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TODAY’S PSALM (PSALM 143)

(Week 25 of the year: Friday)

R. Blessed be the Lord, my rock.

1. Blessed be the Lord, my rock.
He is my love, my fortress;
he is my stronghold, my saviour,
my shield, my place of refuge. (R.)

2. Lord, what is man that you care for him,
mortal man, that you keep him in mind;
man, who is merely a breath
whose life fades like a passing shadow? (R.)

ALLELUIA

Alleluia, alleluia!
May the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ
enlighten the eyes of our mind,
so that we can see what hope his call holds for us.
Alleluia!

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Posted by on September 28, 2014 in Prayers for Ordinary Time

 

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TODAY’S GOSPEL READING (MATTHEW 13:1-23)

A SOWER WENT OUT TO SOW.

Jesus left the house and sat by the lakeside, but such crowds gathered round him that he got into a boat and sat there. The people all stood on the beach, and he told them many things in parables.

He said, ‘Imagine a sower going out to sow. As he sowed, some seeds fell on the edge of the path, and the birds came and ate them up. Others fell on patches of rock where they found little soil and sprang up straight away, because there was no depth of earth; but as soon as the sun came up they were scorched and, not having any roots, they withered away. Others fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. Others fell on rich soil and produced their crop, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. Listen, anyone who has ears!

Then the disciples went up to him and asked, ‘Why do you talk to them in parables?’ ‘Because’ he replied ‘the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven are revealed to you, but they are not revealed to them. For anyone who has will be given more, and he will have more than enough; but from anyone who has not, even what he has will be taken away. The reason I talk to them in parables is that they look without seeing and listen without hearing or understanding. So in their case this prophecy of Isaiah is being fulfilled:

You will listen and listen again, but not understand,
see and see again, but not perceive.
For the heart of this nation has grown coarse,
their ears are dull of hearing, and they have shut their eyes,
for fear they should see with their eyes,
hear with their ears,
understand with their heart,
and be converted
and be healed by me.

‘But happy are your eyes because they see, your ears because they hear! I tell you solemnly, many prophets and holy men longed to see what you see, and never saw it; to hear what you hear, and never heard it.

‘You, therefore, are to hear the parable of the sower. When anyone hears the word of the kingdom without understanding, the evil one comes and carries off what was sown in his heart: this is the man who received the seed on the edge of the path. The one who received it on patches of rock is the man who hears the word and welcomes it at once with joy. But he has no root in him, he does not last; let some trial come, or some persecution on account of the word, and he falls away at once. The one who received the seed in thorns is the man who hears the word but the worries of this world and the lure of riches choke the word and so he produces nothing. And the one who received the seed in rich soil is the man who hears the word and understands it; he is the one who yields a harvest and produces now a hundredfold, now sixty, now thirty.’

V. The Gospel of the Lord.
R. Praise to you, Lord Jesus Christ.

 

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TODAY’S GOSPEL READING (MATTHEW 7:21-29)

THE HOUSE BUILT ON ROCK AND THE HOUSE BUILT ON SAND.

Jesus said to his disciples: “It is not those who say to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ who will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the person who does the will of my Father in heaven. When the day comes many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, cast out demons in your name, work many miracles in your name?’ Then I shall tell them to their faces: I have never known you; away from me, you evil men!

“Therefore, everyone who listens to these words of mine and acts on them will be like a sensible man who built his house on rock. Rain came down, floods rose, gales blew and hurled themselves against that house, and it did not fall: it was founded on rock. But everyone who listens to these words of mine and does not act on them will be like a stupid man who built his house on sand. Rain came down, floods rose, gales blew and struck that house, and it fell; and what a fall it had!”

Jesus had now finished what he wanted to say, and his teaching made a deep impression on the people because he taught them with authority, and not like their own scribes.

V. The word of the Lord.
R. Praise to you, Lord Jesus Christ.

 

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“MY FATHER WORKS EVEN UNTIL NOW, AND I WORK” (Jn 5:17)

THE SALVATION HISTORY OF ALL MEN AS REVEALED IN THE BIBLE: THE FORMATION OF THE DISCIPLES

“The first year of the public ministry of Jesus ended in failure. Most of those who had followed Him deserted Him. His miracles had excited their admiration and raised their hopes of deliverance from Roman rule. But His refusal to conform to their idea of a triumphant political Messias had alienated their allegiance to Him. He had offered Himself to them as the ‘Bread of Life,’ but they had refused to accept Him.

SOME FEW REMAINED FAITHFUL TO JESUS

Some few remained faithful to Him, especially the Apostles. They refused to leave Him, saying, ‘To whom shall we go? Thou hast the words of eternal life.’ By so acting they cut themselves off from the majority of their fellow-countrymen. Jesus Himself knew, as He had indeed said, that He would be rejected by His own countrymen. From this time on He would continue to preach His message of salvation in the spiritual Kingdom of God. Only now He would seek to increase in His faithful Apostles and disciples the true understanding of the kingdom which He was to establish. He would show them how different was this kingdom from the earthly kingdom and domination sought by His countrymen.

A SPIRITUAL KINGDOM

Some time after the discourse on the ‘Bread of Life,’ Jesus went to Jerusalem for the feast of Pentecost. Almost at once He came into conflict with His enemies. At the pool called Bethsaida, near the Sheepgate in Jerusalem, Jesus cured a man who had been a paralytic for thirty-eight years. He told the man to pick up the pallet on which he had been lying and to walk home. Now He did this on a Sabbath day. The Jews, on learning that He had done this, were angry. In their eyes Jesus had broken the law of the Sabbath-day rest. He had Himself worked the miracle and He had even ordered the cured man to carry his pallet. When they objected to this, Jesus replied, ‘My Father works even until now, and I work’ (John 5:17).

The Jews understood Him to mean that He was equal to God. Since they perceived Him only a man, they regarded His claim as blasphemy. Hence they determined to oppose Him.

THE JEWS DETERMINED TO OPPOSE JESUS

Jesus, for His part, was kind to them and He tried to explain His position clearly. ‘Amen, amen, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of himself, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever he does, this the Son also does in like manner’ (John 5:19).

By saying that He can do nothing of Himself but only what He sees His Father doing, Jesus attempted to soften for the Jews who did not believe in Him or His claims His right to be accepted by them as one sent from God.

JESUS EXPLAINS TO THE PEOPLE THAT GOD HAS SENT HIM TO RESTORE LIFE

But He goes on to explain that God has sent Him to restore life, spiritual life, to men who are dead in their sins. As God the Father has power to give this life to men who are dead, so also has He, the Son, the same power. And because He has this power, He has also from His Father the right and power to judge men. Those who hear Him and believe the Father who has sent Him will rise to life on the last day; but those who do not hear Him and accept Him will rise to judgement.

‘IF YOU WILL NOT ACCEPT MOSES, HOW WILL YOU ACCEPT ME?

Then Jesus tried to show the Jews the justice of His claim to be sent to them by God. Since this mission of Jesus from God is a fact, and indeed a divine fact, it is not susceptible of ordinary means of proof.

Only witnesses can testify to the truth of such a fact. Jesus calls upon the witnesses known to the Jews. John the Baptist, He says, gave testimony to Me and to My mission. If you accept John as a man of God, then you should accept Me to Whom he has given witness. But Jesus was not content to adduce only the testimony of John. There is a greater testimony to Me, the testimony of God Himself.

‘For the works which the Father has given me to accomplish, these very works that I do bear witness to me that the Father has sent me. And the Father himself, who has sent me, has borne witness to me’ (John 5:36-37).

