After this I looked, and, behold, a door was opened in heaven: and the first voice which I heard was as it were of a trumpet talking with me; which said, Come up hither, and I will shew thee things which must be hereafter. (Rev. iv. 1)
Today is Trinity Sunday. So, following as we do the traditional Western lectionary, we enter the season not of Pentecost but of Trinity Tide, intending no disrespect to the Holy Spirit, but acknowledging that our life in the Holy Spirit must never be severed or divorced from the Father and the Son. Trinity means three, and Trinity Tide is an invitation into the trifold life of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. Should we make the mistake that many post-modern churches do in abandoning the Trinity in favor a seemingly independent season of the Spirit, we should end up finding ourselves being moved far more by spirits other than God’s Holy Spirit and by our own imaginations rather than Jesus Christ the express image of the Father’s person. (Hebrews i. 3)
Christianity is a religion founded on the facts of Divine Revelation. Its God is a God who wishes to be known. (The Christian Year, p. 142) Christians believe that God the Father created all things through the wisdom of Christ His Word by the effectual operation of His Holy Spirit. Christians believe that the Father has never ceased to illuminate His people through His Word and strengthen them by His Spirit. In His Incarnation, Christ himself reveals the same Trinity when He obeys the Father through the Spirit, even unto death upon the Cross. (Phil. ii. 8) And following His Ascension Christ invites all men into new life which He has won for them, promising to send…the Holy Ghost (St. John xvi. 26) whom the Father will send in [His] name that they may persevere in their journey to the Kingdom. So God the Holy Trinity reveals Himself to His people, a door is opened, and man learns the way that leads him up higher and higher.
A door is opened in this morning’s appointed Psalm. It is the Lord that ruleth the sea; the voice of the Lord is mighty in operation: the voice of the Lord is a glorious voice…. The voice of the Lord divideth the flames of fire; the voice of the Lord shaketh the wilderness…the voice of the Lord maketh the hinds to bring forth young…in His temple doth every man speak of His honor…the Lord remaineth a King forever. (Psalm xxix. 4,7,8,9) David understands that the Father’ voice or Word rules, governs, combines and separates, creates, informs, and illuminates the whole of creation through the Holy Spirit’s strength and might. Isaiah is similarly overwhelmed as a door is opened to his soul also. He saw the Lord upon the throne, high and lifted up, [whose] train filled the temple…that above it stood the seraphims…. And one cried unto another, and said, Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord of hosts: the whole earth is full of his glory. (Is. vi. 1-3) The Thrice-Holy Trinity abases and humbles the prophet. Woe is me! For I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips: for mine eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts. (Ibid.5) But the Lord has work for the Isaiah to do. The Father sends one of the seraphim to purify the prophet’s tongue of all evil, that the Spirit might inspire him to articulate God’s Word for His people. And in this morning’s Epistle we learn that the same door in opened in Heaven to the Apostle and Evangelist, St. John, whose symbolic vision illustrates the worship of God the Holy Trinity and the call to come up higher.
Yet doctrine of the Holy Trinity is not easy to understand. St. Augustine of Hippo, that great 4th century North-African Doctor of the Church, finds an image of it in the human soul: The human soul is – it exists; the human soul knows –it understands; and the human soul wills – it loves. So also God is, He knows, and He wills. God is pure being -He exists always; God is pure knowing – He begets His Word or His Son eternally; and God is pure loving –His will and love proceed as Spirit always. God is one substance who expresses His spiritual life through three Persons. (De Trinitate. Aug. RC summary) Man is one substance who expresses his spiritual life through three activities. The comparison is helpful, albeit imperfect, since God is God and man is man.
But God intends not only to be known in the abstract, but also understood and desired in the particular life of every man. In fact, He wills to be known by humans, at first, through their encounter with His Son in the flesh. This morning’s Gospel illustrates the point nicely. For here we read that a Pharisee, a ruler of the Jews, named Nicodemus came to Jesus by night. (St. John iii. 1) Matthew Henry tells us that coming to Jesus by night is an act of prudence and discretion. For we should all come to be with Christ ‘when the busy world is hushed’ that we might then better learn from Him. Coming to Him by night shows [also] a greater zeal for truth since we are willing to forsake the evening’s pleasures for the sake of the truth. (Comm: John iii) St. Thomas tells us coming to Jesus at night symbolizes also that honest state of obscurity and ignorance that seeks to be enlightened by Christ’s wisdom. (TA: Comm. John iii.) So in the night, Nicodemus approaches Jesus. Rabbi, we know that thou art a teacher come from God: for no man can do these miracles that thou doest, except God be with him. (St. John iii. 2) Nicodemus knows that Jesus’ teaching is divinely inspired. And he asserts boldly that God is with Him because of the miracles, which Jesus had performed. Moved by Christ’s theological teaching and moral goodness, Nicodemus is nevertheless blind to the meaning and nature of Christ’s Person. Jesus says: Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the Kingdom of God. (St. John iii. 3) He means that the mysteries of eternal salvation can be seen only through the cleansing of regeneration in the Holy Spirit, (Tit. iii. 5) in the righteousness of faith. (TA, Idem) Nicodemus is confused: How can a man be born again when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb? (Ibid, 4) The only kind of birth that Nicodemus understands is that of the flesh.
Jesus clarifies His response in order to help Nicodemus to understand. Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.(St. John iii. 5-7) If man’s fallen corruption is not overcome by rebirth through water and the Spirit, he cannot be saved. The washing of the body with water is an external and visible sign of how the Holy Spirit will cleanse, transform, and rebirth the soul. Man is born of the flesh, and so neither his body nor soul can save him. Jesus sees Nicodemus’ incomprehension. Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again. The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit. (St. John iii. 8) Jesus says that the wind comes and goes, and we can never chase it to catch it. We inhale and we exhale, and without a thought ever consider whence our breath came and wither it goes. Jesus says, If I have told you earthly things, and ye believe not, how shall ye believe, if I tell you of heavenly things? (St. John iii. 12) Nicodemus is a religious ruler in Israel and in his pride has forgotten that God’s Word enlivens and defines all created life through the undetectable breath of His loving Spirit. Nicodemus, if you do not humbly believe and remember thankfully that the invisible and inaudible Spirit animates your earthly life, how will you believe that He intends to birth you again inwardly and spiritually for a better heavenly future?
God the Father’s Holy Spirit is alive and well in Jesus Christ. We speak of what we know, and bear witness of what we have seen. (Ibid, 11) But Nicodemus remains blind. He does not yet grasp that no man hath ascended up to heaven, but He that came down from heaven, even the Son of Man, which is in heaven. (Ibid, 13) Man has fallen down from heaven; he cannot ascend up through his own reason or on his own merits. The Son of Man must come down from heaven to open man’s spiritual eyes to his fallen flesh that the desire of the Spirit might breathe new life into his soul. That which is born of flesh is flesh; that which is born of Spirit is Spirit. (Ibid, 6) And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up: That whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life. (Ibid, 13-15) Man can begin to return to God the Father, only if the Holy Spirit lifts him up into Christ’s Death, so that then he might be born again. And as man begins to be born again in heart and mind, the Holy Spirit will lift him into the Son’s Resurrection and then into the Ascension of return to the Father. Behold a door is opened, as God makes all things new.
God the Holy Trinity desires for us to participate in His life that we might reveal it to others. For ours is not a religion whereby man worships an external, distant, and unreachable deity. God is pure goodness, and with the same Spirit of goodness and generosity that creates and informs all of reality, He longs to redeem and save us. Our God desires that we should be born again each and every new day as the Holy Spirit brings the Word of God to life in us. He longs that we should be as He is, to know as He knows, and to love as He loves. When we worship the Trinity, we find our Origin and End in God the Father, derive our Wisdom and Truth from the God the Son, and practice the presence of His love through God the Holy Spirit. And then as born again sons and daughters of the Father, we shall sing out the Son’s Word of salvation to all nations, with that Love that alone makes Heaven and Earth one, in and through Jesus Christ our Lord –both flesh and Spirit perfectly blended to be shared with you and me. Amen.
Foolishness of God
Our inward eyes and spiritual eyesight and vision have been darkened by the Fall, and so Jesus Christ in the flesh began to bring us back to inward spiritual vision and memory by appearing to us on the outside of ourselves, so that we could begin to see what we it looks like to obey God, fear God, and to perfect God’s will as a human being. We needed another self outside of ourselves in order to become reacquainted with the selves we are made to become but have willfully forgotten. And so Christ re-enacted our original condition and relation to God for us –the condition that we had in Adam but forsook, in order to acclimate us to our real selves, who and what we should be in the presence of God the Father and through the power of the Holy Spirit. For after that, in the wisdom of God, the world by wisdom knew not God, it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe. (1 Corinthians i. 21) To those who are full of their own wisdom, Christ Jesus is a fool. But to those who realize that their wisdom can't save them and has, actually, got them into more trouble than they expected, the foolishness of God in Jesus Christ is a welcome medicine! Let us look at this Jesus, listen to Him, see what He does in order to bring us back to our true selves. Let us follow Him even into suffering and death so that we might die and come alive to Him, at length, on the inside of ourselves and in the secrets of our hearts.
