The fourth of St. Thomas Aquinas’ “Five Ways” shows, once again, that we think about the world in a different way than the medieval person did. We tend to look for physical causes for everything, because the success of the sciences, especially physics and biology, have shown how valuable that way of thinking is. We tend to look at abstract properties like goodness, nobility, and beauty as subjective opinions, not something that actually exists in the real world. This is what we mean in the famous saying, “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.”
The medieval mindset saw meaning, purpose, and symbolism in everything, because they saw God at work in everything. They saw goodness, truth, and beauty as objective, not subjective. Something is more or less good, true, and beautiful based on how well it compared to the ideal in the mind of God.
The argument goes something like this. Some things are more or less good, true, noble, beautiful, etc., than other things. Something is more or less good (noble, beautiful, etc.) as compared to something that is the maximum, the most good, as something that is hot is more or less hot compared to fire. Anything that isn’t perfectly good must get its goodness from something outside of itself that causes it’s goodness. Therefore, there must be a Perfect Good which causes goodness in other things, and this we call God.
If we believe that goodness, beauty, and other attributes like that are completely subjective, then this argument isn’t convincing, and it may even seem naive. Does beauty depend entirely on our opinions whether something is beautify or not? Certainly, my experience, education, and preferences have an effect on what I think is beautiful, and what I think is beautiful someone else might think is ugly. However, I don’t think that our opinions are the standard of beauty, because they depend on our experience, education, and preferences.
For a long time I couldn’t see the beauty and eloquence in Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. I simply didn’t like it. Then, I had a teacher who helped me to see the play in a new light, to understand the deeper themes and the genius of the writing, and to appreciate Romeo and Juliet for the masterpiece that it is. My personal preferences didn’t change, and it’s still not my favorite of Shakespeare’s plays, but I came to see that beauty that was already there. That wasn’t based on my opinion. The beauty was there whether I saw it or not, but once I saw it I couldn’t deny it. It reached out and took hold of me. That’s what beauty, truth, and goodness have in common. We can deny them, but they don’t depend on our opinions, and once we see the beauty in a piece of art, the truth in a proposition (like 2 + 2 = 4), or the goodness in another person, we can no longer deny it. So, if beauty, truth, and goodness really exist, then they must come from somewhere, “and this we call God.”
Back in November Archbishop Aymond declared 2021 to be the Year of the Eucharist in the Archdiocese of New Orleans. In December, Pope Francis declared 2021 to be the Year of St. Joseph for the universal Church. So, what are we focusing on for this year, the Eucharist or St. Joseph? Archbishop Aymond, after consulting with the priests of the Archdiocese, has declared 2021 to be the Year of the Eucharist and St. Joseph. We’ll focus mainly on the Eucharist, but we’ll also have extra devotions and teachings for St. Joseph as well.
During 2020 we experienced an unprecedented time of separation from the Sacraments throughout the world. Due to quarantines related to Coronavirus, we were unable to attend Mass here in the Archdiocese of New Orleans for about 6 weeks, and we’re actually still on reduced capacity in Churches. With the vaccines coming out, we have a good chance that restrictions will be further relaxed and more people will be able to get to mass.
This has been such a challenge because the Eucharist is absolutely necessary for living the faith. It isn’t lagniappe, a little something extra that we can take or leave, it’s the very Body and Blood of our Lord Himself and the real presence of God. The Catholic faith is about union with God, and Holy Communion is the path to union with God. Unfortunately, absence from the Eucharist can’t help but affect how we few the Eucharist and our own practice of the faith. For some, it has reinforced their need for the Eucharist and even lead to conversions. For others, it’s helped form a habit of not going to Mass or staying at home and watching Mass on television. Televised Mass isn’t enough because we’re not gathered with the Church to praise the Lord and we can’t receive Communion that way. Watching mass on TV or the internet is like using a spare tire on your car; it’s good as a temporary solution to get you where you need to go, but it won’t last in the long term. The year of the Eucharist is meant to reinforce the Sunday obligation (when it’s reinstated), to center our faith back on the Eucharist and the Holy Mass, and to bring us together as one community, one Church, around the Eucharist.