The works to which Jesus refers are the miracles which He has performed. These miracles are the divine seal placed upon His message and His claims. Through the miracles God Himself has testified that Jesus is the Son sent by the Father to establish the Kingdom of God among men. Lastly Jesus refers His hearers to the Scriptures. Moses, He says, has written of Me. If you read Moses rightly you would see that I am what I claim to be. But if you will not accept Moses, how will you accept Me?

JESUS EXPLAINS THE SIGNIFICANCE OF THE LAW OF MOSES WHICH HE HAS COME TO FULFIL

But the people would not believe Him. Knowing their enmity Jesus, for the time, left Jerusalem and Judea and returned to Galilee. But His enemies pursued Him. Scribes and Pharisees from Jerusalem came and reproached Him because His disciples were not keeping the Mosaic Law as they interpreted that Law. The disciples of Jesus, they claimed, were at fault because they did not wash their hands before they ate food.

Jesus made this complaint of the Pharisees and occasion to instruct His disciples and the people. God, He told them, is not so much interested in external observance which may cover an inner impurity and evil; rather He desires an internal goodness and purity of heart. The aim of external observances of the Law of Moses was to preserve internal purity of heart. To interpret the Law (and in this instance there was question of the Pharisaic interpretation of the Law) in such wise as to render it impossible to preserve real purity of heart was to act like a hypocrite. Hence Jesus applied to the Scribes and Pharisees the words of Isaias [Isaiah]:

‘This people honours me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; but in vain do they worship me, teaching for doctrines precepts of men’ (Matthew 15:8-9).

Jesus then summed up His teaching in the words:

‘What goes into the mouth does not defile a man; but that which comes out of the mouth, that defiles a man’ (Matthew 15:11).

The Pharisees took offence at this statement and their attitude alarmed the disciples of Jesus. But He told them that the Pharisees were blind leaders of blind men. Then, at the request of Peter, He explained His meaning to them.

‘Do you not realise that nothing from outside, by entering a man, can defile him? For it does not enter his heart, but his belly, and passes out into the drain. And the things that come out of a man are what defile a man. For from within, out of the heart of men, come evil thoughts, adulteries, immorality, murders, thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, shamelessness, jealousy, blasphemy, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and defile a man’ (Mark 7:18-23).

In St Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus adds the words, ‘but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile a man’ (Matthew 15:20).

EVEN THE PAGANS GAVE GLORY TO THE GOD OF ISRAEL

After this instruction to His disciples He left Galilee and went to the district of Tyre and Sidon. While there He expelled a demon from the daughter of a Syro-Phenician woman. Then He went to the district of Decapolis. There He restored hearing and speech to a deaf-mute. As a result great crowds came to Him, bringing their sick, the blind, the lame, the dumb and the maimed. Jesus cured them and the pagan inhabitants of that district gave glory to the God of Israel. Also, on one occasion, Jesus repeated the miracle of the multiplication of loaves, feeding over four thousand with only seven loaves of bread and a few fishes.

MORE UNWELCOME AND HOSTILE ATTENTION

This renewed activity brought upon Him again the unwelcome and hostile attention of the Pharisees. They came to Him and demanded from Him a sign from heaven. But Jesus, knowing that signs would not really convince them, replied:

‘Why does this generation demand a sign? Amen I say to you, a sign shall not be given to this generation’ (Mark 8:12).

Jesus and His disciples then entered a boat and went to the western side of the Lake of Tiberias. During the journey Jesus cautioned His disciples against the teachings of the Pharisees and Sadducees.

When they came to Bethsaida Jesus restored sight to a blind man. But He forbade the man to publish abroad what had happened.

‘WHO DO MEN SAY THE SON OF MAN IS?’ (Mt 16:13)

Some time later, when they had come to the district of Caesarea Philippi, Jesus questioned His disciples, asking them, ‘Who do men say the Son of Man is?’ (Matthew 15:13). The disciples replied that some took Him for John the Baptist, some for Elias, some for Jeremias or one of the prophets. Jesus then asked them, ‘But who do you say that I am?’ (Matthew 16:15).

Peter answered and said, ‘Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.’ Jesus then said to him:

‘Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-Jona, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to thee, but my Father in heaven. And I say to thee, thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. And I will give thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven; and whatever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever thou shalt lose on earth shall be loosed in heaven’ (Matthew 16:17-19).

TWO FACTS OF GREAT IMPORTANCE

This incident contains two facts of great importance. First of all, in this dialogue with His disciples Jesus acknowledges to them that He is both the Messias, the Christ sent by God, and that He is the natural Son of God, equal to God the Father in divinity. Secondly, acting as the Christ and as the natural Son of God Jesus makes Simon Peter the rock or foundation on which He will build the Church, the Kingdom of God.

When the crowd would have accepted Jesus as a king who would lead them to earthly glory, a political Messias, Jesus refused to play the role and left them. But on this occasion Jesus allows Himself to be called the Christ, the Messias and the Son of God.

Why does Jesus allow to Peter what He had already refused to crowds of His countrymen?

The answer is clear. The crowds had wanted a Messias modelled after their own desires, a Messias who would lead them to world power. But this was not God’s plan, and so it was not the mission of Jesus. The crowds, stubbornly bound to their own desires, deserted Jesus.

But the Apostles and a few disciples, still believing in Jesus, even though they did not completely understand Him, remained faithful to Him. In their sight, and for their benefit, Jesus continued to do His works, to work the miracles which were a sign of the divine power He possessed. And while their wonder and admiration grew Jesus emphasised to them the spiritual nature of His kingdom and contrasted it sharply with the views of the Scribes and Pharisees.

Now Jesus would carry His disciples a bit further; He would initiate them even more into the understanding of His plans for the kingdom.
First, however, it was fitting that they should recognise Him for what He really is. He questions them gently, not asking them at first Who they think He really is, but asking them Who men say that He is. They reply: His countrymen see in Him surely someone remarkable; perhaps Elias, who is to come before the Messias; perhaps Jeremias, who also might be a forerunner of the Messias; perhaps John the Baptist, the recent martyr for God’s law, come again to herald the Messias; or at least a prophet. Then Jesus leads them on. ‘But who do you say that I am?’

Spontaneously Peter speaks. ‘Thou art the Christ,’ he says, ‘the Son of the living God.’ At last it is said openly by those to whom Jesus has come to preach the Kingdom of God. Jesus is the Christ, the Messias. Even more, He is the true, the natural Son of God, equal to the Father in His Godhood. When the crowd would make Him king, Jesus refused. But when Peter declares that He is the Messias and, indeed, the Son of God, Jesus does not deny it. Rather, He confirms it. Flesh and blood, He says, have not revealed this to Peter. Rather it is God Himself Who has revealed this to Peter, and Peter, in faith and love, through this divine enlightenment, accepts Christ Jesus as the Son of God.

GOD REVEALED JESUS’ TRUE IDENTITY TO SIMON PETER

This moment then is a most solemn one. In it the little band of followers which Jesus has drawn to Himself acknowledges Him as the Anointed One of God, even as the true Son of God, God Himself. With this acknowledgement made openly Jesus goes on to reveal to them His plans for the future.

JESUS REVEALS TO SIMON PETER AND THE APOSTLES HIS PLANS FOR THE FUTURE

It is Simon, speaking under divine enlightenment, who has made this declaration of belief in the Messiahship and divine Sonship of Jesus. Speaking to Him in the presence of all Jesus tells him that He will make him the foundation of his kingdom, the Church.

