Tuesday, July 31, 2012

The Incarnate Word: Direct contact and from afar

"It thus appears that in the days of His mortal life Jesus acted in two ways: He scattered His graces far and wide, and that is action from a distance; and He communicated them in a more intimate manner to those whom He could touch, and that is action by contact..."

-Cardinal Charles Journet, The Church of the Incarnate Word


When is the last time you read a good piece of theological writing? Well, the excerpt below is pretty deep but yet understandable. Even better, it is insightful. This excerpt is from The Church of the Incarnate Word by Cardinal Charles Journet (January 26, 1891 – April 15, 1975). People often wonder how the Lord comes into contact with Catholics, believers within Christ's visible Church, in contrast to those who are outside of the Church. Journet refers to a number of episodes in the Gospel to illustrate that the Lord's healing touch- either through sensible contact or from afar -foretold how he would relate to people in future ages.

The Church of the Word Incarnate:
-From afar and up close:

Christ, in the course of His temporal life, could, as physical instrument of the divine power, act in two different ways: either from a distance, or by sensible contact.

This can be seen in the case of the bodily cures. When the Jewish official begs Him to come down to Capharnaum where his son lies dying, Christ sends him back comforted, and straightway the child is healed (John iv. 46-54). When the centurion expressly asks that his servant may be healed by a single word spoken from afar, his prayer too is heard (Matt. viii. 5-13). When the Syrophaenician woman goes home she sees her child already freed from the devil (Mark vii. 29-30); and when the ten lepers are on the way to show themselves to the priests they find themselves suddenly cleansed (Luke xvii. 14).

The cures however are, for the most part, wrought in a more direct way, by bodily contact. Our Lord touches a leper in Galilee (Mark i. 41); He spits on the eyes of a blind man at Bethsaida and lays hands on him twice (Mark viii. 23-25); He touches the eyes of two blind men at Capharnaum (Matt. ix. 29); and again at Jericho (Matt. xx. 34); He allows the woman with the issue of blood to touch the hem of His garment (Luke viii. 44); He takes Jairus' daughter by the hand (Luke viii. 54); He touches the bier on which a dead youth is carried (Luke vii. 14); He makes them take away the stone which separates Him from Lazarus (John xi. 39), and so on.

Further, Jesus seems to go out of His way, at one time to insist on the value of this sensible contact (as when He puts His fingers into the ears of the deaf-mute to signify that He is going to open them, and moistens his tongue to signify that He will unloose it (Mark vii. 33)); at another, to make His virtue pass by poor and altogether disproportionate material means (as when He puts clay on the eyes of the blind man of Siloe (John ix. 6)); and again, to extend its range by the use of words (as when He commands the paralytic to rise (Mark ii. 11), or Lazarus to come forth (John xi. 43)). Why, finally, did He deliberately prolong an absence without which Lazarus need not have died (John xi. 21 and 32), if not to help us to realize the virtue of His bodily presence?

These bodily cures are, above all, the symbols of spiritual ones. As soon as Jesus appeared, His heart radiated grace to illumine the world from afar. It was from afar that He knew Nathanael under the fig-tree (John i. 48-50), and His glance travels yet farther to all the true adorers in spirit and in truth (John iv. 23), and all the sheep not yet in the fold of Israel (John x. 16). But He acted in a still more marvelous manner on those who approached Him; He slaked their thirst: "If any man thirst, let him come to me and drink" (John vii. 37); He comforted them: "Come to me all ye that labor and are burdened, and I will refresh you" (Matt. xi. 28); He absolved them:". . . but she with ointment hath anointed my feet. Wherefore I say to thee: Many sins are forgiven her, because she hath loved much" (Luke vii. 46-47); He touched their hearts with penitence: "And the Lord, turning, looked on Peter. And Peter remembered. . . and going out wept bitterly" (Luke xxii. 61); He put new heart into them: "Was not our heart burning within us, whilst he spoke in the way?" (Luke xxiv. 32); He met their love with love: "Now there was leaning on Jesus' bosom one of his disciples whom Jesus loved" (John xiii. 23).

