God Incarnate : The Mystery beyond Words

My response to an Essay Question “The incarnation of the Son of God and the problems that this doctrine has given to Christian believers and thinkers.”  in a Christology Classroom Exam, First Year, Degree in Theology.   The links have been added for this post. 

Extract Exam paper Christology

Extract – Answer Script

The historical fact of the birth and death of a man called Jesus Christ who entered history just over 2000 years ago – and changed its course so that the Western World counts time from his death – is not a matter of great dispute.

Neither is there any great dispute that this man was a preacher and moral teacher par excellence.  Even detractors of his time granted that he worked miracles and wondrous signs and healed persons, cast out evil spirits and performed many wonders.   The biggest problem was however the fact that he claimed to be the Son of God and that his followers believed him.

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Communion for the Divorced … how would my Lord answer?

I was really shocked to read that Archbishop Gadecki, President of the Polish Episcopal Conference,had stated that they do not support the notion of admitting divorced and remarried Catholics to the Eucharist.

Yes I know .. this has been one of the most controversial topics at the Synod. And I know the traditionalists are all out to uphold the existing church teaching – but I just could not believe that they can make statements like the following :

“People can participate in different forms and bear witness to the hardships of family life.” Gadecki added that remarried divorcees had the “right to participate” in the life of the Church without receiving the Eucharist.”      How condescending!!

I have a lot of questions on this on his viewpoint  …if anyone cares to respond :

  • Aren’t we failing to practice the precept to ‘forgive seventy times seven’ the mistakes that people make?
  • Aren’t we at odds with our mission to “set the captives free” ?  i.e. set free those who have been bound by human weakness in graceless marriages?
  • Does ‘if your eye offends you pluck it out’, have any application to marriages that are a source of ‘un-grace’ – even a disgrace of the sacrament of marriage?
  • Aren’t these doctrines advocated by Gadecki – and written on Phylactories – to the precept that ‘salvation of souls is the supreme law’? 
  • In trying to uphold the sacrament of marriage, aren’t we guilty of withholding from persons the primordial sacrament, of Jesus in the Eucharist?

I penned a personal reflection some time ago on withholding the Sacrament from children …which is apt too for this subject of Communion for the divorced.

How would my Lord Answer?

We say that we are receiving the Body of our Lord;
That we receive his Real Presence at the table of the Eucharist.  
Can someone tell me , why then do we exclude little children from the banquet?

I know what the Church teaches: 
That we are receiving the Body of Christ;
That children should understand what they are doing …
That they should have respect for “the host”
That they may not understand, and desecrate It,
Even, spit it out.

When Adults, with full knowledge, deliberately  
and maliciously spat on him, He spoke …
“Father forgive them, they know not what they do.”
Would not these words extend to innocent children? 
And yet we hold their lack of knowledge against them.

I ask myself,  “Are adults any better than children?
Can we really, give due respect to the Body of Christ –
… respect that is worthy of our Lord? 
Can I ever receive the Blessed Sacrament in a worthy manner?

If I cannot, how can I withhold the Sacrament from the innocent children?

We feed our children, sometimes force feed them, with 
food for physical nourishment when they are young.
Even though they may not know what it is they drink or eat
We still ensure that they get their daily diet. 

Why then do we not give them spiritual nourishment
in the same manner … ?
but wait until we have “prepared” them
to receive the Lord?
Why do we not “share” our Lord with them at the banquet?
Can you answer why ?  

I know many of the answers that I will be given:
Church teaching, catechetical instruction, doctrine  etc  
But I am not convinced and I still ask for explanation.

If my Lord were here in human form right now,  I know
I would rush with all my nieces and nephews  …
To place them in His arms
Without waiting till they are prepared to “receive Him”
For IT IS HE WHO RECEIVES THEM !!!  welcomes them, embraces them.

But at the Eucharistic table, I “shoo” them away,
For they are not yet “ready”;  they have to “be prepared” !!
To receive the Lord “worthily”
When it is really He and only He
Who can make us worthy of Him.

So I ask myself … If my Lord was standing beside me
At the Eucharistic table and I asked him
“Shall I give Thee to these little children?”
What would His answer be?

