some of the lessons we can learn from all of this? The early Church concerned itself with electing good and holy men to the presbyterate and the office of bishop. The bishops exemplified, more so than the presbyters, the succession of the Apostles and the highest authority on faith and morals in that local area. St. Ignatius of Antioch was going to his death and still he preached constantly of obedience to the bishop and harmony of life together.

The early Church understood, perhaps more than us, that disunity is one of the greatest evils for the faithful. Ignatius of Antioch says that one must “shun division as the beginning of evil" (Letter to the Smyrnians, sec. 7).

When a presbyter, Valens, caused some scandal involving money (little more is known), St. Polycarp (bishop and martyr, d. 155 AD) wrote that those from that community should “be considerate in this matter: do not treat such persons as enemies, but reclaim them as diseased and straying members, so that you may preserve the whole your community intact. In fact, by acting thus, you promote your personal spiritual growth" (Letter to the Phillipians, sec. 11).

Clement of Rome further states that “Love unites us with God; love covers a multitude of sins (cf. Prv 10:12, 1 Pet 4:8, James 5:20); … love creates no schism, love does not quarrel; love preserves perfect harmony" (1 Cor, sec. 49).

The Didache, written as early as 75 AD (in parts), states that “Day and night remember him who preaches God's word to you (cf. Heb 13:7) and honor him as the Lord, for where His lordship is spoken of, there is the Lord. … Do not start a schism, but pacify contending parties" (Didache, sec. 4:1, 3).

Finally, Ignatius writes to Polycarp as a fellow bishop and says “Do justice to your office with the utmost solicitude, both physical and spiritual. Be concerned about unity, the greatest blessing" (Letter to Polycarp, sec. 1:2).
Christ the King, who reigns forever and ever. Around him the holy Apostles who built His Church.

As such, unity was indeed a primary concern of the Church. If we, the Body of Christ were not united in thought, heart, and action we would be a Body that spoke with two or many voices. Music was a favorite example among many authors in the early Church and for good reason. We notice rather quickly when someone is off key—the voices of many are heard as contrasting and conflicting with one another. When many voices join together in harmony the one sound they produce is indistinguishable from the many. The harmony of the Church is her doctrine, her disciplines, her leaders, her members, and their concord with one another and with the blessed Trinity.

The music that the early Church sung was still a work in progress. The Church is human and divine, so while it has the benefit of divinity it also has the difficulties of being human. The Church is divine insofar as “Christ is ultimately always the one who calls people forth to ministry; [it is] human in that it is always human persons who are called, and human offices to which they are called" (Sommer, We Look for a Kingdom, 159). We should not fear this human aspect of our Church however, not should we be too strict with those who falter in morals or faith. It is that faltering humanity that Christ came to redeem. Likewise, it is that limited humanity that Christ assumed in the flesh. Finally, it is that humanity to whom He entrusted His mission, namely the salvation of all in His name. I hope that this simple look at the faith of our ancestors inspires you to see how we and they are one in Christ and that we should strive see their urgings as applicable today as well. May we pray for unity and that each one submit him and herself to correction from each other and, as Paul says, from those “over us in the Lord and who admonish you” (1 Thes 5:12). May we all endure in our labors and rejoice in the harvest promised to us.


Next time, we will look at Apostolic succession and how the early saints and martyrs affected the structure and look of the Church. Where the martyrs were powerful witnesses to the faith they also posed problems for bishops at times. I will endeavor to explore the facets, how both bishop and witness shaped the Church for the better but how challenges arose as a result.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

The Early Church I-3: Being Called Catholic

Before you read this, have you read sections 1 and 2?

They may be found here:
Section 1: Prologue and History
Section 2: Organization of the Early Church
Section 4: The Origins of the Pope in Rome, Lessons

(Part II is now out! Since this is part I, I'll just link to II-1. If you're interested and enjoy this series, please see the next parts.)

Part I-3: Why “Catholic”?

We must now place ourselves at this pivotal point in history. The last of the Apostles has died, the Church is flowering in various pockets around the Empire, and many men and women of different cultures heard of Christ and are coming to Him and His Church. The men who were given authority by the Apostles are in their first, second, or third generation depending on the area. Persecutions came in periodic and violent waves which aim to strike fear into those who hold to the teachings of the Church. Priests and bishops are targeted to scatter the flock.

One can not understand the importance of the use of name “catholic” unless he also understand the primacy of Peter and the papacy. The papacy is perhaps one of the greatest stumbling block among Christians—how could one man claim to be above all others? —what so important about what Rome thinks? —why should my local concerns be any concern of the Pope? Many other questions, doubts, and derision are hurled in Rome's direction. While I couldn't possibly quell every single difficulty, I can present to you how the bishop of Rome was regarded by the early Church.
Whoever wishes to study their faith or grow in it would do well to study St. Peter.

We have already seen that the bishop to the early Christian (for the most part) was a sign of authority. While we have only seen a few authors in this matter, it is important to note that the institution of bishop, priest, and deacon has persisted for nearly our whole history. Bishops could not necessarily use force or a standing army to enact their will at this time. They relied on the consent of their people to their ministry, which many gave them. Bishops, we will recall, were men selected by the people and tested by the previous leaders to be men of virtue and the Spirit. Bishops were not respected merely for their office but because they were worthy of respect.

In the Acts of the Apostles some communities had argued whether or not Gentiles must become follow the Mosaic covenant before they enter into a covenant with Christ in baptism. Paul and Barnabas, well respected as they were, could not resolve the matter (cf. Acts 15:2). They decided that they would go to Jerusalem to the Apostles and presbyters there. The disagreement continued, and “after much debate, Peter got up and [addressed them]” (15:7). Peter pronounced definitively the action the counsel should take. James bolstered this decision by assent and the rest of those gathered agreed to the new proposal. They claimed that “it is the decision of the holy Spirit and of us not to place on you any burden beyond [what is required]” (15:28).

This passage establishes a number of things in our history and should be reviewed carefully. We notice that a problem was presented to the early Church and from there, when it could not be resolved locally, it was brought to the universal Church—that is to say, its focal point was the gathering of the Apostles. In this gathering a great deal of debate took place, but it was Peter who spoke first—a biblical sign of importance when among a group. When Peter spoke all fell silent, which itself is a sign of assent with what had been spoken. All those present acted in harmony with Peter and the Church then sent each bishop and his priests to their local communities to deliver the decision to all member of the faith.
Learned men of faith, the Apostles and presbyters, gathered together to discuss a policy and rule that would be shared among all churches.