The Year of St. Joseph was called because 2021 is the 150th anniversary of the declaration of St. Joseph as Patron Saint of the Catholic Church. Theologically, St. Joseph is the patron of the Church because he was chosen by God as the foster father of our Lord Jesus Christ and protector of the Holy Family of Jesus. Since the Church is the Holy Family of the brothers and sisters of Christ in union with our Father in heaven through the gift of the Holy Spirit, St. Joseph is entrusted with the protection of the Catholic Church. The Church, clergy and laity, needs St. Joseph’s intercession and protection from corruption within and persecution without.
This year is an invitation to all of us to ask for the paternal guidance of St. Joseph over the Church, to renew our love for the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, and to recenter our families around the altar and the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.
The celebration of the new year is on different days in different cultures and at different times in history. For the most part, the Western cultures follow the Roman tradition, traced back to Julius Caesar, of celebrating the new year on the first day of January to honor the god of beginnings, Janus. After the past year, I’m sure that many of us need a new beginning, but we’re better off looking to Christian tradition to see what they renewal should look like.
When you restore an old, warped, rusted piece of equipment, the first thing you need to do is look at the original form. This lets you picture what the final product should look like and make a plan to get there. For a renewal in our lives, we may listen to motivational speakers and read self-help books, but we have to ask ourselves if they’re giving us a true picture of what life should look like. Instead, let’s look to the author of life, our Lord Jesus Christ. God is the Creator who created humanity in the beginning and who personally created each one of our souls. When we look to Jesus Christ we see how humans are supposed to live. We see, in a way, the original plan for our creation. Jesus was uncompromising with what was true and right and made a whip of cords to clear the money changers out of the Temple, but He was also gentle and compassionate in calling sinners to repentance. He knew the mission His Heavenly Father gave Him and didn’t let any obstacle deter Him. He was comfortable with the poorest of the poor and in the presence of kings and Roman governors. He shows us that sentimental love isn’t enough; we are called to a sacrificial love.
Once you know what it’s supposed to look like, then you need to start taking off what doesn’t belong. Clean off the dirt, remove the rust, and scrape off the old paint. You may need to use a sander and a wire brush, but all of that stuff needs to go. In the same way, we need to see what in our own lives is a corruption of the original plan. Once we know who we’re supposed to be, who God is calling us to be, then we can see what parts of our lives are distorting that vision. All of our sins and all of our vices need to go. Even some good things may be getting in the way of being the person, the spouse and parent, the friend, and the Christian that God is calling us to be. In the Christian tradition we call this asceticism, which is the practice of disciplining ourselves by denying ourselves some things so we can obtain greater things.
Finally, we may have to reshape some things so the tool can come back to flush and everything can fit together and work smoothly. We know that in our lives things don’t always work smoothly, and sometimes it seems like we’re just treading water. God doesn’t expect the impossible, and we can’t expect perfection, because then we may give in to discouragement and give up. What we should expect is to make an improvement every day, to grow in holiness every day, and to grow closer to Christ every day. We can do that, as one of my teachers said, by looking at Jesus, looking at ourselves and seeing where we don’t measure up, and then making an adjustment. Renewal isn’t something that happens once and then it’s finished, it’s a process of responded to God’s invitation to renewal every day.
The last three ways may be better to cover one at a time, so we have the space to do it properly. The third way is from possibility and necessity. The things in our experience are only possible, but not necessary, like a chair. The chair can exist, but it doesn’t have to exist. At one time it didn’t exist, and then something caused it to exist, and at some point it will stop existing. If everything were only possible, then there could have been a point in which nothing existed. If this happened then nothing would exist now, since nothing can come from nothing. Obviously, things do exist. The alternative is that some things are necessary and must exist, and are not just possible. Logically, they must receive their necessity from themselves or from something else, and we’ve already seen that a chain of causes cannot go on for infinity. Therefore, there must be something that does not depend on anything else for its existence, but is necessary of itself. This all men speak of as God.
This is the hardest of the five ways for me to wrap my mind around. I think it’s because all of the things around us are only possible, so it’s hard to imagine that something could be truly necessary. We may think of the universe as necessary, but it began to exist with the Big Bang. Even the laws of the universe are not necessary as many of them began to exist with the Big Bang, and they don’t truly have to be what they are. God, however, is completely self-sufficient and has created everything else that exists.
