Welcome to TOB Tuesdays Refreshed.  Over the next few months we will revisit Katrina’s past blogs followed by Jack Henz’* reflection.

Primicia, Promise, and First Fruits

Last week’s blog on living the “in-between times” (“Life is an Advent,” Blog #8), originally had a different ending. After agonizing over multiple revisions, I finally cut the original ending and decided to make it a blog in its own right. And voila, here it is!

However, in the “in between-time” between severing the ending from its original context and sitting down to write what you are now reading, the Lord blew me away with an improbable “coincidence.” Here’s what happened.

Three days after the original post of Blog #8 (January 2019), I flew to Vancouver, Canada, to speak at their archdiocesan seminary for a week. I arranged to fly in a day early and spend a bit of time with one of my favorite Filipino couples, Nick and Norma Borja, who introduced me eight years ago to my adopted spiritual family, Couples for Christ.

As we sat in my favorite Chinese restaurant in Richmond – the hub of Chinese culture in Greater Vancouver – Nick casually asked me if I’d like to join them the next morning for a Couples for Christ celebration of the First Fruits. In the very noisy, family restaurant, I thought perhaps I misheard him – First Fruits? Whoever uses that term much less has a New Year’s tradition to celebrate it? Nick and Norma could never have known that my next blog, yes, this blog, was intended to be on the topic of First Fruits. But God knew, and He was confirming it in a completely unmistakable way.

When you hear the term, “first fruits,” how does it grab you? Does it render you speechless? Does it make your heart pound and your emotions elevate with great expectation and anticipation? Probably not because it just sounds like two words put together – “first” and “fruits” to mean we pick the first apples or oranges or artichokes and then, ho hum, we go on our way.

I would have been “ho-humming” right alongside you if I hadn’t discovered this word in Spanish. What is rendered “first fruits” in English is a single word in Spanish: primicia.

One of the unexpected bonuses of studying a foreign language is that colorless and emotionally vapid words in English sometimes explode with vivid imagery and emotional content. This is certainly what happened as I encountered primicia over and over again in the prayers of the Mass and Scripture readings. As part of my effort to learn Spanish from scratch, I developed the habit of following the Mass prayers and Scripture readings in Spanish. As a result, primicia repeatedly surfaced, luring me into to its deeper content.

Instead of hearing “first fruits” as two words stuck together, I began to understand primicia as a single word and therefore a multi-layered concept. It’s like the difference between foot ball and football or girl friend and girlfriend. Foot ball indicates a ball that you kick with your foot. That’s fairly logical, but not very exciting. Football, on the other hand, provokes strong images of husky linebackers, Hail-Mary passes, desperate fourth downs, and stunning Super Bowl victories and defeats.

Likewise, girl friend indicates a pal or acquaintance that you like to hang around with whereas girlfriend signifies a special and usually more exclusive relationship. Most likely your girlfriend might ditch you if you introduced her to your parents as a friend who just happens to be a girl. Are you following my drift?

I began to realize that primicia refers to a whole event and not just the initial portion of a harvested crop. It is the multi-layered event of offering thanksgiving to God along with the confidence that there will be more.

Similarly, as I repeatedly heard the single word primicia instead of the dual-combo of “first fruits,” I began to realize that primicia refers to a whole event and not just the initial portion of a harvested crop. It is the multi-layered event of offering thanksgiving to God along with the confidence that there will be more. Put briefly, primicia always contains within it the promise of more!

Primicia is a deeply Jewish concept for an agricultural culture that couldn’t breeze into Wal-Mart at any time of year and buy avocados, blueberries, bread, or pre-made spaghetti sauce. When the primicia arrived, there would be dancing and celebration and hearty thanksgiving! What had taken time, cultivation, patience, and growth was now beginning to bear fruit, to nourish life.

Primicia never refers to the middle or end of the harvest, but always and only to the beginning. In other words, primicia, the First Fruits, contain within them the promise that there will be more! More harvest to come! More celebration and more rejoicing to come! This is just the beginning, so keep watching, keep waiting, keep attending to the tasks (crops) at hand because there’s more!

This is the spirit of Our Lady that we touched on in the last two blogs. Not only did she live the spirit of Advent, she also lived in the spirituality of primicia, of the first fruits. She knew that the conception and birth of Jesus Christ – the greatest work of the Holy Spirit in the history of humanity – was just the beginning of the marvels that God intended to perform.

