Friday, December 23, 2011

The Incarnation is more than the Nativity

Over the last few days, I have seen more than a few blog posts preparing us for the celebration of Christmas. This really is wonderful because Christmas is one of the great Feasts of the Church which celebrates the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Saviour of the world. It is a reminder to the world that God the Son emptied Himself to become a man; and that He humbled Himself to suffer the death of the Cross (Phil 2:7-8).

As I have been reading the various blogs, I have noticed an interesting pattern i.e. when thinking about the Incarnation, many Protestants tend to focus solely on the birth of the Lord Jesus Christ. Now, this is not altogether a bad thing because the Nativity is certainly one aspect (and an important one at that) of the Mystery of the Incarnation. But what I think our Protestant brothers and sisters in Christ miss is that before He was born in the stable in Bethlehem, He had already been God-Incarnate for nine months in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary. This is what we mean when we profess in the Nicene Creed that the Son of God was made incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the Virgin Mary.

Because they miss this fact, Protestants sadly also miss the fact that our Lord Jesus Christ took His flesh from the Blessed Virgin. Why do they miss this vital point? I’m not completely sure, but I think one possible answer is that they are so averse to the Apostolic truth of the Catholic understanding of Mary that they go to the extreme of relegating Our Lady to nothing more than a surrogate mother.

In other words, many Protestants miss the full import of the Mystery of the Incarnation because their focus is limited to the Feast of Christmas, to the exclusion of the Feast of the Annunciation.

Without Mary’s Fiat (“Let it Be”) there would be no Incarnation. As Blessed Mother Teresa reminds us: “No Mary, no Jesus”.  This is why God, in His Wisdom, gave to the Church the Feasts of the Annunciation and Christmas – so that we could learn the full Mystery of the Incarnation. Before Jesus gave Himself on the Cross of Calvary, He gave Himself as a poor helpless babe in a manger. And before that, He was a poor helpless babe in the womb of His Mother. But even this does not go to the heart of the scandal of the Incarnation.

The true depth of the scandal of the Incarnation is not just that God humbled Himself to become man. And it is not even that He lay completely helpless in the womb of Holy Mary for nine months. Rather, the depth of the scandal lies in the fact that the salvation of the entire human race hung upon the thread of Mary’s “Yes” to God.

That’s right! Whether we accept it or not, our salvation relied on Mary’s act of faith and obedience. But there’s more! Now, as then, our salvation continues to be reliant on the Blessed Virgin Mary. The Incarnation bears testimony to this fact. Just as a baby unwittingly relies on his mother for life, protection, and sustenance; so our Lord relied completely upon the Virgin Mary. As true followers of the Lord Jesus, we too are often unaware of just how much we rely on Our Blessed Mother for the graces necessary to bring us to eternal life.

Just as Mary was responsible for training our Lord in the right way (Prov 22:6); as our Mother, she also teaches us what it means to remain faithful followers of our Lord. If we listen to the direction of Our Lady, we will find that her instructions are always the same – “Do whatever He tells you” (Jn 2:5).

Sacred Scripture tells us that Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever (Heb 13:8). Logically, this means that if Christ came to the world through Mary, He will continue to come to the world through Mary. And on the flip side, if the world wants to come to Christ, it must also do so through Mary.  

Acknowledging this truth, may we confidently ask Mary to lead us to Jesus just as the Magi did; so that like the Magi we too can present ourselves as gifts of tribute to Him who is eternally King of Kings.

And finally, as we celebrate Christmas giving thanks to God for His great gift of grace, let us also remember to give thanks for His great gift of Mary “full of grace”.

May God richly bless you and yours this Christmas!

"Outside of Wedlock" Explained

In a recent blog, I made the comment that because of her acceptance of God’s will Mary was pregnant with Jesus “outside of wedlock”. Following a question from a friend and a discussion with another Catholic blogger, I thought that it would be pertinent to clarify exactly what I meant when I said that Jesus was conceived “outside of wedlock”.

I don’t claim to be a scholar on Ancient Jewish customs, so I may be wrong about this. In which case, I am more than happy to be corrected. In any event, whether I am right or wrong doesn’t really concern me too much. What really matters to me is that I remain faithful to the Church’s teachings, which includes the doctrine of Mary’s Perpetual Virginity.
So, without further ado, here is my understanding of the Ancient Jewish custom regarding marriage:
To the Jew, there was a difference between marriage and betrothal (or espousal); however, the difference was not the same as what we would consider the difference between engagement and marriage today. Rather, espousal was considered as a binding marriage - but there was still an aspect in which the marriage was not completely ratified. Following the period of espousal, there would be a wedding ceremony during which the marriage covenant was completely ratified. Up until the point of the ceremony, the espousal was still considered as a fully binding marriage - but not completely ratified.
This seems to fit with the Biblical record which says that Mary and St. Joseph were espoused rather than married (see Matt 1:18). If marriage and espousal were exactly the same, then surely Matt 1:18 would read that Mary was married to St. Joseph rather than espoused to him. Also, the Angel's words to St. Joseph in Matt 1:20 tell him not to be afraid to take Mary as his wife. This could imply that the full ratification of the marriage espousal still had to take place. Furthermore, if an espoused couple had conjugal relations before the full ratification of the marriage, it was considered as an act of unchastity.
Most people (unless they had specific light from the Holy Spirit) would naturally have thought that if Mary was pregnant, it was because she had had relations with a man. They would simply be putting two and two together (without knowing that the equation in actual fact was NOT “2+2”). It is also possible that there could have been those who knew that Jesus was not St. Joseph’s child. If this was the case, their assumption would have been that Jesus was another man’s child.
The Pharisees could have had either of the above options in mind in Jn 8:41 when they said that Jesus was an illegitimate child (or “born of fornication” according to the Douay-Rheims Version). However, my personal tendency is to lean towards the first option because even the people of Jesus’ hometown (Nazareth) presumed that He was the son of Joseph (see Mk 6:3). So, it seems that the Pharisees’ perception of Jesus being born illegitimately, or “of fornication” makes sense if conjugal relations during the betrothal period was considered as unchaste.
Now, I'm not sure exactly when Mary and St. Joseph had their marriage fully ratified. The Scriptures don't tell us. There may however be something within the Church's tradition that could answer the question. Either way, I'm at least certain that it was before Jesus' birth in Bethlehem because it is obvious that by this time they were living together.
It is in this sense that I mean Jesus was conceived "outside of wedlock". Mary and St. Joseph were married at the time of the Annunciation; but at the same time they weren’t completely married yet. I know it sounds strange, but it makes sense in my head...but, maybe that’s the problem...

