Bread on the Trail

An explanation of Psalm 118 by St Ambrose

My father and I will come to him and make our home with him. Open wide your door to the one who comes. Open your soul, throw open the depths of your heart to see the riches of simplicity, the treasures of peace, the sweetness of grace.

Open your heart and run to meet the Sun of eternal light that illuminates all men. Indeed that true light shines on all; but if anyone closes his shutters against it then he will defraud himself of the eternal light. To close the doors of your mind is to exclude Christ. Of course he is capable of entering even so, but he does not want to force his way in or seize you against your will.

Born of the Virgin’s womb, he shone on the whole world to give light to all. It is received by those who desire the brightness of perpetual light that no night can obscure. For the sun that we see daily in the sky is followed by darkness and night; but the Sun of righteousness never sets, since evil cannot defeat wisdom.
Blessed is he, therefore, at whose door Christ comes knocking. Faith is the door of the soul, and if it is strong then it fortifies the whole house. Through this door Christ enters. Thus it is that the Church herself says, The voice of my brother is knocking on the door. Listen to him knocking, listen to him asking to be let in: Open to me, my sister, my beloved, my dove, my perfect one, for my head is wet with dew, my hair with the drops of night.
You see that when the Word of God knocks hardest on your door, it is when his hair is wet with the dew of the night. In fact he chooses to visit those who are in tribulation and trial, lest one of them be overwhelmed by distress. So his head is covered with dew, with drops, when his body is labouring hard. It is important to keep watch so that when the Bridegroom comes, he is not shut out. If you are asleep and your heart is not keeping watch, he will go away without knocking; but if your heart is alert for his coming, he knocks and asks for the door to be opened to him.
Thus you see that our soul has a door, but we have gates too, as the psalm says: Gates, raise your heads. Stand up, eternal doors, and let the king of glory enter. If you choose to raise your gates, the King of glory will come to you, celebrating the triumph of his own Passion. For righteousness has gates, as we see it written when the Lord Jesus speaks through his prophets: Open to me the gates of righteousness.
It is the soul that has its door, it is the soul that has its gates. To that door Christ comes and knocks, he knocks at the door. Open to him, therefore: he wishes to come in, the Bridegroom wishes to find you keeping watch.

The Martyrs Had Seen what they Proclaimed

This day has been consecrated for us by the martyrdom of the blessed apostles Peter and Paul. It is not some obscure martyrs we are talking about. Their sound has gone out into all the earth, and their words to the ends of the world. These martyrs had seen what they proclaimed, they pursued justice by confessing the truth, by dying for the truth.
The blessed Peter, the first of the Apostles, the ardent lover of Christ, who was found worthy to hear, And I say to you, that you are Peter. He himself, you see, had just said, You are the Christ, the Son of the living God. Christ said to him, And I say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church.

Upon this rock I will build the faith you have just confessed. Upon your words, You are the Christ, the Son of the living God, I will build my Church; because you are Peter. Peter comes from petra, meaning a rock. Peter, “Rocky,” from “rock”; not “rock” from “Rocky.” Peter comes from the word for a rock in exactly the same way as the name Christian comes from Christ.
Before his passion the Lord Jesus, as you know, chose those disciples of his whom he called apostles. Among these it was only Peter who almost everywhere was given the privilege of representing the whole Church. It was in the person of the whole Church, which he alone represented, that he was privileged to hear, To you will I give the keys of the kingdom of heaven.

After all, it is not just one man that received these keys, but the Church in its unity. So this is the reason for Peter’s acknowledged pre-eminence, that he stood for the Church’s universality and unity, when he was told, To you I am entrusting, what has in fact been entrusted to all. To show you that it is the Church which has received the keys of the kingdom of heaven, listen to what the Lord says in another place to all his apostles: Receive the Holy Spirit; and immediately afterwards, Whose sins you forgive, they will be forgiven them; whose sins you retain, they will be retained.
Quite rightly, too, did the Lord after his resurrection entrust his sheep to Peter to be fed. It is not, you see, that he alone among the disciples was fit to feed the Lord’s sheep; but when Christ speaks to one man, unity is being commended to us. And he first speaks to Peter, because Peter is the first among the apostles.

