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The Third Joyful Mystery
The Birth of Jesus
In our article The First Joyful Mystery: The Annunciation – in consideration of St. Louis de Montfort’s statement that the Incarnation of Our Lord is the “most hidden, most exalted, and the least known” of all the mysteries of Our Lord’s life – we focused on the humility of Our Lord in His Incarnation. In the mystery which we will here be examining, we will focus on the poverty of His birth into this world. There is not only a natural, but also profoundly supernatural, connection between these two mysteries, and the virtues which they exemplify.
It is singularly appropriate that the first person to stage a live nativity scene was St. Francis of Assisi. Thomas of Celano, commissioned by Pope Gregory IX in 1228 (three years after Francis’ death) to write his first biography, offers the most complete account of this holy event, which occurred three years before the Saint’s death. The following excerpts are offered for our instruction and inspiration:
Francis’ highest intention, his chief desire, his uppermost purpose was to observe the holy Gospel in all things and through all things and, with perfect vigilance, and all the fervor of his heart, “to follow the teaching and the footsteps of our Lord Jesus Christ”….The humility of the incarnation and the charity of the passion occupied his memory particularly, to the extent that he wanted to think of hardly anything else. What he did on the birthday of our Lord Jesus Christ [in a cave] near the little town called Greccio in the third year before his glorious death should especially be noted and recalled with reverent memory,
In that place there was a certain man by the name of John, of good reputation and an even better life, whom blessed Francis loved with a special love…and he [Francis] said to him: “If you want us to celebrate the present feast of our Lord at Greccio, go with haste and diligently prepare what I tell you. For I wish to do something that will recall to memory the little Child who was born in Bethlehem and set before our bodily eyes in some way the inconveniences of his infant needs, how he lay in a manger, how, with an ox and an ass standing by, he lay upon the hay where he had been placed.”
And after describing how all was done according to St. Francis’ instructions, Thomas of Celano continues:
At length the saint of God came, and finding all things prepared, he saw it and was glad. The manger was prepared, the hay had been brought the ox and ass were led in. There simplicity was honored, poverty was exhalted, humility was commended, and Greccio was made, as it were, a new Bethlehem. The night was lighted up like the day, and it delighted men and beasts. The people came and were filled with new joy over the new mystery. The woods rang with the voices of the crowd and the rocks made answer to their jubilation. The brothers sang, paying their debt of praise to the Lord, and the whole night resounded with their rejoicing. The saint of God stood before the manger, uttering sighs, overcome with love, and filled with a wonderful happiness. The solemnities of the Mass were celebrated over the manger and the priest experienced a new consolation….
The gifts of the Almighty were multiplied there, and a wonderful vision was seen by a certain virtuous man. For he saw a little child lying in the manger lifeless, and he saw the holy man of God go up to it and rouse the child as from a deep sleep [St. Bonaventure say that Francis took the child into his arms and woke him up]. This vision was not unfitting, for the Child Jesus had been forgotten in the hearts of many; but, by the working of his grace, he was brought to life again through his servant St. Francis and stamped upon their fervent memory.
Pope Pius XI, in his Encyclical Rite Expiatis (On the Seventh Centenerary of the Death of St. Francis), writes: “It would appear that in no one has the image of Christ our Lord and the ideal of Gospel life been more faithfully and strikingly expressed than in Francis. For this reason, while he called himself ‘the Herald of the great King’, he has justly been styled ‘the second Christ’ because he appeared like Christ reborn to his contemporaries no less than to later ages….” Popes Leo XIII, Pius X, Benedict XV, and Pius XI – all of whom were member of the Third Order of St. Francis – were united in claiming that St. Francis was an extraordinary gift of God providentially sent to turn Christians away from the luxuries and pleasures of the world and back to living the simplicity and poverty of the Gospel; and further, that this was to be his mission not only to his own age, but to all ages.
That St. Francis was the first to re-enact a live Nativity Scene was certainly, therefore, no mere accident of history. It is only fitting that the Saint who made Lady Poverty his Mistress and the fundamental charism of his Order, should be chosen by God to re-enact and recall to the minds and hearts of all Christians the poverty of circumstances of Our Lord’s Birth, and thus the corresponding radical necessity for all of the faithful to possess a devotion to poverty towards all the things of this world if they are to truly follow Christ.
As noted in the first paragraph of this article, the poverty embraced by Jesus, Mary, and Joseph during Our Lord’s Birth naturally and necessarily proceeds from the humility of the Incarnation. The Incarnation reveals to us the fundamental act of submission and humility (Mary’s fiat) necessary in order that we might receive God into our souls. And through the poverty of His Birth He reveals the fundamental posture which must be ours towards all the things of this world if we are not to be duplicitous in this submission – if it is not merely to be a submission of faith (which is necessary, but not sufficient, unto salvation), but also the submission of our hearts to the simplicity of intention which loves God above all created things. Such simplicity of intention is impossible without a radical devotion to implementing the virtue of poverty into all our dealings with the things of this world.
It is the contradiction between the faith we possess as Catholics and the lives that we actually live in this world, which is the fundamental duplicity and hypocrisy which has plagued Christianity throughout its history. The Apostle St. James writes:
You ask, and receive not; because you ask amiss: that you may consume it on your concupiscences. Adulterers, know you not that the friendship of this world is the enemy of God? Whosoever therefore will be a friend of this world, becometh an enemy of God….Draw nigh to God, and he will draw nigh to you. Cleanse your hands, ye sinners: and purify your hearts, ye double minded. (James 4: 3-4, 8).