It should be said briefly that Peter is essential to this discussion, for some may ask “why is Peter so important?” There are two passages that establish his importance, and both passages are Christ speaking to Peter. The first is when Christ foretells Peter's denial. Christ confides in him that he and the Apostles would be scattered. Christ prayed personally for Peter's faith that it would not fail. Christ says that “once you have turned back, you must strengthen your brothers” (Lk 22:32). Peter turned away, but as Christ foretold he turned back. Peter, likewise, strengthened his brothers by his example. He was the first to speak for all at Pentecost, and in the post-resurrection narratives, whenever a group and Peter are gathered Peter usually speaks first and often for the group. The second is clearly the most famous, and should be taken in conjunction with all Peter does in Acts along with the Apostles. Christ first blesses Peter and then says “You are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church” (Mt 16:18). The authors of Scripture had a preference for Peter because Christ had a special mission and preference for Peter. His primacy was evident in Scripture and it was evident by early Christian authors.

Among these early authors an interesting pattern confronts us. When Peter is mentioned, usually Paul is not far behind. Both were considered to be the greatest disciples because each one spoke with power and authority. Both traveled extensively and both were martyred for the faith after enduring many trials. Both performed miracles, raised someone from the dead, and performed many great works. Ignatius of Antioch says “Not like Peter and Paul do I issue orders to you. They were Apostles, I am a convict; they were free[.]” (Letter to the Romans, sec. 4). Ignatius in another letter, however, says “[Christ] came to Peter and Peter's companions [i.e., the Apostles]” (Letter to the Smyrneans, sec. 3). 

Paul, a great and mighty Apostle in his own right, realized he was not a member of the Twelve. He knew that the Holy Spirit was with him and he acted rightly. All the same, for his own assurance and as an example to all the faithful, he “went up in accord with a revelation, and [he] presented to them [the leaders in Jerusalem] the gospel [he] preached to the Gentiles—but privately to those of repute—so that I might not be running, or have run, in vain” (Gal 2:2).

Paul's judgment was correct, and he even rebuked Peter's conduct, yet he still sought him and the other Apostles in Jerusalem to confirm that his actions were in accord with the whole Church. Paul, in his greatness, submitted himself to the council of the whole Church. As I have just recounted, that council in Jerusalem is where Paul and the Apostles discussed and gave each other council and where Peter had pronounced the final decision by all as binding.

The first time that Catholic is ever mentioned in the history of our Church as a unique title is in conjunction with the office of bishop. We have seen that the office of bishop was one of authority—this is made known by Paul in his various letters. While presbyters, or priests, were present to give counsel to the bishop and Apostles, it was the Apostles who held the final say. As we have seen tradition was also tied up with the bishop. Catholic is united to the office of bishop just as Tradition is.

I have gone over Peter in order to convey a truth of the Catholic Church, namely that when many are gathered in council there must be one who is able to speak definitively and with authority about matters important to all. When all were gathered into one place, such as the council of Jerusalem, it was Peter who spoke with authority. This was true before the Holy Spirit came upon them (cf. Acts 1:15ff) and after (Acts 2: 14-47, esp. vv. 38-41).

When the Apostles, most notably Paul and those whom he wrote to, were in their own territories and churches they were the local authority. This is seen most simply in Paul's letter to Philemon, who is a “co-worker” of Paul (i.e., a bishop) and is addressed to the “church at your house.” Paul pleads with him to act accordingly, but Philemon is the authority in his local church (See also Acts 14:23).

This is where “catholic” enters the scene. It was first used by Ignatius of Antioch around 105-108 AD. As I mentioned above, the bishop was crucial to the life and unity of as well as those whom he appointed to the tasks of that local area. St. Ignatius writes definitively: “ You must all follow the lead of the bishop, [just] as Jesus Christ followed that of the Father; follow the presbytery as you would the Apostles; … Let no one do anything touching the Church, apart from the bishop. Let that celebration of the Eucharist be considered valid which is held under the bishop or anyone to whom he has committed it. Where the bishop appears, there let the people be, just as where Jesus Christ is, there is the Catholic Church. It is not permitted without authorization from the bishop either to baptize or to hold agape [i.e., Eucharist]; but whatever he approves is pleasing to God" (Letter to the Smyrneans, sec. 8).

Catholic” is tied up with many things: the Eucharist, what we believe about Jesus Christ, various doctrines, but the term is used most directly with living in concord with one another and living in concord with the bishop. In many cases, being Catholic is most difficult because we have to trust in a humanity that is lead by the Spirit. This does not mean humanity will never err, but it does mean that we trust in the special grace given to the Apostles by Christ and in turn those Apostles to their successors. Christ entrusted His Church, both His bride and His Body, to human beings. Humanity while weak and limited is that same humanity Christ died for. Christ entrusted His mission to all who are baptized, but he entrusted the care of His Church to those shepherds that He Himself had chosen. The shepherds were the bishops, for the name itself means “guardian” and “overseer.”

Finally, we shall see how this culminated in the establishment of Peter in Rome.

The Pilgrimage

This is a reflection for the readings of this day (4/26/2013) which may be found here.

The Pilgrimage of Israel to Christ is now the pilgrimage of Christ to the Father.

Thomas asked Jesus to show him the destination, but Christ did not reveal this to us. The only way we can experience the end of a pilgrimage is to make a pilgrimage. Why was it that Thomas, of all Apostles, asked Jesus “We do not know where you are going; how will we know the way?”

Thomas was anxious and doubtful. He had seen the power of God active in his own life but he could not overcome his worries. There are likewise many of us who experience doubts, whether it is the promise of tomorrow or the promise of eternal life. Jesus reassures and challenges Thomas simultaneously: Do not be afraid, if you follow Me you will be exactly where you need to be.

Did not Jesus begin by saying “Do not let your hearts be troubled”? All the same there are many things that “eye has not seen, nor ear heard.”

Jesus asks us to trust him, and should we have any reason to doubt his assurances? Yet even when we do doubt Jesus makes every effort to calm the storm in our hearts. If we are lost he will find us, if we are troubled he will comfort us, and if we rejoice he gently guides us. Perhaps Thomas' worry was that he might lose sight of Christ on this pilgrimage—Jesus reassures him that he would not be able to take the first step if He was not with him. He is the way, the truth, and the life.

