Theology is the study of God’s relations with humankind, God’s intervention in human affairs, and God’s Revelation of Himself, especially in the Incarnation, when the Son of God became man and entered human history as Jesus, the Christ.
God’s self-revelation was complete when the Father sent His only begotten Son into the world, because the Son of God is “the effulgence of his glory, and the very image of his substance.” (Hebrews 1:3)
Theology seeks an understanding of God’s Revelation, or as St Anselm put it, theology is “faith seeking understanding”.
The Revelation of Jesus Christ is summarised in the Apostles’ Creed, elaborated in the dogmas of the Church, and further expounded in the teachings of the Church Councils, the Fathers, Doctors, and Saints of the Church.
The word “dogma” does not mean “an obstinate insistence upon a certain point of view” (the modern day, pejorative sense of the word), but actually means a teaching that is both (1) revealed by God; and (2) defined by the Church as an integral part of God’s self-revelation.
Therefore, a “dogmatic teaching” is a teaching that is always and everywhere true, because it rests on the authority of the God who reveals Himself, and the authority of the Church which testifies to God’s self-revelation.
Some of the greatest theologians in the history of the Church include Saint Paul the Apostle, Saint John the Beloved, Saint Augustine, Saint John Chrysostom, Saint John Damascene, Saint Thomas Aquinas, and others.
The appetite for pleasure, money, and power: these are the fundamental appetites of human nature. Any and every temptation can only appeal to one or more of these three appetites.
These appetites can be man’s downfall, or else the path by which he overcomes and merits victory in Christ.
For to master these appetites is to be the master of oneself, to be self-possessed, and to be in a much greater capacity to surrender oneself to the will of God. But to be mastered by one’s appetites, by one or more of the appetites, is to become a slave to them, a slave to sin, and to be estranged from the grace and glory of God.
Saint John the Beloved warned against these appetites: “Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh, the desires of the eyes, and the pride of life—is not from the Father but from the world. The world is passing away, along with its desires; but whoever does the will of God remains forever.” (1 John 2: 15-17)
If one is mastered by one’s appetites (desires), this becomes like a spiritual wound which festers and grows, perhaps becomes a sort of spiritual abscess, against which the soul will struggle as it seeks sound health, until it is set free by the grace of God.
“The love of money is the root of all evil.” (1 Timothy 6:10) The same can be said of an immoderate love of pleasure or power.
How many souls have fallen because they could not liberate themselves from an attachment to the love of money, power or pleasure?
Whether one is a Christian or not, religious or not, priest or nun, brother or sister, mother or father, son or daughter, one can only advance toward union with God by mastering one’s appetites, by doing the will of God, through the gift of God’s grace with which He empowers us to overcome sin, temptation, and to master ourselves, for the glory of God.
He who does not master himself cannot submit his will to God, and he who does not submit to the will of God cannot master himself. These two go hand in hand.
For “The world is passing away, along with its desires; but whoever does the will of God remains forever.”
Notice too that the devil’s three temptations of Christ in the wilderness correspond to the three appetites (Matthew 4:1-11): for pleasure, power, and riches.
Isn’t it interesting that history seems to have given us clear examples of all three appetites leading to the downfall or temporary downfall of someone or other?
One mystic wrote that Judas betrayed our Lord because Judas was, from the very beginning, only interested in success and attached to the love of money—he controlled the common “purse” (collective money) for the apostles and he ultimately betrayed the Lord for 30 pieces of silver.
Saint Paul (before his conversion) was attached to power: he wanted to round up all Christians and put them away or put them to death.
Pope Alexander VI fell from grace because of his attachment to pleasure, power, and money: he had several mistresses and fathered several children, while securing his power through alliances with various political powers.
No one is immune from such trials, and we ought to be sober, watchful and vigilant, as the Lord encouraged us to be. (Luke 21:36)
It could well be said of our Lord Jesus Christ that the Beatitudes represent the heart of His message. The Beatitudes are at the heart of Christ’s Sermon on the Mount which is, in turn, at the heart of His entire life.
If the birth of Christ represents the dawn of a new age of grace and truth for mankind, and if the cross and resurrection represent the climax of Christ’s mission, then we may say truly that Christ’s Sermon on the Mount (St Matthew, chapters 5-7) is at the centre of His life—yes, at the very heart of His message.
Who can fathom the depth and beauty and glory of the Beatitudes? We speak in human words and we understand things in human concepts, but the Beatitudes embody the wisdom, love, and power of God.
For just as God came down from heaven when He spoke with Moses, heard His peoples’ cry of oppression, and freely chose to deliver them out of Egypt and into “a land flowing with milk and honey” (Exodus 3: 7,8), so too did the Son of God descend from heaven, take on human nature, and freely chose to deliver His people from the darkness of sin and death and into an eternal heaven of peace, joy, and life.