Do not be sad, Apostle. Answer once, answer again, answer a third time. Let confession conquer three times with love, because self-assurance was conquered three times by fear. What you had bound three times must be loosed three times. Loose through love what you had bound through fear. And for all that, the Lord once, and again, and a third time, entrusted his sheep to Peter.
There is one day for the passion of two apostles. But these two also were as one; although they suffered on different days, they were as one. Peter went first, Paul followed. We are celebrating a feast day, consecrated for us by the blood of the apostles. Let us love their faith, their lives, their labours, their sufferings, their confession of faith, their preaching.

Irenaeus of Lyons: Jesus Redeemed the Whole Human Person, Body, Soul and Spirit, by Deacon Keith Fournier

For that which He [i.e. Christ] has not assumed He has not healed; but that which is united to His Godhead is also saved. If only half Adam fell, then that which Christ assumes and saves may be half also; but if the whole of his nature fell, it must be united to the whole nature of Him that was begotten, and so be saved as a whole”

Irenaeus was born in Asia Minor in the year 125. While a young man, he met the Bishop of Smyrna, Polycarp, (A.D. 69-155), who had known the Apostles. This meeting had a profound influence upon Ireneaeus. Through it he felt directly connected to the apostles. One finds this source of authority relied upon by Ireneaus at the beginning of his seminal work, “Against Heresies.” In this work he confronts, exposes and opposes the writings of the “Christian” Gnostics, grounding his authority in his direct connection to the Apostles. For example, He speaks of the Apostle John as “He, the Lord’s disciple, the very one who had rested on his breast (Jn 13:23, 21:20), (who) himself published a Gospel while he was living at Ephesus in Asia”

To Irenaeus, this Gospel of the beloved disciple John, like those of Matthew, Mark and Luke (which he also mentions in the same chapter) is the ultimate source of authority in confronting this heresy, because it is a direct witness to the teaching of the Lord Himself. He saw himself right within that tradition -with Polycarp, John and the Apostles – defending the truths of the Catholic faith against those who threatened orthodoxy and orthopraxy in his century. He noted that Polycarp had also encountered these same false teachers during his ministry in Rome: “He (Polycarp) it was who, coming to Rome in the time of Anicetus caused many to turn away from the aforesaid heretics (back) to the Church of God, proclaiming that he had received this one and sole truth from the apostles”.

These Christian Gnostics (including people with names like Valentinian, Basilides and Marcion) taught an extreme form of body/soul dualism, that insisted that man was entrapped within the body, as well as within the material universe, as if in a prison. This prison was ruled by a “demiurge.” Above the material world of the “aeons” and the cosmos, there was a God, though not a creator God as in orthodox Christian teaching. It was this other God who sent Jesus Christ as Savior. Jesus had not truly assumed a body of flesh in the Incarnation, nor did He truly experience death on the cross. He offered a different kind of “salvation”, through imparting “gnosis”, a Greek word which means secret knowledge. This secret knowledge enabled a select few men to comprehend and discern the struggle between evil and good, which was a struggle between matter and spirit, and engage in this struggle. The path to “salvation” was to become divested of both the body and the material world.

Exposing and opposing this errant re-interpretation of Christianity became a primary part of the mission of Ireneaeus. It led to the composition of Adversus Haereses (Against the Heresies). The full title reveals more clearly the massive effort, “Detection and Refutation of the False Gnosis.” This work was borne of the challenges presented by this group of errant teachers. It’s positive teaching on the body, the unity and integrity of the whole human person, and its integrated approach to the fullness of the effects of the Redemption of the whole person in and through Jesus Christ, including the bodily resurrection, provides an ancient patristic ground within which we can position the late John Paul’s contribution to theological anthropology known popularly as “the Theology of the Body.”

In the second century, these “Christian” Gnostics gained a following which threatened orthodoxy (right doctrine) and orthopraxy (right practice). The common thread connecting the various schools of this multi-faceted heresy was a negative view of both the material world and the human body. Matter was taught to be the source of mans struggle and difficulties in life. In claiming that neither matter nor the human body could be redeemed, the Gnostics preached what the Apostle Paul simply called “a different gospel”.

It was to these serious challenges that Ireneaus addressed his treatise, directly, adeptly and adroitly refuting the claims of these teachers. In so doing, he also set forth an anthropology that affirmed the dignity of the human body and the redemption of the whole person in Jesus Christ, a positive soteriological (the understanding of the nature of salvation) vision, he called “recapitulation”, which included the revivification of the human body by the Holy Spirit at the Resurrection. In other words, we shall be raised from the dead and given glorified bodies!