Today, if my Lord were standing in front of me, I would point to the latest Report on the Synod and ask him again … “My Lord … can we give thee to Divorced and re-married people.”

I think I know how my Lord would react. I think I would see him bend down and write in the sand.

Jesus writing in the sand

John 8:6-11

Credit picture : new.rejesus.com.uk

Marriage, Divorce, and Church Annulments: If marriages are made in heaven, why do marriages fail?

With so much debate on marriage and annulment at the Synod on the Family, I wish to share my Thesis completed for my degree in Theology.

MATRIMONIAL CONSENT:  Analysis and Practical Applications of Canon 1095 

Canon 1095 is the Church law that ‘permits‘ annulment.  The interpretation and application of this Canon is at the core of the debate on divorce and annulment.

I did not realise what a hot topic this would become when I decided on it in 2011 because I could not understand or agree fully with the Church’s stance.

By the time I completed my research,  I appreciated the wisdom of Canon 1095 and the real ‘nature of consent.’  I understood there is a big difference between:

Matrimonium in fieri  (marriage in becoming)  – the act of creating a marriage  and

Matrimonium in facto esse (marriage in its actual existence)  i.e. what the exchange of vows creates: the abiding state of marriage.

Marriage is indeed sacramental – and the church needs to be sacramental in its approach to marriage, as well as to failed marriages – in short, TO LIFE.

“The manner in which, not just jurisprudence, but the entire church responds to Canon 1095 will be the touchstone of the Christian commitment to marriage …  and by extension the mirror of the state of the sacramental Church. ” 

 Concluding comments:  Fernando, R.,  Matrimonial Consent: Analysis and Practical Applications of Canon 1095.      

I post here the research that took me from the contentious Preamble and questions I had to my conclusion above – with a prayer that the deliberations of the present Synod  will lead to a more sacramental Church.

Thesis proposal

Preamble for Approval to proceed with my Thesis

My Rationale :

The entire argument against annulment and divorce is based on the Biblical tracts :

  • What God has joined together let no man put asunder.  (Mathew 19.6)
  • Whatsoever you shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven. (Mathew 18.18)

They say “Marriages are made in heaven”.  If this is correct, why do marriages fail?

Reality of failed marriages

We cannot avoid the reality that despite every effort and good will to the contrary, some marriages are just not meant to be and end up in (civil) divorce.

What is the status of these marriages?

The ecclesiastical position on these is ambivalent, even discordant because EITHER

  1. You are unbinding that which is bound in heaven,  if you grant divorce
  2. Or , by not granting a divorce, you are (continuing) to keep bound on earth what is not to be bound in heaven – by refusing to unbind what has already come apart – in truth, in fact, and in reality;   Where the ‘sacrament’ you are upholding is no longer a sacrament or a ‘source of grace” but even perhaps of un-grace or disgrace.
  3. The present ecclesial position is a
    • Refusal or failure to accept our humanity
    • Refusal to accept that not everything that man proposes, including a particular marriage, is within God’s plan because
    • If it is God’s work nothing can stop it, and
    • Unless the builder builds, the labourer toils in vain.

Thus, I question:

  1. Are we binding on earth what heaven does not want bound? (Or what has already been loosed in heaven according to the Divine Plan?)
  2. Are we failing to practice the precept to ‘forgive seventy times seven’ the mistakes that people make?
  3. Are we at odds with our mission to “set the captives free” – to set free those who have been bound due to their humanity, weakness and sin?
  4. Does not ‘if your eye offends you pluck it out’ have an application to marriages that are a source of un-grace.
  5. By not forgiving and releasing people from failed marriages and by trying to maintain at any cost the marriage ‘sacrament’, we are withholding from them the primordial sacrament, Jesus and the Eucharist. This appears to contrary to the precept that the ‘salvation of souls is the Supreme law’.
  6. The witnessing nature of the ‘sacrament’ is totally devalued when people divorce and remarry under civil law,  ignoring the dysfunctional ‘sacramental bond’ which the church refuses to unbind.  (How many civil divorces have been sacramentally unbound?)

There seems to be a lacuna in Canon Law from point of view of faithful/laity.

I would like to study the church’s position on above in an attitude of ‘faith seeking understanding’.

APPROACH

Does Canon 1095 solve the problem of divorce in the Church? 