Nowhere do we find this free gift of God so beautifully and so eloquently embodied as in the Beatitudes of Christ.
For Jesus said: “Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:3) Christ mentions no condition, cost, or qualification. He simply says that “the poor in spirit” will be given “the kingdom of heaven.”
The Lord seems to be saying that He wants to give these souls everything for nothing which, according to a human way of thinking, defies all logic.
So we might ask, what does it mean to be “poor in spirit”?
It has often been said that poverty of the spirit equates to detachment, but I would like to take a different approach.
Consider, on the face of it, that the “riches” of the spirit are peace, joy, love, patience, kindness, humility, purity, knowledge, wisdom, understanding, and others of the like. Now let’s read that verse again with this same thought in mind:
“Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:3)
Christ seems to be saying: “Blessed are those who have no peace, for they will be given the peace of heaven. Blessed are those who have no joy, for they will be given the joy of the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who are not loved, for they will find the love of their eternal Father in heaven.”
The Lord’s face emerges ever more clearly and distinctly in His words.
If we fail to recognise how extreme and radical is this promise of Christ, I think we will miss the actual meaning of His words. Think about this: no one in the world of human affairs expects to be given everything for nothing.
Yet here the Lord seems to be saying that those who are the most impoverished, the most abject, the most abandoned—it is precisely these who will be given the riches of the spiritual world, the joys and blessings and graces of the kingdom of heaven.
Though these words of Christ seem to defy human reason and common sense, we have to ask, why would God choose to give us everything for nothing? Is it really true?
After all, Jesus said: “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. For whosoever would save his life shall lose it: and whosoever shall lose his life for my sake shall find it. For what shall a man be profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and forfeit his life? or what shall a man give in exchange for his life?” (Matthew 16:24-26)
This looks like a contradiction—it looks like the Lord is saying that the price for eternal life is the imitation of Christ: “…let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.”
But it is not a true contradiction.
If we reflect that nothing a man or woman can do can actually merit the reward of an eternal life of love and glory with God, this begins to make sense. The gift of eternal life is not a reward for our deeds–for nothing we can achieve, humanly speaking, is worthy of the free gift of God.
Christ asks us to imitate Him, not in order to earn our reward in heaven, but so that, through cooperation with His will, we may find His friendship and find ourselves transformed into His likeness, ready and well disposed to enter heaven.
The Lord can only dispose us for heaven with our cooperation (cf. 2 Corinthians 3:18); He cannot do so without our cooperation. As Saint Augustine said, “The God who created you without your consent will not save you without your consent.”
The gift of eternal life and the eternal glory and happiness of heaven remains a free gift. God gives us everything for nothing. We can say in truth that we do not deserve and can never earn such infinite kindness on the part of our Lord and God. And this still defies all human logic.
But if we consider that we were created out of nothing by the hand of God, that He freely brought us into existence and called us into His friendship, that He loves us with a divine Love because we are the work of His hands, that He owes us nothing but wants to give us everything, then we might begin to understand the divine “Logic” of the Beatitudes.
All that Jesus asks is that we open our hearts to Him, that we believe in Him, that we allow Him to love, save, and sanctify the creatures whom the Father has given to His only begotten Son.
And now, if we read them again with this kind of “Logic” in mind, we might enter a little more deeply in the beauty and glory and majesty that shines from the Beatitudes:
“Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted.
Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth.
Blessed are they that hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled.
Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called sons of God.
Blessed are they that have been persecuted for righteousness’ sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are you when men shall reproach you, and persecute you, and say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so they persecuted the prophets that were before you.”
The Lord’s personality is so multifaceted, so much deeper than the most profound depths, and rich with unexpected graces, virtues, and incomprehensible love.
The Lord is so much greater than our ordinary experience, so much greater as the Creator is above His creatures, that any present experience we have of Him seems only to be another stage disposing us for even greater knowledge.
How can we come to know the Lord when He is ineffable, mysterious, all powerful?
How can a mere mortal come to understand the God of creation?
When Job sought to understand the reason why God had allowed him to suffer so many losses, wounds, and tragedies, the Lord did not give him a direct response, but instead put a series of questions to Job:
“Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind and said: “Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge? Dress for action like a man; I will question you, and you make it known to me.
“Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding. Who determined its measurements-surely you know! Or who stretched the line upon it? On what were its bases sunk, or who laid its cornerstone, when the morning stars sang together and all the sons of God shouted for joy?
