03 April 2011

Thoughts on The 4th Sunday of Lent


There is an old, and always valid axiom in the Catholic church that says, "the law of how you pray (as) the law of your faith (as) the law of how you live", and in Latin, "Lex Orandi.  Lex Credendi.  Lex Vivendi."   In other words, how you live, the things you accept and do not accept, show what you truly believe, and then this shows how you truly pray.  Prayer, of course, includes liturgical worship.

There is a school of thought that although is considerably popular among Catholics but is seriously flawed.  That thought is a modernistic manner of worship in general.  People attend the Mass in shorts, and even with the opportunity to change before attending, people will dress for comfort first with no thought to modesty, much less solemnity.  Quite often, their Mass celebration is focused in the error of immanentism, as if the highest good was our charity to our neighbor and not God Himself.  This article is not to demean the people who do this, but to help those who will read this examine the philosophies behind this type of casual attitude towards the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, and its consequences on souls.

Schnorr Von Carolsfeld
In today's Gospel, we see Jesus's multiplication of the loaves and fishes, and commands that the fragments be gathered, lest they be lost.    This miracle* (*and yes, it most certainly was a miracle, and not merely an exaggeration, or a lessen in human prudence  --- as some in grave error like to suggest) impresses the people so much, since they were given something their bodies most needed.  Jesus, knowing that they would want to make him king so that they would always be fed, literally, ran off into a mountain, alone, to pray.

Jesus fed the people because they were hungry but not merely as an end to itself, but as a miracle to point to the Heavenly Food.  He did not wish to be made king of these people who wished first and foremost for their bellies to be satisfied.  They weren't ready for the lesson, that he came to feed their souls --- with his own flesh, requiring that he would be sacrificed for their sins.

Too often we think of our own experience of worship, and think that the greater the experience, the better the worship.  Whenever we do this, and to the degree that we do this, we are like the followers of Christ who were satisfied only with a meal. 

But Christ will later say to those followers, "[26] Jesus answered them, and said: Amen, amen I say to you, you seek me, not because you have seen miracles, but because you did eat of the loaves, and were filled. [27] Labour not for the meat which perisheth, but for that which endureth unto life everlasting, which the Son of man will give you. For him hath God, the Father, sealed. [28] They said therefore unto him: What shall we do, that we may work the works of God? [29] Jesus answered, and said to them: This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he hath sent. [30] They said therefore to him: What sign therefore dost thou shew, that we may see, and may believe thee? What dost thou work?
[31] Our fathers did eat manna in the desert, as it is written: He gave them bread from heaven to eat. [32]Then Jesus said to them: Amen, amen I say to you; Moses gave you not bread from heaven, but my Father giveth you the true bread from heaven. [33] For the bread of God is that which cometh down from heaven, and giveth life to the world. [34] They said therefore unto him: Lord, give us always this bread.[35] And Jesus said to them: I am the bread of life: he that cometh to me shall not hunger: and he that believeth in me shall never thirst.
[36] But I said unto you, that you also have seen me, and you believe not. [37] All that the Father giveth to me shall come to me; and him that cometh to me, I will not cast out. [38] Because I came down from heaven, not to do my own will, but the will of him that sent me.
 The Jews, as you recall, then MURMURED, that is to say, they gossiped about Jesus and made all sorts of presumptions, assumptions, rash judgments and the like.  All they saw was this MAN who seemed to be fulfilling the prophecies for their Messiah, and this greatly upset them.  Why did it upset them?  This upset them because many of the Jews had hoped for a Messiah that would make the land THEIRS in THIS LIFE, and not that they would have to first DIE to have their holy inheritance.  Instead, many of them had become greedy and developed great attachments to their wealth, and authority, and in all of this they started to become proud, with an attitude that God would come and gave them all their hearts desires.  They were wrapped so much in the material world, that they wished for these things not to glorify God, but in God's name, glorify themselves and fill only their desires even in the name of worship.

[51] I am the living bread which came down from heaven. [52] If any man eat of this bread, he shall live for ever; and the bread that I will give, is my flesh, for the life of the world. [53] The Jews therefore strove among themselves, saying: How can this man give us his flesh to eat? [54] Then Jesus said to them: Amen, amen I say unto you: Except you eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, you shall not have life in you.

