Friday, April 30, 2010

What Birth Control DOESN'T Do for Women's Rights

I thought I would do something a little different with this post since this year is the 50th anniversary of the FDA's approval of birth control pills. In a "celebration" of sorts, PBS has made a surprisingly honest documentary called "The Pill" on the history of this form of contraception. 

It was once believed that only the male of the human species was responsible for creating life and a woman's body only provided the place for this life to grow. But in 1843 scientists discovered that it takes both the man and the woman to conceive. For human reproduction to occur, the male sperm must first enter a female egg. 

But it was not until the 1920s that a woman's fertility was understood as cyclical and the "rhythm" method of birth control was formulated. Women were thought to be fertile approximately midway in a 28 day cycle and scientists concluded that pregnancy could be avoided by abstaining from sexual relations during that fertile time. The problem with rhythm was that every woman's cycle is different. Not every woman operates on a 28 day cycle and many women do not even have what would be considered a regular cycle.

By 1930, science understood the role of hormones in a woman's fertility cycle. That same year, the Catholic Church issued its first statement in opposition to artificial birth control. Pope Pius XI called birth control a sin in his encyclical Casti Cannubii (Of Chaste Marriage), opposing contraception by any artificial means. In 1951, Pope Pius XII declared the rhythm method as the only approved method of preventing pregnancy for Catholics outside of abstinence.

In the 1950s, Dr. John Rock, a Catholic OBGYN doing fertility studies and operating the first rhythm method clinic in Boston (1936), met Gregory Pincus from Planned Parenthood. Pincus was working with feminist Margaret Sangar with funds from Katharine McCormick to come up with a "magic pill" for women to take like eating candy to prevent pregnancy. Rock already understood the role of hormones in fertility. Pincus wanted to use hormones to prevent pregnancy. Pincus was not a physician and was thus not able to run human trials with his pill, so under the guise of a fertility study, he convinced Rock to administer progesterone to 50 women  so he could get FDA approval.

In 1960, the pharmaceutical company Searle  pressed the FDA to approve the sale of oral contraceptives and most Catholics believed at the time that it was only a matter of time before the Church approved their use. That same year, John Rock announced publicly that the Pill simply extended a woman's infertile period and that it should be considered an extension of the Church-approved rhythm method for preventing pregnancy. Finally, in the summer of 1968, Pope Paul VI came out with the decision of the Church on birth control in his encyclical Humanae Vitae (On Human Life). All artificial methods of birth control were condemned.

At first, it would seem that the pill was liberating for women. It opened the doors for women to pursue the careers they wanted. Women were now free to choose when they would have children. They could pursue work outside the home until such time as they chose to start a family. Unwanted pregnancies would be rare. Between the pill and Alfred Kinsey's supposed research on sex in both males and females in the 1950s, the sexual revolution was ushered in on a red carpet. Attitudes towards sex became more openly discussed. Free love was the mantra of the 1960s. By the time 1973 rolled around, abortion - the last resort form of birth control - was legalized and the new mantra became a woman's right to choose. We still hear it today by radical feminists.

Unfortunately, instead of liberating women, artificial birth control and abortion have only enslaved women. Feminists are doing the exact opposite from what they intend - if their goal is liberation in truth. So what is true freedom? One might define it as the ability to choose from among the goods at one's disposal for the benefit of all. You have to know what is good before you can be truly free.

One might even say that the Declaration of Independence describes it as right to Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness - not in opposition to others, but while giving those same rights to others. Any time one's personal rights intrude on the rights of others, they are not truly free for they are choosing for themselves over another. Choosing for oneself over another is selfishness, not freedom. Just because we CAN do something does not mean that it is right or good.

Choosing artificial contraception does not bring about true liberation for women. So how does artificial birth control actually enslave a woman?

  • Artificial birth control sees a woman's fertility as a disease when it is a gift from God. Sex was not intended for recreation but re-creation or procreation. It demeans human sexuality when it is seen as a source of entertainment and pleasure.
  • It denies both men and women the freedom of self-control. By defining human sexuality as something that is driven - outside of one's control  - it is no longer subject to the human will but to whatever outside forces may come along. It makes human beings no better than other animals.
  • It enslaves women to the sexual desires of men. As put in Humanae Vitae, "a man who grows accustomed to the use of contraceptive methods may forget the reverence due to a woman, and, disregarding her physical and emotional equilibrium, reduce her to being a mere instrument for the satisfaction of his own desires, no longer considering her as his partner whom he should surround with care and affection."
  • Women become sexual objects in pornography. Women unclothe themselves for the pleasure of men in the guise of freedom. The problem is that pornography becomes a means to an end, the end being self-pleasure. Women learn to sell themselves short for the gratification of men who are only using them. Pornography is a billions of dollars a year industry related in some ways to the fashion industry. Fashions have become more and more provocative as the years progress - even for little girls, who are subtly being trained to seduce men.
  • Artificial birth control also ties women to their own sexual desires as though her worth depends on her drive and ability to have sex.
  • Women on birth control pills are also subject to its side effects and they are many. As early as 1962, side effects were already known. Taking risks is not liberating; it's playing Russian roulette! So aren't women back to square one?
  • In addition the use of birth control often leads to sex before marriage and there are many repercussions as a result of that.

