I am tempted to detect more than merely accidental circumstance in the fact that the apostles chose seven men as the first deacons: “Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit, together with Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolaus of Antioch, a convert to Judaism” (Acts 6:5). There is an elegant symmetry in the seven days of creation and consequent replications of that number in the weekly Sabbath cycle, the seven primary colors, and so forth, and it seems to reach full bloom in the Incarnation, with the seven sacraments and the seven last words from the Cross.
Our incarnate Lord describes himself with seven images: I am the Light of the World; I am the Way and the Truth and the Life; I am the Bread of heaven; I am the Good Shepherd; I am the Gate of the Sheepfold; I am the Resurrection; and I am the Vine. There is an order in the Church reflected in the order of the universe. The Catholic poet Alexander Pope said, “Order is heaven’s first law.” God does nothing by chance, and his every action is part of a pattern. Just as defects in the natural order are only understood as defects because the source of all things is perfect, so are defects in the moral order affronts to perceived human dignity. These defects are commonly called sins, but the original sin, called pride, is the pre-historic rebellion against the fact of order itself.
The seven images that Christ uses to explain himself in terms coherent to our limited intelligence, only make sense when we realize that each of them is attached to and depends upon the I AM. That is the identity of God, the source of all being and order.
Our culture is going through an identity crisis in virtually every aspect of its existence: politically, economically, morally, intellectually. There is even disarray in how to identify biological and psychological realties. Instead of male and female, some would propose an alphabet soup of gender confusion, with new letters waiting to be added in the maelstrom of disorder. The created self-destruct when they separate themselves from the I AM, and instead of praising their Creator, there is left only a whimpering question: What AM I?
Confusion about the self can be resolved by listening to our Lord as he speaks in the Gospel passage appointed for this Sunday (John 14:1-12). An instinctive grace shines in the way he uses “I am” seven times: I am going to prepare a place for you; where I am you may be too; the place where I am going; I am the Way and the Truth and the Life; I am in the Father and the Father is in me; you must believe me when I say that I am; I am going to the Father.
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Filed under: Fr. George W. Rutler |