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Wednesday, 20 February 2013

Doctors of the Church Series and Perfection: Bede the Venerable; Part 38

There are only two people who have been born in the Holy Spirit besides Our Lord Himself. One is the Blessed Virgin Mary, who was perfected from the moment of her Immaculate Conception. She achieved the Unitive State by a particular grace without any effort, as she was prepared from all time to be the Theotokos, the Mother of God.

Such perfection was never seen before on earth and is a great gift to us, her children by adoption. She is the New Eve plus. She is the most perfect of all God's creatures.

The second person born in the Holy Spirit was not conceived without Original Sin or sanctifying grace, but was given it at six months, when the Mother of God visited his mother, Elizabeth. Now, we know this is St. John the Baptist.

These two humans are models for us on our way to perfection. St. Bede writes of both in sermons, which highlight the fullness of grace in Mary and the great light given to John the Baptist, which is why Christ called him the greatest of all men.

Not even St. Joseph, who achieved great purity through righteousness and grace, was born with such graces at John the Baptist.

How does he show us the way to perfection? Let us look at Bede's sermon on this wonderful saint. This is Bede's Homily 23 ffound on the CCL site. and this particular reading is also in some breviaries.

Now, remember a few days ago, I mentioned here that martyrs also reach the perfection possible to all of us, but through a different manner. And, although John the Baptist was a martyr, his unitive state came before his death. I do not quote the entire sermon here. My comments are in brown.

The Baptizer had been baptized in the womb.

John is a type of Christ. He experienced what Christ was going to experience; that is, tremendous suffering, isolation, misunderstanding, persecution. John knew the Truth as a Person and never denied Him.

Through his birth, preaching and baptizing, he bore witness to the coming birth, preaching and baptism of Christ, and by his own suffering he showed that Christ also would suffer.

Again, as the forerunner, all things which happened in John's life, all he did, pointed to Christ.

Such was the quality and strength of the man who accepted the end of this present life by shedding his blood after the long imprisonment. He preached the freedom of heavenly peace, yet was thrown into irons by ungodly men; he was locked away in the darkness of prison, though he came bearing witness to the Light of life and deserved to be called a bright and shining lamp by that Light itself, which is Christ. 

That Bede emphasizes the Light which is Christ as being in and with John, we understand that John has experienced Illumination, and was living in the light of all virtues and graces. His union with Christ would be completed in martyrdom.

John was baptized in his own blood, though he had been privileged to baptize the Redeemer of the world, to hear the voice of the Father above him, and to see the grace of the Holy Spirit descending upon him. 

Can we understand how close John was to Jesus? He shared all the manifestations of the Father with Christ, recognizing his God in the Baptism of Jesus and witnessing the Trinity. John was illumined to recognize God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit right before him in the Jordan.

But to endure temporal agonies for the sake of the truth was not a heavy burden for such men as John; rather it was easily borne and even desirable, for he knew eternal joy would be his reward.

Only a man who has been purified of all desires, of all venial sins, of all imperfections through trials and sufferings can experience joy at death. John desired to be one with God, as he knew his time on earth has accomplished what God wanted--to prepare the way for the Lord.

Since death was ever near at hand through the inescapable necessity of nature, such men considered it a blessing to embrace it and thus gain the reward of eternal life by acknowledging Christ’s name.

John's suffering is not purgation but the invitation to be one with Christ in His Cross.

John was invited by Christ to suffer with Him, for Him and witness to Him in that suffering.

Hence the apostle Paul rightly says: You have been granted the privilege not only to believe in Christ but also to suffer for his sake. He tells us why it is Christ’s gift that his chosen ones should suffer for him: The sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed in us.

Only Mary was completely without sin. John earned his reward by cooperating with grace from his childhood. He knew his way was unique. He knew he had to go into the desert to be completely formed into the Precursor. 

John's way is a light for us on our way. Bede obviously understands this all first hand, being holy himself and knowing the stages of purification, illumination and unity.

To be continued....