In their book Hooked: New Science on How Casual Sex Is Affecting Our Children, Dr. Joe McIlhaney and Dr. Freda McKissic Bush explain what we now know about sex and the human brain. According to a review of the book from the American Family News Network, powerful hormones released during intercourse leave an imprint on the brain. In women, oxytocin creates the bond between mother and child.
Oxytocin also helps females bond with men. When a woman and man touch each other in a loving way, oxytocin is released in her brain. It makes her want more of that loving touch, and she begins to feel a bond with her partner. Sexual intercourse leads to the release of even more oxytocin, a desire to repeat the contact, and even stronger bonding. . . . Oxytocin can cause a woman to bond to a man even during what was expected to be a short-term sexual relationship." So when that short-term relationship ends, the emotional fallout can be devastating, ...
Males have their own neurochemical related to bonding: vasopressin. It floods the male brain during sexual intercourse, causing him to feel at least partially bonded to every woman with whom he's been intimate. If men begin a pattern of having sex with partner after partner, they risk not developing the ability to form long-term emotional attachment. As McIlhaney and Bush put it: "Their inability to bond after multiple liaisons is almost like tape that loses its stickiness after being applied and removed multiple times."
The authors of Hooked also compiled statistics from various sources that speak to the ineffectiveness of artificial birth control among teens:
- 20% of 12-18-year-old girls who use birth control pills become pregnant within six months
- 20% of teens under 18 who use condoms become pregnant within a year
- 50% of teenage girls who use some form of contraception while living with a boyfriend become pregnant within a year
As the AFN article says, "Science now backs up what religious traditions have been teaching for generations." Abstinence is best.

The greatest teacher on human sexuality is surprisingly the late Pope John Paul II. Between 1979 and 1984, in 129 Wednesday audiences, he created an integrated vision of the human person - body, soul, and spirit in his reflections on Scripture (especially the Gospels, St. Paul and the Book of Genesis). His Theology of the Body, as it is known today, encourages true reverence for the gift of our sexuality, challenging us - both male and female - to live it in a way worthy of our great dignity as human persons. What birth control DOESN'T do for a woman's rights, Theology of the Body certainly does. Natural Family Planning and the Creighton Model System flow out of this theology. It is natural, there are NO side effects AND it is the choice of the Church. So let us choose what is good for all and live in the dignity of who we are as men and women who are children of God. From this pattern of living flow Life, Liberty AND Happiness.

Natural Family Planning with Dr. Janet Smith

Not Using Anything Is NOT Natural Family Planning

Improved Communication with Natural Family Planning
and Other Benefits of NFP

The Selfishness of Contracepting vs. the Blessings of NFP

Couples Tell How NFP Defines
the Differences between Lust and Love

Monday, April 26, 2010

In the Absence of the King

Sunday of the Fourth Week of Easter - John 10:27-30
Good Shepherd Sunday
"My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me; and I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish, and no one shall snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father's hand. I and the Father are one." 

WOW, this has to be one of the shortest gospel readings ever - especially for a Sunday - yet it gives us an important image that we should be familiar with. The shepherd and his flock are mentioned throughout the pages of scripture. Many of the important figures of the Old Testament were shepherds. 
  • Abel made offerings of the firstlings of his flock and of their fat portions.
  • Jacob took care of Laban's flocks while he worked to marry Rachel.
  • Joseph was tending the flocks of Jacob when his brothers sold him into slavery
  • Moses took care of sheep in Midian for 40 years. He then used his rod to shepherd God's people out of slavery in Egypt. 
  • King David was a shepherd before being anointed King if Israel. Then his shepherd's staff became a royal scepter.
These are just a few of the important shepherds in the Old Testament. Also, in a beautiful passage from Ezekiel, we are told that God Himself is the shepherd of his people, Israel.
"For thus says the Lord GOD: Behold, I, I myself will search for my sheep, and will seek them out. As a shepherd seeks out his flock when some of his sheep have been scattered abroad, so will I seek out my sheep; and I will rescue them from all places where they have been scattered on a day of clouds and thick darkness. And I will bring them out from the peoples, and gather them from the countries, and will bring them into their own land; and I will feed them on the mountains of Israel, by the fountains, and in all the inhabited places of the country. I will feed them with good pasture, and upon the mountain heights of Israel shall be their pasture; there they shall lie down in good grazing land, and on fat pasture they shall feed on the mountains of Israel. I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I will make them lie down, says the Lord GOD. I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the crippled, and I will strengthen the weak, and the fat and the strong I will watch over; I will feed them in justice. . . . And they shall know that I, the LORD their God, am with them, and that they, the house of Israel, are my people, says the Lord GOD. And you are my sheep, the sheep of my pasture, and I am your God, says the Lord GOD." ~ Ezekiel 34:11-16, 30-31