Sunday, December 18, 2011

The Model of Faith

Our parish priest made a wonderful observation at Mass today. During the introductory rite, he pointed out that as the time draws near for a baby to be born, all the attention is focussed on the mother.

With Christmas being only a week away, the Church’s focus is directed towards the Blessed Virgin Mary. This is why the Gospel reading for today is Lk 1:26-38 in which the Angel Gabriel announced to Our Lady that she would give birth to the Son of God.

In this passage of the Annunciation, we are reminded of Mary’s great faith when she says “Amen” to God’s word. But something that we often overlook is the depth of her faith when she said “Be it done to me according to thy word”. In saying “yes” to God, Mary was most likely aware that her obedience would open her up to ridicule. She was engaged to St. Joseph and now she was going to be pregnant with a child "outside of wedlock". Our Lord Jesus was subject to this same ridicule when the Pharisees accused Him of being a bastard son (see Jn 8:41).
The extent of the ridicule would have been compounded by the fact that Mary was a consecrated virgin (see Lk 1:34). Imagine the scandal of the Mary falling pregnant after having made the vow of perpetual virginity. It would be something like the scandal that would’ve been caused if Blessed Mother Teresa had been found to be pregnant.
So even before St. Simeon the Righteous uttered his words regarding Mary’s soul being pierced through by a sword (Lk 2:35), she would’ve started sharing in the ridicule and rejection that would later be suffered by our Lord Jesus Christ.
Such was the faith of our Most Blessed Mother. She showed herself to be God’s perfect daughter, the handmaid of the Lord. And this is why the Church honours her as the model of all believers. She was the first to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ – and her perfect faith is an example for us all to follow.
Perhaps one way that we could do this is by taking the time over this final week of Advent to follow the Church’s tradition of reciting the Angelus three times a day (at 6am, noon, and 6pm). By doing so, we would be reminding ourselves of her great faith, and asking for God to bless us with the same faith.

V. The angel of the Lord declared unto Mary.
R. And she conceived by the Holy Spirit.
Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death. Amen.

V. Behold the handmaid of the Lord.
R. Be it done unto me according to thy word.

Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death. Amen.

V. And the Word was made flesh.
R. And dwelt among us.

Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death. Amen.

V. Pray for us, O Holy Mother of God.
R. That we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ.

Let us pray: Pour forth, we beseech thee, O Lord, Thy grace into our hearts, that we to whom the Incarnation of Christ Thy Son was made known by the message of an angel, may by His Passion and Cross be brought to the glory of His Resurrection; through the same Christ our Lord. Amen.
Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be world without end. AMEN.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Love Mary and you will love Jesus

Since my last blog a few weeks ago  I have been working my way through a book about St. Maximilian Kolbe entitled “For the Life of the World”. For most of us, St. Maximilian is known for his volunteering to take the place of another man who was sentenced to execution in the Auschwitz concentration camp in Nazi Germany in 1941. But what many of us don’t realise is what it was that drove the Saint to make this great sacrifice of his life. [I certainly didn’t know myself until reading this book.]

For the Life of the World shows that it was St. Maximilian’s theology which drove him in his pursuit of following the Lord Jesus so completely that he ultimately gave his life as a ransom for someone else. Seeing the depth of St. Maximilian’s theology and how it TOTALLY transformed his life has given me a deeper realisation of how undeveloped my own theology is; and even in its shallowness, I realise that it hasn’t really begun to penetrate the depths of my own being. Reading this book has aroused in me a greater sense of my own unworthiness when I compare it to the lives of the Saints – who even themselves were “worthless servants doing only what they ought to have done” (Lk 17:10). [Of course, this is not a bad thing, because God has used it to challenge me in my walk with Him.]
There are two things that sum up the theology of St. Maximilian. They are (1) complete and utter consecration to Our Lady; and (2) uncompromising love of Our Lord in the Most Blessed Sacrament. The really interesting thing though is that St. Maximilian didn’t see these as two separate ideas at all; rather he saw that they were ultimately one and the same. He firmly believed that “consecration to Christ is not possible objectively without consecration to the Immaculate”. This is because “perfect devotion to Mary coincides with adoring love for Christ really present, in His divinity and in His humanity, under the Eucharistic species. To love Mary is the equivalent of loving and praising her Son, Jesus.”
That little phrase is so important that it bears repeating:

 “To love Mary is the equivalent of loving and praising her Son, Jesus”

Like St. Louis Marie De Montfort, St. Maximilian firmly believed that the surest way to Jesus is through Mary. So, if we want to be firm in our devotion to Our Lord, the best way to achieve this is by being completely consecrated to Our Lady who will ALWAYS lead us to Jesus.

In the life of St. Maximilian, he became so united with the Lord Jesus that, like our Lord, he was prepared to follow Him in giving his own life in an act of sacrifice for another. It was St. Maximilian’s reception of our Lord in Holy Communion with a thorough understanding of what takes place in Holy Communion that ultimately led him to offer himself in sacrifice.
St. Maximilian understood in a most profound way that the Eucharist is nothing less than the Sacrifice of our Lord Jesus Christ on Calvary made present for us; and it was precisely because of his love for the Lord’s Sacrifice made present in the Eucharist that St. Maximilian taught that love of the Eucharist is not genuine if it is not sacrificial. In other words, our love for the Lord Jesus Christ is measured by the extent of sacrifice for Him and others in our lives.

Thanks be to God, St. Maximilian loved our Lord to the utmost – leaving for us the example of what it really means to love our Lord Jesus in the Most Blessed Sacrament. Where did this love begin? It began with a totally consecrated love of and devotion to Our Lady.
Like St. Maximilian, may we learn to imitate him in devoting ourselves completely to the Blessed Virgin Mary because she will always teach us to “love Jesus with her heart.”