Commentary on St. Augustine's De Doctrina Christiana, i. 12
They marvelled to see such things; they were astonished, and suddenly cast down. Fear came there upon them; and sorrow, as upon a woman in her travail. (Psalm xlviii. 4,5)
One day in the future men will look back at our age and describe it as the time when man had forgotten his past. In general we shall be judged as those who had little or no respect for the wisdom of our fathers, and in particular as those who spent their lives running away from the truth. Because of both, we shall be known as those who forfeited any meaningful future. William Wordsworth once said, Life is divided into three terms - that which was, which is, and which will be. Let us learn from the past to profit by the present, and from the present, to live better in the future. But Wordsworth was a Christian, and authentic Christianity, we must admit, is the most feared and despised of all religions in this dark age of ours. Why? Well, because it demands that every man face his past, cull it into the present, name it, claim it, repent of it, and open himself up that sanctification that promises better life in the future. Authentic Christianity is something that our world cannot bear; our world hates the past, and never more passionately than when it creeps into the present to judge and measure us, to reveal to the world why we are not as hale and hearty as we pretend to be.
Pentecost or Whitsunday is all about the past, present, and future. Pentecost helps us to see who we have been and what we have done; Pentecost teaches us who we are now; Pentecost calls us forward into a spiritually informed future. Today we read about the first Pentecost in the cenacle –or upper room, in the Acts of the Apostles. Monsignor Knox describes the setting in this way: A room haunted with memories –through that door did Judas Iscariot slink out into the night…on that table the consecrated chalice reposed; through that window they listened to the shouts of ‘Crucify Him’; that floor had been trodden by impassible feet. It was in this room that the Holy Ghost visited His people on the day of Pentecost. (Pentecost: R. Knox) It was in this room that both good and evil battled in response to Christ’s impending Passion. It was in this room that one man betrayed our Lord, another sought refuge having denied Him thrice, and the rest remained huddled together for fear of the Jews. It was in this room that the past events of the Last Supper and the Foot Washing were about to become the signs and badges of the Apostles’ common life and Christian future. In was in this room that past sin would be remembered so that future hopes could be realized in the new life that the Holy Spirit would bring. If man is to be redeemed and saved, the past must always mold and shape the future in the present. Each of the Apostles would bear about in his life the forgiveness of his past sins, the sanctification of his present predicament, and the redemption for his future glory.
So perhaps we should turn to our text in order to examine how this process all began at the first Pentecost.
WHEN the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place. And suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting. And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance. And there were dwelling at Jerusalem Jews, devout men, out of every nation under heaven. Now when this was noised abroad, the multitude came together, and were confounded, because that every man heard them speak in his own language. And they were all amazed and marvelled, saying one to another, Behold, are not all these which speak Galilæans? And how hear we every man in our own tongue, where in we were born? (Acts ii. 1-8)
What jumps out at most Christians immediately are the rushing mighty wind, cloven tongues like fire, then speaking in [other] tongues. What they are taken with mostly is the vigorously aggressive, paranormal, transcendent, and otherworldly dynamism of the Holy Ghost. And so they tend to conclude that the Apostles were swept up into a chaotic, disordered, even anarchic Dionysian irruption of emotion and passion that defied all reason. And so their response is akin to the eyewitnesses [who] were all amazed, and were in doubt, saying one to another, What meaneth this? Or with the others mocking, saying, these men are full of new wine. (Acts ii. 12, 13)
But a more cautious reading of the text reveals an ordered and providential sanctification of the past, in the present, and for the future. This was the day of Pentecost, the Feast of Weeks, on which devout Jews from all over the world descended upon Jerusalem to commemorate God’s giving of the Law to Moses on Mount Sinai. The Holy Spirit only ever comes to sanctify those who gather to thank God for past mercies and future Grace. And so we read that [the Apostles] were all with one accord in one place. (Idem) They were of one mind, united in purposive prayer, in one place, watching and waiting, honoring one past, loving one another, and praying about the future. For that blessed Dove comes not where there is noise and clamour, but moves upon the face of still waters, not the rugged ones. (M. Henry) This particular Pentecost fell on the first day of the week. The pouring out of His Spirit that gives birth to the Church will bring Christ’s recent Resurrection into the present. Even when the sudden sound from Heaven, as of rushing mighty wind (Idem) fills the Cenacle, the Spirit fills the Apostles with fear as they remember the words of John Baptist: He shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost and fire. (St. Matt. iii. 11) And so tongues of cloven fire gently rest upon their heads making time past present. Matthew Henry tells us that the Spirit, like fire, melts the heart, burns up the dross, and kindles pious and devout affections in the soul. (Idem) And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance. (Acts ii. 4) What could have broken down into confusion and chaos was, as it turned out, ordered, disciplined, and singular. The Holy Spirit translated one message of the wonderful works of God (Acts ii. 14) in Jesus Christ to devout men out of every nation, and to every man in his own tongue. (Idem) To the Apostles the past experience of Holy Week and Christ’s Eastertide teaching were just now beginning to be comprehended and understood. God’s power, wisdom, and love were making sense of the past. For, as Monsignor Knox reminds us, In those six weeks before Pentecost the Apostles had already lived through, as it were, the whole cycle of Church history; there was nothing callow, nothing tentative, nothing inexperienced about their methods from the very first. And because she was born old, the Church remains ever young. (Ibid) What the Apostles experienced was nothing short of the old man being made new and the historical past being transformed and redeemed in the present and for the good of the future. And so belief led to repentance, repentance opened to obedience, obedience elicited knowledge, and knowledge reached forth towards its future in God.
But they could endure this only because they had slowly and patiently allowed the work of God the Holy Spirit to teach them the truth and to change their lives. They remembered the words that Jesus had spoken to them in the Upper Room: If ye love me, keep my commandments. And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you for ever; even the Spirit of truth (St. John xiv. 15, 16) Because they loved Jesus they began to keep His commandments. With His departure, He had generated within them the deepest need for permanent comfort and the ongoing illumination of His Holy Spirit. They began to realize that the greatest blessing spiritually is to know that we are destitute; and [that] until we get there, Our Lord is powerless…As long as we are rich, possessed of anything in the way of pride and independence, God cannot do anything for us. It is only when we get hungry spiritually that we receive the Holy Spirit. (The Bounty of the Destitute: O. Chambers) St. Thomas Aquinas, tells us that the Holy Spirit, whom they embraced and increasingly desired, conveys to man four operations: Subtleness of substance, perfection of life, impulse of motion, and hidden origin. (Sermon: Emitte Spiritum) So the subtle, perfect, active, invisible, immaterial, and intangible Spirit passes through physical nature in order to penetrate the soul. Then the Spirit perfects the soul by purifying knowledge and affection. Then He moves a man to embrace the holiness that He sees in Jesus Christ. Then he reveals His hidden origin in the Father’s desire and the Son’s wisdom. So the hidden and invisible Divine cause, through the motions of eternal love, perfects and sanctifies the Apostles by refining and rendering them subtle and contemptuous of all temporal and earthly things.(Idem)
Jesus says that the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you. (St. John xiv.) The Holy Ghost will illuminate the past so that in the present we might repent, believe, and understand. The Holy Ghost will bring the knowledge and love of Jesus Christ to life in our hearts as He speaks death to our sins. As members of Christ’s Mystical Body, the Church, the Holy Ghost longs to mold and shape us into the instruments of His unselfconscious holiness. The Church is neither new nor old, but eternal….For her Pentecost is continually repeating herself, making all things new, (Pentecost: R. Knox) for those who know that they can be perfected and made new only by God’s Holy Spirit, and so long as they have not forgotten how to be sorry. (Repentance: O. Chambers)
And on this day let us remember, with the Apostles, that if a man speaks in a tongue that is unknown to him, it is sure indication that someone else is speaking through his mouth. (Claudel, ‘I Believe’) If the Holy Ghost begins to speak through us, Christ Jesus Himself will be heard, and Christianity’s past will no longer be dead but alive in a present that is redeeming the time for a future when the wonderful works of God shall be crowned with glory. Amen.
Let us look into the…the sending of the Holy Spirit, which is marvelous and unknown to us, because the Holy Spirit is sent without needing to be sent, without change of Himself, without subjection, and without separation.
I say, first, the Holy Spirit is sent without His needing to be sent. When someone is sent to a place so that an event may happen which could not happen unless he were sent, this would be a sending out of necessity. But this has no place in the sending of the Holy Spirit, whom the Book of Wisdom describes as having every power, beholding all things. (Wis. 7:23).
There is no compulsion, force, or need that presses upon God the Holy Spirit. Otherwise He would not be God. Necessity is contrary to the freedom and liberty that defines God’s nature. Necessity cannot be used in characterizing God’s nature because it implies imperfection, impotence, and ignorance. It implies that God needs to do or to have something more than Himself to be perfect. If it were necessary for the Holy Ghost to be sent, He would be determined by something other than Himself, which is absurd.