The image of God as shepherd is a tender one.
Behold, the Lord GOD comes with might, and his arm rules for him; behold, his reward is with him, and his recompense before him. He will feed his flock like a shepherd, he will gather the lambs in his arms, he will carry them in his bosom, and gently lead those that are with young. ~ Isaiah 40:10-11
David, the king of Israel, who had been a shepherd before his anointing as king, sings to the Lord in the ever familiar Psalm 23.
The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not want; he makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters; he restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name's sake. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil; for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me. Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of my enemies; thou anointest my head with oil, my cup overflows. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life; and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD for ever. ~ Psalm 23:1-6
As a shepherd, himself, David identified what he knew about his former livelihood with whom he understood God to be. So he praised the Lord and asked for the salvation of his people by singing,
Blessed be the LORD! for he has heard the voice of my supplications. The LORD is my strength and my shield; in him my heart trusts; so I am helped, and my heart exults, and with my song I give thanks to him. The LORD is the strength of his people, he is the saving refuge of his anointed. O save thy people, and bless thy heritage; be thou their shepherd, and carry them for ever. ~ Psalm 28:6-9
Fast forward to the Jesus of the New Testament, who refers to Himself as the Good Shepherd in the Gospel of John. What will happen when Jesus returns to the Father? He must find someone who will take His place as shepherd. Last week, we heard the gospel in which Jesus commissioned Peter to be the shepherd of His Church. Just as three times, Peter had denied Jesus, so too, three times does He ask Peter, "Do you love me?" Three times, Peter responds, "Lord, You know that I love You." After each time, Jesus tells Peter, "Feed my lambs . . . Feed my sheep . . . Feed my sheep." This is the same man He told,
And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the powers of death shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. ~ Matthew 16:18-19
To fully understand this passage, we must think like a Jew in Jesus' time. What is Jesus really doing when he:
  • changes his name from Simon to Peter?
  • gives Peter the keys?
  • gives Peter the authority to bind and loose?

First of all, by changing Simon's name to Peter, Jesus was indicating that Peter is being called by God for a divine mission, just as the patriarchs of the Old Testament were given a new name - Abram to Abraham, Jacob to Israel, . . . 
Jesus also came to establish His kingdom in this world. Within Eastern kingdoms, the office of steward was a permanent one. The steward was the literally one “over the house”  and ruled in the absence of the king and the king would entrust with the keys of the kingdom to him. We can associate Jesus’ statements to Peter with the passage in Isaiah 22 that says,
I will thrust you from your office, and you will be cast down from your station. In that day I will call my servant Eli'akim the son of Hilki'ah, and I will clothe him with your robe, and will bind your girdle on him, and will commit your authority to his hand; and he shall be a father to the inhabitants of Jerusalem and to the house of Judah. And I will place on his shoulder the key of the house of David; he shall open, and none shall shut; and he shall shut, and none shall open. ~ Isaiah 22:19-22
Isaiah is replacing Shebna, the royal steward of the king, with Eliakim, who succeeds him as the steward. In Matthew, Jesus is the holy one, the true one who has the key of David and He has given the key of David to Peter. So, Peter is made steward "over the house while the king is away" because he has been given the keys to the kingdom. Mention of the key is found three times in scripture.
  • Isaiah 22:22
  • Matthew 16:19
  • Revelation 3:7
The final mention of the key in Revelation tells us the meaning behind the binding and loosing. John tells us that in the letter to the church of Philadelphia, he was instructed to write:
"The words of the holy one, the true one, who has the key of David, who opens and no one shall shut, who shuts and no one opens." ~ Revelation 3:7
The binding and loosing of the previous passage from Matthew 16 run parallel to the terms shut and open. These were Jewish terms that referred to the power to declare things lawful or unlawful, to permit or to prohibit. In other words, the authority of the one "over the house" was the rule of the house as a law rules a people.

Why did Jesus commission Peter to shepherd the Church?  Because we are His flock and
  • Sheep without a shepherd cannot find their way.
  • Sheep without a shepherd will not know where to pasture.
  • Sheep without a shepherd have no defense against the wolves of this world.
Let us respond to Pope Benedict XVI, the vicar of Christ, who is shepherd "over the house" while the king is away. Let us look to the truths of our faith within His Church.

Food for thought: What other truths might we learn from the Sunday Gospel reading, keeping in mind that we are the sheep of His flock?
  • The Father was greater than Jesus before He was glorified - raised from the dead.
  • The Father has a firm hold on His sheep.
  • The Father gives Jesus His sheep.
  • Jesus and the Father are one.
  • Jesus' sheep listen to Him.
  • Jesus' sheep follow Him.
  • Jesus knows His sheep.
  • Jesus has a firm hold on His sheep.
  • Following Jesus leads to our glorification - eternal life. 

