The mission of The Fra Angelico Institute for Sacred Art is to deepen the prayer life of Western Rite Catholics by evangelizing the truth, goodness, and beauty of God through education and the prayerful creation of sacred art.
Father, by the merits of your Son’s passion, death, and resurrection hear us in our troubles and fears. Strengthen us against anxiety and illness. This day allow us to join Jesus’ suffering with ours. Please have mercy on the souls of those who, from this current pandemic, pass into eternal life.
Thank you Lord, for Your Son’s sacrifice, love, and mercy.
“It was about nine in the morning when they nailed Jesus to the Cross. From noon until three o’clock there was darkness over the whole world. At three o’clock, Jesus cried out in a loud voice: ‘Father, into Thy hands I commend My spirit;’ and having said this He expired.”
St. John Chrysostom, an Early Church Father, tells us: “There flowed from His side water and blood. Beloved do not pass over this mystery without thought; it has yet another hidden meaning, which I will explain to you. I said that water and blood symbolized Baptism and the Holy Eucharist. From these two Sacraments the Church is born: from Baptism, the cleansing water that gives rebirth [into the family of God] and renewal through the Holy Spirit, and from the Holy Eucharist [physical and spiritual nourishment; as He said: “Take and eat this is My Body. Take and drink for this is My blood]… (Excerpts from the Holy Gospels and the Catechesis by St. John Chrysostom, AD 347 – 407, Archbishop of Constantinople).
On this day our Redemption [from sin] was earned by the suffering and death of Jesus, the Son of God; by His wounds you were healed. JESUS CHRIST IS LORD! (Philippians 2: 6-11, and 1 Peter (chapter 2: 21-24).
The author of the interesting and challenging blog site on sacred art and its analysis called Catchlight sent me two questions yesterday. They related to my last post which was entitled Fatima Messages, Pagans in the Vatican, and the End Times.
Second, let’s refer to what Jesus Christ says in response to Nicodemus’ questions concerning eternal life in the Gospel of St. John, John 3: 1-21: “Amen, amen, I say to you, unless a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Nicodemus continues to question Him, and Jesus responds, “Amen, amen, I say to you, unless a man be born again of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God…You must be born again.”
Baptism into the Christian faith is again stressed in another passage of the Gospels. The Gospel of St. Matthew, in its very last passage deals with the commissioning of the Apostles, which occurred after His resurrection and before His Ascension back to the Father. Jesus emphasizes that combined with their preaching and works they must baptize faith-filled individuals because of Adam and Eve’s sin. Humanity’s broken relationship with God must be healed. It was healed through the death and resurrection of the Father’s Son Jesus the Christ. Jesus death, on our behalf allowed the formation of the Church and the Sacraments to be instituted to provide the grace to a broken humanity. Baptism is the Sacrament that makes this happen. It makes an individual’s body and soul a member of God’s family. Matthew 28: 18-20:“Jesus drew near and spoke to them saying, “all power in Heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and behold, I am with you always, to the close of the age.”
Third, it appears, within the Christian faith, that we can come to specific conclusions that will provide a springboard for my response to Mr. Gallagher:
If the human race was alienated from God, and the spiritual relationship with Him was broken, then a loving and merciful God would not give up on His children. Thus, through the course of history God has slowly manifested and revealed Himself to humanity starting with our spiritual parents, Adam and Eve, then through the patriarchs, leaders, and prophets of the chosen Jewish tribes culminating in the Incarnation of His Son, Jesus the Christ. God desires us to love Him and conform to His Laws. He has given us reason and free will. He has given us the ability to think and act not like robots but as free men and women. His revealed truths and laws must be evangelized and faithfully kept by individuals and mankind as a whole. The “Good News” must be spread by the Church as a whole and individuals, too.
The First Commandment applies, as we see in Exodus 20: 1-6ff: “I, the Lord am your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, that place of slavery. You shall not have other gods besides Me. You shall not carve idols for yourselves…you shall not bow down to them or worship them. For I the Lord am a jealous God…inflicting punishment on those who are wicked and hate me…and mercy on those who love Me and keep My commandments.”