St. Maximilian Kolbe...pray for us.

NOTE: Quotes (or paraphrases) from the book are indicated above by the use of “inverted commas”.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

The Communion of All Saints

On 1 November we celebrated All Saints’ Day – a feast in which we, the saints on earth, celebrate and honour the Saints of God in Heaven i.e. all the holy men and women who have gone before us and now enjoy the Beatific Vision, whether they have been officially canonised by the Catholic Church or not.
[As a side note, if you didn’t already know it, that’s why Hallowe’en – or Hallow’s Eve – is on 31 October].
The lives of the Saints should be an inspiration and encouragement to us because they show us what God can do in our lives if only we will be open to the immense grace that He constantly pours out upon us – most especially in the Blessed Sacrament.
As Catholics, we believe in the Communion of the Saints (which we constantly affirm when we profess the Apostles' and Nicene  Creeds). Part of what this means is that there is only One Church in which all of God’s People are united – on earth (the Church Militant), in Heaven (the Church Triumphant), and in Purgatory (the Church Suffering).
I believe in the Communion of Saints with all my heart – and I even try my best to practise this belief by praying for others, seeking the intercession of the Saints, and praying for the suffering souls in Purgatory as often as possible. Unfortunately, I also struggle with the tendency to “theologise” things too much – and hence I think I can sometimes miss the true beauty of what the Church teaches in its utter simplicity. I suppose you could say that I sometimes struggle to exercise the childlike faith that God so often requires of us.
But you know what is amazing? God is all mercy. And this past week, he allowed me to experience the Communion of Saints in its simplicity. After receiving Holy Communion on All Saints’ Day, as per my usual custom, I was reflecting on the wonder of receiving Our Blessed Lord in Holy Communion. And while I was reflecting, the choir began singing the Litany of All Saints.
As we sang the antiphonal responses (St. xxxx....Pray for us), I was overwhelmed with a sense of the presence of the Saints in our worship. And why not – since the book of Hebrews tells us that when we gather for Mass, we are spiritually lifted up to worship with the Saints in Heaven, who are also witnesses to our lives (Heb 12:1,22).   
But the thing that really struck me the most was that our Communion with the Saints exists precisely because of the Eucharist. When we receive the Lord Jesus – Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity – in Holy Communion, it is through this Communion that we are brought into greater unity (communion) with the Body of Christ throughout the world and through all the ages.
I wanted to share this little experience, because it was a reminder that theology is important – after all, I couldn’t have understood what I was experiencing without the theology behind it – but what is far more important is truly living and experiencing the faith that we believe.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Unity, Obedience, and Keeping Covenant

In the First Reading for today (31st Sunday of Ordinary Time), we read:
A great King am I, says the LORD of hosts,
and my name will be feared among the nations.
And now, O priests, this commandment is for you:
If you do not listen,
if you do not lay it to heart,
to give glory to my name, says the LORD of hosts,
I will send a curse upon you
and of your blessing I will make a curse.
You have turned aside from the way,
and have caused many to falter by your instruction;
you have made void the covenant of Levi,
says the LORD of hosts.
I, therefore, have made you contemptible
and base before all the people,
since you do not keep my ways,
but show partiality in your decisions.
Have we not all the one father?
Has not the one God created us?
Why then do we break faith with one another,
violating the covenant of our fathers?
(Mal 1: 14b – 2:2b, 8-10)

So much can be said for this passage of Sacred Scripture, but verse 10 (see italics above) particularly struck me today. The prophet Malachi says that Israel had profaned the ancient covenant by being faithless with each other, and in doing so they destroyed the unity of being one people under God, who is the One Father of His people.
These words are just as true of Christianity today, which is terribly fractured and disunified. Rather than submitting to the authority of the Holy Church that our Lord Jesus founded upon the Rock of St. Peter, Christians around the world have broken faith with each other by doing (and believing) what is right in their own eyes.
Some of the clearest evidences of this are things like the Great Schism of 1054; and to a greater degree, the 16th century Protestant Reformation in which the Protestant Reformers, without any appointment by the Lord Jesus, rejected Christ’s Church and instead set themselves up as the authoritative leaders of Christianity.
The outworking of these sad historical realities is that Christians remain extremely divided. For example, Protestant denominations currently number in the tens of thousands. And as each individual Christian (or group of Christians) decides what is right in their own eyes, Christianity continues to splinter into more and more fractious denominations.
As Catholics, we rightly rejoice in the fact that we are part of the One Holy Church instituted by Christ. But before we get too arrogant about this, we would do well to acknowledge that the problem of insubordination exists within our own ranks too (albeit not to the same degree of schism). There are many Catholics today who openly challenge the Magisterium of the Church. Many examples can be cited, but one needn’t go further than the issue of contraception to see that this is the case.
The First Reading for today is a reminder to us that we are called to maintain the unity that Christ has established in His Church (see also Eph 4:3; CCC # 820). In today’s Gospel Reading (Matt 23:1-12), our Lord teaches us that an important aspect of maintaining this unity is by obeying the valid authority which has been established by God Himself:
"The scribes and the Pharisees have taken their seat on the chair of Moses.
Therefore, do and observe all things whatsoever they tell you, but do not follow their example. For they preach but they do not practice." (Matt 23:2-3)

If this was what our Lord expected under the Old Covenant, how much more does He require of us under the New Covenant to obey the authority of the Church which is guided by God the Holy Spirit? Furthermore, our Lord reminds us that this God-given authority ought ALWAYS to be obeyed, even in the unfortunate cases where the authority is not necessarily practising what they are preaching.
Things like the Protestant Reformation ought to serve as a constant reminder to us of the danger of self-appointed authority which sets itself up against the Church’s God-given authority. When we fail to submit to the Church’s authority, we become responsible for creating dissension in the Body of Christ; we become responsible for breaking faith with each other; and so we become responsible for breaking God’s covenant (Mal 2:10).
So, when we find ourselves struggling with submission to the Church, let us pray for grace – that God would grant us the humility to remember that we as individuals are not the final authority on the Word of God. Rather, the Church founded by our Lord Jesus on the Rock of St. Peter is the pillar and foundation of truth. And because the Church is the Body of Christ – united with Christ her Head – may we always remember that when we submit to the Church, we submit to the Lord Jesus Christ Himself.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