In Romans 8:29, Scripture tells us that Jesus of Nazareth is the first-born of many brethren. He is the primicia – the first fruit – of the human race united (in a wedding!) to God. In 2 Corinthians 1:22 and Ephesians 1:14, the Holy Spirit is described as the down payment, the pledge, the primicia of the full work of spousal redemption that Christ will bring to fulfillment at His Second Coming and our bodily resurrection. Whenever we read or hear primicia – first fruits/down payment/pledge/guarantee – our hearts should dance and celebrate with the great expectation that with God, THERE IS ALWAYS MORE!

With all this in mind, let’s go back to Vancouver and Couples for Christ’s celebration of the First Fruits. As I discovered, this is an annual event occurring on the first Saturday of the New Year. It’s a kind of remembering – a remembering that everything is gift from God (cf. 1 Corinthians 4:7: “What do you have that you did not receive?”) – and an exhortation to never forget that God is the Origin of the goodness and abundance we experience.

A similar caution occurs in Preface II of the Mass prayers for Lent. Roughly translated from the Spanish, it says: “You have generously established this time of grace [i.e., Lent] to renew your children in holiness, so that, free from all disordered affection, we can live temporal realities as primicia [first fruits] of the eternal realities.”

The light bulbs exploded in my mind the first time I heard this prayer. The world around us is not first and foremost for our own comfort and consumerism, as if it were our “right” to use it and enjoy it without any thought of the Divine Creator and Redeemer. On the contrary, the created world is a constant reminder of God’s presence and goodness to us. The good and beautiful things of this world fill us with joy precisely because they are the primicia, the first fruits, of the eternal realities to come. They are God’s promise of even fuller and more abundant eternal realities of the Kingdom to come (“…thy Kingdom come…).

This syncs incredibly well with St. John Paul II’s repeated insistence on the sacramentality of creation. In speaking about the “sacrament of creation,” St. JPII says in Theology of the Body Audience 98:8: “Here, ‘sacrament’ means the very mystery of God, which is hidden from eternity, yet not in an eternal concealment” and also in Audience 97:5: “…when we speak about the realization of the eternal mystery, we are speaking also about the fact that it becomes visible with the visibility of the sign.”

In other words, the invisible, eternal realities of God’s Trinitarian Mystery of TOTAL Self-Giving Love and Life, which are inaccessible to our human mode of knowledge, begin to be accessible to us through the visibility of the created world, especially through the body. In the light of Christ (cf. GS 22), we can now see how God created the human body “in the beginning” as the original primicia that anticipated the Incarnation.

From the beginning, the human body in its masculinity and femininity is the “first fruit” of God’s promise that there will be more – the “more” of the Incarnated Body of Christ, the Divine Bridegroom, who will take what is hidden from eternity in God – the invisible Trinitarian Divinity – and make it visible through His TOTAL gift of self to humanity through His Body.

From the beginning, the human body in its masculinity and femininity is the “first fruit” of God’s promise that there will be more – the “more” of the Incarnated Body of Christ, the Divine Bridegroom, who will take what is hidden from eternity in God – the invisible Trinitarian Divinity – and make it visible through His TOTAL gift of self to humanity through His Body.

With all this in mind, perhaps we can hear TOB Audience 19:4 about the sacramentality of the body with new fervor: “The body, in fact, and only the body, is capable of making visible what is invisible: the spiritual and divine. It has been created to transfer into the visible reality of the world the mystery hidden from eternity in God, and thus to be a sign of it.” What a joy to realize over and over again the deep sacramentality of the body! What a joy as laity to be prophetic witnesses in the midst of society and culture to the goodness of creation as an event through which God reveals Himself and the spousal meaning of history!

Today I encourage you to take a moment and thank God for the primicia of your body – and all creation – as a sign and promise of the goodness and abundance of the eternal, invisible realities to come. So keep watching, keep waiting, keep celebrating and rejoicing in the tasks at hand because there’s always more! And remember…you (and your visible body) are a gift!

(Please “share” this blog – and invite your friends to like the JPII Resource Center FB page. Thank you.)

© Katrina J. Zeno, MTS


Primicia! Primicia! But there’s more coming!

As I finished my morning 5-mile walk, my mind was mulling over Katrina’s blog …. First-fruitsprimicia…hmmmm, what did they mean to me? Then thoughts about the birth of our first child flooded into my memory. First fruits – yes! Primicia – oh YES!