Through Scripture and study of the Catechism united with faith we also know that Jesus Christ, as the consubstantial only Son of God, is the promised Savior. Now, have the Amazonian pagans, or the new pagans of the 20th and 21st centuries been exposed to that truth?
He freely offered Himself for our eternal salvation. This was accomplished through the words and actions of His human ministry and ultimately through His Passion, death, and resurrection. Jesus Christ is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. Have apostates, pagans, or other non believers been exposed to that truth?
We see God through faith in Him, participating in prayer, Scripture study, good works, and the sanctifying grace found in the Seven Sacraments. Have pagans been exposed to these truths?
As Jesus Christ said Himself, the Sacrament of Baptism into the family of the Holy Trinity is a mandatory necessity. Have apostates, pagans, and nonbelievers, been exposed and evangelized to that truth?
A multitude of volumes have been written on the above six points. I may have missed some critical ones, for which I apologize. For the sake of brevity, however, allow me to move on to specifically answer the questions of Mr. Gallagher.
Fourth, so, are pagans going to Heaven or Hell?
In a nutshell, I would never presume to know God’s mind, except from that which He revealed through Holy Scripture and Sacred Tradition. I would never make a judgement on another person’s soul as he or she are seen by God at the time of their death and individual judgement. Unknown to the world, even a great sinner may suddenly, in their last moments, repent of their sins and ask for mercy. But, make no mistake about it, Scriptural Revelation, and the Sacred Tradition of the Catholic Church and specifically the words of Jesus in the Holy Scriptures, specifically says that there is a Hell (Matthew 10: 28; 22: 13. Luke 16: 26; etc.); there is a Heaven, and, damnation into Hell for all eternity.
Some additional issues:
Let’s take a look at three major Greek philosophers: Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle. They were scholars who lived and died before the birth and ministry of Jesus Christ. They lived within a pagan society whose members believed in a multitude of pagan gods. Their society was polytheistic and pantheistic. Are Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle in Heaven or Hell?
The answer is, “I don’t know!”
But Jesus said, “I am the Way, and the Truth, and the Life. No one comes to the Father but through Me” (John 14: 6). Wouldn’t that statement preclude the Greek philosophers entrance into Heaven?
The answer is “Not automatically.”
Why? What do we know? We know that those three philosophers were men who searched for the truth, not only about themselves as individuals but about the world itself. They searched after the truth. They made the sincereeffort to find the truth by thinking, questioning, analyzing reality, both physical and metaphysical. They used all the evidence at their disposal to do so. They lived, before the Son of God was incarnated. They did not have the witness, of Jesus Christ, and to His specific and eternal revelation as the Son of God, both human and divine. They also probably did not have any exposure to the history of the Jewish people and God’s revelation to them.
But, in the time after the Incarnation and Ascension of Jesus, a person who had the opportunity to be exposed to the teachings of the Christian Faith (in the Protestant and Anglican churches, and the full expression of it in the Western and Eastern Rites of the Catholic Church), would have a critical free choice to make.
If they are pagan, agnostic, atheist, Christian, deist, Satanist, etc, and they would then, after an effort to know the truth, reject Jesus Christ out of intentional misunderstanding, intellectual arrogance, stubbornness, cultural and historic prejudices, selfishness, willful rejection of Christian Revelation, narcissistic impulses, apostasy, or some evil influence, they would be freely putting their eternal soul into mortal sin. They would be facing the eternal punishment of Hell because they chose the path, through their own free will, of “definitive self-exclusion from communion with God and the blessed in Heaven (confer page 269 in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2nd edition).
God is loving and compassionate, filled with mercy (for those who sincerely repent of their sins). God is merciful; however, our God is a God of Justice. Why would Jesus Christ be Incarnated to minister, suffer, die, and resurrected if the Holy Trinity would give mortal sinners “A get into Heaven free pass?” The “Pass theory” doesn’t make sense, it is illogical, bogus, and yes it is a lie. There are dire consequences for freely turning your back on Jesus Christ: Hell.
But do today’s pagans turn their backs?