But getting back to the Gospel today, we see at the end of the passage John 6:1:15 ends:

[14] Now those men, when they had seen what a miracle Jesus had done, said: This is of a truth the prophet, that is to come into the world. [15] Jesus therefore, when he knew that they would come to take him by force, and make him king, fled again into the mountain himself alone.

We as Catholics are reminded that Jesus is a DIVINE PERSON, God the Son, 2nd Person of the Holy Trinity (1 God = 3 Persons), and Jesus has two natures:  one fully divine, the other one --- fully human.  These two natures of Jesus Christ are what we call hypostatically united, meaning, every action done by Jesus is done with both of his natures fully present and united at the same time, and at all times.

So why did he flee into the mountain?  Why did he have to run?   As a man, he had a reason to flee from these people who wanted to force him to be king.   Jesus, knowing their minds, knew he had to get away from them to pray, because they were wanting a king to give them the goods of this earth and he knew that they wanted to take him by force.  He didn't create a miracle of vanishing into the crowd, but rather, he ran to show them and to show us some things about what's important to him.   He fled to a mountain to be alone.

Standing on a mountain gives a person a vantage point of the things below, but this is also an allegory for the spiritual view.  God wants us to see what should be important to us.  Jesus, himself, goes to pray.    He doesn't look to give the people what they want in the temporal sense, except when it points them to the higher gifts of the supernatural life of grace, that we may be united to him eventually in heaven.  He runs from those that are seeking only happiness in this life, and even those that wish to make him king, but only in the sense that their earthly senses are fulfilled.  And still, food for the body is not an extravagance, but even the necessities are given by Christ to point to the greater hunger, which is that of the soul to be united to God.

Christ's answer to those who wish to make him king, but only a mere earthly king in the sense of fulfilling their temporal desires is to flee to a mountain and pray.

This is one of the reasons that the tabernacle has, for most of the Church's history, been on an elevated altar, where even the priest must walk up stairs to reach our Lord (another allegory).  

Too often, today, however, Christ, at least in modern tabernacles, is on the level of people sitting down.  When they stand, they often peer over Christ in the Holy Eucharist, or near the level of even when the Sacred Eucharist is elevated.  They will hold or shake hands even after the consecration --- when our Lord is brought down from heaven.  There is so much focus on the "experience" of community, that people regard the Mass as little more than entertainment that gives them spiritual benefits.  The concept of worship has been lost, by far, in many communities and parishes.

God the Son took on human flesh; He took on the human condition.  How can one be casual when approaching his Sacrifice?

This casualness, when it is really considered, is not only lacking solemnity, that is to say, it is lacking due consideration and measure of decorum (dress, demeanor and interior disposition) but it is also inhumane even on a temporal level.  Did not Christ ask his Father that this cup, the price that you might be saved, might be passed from him?   Yes, it is true, that God looks to our hearts, and while we may enter the church for Mass as quiet as a "church mouse", with pious decorum, our hearts may carry with them 1000 distractions and temptations, and attachments.  Jesus 'hears' all of these clashing cymbals of hearts lacking preparation for his Holy Sacrifice.  

Everything we think willfully, do or say will either bring us closer to Jesus and more disposed to worship and receive him in Holy Communion, or it will bring us further away.  We are either moving with the grace of God or against it.  The prayer of quiet, when we go flee to our 'mountain' and pray alone to God, we gain the graces needed to cooperate with God's grace in our thoughts, words and actions, and thereby prepare us to receive our Heavenly Food, the "Bread of (Supernatural) Life."* (*Note:  also frequent Confession helps us gain these graces needed to combat venial sins -- whether fully deliberate or semi-deliberate --- and even our faults, so do not wait until you commit mortal sin!!!)

We cannot afford to be casual when presenting ourselves to God.  Think of how Jesus spoke to Simon who, after preparing a meal for Jesus, expected special consideration and attention of Jesus, while the pious St. Mary Magdalene had the disposition to wash Jesus's feet with her tears and anoint them with costly oil.  She gave Christ the greatest expense she could afford, both materially and spiritually, and this disposition pleased him, and he rewarded her with the grace of his mercy!

1 comment:

  1. Ye cruel thorns in mocking wreath entwin'd,
    My Saviour's brow in agony to bind,
    Oh, cease to rend that flesh Divine,
    My loving Lord torment no more;
    Wound rather, wound this heart of mine,
    The guilty cause of all He bore.

    -- St. Alphonsus Liguori