Light is the first declared good and the only named good in the first chapter of Genesis, which makes it very special. “God saw how good it was” is repeated six more times in the first chapter of Genesis and points to a commonality of good. Spiritually, how good is the light? The “how good” in this verse is referring to the first and highest of the Seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit, Wisdom. Wisdom, as well as the other six supernatural gifts 1 God heralds in chapter 1 of Genesis he will bestow at Pentecost, the age of the Church. Initiates receive them at baptism, then they are strengthened at Confirmation so one can proclaim the truths of the faith. The Seven Gifts, the number seven symbolizing completeness, are listed together in Isaiah 11:1-3. While they are gifts, they are to be practiced by the soul in order to grow to their full stature according to God. The Holy Spirit is both giver and gift: The giver himself is Himself the Gift.
As stated earlier, spiritually and naturally the light God created reveals him to us. St. Paul tells us 2 that Christ is the Wisdom of God. With this verse, God saw how good the light was, God sees the Wisdom in the light that will be embodied in his Son, Jesus Christ – which is yet another reason Wisdom is the first and highest of the Seven Gifts.
The supernatural gift of Wisdom helps the soul to rightly order their relationship with God and creation. 3 Wisdom allows the soul to view creation as God does, as man’s avenue to his greatest good and not an end in itself. The destination of the soul is God; the beauty of creation is his vehicle the soul will eventually disembark from. As the Divine Host begins to create man’s place of pilgrimage with lavish hospitality, imbued in the new light is the Wisdom of the highest hope of man, God himself.
Now with you is Wisdom, who knows your works and was present when you made the world; Who understands what is pleasing in your eyes and what is conformable with your commands. Wisdom 9:9
In today’s Gospel Reading, Jesus exhorts his followers to perfection, emulating our heavenly Father. The complete Readings, as always, are on the USCCB website:
Then God said, “Let there be a dome in the middle of the waters, to separate one body of water from the other.” And so it happened: God made the dome, and it separated the water above the dome from the water below it. God called the dome “the sky.” Evening came, and morning followed – the second day. Genesis 1:6-8
According to St. John of the Cross, there are two interrelated parts of the soul: the spiritual part and the sensual part. 1 Both parts form the whole unified human person. In our Genesis reflection, the waters of the soul below the dome of the sky which is on the earth, signify the soul’s sensual part. They include the soul’s body and its exterior senses of sight, hearing, taste, touch and smell which it uses to remain in contact with its environment, and to receive impressions. These are the gateway to the soul’s interior senses – the imaginative powers – which uses the impressions from the five bodily senses to immediately form internal images of objects from the outside world, still belonging to the sensual part. 2 These lead to the interior faculties of the understanding, memory, and will; the spiritual part of the soul. They are the closest to God and are therefore given the higher place in Genesis in the waters above the dome of the sky.
Here is a quote neatly summing up all the faculties of spirit and sense from Toward a Model of Spiritual Direction Based on the Writings of St. John of the Cross:
“The intellect [understanding] is the knowing faculty and the basis for the psychological operations of thought, reason, judgement, and understanding. Figuratively, the intellect provides spiritual light for the soul. The memory is the repository for the sense faculties and ideas from the intellect, as well as the imaginative and discursive powers of the soul. The will is the affective faculty of the soul, the power to love and desire. It is the basis for the soul’s strength and energy. Figuratively, the will governs the soul by directing its other psychological functions toward their appropriate objects. Although each of these faculties is distinct from the other, they act interdependently.
The sense faculties, too, are distinct from the spiritual faculties but operate interdependently with them. The soul with its faculties give life to the body as a tabula rasa (clean slate), depending upon the activity of the sense faculties before the operations of intellect, memory and will can begin. John describes this relationship in the following manner:
‘The soul (el alma) as soon as God infuses it into the body, is like a smooth, blank board (tabula rasa) upon which nothing is painted; and, save for that which it experiences through the senses, nothing is communicated to it, in the course of nature, from any other source. And thus, for as long as it is in the body, it is like one who is in a dark prison and who knows nothing, save what he is able to see through the windows of the said prison; and, if he saw nothing through them, he would see nothing in any other way. And thus the soul, save for that which is communicated to it through the senses which are the windows of its prison, could acquire nothing, in the course of nature, in any other way.’ 3
With this view of the soul’s relation to the body, we can easily understand that John considered the body with its sense faculties as the lower, exterior, inferior, animal part of man, while the soul with its spiritual faculties as the higher, interior, superior, uniquely human part of man. The sensory part of the human person, in direct contact with the external world, communicates the information it receives from the outside through the senses to the spirit or interior part of the person where it is acted upon by the intellect, memory, and will in their operations of knowledge, reflection, and love.” 4
St. John quotes St. Paul in his use of “animal man”: The animal man perceiveth not the things of God; they are to him as foolishness and he cannot understand them. St. John continues: “By the animal man is here understood the man that still lives according to natural desires and pleasures.” 5 Our Saint refers to those attached only to their natural operations, sensory or spiritual, but without a relationship to the supernatural influence of God.
St. John’s view of the soul reflects in Genesis the division of the waters of the soul’s two parts, the sensual below the dome of the sky on the earth, and the spiritual above the dome of the sky.
