From an ancient European belief that lasted up until 17th century, the pelican mother-bird was the major symbol of self-sacrifice and charity. As such, early Christians adopted the pelican mother-bird as a metaphor of the Eucharist. Queen Elizabeth I’s legendary portrait, designed by Nicholas Hilliard in 1575 (at the Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool), is also called the pelican portrait. It symbolizes a mother sacrificing herself for her people, if necessary.
Pelican is a water dependent bird that feeds on fishes, but at moments of emergencies such as drought, the mother pelican pierces her breast in order to sustain her chicks with its blood. Such sacrificial love, even unto death for the lives of the beloved, parallels the pelican with the Eucharist. The Eucharist or the sacrament of the body and blood of Christ reenacts the unique emptying of self on the cross, by which eternal life is available to all.
In the OT, Melchizedek, the king of Salem, prefigures Christ, when he offered bread and wine to Abraham. In the NT, bread and wine became the material components of the Eucharist, instituted during the Last Supper in anticipation of the accomplished self-sacrifice on Good Friday; with a specific mandate to partake of the eating and drinking as a memorial of Christ’s selfless love (1 Cor. 11: 23-26).
As a sacrament, the Eucharist effects the true body and blood of Christ, it re-presents. This real presence does not exclude other presence of Christ in the church, but rather emphasizes its fullest sense or substantial presence (Catechism of the Catholic Church, CCC, 1374). Even though the bread and wine appear unchanged, the substantial transformation cannot be denied because the consecrating words: “This is my body” and “This is my blood” are Christ’s, who incapable of deceit causes the change of nature, through the action of a priest (St Cyril, In Luc. 22:19). Aquinas however, reminds us that this substantial transformation cannot be comprehended by the sense, but only by faith (STh. III, 75, 1). Regardless, the reality of the Eucharist has several scientific proven realities such as the Eucharistic miracle at Lanciano, Italy where the consecrated bread and wine transformed into real human body and blood. The underscored supreme centrality of the Eucharist is summarized as “the source and summit of Christian life,” (CCC, 1324-1327).
The Eucharist unites us with Christ, who said: “whoever eats my body and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him” (John 6:56). It also engenders sanctifying grace, and the desire for God in us, thereby shielding us from sin, as well as urging us into exemplar lives. Eucharistic availability is assured by the affordability of its matter (bread and wine – the commonest food of the time), and the frequency of its form (Do this in memorial of me). By these very facts, the food of the angels has become a choice food at our disposal. Most importantly, the efficacy of Eucharist is neither distorted by the impurity of the priest, nor the unworthiness of the recipients. Therefore, as long as we partake in the body and blood of Christ, worthily, we are the mystical body of Christ (the Head and its members).
Nevertheless, the danger of abuse is also possible due to its simple and quotidian presence. Even though the Eucharist is a life-giving food, free and available to all, its unworthy consumption, ipso facto, attracts condemnation (1 Cor. 11: 27-29). However, since the condemnation is suicidal, and the judgment, a reserve of God, it is unnecessary to weaponize the Eucharist.
As the mystical body of Christ, we are called to be Eucharistic people – the thanksgiving community. The desire of Christ to be united with us in love caused the institution of the Eucharist. Christ offered not only what he has, but also who he is in order to be perpetually in love. In this regard, the Eucharist is a sacrament of love and service. Being Eucharistic people, we are invited into the love-embrace with Christ at every Mass, and especially at adoration services (CCC, 1380). In essence, the Eucharist is a bidirectional dynamic. First, it is a lovely invitation to commune with Christ, at no cost. Second, it is an empowerment to go make disciples of nations, by sharing what we have become (other Christs). Whereas the first straightens our love for God, the second complements it with love for neighbor. Actualizing the two dimensions is the gauge for a true thanksgiving community – a Eucharistic people.
God bless you, Fr. Levi
The Christian God is not just one, but triune (coeternal and consubstantial). This God is triune because the nature is love. To be in love necessarily implies selfless relationship. Such relationship would have been impossible, if God was not triune. God did not enter into relationship at creation because creation was not a necessity. Rather, the intra-relational love that existed between the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit was before time. Before creation, God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit perfected the mutual circle-dance that Tertullian (3rd cent.) taught and John Damascene (8th cent.) defended as Greek, peri/choresis. Consequently, creation understood as creatio ex nihilo is purposefully the gratuitous invitation into the ongoing perchoresis. The love-invite is so pure and selfless that humanity was offered (individual) choices to respond to the love or to walk away.
The solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity articulates this mystery of God’s love extended in time to humanity and the entire world. According to scholars like Aquinas, Holy Trinity is an intelligible mystery. It is not a bunch of confusion. Otherwise, the descent of the Holy Spirit (the teacher & illuminative energy) would have been futile. Holy Trinity is comprehensible to the extent human capacity can contain, and to the degree of revelation. In time, Paul teaches that our perception of God is in a dim form, until in eternity, when we can see God truly as God is (1 Cor. 13:12). Therefore our understanding of the Trinity is here, but still to come. Nevertheless, the rich deposit of faith information available to humanity is sufficient for humanity to make the right decision.
