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The Incarnation and three metaphysical paradoxes

On the Readings for July 9, 2023

Detail from "The Entry into Jerusalem" (L'entrata in Gerusalemme, 1305) by Giotto. (Image: Wiki Art)

• Zech 9:9-10
• Psa 145:1-2, 8-9, 10-11, 13-14
• Rom 8:9, 11-13
• Matt 11:25-30

The literary critic Hugh Kenner, in Paradox in Chesterton (Sheed & Ward, 1947), distinguished between different types of paradox. One type is “verbal paradox”, which is aimed at persuading someone about a certain belief. A more profound sort of paradox is “metaphysical paradox”, the immediate object of which “is praise, awakened by wonder.” This paradox “springs in general from inadequacy, from the rents in linguistic and logical clothing…”

What does this mean? It means there are truths revealed to man by God that strain at the limits of human language. These mysteries of the faith cannot be known without divine grace or understood without supernatural insight. They confound the natural mind, which sees them as foolish, strange or even outrageous. It is what St. Paul had in mind, I think, when he wrote, “For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength” (1 Cor 1:25).

Today’s readings contain at least three of the “metaphysical paradoxes”. Each of these is ultimately rooted in the great paradox of the Incarnation—the fact that the eternal and omnipotent Son humbled himself and entered time and history as a seemingly ordinary Jew.

The first paradox points towards to this divine humility, for it is a prophecy by Zechariah of a great king and savior whose strength is meekness and whose steed is a colt. This was surely an absurd image in the ancient Near Eastern world, for the strength of a king rested in his armies and his horses. Zechariah wrote around 520 B.C., a few years after the return from the Babylonian exile, and he sought to encourage the Jews who were trying to rebuild the temple in Jerusalem. In doing so, he wrote many great Christological prophecies, focused on this humble savior who would proclaim peace to the nations.

The second paradox is the well-known exhortation by Jesus, in today’s Gospel, to take up his yoke in order to find rest: “For I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for yourselves. For my yoke is easy, and my burden light.” Those listening to Jesus understood (in contrast to so many people today) that every man serves a master of some sort; each of us is beholden to someone or something outside of ourselves. For many Jews, the Law was the yoke that they took up as their covenantal burden.

What is the yoke of Jesus? Erasmo Leiva-Merikakis, mindful of the divine humility, says that the yoke of the Son is the Incarnation. “He who was divine yoked himself to us through his humanity, and now he is inviting us to yoke ourselves to him and his divinity,” he writes in Fire of Mercy, Heart of the World (Ignatius, 1996), “When the Son’s yoke becomes ours as well, his Incarnation becomes our divinization.” The rest offered by Christ is the rest given by the Father to the children of God; it is everlasting beatitude and joy. This rest comes only through the Son, who offers us communion with the Father. But we must choose to accept it, to take up this gift of love.

Which brings us to the third paradox, found in St. Paul’s epistle to the believers in Rome. It can be summarized this way: “In order to live, you must die.” Which, of course, is essentially what Jesus said in Matthew 10: “Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Matt 10:39).

The more we grasp after natural life, earthly comforts and temporal security, the more elusive they become. The more we live in the flesh, the closer we are to spiritual death. The Holy Spirit, however, frees us by dwelling within us, giving power to overcome temptation and sin. This beautiful paradox means we are “awakened by wonder”—the wonder of divine life—and this is good reason to praise God, the giver of life.

(This “Opening the Word” column originally appeared in the July 3, 2011, edition of Our Sunday Visitor newspaper.)

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About Carl E. Olson 1217 Articles
Carl E. Olson is editor of Catholic World Report and Ignatius Insight. He is the author of Did Jesus Really Rise from the Dead?, Will Catholics Be "Left Behind"?, co-editor/contributor to Called To Be the Children of God, co-author of The Da Vinci Hoax (Ignatius), and author of the "Catholicism" and "Priest Prophet King" Study Guides for Bishop Robert Barron/Word on Fire. His recent books on Lent and Advent—Praying the Our Father in Lent (2021) and Prepare the Way of the Lord (2021)—are published by Catholic Truth Society. He is also a contributor to "Our Sunday Visitor" newspaper, "The Catholic Answer" magazine, "The Imaginative Conservative", "The Catholic Herald", "National Catholic Register", "Chronicles", and other publications. Follow him on Twitter @carleolson.