The separation of the waters of the soul in Genesis foreshadows the other great Scriptural parting of the waters of the Red Sea in Exodus, which initiated the beginning of Israel’s life of faith on a practical level. Scripture tells us:
Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and the LORD swept the sea with a strong east wind throughout the night and so turned it into dry land. When the water was thus divided, the Israelites marched into its midst of the sea on dry land, with the water lake a wall to their right and to their left. Exodus 14:21-22
When the Lord “swept the sea with a strong east wind” thus dividing it in Exodus, it is the same “mighty wind [that] swept over the waters” in Genesis 1:2 God separates with the dome of the sky.
What does this separating and parting of waters in Genesis and Exodus mean spiritually? These glorious and remarkable events proclaim God’s will for humans to be composed of both spirit and sense (including the body) and operate using both spirit and sense – and because, like the two great partings of the vast waters, a spirit and sense existence is glorious and remarkable. The separating and parting of waters in Genesis and Exodus defines for the soul its spiritual and sensual parts upon receiving the light of faith. It is the soul realizing its spiritual principle.
A pilgrimage of physical endurance walking or biking long distance to a shrine or holy place with spiritual devotion is an intense condensed experience of a person’s lifetime faith journey. The parting of the waters of the soul is God introducing it to pilgrimage – the way of both sense and spirit- just like he did with Israel and their physical guide Moses, the fiery cloud (of faith), the parting of the Red Sea, and on through the desert:
Thus says the LORD, who opens a way in the sea and a path in the mighty waters. Isaiah 43:16
The Catechism tells us what is brought about in the soul who accepts God’s invitation to traverse the path opened before them:
CCC 1221 states: “the Crossing of the Red Sea, literally the liberation of Israel from the slavery of Egypt, announces the liberation wrought by Baptism.” CCC 1253 states: “Baptism is the sacrament of faith.” 6 Since Baptism and faith are so closely related, in the coming days we will be exploring what the Crossing of the Red Sea in Exodus can tell us about its faith aspect, the fiery cloud, that will further help us understand what is happening to the separating waters of the soul newly gifted and enlightened by faith in Genesis. The illustration in Genesis and then again in Exodus makes one point obvious – that a soul receiving the gift of faith is as monumental as all the waters of creation making way for its path.
Israel’s march through the Red Sea with the Egyptians on their heels, no doubt a terrifying ordeal as is the relinquishing of addictions, sin and sensual comforts, was for them a stretch and strengthening of the spiritual legs of faith they received upon their departure from Egypt. While they had passively witnessed and reasoned the signs and wonders 7 in Egypt sent by God through Moses their physical guide, at shores of the Red Sea it was time for them to step up spiritually with a test of their faith.The Red Sea biblical passage is God’s affirmation to move forward in faith – that one is never permanently stuck between the deep of our human weakness and the pursuing powers of darkness.
In today’s first Reading on the USCCB website, you can reflect upon Abraham our father in faith, and the test of what turned out to be his enormous faith in God.
While there was no human eye witness to the separation of the waters in Genesis, there is a (fictitious) eye witness account by the Israelite and former slave Abner of the House of Levi, of the parting of the Red Sea:
Both wonder of wonders! Parting vast amount of waters was terrible and awesome to behold; for it was to witness the magnitude of God’s persuasion over creation. It need not be said they’ll be no human telling of the first and more formidable accomplishment of all the waters of creation making way for the sky; though heaven rejoices when the Almighty repeats it in a soul, for it is no less glorious! It was after the children of Israel stepped out into the wilderness upon leaving our bondage to the Egyptians to follow the LORD and Moses that I, Abner, of the House of Levi, beheld God’s strong hand in the second wonder command the waters of the Red Sea with a mighty wind. We were well enough paralyzed with fright when Pharaoh and his 600 chariots reached Pi-hahiroth where we camped against the sea awaiting Moses’ next direction. When Pharaoh gathers the chariots it means death, on this day it was to be Israel’s death in desert! Most of us favored returning to Egypt where Pharaoh made sure we were as comfortable as slaves can ever hope to be by seeing to it we had plenty of meat in our flesh-pots. All this Pharaoh provided if we accomplished his brick quota and didn’t cause him grief with requests, like allowing us worship of the LORD our God. So, far better for us to be slaves of the Egyptians than suffer and die far from our homes in the barren desert! It was then Moses assured us to fear not! We shall see the victory the LORD will win for us this very day, the day Pharaoh had marked for Israel’s death! The LORD will fight for us, we had only to stand our ground. Then Moses stretched out his hand with his wooden staff over the sea, and the LORDswept the waters with a powerful east wind through the night. The mighty wind seemed to pull the very ground out from beneath the depths of the sea, making the world topsy-turvy. The waters divided by the dry path formed walls to the right and to the left of it, about 700 feet tall. Under Moses’ direction to go forward, Israel anxiously stepped out onto the dry path that was a natural sea shelf. On either side of the shelf the waters were 4000 feet deep; here the Egyptians, upon following Israel’s path into the sea, were hurled into when the LORD united the parted waters. 1 Until then, Israel marched dry- shod through the midst of the sea in the dark night; while the wind howled, and the towering sea hissed protests and sprayed threats, and men and babies cried so not a word of comfort could be heard as the LORD Our God, footsteps unseen,led his people through to safety with his out-stretched arm. 2
God’s strong hand and out-stretched arm will save his people a second time, when both arms are stretched wide to have both hands nailed to the wood of the Cross.