“Or who shut in the sea with doors when it burst out from the womb, when I made clouds its garment and thick darkness its swaddling band, and prescribed limits for it and set bars and doors, and said, ‘Thus far shall you come, and no farther, and here shall your proud waves be stayed’?
“Have you commanded the morning since your days began, and caused the dawn to know its place, that it might take hold of the skirts of the earth, and the wicked be shaken out of it?
“Have you entered into the springs of the sea, or walked in the recesses of the deep? Have the gates of death been revealed to you, or have you seen the gates of deep darkness? Have you comprehended the expanse of the earth? Declare, if you know all this.
“Where is the way to the dwelling of light, and where is the place of darkness, that you may take it to its territory and that you may discern the paths to its home?” (Job 38: 1-13; 16-18; 19-20)
With these words the Lord indicates to Job, among other things, the infinite distance between the creature and the Creator–a distance that human strength alone cannot traverse.
But we need not fear, for Jesus taught us that He is able to overcome such an enormous distance:
“All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.” (Matthew 11:27)
The Father sent His Son into the world in order that the Son may reveal the Father to whomever He chooses: “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.” (John 14:9)
But on the way to the perfect knowledge of the Lord we can already begin to know the Lord by degrees, already begin to discern certain attributes of His personality from the Scriptures.
Here we observe, for example, that the Lord’s personality is marked by profound spontaneity, depth, and originality. His character embodies so many contraries, such as justice and mercy, power and humility, gentleness and wisdom. His love is unconditional yet uncompromising.
Our Lord Jesus Christ was infinitely gentle, patient, and merciful with sinners, the weak and abandoned, the lowly and impoverished; yet He was very severe, exacting, and just with those considered great and knowledgeable, the leaders of the people, and the proud and arrogant.
Consider His words to the Pharisees who, after Christ had healed a blind and mute man, accused Him of being in league with the devil:
“You brood of vipers! How can you speak good, when you are evil? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.” (Matthew 12:34)
When Jesus declared Himself “the light of the world” (John 8:12) the Pharisees, not believing in Him nor accepting His authority, argued with the Lord and justified themselves by claiming to be the children of God. To which Jesus responded:
“If God were your Father, you would love me: for I came forth and am come from God; for neither have I come of myself, but he sent me. Why do you not understand my speech? Even because you cannot hear my word. You are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father it is your will to do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and stands not in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaks a lie, he speaks of his own: for he is a liar, and the father thereof.” (John 8:42-44)
While teaching in Jerusalem on the eve of His Sacred Passion, knowing what was about to befall Him, Jesus warned the chief priests and elders of the people:
“The kingdom of God shall be taken away from you, and given to a nation producing the fruits of it.” (Matthew 21:43)
A brief reading of the Gospels will show that there are many other instances in which Jesus was very exacting and very severe with His interlocutors.
On the other hand, we find that Jesus was infinitely compassionate, gentle and merciful with those who were weak, forsaken, oppressed, and bound by sin. Christ did not hesitate to dine with sinners, to rescue the woman caught in adultery, and to forgive the thief on the cross who had been a sinner all his life.
For Jesus did not come to “break a bruised reed or quench a smouldering wick.” (Matthew 12:20)
Regarding the whole world, the Scripture says: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)
And for those who had lost their way, Jesus said: “What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness, and go after the one which is lost, until he finds it? And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing.” (Luke 15:3-5)
Jesus is the Good Shepherd and He is tireless in seeking out His lost sheep.
Regarding those who work very hard and are weary, Jesus called: “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30)
So we see that Jesus did not apply the same ‘measure’ to all persons, nor extend Himself to everyone in the same way, for He “knew all men”, and “he needed not that any one should bear witness concerning man.” (John 2:24,25)
He was infinitely gentle with some, and extremely strict with others. Why so?
The Lord explains: “Every one to whom much is given, of him will much be required; and of him to whom men commit much they will demand the more.” (Luke 12:48)
Jesus wants to save everyone: the strong and the weak, the humble and the proud, the honest and the dishonest, the righteous and the unrighteous, the good and the evil, but He cannot apply the same “medicine” to all.
Each one needs only to open his or her heart to the Lord Jesus who must, as the all wise, all loving, and all powerful Son of God, administer the right medicine to each one, working tirelessly so that everyone might come to believe in Him, for faith in Christ is the door to eternal life. (John 20:31)
And so the words of the Scripture ring more and more true, the more we realise the ways of the Lord, and the heights and depths of His wisdom:
“With the loyal thou dost show thyself loyal; with the blameless man thou dost show thyself blameless; with the pure thou dost show thyself pure; and with the crooked thou dost show thyself perverse. For thou dost deliver a humble people; but the haughty eyes thou dost bring down.
