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I will raise you up

The story is over, the prodigal son has returned. But an important and unique aspect of the story exists, which was elaborated on by John Paul II in his encyclical dedicated to God the Father, Dives in misericordia. Understanding this aspect makes our return journey to our Father all the more desirable; frankly, it makes it easier. Obviously, the return of the prodigal son was not a matter of punitive payback or discipline. Neither was it used as a ‘teachable moment’ to put the son in his place as reckless and condemn him to a lock-down. Instead, the father had in mind for his son the restoration of his lost dignity.

In the chapter Particular Concentration on Human Dignity in the above-referenced encyclical, John Paul II explained: “This exact picture of the prodigal son’s state of mind enables us to understand exactly what the mercy of God consists in. There is no doubt that in this simple but penetrating analogy the figure of the father reveals to us God as Father. The conduct of the father in the parable and his whole behavior, which manifests his internal attitude, enables us to rediscover the individual threads of the Old Testament vision of mercy in a synthesis which is totally new, full of simplicity and depth. The father of the prodigal son is faithful to his fatherhood, faithful to the love that he had always lavished on his son. This fidelity is expressed in the parable not only by his immediate readiness to welcome him home when he returns after having squandered his inheritance; it is expressed even more fully by that joy, that merrymaking for the squanderer after his return” (Dives in misericordia).

“The father’s fidelity to himself – a trait already known by the Old Testament term hesed – is at the same time expressed in a manner particularly charged with affection. We read, in fact, that when the father saw the prodigal son returning home, ‘he had compassion, ran to meet him, threw his arms around his neck and kissed him’ (Lk 15:20). He certainly does this under the influence of a deep affection, and this also explains his generosity towards his son . . . Notice, the father is aware that a fundamental good has been saved: the good of his son’s humanity. Although the son has squandered the inheritance, nevertheless his humanity is saved. Indeed, it has been, in a way, found again. The father’s words to the elder son reveal this: ‘It was fitting to make merry and be glad, for this your brother was dead and is alive; he was lost and is found’ (Lk 15:32)” (Dives in misericordia).

“What took place in the relationship between the father and the son in Christ’s parable is not to be evaluated ‘from the outside.’ Our prejudices about mercy are mostly the result of appraising them only from the outside. At times it happens that by following this method of evaluation we see in mercy above all a relationship of inequality between the one offering it and the one receiving it. And, in consequence, we are quick to deduce that mercy belittles the receiver, that it offends the dignity of man. The parable of the prodigal son shows that the reality is different: the relationship of mercy is based on the common experience of that good which is man, on the common experience of the dignity that is proper to him. This common experience makes the prodigal son begin to see himself and his actions in their full truth (this vision in truth is a genuine form of humility); on the other hand, for this very reason he becomes a particular good for his father: the father sees so clearly the good which has been achieved thanks to a mysterious radiation of truth and love, that he seems to forget all the evil which the son had committed” (ibid.).

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I shall arise and go to my father

Today is the feast of St Luke, a perfect time to meditate on the next step in our journey which takes place in the circle of love. The gospel of Luke is called the gospel of mercy because it contains parables not found in the other synoptic Gospels. They illustrate the tender mercy of God, with the most famous of these narratives being the parable of the prodigal son. This parable is central in Dives in misericordia – the encyclical of John Paul II dedicated to the Eternal Father – as his first words show: “It is God who is rich in mercy whom Jesus Christ has revealed to us as Father: it is His very Son who, in himself, has manifested him and made him known to us.” All the main elements of the human condition in relation to salvation history are contained in this parable: the son leaves his father’s house, squanders his inheritance, then suffers degradation and conviction as a result – all subjects of our recent meditations on our return trip back to the Father. But all this pales in light of the character of the son’s father as described in Luke’s gospel.

First, the father of the prodigal son was constantly watching for his son’s return: “While he was still a long way off, his father caught sight of him and was filled with compassion. He ran to his son, embraced him and kissed him” (Lk 15:20). The father did not even let his son reveal all the misery in his heart. How many times must the son have rehearsed what he would say to his father, to take him back, but during the actual encounter became engulfed in the happiness of his father’s heart: “His son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you; I no longer deserve to be called your son.’ But his father ordered his servants, ‘Quickly bring the finest robe and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Take the fattened calf and slaughter it. Then let us celebrate with a feast, because this son of mine was dead, and has come to life again; he was lost, and has been found.’ Then the celebration began” (Lk 15: 21-24).

