Tag Archives: Jesus

I Want to See Jesus – Part 1

If we are honest with ourselves, it is a complaint that is often on our hearts: Jesus, if you exist, let me see you.  We are creatures of the senses.  We salivate with delight at the smell of fresh turkey roasting in the oven.  Our being wants to burst with solemnity when we hear a beautiful piece of music.  To be simply touched by someone we love stirs in us a veritable cornucopia of emotions, sentiments, thoughts, desires, etc.  The first sip and scent of a full bodied St Bernardus Abt 12 will sometimes immediately give us a foretaste of heavenly realities with the faint voice of angelic chanting in the background.  The senses are essential to being human, and we are right to emphasize their importance in our lives.

Yet they seem to be a hindrance to our life of faith.  The Father is invisible.  Jesus has ascended to the right hand of the Father.  The Spirit is among us, but we do not see Him either.  The angels themselves, too, are invisible since they are without bodies.  All that we are told is real cannot be apprehended through our senses.  Thus we believe faith is in some great unknown, we believe it is present to us, but we have never truly experienced it, we simply trust that this invisible and insensible reality is there and attempt to act on the probability that this reality actually exists.  In the end, we customarily see that faith is in something unobservable and thus, thanks to the Kantian overtones of our contemporary world, irrational.  Our hearts cry out to see God, but, deep down, we find Him to be absent, unobservable, and thus unreal.  The desire to see, experience, hear, and encounter God seems to run up against our day to day experience and life.  And we are more apt to trust our senses than some pie in the sky idea like God.  So we go to Church, we say devotions, but, in the end, we don’t truly believe in the reality of God.  Many of us, in the end, are practical atheists.

Yet, there is hope!  If God is real, if we have a desire to see this reality, and, finally, if God created us, then it must mean that if He is real, there must be a way to see Him, for, if our understanding of God is true, then He the desire to see him must be given to us by Him to be truly fulfilled in our lives.  How, then, do we overcome this modern view of faith as something in the invisible and, therefore, unreal?  How is it that God is able to be seen and experienced if He is non-corporeal?  The contemporary demand to see God is one that screams forth from the depths of our being, and thus must be answered in a convincing manner.

The first element that must be proposed – for it is the total basis for everything else we are to say on the matter – is the reality of God’s interaction with the world.  When one studies the Old Testament, especially the Pentateuch, one is able to observe the sensible way God manifests Himself to the people of Israel.  He is manifested through a pillar of fire, the wind, lightning and thunder, booming trumpets, etc.  Even the word for God’s glory – kabod – has a sense that God is sensible: His glory has weight, measure, dimension, visibleness.  The glory of God, the manifestness of God, the visibleness and sensibleness of God culminates when He sends His Son into the world.  Jesus Christ is the Image and Face of the Father.  He who sees Jesus sees the Father.  We have seen His glory (cf: Jn 1:14).  The first letter of John makes this abundantly clear: what we have seen, what we have touched, what we have witnessed, etc.  There is an emphasis that God has manifested Himself fully to us in the Person of His Son, and that we know this through our sensible encounter with Him.  In fact, all of Scripture is a witness to the historical fact that God has manifested Himself through the created realm and that, in fact, the created realm is made for God for when God comes, He does no act of violence over the world, but instead is the One in whom the whole natural realm is fulfilled.  In short: creation is good and God uses it to encounter us, for we are creatures with soul and body and thus, in order to know the truth of things, we must observe it through the sensibleness of our bodies.

“This is all well and good, but that is in the past.  My question still remains: how do I see God now?  Why doesn’t He manifest Himself like He once did?  Jesus may have been visible to his disciples, but if He exists, why doesn’t He make Himself present to us now?”  Thus sayeth the objector.  And it is a strong objection, one we all struggle to give an answer to, because, as we stated at the beginning, a part of us finds such a point to not only be valid, but true.

Having heard the objection and seeing the persuasiveness about it, it is time to begin (and we will continue to investigate this in a future post) our understanding of what faith is.  In order for faith to be in something real and is the response of one’s whole being to a Person Who is real and alive in our lives, we must first shake off the Kantian lens by which we approach the world, for God can only be encountered when we first and foremost understand the sacramental structure of reality, a structure that, when we apply our minds to daily experience, we see to be true and correct.