Apart from Him we do not journey. Let us, then, join the procession of Abraham, the patriarchs, the prophets, and all holy men and women who have walked where we now walk. Truly, on this pilgrimage you are precisely where you need to be.

Friday, April 26, 2013

The voice of the Spirit

The readings this reflection is based on may be found here. (Acts 11:19-26, Ps 87, Jn 10:22-30)

My homeletics professor once told my class, “What you say is not always what people hear” and I find that to be a fitting lesson for today's Gospel.

Jesus spoke plainly, but perhaps not in the manner some expected. Jesus spoke many times in veiled language and parables for a number of reasons, often occurring at the same time. Jesus spoke obscurely so those with closed hearts could not understand. He spoke like this because some who followed him were not yet ready to understand. Likewise, he spoke in this way so that those who believe in Him may understand who He truly is.

No one comes to the Father except to Christ. No one is drawn to Christ unless the Father opens their ears, eyes, and hearts. The words of the Son are the words of the Father.

For some these words are confusing and for others they make perfect sense. When Christ speaks he divides; those who hear his voice follow and those who are not His follow someone or something else.

We see in the Acts of the Apostles that when Jesus had risen from the dead his voice was then heard in his shepherds whom He and the Apostles appointed. The voice of His shepherds is Christ's own voice. How is it that the voice of the Father, Son, and shepherds is the same? The answer lies in the Holy Spirit, whose name indicates that the breath of the Father and Son is the Spirit. When Barnabas and Paul spoke, many were added to the Lord because they were “filled with the Spirit.”

What Christ says is not always what we hear. In these instances we have an Advocate who prays unceasingly for us and groans that we might hear. May we pray that the Holy Spirit becomes the air around us, the air which allows the Word to reach our ears and allows His voice to come from our lips.

The Early Church I-2: Organization of the Church

If you haven't read part I-1, you can read it here: History, Morality
You can find I-3 here: Why "Catholic"? 
Section I-4: The Origins of the Pope in Rome, Lessons 
(Part II is now out! Since this is part I, I'll just link to II-1. If you're interested and enjoy this series, please see the next parts.)

Part I-2: Organization of the Church

Understanding Christ as the foundation of the Church is of the utmost importance. From there, however, it is important to understand that it was the Apostles, their example and their actions, that laid the bricks of the Church we dwell in today. This is what we mean by “Tradition” most accurately: the beliefs, practices, and precedents left to us by the Apostles and those men to whom they entrusted their ministry. Our “Tradition” is faith in Christ as handed down and protected by the Apostles, the ones whom Jesus personally taught and authorized. For it is written “he breathed on them and said to them, 'Receive the holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven, and whose sins you retain are retained” (Jn 20:22-23). The Apostles, or the Twelve, were distinguished by name.  
The men whom build our Catholic faith firmly upon the foundation of Christ.
(A side note to consider:When Peter calls for the Apostles to choose Judas' successor he quotes Psalm 109 in Greek. While it translates “Let another take his office” the word for office is “episkopein” which became the word for bishop. One could reasonably conceive that the Apostles at this point saw themselves as having a unique office.)

The Acts of the Apostles in Scripture is our best and most explicit source for early Christian life. It says that those who came to believe “devoted themselves to the teaching of the apostles and to communal life, to the breaking of the bread, and prayers” (Acts 2:42).

Clement of Rome, in his letter to the Corinthians (written about 96 AD), says “Christ … comes with a message from God, and the Apostles with a message from Christ. … After receiving their instructions and being fully assured through the Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ … they went forth, fully equipped with the fullness of the Holy Spirit, to preach the good news" (1 Cor, sec. 42)

The earliest Christian communities were founded by the Apostles and Paul. As the early communities grew the Apostles recognized that they could no longer labor alone. Those who followed them began to complain that they were being neglected. The Apostles gathered together and said “It is not right for us to neglect the word of God to serve at table. Brothers, select from among you seven reputable men … whom we shall appoint to this task whereas we shall devote ourselves to prayer and ministry of the word” (Acts 6:2-5). All those present approved and brought forth seven men. It then says that the Apostles “prayed and laid hands on them” (6:6).

This is our foundational story of ordination. While these men were deacons who were called to serve in practical ministries, the Apostles distinguished their own ministry as that of prayer and ministry of the Word above that of a ministry of just service. While the Apostles certain did various ministries among those who believed they felt the need to pray (breaking bread was considered a prayer and ritual), to proclaim the Word, and to teach. As the Church grew more and more the Apostles needed others to carry out their own ministry as overseers of the people of God.

We have indication in Scripture of a gradual progression and understanding of the Apostles and human leadership in the Church. As we just saw, the Apostles were distinguished from the deacons that they appointed. The Apostles conferred authority to those selected from among the people.

Eventually, the Apostles appointed men to be like them, that is to say that these men would be the chief authority in their own assemblies. In the beginning these were the only two offices that were distinct. Communities, while growing, were still local and needed only one bishop and his attendant deacons (cf. 1 Tim 3:1-13). Bishops at this early point were also considered “presbyters” which in Greek was typically translated as “elder.” This term was used among the Jews when referring to the elders who were charged with leading and teaching their people.

While many presbyters among the early Christians were older, Paul indicates to us a change occurring in this vocabulary: “Command and teach these things. Let no one have contempt for your youth, but set an example for those who believe. … Do not neglect the gift you have, which was conferred on you through the prophetic word with the imposition of hands of the presbyterate” (1 Tim 4:11-12a, 14). Timothy must have been a younger man, certainly not old enough to be called an “elder” in the traditional sense. Elder, or presbyter, was now changing to refer to the authority and responsibility one had in a community and not simply age. Paul additionally warns Timothy that with his new authority that he may also lay hands upon another and transfer authority to them. Paul says “Presbyters who preside well deserve double honor, especially those who toil in preaching and teaching. … [Do] nothing out of favoritism. Do not lay hands too readily on anyone, and do not share in another's sins” (1 Tim 5:21b-22).

The epistle of James, dated around 90-100 AD, recounts that if anyone is sick “he should summon the presbyters of the Church, and they should pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord, and the prayer of faith will save the sick person” (James 5:14). The presbyters were local ministers and performed special tasks with regard to both prayer, authority, and teaching.

While these passages, a few among many more, show how Scripture regards the hierarchy of the Church, we have literature outside of Scripture that helps us understand how the early Christians enacted what the Apostles entrusted to them.