We are invited to celebrate our own return by imitating the young man in this gospel story. The essence of the parable is to convince us that true repentance lies not just in the minimum request of the son, but his full restoration back into the father’s household. The son was only seeking some of the bread given daily to his father’s servants; instead he was brought back into full communion with the father as the returning son. Our Heavenly Father waits for each one of us.

Far off country

We considered the action of the Holy Spirit within the context of our return journey to God the Father. John Paul II’s encyclical on the Holy Spirit is important because it addresses another reality we must face and enter into with all our hearts – personal conversion. All of us can wear the badge of the prodigal son as we are all in a far off country, caught up in many things which distanced us from the Father’s Heart. Most of us are not aware of such distancing and the action of the Holy Spirit is needed, to bring us back into a right relationship with God. This has to begin with a certain conviction about our present distance, including sin. The point here, however, is not to focus only on our separation but on the remedy granted to us.

To quote from the encyclical Dominum et vivificantem, “Beginning from this initial witness at Pentecost and for all future time the action of the Spirit of truth who ‘convinces the world concerning the sin of the rejection of Christ is linked inseparably with the witness to be borne to the Paschal Mystery: the mystery of the Crucified and Risen One. And in this link the same convincing concerning sin reveals its own salvific dimension. For it is a convincing that has as its purpose not merely the accusation of the world and still less its condemnation. Jesus Christ did not come into the world to judge it and condemn it but to save it (cf. Jn 3:17; 12:47). This is emphasized in this first discourse when Peter exclaims: “Let all the house of Israel therefore know assuredly that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified” (Acts 2:36). And then when those present ask Peter and the Apostles: ‘Brethren, what shall we do?’ this is Peter’s answer: ‘Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.'”

“The Holy Spirit, who in the words of Jesus convinces concerning sin, is the love of the Father and the Son, and as such is the Trinitarian gift, and at the same time the eternal source of every divine giving of gifts to creatures. Precisely in him we can picture as personified and actualized in a transcendent way that mercy which the patristic and theological tradition following the line of the Old and New Testaments attributes to God. In man, mercy includes sorrow and compassion for the misfortunes of one’s neighbor. In God, the Spirit-Love expresses the consideration of human sin in a fresh outpouring of salvific love. From God, in the unity of the Father with the Son, the economy of salvation is born, the economy which fills the history of man with the gifts of the Redemption . . . The Holy Spirit will enter into human and cosmic suffering with a new outpouring of love, which will redeem the world. And on the lips of Jesus the Redeemer, in whose humanity the suffering of God is concretized, there will be heard a word which manifests the eternal love full of mercy: ‘Miserere’ (cf. Mt 15:32; Mk 8:2). Thus on the part of the Holy Spirit, convincing of sin becomes a manifestation before creation which is subjected to futility, and above all in the depth of human consciences, that sin is conquered through the sacrifice of the Lamb of God who has become even unto death the obedient servant who, by making up for man’s disobedience, accomplishes the redemption of the world. In this way the spirit of truth, the Paraclete, convinces concerning sin” (Dominum et vivificantem).

So the work of the Holy Spirit brings us into the truth, laying out before us the disorder of our sin and its consequences, to mention first the very pain of God derived from His deep pity. John Paul II described this pain as follows: “But more often the Sacred Book speaks to us of a Father who feels compassion for man as though sharing his pain. In a word, this inscrutable and indescribable fatherly pain will bring about, above all, the wonderful economy of redemptive love in Jesus Christ, so that through the mysterium pietatis, love can reveal itself in the history of man as stronger than sin, so that the gift may prevail” (ibid.).

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The Holy Spirit and the era of the Church

The coming of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost commenced the fulfillment of Jesus’ promise at the Last Supper. The description of the tongues of fire and strong driving wind draw us into that moment, creating awe and anticipation in heart and soul. Continuing our exploration of the encyclical of John Paul II on the Holy Spirit, let it satisfy the wonder of it all. Our journey back to the Father brought forth the presence of the Holy Spirit in a new way; the Lord of Light, Father of the poor, healer of our wounds and our soul’s most delightful Guest (cf. Sequence for the Solemnity of Pentecost).