Can it allay the doubts in minds of the laity?   (C 1095 comes to conclusion that average person is incapable of valid marriage?) .

 AREAS FOR STUDY –

  1. Role of ‘true’ consensus.
  2. Role of Psychological factors.
  3. Spiritual Factor – There is no mention of spiritual factors /spiritual maturity in the Canon .. ?? Wording appears juridical and earth-bound. Though spiritual goal must be implicit, wording appears bent towards temporal ?
    • Role of spirituality
    • Augustine –“ let me know myself that I might know you”  (and your will and plan)
    • “For in this lay my sin – that I sought pleasures and honours and truths in his creatures rather than in him – in myself and the rest – and so fell headlong into sorrows , troubles and errors.” (Confessions )
RESEARCH  :

I would like to test my assumptions with some case studies on the feelings of the laity who have

  • Obtained civil divorce and church nullity
  • Obtained civil divorce and been refused church nullity, if any.
  • Obtained civil divorce but not requested church nullity

to analyse the true role of the three factors pertinent to Canon 1095 in the break-down of marriages and presenting a lay, experiential perspective.

Spin off benefit – Suggestions for Pastoral Preparation for Marriage Under Canon.

 


The above proposal having been approved I completed my Thesis under our Professor of Canon Law.

The Thesis will be shared as soon as I have removed extraneous footnotes to make for easy reading.

Vatican II, Synod on the Family … two Popes

And Guadium et Spes  or The Church in the Modern World. (document of Vatican II).  

Three months after his election,  Angelo Guiseppe Roncalli,  the new Pope John XXIII surprised the world by convoking the Second Vatican Council.

There had not been a Council in nearly 100 years … and this was to be an Ecumenical Council with  the Bishops of the universal church in attendance, not just European and Italian prelates.

His famous words open these windows and let the fresh air in’,  were a prelude to the historic event that has been  pivotal for the Catholic Church.

Opening the windows would no doubt raise the dust of centuries that had settled on the Church. There was, as can be expected, opposition and prophets of doom!

Prophets of Doom

Despite all naysayers, this great visionary inspired the Universal Church to reflect on how she could build and strengthen the faith in the cultural changes following two World Wars. The Council Fathers were inspired by two principles:

aggiornamento (Italian for “updating”) and ressourcement (French for “going back to the sources”).   So the reforms either returned to more ancient practices or took on modern practices and approaches.

The deep introspection and sharing that was the spirit of Vatican II, led to many changes in religious practices so that the light of Christ could shine out visibly.  The pot in which the seed of faith had been transplanted from Rome to distant lands was broken so that the seed could germinate, be in-culturated in,  and draw its nourishment from the local soil

In essence, St. John XXIII believed in the sacramental nature of the church as a sign and instrument of communion with God and unity amongst all men.

It is the same spirit and belief which our beloved Pope Francis carries vocally and visibly in his core message :

“The thing the church needs most today is the ability to heal wounds and to warm the hearts of the faithful; it needs nearness, proximity. I see the church as a field hospital after battle. It is useless to ask a seriously injured person if he has high cholesterol and about the level of his blood sugars! You have to heal his wounds. Then we can talk about everything else. Heal the wounds, heal the wounds. … And you have to start from the ground up “

I pray that the Spirit that led to the convening of this Synod, and the declaration of a Year of Mercy, will continue to guide all Bishops in their decisions.

On this October 11 anniversary of the commencement of the Council, also declared as the Feast of St. John XXIII,  I wish to honour his memory by recalling his words as he lay dying on his bed in May 1963 :

Today more than ever, we are called to serve mankind as such, and not merely Catholics; to defend above all and everywhere, the rights of the human person and not merely those of the Catholic Church…’

‘It is not that the Gospel has changed: it is that we have begun to understand it better … the moment has come to discern the signs of the times, to seize the opportunity and to look far ahead. “

Thank you beloved Papa John XXIII  for giving us Vatican II   … and thank you Papa Francesco for the Synod on the Family.  May the Spirit continue to lead you in steering  the barque of the Church into Kingdom waters.

Opening - Synod on the Family 

Synod on the Family, Rome October, 2015.  Source : www:catholicnewsagency.com

Trust in God sailor …?