The key to answering that question is: Have they made the effort to know the Truth? Have they been exposed to the truths of the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures? Have they been evangelized by courageous and selfless missionaries who are willing to undergo all sorts of hardships and possibly even martyrdom for the sake of their flocks eternal souls? Have they deliberately turned their backs on the truth and revelation of God through the Christian Scriptures, and the presentation of the Apostles, Church’s Doctors and Fathers, and the bishops and Pope in unison as they all present the truth on faith and morals?
The Church’s duty and responsibility is to bring, without arrogance or condescension, the Holy Scriptures, Sacred Traditions, and the Holy Sacraments to the world. If its bishops, priests, deacons, and laity shirk or compromise their duties and teaching authority, die in the state of mortal sin without sincere repentance, give bad example through public and private sin, then they will be denied entrance into Heaven, too.
Is the Church giving sufficient resources to the missionaries in the field? Are we able to inspire young men and women in today’s world of the necessity and challenge to enter the life of a missionary? Have we thrown in the towel?
This is my great concern about what I see in the Church today. The Christian churches should not be about assimilation of pagan cultures into the Faith in order “To learn from them,” or in a “spirit of dialogue” and accommodation.
The Western and Eastern Rites of the Catholic Church have the complete and total revelation of God to humanity. We have the complete revealed truth of God, and the example of what it means to live in the heart of the Father, through the Redemptive Act of the Son of God, Jesus Christ.
Matthew 28: 18-20, relates Jesus’ specific command. Our duty is to compassionately and without arrogance teach pagans and other non-believers about Jesus Christ, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
It is intellectually and morally irresponsible to give the impression that apostates, heretics, or pagan/polytheistic cultures can add to the Deposit of Faith. We are either for Him or against Him. We either understand the gift of the Deposit of the Faith or we don’t. There should be no waffling.
We either proclaim His truth effectively and with conviction or we will see the Church continue to decline, make compromises, and cause confusion, anxiety, division, and resentment among its faithful,
The Gospel of Luke18: 8 challenges us to examine our own hearts: “When the Son of Man comes will He find faith on the earth?”
To paraphrase Kreeft and Tacelli, If we have a diamond of immense and extraordinary value (our Catholic/Christian Faith) why would we go about the world seeking additional baubles?
Refer also to the Catechism of the Catholic Church (2nd edition, 1997, pages 311-324) which has an excellent section on the Sacrament of Baptism.
Today, May 2nd, is the “Memorial” day of St. Athanasius, a Doctor (profound theologian) of the Church.
There are four “giants” of the Nicene and Post Nicene period, all are known as “Doctors” of the Church: St. Athanasius, St. Ambrose, St. John Chrysostom, and St. Augustine. They are immortalized in bronze by the Renaissance sculptor, Bernini, and are portrayed in his magnificent sculpture of the Throne of St. Peter found in the sanctuary of St. Peter’s Basilica.
St. Athanasius and St. John Chrysostom are saints of both the Latin and the Greek Rites of the Church. Both were bishops. Yet, Bernini does not put the Bishop’s mitre on their heads. Sadly, the sting of the Great Schism of 1054 between the Latin and Greek Rites still stung in the 17th century.
Thus, these two Greek Fathers of the Church were slighted, not because of anything that they did (they were profound shepherds and theologians), but because Bernini wanted the authority of and preeminence of St. Peter’s position of “first among many” and the importance of two of the Latin Rite Fathers, to be showcased in bronze and remembered in the centuries to come.
The above photo is the “Chair of St. Peter” and is found in St. Peter’s Basilica (Chair created 1656 – 1665). It is an extraordinary masterpiece by Gian Lorenzo Bernini (1598 – 1680) which he made for Pope Alexander VII (Chigi family, 1655/67). Bernini was a child prodigy and polymath. This Chair proved to be a wooden throne dating to the year 875. It was donated by Charles the Bald to Pope John VIII (served AD 872/882) on the occasion of his coronation to the papacy. Four humongous bronze statues of Doctors of the Church flank the chair: In front to the right “St. Augustine”, to the left “St. Ambrose” (Latin Rite). Behind to the left “St. Athanasius”, to the right “St. John Chrysostom” (Greek Rite). The entire bronze structure’s weight is 74 tonnes (81.5 tons). The height is 14.74 m (48.3 feet). The statues of the Doctors of the Church are 5.35 m (17.5 feet) high. Above the four saints is located a stained glass window: “Dove of the Holy Spirit,” dated 1911 by the German glassmaker Hagle from the original design of Giovanni Paolo Schor (1615/74). These facts are from https://romapedia.blogspot.com/2013/10/basilica-of-st-peter-second-part_3.html. That blog is edited by David Macch. This is an excellent website about all aspects of the art, architecture, and history of Rome.