The early bishops also played an important role in establishing themselves as head of their representative churches. Ignatius of Antioch is a pivotal figure in this development. He is believed to be the third bishop of Antioch, to have been taught for a time by John the Apostle, and was martyred around 110-115 AD. He wrote a number of letters to various churches on his way to Rome, the place of his martyrdom. Many have survived the centuries and offer us a keen insight in two ways: the first is the content of the letters themselves since they tell us what Ignatius believed to be important. The second is that these letters survived. In the first centuries of the Church distribution was not only time-consuming but also dangerous since carrying such letters could expose one as Christian to persecutors. Nevertheless these letters became influential across the entire Church in a very short period.
"The proper thing, then, is not merely to be styled Christians, but also to be such--just as there are those who style a man a bishop, but completely disregard him in their conduct. Such persons do not seem to me to have a good conscience, inasmuch as they do not assemble in the fixed order ascribed to them" (Letter to the Magnesians, sec. 4).
Follow the bishop, and he will lead you to God, as Ignatius did.

In one letter he says “It is proper for you to act in agreement with the bishop ...Certain it is that your presbytery, which is a credit to its name, is a credit to God; for it harmonizes with the bishop as completely as the strings of a harp. This is why in the symphony of your concord and love the praises of Jesus Christ are sung" (Letter to the Ephesians, sec. 4)

He says elsewhere “he that does anything apart from bishop, presbyter, or deacon has no pure conscience" (Letter to the Trallians, sec. 7).

He says once more, “Surely, when you submit to the bishop as representing Jesus Christ, it is clear to me that you are not living the life of men, but that of Jesus Christ, who died for us … It is needful, then … that you do nothing without your bishop; but be subject also to the presbytery as representing the Apostles of Jesus Christ, our hope, in whom we are expected to live forever" (Letter to the Trallians, sec. 2).

Clement of Rome, who will be important in understanding the papacy and Rome in the next segment, wrote that the Apostles “appointed men whom they had tested by the Spirit to act as bishops and deacons for the future believers" (1 Cor, sec. 42). Furthermore, while the Apostles lived “they appointed the men mentioned before, and afterwards laid down a rule once for all to this effect: when these men die, other approved men shall succeed to their sacred ministry" (1 Cor, sec. 44). Note that it says those men approved by the Apostles, and as a rule, those men that the successors approve would inherit that unique authority.
The man whose writing solidified the primacy of Rome and the chair of Peter. The martyrdom of Peter's successors helped also, but their martyrdom was coupled with their knowledge, their leadership, and the seriousness with which they claimed to be the Bishop of Rome.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

The Early Church I-1: History and Morality

(This is the first part of a presentation given on 4/23/2013. This is the extended version. The shorter, presentation version will be the last piece posted after some time for revision.)

See part I-2 here: Organization of the Early Church
See part I-3 here: Why "Catholic"?

(Part II is now out! Since this is part I, I'll just link to II-1. If you're interested and enjoy this series, please see the next parts.)


The early Church for many Christians is something that receives little attention. Many see the early Church as a people who were persecuted by the Roman empire and eventually rose to prominence after Christianity was legalized in 313 AD. While these persecutions were very real and Christianity really did triumph, the early Church has a rich history while at the same time a very human history. This is not a bad thing, however, for the mission of the Church is the interaction with sinful humanity in hopes of redeeming it. The Church, the Body of Christ, is both human and divine—a great mystery, and one worth entering. 

Throughout our Catholic history there are been great saints and great sinners, both sorts have been at the highest office in our Church. This should not give us reason to believe that the Church is purely man-made, however, but it rather speaks to the whole history and situation of Israel that came before us. God saw fit to use both good and wicked men to effect His designs, both enemies and anointed leaders (e.g., both good: 2 Kings 22:10-13, 18-20; Ruth 3: 13-17. And the bad: Isaiah 10:5-13; 1 Kings 11). Good men and women drew others to God by their example and obedience to both Jesus and Church. Wicked men and women served as an example that drove people away from vice and led to God by different paths. When power becomes addictive men will abuse power. As a result, those who love the Lord will strive to live heroic humility. Great sinners inspire saints to be even greater.

May we all grow to love the Church in a greater capacity for she is the bride of Christ. Christ's promise has been held since he proclaimed it: the powers of hell have not prevailed against the Church. Even in the midst of corruption and sin she has been protected and safeguarded. Pray that one day we might all be one.

Part I: History

I.A Jew and Gentile

The Catholic Church began in Jerusalem (cf. Acts 1:8, 12) which was a part of the Roman Empire. The Apostles, filled with the Spirit at Pentecost then proceeded to preach the name of Jesus to everyone. Their word spread very quickly and they put a fire in a great number of people from Jews to Gentiles. How Christianity spread was unique to both the Jews and the Gentiles.

For the Jews who came to believe, they followed the prophets and the law of Moses faithfully. They recognized that Jesus was the “suffering servant” as proclaimed by Isaiah nearly 700 years before (Is 42 – 43:12). Similarly, the words and actions of Christ were prefigured in many other utterances by the prophets. These Jews joined the Apostles as followers of Christ. The Jews had the benefit of a rich symbolism, culture, understanding of God, and history of their people to aid their understanding and faith. The Gospel of Matthew is the first precisely because it is meant to bridge the history of Israel with the advent of Christ who is a continuation of that history. This is why Paul said salvation came to all who believed, but “for Jew first, then Greek [i.e., Gentile]” (Rom 1:16). The Jews who accepted Christ could accept Him more fully at this time.
Simeon, a sage of Israel, receives the Messiah whom he has long waited for. Many of the greatest first-generation bishops were Jewish-born and expounded beautifully on Scripture when explaining Christ to both Jew and Gentile.

How the Gentiles (that is, everyone else) were converted was a different story. Many did not believe that the Hebrew Scriptures were inspired, nor were they aware of the history of Israel or salvation. This was not a disadvantage, however, because Christians were now to carry on the mission Israel had been given, to be “a light to the Gentiles” (Is 49:6b, Acts 14:47). In order to convince the Gentiles it must be done with deeds. In this manner, the early Christians could not rely on words, but rather the very life they led (or bled) would be the proof behind their words. It echoed James who said “I will demonstrate my faith to you from my works” (James 2:18). Likewise, Peter had told his followers to “always be ready to give an explanation who asks you for a reason for your hope” (1 Pet 3:15). This attitude, showing Christ to the world by our deeds, inspired Ignatius of Antioch when he said, “Whenever Christianity is hated by the world, what counts is not the power of persuasion, but greatness” (Letter to the Romans 3:3).