What, then, is the reason for the sending of the Holy Spirit? Our neediness; and the necessity of this neediness of ours comes partly from human nature's dignity, and partly from its deficiency. For the rational creature excels other creatures because it can actually reach the enjoyment of God, which no other earthly creature can do. The Lord is my portion, said my soul (Lam. 3:24). Some seek their portion in this world, such as those who seek worldly honor or dignity. But the Psalmist says: It is good for me to cling to God" (Ps. 72:28)
God the Holy Spirit is sent because of man’s necessity. He is sent because man is made to be dignified. He is made in the Image and Likeness of God and so the Holy Ghost is sent in order to perfect what is wanting in fallen human nature. Because man has disobeyed God, he has fallen and is deficient in that wisdom, power, and love that ensures unbreakable union and communion with God. Man can, potentially, reach the enjoyment of God. He was made to do so through his own created knowledge and love. But most men seek their happiness and joy in things, possessions, riches, treasures, ambition, honor, and the praise of men, and thus they disregard their true potential. The man of God seeks to ‘cling to God’ because his true joy comes from God alone and the unmerited Grace that He offers.
You should consider that all things that are moved to some end must have something moving them toward that end. Those that are moved to a natural end have a mover in nature; but those that are moved to a supernatural end, namely to the enjoyment of God, must have a supernatural mover. Now, nothing can lead us to our end unless two things are presupposed, for someone is led to an end by two things—knowledge and love. The kind of knowledge in question is supernatural: No eye hath seen, nor ear heard, nor hath it arisen in the heart of man, what God hath prepared for those who love Him. (1 Cor. 2:9) Never have they heard, nor perceived with ears, nor has eye seen, O God, without Thee, what Thou hast prepared for those who await Thee. (Is. 64:4)
No creature can move itself to its end. It has not created itself and thus does not possess the adequate knowledge of the cause that enables it to reach its end. Rather, all things are moved by a mover who knows the cause that will lead to the intended end in the perfection of each nature. Those who are moved to natural ends have a natural mover or cause that is greater than themselves. Those who are moved to supernatural ends must have a supernatural cause. Of course the cause of both movers is supernatural and thus God. But to move to his respective end, man needs to be moved by supernatural knowledge and love. Man is made for God and thus God’s knowledge alone can lead man to an end, which he cannot imagine, and thus cannot fully deserve or desire.
Now, whatever a man knows, he knows either by discovering it himself or by learning from another. Vision serves discovery and hearing serves learning, and for this reason it is said that eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, showing that it [the final end] altogether transcends human knowledge. It exceeds human desire, too, and that is why Scripture says: nor hath it arisen in the heart of man.
Man’s final end transcends his experience and thus is not yet the object of his vision and understanding. Because he does not know the nature and essence of his end, man cannot desire or love it completely. God alone knows and comprehends man’s end. To be sure, here we are not saying that man cannot come to the knowledge of God’s existence, as what is radically other than what is found in creation. Man can come to know that God exists, and can even to some extent imitate the God he does know. But here we speak of man’s end with God or man’s ultimate union and communion with the God he knows.
How, then, is man led to know it? It was necessary for heavenly secrets to be made known to men; it was necessary for the Holy Spirit to be invisibly sent, in order to move man's affections so that he may tend toward that end. And thus it says: Eye hath not seen. How, then, do we know? God hath revealed it to us through His Spirit. For the Spirit examineth all things, even the deep things of God. (1 Cor. 2:10). Who would be able to know Thy thought [sensum], unless Thou gavest wisdom and sent the Holy Spirit from the Most High? (Wis. 9:17) Therefore the Holy Spirit is sent not owing to any need of His, but for the sake of our benefit.
So the Holy Spirit comes to redeem and sanctify man’s limited reason and vision, and desire and love. The Holy Spirit has come to the priests, prophets, and kings of the Old Testament in order to illuminate their minds to the coming of the Saviour. The Holy Spirit comes to those men of faith who desire final and unbreakable union with God. The Holy Spirit comes to bless and sanctify the earthy mission of God’s Logos as Flesh, Jesus Christ. The Holy Spirit comes to incorporate the Apostles and others in the new Body of Christ, which He forms and molds out of God’s Word and the flesh of those who believe. The Holy Spirit then generates faith, hope, and love in the hearts and minds of the faithful. He comes out of love and compassion to meet a need that man cannot generate without this Grace.
Again, the sending takes place without any change in Himself. There is change when a messenger is sent from place to place, but the Holy Spirit is sent without any change of place because He is the true God, unchangeable. While remaining in Himself, He renews all things. (Wis. 7:27) How, then, is He sent? He draws us to Himself, and in that way He is said to be sent, as the sun is said to be sent to someone when he comes to share in the sun's brightness. So it is with the Holy Spirit, and for this reason Scripture says about uncreated Wisdom: Send her from the heavens and from the seat of Thy greatness, that she may be with me. (Wis. 9:10) Again: He hath sent His own Spirit, crying out Abba, Father. (Gal. 4:5). These sendings are diffused throughout all the nations (Wis. 7:27) and are carried into holy souls. When the fullness of time had come, the Son of God was sent in the flesh (Gal. 4:4), and thus it was becoming that the Holy Spirit, too, be visibly sent—but not in such a way that He took up a created nature into the unity of His Person, as the Son did with human nature.
The Holy Spirit comes to man without any change in His Person. He is unchangeable and impassible. He ‘renews all things’ while remaining Himself. He draws man then into His sanctifying activity and motion. He draws man into His life, light, and love. The Holy Spirit is sent just as the Son of God was sent. The Spirit, however, is not sent in the same way that the Word of God or the Son was sent. The Son took up created human nature into His Person and thus was God’s Logos or Wisdom as flesh. The Spirit intends to enable the same Word to be made flesh in the hearts of all believers. In order for men to become the sons and daughters of God, the Holy Spirit must conceive, birth, and grow God’s Word in men’s hearts and souls, that they might become living members of Christ’s Mystical Body. The Holy Spirit enables the Word made flesh in man to cry ‘Abba, Father.’
Again, the Holy Spirit is sent without subjection. Servants are sent by lords because they are subject to them. It was for this reason that certain heretics falsely believed that the Son and the Holy Spirit were lesser than the Father, namely, because they were sent by Him. But the Holy Spirit makes us free, and therefore He is no servant. He is sent by His own judgment, for the Spirit blows where He wills (Jn. 3:8), and He is said to be sent only on account of the Father's identity as origin. We sometimes find [Scripture saying] that the Holy Spirit is sent by the Father, sometimes by the Son; but the Greeks do violence to this truth [in hoc faciunt uim], for they say that the Holy Spirit proceeds only from the Father, not from the Son, and in saying this they proceed in a simplistic manner [ruditer].Where the Son speaks of the sending of the Holy Spirit, he adjoins the Son to the Father or the Father to the Son, for our Lord speaks in one place of the Comforter, whom the Father will send in my name (Jn. 14:26), and in another place He says: When the Comforter comes, whom I will send to you from the Father (Jn. 15:26). From the Father indicates, therefore, authority of origin.
The Holy Spirit is not compelled to come, for then He would be the slave, servant, or subject of God the Father. There is a tendency towards subordinationism in the thought of the heretics and even in the Eastern Orthodox churches. But Thomas rightly shows that view to be simplistic at best and heretical at worst. The Father and the Son love each other through the Holy Spirit. This same Holy Spirit comes to man in order to incorporate him into the life of the Blessed Trinity. The Holy Spirit brings alive the Word of the Father. Thus the Holy Spirit shares the Father’s original love as His everlastingly expressed Word of love. The Holy Spirit shares the Father’s original wisdom as His everlastingly communicated Word of wisdom. The Holy Spirit intends that we should be reconciled to the Father through the Son, and thus He intends to replicate the Incarnation in the members of Christ’s new Body. ‘Being sent’ for the Holy Spirit is not a movement of compulsion but of desire on the part of the one who is the exchange of desire that the Father and the Son eternally express.
Again, the Holy Spirit is sent without separation, because the Spirit of unity excludes separation. Hence the Apostle urges: Take good care to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. (Eph. 4:3)The Holy Spirit gathers together [congregat], as we are taught in John's Gospel [when Jesus prays to the Father]: That they may be one in us, through the unity of the Holy Spirit, as we also are one. (Jn. 17:21-22). This union is begun in the present through grace, and will be consummated in the future through glory, to which may He lead us, who together with the Father.
The Holy Spirit desires to bring us into unity with the Father and the Son. He intends that we should be incorporated into that unity beginning here and now through new life in the Church. The Holy Spirit intends that the wisdom, power, and love that the Father begets in the Son, should be begotten in us. The Holy Spirit intends that the wisdom, power, and love that characterize the Son’s filial responsive love for the Father should be begotten in us also. Thus the Holy Spirit desires that we should submit to the rule and governance of the Father through the wisdom, power, and love of the Son. The union that the Holy Spirit engenders in the redeemed of the Church must be free of all division, separation, censorious judgment, and malice. The union that the Holy Spirit engenders in us must be full of mercy, compassion, pity, forgiveness, long suffering, patience, humility, and meekness. The union that the Holy Spirit engenders in us must be accepted with all gratitude as what God freely gives, without compulsion, without necessity, and without any merit or deserving on our part. The Holy Spirit longs to bring us alive to God through Jesus Christ our Lord so that the love of God and love of neighbor might be perfected in us. Amen.