In today’s first Daily Reading, the Lord tells us that a man is cursed who trusts in humans and who’s strength is in flesh. But he who hopes and trusts in the Lord is blessed. It is very relevant to Abner’s Red Sea experience; the fearful and painful letting go of comfortable slavery to the senses, addictions, and sin, to walk by faith into the arms of our loving God. You can read the complete beautiful verses at the USCCB website by clicking here:
Summarizing our reflection on Feb. 25, the waters of the soul’s spirit and sense were separated by God’s placement of the dome of the sky. The spiritual part which includes the three faculties of the soul is above the sky; the sensual part which includes the body and its senses placed below the sky, on the earth.
The following is taken from the Catechism of the Catholic Church which is relevant to the next verse in Genesis:
761 The gathering together of the People of God began at the moment when sin destroyed the communion of men with God, and that of men among themselves. The gathering together of the Church is, as it were, God’s reaction to the chaos provoked by sin. This reunification is achieved secretly in the heart of all peoples: “In every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable” to God. 1
Then God said, “Let the water under the sky be gathered into a single basin, so that the dry land may appear.” And so it happened: the water under the sky was gathered into its basin, and the dry land appeared. God called the dry land “the earth,” and the basin of water he called “the sea.” Genesis 1:9-10
Just as the human body’s requirements are food, clothing and a place to live, the soul needs the spiritual equivalent. Spiritual food, spiritual clothing and a spiritual home that provides these life sustaining essentials, and a community of those who are like-minded. The CCC points out in 1253: “Faith needs the community of believers. It is only within the faith of the Church that each of the faithful can believe.” We have just reflected upon a soul receiving the light of faith. The following Genesis verse pre-figuring the Church is logical progression of the text’s spiritual meaning. Let us continue with the spiritual interpretation of the above Genesis passage.
The verse uses the words:
Let the water under the sky be gathered into a single basin.
As we reflected upon, the divided water that is below the dome of the sky (which is on the earth) represent the soul’s body and five senses. The “gathering” of these waters in Genesis into a “single basin” pre-figures the gathering together of the People of God. The catch of 153 large fish in a single net in John’s Gospel 2 after the Resurrection is an evolvement of this “gathering” prefigured in Genesis. Note that both have a water reference. The 153 fishes in John traditionally represented every known fish at the time; which in turn represented all nations on the planet to be “gathered” into the Church. Briefly stated, this evolved from God gathering the water in Genesis, to the expanding covenants God uses to gather the Israelites of the Old Testament, to the single net catch of fish in John’s Gospel after Jesus establishes the New Covenant, followed with three thousand persons baptized in one day in Acts 3 , the spreading of the Church in the Epistles, to the reality of 1.2 billion Roman Catholic souls today worldwide, plus an additional 200-300 million Eastern Orthodox Christians. This prefigurement of gathering together the People of God, who will regularly share a spiritual meal, signifies what will become the soul’s one spiritual home on earth: the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church. One home is signified in Genesis by “a single basin.”
It is a very beautiful analogy that water is used in Genesis (and the above John’s Gospel verse) to foretell this gathering of the Church, because when brought to fulfillment water is used again to unify, in the Sacrament of Baptism. The Catechism tells us that “Baptism therefore constitutes the sacramental bond of unity existing among all who through it are reborn.” [CCC 1271 with footnote 82: UR 22 § 2 [/note] It is also wondrous that as God gathered the waters and formed the dry land with his hands so very very long ago, before any of us came to be, his people were in his thoughts.
As stated before on our Feb. 19th reflection, the means God uses to gather the People of God is faith. CCC 762 states: “The remote preparation for this gathering together of the People of God begins when he calls Abraham and promises that he will become the father of a great people. 4 Its immediate preparation begins with Israel’s election as the People of God. By this election, Israel is to be the sign of the future gathering of all nations.” This is expressed most fully in the Scripture verse after Abraham’s enormous test of faith when God asks him to sacrifice his son Isaac. Just before he is about to do it, he is stopped by the messenger of God who called to him:
I swear by myself, declares the LORD, that because you acted as you did in not withholding from me your beloved son, I will bless you abundantly and make your descendants as countless as the stars of sky and the sands of the seashore; your descendants shall take possession of the gates of their enemies, and in your descendants all the nations of the earth shall find blessing – all because you obeyed my command. Genesis 22:16-18
This verse is the introduction of faith working toward the gathering together of the Church, the People of God.
The dry land that appears in our Genesis verse after the natural waters are gathered God calls “the earth,” which provides for the physical home of the body.