The Romans at this time had enjoyed a great period of peace and prosperity. As they gathered more gods to their pantheon, which was their practice when they conquered a people or territory, their religion became more convoluted.

The culture, likewise, was one of leisure and experimentation. Since a large portion of the manual labor in the Empire was done by slaves many Romans occupied their times with education and entertainment. Many opted for entertainment in the form of blood sports, drinking, and gambling. As time progressed many began to grow weary of the of local religious practices and sought out exotic practices and cults. For the Roman citizen, then, religion was either an exercise of bland mechanism or dangerous extremism. A large number of Roman men and women believed in gods out of tradition or compulsion. To others still it was just folklore.

Many of these Romans, however, were tired of the indulgent, apathetic, and impulsive culture that surrounded them. Educated and noble Romans sought out “schools” which were philosophical communities that proposed a particular way of life. Some such schools were the Stoics, the Epicureans, and the Neo-Platonists. While each had their merits and preached moderation, self-control, and intellectual contemplation none of them were particular concerned with the spiritual. The “spiritual” for them was intellectual and personal. If there were gods, they didn't care about humanity. The gods enjoyed higher things and if they truly were gods they would find pleasure in temporal, human affairs. Many of these schools of thought were concerned with ascending humanity or accepting the human condition with a sort of defeated-resignation.

I.B: Morality

When Christianity entered the scene it was something familiar yet entirely exotic. Christians proclaimed a man who was killed as a criminal-revolutionary as God. They claimed that there was one God, that He was a personal God who lowered Himself for the sake of His people. His son “took the form of a slave” (Phil 2:7) and gave his flesh to eat. While this sounded like the extremism that Romans were wary of many onlookers took note of the unusual moral strictness of these Christians. They fasted and denied their bodies overindulgence in pleasures, they prayed at regular intervals, they cared for those who were sick, they cared for widows, and they cared for all those who came to them. Justin Martyr, a 2nd century saint, wrote that “Straightaway a flame was kindled in my soul; and a love of the prophets, and of those men who are friends of Christ, possessed me; and whilst revolving his words in my mind, I found this philosophy alone to be safe and profitable" (Dialogue with Trypho, sec. 8). What attracted Justin and men like him to Christianity was a Christian's perseverance in suffering and the joy they found, even in death.
Justin, like many other educated men of his day, were not looking for an amusing philosophy but for a way of life that led to happiness and allowed one to face trial with courage.

Christianity did not see humanity as wicked, but it also saw humanity as lacking—something experience makes readily apparent to us. They held that “In the beginning He made the human race with the power of thought and choosing the truth and acting rightly, so that all people are without excuse before God; for they have been born capable of exercising reason and intelligence" (1st Apology, sec. 28). While Christians believed in many strange and mysterious things they also conducted themselves in the world with reason, moderation, and order—something that would pique the interest of someone looking for order and meaning in their life.

One such example of this strange belief was the virtue of loving one's enemy. Ignatius of Antioch, a bishop of the 2nd century, instructs others to “pray unceasingly for the rest of men, for they offer ground for hoping that they may be converted and win their way to God. Give them an opportunity therefore, at least by your conduct, of becoming your disciples. Meet their angry outbursts with your own gentleness, their boastfulness with your humility, … [and] their error with your constancy in the faith; beware of trying to match their example" (Letter to the Ephesians, sec. 10). A Christian not only expressed common, everyday virtues that were accepted. They practiced exemplary virtue in the face of injustice, ridicule, and death. This sort of courage, a well-regarded virtue for a Roman, could not come from one who was deluded but from someone who really did possess a sort of divine inspiration.

We have records of what early Christians were taught in the form of handbooks and catechisms. One of the earliest “handbooks” was the Didache, or “The Teachings of the Twelve Apostles.” A short excerpt of its teaching will suffice: “You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery; you shall not corrupt children; you shall not be sexually immoral; you shall not steal; you shall not practice magic; you shall not engage in sorcery; you shall not abort a child or commit infanticide … You shall not hate any one; instead you shall reprove some, and pray for some, and some you shall love more than your own life” (Didache 2:2, 7).

Strengthening this sentiment Christians were further distinguished by living in such a manner that did not destroy a culture but transformed it. This has been a hallmark of Catholic history: maintain what is good and sacred in another culture but order it to God. We may see the wisdom of the Didache echoed in The Epistle to Diognetus, written in the mid-to-late 2nd century, which recounts that the Christians “[inhabit] Greek as well as barbarian cities … and [follow] the customs of the natives in respect to clothing, food, and the rest of their ordinary conduct … they marry, as do all others; they beget children; but they do not destroy their offspring. They have a common table, but not a common bed” (cf. Ep. Diognetus 5:1-6)

Socially, the Roman world respected women if they were noble or wealthy, but typically they were considered as property (at least if they were inconvenient). Children were not respected in either Jewish or Gentile communities. In most philosophical and cultural traditions men were the pure embodiment of humanity while women, children, and slaves were weak derivations of humanity. Christians, however, claimed that “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free person, there is not male and female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal 3:28). With regard to husbands and wives St. Paul taught “Be subordinate to one another out of reverence for Christ. … So [also] husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself” (Eph 5:21, 28).

This attracted a large number of women, both noble and common, to the Church. Children also followed because they were instructed as ones with equal dignity to their elders. Many children of this period were exposed to the elements and beasts if the father of a household did not want them. Christians routinely sought out the places where families would abandon their children and rescue them, raising them as their own. Justin Martyr also recounts, “We have been taught that to expose newly born infants is the work of wicked people; firstly because we see that almost all those exposed, not only the girls but also the boys, are growing up in prostitution" (1st Apology, sec. 27). So on top of preserving the lives of children, they also sought to protect them from predators and those who raised these children as sex slaves and sub-human objects. Slaves were accepted as brothers and sisters, whether they were freed or not. That Christians considered man, no matter who, dignified was one of the primary causes of Christianity's favorable reception.

With this foundation in place, namely the word of God coming to many, we will not see what the Church looked like in these circumstances—how was it formed and governed? What is “Tradition” as Catholics describe it, and in what manner do we say we are “universal”? We shall pick up these topics in Part II: Organization of the Church.