Potency and Act
Why do you have such trouble with the Word being made flesh? Is not the Word made flesh whenever you move out of ignorance and into knowledge, out of mental and intellectual darkness and into light? Do you really think that the knowledge and truth of things only come into existence with your discovery of their respective truths? If you do, you are irrational. What is there, is waiting for your discovery of it -the Word or Wisdom that enlivens, defines, and moves all things to their appointed ends. What you discover has being and meaning from pure being and meaning in God's thinking of it, through His Word. So the Word is made flesh whenever you move from faith, opinion, conjecture, or what claims your assent to move into what you do not yet possess. When you possess it, your mind is illuminated and you have come into possession not just of being but of being as meaning or being as known. You have something in faith, opinion, conjecture, or as a rational hunch of what it might or might not be or mean. You are on the way to knowledge. So you have potential knowledge. Next you find yourself in possession of meaning, and the truth is actualized. This is God's understanding of it through His Logos and Nomos -His Reason and His Law.
But you need a mover to move you from potency into act. You need a cause that will bring your mind from faith into reason. That mover is God. Now, to be sure, you are right, in fallen and limited human nature the Word is made flesh only imperfectly. The knowledge you come to possess is not yet perfect. You are not God; you don't know all things. But when the Word was made flesh in Jesus Christ, Christ did not have to know all things either. He was interested in bringing men from human darkness into God's light, from ignorance into knowledge, from sin into righteousness. So the Word is made flesh in Jesus Christ for the purposes of sanctification and salvation. He did not need to know everything from the Divine standpoint perfectly since that would have made his assumption of human nature incomplete. What I mean is that His Divinity would have destroyed His true humanity. He knew as a human being in perfect obedience to the Word that He is. What he knew as a human being was all that is necessary for perfect human obedience to the Divine Father's Word. The Word was made flesh in order to reconcile human nature to Divine Being. So the Word made flesh as Christ's human will obeyed His Divine will. The Word was made flesh as His human nature submitted itself voluntarily to the Logos and Nomos of the Father, with which He is always one. At every stage of His human nature then Christ is the Word being made flesh. In the period of His Incarnation, every phase of human nature is redeemed and reconciled to the Father according to the perfection of its proper created phase of development.
Human life itself always bears witness to God's Word being made flesh. On the side of truth and wisdom, whenever a man discovers some part of the truth, God's Word is made flesh in him -God's Logos and Nomos are, to some extent, defining and ruling his life. On the side of error and foolishness, whenever a man chooses to remain in ignorance and darkness, the Word is made flesh as what is potentially present to the heart and mind but rejected or denied -God's Logos and Nomos are present but ineffectual and dormant. Man is made in the image and likeness of God. God's Word is His Wisdom and is ever present to man's mind as what can be discovered to be Logos and Nomos in nature and man's unity with it through thinking. Logos and Nomos made flesh really shouldn't that unbelievable. It is merely the perfection of the nature which, even as fallen, reveals the Word made flesh in the usual course of its existence. The added benefit is, of course, that the Word made flesh in Jesus Christ now invites us into His victory over all that tries to reject, deny, and kill Him. Christ invites us into His perfect humanity and promises to us that by His Grace alone we too can become the servants of His Divinity. This is, of course, always a potentiality while we inhabit these fallen houses of clay. But hadn't we better start letting Christ actualize the potential of His Logos and Nomos in our lives? If we don't, then we shall remain only and always purely potential. And as we all know, pure potentiality leads only to words and laws without meaning and purpose, or into....
Christ's Ascension is therefore also our own, upon the glory of the Head rests the hope of the body. On this holy day, we have received not only the assurance of entering into possession of eternal glory, but we have already entered into the heights of heaven with Christ Jesus.
(Leo, Sermon 1 De Ascensione Domini c. iv)
This is the first Sunday after the Ascension. We find ourselves situated between our Lord's Ascension back to the Father and the coming of the Holy Ghost at Pentecost or Whitsunday, which we celebrate next Sunday. Today we must meditate upon the Ascension and find in it a necessary devotion that prepares us for the promise of a new coming made to the Apostles in today's Gospel. Ascension is that day on which the church celebrates the return of the Son of God to Our Heavenly Father. On Ascension Day our Lord's earthly sojourn comes to a close. His earthly life and mission began when He was conceived by the Holy Ghost and born of the Virgin Mary. He lived, He taught, He healed, He was rejected, He suffered, He died, and He rose again from death. Nonetheless from the time of His Resurrection to His Ascension His human nature is transfigured. He is in possession of a spiritual body, transparent, obedient to the Spirit, unconstrained and lightsome, an apt and natural instrument for the salvation He now intends to foment in all others. (The Meaning of Man: Mouroux, p. 89)
Romano Guardini tells us that in Christ’s death on the cross, Jesus’ temporal life comes to an end, but not His life itself. He had been incorporated into terrestrial existence, submitting to its conditions, bound by its limitations. When He is in one place, he is not simultaneously elsewhere; what he does at one moment is not done also at another. Event follows event. (The Lord: R.G. p. 427) Easter’s Resurrection changes all of that. The concrete human is now joined to an indestructible essence. (Idem) Jesus is with His friends again but not subject to terrestrial power, the laws of government, or the laws of nature. He is here and there; He appears and disappears. He is unrecognizable and then recognized in an as earthly [and seemingly insignificant] gesture as the breaking bread. We feel in the lines how He pauses on the sill between eternity and time. (Idem) Christ is transfigured, and now temptation, evil, and corruption cannot touch Him. He is Risen Man. He moves at once in and out of events that are concurrent but isolated, united to all simultaneously in the event that He is.
Christ has been the victim of the best that sin in man can do, and now He has broken its chains, condemned its curse, and reversed the course of its rule in human life. Therefore, in His Ascension which we contemplate today, human mortality is redeemed. Christ has won the victory over sin, death, and Satan. Man’s end is found in His beginning, in the Father who is the source and origin of all truth, happiness, and joy. St. Peter says today that The end of all [other] things is at hand. (1 St. Peter iv. 7) In Jesus Christ, the power of human sin – the devil's deceit, is overcome, subdued, and brought to an end. The desire to tamper with God's eternal law for all creation (although never possible) is revealed to be futile, impotent, pointless, and ephemeral. In Jesus Christ, God has brought all sin to death. Satan flees and men’s hearts [should fail] them for fear, and for looking after those things which are coming on the earth: for the powers of heaven [are] shaken. (St. Luke xxi. 26) Now the relationship between the Apostles and their Lord must change. Now there is no excuse for disobedience to God. Now there is no justification for sin. God Himself has confronted and crucified sin in the human flesh of His own dear Son. Through that resolute and passionate determination to come closer than any man ever had or could to the corruption of sin, He has felt its power acutely, and because He is God in Man, has overcome it perfectly. In Jesus Christ alone, the eternal life, light, and love of God have endured sin and revealed it to be utterly absurd and unsatisfying. In Jesus Christ alone sin is brought into death, death is brought into death, and Satan becomes progressively ineffectual and insignificant in the lives of the faithful.
In His Resurrection, Christ’s soul took back His body, penetrated it through and through, and made it spiritual. Instead of the body of lowliness, Christ now has the body of glory. The body sacrificed is now the body glorified. (The Meaning of Man: Mouroux, p. 89) Now as Christ the God-Man ascends to sit down on His throne in the Heaven of His Father, He will begin to become the Word made flesh in all times and all places, in one heart here and simultaneously in another heart there. He sits in heaven and yet will come alive in the hearts and souls of those who fear and love Him. He is in eternity yet in time, though differently from before, in an intimacy of becoming. (Guardini, Idem) Christ desires to become the effectual and operative principle – the way, the truth, and the life, that carries all men to their Divinely intended destiny. And yet whether He is accepted as such or not, the Ascension establishes His role as Judge. His innocent human life alone has earned Him right to weigh and measure all other men’s lives in relation to the Word made flesh that He is. Jesus says: Every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment. For by thy words thou shalt be justified, and by thy words thou shalt be condemned. (St. Matthew xii. 36, 37) Christ is God’s Word made flesh and for all flesh. From the seat of His ascended glory His Holy Spirit will reprove the world of sin, righteousness, and judgment. (St. John xvi. 8,9,10)
Again, with St. Peter:
The end of all things is at hand: be ye therefore sober, and watch unto prayer. And above all things have fervent charity among yourselves: for charity shall cover the multitude of sins. Use hospitality one to another without grudging. As every man hath received the gift, even so minister the same one to another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God. If any man speak, let him speak as the oracles of God…that God in all things may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom be praise and dominion forever and ever.
