Monday, December 29, 2014

Union with the Highest Good

The following is excerpted from a homily by the fourteenth-century German Dominican theologian and mystic, Johannes Tauler. In this particular sermon, he reflects on Christmas and how we as God’s human creation ought to respond to our Lord’s love. And we do this by exhibiting the qualities of true children of God which have been demonstrated to us by the example of Jesus Christ. Johannes Tauler makes use of the wisdom of Saint Augustine, Dionysius, and Saint Anselm in this homily.

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Dear children, God has wrought a great wonder, and manifested the greatness of His love towards us, in that He has looked down upon us, who were His enemies, aliens and far off from Him, with such mercy as to give us power to become His sons and children; therefore it behooves us not to show ourselves ungrateful for such kindness, but to put on the true marks and qualities of the elect, beloved children of God.

He who would be a son of our Father in Heaven must be a stranger among the children of this world, and must have an earnest mind and a single eye, with a heart inclined towards God. Now such a one is made a son of God when he is born again in God, and this takes place with every fresh revelation of God to his soul. A man is born of the Spirit when he permits God's work to be wrought in his soul; yet it is not this which makes the soul to be perfectly blessed, but that revelation makes the soul to follow after Him Who has revealed Himself to her, and in Whom she is born anew, with love and praise.

The beloved children of God renounce themselves, and hence they do right without effort, and mount up to the highest point of goodness; while he who will not let go of himself, but does right by labor and toil, will never reach the highest that he might. Men who live on the outside of things are a great hindrance in the way of goodness by their many idle words. Therefore those who wish to foster the inner life of their souls, are in great danger of receiving hurt from things which are said without thought, especially when many are together. He who repents of what he has said as soon as the words are out of his mouth, is one of the careless speakers. He only is a good son who has cast off his old sins and evil habits; for without this it is impossible that he should be created anew in Christ Jesus.

It is a mark of the children of God that they see their own little faults and shortcomings to be great sins. We must let all things be to us merely the supply of our wants, and possess them in their nothingness. The great work and aim of the beloved children of God is to shun all sin, deadly or trifling, that they may not grieve God's spirit; for they know, as Saint Augustine says, that for the smallest habitual sin which is not punished and laid aside in this present life, they will have to suffer more than all the pains of this world. Hence Anselm says, that he would rather die, and that this world should be destroyed, than commit one sin a day knowingly. And Augustine says: "The soul is created eternal, and therefore she cannot rest but in God."

Dionysius says: "To be converted to the truth means nothing else but a turning from the love of created things, and a coming into union with the uncreated Highest Good. And in one who is thus converted there is a joy beyond conception, and his understanding is unclouded and not perverted by the love of earthly things, and is mirrored in his conscience, in the mirror of God's Mind. Love is the noblest of all virtues, for it makes man divine, and makes God man."

A certain teacher has said that if a man will give his heart and life to God, God will give him in return greater gifts than if he were to suffer death over again for him.

Now that man shall attain unto the Highest Good who is ready to descend into the lowest depths of poverty. And this comes to pass when he is cast into utter wretchedness and forsaken of all creatures and all comfort. And let him ask help of none; let him be as knowing nothing, and as though he had never been anything but a fool; let him have none to take compassion on him, even so much as to give him a cup of cold water to drink; yet let him never forget God in his heart, and never shrink from God's searching Eye of judgment, though he knows not what its verdict will be; but with a cheerful and thankful spirit yield himself up to suffer whatever God shall appoint unto him, and to fulfill according to his power, by the grace of God, all His holy will to the utmost that he can discern it, and never complain of his distresses but to God alone with entire and humble resignation, praying that he may be strong to endure all his sufferings according to the will of God. Dear children, what glorious sons of God would such men be! What wonders would God work through them to the magnifying of His glory! These are the true and righteous men who trust in God, and cleave to Him in spirit and in truth! That we may thus become His sons, may God help us by His grace! Amen.

Epiphany of the Lord - January 4, 2015

First Reading Commentary
There are images here such as darkness covering the earth and the appearance of light which take us back all the way to the creation story in Genesis.  Keeping the creation story in mind, Scripture tells us that the earth was void and empty and darkness was upon the face of the deep (cf. Genesis 1:2).  Void, emptiness and darkness are descriptions that can be symbolic of sin.  And Scripture reveals next that the Spirit of God moved over the waters (cf. Genesis 1:2). 

The Virgin Mary also had the Spirit move over her and when God said: “Let there be light” (Genesis 1:3), the greatest Light of all was now conceived in the Blessed Virgin Mary.  And why?  To be the Occupant for that void, the Filler for that emptiness, and the Beacon for that darkness which formerly plagued humanity. 

In Genesis, God saw that the light was good (cf. Genesis 1:4).  To say that the Light conceived in Mary is good would be an understatement.  In Genesis, God divided the darkness from the light (cf. Genesis 1:4).  That division of light and darkness literally, prophetically and symbolically has forever remained in tact.  The light prophesied here in this Reading from Isaiah comes clothed with the glory of the Lord. 