The first act of developing a new optics, a new vision of the world, is to ask yourself the question: what happens when I see a thing.  If I were to ask any contemporary person “what is a tree”, they would almost instinctively say that a tree is a wooded structure with leaves, bark, that grows vertically, etc.  They would not be entirely wrong in such a description, for these are all aspects of a tree.  But a tree need not be growing, it need not have leaves, etc.  A descriptive view of the tree is insufficient.  Furthermore, each aspect does not account for the totality of the tree itself.  The tree is not its wood – despite the fact that woodiness is so very essential to a tree being a tree.  Nor is the tree its branches, its leaves, its height, depth, weight, etc.  When it comes down to it, we discover that descriptive definitions are good and true, but they are insufficient for accounting for the total reality of the thing.  A tree is more than its branches, leaves, weight, height, etc.  In the end, the sum is always greater than the total of its parts.  Our experience affirms this and, when given sufficient thought, we know this to be true as well: the totality of the thing we call “tree” is greater than all its aspects combined.

The next question then arises: how do we define the nature of a thing?  If it is not descriptive, then what means do we have for defining the nature of a tree when we are so asked to define it?  This we shall answer in our next post in the following day or two.  You may think me crazy for asking such blatantly philosophical questions; what has Athens to do with Jerusalem anyways?  But these are very important for answering that desire of our heart to see Jesus.  The method to my madness is simple: if God has taken on our humanity, He has also taken on the totality of creation to dwell in the infinite exchange of love that is Trinitarian life.  Thus, in order to ascend to the heights of God’s life, we must start from the bottom wrung of the latter of divine ascent.  We must ask these fundamental questions because it is only by answering them that we will see not only that the created realm is made for God Himself, but that the Catholic vision of things will open us up to really see God, to taste, touch, and hear Him.  But this is only possible if we understand the fundamental way we relate to the world and that all things, ultimately, are signs and that we see the world in a mediated way.  All this is important and, when properly unpacked, can help us answer the desirous cry of our heart: “I want to see Jesus!”.

in Christ

-Harrison

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The Cloud of the Ascension

As I have been reflecting on the readings for this Sunday, something suddenly burst forth in my mind when I read the following passage from the Acts of the Apostles:

When he had said this, as they were looking on,
he was lifted up, and a cloud took him from their sight.

I don’t know about you, but I know that when I have read this in the past, I have always thought of some white fluffy cloud either taking Jesus out of sight, or Jesus being lifted up on some fluffy cloud.  Don’t ask me why, but I think part of it is because we only tend to think of clouds that way.  So, when we see the word, we immediately associate that concept of the cloud to the passage.

Yet, what hit me was that, perhaps my concept of cloud is not what is meant in this passage.  You see, the image of the cloud has a rich history both in the Old Testament and in the Gospels.  This site has a good overview of the various passages in Scripture that use the image of the cloud.

The images that use a cloud, however, that were most prominent in my mind were the image of the cloud that descended on Mt Sinai and the Mount of the Transfiguration.  In Exodus 19:19, the Lord God says to Moses that he will descend upon him in a thick cloud.  In Luke’s Gospel, we find that a cloud overshadowed Jesus and the disciples, with a voice speaking from the midst of the cloud “this is my beloved Son, listen to Him.”

Thus, when I heard the reading from Acts, it dawned upon me that the cloud by which Jesus disappears is not a cloud as we understand it.  It is the cloud of the presence of God: the Father has come to bring the Son back to His rightful place in Heaven.

The descent of the cloud is a sign of the presence of God.  It is a mysterious cloud.  Many Church Fathers see the cloud, for example, as the mysterious presence of God, a presence that creates a darkness in the minds, for we are unable to comprehend God.  It is a sign of God, too, enacting a new promise with His chosen people.

The cloud “took Jesus from their sight”.  It does say that Jesus was taken up, and we do call it the Ascension.  Yet we cannot look at it in spatial terms.  We must look, rather, at the Ascension as Jesus’ ascent to His throne in Heaven, which is not a spatial event, but rather relational and greater than the three dimensional world we live in.  Jesus was taken from the sight of the disciples in the clouds.  What was clear has now passed over into the liturgical, scriptural, and sacramental life of the Church (what St Leo the Great calls the Mysteries).  Jesus is removed from our sight, but not from our hearts.  What was seen, is now seen by faith.  What was known through the senses is now known by the soul.  What was heard from the lips of Jesus now comes to us through the Scriptures and the teaching of the Church.  The cloud darkens the heart because it is lifting the heart of the disciples into a more intense, more intimate relationship with the Lord, a relationship that is realized at Pentacost.  The darkness of the cloud is really the light of faith acting in our lives.

