City Of God

City Of God

Laetare Sunday

My Dear Friends,

Today’s Mass, with its recurring theme, focusing on Jerusalem, should be dear to our community on this property called Jerusalem Estate. We find ourselves perhaps unconsciously applying some of the liturgical texts of the day to this beautiful land on which we have settled and where we hope to build a monastic city as it were that will be a place of spiritual repose, a home, for generations of monks, perhaps nuns too, and many others.

In the writings of the Fathers of the Church and many other saints, the Holy City of Jerusalem was what we call a prototype of three realities that would only come to be in the New Covenant. The first of them is the Christian soul in a state of grace. The consoling words that we hear about Jerusalem, the City of God, established in peace and surrounded by the strength of God Himself, tell us how blessed is the soul in a state of grace, how beautiful it is, how full of the light and the glory of God Himself. We need not go far to find God when we are in His grace. He is right there in our heart. Sanctifying grace, our faith tells us, is nothing less than a participation in the very life of God; by it we are received, adopted into God’s own family. Already St Peter had taught us in his second epistle that by Christ God hath given us most great and precious promises: that by these you may be made partakers of the divine nature: flying the corruption of that concupiscence which is in the world (2 Pe 1:4). When we spend a bit of time contemplating this truth, we can be drawn to loving and sweet contemplation of the indwelling of God in our own hearts. We take part in the divine nature through grace. This truth should also give us to be in awe before the sacred character of our Christian life. Through Baptism we enter the door of such amazing life in God. How tragic for a soul to lose such a precious treasure by mortal sin! St Elizabeth of the Trinity was one of those souls whose entire life was essentially a contemplation of that seed of divine life that was sown in her soul. It became the all-encompassing thought of her life: God dwells in me, and I will not leave Him there alone, but will be always attentive to His presence.

The second reality of which Jerusalem is the prototype is the Church, the Mystical Body of Christ. All that is said in the Old Testament of Jerusalem as being the city of the great King, the tabernacle in which God dwells with His people, all the glorious words of Solomon at the time of the dedication of the temple in Jerusalem, all is to be referred to the Church which is nothing less the Body of Christ, the extension in time, as it were, of the Messiah, – the Christus totus, as St Augustine would say, the total Christ, Head and members. It is through the Church and through her sacraments that the Kingdom of God is established and spread upon earth. This is why the saints always took great care to show their veneration for the Church established as a sacramental community, that is to say, brought together through the priesthood through which come the sacraments. This is why they were careful to honour the priests – and by priests here I mean in the full sense of the term, that is to say the bishops and over them all the Sovereign Pontiff, as well as the priests in communion with them. It is why, even when they suffered at the hands of the priests, the saints always professed their communion with them and their submission to them in what concerns our faith and worship. This is why they loved the Church, they worked tirelessly for her, and even suffered through and from her, but always for her. Just as the faithful Jew knew that, wherever he lived, Jerusalem was his true home, so under the New Covenant, the faithful Christian knows that his true home is the holy Catholic Church with its seat in the eternal Rome, for the sanctification of which the Princes of the Apostles shed their blood. And that is why the Catholic, when he thinks of Jerusalem, without delay turns his thoughts also to Rome, the principle and source of Catholic Unity, and to its Pontiff whom we love and venerate as the successor of St Peter himself. The true Catholic indeed does not stop to consider the character or the qualities of the Vicar of Christ, but sees in Him Christ Himself. We honour not the person but the role and the rank.

Finally, the third reality of which Jerusalem is the symbol is the eternal Jerusalem in Heaven. All the prophecies regarding the definitive victory of God’s people and their everlasting abode in God’s holy land find their fulfilment only in the glorious City of God on the eternal shore. How can we fail to think here of those unforgettable words by which the great doctor of Hippo, St Augustine, opened that immortal book on the City of God: “Most glorious is and will be the City of God, both in this fleeting age of ours, wherein she lives by faith, a stranger among infidels, and the days when she shall be established in her eternal home. Now she waits for it with patience, until righteousness returns to judgement; then she shall possess it with preeminence in final victory and perfect peace” (City of God, Book 1, preface). Already in this life, the Church of Christ establishes peace on earth among those who accept her proclamation of the faith and live according to its precepts, but in God’s eternal city, she shall reach fulfilment, for then God shall be all in all.