I think what St. Thomas Aquinas wants us to see is that must things depend on other things to exist. We call this contingent existence. God, on the other hand, is necessary. He is pure existence or the act of existence itself, and He is holding everything else in existence at every moment. Last week I used the example of a pool cue striking a cue ball which then strikes the other balls. This is a series of causes and effects that follow in a sequence. Some things have effects that happen at exactly the same moment. For example, when you plug a lamp into a power outlet the electricity causes the lamp to light up, but it happens simultaneously. The same thing happens when you pick up a ball. You hand is causes the ball to rise, but it’s not one thing and then the other, they happen at the same time. God didn’t just create us and let us go; like a parent, He is constantly holding us in existence. The Catechism says:
“With creation, God does not abandon his creatures to themselves. He not only gives them being and existence, but also, and at every moment, upholds and sustains them in being, enables them to act and brings them to their final end. Recognizing this utter dependence with respect to the Creator is a source of wisdom and freedom, of joy and confidence” (CCC 301).
And as the Acts of the Apostles says, “For in him we live, and move, and have our being” (Acts 17:28)
This Advent we’ve made a point to talk a lot about who God is and what kind of life He is calling us to. We’ve made the point that we have a choice to follow God’s will or our own will, to obtain meaning from God or to live without meaning and purpose, because God made everything with meaning and purpose, but without God everything is just the result of a series of accidents. So, how can we be sure that God really exists? Do we just have to take the best guess with no real evidence?
There are two ways to know something: in itself or from its effects. For example, you can know a person because you met them or because you’ve seen the things that they did. St. Thomas Aquinas believes that we cannot know God in Himself, because He is mysterious and out of our reach (He does reveal Himself to us, but this is Revelation, not reason). Therefore, St. Thomas Aquinas argues for the existence of God from His effects, that is, from the world around us.
First, we have to have a starting point, so we’ll start with something that we can’t prove, but that is obvious and irrefutable. Nothing comes from nothing. To put it another way, you can’t get something from nothing. Everything has a sufficient reason for its existence. This is called, fitting, The Principle of Sufficient Reason. From this assumption, St. Thomas Aquinas has five ways, or arguments, to come to the existence of God. I’ll summarize two of his arguments today, and we’ll come back to the other three another time. Notice that these ways don’t just try to prove that God exists; they also try to tell us something about God. The original text of the Five Ways can be found in St. Thomas Aquinas’ Summa Theologiae, in the third article of the second question of the “Prima Pars.”
The Argument from Motion begins with the fact that some things in this world are in motion. We know that whatever is moved is moved by something else. For example, in pool the balls move because they are struck by the cue ball. However, the thing that moves the first thing must also be put in motion by something else, just as the cue ball is first put in motion by the pool cue. This cannot go on infinitely, because then there would be no First Mover and therefore no motion. Therefore, it is necessary to arrive at a first mover, put in motion by no other, and this everyone understands to be God.
The Argument from Causation is similar to the Argument from Motion. Based on the Principle of Sufficient Reason, we know that nothing can cause itself to exist. An oak tree, for example, comes from an acorn, but the acorn must also be planted in good soul and get enough water for an oak tree to grow. These things are all causes of the oak tree. Now, there’s an order to causes. The acorn that grew into the oak tree came from another oak tree, which came from another acorn, and so on. This procession of causes can’t keep going forever. If there is no First Cause, then there can be no subsequent causes, and then nothing would exist. If there was no original acorn or oak tree, then none of the ones that came from it could exist. However, we know that things do exist. Therefore, there must be a First Cause, and this everyone calls God.
This Friday we’ll celebrate Christmas and the fact that this First Mover and First Cause entered the world as a little baby born to the Blessed Mother. He isn’t only the distant God of the philosophers; He is also fully revealed to us in the person of Our Lord Jesus Christ.
In the Catechism of the Catholic Church we learn about the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary, which we celebrate this Tuesday, December 8:
Through the centuries the Church has become ever more aware that Mary, ‘full of grace’ through God, was redeemed from the moment of her conception. That is what the dogma of the Immaculate Conception confesses, as Pope Pius IX proclaimed in 1854: ‘The most Blessed Virgin Mary was, from the first moment of her conception, by a singular grace and privilege of almighty God and by virtue of the merits of Jesus Christ, Saviour of the human race, preserved immune from all stain of original sin’ (CCC 491).