Thursday, April 22, 2010

The Holy One of God

The unbelievers draw back and no longer follow Jesus. He has explained His words but they still do not believe and so they leave Him. Jesus does not call them back and retract His words. His sign was not enough for them. He even asks them if they would believe if He ascended back into heaven, but they were hardened of heart. It made no difference to them who He was. 

Saturday of the 3rd Week of Easter - John 6:60-69.
Many of his disciples, when they heard it, said, "This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?" But Jesus, knowing in himself that his disciples murmured at it, said to them, "Do you take offense at this? Then what if you were to see the Son of man ascending where he was before? It is the spirit that gives life, the flesh is of no avail; the words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. But there are some of you that do not believe." For Jesus knew from the first who those were that did not believe, and who it was that would betray him. And he said, "This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father." After this many of his disciples drew back and no longer went about with him. Jesus said to the twelve, "Do you also wish to go away?" Simon Peter answered him, "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life; and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God."
He was the Holy One of God, but they could not stomach what He said. They could not look beyond what they could see in front of them. They had neither eyes to see nor ears to hear. And  Jesus knew who they were for it says He "knew from the first who those were that did not believe, and who it was that would betray him."

I find it interesting that the verse which says many drew back and not longer went about with Him is John 6:66. Is unbelief, even with signs, the mark of the beast of which we hear in Revelation?

If any one has an ear, let him hear: If any one is to be taken captive, to captivity he goes; if any one slays with the sword, with the sword must he be slain. Here is a call for the endurance and faith of the saints. Then I saw another beast which rose out of the earth; it had two horns like a lamb and it spoke like a dragon. It exercises all the authority of the first beast in its presence, and makes the earth and its inhabitants worship the first beast, whose mortal wound was healed. It works great signs, even making fire come down from heaven to earth in the sight of men; and by the signs which it is allowed to work in the presence of the beast, it deceives those who dwell on earth, bidding them make an image for the beast which was wounded by the sword and yet lived; and it was allowed to give breath to the image of the beast so that the image of the beast should even speak, and to cause those who would not worship the image of the beast to be slain. Also it causes all, both small and great, both rich and poor, both free and slave, to be marked on the right hand or the forehead, so that no one can buy or sell unless he has the mark, that is, the name of the beast or the number of its name. This calls for wisdom: let him who has understanding reckon the number of the beast, for it is a human number, its number is six hundred and sixty-six. ~ Revelation 13:9-18
666 is the number of the beast who causes those who dwell on earth to be deceived. Six is the number of man who was created on the sixth day. The beast performs signs and those believe who dwell on the earth. They do not dwell in God. Notice the word dwell could be substituted with the word abide. Those who abide in the things of the world are deceived. They worship the beast that has been healed of its wound and lives instead of the lamb who has been slain. 

Both have performed signs, but the lamb that is slain dies and rises again. The Lamb of God who is Jesus, dies and rises from the dead. Those who dwell or abide in Him will have eyes to see and ears to hear. They will understand and reckon the number of the beast which is 666, the perfection of that which is of the world.

They will instead follow the Lamb that is slain. They will follow the number of perfection of that which is of God. They will seven themselves or make a covenant with the Lamb. The word shevah in Hebrew is the number seven. From the same root word, savah, meaning to be full or satisfied, to have enough, comes the word shavagh which means to swear an oath. Those who have eyes to see and ears to hear will dwell in Him by swearing an oath to Him. They are not fooled or deceived by the beast who is wounded but heals. They see that the Lamb is slain and rises again. They understand the signs and swear allegiance to the Risen One.
So let us be believers. Let us dwell in Him who tells us, "
I am the bread of life; he who comes to me shall not hunger, and he who believes in me shall never thirst" and again "I am the bread which came down from heaven" and again, "I am the living bread which came down from heaven; if any one eats of this bread, he will live for ever; and the bread which I shall give for the life of the world is my flesh", for He is the Holy One of God. 

Crown Him with Many Crowns
Text: Matthew Bridges, 1800-1894, and Godfrey Thring, 1823-1903
Music: George J. Elvey, 1816-1893  

Crown Him with many crowns, the Lamb upon His throne.
Hark! How the heavenly anthem drowns all music but its own.
Awake, my soul, and sing of Him who died for thee,
And hail Him as thy matchless King through all eternity.

Crown Him the virgin’s Son, the God incarnate born,
Whose arm those crimson trophies won which now His brow adorn;
Fruit of the mystic rose, as of that rose the stem;
The root whence mercy ever flows, the Babe of Bethlehem.

Crown Him the Son of God, before the worlds began,
And ye who tread where He hath trod, crown Him the Son of Man;
Who every grief hath known that wrings the human breast,
And takes and bears them for His own, that all in Him may rest.

Crown Him the Lord of life, who triumphed over the grave,
And rose victorious in the strife for those He came to save.
His glories now we sing, who died, and rose on high,
Who died eternal life to bring, and lives that death may die.