When Simon first met Jesus, Jesus had told him that his name would be changed to Cephas, that is, to Peter (John 1:42). Now Jesus reveals the reason for the change. The name Cephas (or Peter) means rock. Simon is to be the rock on which Jesus will build His kingdom. ‘Thou art Rock (Peter),’ He says, ‘and upon this Rock (on you, Peter) I will build my Church.’ Simon Peter then is to be the foundation rock of the Church of Christ, the strong rock which will give the stability of truth and love to the kingdom. The ‘gates of Hell,’ that is, the kingdom of the devil, will be arrayed against the Church, but the strength of Peter, of the Rock which is Peter, will prevail against the power against the power of the devil.

To make His meaning even clearer Jesus goes on to say that He will give to Peter the keys of the kingdom of heaven. Now the possessor of the keys of a house is the master of the house; he can admit whom he pleases and exclude whom he will. The goods of the house are his to dispose of as he will. The kingdom of heaven is Christ’s own kingdom; He is the master of it. But at some future time, not yet clearly determined, Jesus will make Peter the faithful steward of this kingdom, this household of God; He will give to Peter the keys which control this kingdom. The authority to rule this kingdom will be entrusted by Christ to Peter.

And as if even this were not enough to make clear that Peter was to rule the kingdom for Christ, Jesus adds, ‘whatever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.’ The decisions that Peter shall make, acting as the steward or vicar of Christ, will be ratified in heaven. God Himself, Christ Himself will ratify Peter’s decision, Peter’s rule of the kingdom of heaven on earth.

Jesus refused to accept the title of Messias from the crowds who wished to make Him an earthly king. But He accepted this title from Peter, even the title of ‘Son of God.’

In return for Peter’s faith and love He made (or here He promises to make) Peter His vice regent in the Kingdom of God on earth. Since He would not accept and earthly kingship from the people, it is clear that Jesus accepts Peter’s homage only because Peter and, through him, the disciples are willing to believe in and accept the spiritual kingdom which Jesus has come to establish. This willingness on their part need not at this moment mean that they perceive clearly the essentially spiritual nature of Christ’s kingdom. The subsequent actions of the Apostles seem to show that they had not yet reached that full understanding of the kingdom which they were later to possess. But they had not deserted Jesus when He refused to become an earthly king. They had not left Him when He offered men His own flesh, spiritually received, as the life of the world. Now, in Peter they accepted Him as the Christ, the Son of the living God. They were men of faith and good will. This was enough, for the moment; Christ responded to their faith with a new revelation of the nature of His kingdom.

THE NATURE OF THE KINGDOM OF CHRIST

The kingdom of Christ is in its inner essence spiritual. But it is also to be ‘Church,’ a community of men called to membership in the kingdom. They will enter this kingdom by faith in Christ, by hearing His word and accepting it, especially by accepting Jesus as their life, their spiritual life, the source of their spiritual life. But as a community of men in this world, they will have to contend with the powers of darkness, the kingdom of the devil. To ensure the firmness of their faith, the stability in this community of the God-given truth which Christ brings to them, Jesus establishes (or will establish) Simon Peter as the head of the community of believers in Christ. Thus, though the kingdom is in its inner essence spiritual, it is also in this visible, tangible world a visible and tangible reality. By making Peter the head, the ruler and keybearer of the community of the Kingdom of God, Jesus will make His Church a visible recognisable reality in the world. Those who wish to come to Christ will submit to Peter, the Rock of the Church of Christ, the keybearer of the kingdom. From heaven Christ will ratify the rule, the decisions of Peter, His vice regent on earth. As we shall see later, the actions of the Apostles and of the first Christian community show that this was their understanding of Christ’s words and intention. The Kingdom of God on earth will be a spiritual kingdom, but it will also be a visible kingdom. The spiritual authority of Peter will be the visible rock on which the kingdom will be built.”
– Martin J. Healy S.T.D., 1959 (headings in capital letters added afterwards)

 

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“THOU ART PETER, AND UPON THIS ROCK I WILL BUILD MY CHURCH” – THE POPE, THE VICAR OF CHRIST

“‘Thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. And I will give to thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven. And whatsoever thou shalt bind upon earth, it shall be bound also in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth, it shall be loosed also on heaven’ (Matthew 16:18-19).

JESUS MADE SIMON PETER THE FOUNDATION STONE OF HIS KINGDOM

Jesus made Simon Peter the rock or foundation stone of His kingdom. In the mind of Jesus all power in His kingdom, the power to teach the divine message, the power to rule men unto salvation, the power to sanctify men for salvation, all these powers were to be centralised in Simon Peter and his successors to the leadership of the apostolic college.

THE COUNCIL OF JERUSALEM

That the early Christian community recognised this is a historical fact. It was at Peter’s suggestion that the other Apostles elected Matthias to take the place left vacant in the apostolic college by the defection of Judas. It was Peter who first preached the establishment of the kingdom on Pentecost Sunday. It was Peter who worked the first miracle to testify to the power of Jesus Christ. It was Peter who punished Ananias and Sapphira for attempting to deceive the first Christian community at Jerusalem. It was Peter who admitted the first Gentiles into the new kingdom. At the Council of Jerusalem it was Peter who decided to what extent Gentile converts to the kingdom were bound by the old Mosaic Law. It was to Peter that St Paul went seeking confirmation of his own call to preach the Gospel. So great was his authority among the earliest members of the kingdom that even St Paul boasts of having induced Peter to accept his own position on a matter of discipline.

THE SUCCESSION

Peter died as Bishop of Rome, and the Bishops of Rome succeeded to his leadership of the whole Church. Thus it is that we see the Popes, the Bishops of Rome, exercising in the Kingdom of God through the centuries the authority which Jesus had entrusted to Peter.

ST CLEMENT’S LETTER TO THE CORINTHIANS

So it was that Clement of Rome, at the end of the first century, sent a letter to the Christians at Corinth asking them to restore to office the priests whom they had illegitimately deposed. His wishes were fulfilled by the Corinthians. In fact, they held his letter in such esteem that it was read during liturgical celebrations just as the letters of the original Apostles. This recognition of the authority of the Bishop of Rome is all the more remarkable since St John, one of the original Apostles, was still alive at Ephesus, much nearer to Corinth than Rome.

‘MEMBERS OF THE CHURCH RECEIVE THE FULL TEACHING OF JESUS FROM THE BISHOPS OF ROME’

At the end of the second century Pope Victor threatened to excommunicate the Asian bishops who refused to celebrate Easter on the date used by the rest of the Church. On the urging of Irenaeus, Bishop of Lyons, Victor did not carry out the threat. But the very fact that Victor threatened to do so, and the fact that Irenaeus, a disciple of Polycarp of Smyrna, and therefore a man acquainted with the traditions of the Church both in the East and in the West, felt it necessary in the interests of concord to urge him not to do so, testify to the recognition of his power to rule the whole Church. It should be mentioned also that Irenaeus gives testimony to the fact that members of the Church receive the full teaching of Jesus from the Bishop of Rome.

‘IT IS ST PETER WHO SPEAKS THROUGH THE POPE’

In the third century two bishops of Spain who had been accused of loss of faith appealed to Pope Stephen I. Similarly Pope Dionysius asked Bishop Dionysius of Alexandria, who was suspected of adhering to the Sabellian heresy, to make a profession of true faith.

THE COUNCIL OF NICEA

Even though the Council of Nicea – in 325 the first general or ecumenical council of the Church – was summoned at the order of the Emperor Constantine, it was the two legates of the Bishop of Rome who presided. Toward the end of the same fourth century Pope Siricius reminded the bishops of Spain that it is St Peter who speaks through the Pope.