  1. Very Powerful and True are the workings of the Holy Spirit.The last paragraph of Mr Olson’s article of paradox’s is so very needed in todays world.A very much needed reminder in my own life today.

  2. Beautiful sentiments that remind the reader of their need to look for answers outside of their presumptions. The last place one would think “rest” could possibly reside would be a yoke. I think the phrase immediately following…”and learn of me” is the key to understanding the intended meaning. This yoke is really the willingness to abandon my own go-to resources of self-reliance and pride. It is the committed embrace of His meekness and lowly mindset that frees our soul to rest. WE WILL NEVER BE WHO HE DESIGNED US TO BE TILL WE DO THIS.

  3. Thank you , also for introducing another good author , from the treasure chest of Ignatius press – esp. for the truth in those words about the Incarnation – His yoke being the great blessing through The Incarnation wherein our Lord desiring for us to bring our wounds unto Him, to pour in His holiness as the healing balm , to restore us to the sacredness and its joy we have been created for , esp. as at the Holy Mass .
    That ‘wokeness ‘ is what the world too is searching for desperately , in all wrong places and ways , as it has always done .. and the enemy too , ever at work , denying that truth – thus , the foundational divide from other faiths .

    The carnal flood waters of our times make that search more desperate ..and our merciful Lord sends The Mother again , as Our Lady of Rosary , to Argentina and The Lord Himself too asking ‘ be detached from death , attach to life ‘ .—and-its-a-big-deal-31979 .
    Every act of contraception and related ways being occasions of fear of life , thus deprivation of occasions to offer praise and gratitude for same
    Denial of that yoke , instead choosing to be yoked to the ‘ carnal self ‘ and the slavery of related passions thus depriving one of the life of being yoked to The Lord and His holiness .
    The praise of gratitude for His holiness , filling our heads , flowing down the connecting coronal neural areas of the brain , to command away every spikey horn of pride of the death spirit bearing corona ..

    Bl. Mother, conceived by her parents in holiness, free of carnal passions , more in the power of the words in The Spirit , thus the trust in the goodness of The Father , to gratefully accept The Incarnation , in the strength of faith .

    Rosary prayers to help us all too in same , to seek that kind of the holy ‘wokeness ‘ for all in our lives as well , in the best kind of yoke , of being
    ‘ together while apart ‘ in His Spirit ..

    Our Lady of Rosary , pray for us all .

  4. Thoughts inspired by Three Metaphysical Paradoxes. A white plastic collar is a yoke. Some are muzzled some not. If not we proclaim the incomprehensible Word made Flesh straining the limits of words. Evidence of what transcends the physical conveyed by faith affection kindled by the paradoxical image of the gentle Xristos Pantokrator seated on the foal of an ass.

    • After a prolonged bout with the flu I’m finally able to return to CWR. And to admit an error on the issue of the real presence to us in the three persons of the Trinity. Lest I be perceived as paying home to myself than to Christ. My error was in saying that the Father is really present to us in the Trinity. Whereas it is the same one true God who is really present to us in each and every instance.

  5. Dear Carl, excellent article – it gets one thinking, dangerous so early in the morning with only the time for 1 cup of coffee. There comes to mind another rather intriguing paradox or at least some type of conundrum that I find fascination to ruminate on and that is how it was possible to mis-identify the risen Christ. Many did not recognize him. Have you any thoughts on that matter?

  6. Good article….this snippet would fit into any sermon in a Christian church. Glad to see the Holy Spirit directing you to expound more and more on the true Lord and Savior and not so much His mother.