Recapitulation is a development of the teaching of the Apostle Paul, set forth in his letters to the early churches such as Ephesus, Thessalonica, Corinth and Philippi. It involves the restoration of everything in Christ, the one Head, the “New Adam” in which creation and all of humanity was first begun, and in whom, through the Incarnation, it has begun again. The Church is His Body, His fullness, and He is alive through His Resurrection. Membership in the Church is essential to the fullness of salvation. The Church is both visible and invisible. Within that Church, of which Jesus Christ is the Head, we are transformed by the grace of the Holy Spirit. To Ireneaus, the Word of God made flesh, the God-Man Jesus Christ, is the Alpha and the Omega, who unites the end with the beginning. He is the harvester of the seed that was sown in the beginning:

“For as by one man’s disobedience sin entered, and death obtained (a place) through sin; so also by the obedience of one man, righteousness having been introduced, shall cause life to fructify in those persons who in times past were dead. … He who is the Word, recapitulating Adam in Himself, rightly receives a birth, enabling Him to gather up Adam (into Himself), from Mary, who was as yet a virgin.”

Bread on the Trail: Irenaeus of Lyons defended the completeness of Christ’s redemption in the midst of an age which had little respect for the full human person; body, soul and spirit. In our own age, “Gnosticism” has returned, even in some Christian circles. These modern Gnostics hold a negative view of both the material world and the human body. Matter is taught to be the source of mans struggle and difficulties in life. In claiming that neither matter nor the human body could be redeemed, the Gnostics preached what the Apostle Paul simply called “a different gospel” (2 Cor. 11:4). Let us renew our resolve to both study and live the fullness of the Christian faith and offer its full liberating message to the men and women of our own time who long to experience redemption of the full human person.

Prayer: Father, may the example and teaching of Irenaeus of Lyons inspire men and women who bear the name Christian to preach the full hope filled message of the Christian faith; the redemption of the whole human person. Raise up in day solid and mature theologians and defenders of the faith. Give ius good and solid teachers who will help us all to grow into Christian maturity and help the men and women of this age to find the Lord and His plan for their lives.

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Dear brothers and sisters!

The feast of Corpus Domini is inseparable from the Holy Thursday Mass of in Caena Domini, in which the institution of the Eucharist is also celebrated. While on the evening of Holy Thursday we relive the mystery of Christ who offers himself to us in the bread broken and wine poured out, today, in celebration of Corpus Domini, this same mystery is proposed to the adoration and meditation of God’s people, and the Blessed Sacrament is carried in procession through the streets of towns and villages, to show that the risen Christ walks among us and guides us towards the Kingdom of heaven.

 Today we openly manifest what Jesus has given us in the intimacy of the Last Supper, because the love of Christ is not confined to the few, but is intended for all. This year during the Mass of Our Lord’s Last Supper on Holy Thursday, I pointed out that the Eucharist is the transformation of the gifts of this land – the bread and wine – intended to transform our lives and usher in the transformation of the world. Tonight I would like to return to this point of view.

Everything starts, you might say, from the heart of Christ, who at the Last Supper on the eve of his passion, thanked and praised God and, in doing so, with the power of his love transformed the meaning of death which he was about to encounter. The fact that the Sacrament of the altar has taken on the name “Eucharist” – “thanksgiving” – expresses this: that the change in the substance of the bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ is the fruit of the gift that Christ made of himself, a gift of a love stronger than death, love of God which made him rise from the dead.

That is why the Eucharist is the food of eternal life, the Bread of life. From the heart of Christ, from his “Eucharistic Prayer” on the eve of his passion, flows the dynamism that transforms reality in its cosmic, human and historical dimensions. All proceeds from God, from the omnipotence of his love One and Triune, incarnate in Jesus. In this Love the heart of Christ emerges, so He knows how to thank and praise God even in the face of betrayal and violence, and thus changes things, people and the world.