This was a presentation given to a group of 40 parishioners as part of a adult-education series on the Early Church. The hope is to generate discussion but more so I hope to inspire others to learn about the zeal of our early faith, to be confident in the history of the Church, to proclaim her with intelligence and patience, and to teach our children and fellow adults the Truth of Christ by understanding the divinity and humanity of our Church.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Our Works, His Grace

 [For your benefit I've included the Gospel since it was my sole focus for this reflection. Please leave a comment or your reaction below!]

When it was evening, the disciples of Jesus went down to the sea, embarked in a boat, and went across the sea to Capernaum. It had already grown dark, and Jesus had not yet come to them. The sea was stirred up because a strong wind was blowing. When they had rowed about three or four miles, they saw Jesus walking on the sea and coming near the boat, and they began to be afraid. But he said to them, “It is I. Do not be afraid.” They wanted to take him into the boat, but the boat immediately arrived at the shore to which they were heading. (Jn 6:16-21)

The Gospel writers were fond of relating 'on/by the water' scenes to their readers. Many significant events happen by the seashore: some of the Apostles are called, Jesus teaches great crowds, and he encounters the Apostles after the Resurrection.

In this instance—Jesus walking on water—it would appear as if nothing significant happens, at least nothing as instructive as Jesus' instruction and dialogue with Peter.

Our indication comes from what follows this scene, namely the 'bread of life' discourse in the sixth chapter of John. The account of Jesus appearing to the disciples walking on water is the prelude to one of His most important teachings.

Place your own spirit in this setting.
The theme of light, again, helps us understand how we should take these events to heart.

In the evening, the time light recedes from the sky, the Apostles set out to sea. The boat here is an instrument of man's labor and when rowing on the sea a man is entirely dependent upon his efforts to keep himself safe and guide his journey.

Darkness came and Jesus was not yet with them. They anticipated Jesus would be with them, but instead they were confronted with darkness. They could no longer rely on their senses and their sense of direction was reduced or even negated. These men, by their own efforts, sought God in the darkness but could not find Him straightaway. They, however, were not disheartened.

Then a storm stirred the waters, which indicates that their efforts would not only meet resistance but that at this moment they had no control over their own situation. Nevertheless they remained steadfast and labored in the storm. Life itself will have moments of darkness where we do not know where we are going and storms that leave us at the mercy of all around us.

After a time they saw Jesus walking on water: Jesus navigates the darkness easily and He is not at the mercy of what surrounds Him. Rather, He is in complete control. He approached their boat and at that moment they became afraid. They had encountered difficulties but never this strange and marvelous sight. Jesus tells them, “Do not be afraid” and they listened.

Rather than accept upon impulse something marvelous and strange they waited for the Lord's voice to assure them. After His reassurance, meaning they discerned clearly that He was the Lord, they desired that He enter their boat, that is to say their own efforts.

The moment they desired this the boat they were in landed at their destination. Here it does not say they “rowed to their destination” but rather they “immediately arrived.” It was still dark and the storm persisted but Jesus brought them safely to their destination.
Seek Him in all you do--it sounds easy, but it requires strength and perseverance. It also requires that we humble ourselves and submit to instruction and correction.
My brothers and sisters, our good works and labors will not bring us to our final destination, only Jesus can. Like the disciples in this boat, however, they persevered through darkness and storm anticipating Jesus. Jesus came to them, not the other way around. When they desired that He might with them their journey had ended.

There is no journey apart from seeking Christ. Though we are stuck at times in storm and darkness He approaches us in all serenity. Accept Him into your daily labors. Then all of your works, if not successful, will be complete. 

 A reflection I gave today (4/13/2013). The readings I reflected on may be found here, but I provided the Gospel, my sole focus, in the work.

I decided to go the 'allegorical' route this time around while mixing in some moral/spiritual instruction. While I don't feel myself particularly qualified or worthy to offer such lofty advice, this is rather me sitting with this reading and allowing it to rest with me for a while. Hopefully you find something to reflect on yourself.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Apart from God it Perishes

This one was difficult to write about. When it comes to commenting on the spiritual life there are billions of variables. Great saints like Francis de Sales and Ignatius of Loyola could say it all better than me--and a college of saints beyond them. I could have written more but I'd committed myself to being simpler. Nevertheless I added a significant amount from when I delivered this today.

This is my own humble attempt, one that I brought about from today's (4/12/2013) Scripture passages. Please be sure to comment and, if you so desire, follow this blog!

If it is man-made it will perish and if it is from God it can never be destroyed. The pharisee Gamaliel said as much to his fellow leaders concerning the Apostles who preached the name of Jesus.

Were the leaders truly persuaded by his words? Though they did not kill the Apostles they flogged them so as to dissuade them from preaching. This did little to stop them as they considered it an honor to suffer in the Lord's name. We know the fate of the Apostles, all martyrs, which is summed up in the phrase “love of life did not deter them from death” (Rev 12:11). They were willing to suffer for Christ's sake and for the mission He gave them.

There is a parallel we may draw between the Apostles and Jesus multiplying the loaves and fishes:

The Apostles, preaching Jesus, are carried away, rebuked, and made to suffer.

Jesus, manifesting his power to a great multitude, was going to be carried away, honored, and made king.

In this brief synopsis there are many parallels but I'll focus on only one. The Apostles bore Christ into Jerusalem, but when a multitude of men wished to carry Him off and make Him king, he departed from them. What is the lesson we can learn here?

Many of us, even with good intentions, will want to bear Christ as 'king' in this world. Yet when we make Christ the champion of our own causes we run the risk of exulting ourselves in Christ's name. The area becomes all the more gray when it's something we care about.
Christ's entry into Jerusalem. Remember this?

The difference between the two groups—the Apostles and the multitude—is, I suspect, that the Apostles knew who Christ was and what he stood for while the multitude wanted to exult Christ for what they wanted Christ to be for them. The situation is an unsettling one to think about since Christ is an easy name to gather around and a name that inspires us so greatly.

We must reflect deeply about how we present Him and why we present Him. When we truly present Him we must be prepared to suffer in the flesh and in the spirit, and even then the suffering and persecution does not mean God is with us or that we've suffered for His name. Recall that “Theudas appeared, claiming to be someone important, and about four hundred men joined him, but he was killed, and all those who were loyal to him were disbanded and came to nothing” (Acts 5:36).