    • Brian, the only True Christian Church is the Authentic Catholic Church founded by Jesus-God. The 40,000 different Protestant denominations are not Christian, they follow their own sin puppet and call it “Christ”, while rejecting the Mother of Jesus-God, which makes them all Sons and Daughters of Martin Luther, a mentally unbalanced Catholic monk that pretended de facto to be greater than Christ.

      Jesus and The Mother are as inseparable now as when Jesus-God was in her womb. If you don’t believe this, then you don’t believe in Jesus as God and you are not Christian, which is why you keep projecting your non-Christianity on us.

  7. A fourth paradox might be that of being in the world without being of the world…

    Pope Francis’ prayer intention for July is “For a Eucharistic Life: Let us pray that Catholics place at the center of their lives the Eucharistic celebration, which transforms human relationships profoundly and opens up an encounter with God and their brothers and sisters.”

    Reassurance, here, that the centered, interior, and sacramental life leads to external actions in the world (e.g., as from synod-facsimile focus groups), rather than the other way around, and rather than being subliminally displaced by such action plans…

    Yes, the mystery of graced human encounters, but perhaps, in his kickoff retreat in October 2023, Fr. Radcliffe will very explicitly begin with this biblical, “traditional,” and living revelation of the indwelling Holy Spirit (!)—that salvific matters of communal sacramentality and personal holiness ought to be “done,” firstly, but without the rest being left undone (Mt 23:23).

  8. The paradox of the Temple of God, prophecy by Zechariah, can be explained in the First and Second Coming of Jesus. All Old Testament prophecies about the Coming of the Messiah Jesus, are reflected as only one singular Coming Jesus, which is, ‘The Day of the Lord’. Most Old Testament prophecies about Jesus, and there are many prophecies about Jesus, are focused on the Second Coming of Jesus. It is upon the near future Second Coming of Jesus that God’s Great Promise to Israel, which is the Restoration of Israel, and the Restoration of Israel’s Temple, will be fulfilled.

    The whole reason for having a Temple is to have a place on earth for God’s Presence to reside in the midst of His people on earth. Adam and Eve lived in the Presence of God, ‘Atop God’s Holy Mountain’, in the Garden of Eden. After sin came into existence, God removed His Presence from mankind.

    Ezekiel 28:13
    In Eden, the garden of God, you were, and every precious stone was your covering…
    …on the day you were created. With the Cherub I placed you; you were on the holy mountain of God, walking among the fiery stones. Blameless you were in your conduct from the day you were created, Until evil was found in you, the result of your far-flung trade; violence was your business, and you sinned. Then I banned you from the mountain of God; the Cherub drove you from among the fiery stones.

    At Mount Sinai, God’s Israelite people were allowed to once again ascend ‘God’s Holy Mountain’, meaning God brought His Presence down to earth to once again, to reside in the Arc of the Covenant, in a tent. It is later that king Solomon built a Temple for God to reside in.

    Exodus 19:10
    When Moses, then, had reported the response of the people to the LORD, the LORD said to Moses: Go to the people and have them sanctify themselves today and tomorrow. Have them wash their garments and be ready for the third day; for on the third day the LORD will come down on Mount Sinai in the sight of all the people. Set limits for the people all around, saying: Take care not to go up the mountain, or even to touch its edge. All who touch the mountain must be put to death. No hand shall touch them, but they must be stoned to death or killed with arrows. Whether human being or beast, they must not be allowed to live. Only when the ram’s horn sounds may they go up on the mountain. Then Moses came down from the mountain to the people and had them sanctify themselves, and they washed their garments. He said to the people, ‘Be ready for the third day.

    Due to the massive sins of Israel, God once again removes His Presence from His People in Ezekiel 10 and 11. Upon the Exile of Israel, God divorces Israel; God relinquished His Kingship over Israel and placed world-dominant secular power as king over Israel; and God removed His Presence from the Jewish Temple on earth.