If we hope to be sanctified by the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, we must believe that our lives are now hidden with Christ in God. (Col. iii. 3) We must be vigilant and sober for [our]adversary the devil walketh about like a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour. (1 St. Peter v. 8) The Ascended Christ sings to us: Lift up your hearts! Our chorus replies: We lift them up unto the Lord! He yearns to embrace us in the arms of His ascended love so that the contagion of His benevolence might grow into forgiveness that is neither resentfully nor reluctantly offered to others. He longs that His ascended truth might be articulated through us as the oracles that tell of His future coming and judgment. For if His Holy Spirit is to descend into our hearts and souls, we must be lifted up above all things earthly and mundane, seeking those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God. (Col. iii. 3)
Ascension tide is all about worshipping and adoring the Saviour who invites us into intimate communion with Our Heavenly Father. Christ has completed His Father's mission. And now a new relationship emerges between His friends –the Apostles, their successors, you and me, and our God. As Father George Body, sometime Canon Missioner of Durham, has said:
‘They worshipped Him,’ - His very withdrawal from among them, His very elevation to the throne of God, was the development of new relations between the disciples and their Lord. As long as He was on the earth the worship was not the principle feature of their life; but as soon as He was withdrawn from them and seated at God's Right Hand in the heavenly places, the adoration of the Lamb - the worship of Jesus Incarnate, Crucified, Risen, Ascended, Enthroned, - the distinctive worship of the Christian Church, - began to be… where the Ascended Jesus is ever adored.
Ascension tide is the time of Adoration. In this time we worship and adore God’s own Son who has reconciled in Himself man to God and God to man. Today Christ tells us: When the Comforter is come, whom I will send unto you from the Father, even the Spirit of truth, which proceedeth from the Father, He shall testify of me: and ye also shall bear witness, because ye have been with me from the beginning. (St. John xv. 26, 27) So we must prepare our hearts for bearing witness to the glorious truth of Christ’s Ascension. From His seat on High He shall move us here below that others may come to see and understand His triumphant victory over all that hinders us from communion with the Father and that others might also find in His Person their own redeemed humanity. O God, my heart is ready, my heart is ready; I will sing, and give praise with the best member that I have… I will give thanks unto Thee, O Lord, among the peoples; I will sing praises among the nations. For thy mercy is greater than the heavens; and thy truth reacheth unto the clouds. (Ps. xviii. 1-4) Man and God are united once again. Heaven itself is stirred by the irruption of the Ascended God-Man. Angelic worship and adoration is radically refined. The Ascended Christ takes His seat with the Father and a new light illuminates the intellects of angels and men, a new adoration fills their spirits, a new song bursts forth from their lips, a new worship is begun, the worship of Jesus Christ. (Body, Idem) God is gone up with a merry noise: and the Lord with the sound of the trump. O sing praises, sing praises unto our God: O sing praises, sing praises unto our King. (Ps. xlvii. 5,6)
Today we find ourselves in that space between Ascension’s glory and Pentecost’s calling. Let us end with the poet’s desire for both:
But since he
That brightness soil'd,
His garments be
All dark and spoil'd,
And here are left as nothing worth,
Till the Refiners fire breaks forth.
Then comes He!
Whose mighty light
Made his clothes be
Like Heav'n, all bright;
The Fuller, whose pure blood did flow
To make stain'd man more white then snow.
And none else can
Bring bone to bone
And rebuild man,
And by His all subduing might
Make clay ascend more quick then light.
(Ascension Hymn: Henry Vaughn)
Acts 1:11. — ” Ye men of Galilee, why stand ye gazing up into heaven ?”
The Angels, in these words –firstly, reprove the wonder of the Apostles ; secondly, they assert the Ascension of the Lord; thirdly, they predict His return once more to earth
I. On the first head it is to be noted, that the Angels reproved the wonder of the Apostles in the words, ‘Why stand ye gazing up into heaven? Concerning which four points are to be noted:
Firstly, the Apostles were amazed at the Ascension, which was accomplished with so great glory and power, and about which also the Angels themselves were so zealous, asking Who is this?’(Isa 63:1). And remark the excellence of this Ascension, His difference from others who were taken from the earth. How great, indeed, is the contrast between our Blessed Lord and Enoch and Elijah.
The Apostles are amazed as what they have never before experienced. Christ is lifted up into Heaven. He assumes the nature of the old Man to bring sin, death, and Satan into their respective spiritual deaths. He is the new Man. He is more than Enoch and Elijah. He has been ‘here and there’ simultaneously in a transfigured body. He has been simultaneously in one place and another. Man’s experience of him differs according the respective natures that needed to be converted to His new and glorious being. He is supernatural and yet He eats and drinks. He is seen as Man and yet through the simple and commonplace breaking of bread His transfigured nature is seen and sensed. He is God and Man. He is no longer subject to the conditions of the temporal world. He is Man. He is more. He is God. The angels are more astounded than they were at His Incarnation. They have forgotten Adam’s original communion with God. They are astounded that God transfigured as Man can leave the earth and ascend into Heaven. But as they watch, they comprehend what is happening.
Secondly, the Apostles were grieving at His departure. The Great Comforter was going away from them. ‘Ye shall weep and lament, but the world shall rejoice.’ (John 16:20); ‘Woe, woe is me, my son, why did we send thee to go to a strange country; the light of our eyes’ (Tobit 10: 4).
The Apostles are men who grieve at His going from them. They have just become accustomed to His Resurrected nature. They are getting used to His new real presence in their midst. And yet they cannot hold on to Him in this way. This way is at home only in Heaven. This is the way that they too must be given at the General Resurrection and on the day of Judgment. But for now He must leave and they must remain. They must grieve the loss of Him in one way before He comes to them in another. For them to subsist spiritually in the Person of the Son, they must be one with Him in the Person of the Spirit. The Apostles are reproved, however, since once the Angels realize what is happening, they must prepare the Apostles for their future life in and through the Ascended Christ, as He becomes their Head in order to make them the members of His body in time and space.
Thirdly, the Apostles were fearing because of the persecutions which they expected from the world, since they were left alone amidst those tribulations of the world which Jesus had already spoken to them about. ‘In the world ye shall have tribulation.’ (John 16:22).
The Apostles fear because they have no strength in themselves to help themselves against the promised assaults of the world, the flesh, and the devil. They have not yet learned what true union with their Master and Lord means. They must be weaned from His material tangibility and all the benefits which have issued forth from it. But they are preparing for a wholly new and unheard of existence. They are preparing to be one with God’s Word in a way that has not been experienced by man since before the Fall. They are naturally afraid and fearful because they have not yet learned to embrace Jesus Christ in their hearts and souls.
Fourthly, the Apostles were confiding in their Lords promises to them. ‘I go to my Father’ by the substruction of My Body: ‘I will see you again, and your heart shall rejoice’ (John 16:22). I will come again to you through the mission of the Holy Ghost: ‘I will pray the Father, and He shall give you another Comforter’ (John 16:16); ‘Lo! I am with you always, even unto the end of the ages.’ (Matt 28:20).
The Apostles are reproved because they have forgotten what Jesus had said to them during His earthly ministry and particularly in His Last Supper discourses. They should remember that Jesus has already told them of His ultimate departure. That He would not leave them comfortless. That they would see Him again. That He would send another Comforter. That He would never leave nor forsake them. And, yet, they have misunderstood His meaning. They thought that He was talking of His Resurrection. They did not understand that His Resurrection is a precursor to His Ascension.
II. On the second head it is to be noted, that the Angels assert the Ascension of the Lord: ‘This same Jesus Which is taken up from you into heaven ;”’about which four things are to be noted.
Firstly, Jesus ascended from earth in the sight of the Apostles, who represented the earth.
The Angels assert that Christ has ascended into heaven. From the Apostles standpoint He indeed goes up and disappears. But the Angles describe and explicate the nature of this ascent. The Apostles are of the earth, earthy. And so the Angels must tell them that the same Christ who ascends will come to them in life manner as He has ascended. What they mean is, first, in a spiritual sense, that the Holy Spirit lifts Him into Heaven and the Holy Spirit will bring Him back to them, though in a different form, inwardly and spiritually. Second, what they mean is that Christ will come again in glory, in His transfigured state, to judge both the quick and the dead.
Secondly, Jesus ascended into heaven. ‘Two men stood by them in white apparel.’ These Angels were the representatives of and witnesses from heaven.
Once the angels understand what is happening, they witness to the truth. They understand what is happening since their natural habitat is heaven. So they are aware of and have sensed the entry of Christ into their midst. And thus they reveal this truth to the Apostles who could not see beyond the clouds.
Thirdly, Jesus ascended through the clouds. ‘A cloud received Him out of their sight.’ This cloud represents the Almighty Father into Whose presence the Son ascended. The cloud is the witness of God the Father.
The cloud is the presence of the Father into which Christ is now moving. This represents God’s nature. Beyond and into it no man can go as yet. Christ must lead the way. The way that He is, is the only way into the Father’s cloudy presence. ‘No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him.’ (St. John i. 18) So Christ returns to the Father in order that from within the unity of man with God in Himself, He might begin to work out our salvation.
Fourthly, Jesus ascended in the act of blessing. ‘He lifted up His hands and blessed them; while He blessed them He was parted from them and carried up into heaven’ (Luke 24:51). Our Lord was so His own witness that He ascended in His flesh — in that very flesh in which He had been crucified, and in which also He rose from the dead.