“Yea, thou dost light my lamp; the Lord my God lightens my darkness. Yea, by thee I can crush a troop; and by my God I can leap over a wall. This God—his way is perfect; the promise of the Lord proves true; he is a shield for all those who take refuge in him.” (Psalm 18:25-30)
The human condition is full of contradictions: our world is marked by great progress and great suffering, by wonderful opportunities and sad failures, by amazing discoveries and unexpected tragedies, by deep sorrows and profound joys.
Each soul is a reflection, in one way or another, of these contradictions that mark the human condition, as though each individual represents a unique microcosm of the world at large. Each soul knows the meaning of hope and fear, joy and sorrow.
We all share in this common ’thread’ that runs throughout human history, this clash of contradictories, while each individual is a unique expression of the same. This is one of the greatest of all paradoxes: we are all the same yet each one of us is different.
And one of the greatest of all consolations is that the Son of God is no stranger to the human condition.
Jesus entered into this world as a human being and became acquainted with the human condition. The only begotten Son of God, who is in eternity, descended from heaven, was clothed in human nature, and entered upon the stage of the human drama.
The Son of God became the Son of man. He took upon Himself our own nature. Jesus immersed Himself in all the joys and sorrows, all the hopes and fears of the human condition, so that He could identify with each one of us. He united His divinity with our humanity, and our humanity with His divinity. He immersed Himself in all our pain, suffering, and death so that we could come to know His peace and life: “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” (John 10:10)
Let us not imagine that Jesus does not understand all the difficulties and struggles, the anguish, pain and suffering that we experience:
“Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathise with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” (Hebrews 4:14-16)
To the extent that we come to know the Lord, to that extent we come to share in His life and peace. Conversely, to the extent that we “hide” ourselves from the Lord, to that extent we “hide” ourselves from His loving support.
And how do we “hide” ourselves from the Lord? When we fail to believe the words He has spoken; when we fail to trust or to confide our thoughts and concerns to His Sacred Heart; when we turn away from His will and follow our own will.
Saint Augustine confessed to the Lord: “When I hide my thoughts from you, I do not hide myself from you, but I hide you from myself.” (The Confessions of St Augustine, paraphrased)
If, on the other hand, we immerse ourselves in Jesus, if we trust in Him instead of trusting in our own understanding, then He carries us and all our difficulties on the wings of His own strength and wisdom. All the Lord really wants is to save us: “Come to me all you who labour and are burdened and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28)
This is the Good News: that the Son of God came to share in our human condition so that He can be present to us in the midst of our struggles and suffering; that we can confront them in the strength of the Lord’s virtue, if only we will believe in Him; that He did not leave us to cope on the strength of our own resources; that He has already carried all the burden of our sins and sorrows and negligence, if only we will seek Him.
This is the Good News: that the Son of God has immersed Himself in all the misery and suffering and death that belongs to the human condition in order that we may receive His life and peace.
“In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverence. Although he was a son, he learned obedience through what he suffered. And being made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him.” (Hebrews 5:7-9)
But how do we immerse ourselves in the Lord? Let’s allow the Lord Jesus to speak for Himself, and take His words to heart:
“Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples. As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.” (John 15: 4-11)
If God is infinitely merciful then why do we often fear His justice? The fact is that we are always confronted, consciously or unconsciously, with the choice between trust and fear, between faith and doubt. We are never exempt from responding to God’s invitations, we are never deprived of God’s help and grace, and we are never so liberated as when we believe in the Truth.
Yesterday, as I was conversing with a friend regarding this or that course of action in a particular situation, she told me quite sincerely that she would be very careful not to offend God in her choice. That was great, I thought, but something in her voice hinted that she had more fear than trust, that God’s justice loomed larger in her mind than God’s mercy. I wasn’t really sure. In any case, I felt, this is not so much an isolated incident and (perhaps) quite common. In any case, isn’t God’s mercy greater than His justice?
The Divine Mercy Chaplet is prayed on the beads of the Rosary, was taught to Sister Faustina by our Lord Jesus Himself, and carries great promises and graces. Our Lord Jesus dictated this prayer to Saint Faustina on 13th September 1935 (Diary of St Faustina, paragraph 476).
Jesus said that whenever this chaplet of the Divine Mercy is prayed that His Heart is stirred to its very depths, that He will protect all who pray it during their life and especially in the hour of their death, that He will grant anything that is compatible with His Divine will through this prayer, that the whole world is brought closer to God when this Chaplet is prayed (929), and that when this prayer is said in the presence of a dying person that “I [Jesus] will stand between My Father and the dying person, not as the just judge but as the merciful Saviour.” (Diary of St Faustina, 1541) Continue reading The Divine Mercy Chaplet→