It's difficult to determine everything, but a few things we should keep in mind: “he must increase, I must decrease” (Jn 3:30). Can we sacrifice a bit of our pride for the sake of unity? Can we sacrifice our own image so it more closely images the shame of the cross?
Remember this?
Those who bear Christ know that there are times they must let go just as Christ left his hands and feet to those men who would drive nails into them. Those who hold themselves up hold onto themselves even tighter—and they usually lose everything.

The suffering we're called to endure comes about when we courageously yet humbly present Christ to the world, at times by standing boldly in the face of injustice while at other times speaking His name because we are compelled to speak no other.

What should be our concern? “To dwell in the Lord's house all the days of my life” (Ps 27:4) and when we seek this above all else, all we should hold dear will become clear. Our zeal will never falter and “although our outer self is wasting away our inner self is being renewed day by day” (2 Cor 4:16).

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

The Freedom or Prison of Choice

Another reflection that I delivered today (4/10/2013). This version has some content added and modified.

Please share your thoughts, reactions, or give a critique if you so desire. (You do not need to register in order to post)

The readings may be found here. The readings are: Acts 5:17-26, Ps 34, John 3:16-21

The Sadduces, filled with jealousy, threw the Apostles in prison. We ought to ask ourselves who was really imprisoned.

At times we think it is pitiful to be poor, but the Lord hears the cry of the poor (cf. Psalm 34). The rich live in prisons of money, the prideful live in prisons of ambition, and the relativist lives in the prison of no boundaries.

The powerful grow poor and hungry, but those who seek the Lord lack no good thing” (Ps. 34:11)

Blessed is the man who takes refuge in the Lord,” for that man is given true freedom. Upon reflection we discover that boundaries, rules, restrictions, and commandments were given to us not to restrict our freedom but to ensure it. At times these restrictions pain us, because restrictions cause tensions with our desires.

The one who believes that freedom is fulfilling every desire runs headlong towards a cliff and over, where there is no more freedom. The one who discerns the nature of his desires in light of God's help and His servant's teachings is able to say “yes” to this and “no” to that, preserving his life and developing it too.

Jesus is the “light of the world” (Jn 8:12) and He lights these commandments He's given us. While they do not burn as bright as He does, they are given as guides that keep us close to Him.

John tells us simply and plainly: “light came into the world, but people preferred darkness to light, because their works were evil” (Jn 3:20).

There are those who do not want to be told what to do, and thus they flee the Light and the smaller lights he has placed around us. We can ignore large commandments, but truly we can even ignore instruction in our own life of faith and even those concepts of Him we hold so dear. Shall the lights He's placed around us be where we gather or from where we flee?

The light, in the end, will expose our works, our thoughts, and our heart. Even if we are in error, this is not a cause for fear. Come to the light and you will know Him. Come to Him and you will freely choose Him.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

His Divine Mercy

Note: This was a reflection I gave after praying the chaplet of divine mercy. The chaplet is simple, powerful, and beautiful. (Learn how to) Pray it. Learn about St. Faustina here.

I find it funny that after all my work on this--the reading, the reflection, etc.--that better words and more powerful words, the work of the Holy Spirit, explained this to children as I spoke to them today. Maybe I'll write down those words and it will show me that my "labors" are nothing, truly, in comparison to the Holy Spirit working in me. I told them that people can encounter Christ through two things: the Eucharist and the Church. We are the living members of the Body of Christ, and the lost, confused, and broken encounter Him through us IF we unite ourselves to Him.

Today is about mercy which "triumphs over judgment." The justice of God is real, something we should never forget. But God is so willing and ready to forgive all who come to Him. But if they never encounter Him they will never know His mercy. We, as His members, must give that message to the world: That He is risen, He loves us, and that His mercy extends farther than all of creation.

If you have comments or reactions, please let me know in the comments below.

His Divine Mercy

If a tree is known by its fruit, to what shall we compare the infinite mercies of God, a fruit of his great love? We know that “God is love” (1 John 4:8), and so where Love is the tree, mercy is the fruit. Mercy cannot come from anything else but a deep love.

There can be no other fitting witness and proof of God's mercy than being itself. Faustina recounts Him saying, “If I call creatures into being—that is the abyss of my mercy” (sec. 86). God created man in order that he might love Him; God already loved us. Man, however, was seduced by the devil. He was made to believe that his love could be shared among God and his own desires.

Man, if he had loved God wholly, would have loved everything else in proper proportion and thus he would have been happy. Man, by his sin, not only brought his vision out of perspective but damaged creation itself. One may even say that all of mankind, when they sin, harm creation, the foundational sign of the Trinity's love. This transgression would be enough to erase mankind from creation as a matter of justice. The Lord punished man, but his punishment was such that man might be restored to God.

Man was cast away from paradise, that is to say perfect union with God. Nevertheless, God did two things to ensure we would return to Him. First, he promised that there would be one whom would free man from his error and sin. Secondly, he cast the body and soul of man into discord so that they would be at war with one another. Both were acts of merciful justice. By placing discord within us, the lens of our focus could discover God more clearly. When we encountered truth and peace, two things now outside of us, we would be drawn to it. The light of Truth burns brightly in the darkness of disunity, conflict, and sin.
Adam and Eve are a good lesson in what the consequences of sin are, not just in the moment but for subsequent generations. Sins we commit may not affect us as much as they will our children or our children's children. The state of sin that we enter into was laid down by our parents and ancestors.

My dear brothers and sisters, there is a great darkness that covers the world. It is the darkness of self-centeredness and isolation where countless men and women wander the earth resigning themselves to destruction. God desires that His mercy enter into this darkness.

Jesus said to St. Faustina: “At that last hour, a soul has nothing with which to defend itself except my mercy. Happy is the soul that during its lifetime immersed itself in the Fountain of Mercy, because justice will have no hold of it” (sec. 1075).

We hear the words of James echoed in this for he says “Judgment is merciless to the one who has not shown mercy, but mercy triumphs over judgment” (James 2:13).

How shall we grow in mercy, and how shall we go about spreading His mercy to the world? Both occur when we grow in love in light of His love and when we are merciful in light of His mercy.