Apart from the Angels’ testimony and the perceivable facts, Christ has blessed His friends in departing. He not only moves back to the Father but only after He has blessed them with His wounded hands. In so doing, He is leaving them with that portion of His Holy Spirit that will give them patience, and an increase of faith, hope, and love as they wait for His immanent coming at Pentecost. They are blessed by His wounded hands that they might be stirred all the more to repent prior to His Holy Spirit’s descent.
These four witnesses — earth, heaven, God the Father, and God the Son— establish the truth of the Ascension of the Lord.
Men are the earth and they witness the Ascension. The Father is the Clouds, and He embraces His Son’s Ascension. The Son Himself blesses the earth and goes into the clouds and thus joins earth to heaven, and Man to God.
III. On the third head it is to be noted, that the Angels predict our Blessed Lord’s return to earth. ‘He shall so come in like manner as ye have seen Him go into heaven.
Of our Lord’s coming to judgment four things are to be noted as in regard to His Ascension.
Firstly, the earth shall witness it, for the Judge will be seen alike by the righteous and the wicked. ‘They shall see the Son of Man’ (Matt 24:30).
At the Second Coming the Lord will come to judge both the quick and the dead. The Angels thus predict the finality of Christ’s Incarnational Mission for all men. All men will be judged. Those who have obeyed Jesus will ascend into the life eternal. Those who have disobeyed Jesus will descend into the life infernal.
Secondly, God shall bear witness to it, for the Judge will be ‘coming in the clouds.
Christ will come from and through the Father to judge all men. The Father’s will is to be accomplished completely and fairly. It must be accomplished completely since every act of will in a man’s life matters and thus must be measured it the scales of eternal truth. It must be accomplished fairly since God must reward His rational free-willing creatures with precisely what they have longed for, desired, and chosen. God will never force His salvation on anyone. Thus those who have desired to become His sons through the Sonship of Christ will receive salvation, and those do not want Him and have rejected His love will receive an eternity of life without Him.
Thirdly, with His hands raised for smiting sinners. ‘With power and great glory.’ (id.)
With His own wounded hands Christ will witness to His Ascension. Upon those who desire His sanctification His wounded hands will bless and save. Over those who have rejected Him, the hands of blessing will smite the sinners and carry them into Hell. The power and great glory that His hands have won for man’s redemption will be the means of either saving and embracing some for Heaven or smiting and banishing others into Hell.
Fourthly, with holy Angels as His witnesses standing around Him, ‘Whom they shall precede, bearing the insignia of His Passion.’ ‘And He shall send His Angels with a great sound of a trumpet.’
The angels shall go before Christ to herald the final truth of His Passion and Resurrection. They will herald the good news of Christ’s victory over sin, death, and Satan. They will sound the trumpet, and the dead shall be raised, some to Heaven and some into Hell. Both groups shall be raised from the temporal to the eternal. Some will be raised up into an eternity of joy and the other into an eternity of misery. It is said, ‘they shall be raised’ because eternity, no matter what the type, is final and most perfect.
These things have I spoken unto you, that in my ye might
have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation
but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.
(St. John xvi. 33)
Today we find ourselves on the Fifth and final Sunday of the Easter Season. Today is called Rogation Sunday because our English word is derived from the Latin word rogare, and it means to petiton, ask, or supplicate. The tradition of Rogation Sunday hails from the 4th century and was standardized in the Latin Church by Pope Gregory in the 6th century. It was originally a Roman festival called Robigalia, which comes from robigo – meaning wheat rust, a grain disease, against which pious pagans petitioned the gods by sacrificing a dog to protect their fields. To this day, in England, on Rogation Sunday clergymen and their flocks process around the parish boundaries to bless the crops and pray for fruitful harvest.
But the original purpose of Rogation Sunday goes back to Jesus’ opening words in today’s Gospel: Whatsoever ye shall ask the Father in my name, He will give it you. (St. John xvi.) Jesus’ words follow the prophesy of His eventual Ascension back to the Father, where He says, In that day, ye shall ask me nothing. (Ibid, 23) Jesus was preparing His Disciples for that new risen life that He would win for them. But its possession, as we learned last week, would depend upon the coming of the Holy Spirit. What Jesus teaches us today then is that we must ask the Father in or through His Name for the Holy Spirit. Jesus is the Word made flesh through whom we pray and supplicate the Father. This is why we end every prayer with through Jesus Christ our Lord. Hitherto have ye asked nothing in my name: ask, and ye shall receive, that your joy may be full. (Ibid, 24)
Notice how Jesus concludes His exhortation about asking the Father with an intended effect – that your joy may be full. (Idem) Eastertide is all about learning to ask for what shall fulfill our heart’s deepest desire – the fullness of joy. For what else is Eastertide about than the resurrection from sin, death, and Satan and the pursuit of the joy that God has in store for us? But to become living members of Christ’s Risen Body, we must set our sights on those things which are above and not things of the earth. (Col. iii. 2) We do so with the firmest faith in the perfectly salvific and redeeming life of Jesus Christ. The custom of asking God’s blessing upon the agricultural harvest is a recognition that God’s blessing alone ensures that our bodies are fed. But at the end of the day, our Rogation prayers really ought to have more to do with asking the Father’s blessing on the plantation, fertilization, and cultivation of spiritual seeds in our souls. We must pray that His Holy Spirit will grow these spiritual embryonic beginnings into roots that anchor us in the life of the Risen Christ.
But if we are to ask God for those things that will ensure our salvation, first we must be prepared to have a personal relationship with Him. God our Heavenly Father is the origin and source of eternal joy, and so we should not expect to find His joy in the end if we have not become accustomed to His presence habitually beginning here and now. So what we must endeavor to establish is a regular routine of solitary and contemplative prayer that brings us into constant communication with our Father. Bishop K.E. Kirk has this to say about it:
Contemplation, or the Prayer of Simplicity or Quiet, is the highest interior activity of the spiritual life - indeed, it aims not at being an activity at all, but at reducing the soul to a purely passive condition in which it may listen, unimpeded by thoughts of self or the cares of the world, to the voice of God alone. 'As rest is the end of motion so contemplation is
the end of all other…internal and external exercises; for to this end, by long discourse and much practice of affection, the soul inquires and tends to a worthy object that she may quietly contemplate it and...repose with contentment in it.' (Some Principles of Moral Theology, p. 163)
Thus, stillness and quiet are necessary preconditions for the relationship that Jesus desires for us to have with our Heavenly Father. For, if in stillness and quiet we become passively open to God’s presence alone, His will and way will become evident to us. Jesus says today, The time is coming when I shall no longer speak to you in parables, but I will tell you plainly of the Father. (Ibid, 25) In stillness and quiet God will show us plainly the reason for which His Word was made flesh in Jesus Christ. I came forth from the Father, Jesus says. St. Thomas tells us that this was for three reasons: (1) That He might manifest the Father in the world: ‘No man hath seen God at any time; the Only Begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, He hath declared Him.’ (St. John i. 18) (2) To declare His Father's will to us: ‘All things that I have heard of My Father I have made known unto you.’ (St. John xv. 15) (3) That He might show the Father's love towards us: ‘God so loved the world that He gave His Only Begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him….’ (St. John iii. 16) [Easter Homilies: XII] Jesus is the manifestation to men of God the Father’s will to save all men through His love. In stillness and quiet, if we ask, God will show us also that His love was at work not only in Christ’s coming but also in His necessary departure. Christ must leave us, according to St. Thomas, because by His leaving He gives us an example. ‘Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world.’ (1 St. John ii. 15) ‘Ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world.’ (St. John xv. 19) He must leave us and ascend to the Father so (1) That he might intercede with Him for us: ‘I will pray the Father.’ (St. John xiv. 16) (2) That He might give to us the Holy Spirit: ‘If I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you; but if I depart, I will send Him unto you.’ (St. John xvi. 7) (3) That He might prepare for us a place with the Father: ‘I go to prepare a place for you.’ (St. John xiv. 2) To which place may He lead us. (Idem) We can be sanctified and saved only when we seek those things which are above, through Jesus’ unending intercession for us, through the coming of His Spirit into our souls, as His desire and power congeal to carry us to the place He is preparing for us. Then, in the midst of any or all tribulation, we can be of good cheer, because we live in and through His victory – His overcoming of the world. (Ibid, 33)
Of course, we must also ask the Father to enable us to see to what extent we reflect Jesus Christ, His Word made flesh, in every step of our spiritual journey. God’s Word has been spoken through Jesus Christ in order that we might not only hear it, but obey it and live by it (St. James i. 22), as St. James says this morning. In the Word of God we should see ourselves. We must come to see what we are not by reason of sin. We must come to see what we can become if God’s Word is spoken into our lives and we are obedient to Him. St. James says that we must be willing to spend enough time – a lifetime in fact, with God’s Word, Jesus Christ, so that the teaching that He embodies leaves a stamp on our souls. Monsignor Knox tells us that St. James’ example about a being a hearer of God’s Word and not a doer – the man who looks in the mirror and forgets what manner of man he is, is much like someone who listens carefully to a reading of Thomas a Kempis’ ‘Imitation of Christ’. He understands it and thinks that the book is really about Christians like himself – he finds a reflection of himself in it. [But] it is only if he will give a good long look at our Lord’s teaching that this self-satisfied person will see the real picture which it conveys, very different indeed from the ‘self-portrait’ that he first found in it! (Epistles and Gospels: Know, p. 138) If God’s Word is heard but not obeyed, then the Christian deludes himself into thinking that he can be faithful to Christ the Word without the transformative and redemptive operations of the Holy Spirit within his soul. The man who looks conscientiously into the Word is called to find in it the perfect law of liberty, and [to continue] therein, he not being a forgetful hearer but a doer of the work that the Word commands, [so that] he [might] be blessed. (Ibid, 25)
In this morning’s Collect we acknowledge that all good things come from God. So we pray, Grant to us thy humble servants, that by thy holy inspiration we may think those things that are good, and by thy merciful guiding may perform the same, and again, through Jesus Christ our Lord. (Collect Rogation Sunday) First, we ask the Holy Spirit to inspire us to think about God’s goodness. Second, we pray for His Grace to perfect the same in our lives, being not only hearers of the Word but also doers of the [His] work. So real religion calls us to be still and silent, hearing and receiving the Word of God that longs to change our lives through His Holy Spirit. In humility we remember that If any man among [us] seem to be religious, and bridleth not his tongue, but deceiveth his own heart, this man’s religion is vain. The Holy Spirit helps us to remember that, Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep [ourselves] unspotted from the world. (Ibid, 26, 27)
In closing, on this Rogation Sunday, our Asking and Praying Sunday, let us listen to the wisdom of Mother Teresa, whose silent waiting upon Christ the Word moved her to overcome the world through His Risen love:
In the silence of the heart God speaks. If you face God in prayer and silence, God will speak to you. Then you will know that you are nothing. It is only when you realize your nothingness, your emptiness, that God can fill you with Himself (–with His Holy Spirit.) Souls of prayer are souls of great silence.