THE COUNCIL OF CHALCEDON

In the fifth century the General Council of Chalcedon accepted the famous dogmatic letter of Leo as a statement of the true faith against the Monophysite heresy and proclaimed, ‘Peter has spoken through Leo.’ And, as we have previously seen, it was Pope Gelasius who during this century pointed out to the emperors that the Church held its power to rule from God and, thus, independently of the civil authority.

POPE GREGORY THE GREAT

In the sixth century Pope Gregory the Great reorganised the Church in Italy and sought to promote the reform of the Church in Gaul. It was Gregory who sent Augustine of Canterbury to convert England to the true faith.

THE THIRD COUNCIL OF CONSTANTINOPLE

In the seventh century the third council of Constantinople accepted the teaching of Pope Agatho against the Momothelite heresy. In the eighth century Pope Leo III crowned Charlemagne Emperor of the West. Nicholas I excommunicated the bishops of Trier and Cologne for sanctioning the second marriage of King Lothair. He also intervened in the Photian schism at Constantinople and restored Ignatius to the bishopric of Constantinople.

THE PAPACY WAS INVOLVED IN A LONG STRUGGLE WITH SECULAR RULERS FOR THE INDEPENDENCE OF THE CHURCH FROM CIVIL AUTHORITY

From the ninth century on, the Papacy was involved in a long and serious struggle with secular rulers for the independence of the Church from civil authority. This struggle reached a climax in the reforming efforts of Pope Gregory VII, who succeeded in freeing the Church from the ’emperor’ King Henry IV of Germany.

THE PROBLEMS ASSOCIATED WITH THE BEGINNING NATIONALISM IN THE SECULAR SPHERE

From this time on, the power of the Popes was supreme in matters of religion and Western Christendom generally recognised the supremacy of the Church over the State. But the situation changed after the conflict between Pope Boniface VIII (1294-1303) and Philip the Fair of France. Philip, in an effort to strengthen the French monarchy, sought a great measure of control over the Church in France. Boniface resisted his efforts, but without success. In the fourteenth century the Popes made the mistake of taking up residence at Avignon, within the borders of France. This gave the Papacy the appearance of being too favourable with the French. When finally the Popes returned to residence at Rome after the death of Pope Urban V, the French King Charles V disputed the election of Pope Urban VI and induced some French cardinals to elect Robert of Geneva as Pope Clement VII. This was the start of the Great Western Schism. Until the election of Martin V in 1417 Christendom was troubled and confused at the sight of rival claimants to the See of Peter. In 1417 there were three claimants to the Papacy. This unfortunate situation gave rise to the ‘Conciliar theory,’ the idea that a general council is superior to the Pope. Though Jesus Himself had made Peter and his successors (the Bishops of Rome) the supreme heads of His Church, the schism, coupled with the beginning of nationalism and the consequent desire of some nations (at least on the part of their sovereigns) to achieve independence of the divinely constituted authority of the Popes, gave impetus to the theory that a general council was superior even to the Pope. As a consequence the Popes had to fight against this attempt to destroy the foundations of authority in the Kingdom of God on earth. Pope Eugene IV found it necessary to dissolve the Council of Basel, which pretended to have authority over the Pope himself.

SECULAR RULERS WITH THEIR NATIONALISTIC AMBITIONS SUCCEEDED IN CONTROLLING CHURCH AFFAIRS IN SOME AREAS VIA LUTHER AND ZWINGLI

In the sixteenth century the Popes faced the most dangerous threat to their authority up to that time. In 1517 Martin Luther, a German monk, revolted against the authority of Rome. This sparked a movement which has become known as the Protestant Reformation. Luther, and other reformers such as Zwingli, were aided by kings and princes who sought control of church affairs. Pope Leo X did not act with sufficient force. As a consequence roughly half the Christians of Europe – chiefly those in northern Europe – left the true Church and joined heretical sects. The Council of Trent, which was summoned toward the middle of the century by Pope Paul III, by its reforming measures in the area of Church discipline and by its authoritative statement of Catholic teaching helped to stem the tide. But too much damage had already been done. And so from then until now the world is faced with the spectacle of millions of men, claiming to be followers of Jesus Christ, who will not submit in matters of discipline, doctrine or worship to the vicar of Christ, the Pope of Rome.

THE POPE, HOWEVER, DID NOT SWAP CHRISTIAN DOCTRINE OR MORAL PRINCIPLE FOR POLITICAL INFLUENCE

One of the results of the so-called Reformation, with the establishment of powerful Protestant states, was that by the seventeenth century the Papacy had been reduced to a state of political unimportance. But it is to the credit of the Papacy that even though the Popes were anxious to restore Christian unity to the world they did not compromise Christian doctrine or moral principle in the effort to do so.

But the decline of papal political influence was less unfortunate than the decline of spiritual and moral influence of the Papacy which accompanied it. Basically the political power of the Papacy was only a reflection of its enormous spiritual influence. Ultimately kings and princes, such as Pepin and Charlemagne, gave grants of land and political power to the Popes because the Popes wielded great spiritual influence over the Christian people of Europe and were a stabilising factor in a war-torn world. But in time this political influence, though only in appearance, came to overshadow the spiritual force which it reflected and bolstered.

But the ‘Reformation’ struck directly at the spiritual authority of the Papacy. Up to the ‘Reformation’ the Church itself, the Church centralised in the authority of the Popes, was the first and the ultimate source of all doctrinal and disciplinary decision. But the ‘reformers’ asserted that the faith and the religious practice of every Christian was based on the right of every Christian to interpret the Bible for himself. For the divinely instituted authority of Peter the ‘reformers’ substituted the authority of the individual mind of the individual man. Naturally those who embraced this individualistic rule of faith no longer looked to Peter, in the person of the Pope, for the teaching of the message of Jesus and its application to the ever-changing conditions of history.

IT BECAME EVIDENT THAT SPIRITUAL PRINCIPLES AND STATE POWER DON’T MIX

The weakness, even the falsity, of this new principle became evident very quickly in the multiplication of Protestant sects, each differing from the others in one or more points of faith or religious discipline. Moreover many of these sects, in their efforts to survive, accepted the principle that the local prince or king was the head of the Church.

CONCESSIONS TO NATIONALISM BY PROTESTANTS

This was a concession to the growing principle of nationalism. But it was also a rejection of the real supranational character of the Christian kingdom, and it represented a betrayal of the principle enunciated by Jesus Himself: ‘Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s.’ It was in this spirit that the Lutherans in Germany recognised the right of the German princes to determine the religious views of their subjects and that Henry the Eighth made himself the supreme head of the Anglican Church. And so, at least for some time, what began as an emancipation of men from the authority of the Pope in the name of individual liberty became in fact an enslavement of religion to civil authority.

‘AN ENSLAVEMENT OF FAITH TO CIVIL AUTHORITY’

The loss of millions of members of the kingdom to the new heretical sects was in itself a great blow to the Church. But it had an even more insidious result. The princes of Catholic Europe were not slow to see the political advantages gained by the control which the Protestant sovereigns exercised over the Protestant churches in their domains. Anxious to make their own kingdoms as strong as possible in the face of growing nationalistic rivalries, Catholic princes also sought to control the Catholic Church within their own territories. Thus it was that in 1682 thirty-six French prelates, under the urging of Cardinal Richelieu, adopted the famous ‘Gallican Articles’ and sent them to the bishops in France. The ‘Articles’ held that the Pope is subject to a general council, the king is not subject to the Pope and that the Pope is not infallible. It is true that Pope Innocent XII succeeded in persuading Louis XIV of France to annul the ‘Articles.’ But the fact that they were disseminated at all shows that the spirit of anti-papism was to be found in Catholic France. The same tendency to reduce papal influence and enlarge the civil control of religion was shown also in the Febronianism and Josephinism which arose in Catholic Germany. All in all, these movements in Catholic countries coupled with state control of religion in Protestant countries were a concrete manifestation of the growing political theory of the absolute state, the state supreme in all the affairs of human life, even in the affairs of religion.