I ponder the situation the Catholic Church of Sri Lanka finds herself in as she celebrates Christmas, and prepares for two significant events in January next year – one secular, one spiritual.

A Presidential election just five days before a papal visit. That in itself is unusual for the Vatican steers clear of partisan politics and does not usually schedule visits within two months of an election.

So when, how and WHY did these diametrically opposed events collide?

Instead of spending the weeks leading to the canonisation of the Apostle of Sri Lanka in prayerful spiritual preparation, both Church and State are guilty of distracting Catholics from this holy event, and placing our beloved Pope in the tenuous and unsolicited position of being in the epicentre of an ugly and volatile political situation.

I am not privy to communications between Church and State but Vatican officially confirmed the visit in October.  It was very much later when preparations for visit were substantially under-way that Presidential elections were announced.

When rumours initially surfaced of pending elections, the Church voiced her concerns. Despite these please, a date was set just four days after the papal visit when the President had promised a much bigger window.

Broken promises to the Catholics of the country.  Nothing new in that. In politics, promises are empty before they are spoken.

For many Catholics, it seemed then a foregone conclusion that the visit would be postponed. However the Cardinal announced it would go ahead with “Trust in God”.  Although some priests advocated postponement to 2016, they were like the Baptist, lone voices crying out in the wilderness amidst the silence of many. Why did we not speak out and protest the broken promises? Perhaps we would have if the Bishops Conference had led the way but they passively asked us to trust God.

My question is not so much about trust (a sin qua non for people of faith), but about actions that are judicious and prudent, based on trust and faith.  Do we trust in God and remain in the eye of the storm? Or, do we follow the wisdom of the adage, trust in God (sailor) and row for the shore, away from the impending storm?   Do we trust that nothing is impossible with God and another opportunity for a  papal visit will present itself?  We would then be able to truly prepare spiritually for this holy visit instead of being caught up in these secular issues?

The question may be moot.  It may be too late to head for safe waters.  We may have no option but to ride out the storm.  Or we may just have a wee bit of time before the storm hits. Hence this letter.

Reverend Cardinal and the Bishops Conference – look up, look out, look about.  Take your bearings.  It is certain that what was calculated as a passing shower is turning into a storm.  The elections were expected to be a slight blip.  The incumbent President would be re-elected. Life would go on.  He would welcome our Pope and we would prayerfully celebrate the canonisation of the Apostle of Sri Lanka.

But things have changed.  A serious contender with promise and potential for the powerful position has come forward.  Election violence is erupting.  The outcome of a free and fair election is by no means a foregone conclusion.  Skeletons are coming out of the closet. Pandora’s Box has been opened.

Things are turning ugly with accusations being hurled at the defender of the post who will use fair means or foul to retain power – including exploiting the much awaited papal visit.  The Cardinal has had to request that campaign posters exploiting the visit be taken down.  Whether or not this is heeded is also a moot point.

The Church, instead of being able to prepare spiritually for this momentous event,  is now fully caught in the midst of this political turmoil.  The Pope is being placed in the untenable position of endorsing the outcome of ‘dubious’ elections as he will be the first Head of State to visit.  ‘Dubious’ for how can valid elections be held when a sizeable populace displaced by floods is struggling for survival and may not be able to cast their vote?

Instead of preparing wholeheartedly in mind and spirit for the visit of our Pope, Catholics, as part of the nation find ourselves caught up and distracted with manifestos and election ‘fever’.

Our population has never been magnanimous in victory or humble in defeat. Post-election violence is inevitable irrespective of the outcome.  His Holiness will arrive in a nation caught up in the post-election emotions of victors and losers. Punitive measures, retribution, has followed every election and this can be expected in a far more dramatic way than previously,  especially if an unprecedented third term is obtained by the incumbent.  If the challenger wins, retribution is likely to be slower.

Either way, there will be cries of foul, and calls for recounts.  Either way, it is very unlikely the dust or mood of elections will settle in four days.

So … ‘Trust in God’ and stay ‘put’ … Or  ‘Trust in God sailor and row to safe waters ‘ before the storm hits and politics and religion are caught up in one ugly twister.  For aborting the visit any time after Election Day will appear as a politically partisan decision either way.