23 December 2007

"The Doctrine of Bethlehem" - part 5

Part 5 of our serial reading from von Schenk's The Presence ties Bethlehem with Christ's Resurrection Body and, of course, with the Altar. Here's the first half of chapter III:

Chapter III
Finding Bethlehem Today

Our destiny is supernatural. We must be caught up with the divine love. We are to love God so much, and be so “one with Him” that His own very love is to shine in us and through us to others.

Now you will say: “That is right. I have failed in my life because I have not had love, the God love in me. But I see it now.” And then, with tears in your eyes, you will say bitterly: “How can I own this love? How can I fulfill my destiny of union with God? It is a beautiful thought—and yet so impractical.” But that is not true. It is not vague. Bethlehem is not just a beautiful fact of history. You can find Bethlehem. Bethlehem is here today, living and vibrant. Bethlehem comes to us in the Sacrament of Holy Communion. At the Altar you find Bethlehem—There is Christmas! If we become as a child of simple faith and good will we shall see it as we have never seen it before.

The angel’s [sic] directed the shepherds:

“And this shall be a sign unto you. Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.”

Is there not a sign for us? Bethlehem is a very beautiful story. It must be more than the sweetest story ever told. Christmas must really be more than candles, more than tinsel. How is this possible? We were directed to Bethlehem by way of Bethlehem’s doctrine. Then we progressed to the though how Bethlehem shows us our highest destiny. Let us now see how Bethlehem is brought down to us today.

At Bethlehem, 1900 years ago [von Schenk writes in 1945!], God applied the laws of His own creation, focusing Himself in the form of a little Babe. The Word, the Eternal, was made flesh so that we could behold Him, grasp Him, see Him. He did this because the world is what it is. However, He has also focused the truth of Bethlehem so that it can be vibrant and living today. He did this because of what we are. What are we? Spirit? Only immortal soul? All of that, but more. We are a spirit functioning through matter. Our soul expresses itself through our body—our weak, frail, finite body.

“God is a spirit and they that worship him, must worship him in spirit and in truth.” We cannot cast out our spirit from our body. Our body is the only vehicle by which our spirit can work. We are an infinite soul, wrapped in a finite body. God has given us the spiritual enshrined in the material. He gives us the unseen veiled in the seen. He did this in Bethlehem. It is because of this that the Christmas story is so meaningful to young and old. It is to be more than a story, even more than a great truth of doctrine. Bethlehem must be brought down to today. Bethlehem today! How? Where? At the Altar. “This shall be a sign to you.”

Why must Bethlehem be more than an event, more than a doctrine, a theory? Faust answers: “Grau, teurer Freund, ist alle Theorie, und gruen des Lebens goldener Baum.” [“Gray, dear friend, is all theory, and green the life the golden tree.”] All theory is indeed gray. Christmas must be green and living.

If we take offense at God’s making this truth of Bethlehem real to us by His Real Presence at the Altar, then we must take offense also at the whole Christmas story. If we stumble at the Altar, we shall also stumble at the threshold of the stable.

There are people who say: I believe only in the non-material religion. That position would be correct if we were angels—but we are not. We are men. Therefore, God must deal with us as we are. What, then, is our doctrine of the Altar? We believe that the bodily Presence of Christ is in the bread and wine. The Catechism calls it “a sacramental, not a spiritual eating and drinking.” Through the outward means, bread and wine, we obtain the inward, the Body and Blood, given and shed for the remission of sins. It is the unseen, veiled in the seen. Now we know that God is everywhere. But is not God in any special place? We ask Moses, “Where is God?” He tells us, “God is everywhere.” “But is He not in any special place, Moses?” “Aye, in the burning bush. Take off thy shoes.” We ask the High Priest, “Where is God?” “Everywhere.” “But is He not in some special place?” “Aye, in the Holy of Holies, at the Ark of the Covenant.” We ask our catechumens where God is. They reply: “Where the Word is.” How true! But is He not in some special place? Yes, at the Altar, for Christ says: “This is My Body.” You may say to yourself; is not all this quite complicated? It is, unless you have the interpreter’s stone. The key to the whole problem is the spiritual Body of the Risen Saviour. Recall that after His resurrection, He had the spiritual Body. He came through closed doors, and yet the disciples saw Him. He ate broiled fish and yet ascended to Heaven. Now we cannot explain this risen spiritual Body, because the risen Body of the Lord is governed by divine laws of which we know nothing.

We know it only by revelation. But if we deny the reality of the spiritual Body we shall have to remove from our Bible all the resurrection appearances of our Lord, and that is what many people do, consciously or unconsciously. They cannot think of a body, except it be like there own, carnal, limited, subject to death and decay. But Paul insists that there is a natural body and that there is a spiritual body. At the cemetery we say it…”Sown a natural body; is raised a spiritual body…for this corruptible must put on incorruption.”

If you desire to bring Bethlehem down to today, then you must sit at Paul’s feet and listen closely to his teachings of the Resurrection Body. Likewise, in our comprehension of the Bodily Presence of Christ in the Sacrament, we must also sit at Paul’s feet to hear him declare: “There is a natural body and there is a spiritual body" (pp. 49-52).

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