Even though Theophilus of Antioch (2nd century Church father) first used the coinage, trinity, the reality it defines, like “Wisdom,” preexisted all ages (Prov. 8: 22-31). For example, Jesus instructed his disciples to baptize all nations “in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:19-20). Despite stating three persons, Jesus did not say names. To date, not even English syntax has reviewed that biblical statement. Another instance in the bible depicting the distinction of the three divine persons, but also their inseparability is noticed when Jesus beautifully establishes the unbroken connectivity in the Mission of redeeming the world: “Everything that the Father has is mine, for this reason, I told you that he (the Spirit of Truth) will take from what is mine and declare it to you,” (John 16: 12-15). The Trinity unveils when we read Jesus’ statement together with, others like: “I and the Father are one;” “I am the… Truth;” and “the Spirit of Truth.”
The realty of the Trinity can be contemplated in two ways: 1) Intrinsic Trinity (in itself) and Economic Trinity (for us). However, Aquinas instructs that we can only talk about what God is not with certainty, than fully comprehend what God is. Karl Barth confirms that humanity lacks the capacity to fully know God.
Faced with the noticed incapacity, Karl Rahner proposes greater attention on the economic Trinity by reflecting on the relevance of the Trinity. First, the doctrine of the Trinity teaches that personhood entails relationship. In Christian theology, therefore, a person is an individual in relationship, primarily opposed to atomization or solitariness. In essence, isolation is a killer of Godliness as well as humanness. Second, in the Trinitarian love-dance, we see the perfect model of love. One to one love is necessary but insufficient. Such reciprocal love is basic, but lacks the third arm that assures stability. No wonder, Jesus warns against the danger of this basal form of love by implying: since the pagans love those who love them, what distinguishes the Christian love from theirs? (Matthew 5:47ff). Christian love must be Trinitarian. As the Father loves the Son, and the Son loves the Father, and both love proceed into the Holy Spirit, so shall it be. This tripod love formula is the quintessence of love. It assures “love in spite of,” as against “love because of.” While “love in spite of” is anchored on the selfless Trinity, “love because of” is virtually selfish.
Unless humanity’s interpersonal love reflects the Trinitarian love and anchors on it, instability can be inevitable. The purity of love is best experienced when each person learns to love the other, for the sake of God (the origin of love). Christian marriage is built on this Trinitarian tripod formula: love God, and let your love for the other be relationally derivative from the divine love commitment. The man-made problem sets in, when we attempt a reciprocal love, without God. Sooner or later, the downsides of the beloved becloud the initial attraction on the lover, leading to intuitional collapse. When we love God first, and love the other for the sake of the established love in God, we become the beloved of both God and the other. As a result, we can still find Reason in God to hold on, when there are numerous reasons to quit. The trinity therefore is the perfect model of personhood in love.
God bless you.
Understanding the unique event of Pentecost is graciously illumined when read together with the Old Testament Babel experience (Gen. 11:1-9). The major problem at Babel was that, diversity was misconstrued as division, which led to the failed attempt to preclude it. The entire people on earth at that time thought that unity could only be possible or sustained through uniformity (by being the same people). They regretted the introduced dissonance of languages. On the contrast, the coming of the Holy Spirit has clarified that in God, diversity and unity coexist without contradiction.
Unity in diversity is the way of God. Indeed, God is a God of diversity (three distinct persons, still, one God), who never replicated any human person, but has created each person with profound uniqueness. Accordingly, God urges us to discover the unity that approves of diversity, and not a uniformity that destroys it.
In essence, it is absolutely wrong to perceive diversity and division synonymously, as humanity’s first generation did. This point is the connection between Babel and the Pentecost. The confusion of languages instituted by God in order to rescue diversity from suffocation, is harmonized in the inclusive language of the Spirit, spoken by the apostles. Under the influence of the Holy Spirit, whatever the apostles taught was perfectly understood by the crowds of people from various nationalities: Parthians, Medes, Elamites, Mesopotamians, Judeans, Asians, Egyptians, et cetera (Acts 2:1-11).
The Pentecost event illumined Babel, through the activities of the Holy Spirit, who came to sanctify, enlighten, and explain all Truth, till the end of time. On Pentecost day, the Spirit of Truth, promised by Jesus and sent by His Father, descended on the apostles in form of a strong wind and rested on them like tongues of fire. Known for her seven gifts (Wisdom, Understanding, Counsel, Knowledge, Piety, Fortitude, & Fear of God), and twelve fruits [charity, joy, peace, patience, benignity (kindness), goodness, longanimity (generosity), mildness (gentleness), faith, modesty, continency (self-control), and chastity], the Holy Spirit inspirited the recipients to speak the divine inclusive language, quiet different from glossolalia (speaking in tongues). Glossolalia requires interpretation.