When you then begin to think about it, you begin to realize that the darkness that is experienced in faith (not the darkness of suffering, but the darkness of insight, the darkness of not being able to grasp God and His inner life) is really only the start of the spiritual life.  Just as the disciples receive this darkness just prior to their mission of preaching, so we as disciples of Jesus, through the darkness of not seeing Jesus in our prayer, in our inability to grasp God despite our intense desire to do so is not an abomination of faith, but rather the fulfillment of faith.  We see that we are not on the wrong path, but on the right path, because we become purified, like the disciples.  Just as they mistakingly looked up and were corrected by the angels, so too does God correct us in our darkness about our desire to grasp Him.  Our darkness reminds us that we are unable to grasp God, and once we accept that in our lives we are able to receive the Holy Spirit fully in our hearts, thus being able to be moved to proclaim the Gospel to the whole world.

As we can see, the event of the Ascension is very important to us as Christians.

in Christ

-Harrison

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There’s Something About Mary

I have many books on the go at the moment.  This is a perennial problem of mine: I always pick up new books before I finish the ones I am currently reading.  This leads to too many books on the go at the same time which ultimately leads me to giving up on many of them.

My problem right now is that all the books I am reading are all REALLY good.  Last week, for example, I read a section from Volume 1 of the Glory of the Lord by Hans Urs Von Balthasar (he is someone I just may mention once or twice over the course of this blog in the coming months and years).  The section I was reading was relating to the theological value of subjective experience: its importance, its basis in the Gospels and Scripture, its nature, etc.

I was reading away and got to his section on the subjective experience of Mary.  In this short section, he explains why Mary is the Mother of the Church.  He claims that Mary is Mother of the Church by virtue of the fact that she is Mother of the Son.  So far, so good.  By virtue of the intimate relationship she had with her Son, the Church which is His Bride becomes intimate to her as well.  By virtue of this relationship, Mary, then, in her maternal gaze upon the whole Church, expropriates from herself the experience of her Son and gives it to the Church (which is, by the way, the basis for the Church’s perfection).  As Mother, she wants the whole Church to know her Son the same way she does, and so she opens up her heart for us to experience in her the relationship she has with her Son.

I found this to be moving and beautiful.  More importantly, though, it gave me an insight into the rosary that I had never known before.  If what Balthasar says is true, then that means that each time we pray the Rosary, each time we meditate on a mystery, we are not simply looking at it in an objective manner, attempting to come to certain facts about the mysteries through our meditation.  No.  The rosary, instead, is a MUCH more powerful and glorious prayer.  It is in the rosary where we ask Mary to take us into her heart.  It is in the rosary, in the heart of Mary, that we see each mystery in her eyes, from her perspective.  By virtue of our union with her, we come to a more perfect knowledge and experience of her Son.

I got rather excited with this because, though I love to pray the rosary, I have found it difficult at times to be able to participate and meditate on the mysteries.  This helps me now see not only the centrality of the rosary, but of Mary herself.  When we pray the Hail Mary, we are not just asking her intercession, but we are asking to be placed in her Immaculate Heart, to be lifted up into the love she has for her Son.  Mary becomes powerful for us because we learn, from her through the depths of her heart, how to love her Son.

Mary is important and, I dare say, essential for Catholics because she is the perfect example of how to love God the Son, God the Father, and God the Holy Spirit.  We can be lifted up into her fiat and ask her to teach us to say yes as she says yes to God.  She is the perfect model of faith!  I have heard from some that because she is perfect it is tough to immitate her.  I respond by saying that she is not unapproachable because of her sinlessness, but absolutely even more approachable because of her sinlessness.  By virtue of her Immaculate Conception, she is completely available in a selfless way for the Church.  She gives herself totally to the Church so that the Church may have the faith, hope, and love that she has.  We tend to think that to be human is to be sinful, as if humanity is identifiable with sinfulness.  It is not.  Sin is an abomination to human nature and it has no part in us.  When we have Mary, when we have Jesus, who both were sinless, we think we cannot immitate them, they were better than we can ever be.  Yet, it is because of their complete union with the Father that they both had a perfect freedom, a freedom we yearn for.  We think that we are less free the closer we grow to God.  Mary and Jesus teach us that we become more free the more intimately united to God we are.  They are examples to us because what they live we are called to live as well.  Both Mary and Jesus were tempted in every way we are.  Yet they still said yes.  Let us ask Mary, then, to teach us to say yes as she did, despite fears, despite temptations.  Yes is the only word that we can say to God, because it is the only word that fulfills our human nature, our human destiny.

in Christ

-Harrison

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