Original sin isn’t an actual sin that any of us committed; instead, original sin refers to the actual first sin of Adam and Eve, our first parents, who disobeyed God because, in their pride, they listened to the temptation of Satan, “No, you shall not die the death. For God doth know that in what day soever you shall eat thereof, your eyes shall be opened: and you shall be as Gods, knowing good and evil.” The had already been created by God “to our image and likeness,” but they wanted to be like God without God, or to take God’s place in their own lives. The result of this original sin was the death of the life of God in their souls, what the Catechism calls “the grace of original holiness” (CCC 399).
As children of Adam and Eve we are born outside of grace and the friendship of God. However, the Son of God, who is “God from God, light from light, true God from true God,” came to restore us to grace and to the friendship and love of God, and He was born of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Mother of God. The Church Fathers saw Jesus Christ as a new Adam, come to undo the disobedience of Adam through His own obedience to the Cross. In the same way, they saw the Blessed Virgin as a new Eve.
St. Irenaeus of Lyons wrote, “And thus also it was that the know of Eve’s disobedience was loosed by the obedience of Mary. For what the virgin Eve had bound through unbelief, this did the virgin Mary set free through faith” (Against Heresies 3, 22, 4).
Again, St. Aelred wrote, “Once we lay in death, as you know and believe, in sin, in darkness, in misery. In death, because we had lost the Lord; in sin, because of our corruption; in darkness, for we were without the light of wisdom, and thus had perished utterly. But then we were born, far better than through Eve, through Mary the blessed, because Christ was born of her. We have recovered new life in place of sin, immortality instead of mortality, light in place of darkness. She is our mother – the mother of our life, the mother of our incarnation, the mother of our light” (Sermon 20, in Nativitate beatae Mariae).
The Blessed Virgin was conceived without original sin because she was “full of grace” from the moment of her conception, because she was to carry in her womb the One who would be a blessing to the entire world.
Finally, as Saint Sophronius wrote “Enclosed within your womb in God himself. He makes his abode in you and comes forth from you like a bridegroom, winning joy for all and bestowing God’s light on all” (Oratio 2, in sanctissimae Deiparae Annuntiatione).
There are two seasons of preparation in the Church calendar: Lent and Advent. During Lent we prepare for the Passion, death, and Resurrection of the Lord by prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. In the Mass we cover the statues, remove Holy Water from the fonts, stop singing the Gloria and stop saying Alleluia. At home we fast by giving things up, abstaining from meat on Fridays, and fasting on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. We also give alms by doing extra good works and setting money aside for the poor. During Advent we’re supposed to be preparing for the birth of the Lord, but what do we actually do to prepare? We wear purple at Mass and we shop for Christmas presents. Aside from that? Not much. I encourage you to spiritually prepare for the birth of the Lord through prayer, fasting, and almsgiving.
What prayers can help us prepare for the Nativity? First, pray the O Antiphons. These are antiphons that are used in Mass from December 17 to Christmas that give different titles of Jesus Christ. We can meditate on these antiphons and ask ourselves who Christ is in our lives. You can also take time to read the accounts of the birth of Jesus in the Gospels. They can be found in Matthew 1 & 2, Luke 1 & 2, and John 1:1-28. Another good thing would be to participate in our 40 Hours Devotion, which is 40 hours (really 43) of continuous adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. After all, what better way is there to prepare for the coming of Jesus Christ in the flesh than to spend time in the presence of the Most Holy Body of the Lord?
We aren’t officially required to fast during the season of Lent now, but traditionally there were several days of fasting on the Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday after the feast of St. Lucy of Syracuse on December 13. They were called Ember Days, and this year they would fall on December 16, 18, and 19. Fridays are also special days of fasting and abstinence in memory of the death of our Lord on a Friday. We sacrifice things on those days to unite ourselves to the Cross of our Lord and to teach ourselves to prefer God to all things. We may not be going to as many parties as normal this year, so we have an opportunity to prepare ourselves spiritually for the birth of Christ by sacrificing something on Fridays and Ember Days of Advent.