THE LOGICAL ‘NEXT STEP’ FOLLOWING THE PROTESTANT ‘REFORMATION’

To these religious and political counter-currents seeking to undermine the Church there was added in the eighteenth century the far more formidable adversary of rationalism in religion. The Kingdom of God is always a kingdom founded on faith, in fact on faith in mysteries which cannot be fully understood by the limited powers of the human mind. This faith is sustained in the world by the teaching authority of the Church, an authority sustained by and centralised in the Papacy. When Protestantism divorced the minds of men from this authority it was not long before these same minds were divorced from the divine revelation itself. Under the influence of Locke, Hume and Kant the message of Jesus was reduced to a purely natural religion, founded no longer on a divine revelation to man but now on the limited resources of the human mind. Since the philosophy of the time reduced the powers of the mind to the simple consideration and ordering, not of reality of real things but only of the ‘appearances’ of things, it became fashionable to hold that men could not prove the existence of God or the immortality of the human soul. In such an intellectual atmosphere men tended to become either atheists and irreligious or to found religious values purely on man’s emotions and the pragmatic necessity of supplying ease and satisfaction to these irrational emotions.

IN THE PROVIDENCE OF GOD…

Thus, in modern times the Papacy, seeking to preserve in the world the true Kingdom of God, has had to attempt to undo the ravages of the ‘Reformation,’ to preserve the independence of the Church [from secular power, also under the guise of Protestantism] and to assert the divine authority of the Christian revelation in the face of the attacks of rationalism. Through the General Council of Trent the Popes replied to the ‘Reformation.’ Through missionary efforts, especially under the central control of the Congregation of the Propagation of the Faith (established in 1622 by Pope Gregory XV), the Papacy has carried on its divinely commissioned task to bring the Gospel to all the world. And so, in the providence of God, the losses occasioned by the ‘Reformation’ have been partly offset by the tightening of discipline within the Church and by the recruitment of members of the Kingdom in Africa, the Far East and the Americas.

THE CONTINUED INDEPENDENCE OF THE PAPACY OF ALL CIVIL STATES

In the face of attempts on the part of states to control the Church the Papacy has fought a long battle which is not yet, perhaps, over. The political power and prestige of the Papacy itself declined until in 1870 with the annexation of the Papal States by the newly founded kingdom of Italy it was eclipsed. Under Pius XI, in 1929, the ‘Roman Question’ was settled by the Lateran Treaty with the government of Mussolini. The tiny Vatican State was established and its rights recognised by Italy. In this way the independence of the Papacy of all civil states was formally recognised.

THE RIGHT OF THE CHURCH TO SPEAK IN THE WORLD FOR GOD IS STILL AN UNEASY ONE TO EXERCISE

But the right of the Church to speak in the world for God is still an uneasy one to exercise. This is shown by the fact that the Popes of the last few centuries have found it necessary to make concordats or agreements with modern states guaranteeing to the Church the right to function under certain limitations.

THE POPES CONDEMNED MANY INTELLECTUAL ERRORS OF MODERN TIMES

In the struggle with rationalism the Popes have found it necessary to condemn many of the intellectual errors of modern times. In this regard the Vatican Council convened by Pius IX stands out. The council affirmed clearly the ability of the human mind to discover the existence of God, and to recognise God’s message to men by the divine signs (especially miracles and prophecies) which accompany it in its journey through time. In addition it announced firmly to the world the supreme power of the Pope, the successor of St Peter, to teach, rule and sanctify men. In the face of scepticism it affirmed also the power of the Pope to teach infallible matters of faith and Christian morality.

THE HISTORY OF THE PAPACY SHOWS THAT THE WORDS OF JESUS ARE BEING FULFILLED

The history of the Papacy, then, shows that the words of Jesus are being fulfilled. The Papacy is the rock on which the kingdom is founded, founded so firmly that the gates of hell will not prevail against it. Down through the centuries the Papacy has been the indefatigable defender of the independence of the Kingdom of God. Down through the centuries the Papacy has been the faithful guardian of Christian truth, protecting the kingdom against the loss of even the least element of the divine message entrusted to it by Jesus.

THE GATES OF HELL WILL NOT PREVAIL AGAINST IT (Mt 16:18b)

At the present moment the position of the Papacy as the Vicar of Christ is clear. In the face of political totalitarianism it stands out as the champion of the independence of the spiritual Kingdom of God. In the face of religious indifferentism, of intellectual scepticism and nihilism, the Papacy is the divinely appointed voice of supernatural religion, the champion of both reason and faith. Confronted with irreligious and misguided rationalism, the Church speaks to the world under the guidance of the Popes, the words of God, the divine revelation whose divine dimensions cannot be reduced to the narrow confines of unaided human reason, but whose mysterious depths of truth lie open to the humble eyes of faith.

NO ‘PRISONER’ HAS EVER, IN THE WORLD OF SPIRIT, BEEN MORE INFLUENTIAL IN THE WORLD AT LARGE

It is a remarkable fact that in our contemporary era, at a time when the political power of the Papacy is practically extinguished, the character of the Papacy as the rock on which Christ founded His Church can be seen with outstanding clarity. From Pius IX to Pius XI the Pope was popularly known as the ‘prisoner of the Vatican.’ Yet no ‘prisoner’ has ever, in the world of the spirit, been more influential in the world at large.

THE POPES HAVE STOOD HEAD AND SHOULDERS ABOVE THE REST OF MEN IN THEIR STRUGGLE TO FOSTER WHAT IS BEST IN MAN

From Leo XIII to Pius XII the Popes have stood head and shoulders above the rest of men in their struggle to foster what is best in man, to safeguard and raise the spirit of man. In the midst of the political turmoil of the nineteenth century it was Leo XIII who freed the Church from allegiance to any particular form of government. It was Leo who, in the face of the Industrial Revolution and its creation of a landless, poverty-stricken proletariat, proclaimed the rights of the working man and the obligations of capital to provide decent working conditions and an adequate wage for workers. It was he also who revived the sane philosophy and theology of St Thomas Aquinas as an antidote to the intellectual errors of scepticism, naturalism and materialism.

THE PAPACY AFFIRMS THE LIBERTY OF THE INDIVIDUAL IN THE FACE OF THE ALL-POWERFUL STATE

Under his successor, Pius X, we see the Church strengthening itself within itself. He inaugurated a liturgical revival, urging the faithful to a greater personal understanding of and participation in the Church’s worship of God through the Mass and the Sacraments. The internal discipline of the Church was strengthened by the clarification and codification of Canon Law, the law which regulates Church discipline.

Pius XI, confronted with the attack on individual freedom by totalitarian philosophies of fascism, nazism and communism, affirmed the liberty of the individual in the face of the all-powerful state. Against the racial bias of these political philosophies, against the theories of racial superiority by blood, he affirmed the equality of all men in the sight of God. Conscious of the need of the Church to bring the message of the Gospel to all men, he encouraged the works of Catholic Action. He urged the Catholic laity to assist the bishops in the work of the apostolate, in the task of leavening an unbelieving world with the elevating yeast of Catholic doctrine and practice. Outside the Church the growth of the practices of divorce and birth control were destroying the moral fibre of society. Pius XI denounced the immorality of [artificial] birth control and asserted the sanctity and the indissolubility of marriage.