In today’s Daily Readings for Friday March 2, Jesus identifies himself as the cornerstone of his Church. He is the solid foundation upon which the entire mystical edifice comprised of gathered souls is to be built, and the stone the builders reject. You can read the entire Gospel reading by clicking here for the USCCB website:
Then God said, “Let the earth bring forth vegetation: every kind of plant that bears seed and every kind of fruit tree on earth that bears fruit with its seed in it.” And so it happened: the earth brought forth every kind of plant that bears seed and every kind of fruit tree on earth that bears fruit with its seed in it. Genesis 1:11-12
God provides not only food for the body, but in his wisdom and providential care the future vehicles for the soul’s spiritual food and for worship. God wills the earth to bring forth: every kind of plant that bears seed and every kind of fruit tree on earth that bears fruit with its seed in it, which spiritually signifies wheat and grapes. These are destined to become gifts of bread and wine consecrated into the body and blood of Our Lord Jesus Christ, by which souls receive nourishment for the journey towards eternal life. The Holy Eucharist is the Lord’s Sacrifice, Banquet, and Presence.
It does not take long for Scripture to further develop the Holy Eucharist, source and summit of the Christian life, 1 for in Genesis 14:18-20 we read:
Melchizedek, king of Salem, brought out bread and wine, and being a priest of God Most High, he blessed Abram with these words:
“Blessed be Abram by God Most High, The creator of heaven and earth; And blessed be God Most High, Who delivered your foes into your hand.”
The priest Melchizedek “brought out bread and wine.” The creation account uses the same verb in present tense, then again in the past tense: “let the earth bring forth vegetation: every kind of plant that bears seed and every kind of fruit tree on earth that bears fruit with its seed in it. And so it happened: the earth brought forth…” Melchizedek’s bread and wine brought out in Genesis 14:18-20 is God’s continuation of the earth bringing forth of seed and fruit bearing plants in Genesis 1:11-12. The culmination of course is the High Priesthood of Jesus Christ, who is both Priest and Sacrifice in the order of Melchizedek, 2 whose sacrifice is memorialized in the Eucharist under the appearances of bread and wine.
The offering of Melchizedek is obviously a pre-figurement of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass; with liturgy, sacrifice, and the makings of a meal all present. Melchizedek is the priest intermediary between God and man, sacrificing bread and wine while bestowing God’s blessing on Abram and blessing God on behalf of Abram; a foreshadow of the spiritual unity that the Holy Eucharist will accomplish with the souls on earth and the heavenly liturgy. Abram represents the future faithful at the sacrifice – as Abraham he is first among all the faithful. St. Paul makes Abraham’s faith a model for that of Christians. 3
In our contemporary Presentation of the Gifts in the Liturgy of the Eucharist, we are transported back to both Genesis verses – the earth’s bringing forth seed for bread and fruit for wine and Melchizedek blessing the creator of heaven and earth:
“Blessed are you Lord God of all creation. Through your goodness we have this bread to offer, which earth has given and human hands have made. It will become for us the bread of life.”
“Blessed are you Lord God of all creation. Through your goodness we have this wine to offer. Fruit of the vine and work of human hands it will become for us our spiritual drink.”
There is a beautiful verse pre-figuring the Holy Eucharist in its plant form early in Mark’s Gospel:
As he [Jesus] was passing through a field of grain on the sabbath, his disciples began to make a path while picking the heads of grain. 4
What a heavenly image this makes of Jesus passing through a field of grain on a holy day, followed by his disciples who literally establish their path in it while consuming. After the Resurrection, rather than pass through it he will transform it into his Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity at every Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.
The “souls” gathered by God into a single place, and the creation of the vehicles for spiritual food together in the same Genesis paragraph signifies the future union in communion of the People of God, the Catholic Church. St. Paul writes:
The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not participation in the body of Christ? Because the loaf of bread is one, we, though many, are one body, for we all partake of the one loaf. 5
This is Jesus’ will, revealed during the first Eucharistic meal, the Last Supper, in his prayer for unity not only for his Apostles but for:
those who will believe in me through their word, so that they may all be one, as you, Father, are in me and I in you, that they also may be in us, that the world may believe that you sent me. 6
These Genesis verses signify a future people united and sustained through what will become the Holy Eucharist, Jesus Christ. The Catechism states: “The Eucharist is the efficacious sign and sublime cause of the communion in the divine life and that unity of the People of God by which the Church is kept in being. It is the culmination both of God’s action sanctifying the world in Christ and of the worship men offer to Christ and through him to the Father in the Holy Spirit.” 7
The Most Holy Trinity, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit is the source of communion among us and our model for loving community. God signals the Holy Eucharist and the Church who are the gathered People of God as part of his divine plan significantly on the third day of creation, expressing the Trinitarian aspect of worship. Just as divine, day two expresses the two parts of the soul by an immeasurable, cosmic separating of all the waters of creation that proclaims the magnitude of what has happened to a soul receiving the gift of faith.
Summary: Day one of creation God is made known in Light, Day two of creation distinguishes the soul’s two parts and its faith by the separation of the waters, day three of creation provides the spiritual and corporeal parts each with their home and sustenance. God through faith gathers together the People of God; the Holy Eucharist unites, sustains, and strengthens its charity.
In today’s Daily Gospel Reading, Jesus tells us in a parable the future Church is not only home, but provides spiritual food and clothing. When the son returns home famished and in a state of degradation after squandering his early inheritance, the elated father immediately provides for him food and clothing. Spiritual home, food and clothing. We’ve reflected upon the spiritual home and food, Genesis has yet to reveal the soul’s other necessity, its clothing.