In the encyclical Dominum et vivificantem, John Paul II continued: “Having accomplished the work that the Father had entrusted to the Son on earth (cf. Jn 17:4), on the day of Pentecost the Holy Spirit was sent to sanctify the Church forever, so that believers might have access to the Father through Christ in one Spirit (cf. Eph 2:18). He is the Spirit of life, the fountain of water springing up to eternal life (cf. Jn 4:14; 7:38), the One through whom the Father restores life to those who are dead through sin, until one day he will raise in Christ their mortal bodies” (cf. Rm 8:10)

“The era of the Church began with the ‘coming,’ that is to say with the descent of the Holy Spirit on the Apostles gathered in the Upper Room in Jerusalem, together with Mary, the Lord’s Mother (cf. Acts 1:14). The time of the Church began at the moment when the promises and predictions that so explicitly referred to the Counselor, the Spirit of truth, began to be fulfilled in complete power and clarity upon the Apostles, thus determining the birth of the Church. The Acts of the Apostles speak of this at length and in many passages, which state that in the mind of the first community, whose convictions Luke expresses, the Holy Spirit assumed the invisible but in a certain way ‘perceptible’ guidance of those who, after the departure of the Lord Jesus, felt profoundly that they had been left orphans. With the coming of the Spirit they felt capable of fulfilling the mission entrusted to them. They felt full of strength. It is precisely this that the Holy Spirit worked in them and this is continually at work in the Church, through their successors” (Dominum et vivificantem).

“As the Council writes, ‘the Spirit dwells in the Church and in the hearts of the faithful as in a temple (cf. 1 Cor 3:16; 6:19). In them He prays and bears witness to the fact that they are adopted sons (cf. Gal 4:6; Rm 8:15-16:26). The Spirit guides the Church into the fullness of truth (cf. Jn 16:13) and gives her a unity of fellowship and service. He furnishes and directs her with various gifts, both hierarchical and charismatic, and adorns her with the fruits of His grace (cf Eph 4:11-12; 1 Cor 12:4; Gal 5:22). By the power of the Gospel He makes the Church grow, perpetually renews her and leads her to perfect union with her Spouse'” (Lumen gentium, n. 4).

The Paraclete

“The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all” (2 Cor 13:13).

With these words, John Paul II explained the origin and inspiration of the first and second encyclicals of his pontificate: Redemptor hominis and Dives in misericordia, “celebrating as they do the event of our salvation accomplished in the Son, sent by the Father into the world, that the world might be saved through him (Jn 3:17) . . . [and] every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Phil 2:11). In his encyclical on the Holy Spirit Dominum vivificantem, John Paul continued: “From this (same) exhortation now comes the present encyclical on the Holy Spirit, who proceeds from the Father and the Son; with the Father and the Son he is adored and glorified: a divine Person, he is at the center of the Christian faith and is the source and dynamic power of the Church’s renewal.”

Thus in the Great Circle of Love, we come to the place whereby we meditate on the mission of the Holy Spirit and His Life in the Body of Christ. We have already seen the centrality of His role in the lives of Jesus, the Son of God, and the Virgin Mary. As with them, we need to understand His place in our own lives.

John Paul II added: “In our own age, then, we are called anew by the ever ancient and ever new faith of the Church, to draw near to the Holy Spirit as the giver of life….The Church is also responding to certain deep desires which she believes she can discern in people’s hearts today: a fresh discovery of God in his transcendent reality as the infinite Spirit, just as Jesus presents him to the Samaritan woman; the need to adore him ‘in spirit and truth’ (cf. Jn 4:24,) the hope of finding in him the secret of love and the power of a ‘new creation'(cf. Rm 8:22; Gal 6:15): yes, precisely the giver of life.”

Let us internalize these thoughts and ponder them, as we begin our reflections on the role of the Holy Spirit in our journey to the Father’s House. Much has been contemplated already, simply because of the relationship of the Holy Spirit with Jesus and Mary, but we need to ponder and take seriously the mission of the Holy Spirit in the context of our own restoration and rehabilitation. Jesus confirmed this when He told the Apostles: “But I tell you the truth, it is better for you that I go. For if I do not go, the Advocate will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you…when  he comes, the Spirit of truth, he will guide you to all truth. He will not speak on his own, but he will speak what he hears, and will declare to you the things that are coming. He will glorify me, because he will take from what is mine and declare it to you. Everything that the Father has is mine; for this reason I told you that he will take from what is mine and declare it to you (Jn 16:7-15).” Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit! Amen.