Crown Him the Lord of peace, whose power a scepter sways
From pole to pole, that wars may cease, and all be prayer and praise.
His reign shall know no end, and round His piercèd feet
Fair flowers of paradise extend their fragrance ever sweet.

Crown Him the Lord of love, behold His hands and side,
Those wounds, yet visible above, in beauty glorified.
No angel in the sky can fully bear that sight,
But downward bends his burning eye at mysteries so bright.

Crown Him the Lord of Heaven, enthroned in worlds above,
Crown Him the King to Whom is given the wondrous name of Love.
Crown Him with many crowns, as thrones before Him fall;
Crown Him, ye kings, with many crowns, for He is King of all.

Crown Him the Lord of lords, who over all doth reign,
Who once on earth, the incarnate Word, for ransomed sinners slain,
Now lives in realms of light, where saints with angels sing
Their songs before Him day and night, their God, Redeemer, King.

Crown Him the Lord of years, the Potentate of time,
Creator of the rolling spheres, ineffably sublime.
All hail, Redeemer, hail! For Thou has died for me;
Thy praise and glory shall not fail throughout eternity.

Food Indeed

Jesus has laid it out before them. Now comes the defection of unbelievers. This is just too much for them to believe. How is it possible that Jesus could give them His flesh to eat? But unequivocally and with authority, Jesus says that the only ones who will have eternal life are those who eat His flesh and drink His blood. It is food indeed!

Friday of the 3rd Week of Easter - John 6:44-51.
The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, "How can this man give us his flesh to eat?" So Jesus said to them, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you; he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is food indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him. As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so he who eats me will live because of me. This is the bread which came down from heaven, not such as the fathers ate and died; he who eats this bread will live for ever." This he said in the synagogue, as he taught at Caper'na-um.
Now what is this about abiding? The word abide comes from the Old English BIDEN and Middle English ABIDAN which means to remain or continue in one place; to live, dwell, or sojourn. It is also where we get the word abode meaning a place where one lives.

Jesus states, "He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him." So one who eats the flesh of the Risen Christ and drinks the blood of the Risen Christ, abides in God and God in him.

Where else do we hear of Jesus calling us to abide? It is also in Chapter 15 of the Gospel of John that we find another of the "I AM" statements of Jesus. The RSV uses the word abide but the New American Bible is a little easier to understand, so I will substitute the word abide here for the word remain.

John 15:1-11 (NAB with the word abide substituted)
I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine grower. He takes away every branch in me that does not bear fruit, and everyone that does he prunes so that it bears more fruit. You are already pruned because of the word that I spoke to you. Abide in me, as I abide in you. Just as a branch cannot bear fruit on its own unless it abides on the vine, so neither can you unless you abides in me. I am the vine, you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him will bear much fruit, because without me you can do nothing. Anyone who does not abide in me will be thrown out like a branch and wither; people will gather them and throw them into a fire and they will be burned. If you abide in me and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you want and it will be done for you. By this is my Father glorified, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples. As the Father loves me, so I also love 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. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and your joy may be complete.  
Here you have the word abide 11 times, the number of faithful apostles. Notice that this passage has to do with the vine and branches, the source of grapes, the fruit that produces wine. Wine was often used as a symbol of joy in scripture. Even Jesus' final statement in this passage is "I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and your joy may be complete."

Besides the bread, what else does Jesus consecrate at the Passover meal? It is wine. The blessing He places on the cup of wine affects us for we will be filled with the very life of God when we drink of it - if we abide in Him. If we do not abide in Him, there are consequences to our eating and drinking the body and blood.
For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes. Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord. Let a man examine himself, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For any one who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment upon himself. ~ I Corinthians 11:26-29

If the branch does not abide in the vine, it dies. So too, if we do not abide in His love, we will fail to keep the commandments of Jesus. His gave two commands at the last supper. In the synoptics, the command is in reference to His body: "This is my body which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me."

At the last supper in the gospel of John, Jesus' command is a little different. After the washing of the feet of the disciples, Jesus says,  
When he had washed their feet, and taken his garments, and resumed his place, he said to them, "Do you know what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord; and you are right, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another's feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you. ~ John 13:12-14
This is not just an example to follow. Only two chapters later Jesus says,
"This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you." ~ John 15:12-14
So, Jesus is telling us to repeat His very act of sacrifice, not only with the bread and wine, but also in our actions by laying down our life for one another in love. Such food indeed!

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

The Bread I Will Give

Thursday of the 3rd Week of Easter - John 6:44-51.
No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him; and I will raise him up at the last day. It is written in the prophets, 'And they shall all be taught by God.' Every one who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me. Not that any one has seen the Father except him who is from God; he has seen the Father. Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes has eternal life. I am the bread of life. Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread which comes down from heaven, that a man may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread which came down from heaven; if any one eats of this bread, he will live for ever; and the bread which I shall give for the life of the world is my flesh."
To silence their murmuring, Jesus further explains what is written in the prophets about Him. "All your sons shall be taught by the LORD, and great shall be the prosperity of your sons." (Isaiah 54:13) Those who do not hunger because they go to Jesus and those who do not thirst because they believe in Him (from John 6:35) are taught by God and the fact that God is the One Who teaches them is of vital importance. Although they have not seen the Father, they learn from Him through Jesus Who has seen the Father and comes from the Father. And so their prosperity is great: they shall not die, but live forever.
Finally, we reach the "hard saying" in chapter 6 that will separate the true believers from those who do not believe: "The bread which I shall give for the life of the world is my flesh."