You can read the complete Readings for today, March 3, 2018 on the USCCB website by clicking here:
God foresees the needs of the People of God to defend the Faith.
On the third day of creation, God heralds two individual “goods” or Gifts of the Holy Spirit to be given at Pentecost: The Gift of Counsel in the gathering of the waters into a single basin which we called the future Church, and the Gift of Fortitude in the creation of the plants that bear seed and the fruit trees on earth with its seed in it which we called the future Eucharist. 1 In the Gift of Counsel, the Holy Spirit prompts the soul to take the right action when it comes to defending the Faith; the Gift of Fortitude gives the soul the strength to follow through on the actions suggested by the Gift of Counsel. This could be standing up for the Faith in one’s circle of friends, job, school and even family despite unpopularity and oppression; extending to the ultimate sacrifice of giving one’s own life as witness. Fortitude is the virtue of the martyrs. 2
“The [Roman] prefect Rusticus said: ‘What sort of teaching is that?’ Justin said: ‘Worship of the God of the Christians. We hold him to be from the beginning the one creator and maker of the whole creation, of things seen and things unseen. We worship also the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God. He was foretold by the prophets as the future herald of salvation for the human race and the teacher of distinguished disciples.’ Rusticus said: ‘You are a Christian, then?’ Justin said: ‘Yes, I am a Christian.’”
From the Acts of the martyrdom of Saint Justin Martyr, (ca 100-165) and his companion saints. 3
In today’s Daily Gospel Reading, Jesus instructs the Jews of his day who are out to destroy the temple of his body, as well as all generations to come regarding the Body of Christ: that oppressors can never “destroy” the Church and martyrdom is cause for raising it up. Click here for today’s very relevant Gospel reading on the USCCB website:
This concludes Genesis chapter 1 pre-figurement of the post Pentecost plan God lovingly wants bring humanity to: a Trinitarian faith that is embodied in a pilgrim community sharing and spreading the faith throughout the world. It is quite divine that God begins Holy Scripture with the end, the fulfillment of the whole creation. Chapter 1 now continues with what is at play in the spiritual life, using the natural world to illustrate the soul’s parts and operations in precious jewels of symbolism.
The USCCB has not reviewed or approved my comments on the Biblical text.
The two stages of light in the Old and New Testaments:
The light God called forth from nothingness on that first day so all might see and believe testified to him until that fourth day when the governor of light took over; the sun to shed light upon the earth, to separate the light from the darkness, and to carry on the testimony.
At that proper time, God sent his faithful servant John 1 born of a barren woman, whose light 2 testified to the Light so all might believe; until the arrival of that true Governor of Light, Jesus Christ, who came into the world so that whoever sees him sees the Father. 3
Then God said: “Let there be lights in the dome of the sky, to separate day from night. Let them mark the fixed times, the days and the years, and serve as luminaries in the dome of the sky, to shed light upon the earth.” And so it happened: God made the two great lights, the greater one to govern the day, and the lesser one to govern the night; and he made the stars. God set them in the dome of the sky, to shed light upon the earth, to govern the day and the night, and to separate the light from the darkness.
We continue with our spiritual interpretation.
On day one, God called the light he created “day” and the darkness “night.” Spiritually, we saw “day” represents knowledge the soul is aware of through the body’s five senses with which it uses to reason with, enlightening the understanding. “Night” is associated with light of faith whose spiritual knowledge of God is imperceptible to the understanding. St. John calls faith “unformed knowledge.” 4 God essentially bypasses the five bodily senses when he communicates knowledge (and love in advanced prayer) to the soul because, as stated earlier, he resides in the substance of every soul. Substantial knowledge stripped of all images is produced by God passively in the faculties, rather than produced in the intellect by reception of forms, fantasies and apprehensions. 5
One day four of creation in the dome of the sky, God “organizes” the light he created and separated from the darkness on day one. The sun, moon, and stars do this on the natural level of creation. These same lights in their natural operations in the sky offer a sublime spiritual meditation on the faculty of the understanding and the virtue of faith. With God’s grace and St. John’s wisdom, I’ll endeavor to share God’s wonderment of the faculty of the understanding, the virtue of faith, and the dome of the sky.
In our present Genesis verse both great lights, the sun and the moon, are to shed light upon the earth to separate physical light and darkness; which is to say spiritually, the two great lights, reason and faith, are both to be used by the soul during their sojourn on earth to keep the soul from intellectual and spiritual darkness.
In Genesis, we find the faculty of the understanding and the virtue of faith between the parted waters of sense and spirit: in the dome of the sky where God places the sun and moon. More precisely, the dome of the sky becomes the faculty of the understanding on day four of creation when the great lights are placed therein to govern reason and faith, according to the will of the soul. This illustrative central location is most ideal for providing the soul’s sensual part below and spiritual part above their guidance. The soul’s faculty of the understanding and the virtue of faith, the dome of the sky with the two great lights (sun & moon) in Genesis, and the dry path where the Israelites walked through the parted Red Sea in Exodus guided by the fiery cloud (of faith) and Moses who appealed to their reason, are all three symbolically one and the same.