Finally, prayer and fasting are useless if they don’t lead to a growth in charity. There are so many opportunities to give during the Christmas season, and we should take advantage of them. You can give at OLOL either through the Angel Tree or by giving directly to the St. Anthony Boxes in Church, or you can give through any of the many good charities out there. Don’t just give money, though; make a point to do good things for the people around you during this time, especially when they won’t know about it. As the Lord said, “But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your almsgiving may be in secret, and your Father, who sees in secret, will repay you” (Mt 6:3-4).
In every validly celebrated Catholic Mass, as well as those Eastern Rite Churches that have valid sacraments, the priest calls down the Holy Spirit upon the bread and wine and they are transubstantiated into the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, so that they are really changed and Jesus Christ is really present on our altars. We owe the highest worship and reverence to God, so we owe the highest worship and reverence to the Holy Eucharist, because God is really present there. Let’s look at how the Church asks us to pay reverence to God when we go up to receive Holy Communion.
The General Instruction of the Roman Missal (GIRM), which is the Church document that describes how Mass is supposed to be celebrated, says this, “The Priest prepared himself by a prayer, said quietly, so that he may fruitfully receive the Body and Blood of Christ. The faithful do the same, praying silently” (GIRM, 84). All the people, not only the priest, are to prepare themselves to receive by first praying. Every time we receive we are given grace, but that grace may be more or less effective, more or less fruitful, depending on how we receive it. There are two options for the priests prayer, here is the one I normally use, “May the receiving of your Body and Blood, Lord Jesus Christ, not bring me to judgement and condemnation, but through your loving mercy be for me protection in mind and body and a healing remedy.” As you’re coming up to receive, you may make an Act of Contrition, ask for a particular grace, or ask for growth in faith, hope, and charity.
When we go up to actually receive Communion, we have options on how to receive. First, we can choose to receive either kneeling or standing. The document Redemptionis Sacramentum (RS), which was put out in 2004 by the Vatican Congregation for Divine Worship, says, “’The faithful should receive Communion kneeling or standing, as the Conference of Bishops will have determined’… ‘However, if they receive Communion standing, it is recommended that they give due reverence before the reception of the Sacrament” (RS, 90). You have the right to choose to receive kneeling or standing. If you stand, however, you should genuflect or bow before receiving to show reverence for the Blessed Sacrament. After all, you’re not in line for fast food but to receive the very Body and Blood of Jesus Christ. I’ve notice more people receiving Communion kneeling lately, and I want to make it easier for them, so we’re going to start putting kneelers out at the front Communion station.
Your second choice is to receive on the tongue or in the hand, “Although each of the faithful has the right to receive Holy Communion on the tongue, at his choice, if any communicant should wish to receive the Sacrament in the hand, in areas where the Bishops’ Conference with the recognition of the Apostolic See has given permission, the sacred host is to be administered to him or her” (RS, 92). Basically, receiving on the tongue is the ordinary way, but the bishops can ask the Pope for permission to give Communion in the hand as well. You therefore have the right to receive either way. If you receive on the tongue, extend your tongue and open your mouth wide enough to receive the Host, but not so wide that we can check your tonsils. If you receive in the hand, follow the advice of St. Cyril of Jerusalem, “When you approach, take care not to do so with your hand stretched out and your fingers open or apart, but rather place your left hand as a throne beneath your right, as befits one who is about to receive the King. Then receive him, taking care that nothing is lost” (Cat. Myst. V, 21-22).
From the earliest days of the Church there have been debates about the faith and the teachings handed down to us from Christ through the Apostles. In that time there were many errors about who Jesus Christ is and what His nature is. Some said that Jesus Christ is only God and never really took on human flesh but only appeared to. Some said that Jesus Christ is a human that God merely worked through. Finally, some said that Jesus Christ is more than human but less than God and is something in between. The Church, reflecting on the Scriptures and Traditions, teaches that Jesus Christ is true God and true man in one Divine Person. The Son of God, coequal with God the Father and the Holy Spirit, truly united Himself to a human man in the person Jesus Christ.