The most universal effect of original sin upon our lives is that every moment of our conscious existence it tends to turn our hearts and minds downwards towards “consuming” the gifts of God in our own concupiscences. If the possession of Catholic faith does not, therefore, lead to a devotion to poverty in respect to all the unnecessary goods and luxuries of this world, it is a faith which is always faced with the impending judgment: “Adulterers, know you not that the friendship of this world is the enemy of God?” And if in the face of all the crises we perceive to exist in the Church and the world our prayers seem to go unanswered, it would seem appropriate and reasonable to conclude that the ultimate source of this chastisement from God lies in the duplicity of our own Catholic lives.
It is a vicious circle we are in. The more our minds and hearts are immersed in the luxuries and pleasures of this world, the more clouded and superficial is our understanding of the Ways of God, and the more eviscerated becomes that passion, absolutely necessary to the Christian life, which seeks Him in all the thoughts and actions of our daily lives. And the more superficial our commitment to God, the more our minds and hearts descend into that world of which Satan is the Prince. This is precisely the analysis which Pope Benedict XV offered in his encyclical Sacra Propediem (On the Seventh Centenary of the Third Order):
Now, there are two evils which predominate in the great moral subversion of today: a boundless craze for possession and an insatiable thirst for pleasure. It is these vices especially that attach to our age the shame and blame that, while making steady progress in all that pertains to the convenience and comfort of life, in a more important matter – the duty of good and upright living – it seems to be miserably backsliding to the infamies of pagan antiquity. Naturally; for the more clouded becomes man’s vision of the eternal blessings laid up in heaven, the more do the transitory goods of earth entice and enslave him. Once the mind has turned earthward, however, it is liable to become gradually weak and dull, and loathing things spiritual, ultimately to lose the taste for anything but the delights of passion.
If the “transitory goods’ of the age of St. Francis were sufficient to draw people away from Christ, when Christian belief and civilization were at their peak, one can well imagine Pope Benedict XV’s dismay over the vastly increased evils present in his own day when Christian civilization was in a severe period of decay, and the “marvels” of science and technology were mushrooming modern “comforts” for consumption by an increasingly corrupted faithful. We also need consider, however, that the age of Pope Benedict XV was positively primitive in comparison with what we now have with us. We now swim in an ocean of transitory goods.
One of the great delusions of modern Christians is that, in giving Adam and Eve “dominion” (Gen 1: 26) over all things of this earth, God also gave man total license for all that we now experience as the fruits of modern science and technology. In the first place, the word “dominion” is not to be equated with that rapaciousness and pride of life which seeks to exploit all of creation in order to satisfy that which, after the Fall, became man’s threefold concupiscence: the concupiscence of the flesh, and the concupiscence of the eyes, and the pride of life, which is not of the Father, but of the world” (1 John 2: 16). The dominion to be exercised by man before original sin was a thing of order, harmony, and peace between man and all of creation. This was destroyed by man’s sin, such that all of creation – not only all animals, but the very earth itself – entered into a state of enmity with mankind: “Cursed is the earth in thy work; with labour and toil shalt thou eat thereof all the days of thy life. Thorns and thistles shall it bring forth to thee….”
But secondly, the real dominion to be exercised after the Fall, which was absolutely necessary for both his own future dignity as a human being and possible friendship with God, was dominion over his own lower nature and the threefold concupiscence mentioned above. This in turn demanded a poverty of both spirit and of flesh which could only be lived by creatively and violently exercising dominion over what now became the natural inclinations of his fallen nature. This obviously necessitated an extraordinary modesty in the exercise of any and all powers which he might exercise over the rest of creation. We now live in a culture and civilization which in the most profound sense has failed utterly in this regard.
We think that as Christians we can handle all this possession and accumulation of “transitory goods” – we who, despite sanctifying grace, are subject all the time to the temptations of the world, the flesh, and the devil. In so thinking, we are not of those who follow Jesus Christ, His Holy Mother, or St. Joseph – all of whom espoused poverty, even when there was no necessity present to live such poverty for their own personal preservation in sanctity. It would seem especially beneficial in this regard to consider St. Joseph. After all, it is the husband and father of a family who is most often subjected to the thoughts and feelings (and the coercive opinions of this world) which would demand of him that he make as comfortable and pleasurable as possible the lives of the wife and children who have been entrusted to his care by God. And it is also he who is likely to experience an acute sense of failure and guilt if he fails to do so. The response of St. Joseph to such worldly arguments and temptations is therefore worthy of the deepest consideration. The following is from an article written on this subject by Dom Bernard Maréchaux ((1849-1927) :
The great St. Joseph knew poverty, even destitution. He was forced to live from day to day on his labor; he had to seek work under difficult and humiliating conditions, waiting oftentimes with great worry, and despite his assiduous labor and the privations he imposed on himself, he was not always able to shield Mary and Jesus from the discomfort of poverty.
He was poor, but he loved poverty; he never wished to replace it with the treasures and the oriental luxury of his forefather, King Solomon. If Moses preferred the harsh and persecuted life of his Hebrew brothers – which prophetically depicted the shame of Christ to come – to all the opulence and delights of the corrupted Egyptian court, St. Joseph himself, and even more so than Moses, enlightened by the Holy Spirit, respected and embraced poverty as a priceless treasure.
The goods of the world are in opposition to the goods of Heaven; holy souls do not wish to have riches unless it be to distribute them among the poor. They cannot resign themselves to supine enjoyment of the comforts of life when there are so many humans who do not even have the basic necessities.
The Son of God, coming into this world, could have made use of the goods of this world without fear that His thrice-holy soul might be contaminated by their use, but He wished to banish them from His human life and have no experience of them whatsoever. He was born poor, poor He lived, and poor He died. Between the manger of His birth and the gibbet of His last breath, poverty occupied every instant of His human existence. He thereby gave us the example we needed to hold worldly goods in contempt; and even more, it was His adorable charity which impelled Him to take His place among the poor and disinherited. Having taken upon Himself the cloak of poverty, He rendered it lovable and full of victorious attractions. He impressed by anticipation into the souls of Mary, His Mother, and Joseph, His adopted father, the love of poverty, which, since His coming, has led so many souls to Him.
St. Joseph delighted in taking a poor wife, Mary; and Mary was delighted to take a poor husband, Joseph. O holy union of two souls, both poor and virgins, in whom were manifested incomparable riches, from which proceeded an affection purer than light itself. If there were ever two spouses who loved each other in a chaste manner and in God, without any regard for the advantages of the world, they were Mary and Joseph.
This poverty, which was one of the distinctive signs of his union with Mary, was precious to St. Joseph. He felt its thorns during the flight into Egypt, and felt its bruises under the humble roof in Nazareth. But he loved these thorns and bruises; the thorns blossomed and the bruises turned to joys. (Traditions Monastiques Press, 2009).
*Please pray every Rosary to include the intention: For the Purification of the Church, and consider having a Mass said for this expressed intention. We also are asking people to approach their Pastor and ask him to implement the second annual Rosary to the Interior: For the Purification of the Church event in their Parish Churches next Feb 2 on the Feast of the Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary and the Presentation of Our Lord, which next year occurs on a First Saturday.
The Mystery of the Visitation is most often identified in Rosary meditational books with the virtue of charity, and rightly so. After the Annunciation, Mary journeys “with haste” to visit her cousin Elizabeth, who is found to be miraculously with child in her old age, and this Visitation of Mary is rightly seen as an act which expresses a deep “love of neighbor” proceeding naturally from her love of God. But there is much more to be explored here – truths about both God and man which penetrate to the absolute foundation of man’s salvation and sanctification.
Holy Scripture describes the scene thus:
“And it came to pass, that when Elizabeth heard the salutation of Mary, the infant leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Ghost; And she cried out with a loud voice, and said: Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb. And whence is this to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For behold as soon as the voice of thy salutation sounded in my ears, the infant in my womb leaped for joy. And blessed art thou that hast believed, because those things shall be accomplished that were spoken to thee by the Lord.” (Luke 1: 41-45).
We are here dealing with supernatural communications between four persons – Jesus, Mary, Elizabeth, and John. The voice of Mary, carrying Jesus within her womb, sounds in the ears of Elizabeth, and the six month old child in her womb leaps for joy. As pointed out by St. Augustine, a normal child in the womb will kick or make some other natural movements, but Elizabeth’s child “leaps for joy” – something unheard of under natural circumstances. It is a supernatural occurrence, almost certainly accompanied by John receiving the Holy Spirit for his sanctification. And immediately Elizabeth herself is “filled with the Holy Ghost”, and knows that Mary has received a visitation from God, has conceived a child in her womb, and that this child “shall be called the Son of God.” And all the while, at the center of this infusion of supernatural grace, life and friendship, is the tiny infant Jesus, only a few days since His miraculous conception, the source of it all. This scene presents to us the most magnificent image here on earth of what will be the supernatural communication and friendship between God and man in Heaven. We here encounter the depths of the meaning of Charity.
The Catholic Truth concerning the nature of Charity is almost certainly the least understood and most distorted concept in all of modern Catholic thinking. The word “charity” is used for everything from describing a Church Bazaar selling baked goods and other items for some “charitable” cause, to a feeling of compassion, acceptance, and inclusiveness for those living in mortal sin. Its only possible competitor as a word in possession of such widespread confusion and distortion of meanings is the word “love” itself. It is astonishing to seriously consider the extent and ramifications of our use of the word love. I love my wife and children, I love to fish, I love pizza, I love my new hat. The lesbian loves her partner, the sadist loves to see people suffer, the ISIS soldier loves to kill Christians. And in the next moment our conversation turns a corner and we find ourselves speaking of loving God, or we equate the word with the very Being of God Himself. The only thing that would seem to prevent the word charity being used in similar fashion is that it cannot be converted to a verb. And to add to the confusion, these two words – love and charity – are often used interchangeably. Thus we speak of “the Love of God”, or the “Charity of God”. Obviously, much is in need of clarification if we are not to be deceived in the use of these terms.
Fortunately, there is no concept used in Catholic thought that is more precisely defined than “Charity”. Moreover, the possession of what this term signifies is absolutely essential to our salvation: God is charity: and he that abideth in charity, abideth in God, and God in him.” (1 John 4: 16). Nothing should be of more immediate concern to us, therefore, than coming to a very precise understanding of the exact meaning of this concept and term.
St. Thomas defines charity as “the friendship of man for God”. (ST, II-II, Q.1, A.1). At first, this might seem to us a rather dull definition. We tend to think of friendship as something less than the highest love. This is not true of the friendship between God and man. St. Thomas writes:
“It is written (John 15:15): I will not now call you servants…but My friends. Now this was said to them by reason of nothing else than charity. Therefore charity is friendship.” (Ibid).
We think back to the exchange happening between the infant Jesus, Mary, Elizabeth, and John the Baptist during the Mystery of the Visitation, and the concept and reality of supernatural friendship should cause our souls to leap with joy, as it did John the Baptist within the womb of Elizabeth.
To read carefully the entirety of John 15 is to see the nature of this friendship revealed in depth. It entails the elevation of man to the state of fully abiding in the love and truth of God. To raise man to this friendship is the reason why Christ sacrificed Himself on the Cross: “Greater love than this no man hath, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:13). In the light of this teaching to be found in this chapter of John, the concept of friendship takes on a whole new depth of meaning. It reaches to the greatest depths of God’s love for man. When man responds through conversion, it establishes that state in the individual soul which we term “living in the state of sanctifying grace”. In Thomas’ words, “Charity is the life of the soul, even as the soul is the life of the body.” (Ibid, A.2).
But in this life, charity is not a solitary thing. There are many who think that all that really matters in the Christian life is charity or love. They are fond of quoting St. Paul in 1 Corinthians 13 to the effect that “now there remain faith, hope, and charity, these three: but the greatest of these is charity.” They are right to assert that both faith and hope will cease in Heaven, simply because faith will be fulfilled in the direct Vision of the Essence of God, and Hope will be fulfilled in the possession of God. But they neglect to understand that in this life the absolute pr-requisite for being in the state of Charity, and for being able to love God and their fellow man with the virtue of charity, is the possession of Faith. Elizabeth proclaims to Mary: “Blessed art thou that hast believed.” Mary was blessed by God to become the Mother of God because she believed. St. Paul flatly states: “But without faith it is impossible to please God”. Therefore, the soul that does not possess faith, cannot possess supernatural charity, is not in the state of friendship with God, and is spiritually dead.
There is another side to this coin. Just as there cannot exist supernatural charity in this life without faith, so faith without charity is a dead faith. In order to understand this further, we must know something about the relationship between love and charity.
St. Thomas defines love as an “appetency [willing or desiring] for the good [or what is perceived as being good]. As we have already seen, the word “love” can therefore have as many applications as things which are seen or believed to be “good”. We might, in fact, loosely say that the number of “loves” in this world is almost infinite. One can even love things that are objectively evil, since such things can mistakenly be seen as good.
But there is one place where “Charity” and “Love” meet and can be identified with one another. Charity can be identified with the supreme Love which seeks God in all things, and it can of course also be identified with the Love of God which wills man’s ultimate happiness in union with God. We must also know, therefore, that charity is not something which stops at God, but also extends to our neighbor. Thomas writes,
“Now the aspect under which our neighbor is to be loved, is God, since what we ought to love in our neighbor is that he may be in God. Hence it is clear that it is specifically the same act whereby we love God, and whereby we love our neighbor. Consequently the habit of charity extends not only to the love of God, but also to the love of our neighbor.” (II-II, Q.25, A.1).
It is at this point that charity and love can be seen as identical. Charity is constituted as loving God above and in all things, and all things in God. It is also here, therefore, that our language concerning Christian love of our neighbor becomes fully clarified. If, for instance, we examine a Greek-English concordance of the New Testament, we will find that the Greek word that is used for this love of our neighbor is the same as the word for charity. Agapaō is employed for the verb form, to love; and agapē is used for the noun charity, and this is defined as that specific form of love which is friendship. All true love of our neighbor therefore becomes identified with that virtue of charity which seeks his or her friendship totally established in God.
Such is the image we bear in our minds and hearts when we picture the embrace of Mary and Elizabeth.
And the fruit of this act of charity was the sanctification of John the Baptist. It is in fact John the Baptist whose life and teachings may serve to cleanse us of all false notions of charity. He did not rest but in the martyrdom which sought the conversion of all persons out of sin and into the freedom and friendship of Christ.
Charity is a supernatural virtue which cannot abide with the darkness of either serious error or mortal sin. Moreover, we cannot speak of exercising charity towards our neighbors unless our primary love is expressed in the effort “that he may be in God.” Towards all those living in the darkness of unbelief or serious error this necessitates our working with passionate minds and hearts to convert them to the Catholic Faith. To those living in serious sin it requires our working for their moral conversion. We are friends with neither God nor our neighbor if we ignore, or are silent, in regard to this mandate from Christ. The fruit of the Visitation is the sanctification of John the Baptist as Our Lord’s precursor, and no man ever waged a war more fiercely against sin or more vehemently demanded the conversion of all men to Christ and to the Catholic Faith. The fact that such vehemence for the conversion of souls is so little evidenced among contemporary Catholics, especially among the hierarchy, is a powerful witness to the loss of real charity within the Church: “And because iniquity hath abounded, the charity of many shall grow cold.” (Mt. 24: 12).
We are here, therefore, also led into the heart of the truly Catholic understanding of the concept of Mercy. It is a very common error today to equate charity with a universal mercy which is inclusive towards all sorts of very grave sins. It is in fact the concept of mercy which is used to justify the reception of Holy Communion by those who are living in such grave sins.
Again, it is well that we turn to St. Thomas for clarification on this issue.
Posing the question as to “Whether Mercy Is the Greatest of Virtues” (II-II, Q.30, A.4), Thomas offers the following conclusion: “The Apostle after saying (Col. Iii, 12): Put ye on…as the elect of God…the bowels of mercy, etc., adds (verse 14): Above all things have charity. Therefore mercy is not the greatest of virtues.”
In accord with the teaching of St. Thomas, we must carefully distinguish mercy as it is proper to God, from that which is proper to man. Mercy can only be considered the greatest of virtues as it is applied to God Who is “greater than all others, surpassed by none and excelling all”. God’s mercy in creating angels and men from nothingness, and his further act of calling them to share in the inner life of the Godhead, can therefore be seen in a light which views mercy as His supreme attribute. This, according to Thomas, is not true for man, “since for him that has anyone above him it is better to be united to that which is above than to supply the defect of that which is beneath. Hence, as regards man who has God above him, charity which unites him to God, is greater than mercy…”
And, Thomas concludes:
“The sum total of the Christian religion consists in mercy, as regards external works: but the inward love of charity whereby we are united to God preponderates over both love and mercy for our neighbor.”
In other words, the virtue of mercy must be subjected to the demand of charity which seeks that all men be established in the Truth of God; and this, in turn, absolutely necessitates that mercy may never be used as an excuse to violate or contradict the truths of our Faith, from which charity must always proceed. It is here, then, that we return full-circle to the humility, poverty of spirit, and fear of the Lord which we examined in The First Joyful Mystery: The Annunciation. We come to rest in Mary’s Fiat, by which the life of Charity became possible for all men who choose to follow the Truth of Jesus Christ in humility, and through which Mary became not only the Mother of God but also the Mother of all the sons and daughters of God who come to rest in the humility and meekness of Her Son:
“Take up my yoke upon you, and learn of me, because I am meek, and humble of heart: and you shall find rest for your souls. For my yoke is sweet and my burden light. (Mt. 11: 29-30).
To refuse this invitation is sheer madness. Because of this refusal the world, and those who seek to make friendship with the world, face judgment:
“And this is the judgment: because the light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than the light: for their works were evil. For every one that doth evil hateth the light, and cometh not to the light, that his works may not be reproved. (John 3: 19-20).
To encourage, bless, or be inclusive towards such madness in the name of love, charity, or mercy is to do the work of Satan for the ruin of souls.
*Please pray every Rosary to include the intention: For the Purification of the Church. Also please have your Pastor offer a Mass for this intention, and ask him to promote the Rosary to the Interior: For the Purification of the Church on Feb 2, 2019.
In him [Christ] was life, and the life was the light of men.
(John 1: 4)
We are familiar of course with the Catholic truth that God created man in his own “image and likeness.” It is one of the first revealed truths in Holy Scripture: “Let us make man to our own image and likeness” (Gen 1:26). But the above verse of scripture from the Prologue to the Gospel of St. John penetrates much deeper into the meaning of what was revealed in the Old Testament. It speaks of a relationship between the life of Christ and the light of man (his consciousness, and therefore how he knows and wills, and lives) which must be considered to be something infinitely deeper than just some sort of picture-like image.
This same Prologue to the Gospel of St. John ends with the following verse (14):
“And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we saw his glory, the glory as it were of the only begotten of the Father), full of grace and truth.”
Grace and Truth are the Life of Christ. And the Life of Christ, being the light of men, became flesh so that the Way of living the life of His Grace and Truth in the flesh might be known to all men, and made possible through the sanctifying grace merited by the redemptive sacrifice of Christ on the Cross. St. Paul speaks of the mystery of Christ, “which hath been hidden from ages and generations, but now is manifested to his saints”, and which is “in you the hope of glory”. (Col 1: 26, 27). The Rosary is a gift from God which unfolds the mysteries of Christ’s life before our minds and hearts, not only that we might know the life of Christ “hidden from ages and generations’, but that these mysteries might provide the light necessary for our own interior transformation into the life of Christ. The Rosary has a power over our souls which supernaturally draws us to sainthood.
What is planned here, therefore, are meditations upon each of the Mysteries of the Rosary as they relate both to the mystery of God as revealed in the incidents of the life of Christ, and also as they relate to our own interior transformation: We seek to see, that we might be changed: “But we all beholding the glory of the Lord with open face, are transformed into the same image from glory to glory, as by the spirit of the Lord.” (2 Cor 3:18). Anyone who has said the Rosary faithfully for any length of time knows without doubt that the Rosary possesses the power from Our Lady to change us.
The ultimate goal of this process of interior transformation is the direct vision in Heaven of the Essence of God – what the Catholic Church calls the Beatific Vision. And since this Vision of God is our ultimate happiness, and therefore must be kept before our minds and hearts at least implicitly during our entire spiritual journey, it would be well that we begin with a consideration of how such a thing is even conceivable.
What we are about to examine necessitates the use of theological and philosophical concepts which might prove challenging to some. Future articles on the Mysteries of the Rosary will not be as difficult. At the same time, however, we believe that there is much here that can be of benefit to all, and we hope that anything that might at first seem challenging will be reread and pondered.
Catholicism is the only Faith which believes in the complete perfectibility of man. It is the only religion in the world which believes with certainty that man was created for the ultimate destiny of seeing the very Essence of God (which in Catholic theology is called the Beatific Vision). This also entails that nothing truly human will be destroyed, but rather perfected – his intellect and heart, his desires and passions, his social relationships, and even his body. Nothing of true value will be lost, but only made eternally perfected and glorious.
Such a future for man can only be possible if God created man with a nature which, even though it is finite and must never in any way be identified with or made part of God, somehow bears a real spiritual relationship to God. Holy Scripture declares precisely this truth: “Let us make man to our image and likeness.” It is in penetrating to the depths of this image and likeness, which has not been lost despite all the effects of original and actual sin, that we may come to a very fruitful understanding of man’s final destiny. Further, it is only here where contemporary man, lost in the darkness of sin and disbelief, can possibly still hear the call of Truth and thus raise his mind and heart to the coming of Christ. In other words, in order to understand man’s final destiny, we must first come to an understanding of who and what he is in the depths of his being.
Creation ex Nihilo: The Life of Christ is the Light of Men
The entire structure of Catholic teaching concerning the relationship which exists between the human soul and Christ – a relationship which enables man in this life to know substantive things about the Essence of God, and to finally come to that state of Blessedness in which he possess direct knowledge and vision of the Divine Essence in Heaven – is erected upon a proper understanding of the Catholic doctrine creation ex nihilo (creation from nothing).
The doctrine creation ex nihilo is absolutely unique to the Judaeo-Christian tradition. No other religion has postulated anything even remotely similar. It can be known only through Divine Revelation. But it is also true that, although it has been historically accepted by virtually all those who consider themselves Christians, it is little understood, and even less integrated into a consistent theology and metaphysics.
The doctrine of creation ex nihilo simply states that God, through an Act of His infinite Intellect and Will, created everything which exists outside of His Divine Being from nothing. It also demands that we affirm that every created thing possesses no independent being of its own apart from the continuing sustaining-creative Act of God. St. Thomas in fact teaches that, apart from the aspect of initial creation, God’s sustaining Act is of the same nature as His creative Act. St. Paul, in addressing the sophisticated and skeptical Greeks, offers the following:
“God, who made the world, and all things therein; he, being Lord of heaven and earth, dwellleth not in temples made with hands; Neither is he served with men’s hands, as though he needed any thing; seeing it is he who giveth to all life, and breath and all things; And hath made of one, all mankind, to dwell upon the whole face of the earth, determining appointed times, and the limits of their habitation. That they should seek God, if happily they may feel after him or find him, although he be not far from every one of us: For in him we live, and move, and are….” (Acts 17: 24-28).
And, again, in his letter to the Colossians, St. Paul offers something very similar:
“For in him were all things created in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones, or dominations, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by him and in him.” (1: 16).
When this truth – that “in him [Christ] we live, and move, and are…”is properly understood, it has immense consequences for our understanding of many other Catholic doctrines, including the actual physical constitution of created things.
Modern man largely lives in a mindset which is like a cage, destructive of his interior freedom and innate dignity. It is a cage erected by modern reductive science, in which everything human – mind, body, and passions – is reduced by what we rightly can label a reductive “atomism” (whether such alleged ultimate constituents be seen as “atoms”, “quanta”, “superstrings”, or whatever). In such a world, man is a trapped animal, determined in every conceivable way by material causation, and possessing no real freedom or individual personhood. Even his mind and consciousness are reduced to such material causation. In such a mindset, any claim to the real, absolute value of human life is delusional.
In direct opposition to such erroneous “scientific” reductionism, Catholic theology and anthropology (the science of man) teaches that the substantial nature of man and all created things is reducible only to the action of God creating them out of nothing. This is in complete opposition to the world-view of modern analytical science.
The Dilemma of Modern Reductive Science
The dilemma of modern reductive science is profoundly revealed in John Horgan’s best-selling book The End of Science (Broadway Books, 1996). Mr. Horgan, former senior writer at Scientific American, interviewed several dozen of the most famous and prize-winning scientists in the world as to their views regarding the “meaning of science”, the “end of science”, etc. He discovered and chronicles what he calls a world of “ironic” science: a world in which virtually no one is sure of any reality, or that there even is such a thing; there is total confusion in regard to the science of epistemology – whether there is or can be any true correspondence between the human mind and objective reality (or whether this is even a valid distinction or question); there is radical discontinuum between the world of ordinary human experience and perception and the “scientific” apprehension of things; and yet most, including Mr. Horgan, still continue to believe in the supremacy of analytical science as an “unfolder” of the depths of reality.
None of these scientists, for instance, would have any idea as to how to connect the “scientific” understanding of water – of two atoms of Hydrogen compounded with one of Oxygen, constituted by electrons spinning at comparatively enormous distances around nuclei, with the whole thing being comprised of 99.999999999 % void – to the marvelous substance we know as water. They are, in other worlds, and in the most profound sense, “lost” in a world of suspicion in regard to the substantial reality of God’s creation, and therefore also of God Himself. Theirs is an insane world – a schizophrenic world – in which what is experienced by their God-given intelligence as substantively real is ultimately a delusion. And this is the poisoned ambiance in which the minds and hearts of virtually all people in the so-called civilized world are immersed. It is no wonder, therefore, that virtually all the nations and cultures of the world are descending at a geometric rate into irrationality, despair, violence, the murder of their unborn, and every perversion conceivable. Why should we be good or responsible if we are only a momentary blot upon the evolutionary landscape?
In direct opposition to this reductive “scientific” view of man is the Catholic teaching concerning the nature of every human being created by God. It is possibly best, and most beautifully, expressed in what is called The Prologue to the Gospel of St. John:
“In the beginning was the Word [Christ], and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him: and without him was made nothing that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. And the light shineth in darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it. (John 1: 1-5).
It is much worth our while to ponder deeply what is meant by the truth that the life of Christ is the light of men.
Human intelligence is an extraordinary thing. There is no material explanation for the light of intelligence. We may certainly say that a certain material structure must be present in order for it to be there in a living human being, but it makes no sense to us whatever that such a spiritual phenomenon can be reduced to material causation. But intelligence is not only the light by which we know things, it is also the light by which we know things in a particular way. If physical things were reducible to atoms and their interchange with one another, and if our minds were only something which received these data and interchanges through the senses, we would never see a tree. There would in fact be no way to justify the notion that there even exists such a thing as a tree because there is no explanation for the unity and substantiality of anything. And we would certainly never be able to understand the giant oak as somehow identifiable with the small seedling that poked its head above the soil 80 years ago. We would in fact never see a human being or anything else possessing a substantial nature, but only the individual units of sense data which are in constant movement and change. And, of course, there is no explanation whatsoever of the interior identity a person experiences of being the same substantial individual at the age of 70 as he or she was at the age of 7. In other words, science cannot now, and never will, be able to explain the substantial world we see around us. Only the Catholic theology and philosophy brought to perfection in the writings of St. Thomas Aquinas can.
Pope Pius XI stated succinctly: “We so heartily approve the magnificent tribute of praise bestowed upon this most divine genius that We consider that Thomas should be called not only the Angelic, but also the Common or Universal Doctor of the Church; for the Church has adopted his philosophy for her own.” ( Pius XI, Studiorum Ducem), And, Pope St. Pius X: “We therefore desired that all teachers of philosophy and sacred theology should be warned that if they deviate so much as a step, in metaphysics especially, from Aquinas, they exposed themselves to grave risk.” (Pius X, Doctoris Angelici).
So let us see first what St. Thomas says about the intellectual light that is the deepest faculty of our human souls:
“And thus we must needs say that the human soul knows all things in the eternal types, since by participation of these types we know all things. For the intellectual light itself which is in us, is nothing else than a participated likeness of the uncreated light, in which are contained the eternal types.” (I, 84, 5).
In other words, the reason we possess a true knowledge of substances is because God created the intellectual light within us as possessing a specific nature with the power to abstract from all the sense data which we received in order to perceive the substantial nature of all those real substances created by God out of nothing, whose types or substantial forms exist eternally in the mind of God. There can be no material causation for such a phenomenon. It is a gift which derives entirely from the life of Christ.
Our Natural Knowledge of God
Having established the fact that the life that is in Christ is the light which enables man to know himself and the world around him, we now must proceed to an understanding of how it enables him to know God.
St. Thomas flatly states: “All knowers know God implicitly in all they know.” (De Veritate, Q.22, .2). This may indeed seem an extraordinary statement in the face of the fact that, especially in the modern age, untold numbers of people are either atheist or agnostic. But St. Thomas’ words simply reflect the words of St. Paul”:
“For the invisible things of him [God], from the creation of the world, are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made; his eternal power also, divinity: so that they are inexcusable.” (Romans 1: 20).
The First Vatican Council declared the following: “If anyone shall say that the One true God our Creator and Lord, cannot be certainly known by the natural light of human reason through created things; let him be anathema.”
In Thomistic philosophy there are five classic ways or arguments by which the existence of God is proved: the Argument from Motion, the Argument from Efficient Causality, the Argument from Contingent Being, the Argument from the Degrees of Being, and the Argument from what is now called “Intelligent Design”. This certainly is not the place to go into detail in regard to these arguments. What is important to understand for our purpose here is that all these arguments simply express in a logical way what is integral to the God-s given intellectual light that is within us, and the principles of thought by which we make sense of the world. And that this experience and thought pulsate with realities which point beyond our present world to an Infinite Being Who is the ultimate source of all the intelligence, movement, causation, etc. that we perceive and experience. We only need add that those persons who totally shut themselves off from such a possibility through atheism, can only be compared to the goldfish in a bowl who (if they could think) refuse to consider that this world is not the whole of reality. As for those who own to a position of agnosticism and thus claim to not know whether God exists, the only honest response, as scripture says, is to vehemently hunger and thirst after an answer. To do less is to hide human dignity under a bushel basket and deny any greatness to the human soul. It is simply to be a goldfish of another variety.
In other words, the man who denies the existence of God cannot claim the excuse of ignorance. Such a position can only be the product of self-deceit or ill-will.
But much more is given to us through Thomistic philosophy than proof of God’s existence. Man has once against been connected, in the deepest faculty of his soul – the light of his intellect – to God. Man’s knowledge is reliable because it is rooted in a participated likeness to the life of God’s intellect. And because we can now truly believe that man sees creation as God sees it, we can now also believe in the possibility of man seeing God, even as man is seen by God.
“We see now through a glass in a dark manner; but then face to face.”Now I know in part; but then I shall know even as I am known.” (1 Cor 13: 12)
God, Whose intimacy to us is such that He sustains us in our natural being every moment of our lives, has yet willed for us a union with Him which infinitely surpasses our natural being and power. He has willed our deification – the vision of, and communion with, His Divine Essence.
In order to philosophically and theologically penetrate into how this can be possible, we must understand something about a very key concept in Catholic philosophy and theology: what is termed “the Analogy of Being”.
God is the One Supreme Being and, as we very well know as Catholics, this “Being” possesses a specific Nature. God created man in His own image and, therefore, the fundamental principle of man’s existence, as it is in God, is the principle of being – a being with a specific nature. Who man is, is determined by God creating his substantial form or essence out of nothing. And so we say that man is created in the image of God because he possesses a spiritual soul with the faculties of intellect and Will. The proper object of the intellect is truth; the highest expression of the will is love. And this love in order to be true, must indeed proceed from truth. Man’s nature therefore deeply reflects the Holy Trinity: The Son is eternally begotten as the Truth of the Father’s Supreme Being, and the Holy Spirit of Love proceeds from both Father and Son.
This truth concerning the Analogy of Being between man and God is immensely important for understanding man’s relationship to God, and the possibility of his deification. The essence of God is not totally incomprehensible to man. The essence of God is transcendent, but not remote. As we have seen, the Analogy of Being provides us with a way of understanding that there is an intimate relationship between our highest values and Who God is in His Essence. It also provides us, as we shall see, with the ability to understand that there is a certain proportion (St. Thomas’ word) between man and God which is the basis upon which God’s Grace can enable us to see and be united with His very Essence in the Beatific Vision.
This vision of the Essence of God is made possible, first of all, because God is not unknowable, but, on the contrary, is infinitely knowable. St. Thomas writes:
“Since everything is knowable according as it is actual, God, Who is pure act without any admixture of potentiality, is in Himself supremely knowable.” (I, 12, A.1).
As we have already demonstrated, “all knowers know God implicitly in all they know.” (De Veritate, Q. 22, a.2). This knowledge, while not explicit, yet establishes the truth that the human mind possesses an intellectual light which possesses the potentiality to be perfected, through the grace of God, in the fullness of Divine Vision.
As we have seen, this concept concerning the infinite “knowability” of God is in direct opposition to the rest of the world’s major religions.
Second, this vision of the Essence of God is possible because there is true proportion between the intellect of man and the Essence of God. This “proportion” extends to the possibility of the Vision of the Divine Essence. St. Thomas, in Summa Contra Gentiles, LIV, writes:
“There is indeed proportion between the created intellect and understanding God, a proportion not of measure, but of aptitude….”
There of course cannot be a “proportion of measure” simply because God’s Intellect is Infinite, and ours finite. But there certainly can be some sort of proportion of aptitude since the light of our intellect is a created participation in the very light and life of God. This proportion (a proportion of aptitude in accordance with the analogy of being) is also why, as St. Thomas says, the positive Names of God such as Essence, Being, Love, Truth, Goodness, and Beauty apply to God substantially. In other words, the highest values of which the human intellect can conceive bear an actual proportion to Who God Is. And this is also the reason why the grace which is called the Light of Glory is able to raise the created intellect to the direct Vision of God’s Essence. St. Thomas further writes:
“Moreover, this light raises the created intellect to the vision of God, not on account of its affinity to the divine substance, but on account of the power which it receives from God to produce such an effect: although in its being it is infinitely distant from God, as the second argument stated. For this light unites the created intellect to God, not in being but only in understanding.” (Ibid).
The human intellect, in other words, created in the image of God and bearing a proportion of aptitude to the vision of God, also bears the aptitude to receive the Grace of Glory from God which will enable it to see God’s Essence. Again, in Article 5 of Question 12, St. Thomas writes:
“On the contrary, It is written: In thy light we shall see light (Ps. xxxv. 10).
“I answer that, Everything which is raised up to what exceeds its nature, must be prepared by some disposition above its nature; as, for example, if air is to receive the form of fire, it must be prepared by some disposition for such a form. But when any created intellect sees the essence of God, the essence of God itself becomes the intelligible form of the intellect. …And this is the light spoken of in the Apocalypse (xxi. 23). The glory of God hath enlightened it – vis. the society of the blessed who see God. By this light the blessed are made deiform – that is, like to God, according to the saying: When He shall appear we shall be like to Him, because we shall see Him as He is. (1 John, ii. 2).”
St. Thomas gives us the following description of the blessed in Heaven:
“But the blessed possess these three things in God; because they see Him, and in seeing Him, possess Him as present, having the power to see Him always; and possessing Him, they enjoy Him as the ultimate fulfillment of desire.” (Ibid).
This Vision of the Divine Essence is not to be confused with “comprehending” God in all His Fullness. Again, St. Thomas:
“God, whose being is infinite, as was shown above, is infinitely knowable. Now no created intellect can know God infinitely. For the created intellect knows the divine essence more or less perfectly in proportion as it receives a greater or lesser light of glory. Since therefore the created light of glory received into any created intellect cannot be infinite, it is clearly impossible for any created intellect to know God in an infinite degree. Hence it is impossible that it should comprehend God.” (Ibid, A.7).
In other words, because we are granted the eternal vision of God’s Essence does not at all mean that we will ever totally comprehend Him. This, again, is a beautiful affirmation of our humanity which will not be destroyed, but only perfected, in Heaven. Even in terms of human relationships we speak of really coming to know a person, of somehow having seen to the very core of who he or she is, and of being united in love, without this in any way meaning that we possess total comprehension of all that is in that person’s mind and heart. In other words, man does not comprehend God, not because His Essence in unknowable, but because He is infinitely knowable and therefore never subject to full comprehension from a finite being. Eternity can therefore never exhaust the infinite depth and richness which will be the subject of our vision of Him. There is no possibility of our ever becoming bored, or that we will ever cease to be immeasurably delighted in our vision of, and life with, God.
Mary’s Role in Our Sanctification and Deification
Our Lord said: “Unless you be converted, and become as little children, you shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven. Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child, he is the greater in the kingdom of heaven.” (Mt. 18:3-4). We have spoken all along in this article of true Catholic intelligence, but such intelligence is in no way to be equated with merely being an intellectual. Catholic intelligence is in fact equated with that act of a human being which, with the absolutely necessary help of God’s grace, he submits his mind and heart to God’s revealed Truth. This is the act of Faith, and it is an act of spiritual childhood which responds to God’s Life and Light being presented to the soul. It is the deepest act of human intelligence by which we ascend, with the necessary aid of God’s grace, into the Life of Christ.
Our Lord’s act of the Incarnation is an act in reverse – an act by which He descended into the womb of Our Blessed Mother in order to unite himself to our humanity. And just as Jesus Christ was conceived by the Holy Spirit and formed within the Immaculate Womb of Mary, so He has willed that we should be conceived by the Holy Spirit in Baptism and formed into the spiritual children of God through her intercession and Motherly love. Christ’s gift of Mary to mankind (beginning with His gift of Mary as Mother to John from the Cross) is therefore something which in no way detracts from Christ as the only Mediator between God and man, but rather something which only serves to further the penetration of the fruits of His Incarnation into the hearts of men. The person who concludes that Mary detracts from Christ, might as well also conclude that the necessity of the water used in baptism does so also. Such a person simply does not understand the richness of the Incarnation, or the depths of God’s Mercy.
It has become abundantly clear over the past eight centuries that the primary means intended by Our Lady for her labor of love in effecting our interior formation and transformation into the likeness of Her Son is the recitation of the Rosary and the contemplation of its Mysteries. The Rosary must also therefore be considered a primary Way for the purification of the Church, the Triumph of Mary’s Immaculate Heart, and therefore the Triumph of the Light of Christ over all that Darkness of sin and error which now pervades the Church and the World.
In the coming months leading up to next year’s Rosary to the Interior: For the Purification of the Church on the Feast of the Presentation and Purification, 2019, this Menu will therefore be dedicated to articles attempting to explore in greater depth all the fifteen Mysteries of the Holy Rosary in order to help increase our interior participation in Our Lady’s Mission to purify the Church. For those wishing to receive notice of these articles during the coming year, we have provided a means for doing so on the homepage of our website.