The opening verse reads: “Rise up in splendor, Jerusalem!”  Actually, “Jerusalem” is not included in the Hebrew text or Saint Jerome’s Vulgate but is found in the Septuagint.  It could be assumed that Isaiah is referring to Jerusalem or Zion as he probably sees it as the center of religious knowledge and salvation.  Nations, which means Gentile nations, will recognize the religious leadership of Jerusalem and shall come bearing gifts.  It is upon Jerusalem that the glory of the Lord shines while the thick clouds which cover the peoples probably is a reference to Babylon.  Prophetically, Jerusalem is the Church to which all nations shall come because the glory of the Lord Jesus Christ shines upon her and through her comes the Light of Truth. 

Traditionally, three kings traveled on camels bearing gold and frankincense, as mentioned in this Reading, as well as myrrh which is not included here.  They came to see the Light and proclaim the praises of the Lord.      

Second Reading Commentary
“You have heard of the stewardship of God's grace that was given to me for your benefit.”  What Paul is conveying here is that the Ephesians have surely heard by now that by the grace of God, Paul has been made their apostle.  The mystery he mentions is the divine plan in which Jews and Gentiles are to be united into one faith.  Paul states that he received this information by revelation which most certainly means Jesus Christ.  What is revealed in this revelation is the redemption of humanity by Jesus Christ, the vocation of the Gentiles and the command to proclaim the Gospel to them. 

Both Saint Jerome and Saint John Chrysostom suggest that this mystery was not entirely unknown to previous generations as surely many of the Old Testament prophets understood God’s future plans.  But now this mystery has been revealed to the apostles who in turn have proclaimed it to everyone they came into contact with.  The revealed mystery of Gentiles being equal partners in God’s gift of salvation was a scandal and the cause of many of the persecutions of early Christianity.  Today, we continue to pray for this oneness.  Although hopeful things are occurring as a result of ecumenical dialogues, there is still a long way to go.

Gospel Commentary
Saint Jerome tells us that this city is called Bethlehem of Judea, to distinguish it from another Bethlehem, which was situated in the division of the tribe of Zebulon. 

Both the Latin and Greek text signify the “Magi” as wise philosophers and astronomers.  They came from the east; some say Arabia, others from Chaldea, others from Persia.  Many interpreters speak of them as if they were kings, princes, or lords of small territories.  Their gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh, however, may confirm their Arabian origin because Arabia was renowned for these items.

The number of these wise men is uncertain.  Pope Saint Leo the Great, in his sermons on the Epiphany, speaks of them as if there were three, perhaps on account of their three-fold offering (gold, frankincense and myrrh).  There are also different opinions as to the time that the star appeared to the Magi, whether before Christ’s birth, or about the very time He was born, which seems more likely.  The wise men found Jesus at Bethlehem, where His Blessed Mother was to remain forty days, until the time of her purification was expired.  And it seems more logical that the Wise Men came to Bethlehem about that time, rather than within thirteen days after Christ’s birth; for if they had come so soon after Christ was born, and been directed to go and make diligent inquiry at Bethlehem, which was about five miles from Jerusalem, it’s hard to accept that so suspicious and jealous a ruler as Herod was, would have waited almost a month for their return without searching for the newborn King.  But it is likely that being alarmed by what happened when Jesus was presented in the temple at His Mother’s purification, he then gave those barbaric orders for the massacre of the innocent infants. 

“We saw His star”; they knew it to be His star, either by some prophecy among them, or by divine revelation.  It is not known for certain whether it guided them during the whole course of their journey from the east to Jerusalem.  The Magi may have recalled the prophecy of Balaam, which had announced the coming of the Messiah by the emblem of a star (cf. Numbers 24:17), which was to arise from Jacob. 

“When King Herod heard this, he was greatly troubled” most certainly through fear of losing his kingdom, which he had obtained by violence.  But why was all of Jerusalem alarmed at the news of a King so long and so fervently expected?  Probably because the people, well acquainted with the cruelty of Herod, feared a more afflictive slavery. 

“And you, Bethlehem, land of Judah” was a clear prophecy concerning the Messiah, foretold by the prophet Micah (5:1). 

“And on entering the house” are words in which several of the Church Fathers in their homilies, represent the Wise Men adoring Jesus in the stable, and in the manger; yet others, with Saint John Chrysostom explain, that before their arrival, Jesus may have been moved into some small house in Bethlehem. 

“Gold, frankincense, and myrrh” are gifts in which the ancient Fathers take notice of their mystical signification.  Gold was signified by their tribute they paid to Him as their King; by incense, because He is God; and by myrrh, (with which dead bodies used to be embalmed) because He has also become Man. 