There are five Councils of the Church that had major impact on the development of the Church’s sacred art: the Council of Nicaea, the First Council of Nicaea/Constantinople, the Council of Ephesus, the Council of Chalcedon, and the 2nd Council of Nicaea (2nd Nicaea met in AD 787 and is the last of the Seven Ecumenical Councils). Besides these Councils all the Church Fathers through their scholarship, pastoral zeal, and extraordinary homilies, witnessed to the truth, beauty, and goodness of the Holy Trinity.
The list below provides the names and birth/death dates of the Fathers of the Church within the “Post Nicene” (that is, the time after the Council of Nicaea, AD 325) period of Church history. A quick review of each of their contributions will prove to be beneficial to you if you decide to paint a sacred image of them. How can you truly benefit from painting a sacred image of a person that you don’t know! 🙂
I recommend that you refer to my bibliography (“Early Church Fathers”) provided in my post of February 8, 2019. There are a number of different books in that bibliography that will prove to be helpful to you.
The Post Nicene Church Fathers born within the Western (Latin) Rite are:
St. Ambrose (AD 340-397),
St. Jerome (AD 345 – 420),
St. Augustine (AD 345-430),
Pope St. Leo the Great (AD 400 – AD 461),
St. Benedict of Nursia (AD 480 – 547) and
Pope St. Gregory the Great (AD 540 – 604);
the Post Nicene Fathers born within the Eastern (Greek) Rite are:
St. Athanasius (AD 295 -373) – (he straddles the Nicene and Post Nicene Periods),
St. Basil the Great (AD 330 – 379),
St. Gregory of Nazianzus (AD 330 – 390),
St. Gregory of Nyssa (AD 330 – 395)
St. John Chrysostom (AD 345 – 407),
and St. John Damascene (Damascus) (AD 675 – 749)
All of the saints listed, including those in the Greek Rite, are venerated within the Western Rite of the Catholic Church.
I would like to thank one of my readers who identified the contemporary icon of St. Spyridon (thanks Carol!). The iconographer is the Catholic priest William Hart McNichols. He is a very talented artist who paints traditional icons and sacred images. At times, he steps out of the bounds of the traditional approach and adds his own personal interpretation of the person he is portraying. His artistic vision is unique.
John Daly from Australia emailed me this morning to provide further grist for our mill concerning St. Athanasius, St. Spyridon, and the Council of Nicaea. One of the participants in his iconography school is a Greek Orthodox lady who is the sister-in-law of an Orthodox priest. He is coincidentally named Athanasius.
John had the opportunity to discuss with her the icons that we were analyzing in my posts of the last few days. She provided John some valuable information by explaining that her mother had given her a beautiful sacred image of the First Council of Nicaea and specifically St. Spyridon’s role in the debate with the heretic Arius. The sacred image is below.
Also, like the sacred icon we examined in yesterday’s post we see the Emperor Constantine, dressed in the royal robes of Byzantine reddish purple (almost a maroon) sitting on the right. On the Emperor’s right we again observe a bishop, maybe its Bishop Alexander of Alexandria, Egypt. In front of him we again see a deacon, dressed in what is either an alb or dalmatic (he would have to stand up to see all the garments).
In the above sacred image, the deacon is again seated at the scribe’s desk. This makes sense, since a deacon serves the administrative needs and report’s directly to his bishop. That is true to this day; yet, throughout the world today the local bishop has his deacons serving in parishes, hospitals, prisons, etc. rather than in an administrative capacity in the local chancery. Notice the bishop is behind the deacon scribe to facilitate accurate communication.