Pentecost basically draws from the Greek pe?t???st?? (the fiftieth day following the Resurrection). Prior to its Christian adaptation, the pe?t???st?? was a Jewish festival that commemorated the Shavuoth, the Feast of Weeks or Wheat (seven weeks after the Passover feast) for the Jews. Early Christian tradition regards the Pentecost as the birthday of the early Church. Nevertheless, it is unresolved whether the Last Supper, Easter, or the Pentecost marks the proper emergence day of the church. It is striking, however, to notice that the term Pentecost derives more from the Day of Her descent, than from the name of the Holy Spirit. Some titles of the Holy Spirit include: the Hebrew Ruah (wind, breath, air), the Paraclete (another advocate), the Spirit of adoption, the Spirit of Christ, the Spirit of God, and the Spirit of Glory.
Moving beyond terminology, diversity and equity are the major revealed truth of Pentecost. The Pentecost experience is a firm testimony that multiplicity of languages and cultures are no barriers to God’s Word. It as well confirms the universal, omnipotent and equitable love of God for all peoples. The Holy Spirit proportionally inspires all languages of peoples and nations for the purposes of achieving a perfect communication with God, the omniligualist, par excellence.
Unfortunately, our society like the Babel generation is in dire need of the renewal of the Holy Spirit. Our age and time has virtually embraced falsity and disdained the truth. Told as a moral story, falsity once tricked truth and stole her clock, leaving her victim naked. Today, falsity parades itself in the stolen cloak of truth, and is easily and mostly attractive to people, while majority disgustingly shun the nakedness of truth. May the Holy Spirit enlighten our beclouded world with the truths of life, as we strive to live honestly with Her gifts and directives.
God bless you. Fr. Levi
For genuine pastoral reason(s) some dioceses take the option of shifting the Solemnity of Ascension from its proper day, Thursday (the 40th day, after resurrection), to the following Sunday (7th Sunday of Easter). The local context approves the latter option, hence the title.
The title of this reflection is inspired by Jesus’s quote: “In a little while, you will no longer see me. In a little while, you will see me” (John 16: 16). The question is: Did Jesus intend to confuse his disciples with this paradoxical statement? If not, how best can we understand these farewell words of Jesus? It is pertinent therefore, to grasp the mind of the parting Master, and evade unnecessary confusion.
A clue is found in the extension of the same quote: “I will not leave you, orphan, I will come to you; I will send you another Advocate” (John 16: 18; John 14:26). Reading both statements together illumines the puzzle and undergirds the significance of Ascension.
On the one hand, “you will no longer see me” announces the departure that increases the fear of absence. Such imagination constituted a heavier concern for the apostles, who had barely recovered from the shock of Jesus’ death and physical absence. Although the post-resurrection or glorified presence of Jesus has been reassuring to the disciples, the news of Ascension triggered off a sense of permanent absence.
On the other hand, Jesus used the second sentence: “In a little while, you will see me” to allay their fears, by assuring his continued presence, though in different forms. Jesus’ promised presence could be immediate & indirect (10 days), in the coming of another Advocate (Holy Spirit), but more so, direct in the Eucharist & the prolong waiting for the parousia (the second coming of Christ). Either perspective confirms the divine plan for unbroken presence.
Ascension of Christ is a major event that happened between resurrection and Pentecost. Understanding ascension requires at least two perspectives: 1) The accomplishment of Jesus’ mission, which implies a home coming 2) A departure (for our sake) in order to prepare a place for us; so that wherever He is, we too would desire to be, in union with Him. In other words, ascension rather than abandonment (loss of presence) guarantees extra favors such as an enduring Advocate (anticipating the Pentecost) in time, and a reunion in eternity.
In a way, the ascension of Jesus conveys the Trinitarian reality. Simply put, the Father, as the origin of mission, sent His Son for humanity’s salvation. At the accomplishment of that mission, the Son returned to the Father, in order that both will send the Holy Spirit for the continued inspiration of all peoples. As Jesus anticipated his return to the Father, he disposed his disciples for the strengthening role of the Holy Spirit, whose gifts are needed by all witnesses of the gospel (Acts 1: 1-11).
Like the apostles, all believers are enriched because of the ascension event. The fear of uncertainties or absence is dispelled by the very fact that we are not orphaned. Instead, as we anticipate in few days, the coming of the Holy Spirit with Her lavishing gifts, we as well, desire the glamorous reunion in eternity, where St. Paul reminds us about seeing God as truly as Godself radiates. Therefore, Jesus’ ascension is a return that will bring about our own return. From God we originated, unto God we shall return. May the ascended Lord meet us well on His return.
God bless you. Fr. Levi