THE CHAMPIONS AGAINST THE PREVAILING MATERIALISM OF OUR AGE

During this period two great world wars showed how far the bonds of social and political action between the nations of the world had deteriorated. Benedict XV, Pius XI and Pius XII spoke clearly for peace and the cultivation of virtues which maintain peace. Though the nations did not listen, the Popes carried on a worldwide work of bringing succour to those made homeless by the destruction of war.

But the one thing that has become increasingly evident in modern times is that the Church, under the leadership of the Papacy, is the great champion of the spiritual element in human life against the prevailing materialism of the age. This is evident both in the Papal defence of what we might call specific human spiritual values and in the Papal insistence on the validity of the divine mysteries which have been revealed to the Church and which constitute the only true basis of human hope for salvation.

‘MEN AREN’T SIMPLY THE TOOLS OF A MATERIALISTIC STATE’

Thus, under Pius IX, the Vatican Council insisted on man’s ability, as a creature composed of body and spiritual soul, to discover the great fundamental truths of the existence of God and of his divinely founded Church. Leo XIII defended the dignity of all men in an age which was seeking to make men simply the tools of a materialistic state. Pius XI and Pius XII defended man’s freedom as a spiritual being in the face of the encroachment of totalitarian materialism on the sphere of man’s free spirit.

IN A WORLD HAS RETURNED TO THE OLD ERROR OF ADAM, THE ERROR OF SEEKING SALVATION BY ITS OWN UNAIDED EFFORTS…

But, best of all, in a world which has returned to the old error of Adam, the error of seeking salvation by its own unaided efforts, the Popes have, with ever increasing vigour and courage, insisted on the great revealed mysteries which the Church possesses. The worldly prophets of the time preach a universal brotherhood of men founded on the tyranny of an absolute state. Pius XII held out to the world the only possibility of achieving a true human brotherhood of men, the super-union of all men in the Church, the Mystical Body of Christ. In the Mystical Body of Christ men may achieve that fraternal union with one another which grace and charity make possible. In a secularist world where false prophets seek to institute a world government totally divorced from religious principles Pius XI insisted that all nations must recognise the kingship of Christ. World unity is possible only if men and nations are motivated by truly religious principles. In a world deep in despair because it has been taught that man is only matter doomed to eternal extinction by death, Pius XII fearlessly proclaimed the dignity, the spirituality and the immortality of all men in the doctrine of the Assumption of Mary, the Mother of God, body and soul into heaven. To the world’s despair he proclaimed the hope of salvation, the hope of resurrection and immortality.

THE ROCK OF PETER STANDS UNMOVED AS A BEACON OF LIGHT, SET IN ITS PLACE BY THE REAL WAY, THE TRUTH AND THE LIFE

In this present age the Papacy stands out once again as the Rock of Peter, the Rock on which God founded His kingdom among men. The furious tides of political opinion and international disputes have stripped the Rock of political power. But this stripping has only served to reveal its essential character. In the midst of the rushing waters of materialism and barbarism, staunch against the breaking waves of war and despair, the Rock of Peter stands unmoved as the first and last champion of man and of God.”
– Martin J. Healy S.T.D., 1959 (headings in capital letters added afterwards)

 

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THE SALVATION HISTORY OF ALL MANKIND AS REVEALED IN THE BIBLE: THE LAST SUPPER

WHY WAS JESUS CHRIST TO BE ARRESTED AT NIGHT, RATHER THAN IN BROAD DAYLIGHT?

“It was Wednesday, the second day before the Feast of the Passover. The enemies of Jesus were anxious to defeat Him. Having failed to discredit Him, they were now determined to put Him to death. Even though Jesus Himself had refused to accept the role of a political Messias who would lead the people in revolt against the Roman authority, the Pharisees and Scribes were apprehensive that He might stir up such a revolt during the eight days of the Paschal Feast. If He did, then the wrath of Pilate, the Roman Procurator, would direct the power of the Roman soldiery against Jerusalem. To forestall this possibility, they felt, it was necessary to put Jesus to death. But they were also afraid of the people. Many of them had manifested a belief in Jesus. If Jesus was arrested publicly, the people might stir up such a tumult as would induce Pilate to act. How could they take Jesus by stealth?

STABBED IN THE BACK BY ONE OF HIS CLOSEST FRIENDS

Their problem was solved for them by the treachery of Judas Iscariot, one of the twelve Apostles. Each day, after teaching in the Temple, Jesus withdrew at night either to Bethany or to the Mount of Olives. Judas undertook to inform the enemies of His whereabouts, so that they might take Him secretly, without causing any public tumultuous demonstration.

WHAT WAS JUDAS’ REAL MOTIVE OF HIS BETRAYAL?

The action of Judas is the most infamous betrayal in all human history. The opinions of men on the character and action of Judas have varied with their attitude toward Jesus Himself. To some, who reject Jesus as the Messias of God, Judas appears as a follower of the Pharisees. The strength of the Pharisees’ opposition to Jesus finally convinced Judas that Jesus was a seducer of the people, a man who would lead the people away from true Judaism. In betraying Jesus Judas would be doing a service to the people and to God. The nobility and purity of this motive, however, are somewhat discoloured by the willingness of Judas to accept thirty pieces of silver to betray Jesus.

A REVOLUTIONARY?

Others would like to think that the betrayal was simply a stratagem adopted by Judas to force Jesus to manifest His power and inaugurate the political revolution which Judas desired. Since the Apostles, like the people generally, still looked for political liberation, the actions of Judas, in such a case, would be stripped of their sickening appearance. This is not, perhaps, impossible. But once again the avaricious spirit of Judas and his acceptance of money to betray His Master detract also from the sincerity of his motive.

NO DOUBTS ABOUT HIS PART IN THE EVENTS

On the other hand the one thing clear in the Gospel story is that Judas, who was avaricious, did accept money to betray Jesus. St Matthew states that it was Judas who first mentioned money, saying to the chief priests, ‘What are you willing to give me, and I will deliver him to you?’ (Matthew 26:15).

THE IMPORTANCE OF FREE WILL IN HISTORY

Probably, then, Judas was moved to his action both by disappointment at the refusal of Jesus to become a political Messias and by a love of money.
The fall of Judas is, however, a striking instance of God’s way of dealing with men and the importance of free will in history. God knows that Judas will betray his Master. Yet Jesus chooses Judas as one of the favoured twelve Apostles. This means that, at least at the beginning, Judas was a man of some good will. He could have served his Master faithfully. He could have overcome his own greed for money and power. Jesus, the Son of God, gave him the chance to achieve great spiritual glory. But neither Jesus nor His Father in heaven would force Judas to remain faithful. It was for Judas himself to impress upon history his own likeness as a man of great loyalty or a man of ignominious betrayal.

THE EMPTINESS OF HUMAN REBELLION AGAINST THE WILL OF GOD

The betrayal by Judas is also an instance of the emptiness of human rebellion against the will of God. It was not God’s will that Judas should be unfaithful. ‘Woe to that man by whom he will be betrayed’ (Luke 22:22). But yet, the betrayal will be used by God to accomplish His plan for the salvation of mankind. ‘For the Son of Man indeed goes his way, as it has been determined’ (Luke 22:22a).

WHY THURSDAY, NOT FRIDAY?

On the next day, Thursday, Jesus sent Peter and John to prepare for the celebration of the Paschal Feast at Jerusalem. From St John’s Gospel it would appear that the Sadducees were going to celebrate the Paschal Feast on Friday night that year. The intention of Jesus to celebrate it on Thursday night might be explained by the fact that Galileans, present at the feast, would celebrate it on Thursday in order not to defile the Sabbath, which would begin on Friday evening.