The Menorah and the Traditional Altar


What do the above two pictures have in common?
I’ll get to that...but firstly, in case you don’t recognise the pictures...the first is of the Menorah – the lampstand which stood in the Temple in Jerusalem; and the second is of the High Altar in St. Peter’s Basilica.
Secondly, by way of an introduction to this blog was inspired by some good friends of ours who recently relocated and are currently living in Rome (and rather heroically I might add).  Anyway, they e-mailed us to let us know are very encouraged by their local Catholic parish which is unashamedly traditional. They even mentioned that the “church was done up properly with the 6 candles, three each side of the Tabernacle”. This is the traditional way for the altar to be set up i.e. with six candles – three on either side of the Tabernacle or Crucifix (as indicated by the High Altar in St. Peter’s).
I originally didn’t know why a traditional altar was supposed to be set up in this way...until I coincidentally came across the reason in a completely unrelated book earlier this week.
The traditional setting of the Altar is based on the Menorah – signifying that the Old Covenant is fulfilled in the New; the central “candle” is Christ – because He is the Light of the World and the centre of everything that we as Catholics believe and practice.
Isn’t that just stunning?!? The longer I am Catholic the more I grow to love the faith that has been handed on to us from the Apostles and their Successors. It really is awe-inspiring!

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Dressed for a Wedding

In this week’s Gospel reading (Matt 22:1-14), our Lord continues the theme of Israel’s rejection of God and how the Kingdom is taken from them in the parable of the Wedding Banquet. In addition to some of the thoughts from last Sunday's Gospel reading  (Matt 21:33-43), today’s Gospel gives us a bit more food for mediation.

It is no coincidence that our Lord uses a marriage feast in this parable when He speaks about the salvation that He offers. Elsewhere in the New Testament, the marriage feast is used to refer to the Eucharist, either directly (e.g. Rev 19:7-9) or indirectly (e.g. Jn 2:1ff) – and it is in the Most Holy Eucharist that we most fully receive the salvation that our Lord Jesus offers us (Jn 6:53-55).

It is important to notice that the call to the Marriage Supper is a free call – because salvation is offered to anyone who comes to God asking, seeking, and knocking (Rev 22:17; Matt 7:7ff). But this is no “easy-believism” because salvation goes deeper than simply answering to an initial call. This is where the significance of the wedding garment comes in.

According to ancient custom, the host of the wedding would provide each of the wedding guests with a wedding garment. In this way, the wedding garment of Jesus’ parable refers to something that God gives to us so that we are worthy to participate in the Marriage Supper. However, according to St. John, in the Marriage Supper, the white garments that the Saints are clothed with are their own righteous deeds (Rev 19:8; it is also interesting to note that 19:9 bestows blessing upon those who are invited to the Marriage Supper, linking it back to Jesus’ parable). Furthermore, St. James tells us that faith without works is dead (Jms 2:26). This is exactly what our Lord Jesus is teaching in this parable when He speaks of the wedding garment. The person being reprimanded was certainly invited to the wedding, and he is even called “friend” (v 12). Although he accepted the invitation to the banquet, when he showed up he wasn’t dressed appropriately. And on this basis, he is actually cast out of the wedding banquet (v 13).

Tying this all together then, this should serve as a reminder to us that whilst the call of the Gospel is completely free – it requires more than a simple response of faith for salvation. The “more” that is required is a life of righteousness.  In other words, whilst we are certainly saved by our faith, we are not saved by faith alone. Rather, our faith needs to be accompanied by good works lest it be judged that our faith, albeit real, is actually dead.

And lest we grow proud in self-righteousness, we would always do well to remember that even our good works, although our own, are themselves a gift from God by His Holy Spirit working in and through us.

This means that our salvation – from start to finish – is completely and utterly a work of God’s grace (Eph 2:8-9). Which is why St. Paul admonishes us to work out our own salvation with fear and trembling, because it is God who is at work within us who enables us to have the desire to do good...and then to fulfil that desire (Phil 2:12-13).

So, when we find ourselves struggling to obey God as we walk with Him, let us look to the example of the Saints who are already clothed in white garments; let us ask also for their intercession as we pray to God for His help; and let us trust that when we ask in faith, God will be faithful in responding by giving us a greater measure of His Holy Spirit.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

The Faithful Tenant

In Matthew 21:33-43 our Lord preaches the parable of the Vineyard and the Wicked Tenants. As our parish priest pointed out in his homily this morning, this parable is ultimately about just how forgiving and patient God is.
The first verses of the parable make it clear that the parable is an allusion to Isa 5:1-7 where the Lord tells the nation of Israel that despite all He has done for them, they continue to reject Him and that this would lead to their desolation.
Jesus’ parable emphasises that God was indeed extremely long-suffering with the nation of Israel. Although they repeatedly broke God’s covenant through their idolatry and rejection of Him, God sent many prophets to shepherd them back to faithfulness (Matt 21:35-36). Yet they continued to reject God and His call of repentance.
This ongoing rejection finally culminated when the leaders of Israel conspired to have the Son of God crucified (vv37-39; Acts 2:22-23). There could be no greater rejection of God than wanting Him dead, and given this, God would have been completely justified in turning His back on all of humanity and leaving us to our own devices which would ultimately end in our own self-destruction. But thanks be to God – where sin abounded, God’s grace abounded even more!!!  
In verse 41 we see that the Kingdom is taken away from the nation of Israel and given to those who will be faithful in bringing forth its fruit. Whilst it doesn’t appear so at first glance, this really is an act of God’s profound and unrestrained mercy – because God takes the Kingdom away from the nation of Israel and expands it to include all the nations (Gal 3:28). The beauty of the Kingdom of God is that it is not limited to one nation; rather it is global, it is universal, it is Catholic!
Another point to notice is that, by the way our Lord presents the parable, it is clear that this “new phase” of the Kingdom will never be reversed. We are continually reminded throughout the Scriptures that with the New Covenant God would also give His people the means to be faithful in keeping the covenant. Unlike Old Israel, who constantly stumbled and broke covenant with God, the Church – New Israel (Gal 6:16) – will remain faithful to God’s covenant forever (Jer 31:31-34). Unlike Israel of old, there isn’t any prophecy in all of Scripture which speaks of the Church ever breaking covenant with God. Instead, the Scriptures are emphatically clear that the Church will ALWAYS remain faithful. This is not because Christians are such wonderful people – it is because God has sent His Holy Spirit to lead and guide the Church into all truth (Jn 16:13).
This is one reason why we should never be ashamed of being Catholic. Despite all the attacks made against the Church by non-Catholics (Christian or otherwise), we can rest assured that the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church that Jesus established on the Rock of St. Peter will always stand firm (Matt 16:18).
The Catholic Church is the new and faithful tenant of Jesus’ parable; and by God’s grace and the guidance of the Holy Spirit, she will always bring forth the fruits that God requires – the fruit of obedience which leads to eternal life.
One final point – coming back to the parable being about God’s unfathomable forgiveness...
Whilst not explicitly stated by our Lord Jesus in this parable, God is not done with Old Israel. St. Paul tells us in Rom 11:31 that through the ministry of the Church God will show mercy to Israel and graft them back into the Vine of the Body of Christ.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Let it Be - Theology in the Beatles???