And so because of all these truths, on this day we rejoice, even though we find ourselves still in the midst of tribulation. Today’s oration does not fail to note that if we are not yet established in unending peace, it is because of our sins. And yet, we count on the merciful grace of God to console us, as a mother consoles her babe: Rejoice with Jerusalem and be glad because of her, all you who love her; Exult, exult with her, all you who were mourning over her! Oh, that you may suck fully of the milk of her comfort, That you may nurse with delight at her abundant breasts! For thus says the Lord: Lo, I will spread prosperity over her like a river, and the wealth of the nations like an overflowing torrent. As nurslings, you shall be carried in her arms, and fondled in her lap; as a mother comforts her son, so will I comfort you; in Jerusalem you shall find your comfort. When you see this, your heart shall rejoice, and your bodies flourish like the grass; The Lord’s power shall be known to his servants, but to his enemies, his wrath (Is 66: 10-14).

The touching image is that of the tiny babe, held in the arms of its mother, and finding there the protection, the warmth, the nourishment of which it has need in order to survive and grow. The expressions used by the psalmist, if they were not divinely inspired, would be bold in the extreme. We are called to suck to our heart’s fill at the breasts of divine consolation and delight that is being offered. If a healthy mother has no shortage of milk for her babe, much less does God ever lack the resources to fill our minds and hearts with joy and consolation that can only take its source in Him.

On the verge of entering passiontide and placed as we are in the midst of this time, one of the most tragic passions the Church has ever been through, these words are for us today. They remind us that the immensity of our God is never short of resources, never at a loss to provide. We need only approach and have our fill. They are also a reproach for us, all too prompt to lament ourselves because of our trials, both personal and communal. In reality, the true Christian should always have a deep joy in his heart, and the source of that joy is the presence of God Himself.

Nowhere does that presence make itself felt as in the Most Blessed Sacrament, whence today’s Gospel, which depicts for us the second multiplication of the loaves as recounted by St John at the beginning of chapter 6 of his Gospel, which focuses on the Holy Eucharist. For the multiplication of loaves has always been considered by the Church to be an image of the Eucharist, which contains the Lord Himself and therefore the infinite source of grace.

St John is keen to underline that Jesus is in control. He puts the apostles to the test, but He knows what He will do. He Himself knew what He would do. The situation was hard, and could have been tragic. Nowadays we would say that Jesus had failed to provide, that He had not complied with professional standards. Leading all these poor people – there were between 10 and 15 thousand of them! – into a situation where they might easily have fainted hunger, thirst and fatigue. And He had not notified the local hospital nor mobilised the Red Cross! Irresponsible, some would say. But in reality, He knew what He will do.

How will the Lord solve what seem to be the most inextricable problems our society and Church find themselves with at the moment? That we do not know, but what we do know, is that He knows what He will do. And that is enough. Just as the five barley loaves and two fish were totally insignificant for the thousands of people who were there that day, but by virtue of the omnipotent word of the Saviour, were sufficient for all, so today, the Lord does not need much to reform society and the Church. The great movements of true and authentic reform begin with a few souls, a few little souls, who know they are but babes in the arms of the Saviour, who take delight in being fed with the abundance of grace He offers us in His holy Church, and who on the strength of that grace are prepared to go anywhere and accomplish anything in view of the eternal homeland.

Such souls are like our dear St Joseph whose great feast we prepare to celebrate this coming Friday, souls always ready for God to step in and guide their lives, always prepared for what He has in store, even when it means coming to live in your own home.

Let us rejoice then with those who say: We shall go to the house of the Lord! Amen.

Multiplication of Loaves
Multiplication of Loaves