THE HISTORY

On Thursday evening Jesus and His disciples entered Jerusalem and went to the upper room of a house (probably the house of a friend of Jesus) to celebrate Passover. Now the Passover meal was a remembrance of the Exodus, God’s deliverance of the Chosen People from Egypt. It was therefore a joyous feast. The joy of the feast was symbolised by the drinking of four cups of wine and the eating of the Paschal lamb. The feast began with the blessing of the first cup of wine. After this bitter herbs were eaten after being dipped in a sauce composed of nuts, fruit and vinegar. The bitter herbs were a remembrance of the bitter oppression which the Chosen People suffered under the Egyptians. The unleavened bread eaten with the meal was a reminder of the haste with which the Jews had had to depart from Egypt; they had not time to bake leavened bread. The sacrifice of a lamb and the eating of it recalled that the blood of lambs, smeared on the door-posts, had caused the angel of death to ‘pass over’ the houses of the Israelites without bringing death to their firstborn, whereas it had passed through the houses of the Egyptians, bringing death to their firstborn. The entire feast celebrated then the deliverance of the Israelites from Egyptian oppression and from death.

PASSOVER CEREMONIES

After the eating of the herbs the Paschal lamb was brought to the table and the head of the family recalled to all the participants in the feast the deliverance of the Chosen People from Egypt. The second cup of wine was then drunk and the lamb was eaten. Then the third cup was drunk and an act of thanksgiving offered to God. This was followed by the drinking of the fourth cup and the singing of the Hallel, which was composed of Psalms CXIII, 8-18, CXIV-CXVII.

THIS WAS NOT SIMPLY AN ORDINARY PASSOVER MEAL

It was at such a Passover meal that Jesus ate with His Apostles for the last time before His death. Yet it was not simply an ordinary Paschal meal, for Jesus was soon to die for men and this last Passover of Jesus on earth was also the beginning of a new sacrifice which would replace the old Passover.

THE DEATH OF JESUS WILL INSTITUTE THE KINGDOM OF GOD

Jesus began the Passover by saying to the Apostles, ‘I have greatly desired to eat this passover with you before I suffer; for I say to you that I will eat of it no more, until it has been fulfilled in the kingdom of God’ (Luke 22:15-16). Jesus alludes to His own coming suffering and death. The old Paschal sacrifice of a lamb heralded the deliverance of the Chosen People from slavery and death. The passion and death of Jesus will deliver the human race from the slavery of sin and eternal death. The death of Jesus will institute the Kingdom of God.

THE APOSTLES STILL LACKED UNDERSTANDING OF THE SPIRITUAL NATURE OF THE KINGDOM OF GOD

Then Jesus blessed the first cup of wine and said to them, ‘Take this and share it among you; for I say to you that I will not drink of the fruit of the vine, until the kingdom of God comes’ (Luke 22:17-18). Once again Jesus refers to His own approaching death which will establish the Kingdom of God among men.

This reference to the Kingdom of God excited the Apostles and they began to dispute with one another as to which one would be greatest in the kingdom. To us who know the great solemnity of the moment it is somewhat surprising to find the Apostles disputing about so vainglorious a matter at this time. But the Apostles were still worldly-minded and lacking in understanding of the basically spiritual nature of the Kingdom of God.

Jesus at once moved to enlighten them. ‘The kings of the Gentiles,’ He said to them, ‘lord it over them, and they who exercise authority over them are called Benefactors. But not so with you. On the contrary, let him who is great among you become as the youngest, and him who is the chief as the servant. For which is the greater, he who reclines at table, or he who serves? Is it not he who reclines? But I am in your midst as he who serves. But you are they who have continued me in my trials’ (Luke 22:25-28).

THE MEANING OF THE WASHING OF THE FEET

Then Jesus rose from the supper table and girded Himself with a towel. He poured water into a basin and began to wash the feet of His Apostles. Simon Peter at first refused to let Jesus do this for him. Jesus said to him. ‘What I do thou knowest not now; but thou shalt know hereafter’ (John 13:7). Peter replied, ‘Thou shalt never wash my feet!’ Jesus answered, ‘If I do not wash thee, thou shalt have no part with me’ (John 13:8). Peter then allowed Jesus to wash his feet.

After Jesus had washed the feet of all the Apostles He said to them, ‘Do you know what I have done to you? You call me Master and Lord, and you say well, for so I am. If, therefore, I the Lord and Master have washed your feet, you also ought to wash the feet of one another. For I have given you an example, that as I have done to you, so you also should do. Amen, amen, I say to you, no servant is greater than his master, nor is one who is sent greater than he who sent him. If you know these things, blessed shall you be if you do them. I do not speak of you all. I know whom I have chosen; but that the Scripture may be fulfilled,

‘He who eats bread with me has lifted
up his heel against me.’

I tell you now before it comes to pass, that when it has come to pass you may believe that I am he. Amen, amen, I say to you, he who receives anyone I send, receives me; and he who receives me, receives him who sent me’ (John 13:12-20).

By washing the feet of the Apostles, Jesus, Who was the Lord and Master of the Apostles, sought to teach them the lesson of humility. What makes the lesson even more impressive is the fact that Jesus washed the feet of Judas Iscariot, even though He knew that Judas was about to betray Him.

WHO IS IT?

Then, while they were eating, Jesus said to them, ‘Amen, I say to you, one of you will betray me – one who is eating with me’ (Mark 14:18).

The Apostles began to wonder which one it might be. Peter asked John who it might be. John asked Jesus. Jesus replied to him, ‘It is he to whom I shall dip the bread, and give it to him’ (John 13:26).

Jesus then dipped bread and gave it to Judas. Then He said to Judas, ‘What thou dost, do quickly’ (John 13:27). Judas departed to betray Jesus. None of the others, except perhaps John and Peter, understood what was taking place. Some thought that Judas was going to execute some errand for Jesus.

‘THIS IS MY BODY’

After the departure of Judas the paschal lamb was brought to the table and the second cup of wine was served. Then Jesus took bread in His hands, blessed it, broke it and gave it to the Apostles, saying, ‘This is my body, which is being given for you; do this in remembrance of me.’ Then He took a cup of wine, blessed it and gave it to them, saying, ‘All of you drink this; for this is my blood of the new covenant, which is being shed for many unto the forgiveness of sins’ (Luke 22:19; Matthew 26:27-28).

AT THIS POINT JESUS HAD DEPARTED FROM THE USUAL PASSOVER CEREMONIAL

This was the most solemn act of the Last Supper. It was not simply a usual part of a Passover meal. At this point Jesus departed from the usual Passover ceremonial. Jesus had already promised to give His followers His own Body to eat and His own Blood to drink. Now He fulfils this promise. At His words bread really becomes His Body and wine really becomes His Blood. Moreover the Body and Blood which Jesus thus offers the Apostles are the Body and Blood which will be separated in death on the Cross at Calvary. This is the Body which shall be given for men and the Blood which shall be shed for the forgiveness of sins. Jesus is offering His Body and Blood, His life as a sacrifice for the salvation of all mankind. In so doing He is making a new covenant, a new contract between men and God: ‘this is my blood of the new covenant.’ It was customary among the peoples of the Middle East to seal a covenant in blood. Jesus is now sealing a new covenant between God and man by His own Blood shed for the forgiveness of the sins of all men.

‘DO THIS IN MEMORY OF ME’

In addition, this is not a rite to be performed just this once. Jesus intends that this sacrificial offering of His Blood shall continue until the final establishment of His kingdom at the end of time. ‘Do this in remembrance of me,’ He says. And St Paul tells us, ‘For as often as you shall eat this bread and drink this chalice, you shall show the death of the Lord, until he comes.’ St Paul referring, of course, to the second coming of Jesus at the end of time to judge all men and institute the eternal Kingdom of God.