The longer I have been Christian, the more I am learning that God often speaks to us in the simple things of everyday life. Of course, that doesn’t detract from the primary means of God speaking to us – through the Church and the Scriptures, and particularly in the liturgy. If anything, it actually gives emphases to just how special God’s primary means of communicating with us is.

One of the things that helped my journey to the Catholic Church was Marcus Grodi’s “The Journey Home”.
I would often listen to the conversion stories of various people (Protestant or otherwise) who would “come home” to the Catholic Church. I would listen with intent, and I often wondered whether what these people were saying about what the Catholic Church ACTUALLY teaches was simply too good to be true; and whether Protestants returning to the Catholic Church were really like the Prodigal Son returning home (to use one illustration). I distinctly remember on one specific occasion, I was listening to the Journey Home in my car on the way to work. I remember coming to the end of the programme and wondering “Is God calling me home to the Catholic Church?” Anyway, as I changed the function from CD to radio, what happened brought tears  to my eyes – the station was playing the iconic song by New Zealand artist, Dave Dobbyn...and the very first words that came out of the speakers were:

“...welcome home, from the bottom of my heart”.

[If you would like to hear the whole song, click here – it really is quite stunning; and it makes me homesick every time I hear it].
Despite all the Scripture I was reading, and the Catholic theology that I was increasingly becoming convinced of, this little experience was extremely powerful – and I have no doubt that God was using it to confirm to me that the path that I was on was the right one.
Another secular song that had a huge impact in my journey, and still holds a special place for me now as a Catholic, is the Beatles hit “Let it Be”, especially the opening stanza:

When I find myself in times of trouble

Mother Mary comes to me

Speaking words of wisdom

“Let it be”;

And in my hour of darkness,

She is standing right in front of me

Speaking words of wisdom

“Let it be”.

Whether intentional or not, the above lines are loaded theologically. Firstly, the words spoken by Mother Mary are called “words of wisdom”; which is in line with the teaching of the Church Fathers that Lady Wisdom of the Proverbs was an allegorical reference to Our Lady – or as St. Augustine called Mary the “Seat of Wisdom”.  
Secondly, the words “let it be” echo Mary’s “fiat” – when she said to the Angel Gabriel: “Behold the handmaid of the Lord; let it be done to me according to your word” (Lk 1:38).

Whenever I listen to this song, it reminds me that as children of our Holy Mother Mary, the surest way to learn to submit ourselves completely to God’s will is to imitate her example. Following her, we will learn to echo her words “Let it be done unto me according to your word”; and she in turn will unfailingly lead us to the Lord Jesus Christ. As St. Louis Marie De Montfort reminds us: 

“Now, Mary being the most conformed of all creatures to Jesus Christ, consequently, it follows that, of all devotions, that which most consecrates and conforms the soul to Our Lord is devotion to the Most Blessed Virgin, His holy Mother; and that the more soul is consecrated to Mary, the more it will be consecrated to Jesus Christ” – True Devotion to Mary, no. 120

Sunday, September 18, 2011

God's High and Heavenly Ways

The Old Testament reading for today (25th Sunday of Ordinary Time) is taken from Isaiah 55:6-9:

“[6]Seek the LORD while he may be found,
call upon him while he is near;
[7] let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the LORD, that he may have mercy on him, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.
[8] For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways, says the LORD.
[9] For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.”

Often verses 8-9 are quoted referring to how God’s ways and thoughts are beyond comprehension for us. This is certainly true, because God is infinitely greater than we are. But what these verses call us to is not a resignation that God is incomprehensible; but rather they call us to action – to seek to know God’s ways and God’s thoughts, and then to shape our lives by them.
This is affirmed by the preceding verses where Isaiah exhorts us to seek the Lord while there is still opportunity. He calls for the wicked to forsake their wicked ways and the unrighteous to forsake their unrighteous thoughts; and instead to pursue God’s ways and God’s thoughts.

When the Prophet refers to God’s ways and thoughts as being as high as the heavens above the earth in comparison to our ways and thoughts, he is speaking about the purity and holiness of God’s ways compared to our own ways, which are often tainted with sin.
In other words, what the Prophet is calling for is repentance – a forsaking of wicked ways and thoughts and a turning to pursuing the holy ways and thoughts of God. Isaiah is calling us to forsake our earthly way of thinking and life so that we can attain to God’s heavenly way of thinking and life. St. Paul echoed this in His call for us to set our minds on “things that are above, not on things that are on earth” (Col 3:1-2).

Humanly speaking, this is impossible. But God has not left us without hope. With Him all things are possible (Matt 19:26). Isaiah tells us that when we turn to God in this way, He will have mercy on us and He will abundantly pardon.

Furthermore, God has also given us the Sacraments. When we receive the Sacraments in faith, especially the Blessed Eucharist, we receive the grace to grow in His ways and thoughts.