This transformation is possible thanks to a communion stronger than division, the communion of God himself. The word “communion”, which we use to designate the Eucharist, sums up the vertical and horizontal dimension of the gift of Christ. The beautiful and eloquent expression “receive communion” refers to the act of eating the bread of the Eucharist. In fact, when we carry out this act, we enter into communion with the very life of Jesus, in the dynamism of this life which is given to us and for us. From God, through Jesus, to us: a unique communion is transmitted in the Holy Eucharist. We have heard as much, in the second reading, from the words of the Apostle Paul to the Christians of Corinth: “The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ”(1 Cor 10:16-17).

Saint Augustine helps us to understand the dynamics of Holy Communion when referring to a kind of vision he had, in which Jesus said to him: “I am the food of the mature: grow, then, and you shall eat me. You will not change me into yourself like bodily food; but you will be changed into me”(Confessions, VII, 10, 18). Therefore, while the bodily food is assimilated by the body and contributes to its maintenance, the Eucharist is a different bread: we do not assimilate it, but it assimilates us to itself, so that we become conformed to Jesus Christ and members of his body, one with Him.

This is a decisive passage. Indeed, precisely because it is Christ who, in Eucharistic communion, transforms us into Him, our individuality, in this encounter, is opened up, freed from its self-centeredness and placed in the Person of Jesus, who in turn is immersed in the Trinitarian communion. Thus, while the Eucharist unites us to Christ, we open ourselves to others making us members one of another: we are no longer divided, but one thing in Him. Eucharistic communion unites me to the person next to me, and with whom I might not even have a good relationship, but also to my brothers and sisters who are far away, in every corner of the world. Thus the deep sense of social presence of the Church is derived from the Eucharist, as evidenced by the great social saints, who have always been great Eucharistic souls.

Those who recognize Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament, recognize their brother who suffers, who is hungry and thirsty, who is a stranger, naked, sick, imprisoned, and they are attentive to every person, committing themselves, in a concrete way, to those who are in need. So from the gift of Christ’s love comes our special responsibility as Christians in building a cohesive, just and fraternal society. Especially in our time when globalization makes us increasingly dependent upon each other, Christianity can and must ensure that this unity will not be built without God, without true Love. This would give way to confusion and individualism, the oppression of some against others. The Gospel has always aimed at the unity of the human family, a unity not imposed from above, or by ideological or economic interests, but from a sense of responsibility towards each other, because we identify ourselves as members of the same body, the body of Christ, because we have learned and continually learn from the Sacrament of the Altar that sharing, love is the path of true justice.

Let us return to Jesus’ act in the Last Supper. What happened at that moment? When He said: This is my body which is given to you, this is my blood shed for you and for the multitude, what happened? Jesus in that gesture anticipates the event of Calvary. He accepts his passion out of love, with its trial and its violence, even to death on the cross; by accepting it in this way he transforms it into an act of giving. This is the transformation that the world needs most, because he redeems it from within, he opens it up to the Kingdom of Heaven. But God always wants to accomplish this renewal of the world through the same path followed by Christ, indeed, the path that is Himself.

There is nothing magic in Christianity. There are no shortcuts, but everything passes through the patient and humble logic of the grain of wheat that is broken to give life, the logic of faith that moves mountains with the gentle power of God. This is why God wants to continue to renew humanity, history and the cosmos through this chain of transformations, of which the Eucharist is the sacrament. Through the consecrated bread and wine, in which his Body and Blood is truly present, Christ transforms us, assimilating us in him: he involves us in his redeeming work, enabling us, by the grace of the Holy Spirit, to live according to his same logic of gift, like grains of wheat united with Him and in Him. Thus unity and peace, which are the goal for which we strive, are sown and mature in the furrows of history, according to God’s plan.

Without illusions, without ideological utopias, we walk the streets of the world, bringing within us the Body of the Lord, like the Virgin Mary in the mystery of the Visitation. With the humble awareness that we are simple grains of wheat, we cherish the firm conviction that the love of God, incarnate in Christ, is stronger than evil, violence and death. We know that God is preparing for all people new heavens and new earth where peace and justice prevail – and by faith we glimpse the new world, that is our true home. Also this evening as the sun sets on our beloved city of Rome, we set out again on this path: with us is Jesus in the Eucharist, the Risen One, who said: “I am with you always, until the end of world “(Mt 28:20).

Thank you, Lord Jesus! Thank you for your loyalty, which sustains our hope. Stay with us, because the evening comes. “Jesus, good shepherd and true bread, have mercy on us; feed us and guard us. Grant that we find happiness in the land of the living”. Amen.