THE NEW COVENANT

By telling the Apostles to repeat His own actions in turning bread into His Body and wine into His Blood and to offer this Body and Blood to God as a sacrifice, Jesus made the Apostles priests, empowered by Him to offer the sacrifice of His Body and Blood, and empowered to pass on this tremendous gift to those who would succeed them in the Kingdom of God on earth.

Jesus blesses, or consecrates, the bread and the wine separately. Thus He symbolises by this ritual and mystical separation of His Body and Blood the actual separation which will take place on the next day on the Cross. At this moment Jesus is, if we may so speak, beginning the inauguration of the new pact between God and men which will be sealed on Friday by the actual shedding of His Blood, the offering of His human life for the sins of men.

UNTIL THE SECOND COMING OF JESUS

But this Body and Blood, made mysteriously present under the appearances, the sign of bread and wine, made thus present by the words and the power of Jesus, are not only a sacrifice offered to God. They are also a sacrament, a sacred sign instituted by God to give grace to men. For the Body and Blood thus present under the sign of bread and wine are the Body and Blood of Jesus, the Son of God, the Author of Grace. This is what Jesus meant when He said, ‘He that eateth my flesh and drinketh my blood hath everlasting life: and I will raise him up on the last day. For my flesh is meat indeed: and my blood is drink indeed. He that eateth my flesh and drinketh my blood abideth in me: and I in him’ (John 6:55-57).

‘HE THAT EATETH MY FLESH AND DRINKETH MY BLOOD ABIDETH IN ME AND I IN HIM’

Nor did Jesus, in instituting what we now call the Eucharist, the sacrament and sacrifice of His Body and Blood, cater to any gross cannibalistic understanding of His promise and His action. The eating of His flesh and the drinking of His Blood minister not to the grossly material nourishment of men’s flesh, but rather to the spiritual nourishment of their souls. By receiving the Body and Blood of Jesus His followers attain spiritual union with Him and, through Him, with His Father in heaven.

THE NEW COVENANT BETWEEN GOD AND MEN

In instituting the Eucharist Jesus had begun a new covenant between God and men. That covenant He was to seal on the next day with His Blood. Judas had already gone to make the arrangeements for His betrayal into the hands of His enemies. Jesus knew that the end of His earthly life was near. But He also knew that His apparent humiliation in death was to end in the triumph of His resurrection and ascension into Heaven. So He said to the Apostles, ‘Now is the Son of Man glorified, and God is glorified in him. If God is glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself and will glorify him at once. Little children, yet a little while I am with you. You will seek me, and, as I said to the Jews, ‘Where I go you cannot come,’ so to you also I say it now’ (John 13:31-33).

THE FRUIT YOU WILL BE RECOGNISED BY

But before He ascends to heaven Jesus gives His Apostles a new commandment, a new rule of life, a rule which will enable men to recognise them as the disciples of Jesus: ‘A new commandment I give you, that you love one another: that as I have loved you, you also love one another. By this will all men know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another’ (John 13:34-35).

Because of His love for all men Jesus is about to shed His blood as a propitiation to God for the sins of men. As He Himself had said, no man can have greater love for a friend than to lay down his life for the friend. This is the love which Jesus now commands His followers to exercise toward all men. This all-embracing Christian love will be the distinguishing mark of the follower, the disciple of Jesus.

After giving this wonderful but difficult commandment of love the mind of Jesus turns in sorrow to the thought that His Apostles will fail Him in His hour of trial. ‘You will all be scandalised this night because of me,’ He said; ‘for it is written, ‘I will smite the shepherd, and the flock will be scattered’ (Matthew 26:31). Jesus applies to Himself the prophecy of the prophet Zacharias, ‘O sword… Strike the shepherd and the sheep shall be scattered’ (Zacharias [Zechariah] 13:7).

But immediately He gives them a note of hope: ‘But after I have risen, I will go before you into Galilee’ (Matthew 26:32).

‘ALL SHALL BE SCANDALISED’

The Apostles, still not understanding that Jesus must die for the sins of men, and still trusting in His power, protest that they will not desert their Master. Peter is especially vehement in his protestation: ‘Even though all shall be scandalised because of thee, I will never be scandalised’ (Matthew 26:33). Jesus sadly rebuked him for his presumption, saying, ‘Amen I say to thee, this very night, before a cock crows, thou wilt deny me thrice’ (Matthew 26:34).

But Jesus also knows that Peter and the Apostles will repent their failure and will return to Him in faith. And so He says to Peter, ‘Simon, Simon, behold, Satan has desired to have you, that he may sift you as wheat. But I have prayed for thee, that thy faith may not fail; and do thou, when once thou hast turned again, strengthen thy brethren’ (Luke 22:31-32).

JESUS PRAYED FOR PETER

Why Jesus chose as His Apostles men who would fail Him in His hour of trial is a question which only God can answer with certainty. What is clear to us in the Gospel story is that Jesus knew that the eleven Apostles would repent of their failure and be all the stronger for it. To make certain this turn of events He prays for Peter. He has already promised to make Peter the foundation stone of His Church. Now He prays that Peter, in spite of his failure in the crucial hour of Jesus, will retain his faith and so be able to strengthen the faith of the others. Because Jesus is the Son of God, the prayer will be heard. The faith of the Apostles will be steadfast because the faith of Peter will be firm.

Peter, even in the face of the warning of Jesus, was obdurate in protesting his courageous loyalty. ‘Even if I should have to die with thee, I will not deny thee’ (Matthew 26:35). The other Apostles joined with him in the same resolution.

DIFFICULTIES AHEAD

Jesus had tried to warn them of their own weakness. They would not listen. He tried once again. He reminded them that when He first sent them out to preach the coming of the Kingdom of God they had lacked nothing, they had been well received in the countryside. But now everything would be changed. He Himself would be regarded as a criminal. He referred to Himself the prophecy of Isaias [Isaiah], ‘And he was reckoned among the wicked.’ His followers would also be so regarded. Catering for the moment to their fiery Galilean spirit He said to them, ‘Let him who has no sword sell his tunic and buy one’ (Luke 22:36).

Jesus was not counselling His Apostles to spread the Kingdom of God by the sword. But He was trying to impress upon them the difficulty they would face in retaining their loyalty to and their faith in Himself.

The Apostles, however, took up the reference to a sword literally and bravely replied, ‘Lord, behold, here are two swords’ (Luke 22:38). What were two swords against the Temple guards or against the Roman might? But Jesus, knowing that His kingdom would grow by grace and faith and not by the sword, replied indulgently, ‘It is enough’ (Luke 22:38).”
– Martin J. Healy S.T.D., 1959

 

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4th JANUARY, GOSPEL READING (JOHN 1:35-42)

WE HAVE FOUND THE MESSIAH.

As John stood there with two of his disciples, Jesus passed, and John stared hard at him and said, “Look, there is the lamb of God.” Hearing this, the two disciples followed Jesus. Jesus turned round, saw them following and said, “What do you want?” They answered, “Rabbi,” – which means Teacher – “where do you live?” “Come and see,” he replied; so they went and saw where he lived, and stayed with him the rest of that day. It was about the tenth hour.

One of these two who became followers of Jesus after hearing what John had said was Andrew, the brother of Simon Peter. Early next morning, Andrew met his brother and said to him, “We have found the Messiah” – which means the Christ – and he took Simon to Jesus. Jesus looked hard at him and said, “You are Simon son of John; you are to be called Cephas” – meaning Rock.

V. The Gospel of the Lord.
R. Praise to you, Lord Jesus Christ.

 
 

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