The above sacred image, which I have never seen before John Daly sending it to me, is very well done. The painter has captured the meaning of the Council as a whole and two of its major participants: St. Nicholas’, in his famous interaction with the heretic Arius, and the great oratorical and mystical abilities of St. Spyridon challenging Arius, too.
Is the deacon pictured in the painting from the Latin Rite or is he Orthodox? Truly, there is no way to accurately tell because the deacon is seated, and what is showing of the deacon’s stole is inconclusive. Depending on the angle of view both the Western and Eastern Rites’ deacon’s stole placement looks the same.
In today’s painting and in yesterday’s post of the icon, the deacon is seated and the possible vertical panel on the Eastern Rite and Orthodox stole is in shadow or not detectable, yet, the panel that drapes from left shoulder and gathers at the waist is visible, and would appear, as you see below, in both Latin, Eastern, and Orthodox Rites!
Just between you and me, I think the deacon depicted in the icon, from my April 16, 2019 post and today’s, is St. Athanasius from Alexandria, Egypt. The Catholic Church, the Eastern Rites in union with Rome, and all the Orthodox Churches venerate St. Athanasius as a great saint and designate specific feast days for him. He belongs to all of us.
The deacon’s stole in the Eastern Rites of the Catholic Church that are in union with Rome; and, the Greek Orthodox, the Russian Orthodox, and Coptic Orthodox deacon stoles look like this:
The cassock, alb, stole, and dalmatic all have the same meaning and functions in both the Western and Eastern Rites of the Church. In today’s Western, that is, the Latin Rite (Roman Catholic) tradition, a deacon wears the rank of his ministry and ordination, the stole, over the alb but under the dalmatic. Latin Rite deacons would wear their stole’s in this manner:
I’ve really enjoyed this lively information exchange. Thanks to all who participated in it!
May you have a blessed Easter Tridiuum of the Passion and Resurrection of Our Lord Jesus Christ.
St. Athanasius of Alexandria was “the Lion” of the Council of Nicaea. He was instrumental in providing well argued testimony rebuking the heretic Arius during the Council’s debates. His verbal skills, as powerful and commanding as a lion, shredded Arius’ arguments. His eloquence convinced the assembled bishops of the correct dogma that Jesus Christ has two, separate and distinct, natures (divine and human), and that Jesus Christ is fully human and fully divine. The heretic Arius insisted that Jesus was “just a creature” of God.
The Council’s main purpose was to address the divine nature of Jesus Christ and the concept of HIs being the Son of God the Father. This had to be done in order to squash the Arian heresy once and for all. It was also to establish a date for the celebration of Easter, resolve organizational and clerical issues, and the development of Church law (what today is called Canon Law). They were also attempting to settle a schism that had occurred in Egypt. That schism was being fomented by another bishop who had enlisted with the heretic Arius.
The Council was also tasked with development of a Christian Creed that would provide unity of belief for both the Eastern and Western Rites of the Church. This unity of belief was critical since the Church needed a formal set of beliefs that could be used as a catechetical tool and a binder that kept all the cultural and geographical “Catholic” churches together.
The Council of Nicaea basically resolved all the main issues of its agenda. It was a stunning achievement. The priest Arius was banished for promoting heresy and his ideas declared anathema. Yet, the problem the Council still faced was convincing Arius’ followers of their heretical errors. Banishment or not, an unrepentant Arius continued to spread his opinions fomenting confusion throughout the Empire.
The Eastern and Western Rites of the Catholic and Orthodox Church have always believed that sacred icons and sacred images are always venerated by the faithful; they have never and are never worshipped.To worship sacred icons, sacred images, statues, and other visual reminders of the glory of God and His saints is against the 1st Commandment (confer Exodus 20: 2-17, and Deuteronomy 5: 6 – 21). If anyone worshipped those visual images they would correctly be called idolaters. Worshipis for God alone, that is, the Holy Trinity – the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit; Three Divine Persons in One God.
Our Savior Jesus Christ is One Person with two natures: human and divine; that is a state of being which is part of the great Mystery of the Incarnation of God into human existence.