The devotion to the Sacred Heart is an expression of this Catholic faith in the humanity and divinity of Jesus Christ. The heart is an organ of the body, but in Jesus Christ His Sacred Heart represents the love and mercy of God Himself for each one of us. I’m not talking about the emotion of love, which Jesus surely felt in His humanity for His mother and St. Joseph, for the Apostles, for Lazarus, Martha, and Mary, and for many others. I’m talking about His commitment to working for our good, our salvation, no matter what it cost Him, “even to the death of the Cross” (Phil 2:8). On the Cross Jesus offered His life for our salvation, to transform us into children of God and give us the grace to love as He loves. Then, to ensure that He had died, a soldier thrust a spear into His side which pierced His Sacred Heart, “and immediately there came out blood and water” (Jn 19:34).
One of the main acts of devotion to the Sacred Heart is the enthronement of the Sacred Heart. To do it you make an act of consecration of your family and home to Jesus Christ, and then you symbolically enthrone Him as King of your home and family by placing an image of the Sacred Heart in a prominent place in your home. Next week, we’ll do this together as a parish by enthroning the Sacred Heart as King of our Parish. We’ll make an act of consecration to the Sacred Heart after each Mass next weekend, then we’ll place the statue of the Sacred Heart in the alcove on the right side of the Church after the 11:00 AM Mass. To prepare yourself for the enthronement, say the following prayer every day this week:
O Christ Jesus, I acknowledge You to be King of the universe; all that has been made is created by You. Exercise over us all Your sovereign rights. We hereby renew the promises of our Baptism, renouncing Satan and all his works and empty promises, and we promise to lead henceforth a truly Christian life. Divine Heart of Jesus, we offer You our poor actions to obtain acknowledgement by every heart of Your sacred kingly power. May the kingdom of Your peace by firmly established throughout the earth.
Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, Your kingdom come through Mary.
Sacred Heart of Jesus, protect us.
Immaculate Heart of Mary, queen of heaven, pray for us.
St. Joseph, friend of the Sacred Heart, pray for us.
St. Michael, first champion of the Kingship of Christ, pray for us.
Guardian angels, pray for us.
Throughout the history of the Catholic Church there have been various periods of renewal. In these times the Church has tried to return to her original mission given by the Lord in Matthew 28, “Therefore, go forth and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have ever commanded you.” The Church’s mission is to bring the Gospel to all peoples and to bring all people to Christ, and she does this by trying to live and teach what Christ taught, by seeking true holiness of life, and by administering the sacraments.
When the Church needs renewal, we must return to the original teachings of Christ to see how we have failed to live them out and how we can turn back to the Lord. Those teachings are found in the Sacred Scriptures and in the Sacred Tradition. One of the best ways of understanding both the Bible and the Tradition of the Church is by looking back to the teachings of the Fathers of the Church.
The Fathers lived between the time of the Apostles and the 8th century in both the Eastern, Greek-speaking Church and the Western, Latin-speaking Church. Many, but not all, of them are canonized saints. They aren’t infallible, but together they preserved, interpreted, and explained the teachings of Christ, especially by commenting on the Bible. In the late Middle Ages the Church had a renewed interest in the writings of the Fathers, and many of them which had been lost in Europe after the fall of the Roman Empire were brought back from Greek and Arabic lands and translated into Latin. Pope Urban IV commissioned St. Thomas Aquinas to collect the writings of the Church Fathers to make them readily available. In the Catena Aurea St. Thomas collects specifically their writings on the Gospels. He goes through each Gospel verse by verse and passage by passage collecting the best thoughts of the Church Fathers for each chapter and verse of each Gospel and connecting them in one continuous “chain,” which is what catena means.
The Catena Aurea or “golden chain” was finally translated into English by St. John Henry Newman in 1841 to further spread the teachings of the Church Fathers and help people have a deeper understanding of the Gospel of Christ and mysteries of God. So, the Catena Aurea is the thoughts of the Church Fathers (many of whom are saints) on the Gospels, by a saint, St. Thomas Aquinas, and translated by another saint, St. John Henry Newman. If you want to check it out, you can find it for free at the link above.
Fr. Bryan became pastor of Our Lady of Lourdes on July 3, 2017. Read his bio here.