    It is upon Jesus’ Second Coming of Jesus, that all the Promises from God of the Restoration of Israel, as well as the Restoration of Israel’s temple on earth, are fulfilled. Upon Jesus’ Second Coming, Jesus will Rule the world! Upon His Second Coming, Jesus will bring down from heaven, the Presence of God to reside within His ‘Holy City’, the ‘New Jerusalem’, which will be the post Apocalyptic Body of the Catholic Church all living in God’s ‘Divine Will’ on free-willed earth. Then the Faithful of God will find Peace on Earth.

    Revelation 21:1 The New Heaven and the New Earth
    Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth. The former heaven and the former earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. I also saw the holy city, a new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.

    Jesus is Getting Married!

    • Sorry, In the Revelation 21 quote above, I meant to quote the part about God dwelling on earth with mankind in the ‘Holy City’, ‘New Jerusalem’, which will be Catholics in a ‘State of Grace’ all then living in the Presence of God in the ‘Divine Will’.

      Revelation 21:1 The New Heaven and the New Earth.
      Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth. The former heaven and the former earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. I also saw the holy city, a new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, God’s dwelling is with the human race.c He will dwell with them and they will be his people and God himself will always be with them [as their God]. He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there shall be no more death or mourning, wailing or pain, [for] the old order has passed away.”

      Quotes from Luisa Piccarreta and the Divine Will – Teachings of Jesus. By Susanne James published 2020

      “The Children of Light
      This section contains explanations from Jesus on the coming of the Kingdom of the Divine Will.

      Jesus: “But this pain will be replaced with a smile that will fill Heaven and earth with happiness: a smile which will appear on my lips when I see my first fruits, the children of my Divine Will – no longer living in a human environment, but rather in one that is divine…”

      “I have made known the goods of the Redemption, and how I desire that everyone be saved, giving them the necessary means. I now move on, to make known that there is another generation within Me – that I must make manifest: the generation of my children who are destined to live in the Divine Will.”

      “In my own Heart I have prepared all the Graces: all my internal acts done for them, within the bounds of the Eternal Will. They but await the kiss of the acts of this generation, and unity with this generation – to release to them the inheritance of the Supreme Will. I have already received this inheritance and I want to give it to them, in order to form the second generation – of the children of light, to let them emerge from within Me. (October 27th 1922)

      Jesus: Oh living in my Will! …It pleases Me so much, that in future generations I will make all forms of sanctity disappear, no matter what virtue they are based upon. In their place I will make re-appear the sanctity of living in my Will, which is not a human form of sanctity – but rather a Divine Sanctity. It will eclipse the most beautiful stars of the Saints of previous generations. That is why I want to purify the earth, because as it is now -the earth is unworthy of such a wonder of sanctity.
      (November 20th 1917)

  9. to me, it feels like a spiritually refreshing and delicious writing founded on the divine Truth of our Lord God Christ Jesus. God bless you!

  10. Some articles are well worth reissuing. Our spiritual needs are constant and to be reinvigorated makes us useful servants!

    Sometimes mysteries are just that. We may not be given to solve a empirical hypothesis, rather, factual testing falls to our faith. Yet our faith is not blind. God wants us to walk by faith and for those in Christ:

    Hebrews 12:2 Looking to Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.

    Hebrews 1:3 He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high,

    Hebrews 11:1 Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.

    When we are enlivened with God’s word we come to understand we can trust Him.

  11. The modern Church leans too heavily on a foundation of ritualism. The high cleric dons the vesture of the high priest, yet fails to show forth the signs, wonders, and miracles of Christ and the apostles, as reported at Acts of the Apostles, chapter two. The Church is the Mystical Body of Christ, and its true foundation is mystical. John Paul II explained that the dichotomy that the Enlightenment represented was between the philosophy of thought (men of the Enlightenment) and the philosophy of existence (Aquinas). This latter system involves metaphysics, which John Paul II stated that the men of the Enlightenment turned their backs on. You explain: “These mysteries of faith cannot be known without divine grace or understood without supernatural insight.” The revelation of the presence of God is made known through signs — through the manifestation of the (metaphysical) Mystical Body of Christ. The Church ought well to preach mysticism, and turn away from its heavy dependence on outward ritualism.

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