Jesus has explained about the manna eaten by their ancestors in the desert. It was bread that was perishable. The people eventually died who ate it. The manna or bread from heaven of which Jesus speaks is not the same. It is Jesus Himself and those who eat it will not die.

But Jesus has not yet given of His flesh. He refers to it as "I AM the living bread" and yet as "the bread which I SHALL give". Jesus IS the bread, but they will have to wait to receive this bread that is living. So fast forward to the Last Supper which is the Passover meal in the synoptic gospels. Jesus takes the unleavened bread of Passover and changes it when He says, 

"Take this, all of you, and eat it: this is my body which will be given up for you." ~
Then He takes the cup of blessing and says,
"Take this, all of you, and drink from it: this is the cup of my blood, the blood of the new and everlasting covenant. It will be shed for you and for all so that sins may be forgiven. Do this in memory of me."
In the gospel of John, Jesus did not drink the final cup at the Last Supper because it is the cup of His suffering. He finishes the Passover meal from the cross for Jesus IS the NEW Passover Lamb. Before He dies, He cries, "I thirst!", then drinks the fruit of the vine and cries "It is finished!" What is finished? His cry denotes that it is the end of the Passover sacrifice. Passover's final cup of blessing has been consumed. 

But none of this makes any sense until later, after the Resurrection. How was this first revealed? It was the disciples on the road to Emmaus who first came to know Jesus in the breaking of the bread. The flesh to which Jesus refers IS His flesh but who do they receive? It is the Risen Lord. Jesus, the man of history, was constrained by time and space just as we are. But following the Resurrection, Jesus' human form has been TRANSFORMED. His body is no longer bound by time and space. So the Risen Christ is present to us now in all times and in all places, but in a very special way in the Eucharist in the breaking of the bread. 

At every Mass,we again hear the priest, acting in persona Christi, say the marvelous words.
"Take this, all of you, and eat it: this is my body which will be given up for you." ~

"Take this, all of you, and drink from it: this is the cup of my blood, the blood of the new and everlasting covenant. It will be shed for you and for all so that sins may be forgiven. Do this in memory of me."
Only through Jesus' death AND Resurrection does the bread become His flesh and ordinary wine become His Precious Blood. We do not receive Christ in the tomb when we take Communion, but the Risen Lamb of God who is the living bread. The blood of the new and everlasting covenant that was shed on the cross is given to us as the cup of life for Jesus has risen from the dead. The death and Resurrection of Jesus changes everything. It turns death on its head. This is what happens when God dies on a cross and rises from the dead. He comes to us hidden - in distressing disguise, as Mother Teresa would say. 

"When Jesus came into the world, He loved it so much that He gave His life for it. He wanted to satisfy our hunger for God. And what did He do? He made Himself the Bread of Life." ~ Mother Teresa

Living Bread

Today is the climax of the Gospel for this 3rd week of Easter from the 6th chapter of the Gospel of John.
Wednesday, the 3rd week of Easter - John 6:35-40.
Jesus said to them, "I am the bread of life; he who comes to me shall not hunger, and he who believes in me shall never thirst. But I said to you that you have seen me and yet do not believe. All that the Father gives me will come to me; and him who comes to me I will not cast out. For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will, but the will of him who sent me; and this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up at the last day. For this is the will of my Father, that every one who sees the Son and believes in him should have eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day." 
We only hear Jesus in today's reading. The last verse from yesterday's gospel is repeated and the passage continues with Jesus commenting on the lack of faith in these people who seek Him because of the signs. Even though they see Him, they do not believe.

What we learn is that faith is a gift - a grace. Only those who the Father gives to Jesus will come to Him and believe. It reminds me that Jesus once said, "Many are called but few are chosen."  It makes me want to cry out, "Lord, choose me! Choose me!" Those who are among the chosen will never hunger or thirst because when they go to Jesus, they believe. They have the gift of faith and because they do, they follow Jesus, not because of what He can do for them, but because Jesus is the Son of God who is first born from the dead. This is why Jesus is able to raise the believer from the dead on the last day.

The reading says that Jesus only does the will of the Father, not His own will. Since it is the Father's will to send Him those who believe, He will not turn away those who the Father has chosen to send. Not only will He save those who believe, He will also raise them up at the last day. Finally, Jesus repeats what is the will of the Father: that those who see the Son and believe in Him will have eternal life and be raised on the last day. Those who seek signs rather than the one who is the bread of life, will perish.