Jesus Christ is the Lamb of God, sacrificed in Jerusalem through His Passion, Crucifixion, and death. Jesus, following His Father’s will, suffered and died for us in order to atone for all of humanity’s sins (past, present, future). God the Father and God the Holy Spirit responded by raising Jesus from the dead on the third day, ultimately enabling Jesus to interact and be seen by His Apostles and hundreds of disciples.
Truth, Goodness, Beauty, and Love, incarnate in our Savior.
Thanks for stopping by.
May you continue to have a prayerful Holy Week and a joyous Easter Season.
The extensive Gospel reading for Palm Sunday relates the Scriptural and historical truth that Jesus triumphantly entered Jerusalem, yet, five days later He was arrested, put on trial, tortured, and executed.
As you know, the religious and secular leaders of Israel did not accept Jesus as the Messiah and Son of God. They were adamant about the fact that Jesus was just a man and that His claims, teachings, and healings were all fraudulent. Their disbelief took place during the first century, yet, two hundred years later there were Christians saying the same thing.
The questions came down to, “Who is Jesus Christ? Is He a man? Is He God? Is He both?”
These were the same questions that the people of Jerusalem, some of them waving palm branches, and their leaders were asking each other.
In the year 325 scholars and clerics were still grappling with those questions, too.
Many deacons, priests, and bishops of the Church had settled the question in their own mind, yet, all of Christendom was not in agreement. Emperor Constantine was worried; as a military man he knew trouble when he saw it. Religious disagreements could easily spread into civil war. Something had to be done.
Stories have come down to us through the centuries that St. Nicholas of Myra, a faith-filled bishop, decided to defend Sacred Tradition and the Scriptural interpretation of the reality of Jesus as the Son of God the Father. The story relates that he not only vigorously defended Sacred Tradition but became so worked up that during one of the debates he slapped the author of this heresy which was called Arianism.
But, was it a verbal or physical slap?
Let’s take a brief look at some of the details:
Who: Saint Nicholas of Myra, Bishop, (Myra, an Ancient Greek city on the coast of present day Turkey), vs. Arius, priest from the diocese of Alexandria, (Alexandria, a city on Egypt’s Mediterranean coastline). Emperor Constantine, Roman Empire, centered in the new city named in his honor: Constantinople (present day Istanbul, Turkey). Constantine convenes an ecumenical council of bishops from the five major patriarchies of Christendom (Alexandria, Antioch, Constantinople, Jerusalem, and Rome).
What: Supposed incident of Bishop Nicholas “slapping” the priest Arius, at the first ecumenical Council of Bishops: the Council of Nicaea. This was the first Council since the Council of Jerusalem (held in the first century and was attended by luminaries such as St. Peter and St. James).
When: Late Spring and early Summer of the year 325.
Why: The incident concerned the critical issue of who is Jesus Christ, and whether Jesus Christ is “the same in being and the same in essence” as God the Father. Arius was promoting the heresy that Jesus Christ was “just a creature” of God and not a divine Person of the Holy Trinity.
Where: Nicaea, an ancient city in Asia Minor; it is the present day city of Iznik, Turkey.
As it applies to sacred art, the Council of Nicaea provided a specific creed: a set of theological proclamations that impacted sacred artists from the 4th century to the present day. It is stated clearly in this Creed that God the Father has communicated His love, mercy, and laws to humanity through His revealed word in the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures. This action culminated in the ministry, passion, death, and resurrection of His incarnated Word, His Son Jesus Christ.
The Nicene Creed definitivelyproclaimed that Jesus Christ is the same in essence, and the same in being, as God the Father and God the Holy Spirit. So we have the great Mystery of the Incarnation, the nature of Jesus Christ: He is both human and divine – the Son of God – One Person with two natures – human and divine.
The day-to-day proceedings and debate notes of the Council have been lost to history, so we will never know if St. Nicholas gave Arius a physical or just a verbal “slap.” Regardless, St. Nicholas made his point and contributed to giving us the gift of the Nicene Creed.
In AD 381, the Nicene Creed was edited and amended at the First Council of Constantinople (thus, the Creed is called the Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed. Try to say that phrase fast, three times!😃).