The Sacraments are no mere empty sign. When we realise that in the Sacraments we are receiving Christ Himself, it is then that we experience the power of the Resurrection – the power of God to conform us to the image of Christ (Phil 3:10).

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Vengeance Reversed

Often as we meditate on the Person and Work of our Lord Jesus Christ, we see how through Him, God the Father accomplishes a reversal of sin and its effects. St. Paul clearly teaches that Jesus is the New Adam who obeyed where the Old Adam fell; and so Jesus also reverses the effects of the sin of the Old Adam (Rom 5:12-20; 1 Cor 15:22).

We see a similar reversal in the Gospel reading for today (Matt 18:21-35; 24th Sunday of Ordinary Time). In the course of the passage, St. Peter asks our Lord:

“Lord, if my brother sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?” – Matt 18:21

Our Lord responds by telling St. Peter in verse 22 that we are to forgive not seven times, but “seventy-seven times” (as the NRSV puts it).

As 21st century Christians, we often see this as meaning that our Lord was teaching us that our forgiveness of the faults of those who sin against us should be without limit. Now, this is certainly true, as clearly emphasised by Jesus in the subsequent parable of the unforgiving servant (Matt 18:23-35). But, as St. Ignatius of Loyola recommended in his Spiritual Exercises, to really grasp the depth of Scripture, we need to visually transport ourselves in our imagination to the time of the original audience.

St. Peter was a Jew, and as such he would have been well-versed in the Old Testament Scriptures. We often take for granted that we have the Sacred Scriptures so readily available to us. [As I sit at my PC, I can count 16 different Bibles that I have on my desk and bookshelf]. In St. Peter’s time, they didn’t have this sort of access to the written word. Much of what they knew was committed to memory, and probably mostly from the readings that they would hear at the Synagogue Sabbath liturgy (much like the way we hear the Scripture readings in any given Mass).

It isn’t unlikely that when our Lord uttered these words, St. Peter’s memory would have been stirred to recall an account in Genesis where Lamech, in uttering words of revenge, says:

“...I have killed a man for wounding me, a young man for striking me. If Cain is avenged sevenfold, truly Lamech seventy-sevenfold.” – Gen 4:23b-24

In the Septuagint, the Greek words used in the above passage for “sevenfold” (πτκις) and seventy-sevenfold” (ἑβδομηκοντάκις ἑπτά) are the same Greek words used by St. Matthew in Matt 18:24 for “seven times” and “seventy-seven times” respectively.
[The Septuagint is the translation of the Hebrew Old Testament into Greek – and it is the version that St. Peter would have been most familiar with].
So, we see that our Lord was most certainly reminding St. Peter that there is to be no limit to our forgiveness of others – just as there is no limit of God’s forgiveness towards us based on the merits of the once-for-all Sacrifice of our Lord Jesus Christ on the Cross of Calvary. But more than this, He was also pointing to the fact that He is the fulfilment of the Law and the Prophets (Matt 5:17); and as such, in His Person and Work, He reverses the vengeance of Lamech, and in its place emphasises the love and forgiveness of our Heavenly Father.  
May this stir within us then the desire, not to follow the example of Lamech in seeking vengeance when we are wronged; but rather to be true children of our Father who, even though we have grievously sinned against Him, so loved the world that He gave His only Son for the forgiveness of these very sins. As St. Paul says:
“Indeed, rarely will anyone die for a righteous person – though perhaps for a good person someone might actually dare to die. But God proves His love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us.” Rom 5:7

Thanks be to God for His unfathomable love.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Do This in Remembrance of Me

Earlier this week, I was having a discussion with a lady who is currently examining the Catholic faith. Her questions are probing, which is encouraging because it shows that she is seriously trying to come to grips with what it is that the Catholic Church really believes.

We started talking about what our Lord meant when He said of the Eucharist “Do this in remembrance of me”. Her background, like my own, is Protestant and the common argument amongst Protestants against the Catholic notion of the Mass as Sacrifice, and the doctrine of Transubstantiation, is that when our Lord said “This is my Body...this is my Blood” He meant for it to be understood figuratively...based on His instruction to do it “in remembrance” of Him.

Well, what did our Lord mean when He said this? What would the notion of “remembrance” have for a Jew of Jesus’ day? For the Jewish people, the idea of celebrating the Passover as a “remembrance” was one in which the people celebrating the remembrance would consider themselves as if they were present in the actual historical event – as if by the power of God they had transcended space and time and the Passover events were made present to them thousands of years later.

Even Keith A. Mathison – a respected Protestant scholar, and also the assistant editor of the ESV Reformation Study Bible – recognises this when he states:

“Understood within the Passover context, this phrase [“Do this in remembrance of me”] points to the idea that the congregation becomes contemporary with Christ’s act of redemption.”

 “...remembrance is not merely mental recollection...”
 “Those who reduce the Lord’s Supper to an act of mental recollection are imposing modern modes of thought on the text of Scripture.”
– Given for You by Keith A. Mathison

St. Augustine spoke of the same concept in the context of the liturgy. Referring to the Easter liturgy, he reminds us that although the Lord has died for our sins once for all, yet “we have the liturgical solemnities which we celebrate as, during the course of the year, we come to the date of the particular events. The historical truth is what happened once for all, but the liturgy makes those events always new for the hearts that celebrate them with faith. The historical truth shows us the events just as they happened, but the liturgy, while not repeating them, celebrates them and prevents them from being forgotten...we say that Easter happened once only and will not happen again, but, on the basis of the liturgy, we can say that Easter happens every year.”
It is in this context that the liturgy of the Mass is a Sacrifice. It is not repeating the Sacrifice of Christ on Calvary – rather, it is the once-for-all Sacrifice of God the Son being made present for us today. This is possible because God is not bound by time – He transcends time and space. This is one reason why Catholic churches have a Crucifix in the Sanctuary – it is a reminder that in the Mass, we are really present at the foot of the Cross.
And when the priest elevates the Host and the Chalice, the Lamb of God is being lifted up and drawing us to Him for our redemption. Our only reasonable response then is to kneel in humility before Him and acknowledge that we are not worthy to receive Him, but if He only says the word, we will be healed.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Present Your Bodies as a Living Sacrifice

In his exhortation “Verbum Domini”, the Holy Father reminds us that the “the liturgy is the privileged setting in which God speaks to us in the midst of our lives” (Verbum Domini, No. 52). He says this in the context of Sacred Scripture being most at home in the liturgy, because it is in the liturgy that we really encounter the Word of God.