2000 and beyond – 5

Continuing on the subject of Blessed John Paul’s preparation plans for the New Millennium ~ particularly the year 1999 dedicated to God the Father – it becomes apparent that he is bringing us to the very heart of Divine Revelation: The intimate relationship of love and self-giving within the Most Holy Trinity.

In his work Against Heresies, St. Irenaeus alludes to Jesus and the Holy Spirit as being the two “hands” of the Father. And the good news of the the New Testament is precisely that, as such, the Father draws us to to Himself.

“In following Christ and belonging to him, Christians are engendered as children of the Father, and become, like him, ‘perfect as their Heavenly Father is perfect’ (Mt 5:48). Only in following the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, which brings them to imitate the Father and the Son in their mutual donation, and being drawn into that very donation, can Christians be truly faithful to their vocation” (O’Callaghan, P. 1996. In praise of His glory: the Fatherhood of God, Christ’s own perspective. In Preparing for the Year 2000).

And so, the Great Circle of Love takes place over and over again, with each one of God’s children. We come forth from the Father and return to Him through Baptism, by becoming one with Jesus Christ, through the presence of the Holy Spirit. However, this mystery is not just a spatial event, but a participation in the very intimate Family life within the heart of the Holy Trinity. To embrace this truth, and align our lives in accord with this Trinitarian invitation, is to keep alive the hopes and graces reserved for us in the New Millennium.

2000 and beyond – 2

“The range of challenges selected by the Holy Father [JP II] for the third and final year of preparation for the Jubilee Year 2000, dedicated to God the Father (TMA, 49-54) is surprisingly wide: from the need to personal conversion and a deepened appreciation of the natural moral law and the Sacrament of Penance, to the everyday demands of the theological virtue of Charity with God and neighbor; from a renewed insistance on the Church’s preferential option for the poor and marginalized, to the reduction or perhaps elimination of international debts which shackle the peaceful growth of many nations; from the promotion of dialogue and of the rights of women, to the support of the family and marriage, from the fostering of a “civilization of love” in the context of the predominance of ‘Western’ secularist values, to the dialogue with the great world religions, particularly Judaism and Islam.”

“All these challenges are taken as expressions of Christian life as a great pilgrimage to the House of the Father whose unconditional love for every human creature we discover anew each day.’ (TMA 49). In fact, this unifying  perspective of the Fatherhood of God, of His unconditional love for humanity is the perspective of Christ Himself, the perspective of a Son whose entire existence and pilgrimage is contained and defined totally within the coordinates of filiation and paternity. ‘Who do people say the Son of Man is?’…’Then Simon Peter spoke up: ‘You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Mt 16:13-16; O’Callaghan, P. 1996. In praise of His glory: the Fatherhood of God, Christ’s own perspective. In Preparing for the Year 2000).

2000 and beyond – 1

To help the People of God prepare for the great Jubilee of 2000, Bl. John Paul II gave us the encyclical As the Third Millennium Draws Near (Nov. 10, 1994). In it he dedicated the years 1997 to 1999 to the three Persons of the Holy Trinity, reserving the last year for God the Father.

Eighteen years have elapsed since this encyclical was penned and perhaps each one of us, looking within our own hearts, feels a disconnect from those days of expectation. Perhaps just like the Y2K hype turned out to be “nothing,” the spiritual readiness and fervor of those days of looking forward to the Great Jubilee has all but completely evaporated from our hearts. This, of course, is the complete antithesis of the purpose of both the encyclical and the Great Jubilee that followed. Thus focusing on God the Father, let us take another look at the said encyclical, this time from within the perspective of the time lapse that has occurred since it was written. For many reasons, it should have even more meaning for us today.

INTRODUCTION:

“As the third millennium of the new era draws near, our thoughts turn spontaneously to the words of the Apostle Paul, ‘When the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman’ (Gal. 4:4). The fullness of time coincides with the mystery of the Incarnation of the Word, of the Son who is of one being with the Father, and with the mystery of the Redemption of the world. In this passage, Saint Paul emphasizes that the Son of God was born of woman, born under the Law, so that they might receive adoption as sons and daughters. And he adds, ‘Because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying  ‘Abba! Father!’ His conclusion is truly comforting: ‘So through God you are no longer a slave but a son, and if a son, then an heir'” (Gal. 4:6-7; Preparing for the Year 2000, Urbi et Orbi Communications, 1996).