Left out of this reading and Thursday's are the following verses:
The Jews then murmured at him, because he said, "I am the bread which came down from heaven." They said, "Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How does he now say, 'I have come down from heaven'?" Jesus answered them, "Do not murmur among yourselves. 
Some people cannot see past the nose on their face. They stand murmuring among themselves about who Jesus is. They cannot get past Jesus' humanity to see His divinity - to see that He is what He says. It is grace to believe that the bread which came down from heaven to give eternal life is Jesus.

I Am the Bread of Life
by S. Suzanne Toolan 

I am the bread of life
He who comes to Me shall not hunger
He who believes in Me shall not thirst
No one can come to Me
Unless the Father draw him

And I will raise him up
And I will raise him up
And I will raise him up on the last day

The bread that I will give
Is My flesh for the life of the world
And he who eats of this bread
He shall live for ever
He shall live for ever

Unless you eat
Of the flesh of the Son of Man
And drink of His blood
And drink of His blood
You shall not have life within you

I am the resurrection
I am the life
He who believes in Me
Even if he die
He shall live for ever

Yes, Lord, we believe
That You are the Christ
The Son of God
Who has come
Into the world

Manna Bread - "What is it?"

Today, we are building to the climax of the story in John's Gospel. The suspense builds to a climactic statement of Jesus as the Bread of Life.

Tuesday of the 3rd Week of Easter - John 6:30-35.
So they said to him, "Then what sign do you do, that we may see, and believe you? What work do you perform? Our fathers ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, 'He gave them bread from heaven to eat.'" Jesus then said to them, "Truly, truly, I say to you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven; my Father gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven, and gives life to the world."  They said to him, "Lord, give us this bread always." Jesus said to them, "I am the bread of life; he who comes to me shall not hunger, and he who believes in me shall never thirst..."
Jesus' followers came seeking signs and one sign was not enough. Ironically, since they have just been fed with the loaves and fishes, they ask, "What work do you perform?" How quickly they forget that Jesus just multiplied 5 loaves and 7 fish to feed 5,000 men and there were 12 baskets of leftover bread. They do not consider this miracle a supernatural one. Maybe they think Jesus performed some sort of magic.

But then they assert and maintain the authority of scripture when next they say, "It is written." And they boast that their ancestors ate the manna in the desert. Since Jesus has said He is the Son of Man, they are challenging Him to beat His previous accomplishment, for manna was a supernatural phenomenon.

Manna was not really bread, but an unknown substance named from the words "man hu" or "What is it?" Manna was considered bread from heaven because it was provided miraculously from heaven while the Israelites wandered in the desert.  Jesus, of course, is up to the challenge. He responds that while Moses, a man, was not the one who provided the manna that their ancestors ate, His own Father gives true bread from heaven - true manna - which gives life to the world. It is life-giving bread. Jesus has now provided bait for the people. Will they take it? Will they understand?

This seemed impossible and so they command Jesus to produce this food for them "always".

Maybe they were hoping to be fed with manna as their fathers were. Their hunger leads them and they want more. That is because it is not the sign that feeds. They had their fill of the bread and fish, but their hunger remained. So they are just wanting another sign.

The problem with a sign is that it only points to a destination. It does absolutely nothing to get you where it points. To get to where you need to be, you need a way to get there AND you have to follow it.  Jesus IS the Way and we must follow Him. But Jesus will not give them another sign. Having brought them this far, He wants them to understand the difference between a sign and the destination, which is actually who it comes from. The one giving the sign holds all the significance. It is NOT the sign that is important but the one who gives it.

The manna of the Old Testaments pointed to the One Who provided it. It wasn't Moses who provided it but God, but Jesus' followers are stuck on Moses because it is not God they seek. They seek the sign and the manna was only a sign and it left them still wandering in the desert, like the bird following a trail of crumbs (see last post).

Jesus then makes the statement that will either make or break His followers: "I am the bread of life; he who comes to me shall not hunger, and he who believes in me shall never thirst..." With that statement, we are left in suspense, not knowing the response of the people. The Church, in her wisdom, has left us to mull over what Jesus has said until tomorrow.

So let us do exactly that. What IS Jesus saying? First of all, when Jesus says, "I am" He is equating Himself with the Father. Yahweh (God) is the Great I AM. In the book of Exodus, God told Moses to bring the Israelites out of Egypt.