This hit home for me in today’s Mass (22nd Sunday of Ordinary Time) in the Second Reading (Rom 12:1-2) and the Gospel (Matt 16:21-27).

In Rom 12:1-2, St. Paul tells us to present our bodies as living sacrifices, holy and acceptable to God; and to be transformed in doing so. 
In the Gospel reading, our Lord tells us that if we want to be His disciples we need to take up our cross and follow Him (Matt 16:24). As Christians, we are called to suffer for the sake of Christ. But for Christians, suffering is not a bad thing because it leads us to glory (Rom 8:17; see also Jn 12:23-26 where Jesus uses similar language to that of Matt 16:24-25). Also, because we are members of the Christ’s Body the Church, we are able to offer our sufferings up for the Church to complete what was lacking in Christ’s sufferings (Col 1:24).
We are no doubt familiar with the above passages of Sacred Scripture, but they really come alive for us when we relate them back to the liturgy.
In the liturgy of the Eucharist, we offer the gifts of bread and wine (the fruit of our hands) which are placed by the priest on the altar. We offer these gifts to God in thanksgiving (eucharistia) for all that He has done for us. But the fact that our gifts are placed on the altar signifies that what we are doing is far more than saying “thank-you”. An altar speaks of sacrifice. This means that when we offer our gifts, we are really declaring that we are offering ourselves, and all that has been given to us, as a sacrifice to God.

At the words of institution, the bread and wine are transformed by the power of the Holy Spirit into the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ as the re-presentation (i.e. the presenting again) of the once-for-all Sacrifice of our Lord Jesus Christ on Calvary. In this action, the sacrifice of ourselves is united with the Sacrifice of Christ, and thus becomes a sweet-smelling offering which is acceptable to God (Phil 4:18). [After all, nothing we offer to God has any value apart from it being united to Christ]. Then, as we receive our Blessed Lord in Holy Communion, He slowly but surely transforms us into His own image (see here and here).

Perhaps one way of being reminded of this is to develop the habit of consciously offering our whole life – our prayers, works, joys, and sufferings – to God during the Presentation of the Gifts and the Offertory Prayer, remembering that as we do so we are offering ourselves as living sacrifices, holy and acceptable to God; which is our spiritual worship.  

"Why is Sunday the Christian Sabbath" - Taylor Marshall

This is a great blog by Taylor Marshall "Canterbury Tales" on why the Christian celebrates the Lord's Day as the New Covenant Christian Sabbath.

Obviously, it is only a primer, but still it is succint and gets the point across.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Justification – the Necessity of Works

A common, and unfair, accusation levelled against us Catholics is that we believe that we are justified by works. The reason that this accusation is made is because we do not adhere to Martin Luther’s doctrine of Sola Fide i.e. that justification is by faith alone and without any good works at all.   

In my days as a non-Catholic Christian, I firmly held to the Protestant doctrine of Sola Fide. It was a teaching that I really didn’t question because, as far as I knew, it was the most basic and fundamental principle of Christianity. After all, wasn’t this the one thing that the Protestant Reformers rescued from the wicked “Papists” who for so long had led people to believe that we are saved by our works?
On one level, I missed the logical fact that to believe is itself a work. But more importantly, I failed to realise that the Catholic Church, as the pillar and foundation of truth, was actually right on the teaching of justification all along. Thanks be to God, He was gracious enough to allow me to see that Sola Fide is unscriptural and that the teaching of the Protestant Reformers was not in line with what the Church has taught since the time of the Apostles.
Just because we Catholics do not believe we are saved by faith alone, Protestants tend to think that this must mean that we believe we are saved by works. This is unfair reasoning at best, and really is not what the Catholic Church teaches. Rather, the Church teaches that we are in fact saved by faith, but that faith is not alone i.e. saving faith is necessarily and always accompanied by good works.

One of the “proof-texts” used by Protestants to back up their doctrine of Sola Fide is Eph 2:8-9 where St. Paul says:

“ grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God – not the result of works, so that no one may boast.”

But this verse should not be read in isolation, because St. James tells us quite emphatically:

“So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead...You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone.” Jms 2:17,24

A reading of the entire passage in James 2 will reveal that in St. James’ argument, a “dead faith” is a very real faith (even the devils believe and tremble – v19); but it is a dead faith nonetheless. Following St. James’ thought, if justification is by faith alone (as Protestants suggest); then the devil himself would be justified by his faith. On the flip-side of this “dead faith” is a faith which MUST be accompanied by good works if it is to be living and life-giving.
Origen, writing early in the third century affirmed this when he said:

“Whoever dies in his sins, even if he professes to believe in Christ, does not truly believe in Him; and even if that which exists without works be called faith, such faith is dead in itself, as we read in the Epistle bearing the name of James.” – Commentaries on John

So, how do we reconcile what St. James says about works and faith with what St. Paul’s teaching? One way of looking at the above verses is to perceive that St. James teaches us that we are not saved by faith alone, whilst St. Paul teaches us that we are not saved by works alone. Rather, we need to see that neither faith nor works stand alone. They stand together hand-in-hand and both are gifts from God. So, even though we are saved by faith AND works, it ultimately comes back to the fact that we are saved by God’s grace and God’s grace ALONE.
This is also echoed in the Catechism of the Catholic Church:  

“Believing in Jesus Christ and in the One who sent him for our salvation is necessary for obtaining that salvation...without faith no one has ever attained justification, nor will anyone obtain eternal life but he who endures to the end. Faith is an entirely free gift that God makes to man...” CCC #161-162

“Our justification comes from the grace of God...” CCC # 1996
Interestingly, when one examines the Gospels, you will find that our Lord placed more emphasis on good works than He did on faith. His parable of the wedding banquet (Matt 22:1-14) bears this out when He speaks of the person without the wedding robe being case into outer darkness (v 12-13). Comparing this passage with St. John’s Revelation, we find that the fine linen garment “is the righteous deeds of the saints” (Rev 19:8).