Here too we shall see Him use the spoken word to enlarge the field of this sanctifying contact. A word casts out the unclean spirit in the synagogue of Capharnaum (Mark i. 25), and among the Gerasenes (Mark v. 8), and takes away the sins of the paralytic (Mark ii. 5), and cleanses the adulteress (John viii. 11).

It thus appears that in the days of His mortal life Jesus acted in two ways: He scattered His graces far and wide, and that is action from a distance; and He communicated them in a more intimate manner to those whom He could touch, and that is action by contact. Certainly such contact is no indispensable means to His action; but it is His connatural means, the means to which He draws our attention, and for which He takes care to provide all possible opportunity by moving about through Galilee, Samaria, Judea, Decapolis and even to Phoenicia.

And if we want the ultimate reason for this procedure we must seek it not merely in the principle (still too general) that direct contact between agent and patient favours the full efficiency of physical action (for when it comes from God through the heart of Christ, physical action can be perfect even at a distance), but above all in the fact, much more immediate, that inasmuch as our nature is wounded, it stands in need of a sensible stimulus to awaken it connaturally to the life of grace.[27] And that explains why the perfection of heaven, where man will be glorified, will not be incompatible with Christ's action from a distance; whereas the perfection of earth, where man remains wounded, requires the action of Christ by sensible contact.[28]

Jesus has now been "taken up into heaven", He "sits on the right hand of God" (Mark xvi. 19), and is fully associated with His Father's power. Is His action to be restricted, from now onwards, to action from a distance? Is this the end of His action by contact? No: for before He left us He willed that there should always be among us certain men invested with divine powers, by whom the action that He initiates from heaven may be sensibly conveyed to each of us and may continue to reach us in the only way connatural to us—through direct contact. These are the hierarchic powers [i.e. pope, bishops, priests, deacons, religious, and laity].

Far from being substituted for Christ's action they are subordinated to it so as to carry it, in some sort, through space and time: like those mists left behind by the rain which continue to refresh the earth when the rain has ceased, they come to birth from the mystery of the Incarnation to perpetuate its blessings among us.[29] These powers are essentially ministerial, that is to say, transmitters; they would be without effect if the divine power, passing into the heart of Christ, did not perpetually come to touch them into life.

They comprise two kinds of powers: the jurisdictional power, transmitting truth, and the sacramental power, transmitting grace.[30] Our Lord Himself announced, prepared and instituted them while He was still visible in our midst: He first sent the twelve Apostles into Galilee (Luke ix. 1), then the seventy-two disciples into Judea (Luke x. I), and finally the "Eleven" with a mission to teach all nations until the consummation of the world (Matt. xxviii. 16-20). He baptized, or had baptized, all who came to Him (John iii. 22; iv. 2) [31] and He willed that after His ascension all nations should be baptized (Matt. xxviii. 16-20). And we have a sign, at once mysterious and manifest, that in these hierarchic powers He seeks to establish sensible contact with us. It appears in this, that the end of the highest of these powers, the power of order, is to give us His very presence itself, real and corporeal, under the sacramental veils.

Doubtless God could have saved us without becoming incarnate. Probably even in that case He would have established a visible hierarchy—an opinion that finds support in reasons of a general order, such as the fact that providence habitually rules lower things through higher. Such general reasons cannot content us when others, more precise and immediate, are at hand. We know that it was the desire to come into immediate touch with us that led God to become incarnate.

And we know that Christ, after a short time in this world, was taken up into heaven where He sits at the right hand of the Father. How then can sensible contact between Him and ourselves be maintained? There is only one solution: namely that Christ, when about to leave the earth, founded here a visible hierarchy, assisted by Himself, directed by Himself, a hierarchy which, living in our midst, could serve as His instrument in establishing contact with us. He continues then to make contact with us by His action, but under the appearances of the hierarchy; as, in the greatest of the sacraments, He continues to make contact with us by His substance under the appearances of bread and wine. Such is the direct and immediate explanation of the institution of the Christian hierarchy.