(Mother Teresa, In the Heart of the World: Thoughts, Stories and Prayers)
Christ's Coming and Going
I came forth from the Father, and am come into the world: again I leave the world, and go to the Father. (St. John xvi. 28)
FOUR considerations are suggested by these words. Firstly, His going from the Father: ‘I came forth from the Father.’ His going forth from the Father was to make Himself visible. Secondly, His advent in the world: I am come into the world. Thirdly, His departure from the world: ‘Again I leave the world.’ Fourthly, His ascension to the Father: ‘And I go to the Father.’
God the Father reveals His wisdom, power, and love through His Word made flesh Jesus Christ. Through the humanity of God’s Word made flesh we discover the logos, reason, meaning, principle, and definition of perfect human life in relation to God the Father. God’s wisdom is His Word, for it rule and governs the humanity of Jesus because Jesus wills it to be so. God’s power is His Word, for ‘He spake the Word and they were made,’(Ps. xxxiii. 9) and this power enables Jesus to accomplish the Father’s will alone. God’s love is His Word, for this love so rules the heart of Jesus that He longs to bear man’s burden of sin and lovingly bring it to death.
(2) To declare His Father's will to us: ‘All things that I have heard of My Father I have made known unto you.’ (St. John xv. 15)
Jesus speaks only what He hears from the Father. The Father intends to be heard and so He communicates to the world through His Word as flesh. What the Person of the Word communicates through His earthly nature is first and foremost the Father’s desire for all men’s salvation. This Word is communicated sometimes silently, sometimes verbally, and sometimes miraculously. With regard to the first He gives man a pattern and example of humility, meekness, fear of the Lord, and the refusal to engage evil. With regard to the second He teaches all men the truth and meaning of His mission. With regard to the third He shows that the forgiveness of sins is rooted and grounded in the power of the Almighty Father.
(3) That He might show the Father's love towards us: ‘God so loved the world that He gave His Only Begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him.’ (St. John iii. 16)
This Word of God as flesh in Jesus Christ reveals to the world the yearning, longing, hungering, thirsting, and craving of the Father for man’s salvation. Perfect passionate love is revealed by the Father through Jesus for His people. Perfect passionate love is revealed by the Son on behalf of all people for the Father. This is that uninterrupted and unceasing desire of God for His creation and the desire of Man for His God. In Jesus Christ the passion is offered and not forced as what alone can save Man. In Jesus Christ the love is revealed as what must be the cornerstone and foundation of any love for God. Man can love God again only through that perfect love of the Father that is found in the Son’s self-abnegation and self-emptying. The Son in turn will share His love with all men that they too might die to themselves and come alive to God.
Christ’s Advent is the coming of the Life, Light, and Love of the Father. This is the eternal life that has lovingly given light to all other things. This is the Light that is the Life of the world. ‘In him was life; and the life was the light of men. And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.’ (St. John i. 4,5) This Light explains the meaning of all things. This Light enables man to give nature a voice and to find its utility in the cause of salvation. In this Light man knows his sin, repents, and finds illumination sufficient to embrace the Light of new life.
(2) That He might reconcile it to God the Father. ‘God was in Christ reconciling the world unto Himself.’ (2 Cor. v. 19)
The meaning and mission of Jesus Christ –the Life, Light, and Love of the Father, are to reconcile the world to God the Father. Christ has come to redeem the creation so that nature, man, and God might once again live in unity and harmony. Nature has never sinned but “feels” the disruption caused by the Adam’s Fall. There is tension, division, separation, and alienation in the relations of nature, man, and God. Through Christ the three can be one once again.
(3) To deliver it from the power of the Devil: ‘Now is the judgment of this world: now shall the prince of this world be cast out.’ (St. John xii. 31) ‘God sent not His Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through Him might be saved.’ (S. John iii. 17)
God sends His Son into the world in order to save the world from sin. The devil must be cast out of the world. This means that the devil must be cast out of the souls of the faithful, since in relation to God, he is meaningless and powerless. So Christ comes not to condemn creation or any creature. He does not come to condemn man to hell but to rescue him from it and carry him to heaven. And thus He offers Himself to us as the only way and means to salvation. So the creation is not destroyed but redeemed as Christ promises to send His Holy Spirit into the hearts of the faithful to cast out Satan and make room for the Word that He is.
III. On the third head it is to be noted, that Christ left the world for three reasons
(1) On account of its wickedness: ‘The whole world lieth in wickedness.’ (1 St. John v. 19)
The natural domicile of the God-Man is not earth but heaven. He will not effect His most successful work on earth but from the throne of His Ascension in Heaven. And thus Christ must leave because the best work that He shall do will be from the origin and fount of all truth, beauty, and goodness –Heaven. Also He must do His work from there because He is working from the invisible to the invisible. The visible realm is redeemed only by the invisible. He must work from Heaven in order to bring men’s souls into communion with their redeemed nature, found in Him, in Heavenly places. The soul that seeks salvation must lift its inner self above the earth to be moved by Christ from Heaven.
(2) On account of the perversity of its ingratitude: ‘If the world hate you, ye know that it hated Me before it hated you. (St. John xv. 18) What could be greater ingratitude than for the world to hate Him Who came to save it?’
Christ cannot remain on earth because of man’s hatred for Him. Lingering on in time and space and in an earthly manner would only frustrate the much more important work of men’s salvation that He will accomplish through His Holy Spirit. It is true enough that the world will hate His friends as much as it hated Him. But there will be more of them to hate once He infuses His Spirit into believers lives. At any rate, what is most important is that His earthly departure is necessary so that men might wonder, ponder, and study His mysterious presence in the lives of His followers.
(3) That by leaving the world He should give us an example: ‘Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world.’ (1 St. John ii. 15) ‘Ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world.’ (St. John xv. 19)
Christ must leave to prepare a place for us, that where He is we might be also. (St. John xiv. 3) Christ must leave us so that we know that our true native land, our patria, is in Heaven with the Father and not on earth. We must come to learn that this earthly existence is a gift from God through which we are given opportunity to discover our true natures in relation to His eternal wisdom, power, and love. We are chosen as those called to live out of and above this world. We cannot leave the world until God calls us. But while we are here we must remember that God has made us to live by His truth, beauty, and goodness. So we must see all creatures as made for God, to be used by us only in so far they enhance our conscious derivation from and dependence upon God. We are made for the vision and love of God. And thus we must follow Christ back to the Kingdom, beginning today.
IV. On the fourth head it is to be noted, that Christ ascended to the Father for three reasons.
(1) That he might intercede with Him for us: ‘I will pray the Father.’ (S. John xiv. 16)
We are still frail human flesh. We need a mediator and advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. (1 St. John ii. 1) He prays for us, that where He is, we might be also. He prays that we might embrace His Grace and allow His Holy Spirit to unite us with the Word that He is. (Idem)
(2) That He might give to us the Holy Spirit: ‘If I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you; but if I depart, I will send Him unto you.’ (S. John xvi. 7)
What must move us is what moved Jesus Christ to suffer and die for our salvation. What must move us is what moved Jesus Christ to rise for our justification. What we need most is to be moved by the Holy Spirit, through which the Father loves the Son and the Son loves and obeys the Father. What we need and desire is for the Holy Spirit to perfect the Word of the Father in our lives so that at last we may be saved.