We must first recognize Jesus Christ as Lord and humble ourselves before His great power and love. Then we must humble ourselves a second time, for when we look at Him we are forced to look upon ourselves: weak, limited, and lacking in love. By setting God as the first point we now establish ourselves as the second point. In this process we reveal the great chasm between us. But the arms of Christ stretched out on the cross are greater than any chasm. And if this chasm were to be as deep as the ocean it was God who established the depths and there He would reach for us.
Jesus reached to Peter in the raging waters, not abandoning him in his moment of doubt.

In recognizing this great love we grow in gratitude and joy. The result of that joy is a heartfelt prayer that all people will know this joy. James reminds us that “whoever brings a sinner from the error of his way will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins” (James 5:20). The justice of God is real, but His mercy is such that He is willing to let His justice fall away. Recall the prodigal son, wasting everything and having nothing, how by his own designs was left in loneliness and squalor. When he made his pilgrimage back to the father the father ran out to embrace him. It says that the father was “filled with compassion. He ran to his son, embraced him and kissed him” (Lk 15:20). The son admitted his guilt knowing that he deserved nothing. He asked for little yet the father gave him everything.

This is just one illustration of the mercy of God; there are countless others. Christ desires this for all men: that they return to Him so He may pour out His divine mercies upon them. Those of us who have encountered Him have drunk from the font of His mercy—some of us a small amount, some of us a great deal. All of us, whether young or old, require His mercy to continue on our pilgrimage on earth.

In order to traverse this world and for mercy to enter our hearts our lives must imitate the Israelites who were enslaved and then wandered in the desert. Our captivity is the captivity of sin. When we are aware of our sinfulness we seek deliverance from the bondage of sin. Our hearts are thus disposed toward the Lord—a great act of His mercy. For “in the land of their captivity they shall have a change of heart; they shall know that I am the Lord their God. I will give them hearts, and heedful ears; and they shall praise me in the land of their captivity … and I will bring them back to the land which with my oath I promised to their fathers” (Baruch 2:30-32a, 34). Furthermore, “I will lead [Israel] into the desert and speak to her heart … and on that day ... she shall call me 'My husband' … [and] I will espouse you to me forever. I will espouse you in right and in justice, in love and in mercy.” (Hosea 2:16, 18, 21).

Just like the Israelites we will wander in the desert. Being freed from the grip of sin will not ensure that our eyes will look backward to what we once had. This is why when the Isrealites grumbled “Would that we had died at the Lord's hand in the land of Egypt, as we sat by our fleshpots and ate our fill of bread!” (Ex 16:3). What they longed for were the comforts of the life of slavery they once had. This may seem strange to us: do they desire the backbreaking labor of slavery and the shame of subjection? No, they desired the idols of Egypt that held no power over them yet to which they could abandon themselves in lust, gluttony, and a multitude of sins.

We too are the same. We abandon our sin out of fear and love of God, but when He demands that we become even more perfect we sometimes grumble, wishing to abandon ourselves to the slavery of sin—all that sin demands of us is that we abandon ourselves to it. It holds no power, and yet we give it power. Christ asks us to abandon ourselves to Him so we may bear the yoke of freedom. It is only in abandoning ourselves to Him we gain ourselves.

God has us enter the desert of deprivation, trial, and suffering so we may find Him. While it is a period of trial, it is also a period of prayer and contemplation. In entering the emptiness of life, all sins are exposed as mist and all of our desires become as if nothing. All that remains in the desert is God and the fullness of Life promised to us. Indeed, “From this fountain spring all graces for souls. The flames of compassion burn me I desire greatly to pour them out upon souls. Speak to the whole world about my mercy.” (§1190). Faustina writes Jesus' words to her: “[Urge] all souls to trust in the unfathomable abyss of my mercy, because I want to save them all. On the cross, the fountain of My mercy was opened wide by the lance for all souls—no one have I excluded!” (sec. 1182).

The prophet Micah additionally says, “Who is there like you, the God who removed guilt and pardons sin for the remnant of his inheritance; Who does not persist in anger forever, but delights rather in clemency, and will again have compassion on us, treading underfoot our guilt?” (Micah 7:18-19).
When the Israelites wandered, their hearts were prepared through deprivation to receive the fullness of God.

We may have to wander for a time or face man trials in both youth and old age. All of these things are meant to train our hearts to find Him and rest in Him. Our sufferings are not the result of wrath but the growing pains by which we come to know God. Like the pains of childbirth it gives way to unimaginable joy—we shall suffer for a time only to emerge with a greater love.

Our God is a God who delights in mercy. His anger is aroused more profoundly when we, the beneficiaries of His mercies, turn away and neglect them. The sinner who does not repent from his sin is less vile in His eyes than one who returns God's love and then retracts it. This is why God had dealt so harshly with Israel, even so much as to say “you are not my people, and I will not be your God” (Hosea 1:9). The flames of his anger, however, are extinguished with the blood and water that flow from His side.

There are more words I could say on this subject, but a drop of God's mercy is greater than an ocean of words. The choir of angels sing his mercy. The procession of saints, those in heaven and on earth, preach it to all they encounter. St. Clement of Rome said so many years ago, “Let us comply with His magnificent and glorious purpose, and let us crave his mercy and loving kindness on bended knee, and turn to His compassion” (1 Cor sec. 9).

How shall we be known? What tree shall we be? If we grow in love it means that we will grow in patience, kindness, humility, understanding, and mercy. As we pray for mercy we grow in love. That love compels us to love the world that Christ did not abandon from the first grievous sin to the present moment. That love, moreover, compels us to bring sinners to Christ.

Let us recall, in closing, Christ's words to St. Faustina:
Let the greatest sinners place their trust in My mercy. They have the right before others to trust in the abyss of My mercy. My daughter, write about My mercy towards tormented souls. Souls that make an appeal to My mercy delight Me. To such souls I grant even more graces than they ask. I cannot punish even the greatest sinner if he makes an appeal to My compassion, but on the contrary, I justify him in My unfathomable and inscrutable mercy. Write: before I come as a just Judge, I first open wide the door of My mercy. He who refuses to pass through the door of My mercy must pass through the door of My justice..... (sec. 1146)

Many are tormented, many are lost, many do not know His mercy and thus walk toward the door of His justice. Pray fervently that His love and mercy will be made known through you, through His priests, through holy men and women, through His Church, through prayers, through self-sacrifice, through service, and through His most Holy Eucharist. God has sent us to gather the harvest, shall we not bring the wheat he desires most—the repentant sinner?
"I will teach the wicked your ways, that sinners may return to you" (Psalm 51:15)