A cold March wind gave me a shiver as I walked into Fitzsimmons Army Hospital in Aurora, Colorado. I was a 2nd Lieutenant weather officer in the USAF. My wife Karen was inside expecting the birth of our first child. I’d been excused from my active-duty shift at Buckley ANG Base to be with her.

When I joined Karen, she was in advanced labor. A nurse entered and said, “It’s time for the delivery room.” As I kissed Karen, I asked the nurse if I could stay with her. No! came the immediate reply. Only doctors and nurses were allowed in the delivery room. It was standard practice to keep husbands out of the delivery room for fear they would faint.

After 30 minutes of nervous waiting, I wanted a status. No one was at the desk. The delivery room was at the end of the hall. I walked to the door and saw a cluster of doctors and nurses busily attending my wife. I wanted to be in there.

Across the hall was a dressing room. Once inside I put on a white doctor’s coat, a white delivery cap and a mask across my face. In moments I was in the delivery room. To my surprise no one questioned my presence.

My wife was on the delivery table. I edged closer and I pulled down my mask just enough. She saw my face and smiled. I was there. Minutes later our first son was born. I saw his first breath and watched him put in his mother’s arms. We smiled at each other. A nurse looked at me and said, “Who are you? Why are you in here?”

“I’m the father” I said and was promptly escorted out. But I saw “the first fruits” of our marriage born. As I changed back into my Airforce uniform, a nurse said, “Clever move, but you might be in trouble.” I wasn’t.

I went into the chapel down the hall and said a prayer to thank God for blessing us with a healthy son. I felt a warm glow inside and prayed that our son would be the first blessing of many more to come. Primicia had entered my life. Two more sons followed the first born. God blessed my wife and I abundantly with those three men.

I felt a warm glow inside and prayed that our son would be the first blessing of many more to come. Primicia had entered my life.

My eldest matured into a fine young man who was interested in becoming a priest. After graduating high school, he signed up for a weekend retreat for young men interested in the priesthood. The seminary had a pick-up point for their retreat bus at a nearby Catholic high school. He asked for a lift but I gave him money for city bus fare to the high school pick-up point. I felt I was too busy. Unfortunately, he missed the retreat bus. Later he said it was a sign that God didn’t want him to be a priest. I felt I let him and God down by my selfish actions.

Thirty years later my phone rang. My eldest son, who is married and a very successful computer program manager in Chapel Hill, NC, called to tell me he was starting a two-year graduate program to become a Catholic spiritual director. His goal is to become a spiritual director for young adults and adults at a local Catholic parish to re-evangelize Catholics coming back to the Church as well as assisting those interested in becoming Catholics. The promise of primicia to bear additional fruit is beginning to be realized in his life.

But there’s more!

My middle son, who had an up-and-down relationship with the Catholic Church for three decades, eventually met the love of his life. Her parents had her baptized Catholic but took her out of Catholic school before she could receive the other Sacraments of Initiation. My son rekindled her interest in fully entering the Catholic Church.

As a result, they took RCIA classes together so she could receive Holy Communion and be confirmed. Meanwhile, his knowledge of the faith received a renewed boost. She entered into full communion with the Catholic Church at the Easter Vigil Mass in 2018. Over the ensuing 18 months, she received an annulment for a prior marriage. Joyfully, we continue to pray for more for them.

And finally, my youngest son and wife gifted us with our first grandchild, Tyler, 18 months ago. As the first fruits of the next generation, Tyler initiated a whole new sense of primicia in my life as a grandfather. As I wrote in last week’s reflection, Tyler is teaching me a new rhythm to life, leaving behind my pattern as a human rushing and instead savoring the in-between times of pots-and-pans drumming and leisurely strolls.

Yes, primicia is a joyful multi-layered event in our lives. What began with an impassioned new husband sneaking into his wife’s delivery room to share in the birth of their first child continues with the help of God’s grace to a new generation’s shared experience of primicia at our grandson’s birth.

Yes, primicia is a joyful multi-layered event in our lives. What began with an impassioned new husband sneaking into his wife’s delivery room to share in the birth of their first child continues with the help of God’s grace to a new generation’s shared experience of primicia at our grandson’s birth. It is also expanding into the lives of our other two sons in ways we never could have imagined. So, we keep waiting, attending to the tasks at hand with the expectancy that there is always more to come!

©by Jack Henz


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*Jack Henz is a retired meteorologist and a graduate of the Diocese of Phoenix ‘s Kino Catechetical Institute. Together with his wife Karen, he is a passionate catechist concerning all things Catholic, especially the Theology of the Body.