Come, I will send you to Pharaoh that you may bring forth my people, the sons of Israel, out of Egypt." But Moses said to God, "Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh, and bring the sons of Israel out of Egypt?" He said, "But I will be with you; and this shall be the sign for you, that I have sent you: when you have brought forth the people out of Egypt, you shall serve God upon this mountain." Then Moses said to God, "If I come to the people of Israel and say to them, 'The God of your fathers has sent me to you,' and they ask me, 'What is his name?' what shall I say to them?" God said to Moses, "I AM WHO I AM." And he said, "Say this to the people of Israel, 'I AM has sent me to you.'" God also said to Moses, "Say this to the people of Israel, 'The LORD, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you': this is my name for ever, and thus I am to be remembered throughout all generations.  ~ Exodus 3:10-15

When Jesus says, "I AM the bread of life" the people will understand what He means. Moses told the people that God is "I AM" and they would remember that from the scriptures. It would be a blasphemous saying to those who heard it. And not only did Jesus equate Himself with God, He was saying that God and the bread of life are the same thing. God is the bread of life. But what does this mean? The manna that God provided in the desert did not give life, but Jesus says that whoever comes for THIS bread will not hunger and whoever believes HIM will never thirst. That is, Jesus Himself will keep those who come and believe from both hunger and thirst. He will provide for them for life. All they have to do is come and believe. It is that simple.

Will the people accept what Jesus is saying? We will soon find out. 

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Food That Endures

This week, the third week of Easter, the Gospel readings are from Chapter 6 of St. John's Gospel, where Jesus says, "I AM the Bread of Life." The interpretation of this passage is very different between Catholics and Protestants. While Protestants think it has merely a symbolic or spiritual meaning, Catholics believe that Jesus meant exactly what He said. I think it is pretty ironic that fundamentalists fail in this one instance to take a passage of scripture literally. They rely on one verse taken in isolation to prove their interpretation. "It is the spirit that gives life, the flesh is of no avail; the words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life." (John 6:63) Jesus speaks here of flesh that is corrupt. It is for this reason that the flesh is of no avail. But Jesus' flesh is incorrupt because of his obedience. Jesus,

"though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father." ~ Philippians 2:6-11

Jesus humbly took on human flesh to redeem it. Because He chose to be obedient to the Father - doing the will of the Father in this world - Jesus was raised up - body, blood, soul and divinity - on a cross to die. But that is not the end. Because of His obedience, God also highly exalted Him by raising Him from the dead - body, blood, soul and divinity. Jesus redeemed us in His flesh and the Father transformed His flesh through the Resurrection.

Before we get too far ahead of ourselves, let us stop and look at Monday's reading:
Monday of the 3rd Week of Easter - John 6:22-29
[After Jesus had fed the five thousand men, his disciples saw him walking on the sea.] On the next day the people who remained on the other side of the sea saw that there had been only one boat there, and that Jesus had not entered the boat with his disciples, but that his disciples had gone away alone. However, boats from Tiber'i-as came near the place where they ate the bread after the Lord had given thanks. So when the people saw that Jesus was not there, nor his disciples, they themselves got into the boats and went to Caper'na-um, seeking Jesus. When they found him on the other side of the sea, they said to him, "Rabbi, when did you come here?" Jesus answered them, "Truly, truly, I say to you, you seek me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. Do not labor for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to eternal life, which the Son of man will give to you; for on him has God the Father set his seal." Then they said to him, "What must we do, to be doing the works of God?"  Jesus answered them, "This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent." 
The passage says that the people were seeking Jesus. Were they truly seeking Him? Pretty soon, we will see that they will have had their belly full of Jesus' teaching and they will walk away. In fact, Jesus had called them through the miracle of the loaves and fishes, but they seek Him now only to feed the hunger of their flesh. They had not seen the sign and followed Him. They had seen the sign and followed the sign. They were like birds following a trail of bread crumbs only to find that the trail ended and they had to find more crumbs. How often are we like these people, getting so caught up in the process of life that we forget the goal?

Though some people act like it, the goal of life is not to get a better job, a fancier car, a bigger house, or win the lottery. That is worldliness - a corruption of the flesh. Life's goal isn't to purchase the clothes we wear, to pay our bills, or even to buy the groceries. That is just the process of survival of the flesh - the stuff of the world. But God did not make humanity for that. We were made for a life that is eternal. It is the sin of our first parents, Adam and Eve, that brought death into the world.

But Jesus tells us that the goal of life is not death. It is eternal, and if we are to reach that goal, we must believe in Him. The real process of life is growing in relationship with Him. We are designed with a soul which seeks a food that does not perish - a food that leads to eternal life. Jesus tells us that He is the one who will give us that food and that to have it, we must believe in Him and that what He says is true. Faith itself is not the food, but it is the prerequisite. Faith is the work of God - purely grace - preceded by the gift of His Love. "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)  

The lesson of John 6:22-29 is multi-layered. It calls us to faith. It is faith that asks us to believe:

  • God is a Father.
  • The Father has a Son.
  • God sent His Son into the world.
  • The Son of God took on flesh, becoming a man in history - the Son of Man.
  • The Son of Man is the Son of God in the flesh.
  • The Son has the authority of the Father for on Him the Father has set His seal.
  • The work of God is faith - belief in the Son He sent.
  • We must seek a food that does not perish
  • The Son will give us the food that does not perish.
  • The food that the Son gives will bring us eternal life.

So let us set our sight on the goal which is eternal. Let us follow Jesus, not the world. He came that we may have life and He will give us the food for the journey. It is the food that endures to eternal life.