Faith operates in the opposite way than that of reason. The soul does not glean knowledge from the night of faith the way the understanding gleans knowledge from the light of reason; rather, the soul obtains faith’s light because it’s understanding is in darkness. And the darker the soul’s understanding of God, the greater light of faith is given it. God has provided a heavenly, natural representation of faith by watching the moon in the night and daytime skies. A soul with a strong faith has its understanding of God resembling a black nighttime sky with the bright light of the moon giving light. The moon is bright because the sky is dark; therefore, the soul with strong faith receives light because it has placed it’s understanding in darkness and not using the light of reason to believe and know God. The darker the understanding of God the stronger the faith; the greater is the light from the moon in the darkened sky.
Let us read what our San Juan says about the dark night of faith, which resembles God’s illustration of the moon in the night sky:
“It is clear, then, that faith is a dark night for the soul, and it is in this way it gives light; and the more the soul is darkened, the greater is the light that comes to it.” 6
Alternatively, the moon in the daytime sky is like a soul with little or no faith. The moon is pale in the daytime sky because the soul has not placed its understanding of God in the darkness of faith. Therefore, the moon’s light is weak or absent due to the greater light (sun) of reason overwhelms it and takes precedence. This could be from the soul attempting to wrongly and habitually use the light of reason rather than the darkness of faith to know God, or it hasn’t been given the gift of faith by God. Here is another one of St. John’s sublime quotes on faith: “He that would journey towards union with God must not walk by understanding, neither lean upon experience or feeling or imagination, but he must believe in His Being, which is not perceptible to the understanding, neither to the desire nor to the imagination nor to any other sense, neither can it be known in this life at all. Yea, in this life, the highest thing that can be felt and experienced concerning God is infinitely remote from God and from the pure possession of Him.” 7
Notice our Saint is talking about concepts of God, e.g., an idea, notion, image, emotion, sensation, or experience. The highest of these, he says, is as far from God as one can get. These are likened to the weak light of the moon in the daytime sky – relying on the finite human operations of the senses, reasoning, thought and judgement to know the infinite God, which dilutes or extinguishes the light of faith. There is, of course, a right use of reason with faith. The soul uses reason to deepen their understanding of the truths of the kingdom. We will explore that when we return on Thursday, March 8.
St. John of the Cross’ extensive teaching on journeying towards union with God by the night of faith is legendary. I only briefly touched on it in these pages.
If I may suggest, today’s 1st Daily Reading tells of the army commander whose servants “reasoned” with him to make an act of faith, making our reflection today a good warm-up for today’s Word of God on the USCCB website.
We have discussed faith quite a bit, let us spend today on its complimentary partner: reason.
Jesus uses parables to illustrate a moral or spiritual lesson of the kingdom by appealing to his listener’s reason. He explains in the parable of the sower 1 what can go wrong with the seed of faith while revealing how reason, represented by the soil in the parable, is rightly used with faith. In the Biblical text, Jesus uses the words “understood” and “understanding.”
The four different grounds the seeds or “words of the kingdom” fall upon represent how the soul reasoned the word that he received. The word wasn’t “understood” at all after it fell on the path of the first soul. It was lost altogether, having been stolen by the evil one what was sown in his heart. The hardened, well-travelled path the seed fell upon is therefore a hardened heart. This is hardness of heart to the word of the kingdom. Therefore, reason wasn’t used at all in the first seed. The second soul failed to develop a deeper understanding of the word as evidenced by the seed springing up in shallow soil on rocky ground thereby having no roots, as Jesus tells us. The sun, representing trials meant to foster strength and growth, instead scorched and withered it due to lack of the supportive roots of a well-developed understanding of the truths of the faith. When discomfort comes along the soul immediately falls away. The third seed of the word falls among the thorns and is distracted and choked. Lack of attention from worldly cares and the lure of riches by this soul gives his understanding no nourishment or space for the kingdom to grow, therefore it bears no fruit. But the seed sown on rich soil is the one who hears the word and “understands it,” Jesus says. Whether in an illustrious theologian or a listener in the pews, the rich soil of reason cultivates the seed of the word, allowing the soul to grow in his faith yielding an abundance of fruit.
Explaining the purpose of parables, Jesus takes his teaching on reason even farther: Reason only comes from the point of view of the kingdom of heaven (faith). This is an incredible statement, but true upon reflection. When his disciples ask him why he speaks in parables he replies:
“Because knowledge of the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven has been granted to you, but to them it has not been granted. To anyone who has, more will be given and he will grow rich; from anyone whohas not, even what he has will be taken away. This is why I speak to them in parables, because ‘they look but do not see and hear but do not listen or understand.’” Matthew 13: 11-13
In the following verses 14-15 Jesus goes on to quote Isaiah which places culpability on the peoples’ gross hearts. These verses backs up a Christian apologetic argument that faith is necessary for reason.