So if we desire to enter into the presence of God when our earthly sojourn is complete, let us never cease in our pursuit of holiness and good works in faith, without which we can never see God (Heb 12:14). And let us do so in faith, because without faith, it is impossible for our good works to please God (Heb 11:6).

Saturday, August 6, 2011

The Beatitudes and the Virgin Mary

Earlier this week, I was praying the Rosary and meditating on the Luminous Mysteries. As part of the Third Luminous Mystery (i.e. the proclamation of the kingdom), I usually meditate on the Beatitudes. As I was working my way through the Hail Mary, especially the words which echo those of St. Elisabeth “Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the Fruit of thy Womb”, the connection with the Beatitudes (Matt 5:3-11) dawned on me.

Blessed is the Fruit of thy Womb – Our Lord Jesus is the ultimate fulfilment of the Beatitudes because He is the Source of all blessing, the One from Whom all blessings flow. In this way, the Beatitudes find their fullest meaning in the Lord Jesus Christ.
But it was not only the Fruit of the Womb that St. Elisabeth said was blessed. In order to grow, a fruit requires a tree...and so in order to become a man, God needed Mary. Which is why St. Elisabeth's first beatitude was directed towards Mary – “Blessed art thou among women...”.
If the tree is blessed, so too is the fruit...and vice versa. In this way, if the Fruit of the Womb is blessed, then so too is Mary, from whose womb our Lord was made Incarnate. But Mary’s blessedness is of an infinite kind because she bore the Infinite and Divine Son of God. So Mary is not just blessed...she is MOST blessed because she is God’s greatest creation – the New Eve, spared from original sin so that she could give birth to the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.
Since our Lord Jesus came to us in the Incarnation through the Virgin Mary; so too His blessings flow to us through her. And just as the Incarnation was all from God’s grace, we only obtain the blessings that Christ spoke of in the Beatitudes only by God’s grace. All we need to do is humbly ask. And the surest way of obtaining them is by asking through Our Lady because it is also through her that God pours out His grace upon us. Having recourse to Our Lady, and following her example, she will always, always, ALWAYS lead us to our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.

Blessed art thou Mary, poor in spirit; teach us to be poor in spirit so that we might obtain the kingdom of heaven;
Blessed art thou Mary, you who mourned and suffered with our Saviour; comfort us in our affliction;

Blessed art thou Mary, most meek of all God’s creatures and Queen of Heaven and Earth; teach us to be meek that we too can share in this inheritance;
Blessed art thou Mary, most righteous; grant us a deep hungering and thirsting for righteousness so that we might be filled from above;

Blessed art thou Mary, most merciful; pray for us that we might obtain God’s mercy;
Blessed art thou Mary, most pure in heart; intercede for us before the face of God that we might grow in purity;

Blessed art thou Mary, lover of peace and handmaid of the Lord; teach us to love one another that we may be worthy to be called thy children and the children of our God;
Blessed art thou Mary, persecuted for the sake of righteousness; help us to seek first God’s kingdom without fear of the persecution that will come our way;

Blessed art thou Mary; reviled and falsely accused on Our Lord’s account; teach us to rejoice in our persecutions that we might be made worthy of the reward of heaven together with thee and all of God’s Saints.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

"The Bible Needs the Church" - Daughter of Glory

I recently came across this new blog which I think will be an interesting one to follow.

 The link above is particularly interesting as “Daugher of Glory” puts forward a very simple yet profound case for why the Bible needs the Catholic Church.

Have a read of her blog – it really is interesting. Her other posts are also VERY good.

God bless

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Conformed to the Image of Christ

In the second reading for today’s Liturgy of the Word (17th Sunday in Ordinary Time), St. Paul tells us that God has predestined us to be conformed to the image of His Son, and that the end result of His work in us is a sharing of His glory (Rom 8:28-30).

In order to be conformed to the image of Christ, we need to be filled with Christ. That is why God uses the Word and Sacraments as the primary means of transforming us. The Scriptures change us because Jesus Christ, the Word of God, is present in them and it is He who changes us. The same is true of the Sacraments. God changes the ordinary everyday things in our lives so that they might become the means by which He pours His grace into our lives. What makes the Sacraments effectual is not some magical power imbued in them; but it is the Word of God that makes them effectual. It is Christ who is present in the Sacraments who changes us by the Sacraments.
As Catholics we affirm that the greatest Sacrament – the Sacrament of Sacraments – is the Eucharist because it is the very Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of our Lord Jesus Christ.  What starts out as simple bread and wine is transformed by the Word of God when the priest, acting in persona Christi, utters the words of Christ “This is my Body” and “This is my Blood”.

Herein is the wonder of the Eucharistic celebration – when we bring our offerings of bread of wine in thanksgiving to God, we are offering ourselves to Him; and as we offer ourselves, He receives and unites it to the offering of the Lord Jesus Christ on the Cross when our gifts are transformed into the Body and Blood of Christ. After this transformation, the Body and Blood is then given back to us to receive so that we can be changed by Christ as He fills us with Himself in the Sacrament.
St. Bonaventure reminds us of this when he says:

“With the external mouth we receive Him sacramentally, with the inward mouth we receive Him spiritually”.

In other words, although what we receive is physical, the change that takes place in us transcends the physical, and permeates to the spiritual. St. Jerome, referring to St. Elisabeth’s words “Blessed is the Fruit of thy womb”, says that this was the whole reason that God the Son had to take on a human form when he says that “the Flower of Mary became fruit that we might eat of it”.
There is an old saying: “You are what you eat”. So, when we worthily eat and drink of the Body and Blood of Christ in the Eucharist, it is not an empty ritual or symbolic exercise. When we share in the Eucharist, God is using the Blessed Sacrament to conform us to the image of Christ.

If we realise this, the only reasonable response is to fall on our knees in thanksgiving to God for the great and undeserved gift that He gives to us in the Blessed Sacrament. May God grant that we would grow in our realisation that what we receive in Holy Communion is nothing less than the God the Son, and that as we grow in this realisation may we more freely to deny ourselves, take up our cross, and follow Him in a deeper pursuit of His holiness.