(3) That He might prepare for us a place with the Father: ‘I go to prepare a place for you.’ (St. John xiv. 2) To which place may He lead us.
Christ is preparing for us a home in His Heaven. We must allow Him to depart from us in the flesh that He might acclimate our human nature to the definition and essence of His eternal being in Heaven through the Holy Spirit. He has gone to heaven before us to prepare for our final reconciliation through Him with the Father. From there, for now, let us let Him lead us there through His Holy Spirit.
The medicine for all the wounds of the soul, and the one propitiation for all the offenses of men, is to believe on Christ; nor can anyone be cleansed at all, whether from original sin which he derived from Adam, in whom all men have sinned… or from the sins which they have themselves added, not resisting the concupiscence of the flesh… unless by faith they are united and compacted into His Body, who was conceived without any enticement of the flesh and deadly pleasure, and whom His Mother nourished in her womb without sin, and ‘Who did no sin, neither was deceit found in His Mouth.’
St. Augustine of Hippo: Sermon 93
Eastertide is all about becoming members of the Resurrected Body of Christ. But such membership is of a kind that comes to us in an ordered way as we progressively discover the means that incorporate us into the true nature of Christ’s Resurrection. So in Eastertide we are called to learn about how to be made fuller and more complete members of the Christ’s Body. And to do so we must turn to the Church’s ancient lectionary. For in the ordered readings appointed for each Sunday in Easter we begin to understand the spiritual practices that ensure participation in the Body of the Risen Christ.
In today’s Gospel Jesus foretells of the three spiritual modes that are necessary to this process. The lection is taken from St. John’s Last Supper Discourses in which our Lord teaches about the future life of His disciples when He shall have ascended back to the Father. As we said last week, it was only when Christ had left the disciples that He would begin to expand, broaden, and enlarge His Body from Heaven back into the earth. Incorporation into His Risen Body – the Church, in time and space, is essential to salvation. But salvation is not the reward of mere external and visible membership in just another human institution. The proof of salvation is found when a man surrenders his understanding and desire to Christ the Word through the Holy Spirit.
So today Jesus tells the disciples of all ages what the Holy Spirit will do to make them members of His Mystical and Risen Body. First, He tells them that He must leave them. Yet not one of them asks Him where He is going. (St. John xvi. 5) Instead of enquiring after that which would comfort [them], as Matthew Henry says, [they] pore upon that which is melancholy. (Comm. St. John XVI) Like the men of all ages, they are consumed with their own immanent human loss and not with their ultimate heavenly gain. Jesus rebukes them. Nevertheless I tell you the truth; It is expedient for you that I go away: for if I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you; but if I depart, I will send him unto you. (Ibid,7) The unruly wills and affections of sinful men must be ordered and governed always by God’s Holy Spirit. Christ will not have men to be first and foremost attached to this world. Earthly affection is mostly unstable, unspiritual, and unsteady. Sorrow over earthly things betrays too much love for this world. Christ insists that the true gift of His Incarnation will be realized only when the Holy Spirit comes and begins to do in others what God has done in Him. Christ in the flesh could only be in one place and at one time; Christ in the Spirit can be in all places and at all times. (M. Henry. Idem.) I am come that they might have life, and have it more abundantly. (St. John x. 10)
So to come into possession of the Risen Life through which Christ intends to make His Disciples, men must first become conscious of their sin. Christ tells us that the Holy Ghost, the Comforter… when He is come… will reprove the world of sin. (Ibid, 7,8) To be convicted of sin is the first stage towards sanctification. St. Thomas says that we must be convicted of sin because we ought not to commit it. It brings many miseries… it deprives man of everlasting glory… and leads to eternal punishment. (T.A., Easter Homily: X) Jesus died for the sins of the whole world. Sin kills God’s Word in the flesh, first in the historical death of the Word made flesh, then, as always, in the hearts and souls of those who kill it in themselves and others. Sin kills God’s Word, Wisdom, Meaning, and Purpose in human life. And thus if it is not amputated and annihilated by the Holy Spirit, man cannot hope to be risen with Christ. The Spirit convinces [us] of the fact of sin, the fault of sin, the folly of sin… and the fruit of sin in [eternal] death [and punishment]. (M.H., Idem) So, for starters, to become members of the Risen Body of Christ, we must confess our sins and God will be faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (1 John i. 19)
But there is more. Christ desires that His Disciples who are dying to sin through His Holy Spirit should begin then to come alive in His Risen Body with the birth pangs that the same Spirit alone affords. So the Holy Spirit must continue to urge and inspire the hearts of the faithful. The Spirit will come, and when the Spirit is come, he will reprove the world of righteousness. (John xvi. 10) The Spirit will reveal that God's righteousness is found in Christ alone and that new life in His Risen Body must be moved and defined by His Word. St. Thomas says that righteousness brings true joy. ‘The judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether (Ps. xix. 8) Righteousness delivers a man from the perpetual death of sin. ‘He that followeth after righteousness and mercy findeth life. (Prov. xxi. 25) And righteousness leads to eternal joy. The Spirit will come, and in Christ’s Risen Body men will submit to the righteous One, Jesus the all holy and innocent, who has returned to the Father, and is the author and finisher of their faith. The Spirit will bring alive the righteousness of Jesus Christ in the hearts of all those who will become His Disciples. And so having confessed their sins and discovered their own inability to generate that virtue that leads to God’s Kingdom, they shall open their souls to the indwelling growth of Christ’s righteousness, which alone makes men right with God. I will greatly rejoice in the Lord, my soul shall be joyful in my God; for He hath clothed me with the garments of salvation, He hath covered me with the robe of righteousness. (Isaiah lxi. 10)
In addition, when the Holy Spirit comes… He will reprove the world of judgment. (John xvi. 11) The Spirit will come and in Christ’s new Body will reveal that the prince of this world, the devil, is judged. The devil is the root cause of man’s alienation from God, and he will be rewarded with his deepest desire – a cold and lonely existence alienated from God and all others. St. Thomas says that that judgment must come because we all ought to fear it. ‘God is a righteous judge….’ (Ps. vii. 11) The judgment will be severe. The sentence will be final. (Idem) The Holy Spirit will teach Christ’s Disciples to fear God’s judgment since they must remember that if their thoughts, words, and deeds were under the sway and rule of the devil, they must join him forever. God is fair. He will not force men to endure His loving salvation eternally if they have not desired it. So they shall be rewarded with what they have wanted most…for eternity. This is God’s severe mercy. God’s judgment is feared in the healthy soul who spends all of his days surrendering to His Word. God’s judgment is fair, and thus if men desire to please God in all of their lives, God will reward them with His reciprocal love. God’s judgment is final. If men desire and pursue their salvation faithfully, God will match their love for Him in the embrace of unceasing eternal joy. Christ is stronger than Satan, and if men submit to His Holy Spirit now their salvation shall be secure.
This morning St. James tells us that every good endowment and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning. (St. James i. 17) Christ desires to breathe the Word of truth into His Church that all believers might become a kind of first fruits of His creatures. (Ibid, 18) With all of His power and might Christ longs to convert our spiritual death into Resurrected life. With His wisdom and truth He longs to convert our ignorance into understanding. With His unending love and passion He yearns to convert our lesser loves into love for Him and His Father’s desire.
Today St. James tells us also that if God’s life, light, and love are to convert and save us, we must be swift to hear, slow to speak, and slow to wrath. (James i.3) In being swift to hear and slow to speak, we remember, again with St. Thomas, that we have two ears and one mouth for a reason. (T.A. E.H. IX) We are made to hear twice and to speak once. We are made to hear more and to talk less, that we may love the thing which [God] commandest, and desire that which [He] dost promise. (Collect) His Word is His Wisdom. His Wisdom is truth. He desires to speak His truth into our lives to convert, sanctify, and save us. The Holy Spirit longs to speak Christ the Word into our lives in order that we might rise through Him. Our words then should rise up only to praise, adore, love, worship, and honor God. Our words must rise up to edify and strengthen our brethren. If we will be still and patiently endure what God’s Word desires to speak into our lives, our hearts [shall] surely there be fixed where true joys are to be found. For then the Word of God’s Love, whom Christ always is, will have been engrafted into our hearts as what alone is able to save our souls. (St. James i. 21)
And let us never forget with Cardinal Newman that Christ’s Divine Spirit is more than flesh and blood; inasmuch as the risen and glorified Saviour is more powerful than when He was in the form of a servant; inasmuch as the Eternal Word, spiritualizing His own manhood, has more of virtue… and life for us, than when concealed in it…. (J.H.N. Christ Manifested in Remembrance) Christ has purchased new life for us, and He longs to lift us up into the glory of Heaven’s embrace through that virtue that He will multiply in the hearts of all men. From there He desires always to come into every time and space to find new members for His Body and new instruments of His Grace. Amen.
St. Michael and All Angels Sermons