The laws of logic are necessary for reason. “The Christian would expect to find a standard of reasoning that reflects the thinking of the biblical God; that’s what laws of logic are. On the other hand, the unbeliever cannot account for laws of logic with his or her own [constantly changing] worldview.” 2 The changing secular worldview never stands up to the chain of logical reasoning. This is Jesus’ point: anyone who reasons from the standpoint of the kingdom of heaven will be given more knowledge thus growing rich; knowledge from God as Jesus gives his disciples by explaining to them privately the parable of the sower which is inspiration through prayer, and knowledge from discursive reasoning of one truth leading to another truth because all truth is cohesive. It is why the unbeliever looks but does not see and hears but does not listen or understand. With the secular worldview as his point of reference in a debate, the unbeliever soon finds his position not standing up to logic. At some point in the chain of reasoning it crumbles – fulfilling Jesus’ words: “even what he has will be taken away,” thus proving the truth: faith is necessary for reason. Even an unbeliever with a Christian viewpoint on a specific topic can only go so far with their correct reasoning. It is the Christian with the fullness of the truth of the kingdom that can express the complete logic. On a certain level some unbelievers realize this truth. It is why they refuse to have a friendly debate – instead resorting to less than friendly and un-reason-able verbal tactics.
His disciples’ rationality and faith in him are so important that Jesus included both in his Last Supper prayer to the Father in John 17:7:
Now they know that everything you gave me is from you, because the words you gave to me I have given to them, and they accepted them and truly understood that I came from you, and they have believed that you sent me.
This verse contains the first fruits, which is faith and reason in Jesus, of those disciples who rightly cultivate the words of the kingdom in the parable of the sower.
There is a beautiful quote by E. Allison Peers in his introduction to Dark Night of the Soul that is appropriate here: “These treatises (Ascent of Mount Carmel & Dark Night of the Soul) are a wonderful illustration of the theological truth that grace, far from destroying nature, ennobles and dignifies it, and of the agreement always found between the natural and the supernatural – between the principles of sound reason and the sublimest manifestations of Divine grace.”
In today’s First Reading, you can hear what the Lord says through his prophet about his people and their evil, hardened hearts, who says: “Faithfulness has disappeared, the word itself has banished from their speech.” This is the same hardness of heart to the word of the kingdom in Jesus’ parable of the sower, snatched away by the evil one on the hardened path. You can read of the psalmist’s plea to harden not your hearts, and Jesus’ exchange with hardened hearts in the Gospel at the USCCB website:
Let us now look at faith’s third purpose as a shield and protection from the enemy, the devil, who’s objective is to destroy the soul by eternal death. We again turn to Exodus and Israel’s faith beginnings in Exodus chapter 14:
Bondage and slavery to the senses won’t let its captives go easily for when the Egyptians caught up to Israel at the Red Sea, Israel called out in fright to the Lord. They complained to Moses for taking them out of Egypt. Moses told them all they had to do was stand their ground, the Lord would fight for them; they would see the victory the Lord would win for them this day. 1
The angel of God, who had been leading Israel’s camp, now moved and went around behind them. The column of cloud also, leaving the front, took up its place behind them, so that it came between the camp of the Egyptians and that of Israel. But the cloud now became dark, and thus the night passed without the rival camps coming any closer together all night long. Exodus 14: 19-20
The column of cloud, previously in front of Israel as a lighted guide, now moves behind them as a darkened barrier between the Egyptians and themselves. The devil (the Egyptians) is blinded and halted by the soul’s light of faith, as shown by the darkened cloud. St. John tells us one who journeys by faith is “concealed and hidden from the deceits of the devil, to whom the light of faith is more than darkness.” 2 It is dark to the enemy since its light is meant for Israel. What is a spiritual guide to Israel is a shield against evil. Those who journey by faith are secure from the devil’s wiles and errors of their own reason; a wondrous and ingenious safeguard put into place by God, for the five senses are not reliable sources of spiritual information. The Apostolic teachings handed down by Jesus to his Church are both reliable and a journey of faith as are the sanctioned revelations of apparitions such as Lourdes and Fatima that were thoroughly discerned by the Church. Someone following the instructions in a private revelation given by an entity that appears to be an angel is not walking by faith. They are relying on their senses and reasoning regarding spiritual things they have never seen or understood; therefore, the person is subject to their own deception or deception by the devil.
As for the Israelites objective to escape from Pharaoh’s captivity which represents a state of slavery to sin and sensual pleasures, let us read further what happens to evil when it seeks to subdue the soul as the Egyptians attempt to catch Israel, who marched into the midst of the Red Sea through the parted waters of sense and spirit of the soul in the night of faith:
Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and the LORD swept the sea with a strong east wind throughout the night and so turned it into dry land. When the water was thus divided, the Israelites marched into the midst of the sea on dry land, with the water like a wall to their right and to their left.
The Egyptians followed in pursuit; all Pharaoh’s horses and chariots and charioteers went after them right into the midst of the sea. In the night watch just before the dawn the Lord cast through the column of the fiery cloud upon the Egyptian force a glance that threw it into a panic; and he so clogged their chariot wheels that they could hardly drive. With that the Egyptians sounded the retreat before Israel, because the LORD was fighting for them against the Egyptians. Exodus 14: 21-25
The devil sends his best and strongest forces right into the deep of the soul’s spirit and sense when he sees it making a break for freedom, in an attempt to cripple one or both to drag it back into slavery. He attempts to overthrow its spirit by silently whispering debilitating lies or tempt its senses with memories of intoxication, or any number of cunning maneuvers depending on the circumstance. The definition of a “night watch” is “a guard kept at night.” For Israel, this is the night of faith acting as an imperceptible guard and protection. “Glance,” as used here, is defined as a flash of light. The fiery cloud (of faith) disorients and paralyzes the Egyptian force with a flash of light. Egypt attempts to retreat against their more powerful adversary, the Lord. The Lord is the active force during this “dark night.” At dawn Moses, Israel’s guide of reason, takes over.
