The Roman Missal: The Creed (Part III)

I think after a week or so, the dust has settled on “consubstantial”.  But our vocabulary lesson isn’t over, apparently, as just five lines later, we find ourselves stumbling over “incarnate”.  This is a term we’ve probably heard before (if from nothing else but Incarnate Word Academy), but once again, the translators of the Missal decided to take a little more direct approach, getting “incarnate” straight from “incarnatus”.

Most of us speak Latin anyway (right?) so we already know this, but the Latin word tells us sort of what the word “incarnate” means.  The Latin word “in” means “into” (there’s a shocker, right?), and the word “carnis”, means “flesh”.  Just think of a carnivore – a creature that eats meat or flesh – or even a carnation flower, with the pink color reminding us of the color of our skin (if you never go outside).  So if we put the two words together, we get “into flesh”.

But we have to be very careful in our understanding of what it means for Christ to be “in flesh”.  It isn’t like someone putting on a jacket, where they can just as easily take it off again whenever they want.  Nor is it like a normal baby who has been given some superhuman powers like out of a comic book.  Instead, when the Church says “incarnate of the Virgin Mary”, it means that the divine nature freely chose to take on human nature.  In other words, Jesus is 100% God and 100% human.

We might wonder what was wrong with the previous translation that it was replaced.  It wasn’t necessarily the wrong idea, but it could sometimes be misinterpreted that Mary just carried around a divine “thing” in her womb, a “thing” that only became a human being when it was born.  But “incarnate” gets straight to the point that the Son of God really took on human nature from the very first moment of conception in the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Now that we’ve covered the tough vocabulary terms in the creed, I challenge everyone to use the words “consubstantial” and “incarnate” in a sentence at least five times each this week.  Ok…maybe not.  But tune in next week when we finish off the Creed!

Homily From the 4th Sunday in Advent, Year B

A few months ago, when the Cardinals won the World Series, I had the chance to go with my sister to the celebration parade.  And of course you had the superstar players like Yadier Molina, Lance Berkman, and “He-who-shall-not-be-named” (starts with an “A” and ends with an “lbert Pujols”), but then you’d also get cars filled with other players – the front office, the medical staff, the coaching staff.  And while at first I was thinking, “What are these guys doing here?”, I came to realize that they were all cooperating to accomplish one thing – to win the World Series.  And if one person didn’t do their job, we wouldn’t be here.

The same is true with us in God’s plan.  We’re reminded of two important things as we approach Christmas on this last Sunday in Advent: first, the God of the universe became a man, just like you and me; and second, that same all-powerful God, who could have accomplished his plan with a blink of an eye, doesn’t do it by himself, but calls each of us to participate and cooperate.  God of course, fulfills his end of the bargain, but do we?

Now before you get too excited, let me give you a word of caution: even as much as God loves us, and even as much as he wants us to participate in his plan, our partnership is secondary.  Think of David in the first reading.  He had been fighting for about 20 years, running like a renegade and fighting to stay alive, as well as fighting for the survival of Israel against her worst enemies, the Philistines.  He had spent so much energy on it all.  He had worked from being a simple shepherd to be a powerful leader among the Israelites, acquiring power, prestige, and tons of money.  But then all of a sudden, he remembers the Ark of the Covenant.  That chest that held the Commandments from Mt. Sinai, pieces from the manna in the desert, and the staff of Aaron, that chest which was the place where God’s presence and covenant were felt the most…was sitting in a tent.  And so David thinks, “Maybe I should go share some of what I’ve gotten to build the Lord something nice.”  That’s a nice idea, right?  But then the Lord says, “Well hold on a second.  You’re going to build a house for me?”  You see, he’s reminding David that the only reason he has the power and prestige and money is because of God.  David’s work is great, and his part in the plan of God is incredibly important, but it’s secondary next to God.  And when David realizes this, when he finally understands, he’s able to build that house he’s promised God, which was completed by his son, and was truly a wonder of the world.

Our place is secondary.  It can be easy to forget that.  It’s certainly an amazing thing that God calls us to participate in his plan of salvation!  But sometimes, we end up doing one of two things.  On the one hand, we try to do everything.  “We’ve got this under control, God.  Why don’t you just sit in the tabernacle and make us feel good about ourselves.”  We can focus so much on ourselves.  Mass becomes so much about the community and about our feelings and our emotions and about our music and our chalices and decorations and vestments, that we forget the purpose of being here – to participate in something greater than ourselves, a mystery that God reveals to us and then allows us to share in.

The other thing that can happen when we are called by God to participate in his plan is…nothing.  We don’t do anything.  We want to show up, punch our card, and get the heck out of here.  Each of us is called to participate in God’s plan, both in our lives and in the lives of others, but do we actually do it?  One great opportunity for us to work on this is this month and next during the Catholics Come Home initiative.  It’s starting to air right now, and we’ve paid for the commercials, organized the committees in the parish to help with it, done advertising, and all of the prep work.  Then God does the heavy lifting – calling deep within the hearts of those away from the Church, calling them to come home.  But then it’s up to you and me!  So you might consider how you participate in God’s plan during this initiative.  If you refuse to move further into the pew to allow someone to sit, is that helping or hurting God’s plan for that person returning home?  If you march back into the cold outside and put your head down ignoring anyone else, is that helping or hurting God’s plan for others?  If we cooperate, making this a welcoming place, then we can help those who are lost to build that temple for God in their hearts.

As I conclude, I want to share with you the words of our Holy Father, Pope Benedict: “Though it is God who takes the initiative of coming to dwell in the midst of men, and he is always the main architect of this plan, it is also true that he does not will to carry it out without our active cooperation. Therefore, to prepare for Christmas means to commit ourselves to build ‘God’s dwelling with men.’ No one is excluded; everyone can and must contribute so that this house of communion will be more spacious and beautiful.”  As we celebrate these sacred mysteries, and as we strive to prepare our hearts in this last week of Advent for the coming of Christ, let us ask the Lord to be able to see his plan of salvation, and to cooperate with it with our whole hearts.