Thanks for visiting with me. May you have a prayer-filled Holy Week.
Sources for the above post are found in my bibliography post, entitled Early Church Fathers – A Short bibliography of February 8, 2019. I relied primarily on Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI’s works, also Aquilina and D’Ambrosio’s volumes.
I once heard a friend repeat a quote by the author Katherine Mansfield: If you wish to live, you must first attend your own funeral.”
How true. We begin to live life perceptively only when we project ourselves to the time of our own death, imagining how we’ve lived our life and wondering whether we’ve met the mark.
Depending on our frame of mind, and perspective on life, we may not include the spiritual in our self-assessment, or, only give it a passing thought. That is why Mansfield’s phrase may be viewed as spiritually deficient.
In today’s Gospel on the parable of the Prodigal Son there are family members that Jesus is requiring us to understand. The behavior of these people, the father and the two sons, provokes four questions. Questions not so much about our secular situation but our spiritual – our relation to God, and, each other.
At first glance, the younger son impresses us as an individual who is quite selfish. When he requests his inheritance from his father, he isn’t just asking for the cash, he is in effect saying to his father: “I want to live my life now and without any strings attached. To me you’re unimportant, this family is unimportant. Just let me get on with my life and give me my share right now.”
Are we living in a way that categorizes God? Are we willing to acknowledge Him only because we want to get something out of Him? Do we play upon His charity and generosity?
If this is so, if we have the younger son’s attitude, we end up like him – swimming with the pigs. What will be our inheritance? It will undoubtedly be spiritual poverty and secular discontent. Sadly, sometimes people understand this only in the last few months of their life, or, in the moments right before their death.
Jesus is teaching us that the prodigal son was only able to enter into a state of recovery when he “attended his own funeral.” When he was able to perceive his own personal endpoint, his own material and spiritual poverty. He was finally able to admit that he was grievously wrong only when this realization slammed into his consciousness.
His new perception demanded that he learn the root causes of his problem, reject his worldly self, and humbly ask for repentance. He needed to realize that his father and family were all important to his happiness. This required acceptance of and humbly requesting his father’s mercy and love.
This perception did not demand psychoanalysis. He did not need years of therapy on a psychologist’s couch. He had the intelligence to figure it out because he confronted himself as he truly was and extended that personal analysis to his family and surroundings. He acknowledged his sins, and how truly needy he was of his father’s love and mercy.
We are half way through the Season of Lent. Like the younger son, have we confronted our own faults, our lack of perception, and yes – our own sins?
The Prodigal says: “I will arise and go to my father, and will say unto him, father, I have sinned against heaven, and before you.”
This is the turning point in the Prodigal’s life. It can also be ours.
Improvement begins with a decision to change the way we do things, the way we behave and perceive reality, both in a secular and spiritual sense. If you are a Western Rite Catholic, this is accomplished in three ways: Sacramental Confession, prayer, and resolution of purpose. Reconciliation is always possible. Our God is a God of justice, but also, a God of infinite familial love and mercy.
Do we behave like the younger son or the elder son? Are our hearts cold?
What the younger son ultimately accepts the elder son initially rejects. At first, the elder son resents the generosity of the father’s love – he resents the generosity of the act of forgiveness. It appears that he is unable to accept his repentant brother or his generous father.
Does this, in any way, apply to us? Do we ignore the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit’s love for us; do we resent people who have converted, changed their spiritual way of life? Or do we continue to judge them as if they were still enveloped by their sins? Do we verbalize our resentment or question their repentance? Are we unwilling to repent of these attitudes? Are our hearts cold?
I am a sinner and you are a sinner. There are very few people on this earth that are living saints. Regardless of whether our sins are small or large, visible or hidden, it is paramount that we remember the words of St. Paul: God the Father “reconciles us to Himself [through the passion and death of His Son] and has given us the ministry of reconciliation. Be reconciled to God. For our sake He made Him [Jesus Christ] to be sin who did not know sin, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Corinthians 5: 17-21).
We need to take stock of ourselves this Lenten season, repent and return to the Father’s embrace. This can only be done through the Sacrament of Confession/Reconciliation – a Sacrament made possible through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior.