Ambrose of Milan: What does “Christ” Mean but to Die in the Body and Receive the Breath of Life? Monday, Nov 8 2010 

We see that death is gain, life is loss. Paul says: For me life is Christ, and death a gain.

What does “Christ” mean but to die in the body, and receive the breath of life?

Let us then die with Christ, to live with Christ.

We should have a daily familiarity with death, a daily desire for death. By this kind of detachment our soul must learn to free itself from the desires of the body.

It must soar above earthly lusts to a place where they cannot come near, to hold it fast. It must take on the likeness of death, to avoid the punishment of death.

The law of our fallen nature is at war with the law of our reason and subjects the law of reason to the law of error.

What is the remedy? Who will set me free from this body of death? The grace of God, through Jesus Christ, our Lord.

We have a doctor to heal us; let us use the remedy he prescribes. The remedy is the grace of Christ, the dead body our own.

Let us then be exiles from our body, so as not to be exiles from Christ. Though we are still in the body, let us not give ourselves to the things of the body.

We must not reject the natural rights of the body, but we must desire before all else the gifts of grace.

What more need be said? It was by the death of one man that the world was redeemed.

Christ did not need to die if he did not want to, but he did not look on death as something to be despised, something to be avoided, and he could have found no better means to save us than by dying. Thus his death is life for all.

We are sealed with the sign of his death; when we pray we preach his death; when we offer sacrifice we proclaim his death.

His death is victory; his death is a sacred sign; each year his death is celebrated with solemnity by the whole world.

Ambrose of Milan (c. 337-397): from On the death of his brother Satyrus (Book 2) taken from the Office of Readings for All Souls Day, November 2, at Crossroads Initiative.

John Damascene: Cleansed and Incorruptible, Partakers of His Divinity Tuesday, Oct 26 2010 

Man, however, being endowed with reason and free will, received the power of continuous union with God through his own choice – if, indeed, he should abide in goodness, that is, in obedience to his Maker.

However, man transgressed the command of his Creator and became liable to death and corruption.

Therefore the Creator and Maker of our race, because of His bowels of compassion, took on our likeness, becoming man in all things but without sin, and was united to our nature (Heb. 2:17).

For since He bestowed on us His own image and His own spirit and we did not keep them safe, He took Himself a share in our poor and weak nature, in order that He might cleanse us and make us incorruptible, and establish us once more as partakers of His divinity.

[…] Through His birth, that is, His incarnation, and baptism and passion and resurrection, He delivered our nature from the sin of our first parent and death and corruption.

He became the first-fruits of the resurrection, and made Himself the way and image and pattern, in order that we, too, following in His footsteps, may become by adoption what He is Himself by nature (Rom. 7:17) – sons and heirs of God and joint heirs with Him.

We who are born of Adam are in his image and are the heirs of the curse and corruption.

Therefore Christ gave us a second birth in order that, being born of Him, we may be in His likeness, and may be heirs of His incorruption and blessing and glory.

[…] The bread itself and the wine are changed into God’s body and blood.

If you enquire how this happens, it is enough for you to learn that it was through the Holy Spirit, just as the Lord took on Himself flesh that subsisted in Him and was born of the holy Mother of God through the Spirit.

And we know nothing further save that the Word of God is true and energises and is omnipotent, but the manner of this cannot be searched out.

[…] The bread of the table and the wine and water are supernaturally changed by the invocation and presence of the Holy Spirit into the body and blood of Christ, and are not two but one and the same.

Wherefore to those who partake worthily with faith, it is for the remission of sins and for life everlasting and for the safeguarding of soul and body. But to those who partake unworthily without faith, it is for chastisement and punishment.

The death of the Lord became to those who believe life and incorruption for the enjoyment of eternal blessedness.

John Damascene (c.675-749): De Fide Orthodoxa 4, 13.

R. Garrigou-Lagrange: Gifts of the Holy Spirit (2) – Piety Friday, Jul 30 2010 

Fear has a negative element, making us flee from sin; but the soul needs a more filial attitude toward God.

The gift of piety inspires us precisely with a wholly filial affection for our Father in heaven, for Christ our Savior, for our Mother, the Blessed Virgin, for our holy protectors.

This gift supplies for the imperfection of the virtue of religion, which renders to God the worship due Him, in the discursive manner of human reason illumined by faith.

There is no spiritual impulse and no lasting fervor without the gift of piety, which hinders us from becoming attached to sensible consolations in prayer and makes us draw profit from dryness, aridities, which are intended to render us more disinterested and spiritual.

St. Paul writes to the Romans: You have received the spirit of adoption of sons, whereby we cry: Abba (Father)…

“Likewise the Spirit also helpeth our infirmity. For we know not what we should pray for as we ought; but the Spirit Himself asketh for us with unspeakable groaning.

By this gift we find a supernatural sweetness even in our interior sufferings;

it is particularly manifest in the prayer of quiet, in which the will is captivated by the attraction of God, although the intellect often has to struggle against distractions.

By its sweetness this gift makes us resemble Christ, who was meek and humble of heart.

Its fruit, according to St. Augustine, is the beatitude of the meek, who shall possess the land of heaven.

St. Bernard and St. Francis de Sales excelled in the gift of piety.

R. Garrigou-Lagrange OP (1877-1964): The Three Ages of the Interior Life.

John of the Cross: The Soul’s Transformation into the Will of God Saturday, May 8 2010 

All the desires are not equally hurtful, nor do they all equally embarrass the soul.

I am speaking of those that are voluntary, for the natural desires hinder the soul little, if at all, from attaining to union, when they are not consented to nor pass beyond the first movements.

And to take away these — that is, to mortify them wholly in this life — is impossible.

And these hinder not the soul in such a way as to prevent its attainment to divine union, even though they be not, as I say, wholly mortified.

The natural man may well have them, and yet the soul may be quite free from them according to the rational spirit.

For it will sometimes come to pass that the soul will be in the full union of the prayer of quiet in the will at the very time when these desires are dwelling in the sensual part of the soul, and yet the higher part, which is in prayer, will have nothing to do with them.

But all the other voluntary desires, whether they be of mortal sin, which are the gravest, or of venial sin, which are less grave, or whether they be only of imperfections, which are the least grave of all, must be driven away every one, and the soul must be free from them all, howsoever slight they be, if it is to come to this complete union.

And the reason is that the state of this divine union consists in the soul’s total transformation, according to the will, in the will of God, so that, there may be naught in the soul that is contrary to the will of God, but that, in all and through all, its movement may be that of the will of God alone.

It is for this reason that we say of this state that it is the making of two wills into one — namely, into the will of God, which will of God is likewise the will of the soul.

For if this soul desired any imperfection that God wills not, there would not be made one will of God, since the soul would have a will for that which God has not.

It is clear, then, that for the soul to come to unite itself perfectly with God through love and will, it must first be free from all desire of the will, howsoever slight.

That is, that it must not intentionally and knowingly consent with the will to imperfections, and it must have power and liberty to be able not so to consent intentionally.

John of the Cross (1542-1591): Ascent of Mount Carmel, 1, 11, 2-3.

Benedict XVI: Love Goes Beyond Reason Monday, Mar 22 2010 

Whereas for St. Augustine the intellectus, the seeing with reason and with the heart, is the ultimate category of knowledge, Pseudo-Dionysius takes still another step: in the ascent to God one can come to a point when reason no longer sees.

But in the night of the intellect, love still sees – it sees what remains inaccessible to reason. Love goes beyond reason, sees more, enters more profoundly into the mystery of God.

St. Bonaventure was fascinated by this vision, which met with his Franciscan spirituality. Precisely in the dark night of the cross appears all the grandeur of divine love; where reason no longer sees, love sees.

The conclusive words of his Journey of the Mind to God in a superficial reading, might seem an exaggerated expression of a devotion devoid of content; read, instead, in the light of the theology of the cross of St. Bonaventure, they are a clear and realistic expression of Franciscan spirituality:

“If now you yearn to know how that happens (that is, the ascent to God), ask grace, not doctrine; desire, not the intellect; the groan of prayer, not the study of the letter; … not light, but the fire that inflames everything and transports to God” (VII, 6).

All this is not anti-intellectual and anti-rational: it implies the way of reason but transcends it in the love of the crucified Christ.

With this transformation of the mysticism of Pseudo-Dionysius, St. Bonaventure is placed at the beginning of a great mystical current, which greatly raised and purified the human mind: it is a summit in the history of the human spirit.

Hence, for St. Bonaventure, all our life is a “journey”, a pilgrimage – an ascent to God.

But with our own strength we cannot ascend to the loftiness of God. God himself must help us, must “pull” us on high.

That is why prayer is necessary. Prayer – so says the saint – is the mother and origin of the ascent – sursum actio, action that takes us on high, Bonaventure says.

Because of this, I conclude with the prayer, with which he begins his Journey: “Let us pray, therefore and say to our Lord God: ‘Lead me, Lord, on your way and I will walk in your truth. My heart rejoices in fearing your name’” (I,1).

Benedict XVI (b. 1927): On Theology According To Thomas And Bonaventure (translation by Zenit).

Leo XIII: In God Alone Can The Human Will Find Absolute And Perfect Peace Monday, Jan 25 2010 

Leo XIII

It is surely unnecessary to prove, what experience constantly shows and what each individual feels in himself, even in the very midst of all temporal prosperity – that in God alone can the human will find absolute and perfect peace.

God is the only end of man. All our life on earth is the truthful and exact image of a pilgrimage.

Now Christ is the “Way”, for we can never reach God, the supreme and ultimate good, by this toilsome and doubtful road of mortal life, except with Christ as our leader and guide.

[…] Hence it will be understood that in the Christian religion the first and most necessary condition is docility to the precepts of Jesus Christ, absolute loyalty of will towards Him as Lord and King.

A serious duty, and one which oftentimes calls for strenuous labour, earnest endeavour, and perseverance!

For although by Our Redeemer’s grace human nature bath been regenerated, still there remains in each individual a certain debility and tendency to evil.

Various natural appetites attract man on one side and the other; the allurements of the material world impel his soul to follow after what is pleasant rather than the law of Christ.

Still we must strive our best and resist our natural inclinations with all our strength “unto the obedience of Christ”.

For unless they obey reason they become our masters, and carrying the whole man away from Christ, make him their slave.

“Men of corrupt mind, who have made shipwreck of the faith, cannot help being slaves. . . They are slaves to a threefold concupiscence: of will, of pride, or of outward show” (St. Augustine, De Vera Religione, 37).

In this contest every man must be prepared to undergo hardships and troubles for Christ’s sake. It is difficult to reject what so powerfully entices and delights.

[…] Moreover, to bear and to suffer is the ordinary condition of man. Man can no more create for himself a life free from suffering and filled with all happiness that he can abrogate the decrees of his Divine Maker, who has willed that the consequences of original sin should be perpetual.

It is reasonable, therefore, not to expect an end to troubles in this world, but rather to steel one’s soul to bear troubles, by which we are taught to look forward with certainty to supreme happiness.

Christ has not promised eternal bliss in heaven to riches, nor to a life of ease, to honours or to power, but to long-suffering and to tears, to the love of justice and to cleanness of heart.

Leo XIII (1810-1903): Tametsi Futura Prospicientibus 6.

Benedict XVI: Bernard of Clairvaux – Theology as a Personal Encounter with Jesus Wednesday, Dec 30 2009 

Today I would like to speak about St. Bernard of Clairvaux, called “the last father” of the Church, because in the 12th century he renewed once again and rendered present the great theology of the Fathers.

