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Q. In the Creed, we say that Jesus is “God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God.” But a few Sundays ago, we heard Jesus say in the Gospel, “The Father is greater than I” (John 14:28). How can we understand that Gospel passage in light of the Creed?
A. Jesus’ words in John 14:28 have engaged many great Catholic minds over the centuries!
The first point to note is that although the New Testament attests to a vibrant, living faith in God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit, but it does not contain an explicit doctrine of the Trinity. For the earliest Christians, the emphasis was more upon living the mystery of God than thinking about it. The task of formulating, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, just what it is that Christians believe about God belonged to later centuries. So, we must be careful about asking the New Testament for something that its authors were in no position to give (for example, doctrinal precision about the Father, Son and Holy Spirit).
However, the same Spirit who guided and inspired later generations of theologians also inspired the Scriptural authors. So, there should be no contradiction between what we find in the Scriptures and later developments in the life of the Church. How, then, are we to understand John 14:28? This is where we turn to biblical commentaries and/or biblical footnotes for insight.
Here is what the New Jerome Biblical Commentary says about the passage “the Father is greater than I”:
“During the Arian controversy [Arius was an Egyptian priest who, early in the fourth century, taught that the Son was a creature, not God], this saying was used to support a subordinationist Christology [that is, the position that the Son is less than the Father, not divine as the Father is divine]. The Fourth Gospel, which is clearly able to affirm a unity of Father and Son, could hardly have had such questions in view. The expression, like the proverb in 13:16 [‘the servant is not greater than his master, nor is the messenger greater than he who sent him’] is part of the Gospel’s portrayal of Jesus as God’s agent. He acts in perfect obedience to what he has seen and heard from the Father.”
“This does not contradict the claim of Jesus that he the Son is equal to the Father (5:18; 10:30). The Father is the one who sends the Son for our salvation. The Son is the one who is sent (13:16). In this sense one can say that the Father is greater than Jesus.”
Q. What can the mystics teach us about praying with the Bible?
A. St Teresa of Avila, the sixteenth century Spanish mystic, offers us a wonderful, simple method of praying with the Bible. It is presented to us here by the Carmelite nun Ruth Burrows. As you’ll see, this way of praying is all about stepping into the fibres of the Gospels and encountering there the Jesus who is truly present to us here and now; we listen to him speaking to us personally through his word and respond with confidence and openness.
“We don’t have to go back two thousand years and imagine ourselves in Palestine. The same Jesus whom we meet in the Gospels, healing, forgiving, loving, is with each one of us at this moment, immediately available. Take his words, bring them right down into your heart, brood over them in his presence, and know that he is speaking them to you, in you. You have his undivided attention… ‘If you knew the gift of God and who this is who is speaking to you, you would ask of him and he would give you living water.’ …‘Jesus, help me to know the gift, to value it above everything, help me to know you, give me that living water.’ ‘Lord, that I may see.’ ‘If you will you can make me clean.’ ‘Of course I will: be made clean’ and so on.
The enormous merit of this method is that it is founded on objective truth and not on subjective emotions, psychic projections or make-believe. These, like the flower of the field, wither and fade, but ‘the word of our God endures for ever,’ and ‘heaven and earth will pass away but my words will not pass away.’”
Q. In the new translation of the Mass, the priest prays, “Make holy, therefore, these gifts, we pray, by sending down your Spirit upon them like the dewfall, so that they may become for us the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ.” What does the reference to “dewfall” mean?
A. The reference to “dewfall” introduces a delightfully unusual image for the Holy Spirit and reminds us of how subtly and gently God acts. We are accustomed to fire and wind as images of the Spirit. The contrast between images such as fire, wind and dewfall reminds us that the workings of God’s Spirit are mysterious and impossible for us to pin down.
As any gardener knows, the dew brings life. The wetting of the ground keeps the soil moist and open and gives plants just what they need for growth. The Holy Spirit is “the Lord, the giver of life” as we say in the Creed. The Spirit is acting on us as well as on the Eucharistic elements (the bread and wine), preparing us to receive the Lord.
Like the images of fire and wind, the image of dewfall is drawn from the Bible. Think back to when the Israelites were wandering in the desert and complaining about their lack of food. Exodus 16 tells what happened after Moses prayed on their behalf: “In the evening quails came up and covered the camp; and in the morning there was a layer of dew around the camp. When the layer of dew lifted, there on the surface of the wilderness was a fine flaky substance, as fine as frost on the ground. When the Israelites saw it, they said to one another, ‘What is it?’ For they did not know what it was. Moses said to them, ‘It is the bread that the Lord has given you to eat.’” (Ex 16: 13-15)
So, the dew brought the manna with it. The manna in the desert is interpreted by Christians as a foreshadowing of the true bread of life – the Eucharist. Just as the dew provided manna for the Israelites, the Holy Spirit provides the bread from heaven for us.
Source: Adapted from http://www.maristmessenger.co.nz/2012/06/01/liturgy-column/
If you would like to read more about the image of the Holy Spirit as dewfall, visit http://www.arlingtonrenewal.org/like-the-dewfall
Q. What does St Paul mean when he writes, “From now on, let those having wives act as not having them, those weeping as not weeping, those rejoicing as not rejoicing?” (1 Cor 7:29-31).
A. Scripture scholars explain that in this passage (1 Cor 7:29-31), Paul is advising Christians to go about the ordinary activities of life in a manner different from those who are totally immersed in them and unaware of their passing nature. He is trying to help us understand that nothing we have, whether things or personal attachments, are permanent and can disappear at a moment’s notice. Whether life is very good or very bad, nothing lasts except the fundamental values of truth and love, of freedom and justice. It is what we are, not what we have that counts. Paul wants us to put marital struggles and worldly concerns in perspective, since only our relationship with the Lord endures forever.