Then the LORD told Moses, “Stretch out your hand over the sea, that the water may flow back upon the Egyptians, upon their chariots and their charioteers.” So Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and at dawn the sea flowed back to its normal depth. The Egyptians were fleeing head on toward the sea, when the LORD hurled them into its midst. As the water flowed back, it covered the chariots and the charioteers of Pharaoh’s whole army which had followed the Israelites into the sea. Not a single one of them escaped. Exodus 14: 26-28
All Israel did was do as Moses directed: stand their ground. 3 This is the essence of faith and the hallmark of all the saints in adversity – from the victorious martyrs in the Roman arenas nearly two millennia ago whose blood became the seed of the Church, 4 to the contemporary football coach going down on bended knee to pray publicly on the field just before the game despite hostility, and in personal daily struggles with sin and bondage to the senses. The LORD himself will fight for you; you have only to keep still.5 Stand your ground.
With the daylight, Moses visually takes over and the Israelites saw with their eyes the promise Moses made earlier. As the dawn broke, Israel witnessed the defeat of their captors as the parted waters representing Israel’s sense and spirit, of reason and faith, co-operate to annihilate the enemy. This passage also interprets as the new believer coming to the cleansing waters of Baptism. The CCC tells us in 1226: Always, Baptism is seen as connected with faith.
Let us reflect upon how a matured faith in God can enable a soul to stand their ground in the most horrific of circumstances the natural light can behold.
One gains a mature faith by adherence to God’s laws and a deeply prayerful life. The three disciples the gospels reveal had deeply prayerful lives were all found at the foot of the Cross of Jesus; 6 standing their ground in the face of the Roman soldiers, the jeering crowd, the unspeakable sight. Theirs was a profound faith that, despite the apparent colossal failure of Jesus’ ministry, kept them united and not scattered like the rest of his followers whose focus was on what was happening in the natural light- whereby the devil silently whispered to Peter to deny Jesus. The cock that crowed thrice at the pre-dawn light announced Peter’s understanding was not placed in the midnight sky of faith.
The three disciples’ belief was centered on God and fueled by love that refused to believe what their eyes told them, that is the natural light; instead remaining unshakable in the safe and sure darkness of faith while attentive to what reason told them the years they spent with Jesus. These three spiritually advanced disciples of Jesus, following behind the Master carrying his Cross after he met his mother at the 4th Station, 7 walked the same walk of faith as did the People of God at the beginning of the Old Covenant through the midst of the Red Sea, with the water like a wall to their right and to their left. 8 Instead of beneath the cover of a cloud, this time God led the way under the veil of a cross, bloody scourges, a crown of thorns, shame, physical weakness, abandonment, a cursing crowd. The Way of the Cross wound through the narrow streets of Jerusalem. The noisy crowd who turned out to see the famous condemned Jesus were like a wall to their right and to their left of those disciples who, representing the People of God of the New Covenant, were following their God.
These known contemplative disciples are: John, the disciple Jesus loved who leaned against Jesus’ heart at the Last Supper asking which would betray him, and who arrived at the tomb before Peter; Mary Magdalene, the extravagant, first adorer of the Eucharist, at the feet of Jesus wiping them with her tears and hair, later anointing his feet again with costly perfume, and here she is again at the feet of Jesus nailed to the Cross; and the Blessed Virgin Mary who reflected on her Son’s doings in her heart and had perpetual union with God himself. 9
We see faith gather, guide and guard in both the Way of the Cross and the Parting of the Red Sea. Though Peter told Jesus his faith would never be shaken, 10 we see how the devil was able to scatter the disciples and devour Peter through fear of what their senses beheld in the natural light. The devil, who is as patient as he is watchful, was waiting for this very opportunity ever since Peter’s walk on water 11 when he took his eyes of Jesus and began to sink. St. Peter, from his three times denial of Jesus, 12 would later say this about faith and the devil: Stay sober and alert. Your opponent the devil is prowling like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, solid in your faith. 13 Contrarily, we see the mature, unflinching faith at work in the three disciples; keeping them united to Jesus spiritually, and at the foot of his Cross.
In today’s Daily Gospel Reading, Jesus teaches his listeners to love God with all of their spiritual possessions: heart, soul, mind and strength. All of this is governed by the soul’s will. On Monday, March 12th, we will begin to reflect upon the soul’s faculty of the will and its corresponding theological virtue of love as the spiritual narrative in Genesis continues with the faculties. We will finish up with faith and the understanding with very short reflections March 10 & 11.
Let them mark the fixed times, the days and the years, and serve as luminaries in the dome of the sky, to shed light upon the earth. Genesis 1:14
God placed the natural time-keepers, the sun, moon and stars, in the dome of the sky. God graced the concept of time in man’s intellect, the spiritual dome of the sky, to mark the fixed times, the days and the years. Again we see the glorious agreement between natural and spiritual operations.
Life is a gift from God. Time is the same precious gift. How are you using your gift of time to shed your light upon the earth?