[…] His solicitude for the intimate and vital participation of the Christian in the love of God in Jesus Christ does not offer new guidelines in the scientific status of theology.

But, in a more than decisive way, the abbot of Clairvaux configures the theologian to the contemplative and the mystic.

Only Jesus – insists Bernard in face of the complex dialectical reasoning of his time – only Jesus is “honey to the mouth, song to the ear,  joy to the heart”.

From here stems, in fact, the title attributed to him by tradition of Doctor Mellifluus: his praise of Jesus Christ, in fact, “runs like honey”.

In the extenuating battles between nominalists and realists – two philosophical currents of the age – the abbot of Clairvaux does not tire of repeating that only one name counts, that of Jesus the Nazarene.

“Arid is all food of the soul”, he confesses, “if it is not sprinkled with this oil; insipid, if it is not seasoned with this salt. What is written has no flavor for me, if I have not read Jesus.”

And he concludes: “When you discuss or speak, nothing has flavor for me, if I have not heard resound the name of Jesus”.

For Bernard, in fact, true knowledge of God consists in a personal, profound experience of Jesus Christ and of his love.

And this, dear brothers and sisters, is true for every Christian: Faith is above all a personal, intimate encounter with Jesus, and to experience his closeness, his friendship, his love; only in this way does one learn to know him ever more, and to love and follow him ever more.

[…] St. Bernard, solidly based on the Bible and on the Fathers of the Church, reminds us that without a profound faith in God, nourished by prayer and contemplation, by a profound relationship with the Lord, our reflections on the divine mysteries risk becoming a futile intellectual exercise, and lose their credibility.

Theology takes us back to the “science of the saints”, to their intuitions of the mysteries of the living God, to their wisdom, gift of the Holy Spirit, which become the point of reference for theological thought

Together with Bernard of Clairvaux, we too must recognize that man seeks God better and finds him more easily “with prayer than with discussion”.

In the end, the truest figure of the theologian and of every evangelizer is that of the Apostle John, who leaned his head on the heart of the Master.

Benedict XVI (b. 1927): On St Bernard of Clairvaux (translation by Zenit).


Gregory of Nyssa: Mystical Liturgy and Liturgy of the Heart Wednesday, Dec 9 2009 

But the spiritual Lawgiver, our Lord Jesus Christ, strips the Law of its external coverings.

He discloses for us the inner meaning of the symbolic riddles.

First of all, He does not separate one man from everyone else in order to lead only him to spiritual converse with God.

He grants this privilege equally to all, presenting the grace of priesthood as common to those who aspire to it.

[…] The spiritual Lawgiver then leads the priest into the Holy of Holies, the innermost part of the sanctuary.

But this Holy of Holies is neither lifeless nor handmade. It symbolizes the hidden treasury of the heart, that is, if the heart is truly inaccessible to evil and impenetrable to wicked thoughts.

And the head He adorns with a heavenly mind, not engraving the form of letters on golden leaf (Ex 28:36) but imprinting the image of God Himself on the ruling faculty of reason.

On the hair He pours myrrh produced inwardly by the soul itself through the virtues. By means of the mystical liturgy He prepares a victim and sacrifice for the priest to offer to God, which is none other than Himself.

He who is thus led to this priesthood by the Lord puts to death the carnal mind by means of “the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God” (Eph 6:17).

He then enters the Holy of Holies and appeases God, offering himself as sacrifice and “presenting his body as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God” (Rom 12:1).

However, is this the obvious meaning of the Lord’s Prayer which we are interpreting? Someone will perhaps object that we are contriving these ideas and do not connect the text of the prayer to familiar things.

Let us remember, therefore, what the Lord’s Prayer has already taught us about approaching God.

Who has prepared himself to name God as his own Father with confidence? It is precisely he who is vested with such a spiritual robe described above.

[…] He enters into the Holy of Holies above the heavens which are truly in accessible and impenetrable to all profane thought.

Gregory of Nyssa (c 335 – after 394): Third Homily on The Lord’s Prayer.

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