“And did Him homage” which can be translated to mean - they adored Him; therefore, in the Eucharist also, Christ is to be adored.  It is of no consequence under what appearance He offers Himself to us, whether that of a perfect Man, a speechless Child as in this Gospel, or under the appearance of Bread and Wine; for in whatever manner or place our Lord appears, He is true God, and for that alone He is to be adored.  For certain the Magi have left us an example to imitate.  We see Jesus, not as the Magi did, in a crib or manger, but on the altar; not His Mother holding Him, but the priest present, and the Holy Spirit poured out abundantly upon the Sacrifice.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Preparing for the Light of the World

In the Divine Office and Our Lady’s Office, the antiphon sort of paves the way or prepares our Christological understanding of the Psalms or Canticles which are about to be sung or recited. Today is the final day for us to prepare ourselves to welcome the Light of the world. Advent is really a penitential season and one of the ways to prepare or welcome the Light is to willingly expose our own darkness in the Sacrament of Confession.

For those who pray the Little Office of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the season of Advent closes at the hour of None; and there a most fitting antiphon for closing Advent and preparing for Christmas appears: “Ecce ancilla Domini: fiat mihi secundum verbum tuum – Behold the handmaid of the Lord: be it done unto me according to Your word.” It was Mary’s “yes” to God, yes to welcoming the Word of God as a Baby. This is a beautiful thought to close out Advent and begin Christmas.

Christmas begins with Vespers on Christmas Eve. The first antiphon at Vespers of Our Lady is: “O admirabile commercium: Creator generis humani, animatum corpus sumens, de Virgine nasci dignatus est; et procedens homo sine semine, largitus est nobis suam Deitatem – O marvelous intercourse! The Creator of mankind, taking a body with a living soul, vouchsafed to be born of a Virgin, and becoming man without man’s concurrence, bestowed upon us His Deity.” And so this momentous day of eternal value begins: the Light enters the world through a Virgin. And certainly this antiphon is reflected in the words of the Psalm which follows: “Ex utero ante luciferum genui te -- From the womb before the daystar have I begotten You” (Psalm 109:3).

The second antiphon is: “Quando natus es ineffabiliter ex Virgine, tunc impletæ sunt Scripturæ: sicut pluvia in vellus descendisti, ut salvum faceres genus humanum: te laudamus, Deus noster – When You were born of a Virgin, after an ineffable manner, then were the Scriptures fulfilled: You came like rain upon the fleece, that You might save mankind: we praise You, our God.” We praise God for coming to us as a Baby in order that He might experience all the circumstances that are part of being human; and in doing so, He will save mankind. In the Psalm which follows, we pray the words: “Quis sicut Dominus Deus noster, qui in altis habitat: et humilia respicit in cælo et in terra– Who is like unto the Lord our God, Who dwells on High: and regards the things that are lowly in heaven and in earth” (Psalm 112:5-6).

The third antiphon is: “Rubum, quem viderat Moyses incombustum, conservatam agnovimus tuam laudabilem virginitatem: Dei Genetrix, intercede pro nobis – In the bush which Moses saw unconsumed, we acknowledge your admirable virginity preserved: Mother of God, intercede for us.” An Old Testament story is given to us to show us the prefigurement of Mary and her spotless, Immaculate self. She is the “domum Domini -- house of the Lord” which is mentioned in Psalm 121 that follows this antiphon. He Who cannot be contained, chose to be contained in her. He Who is spotless, dwelled in a spotless “house”.

The fourth antiphon is: “Germinavit radix Iesse, orta est stella Iacob: Virgo peperit Salvatorem: te laudamus, Deus noster – The root of Jesse has budded, a star has risen out of Jacob; a Virgin has borne the Savior: we praise You, our God.” This antiphon is soaked with Christmas images: the root of Jesse, David’s father, from that lineage the Savior would come, born of a Virgin. Psalm 126 follows with these words: “Nisi Dominus ædificaverit domum: in vanum laboraverunt qui ædificant eam – Unless the Lord builds the house, they labor in vain that build it” (Psalm 126 :1). God built the house in which He would dwell before entering into the world. He built it in order that this house would be a fitting dwelling-place for Him, one that is Immaculate. Mary is the new Ark of the Lord.

The fifth antiphon is: “Ecce, Maria genuit nobis Salvatorem, quem Ioannes videns exclamavit, dicens: Ecce Agnus Dei, ecce, qui tollit peccati mundi, alleluia – Behold, Mary has borne us the Savior, Who John beholding, exclaimed, Behold the Lamb of God, behold Him Who takes away the sins of the world, alleluia.” Christmas celebrates the birth of the Savior and in this antiphon we learn something of His future as the Lamb of God Who will take away our sins, the Light overcoming the darkness. Psalm 147 follows in which “Jerusalem” mystically represents the Church: “He has blessed the children within you, He has made peace within your borders” (Psalm 147:1-2).

The final antiphon appearing in Vespers of Our Lady for Christmastide is the antiphon for the Magnificat: “Magnum hereditatis mysterium: templum Dei factus est uterus nescientis virum: non est pollutus ex ea carnem assumens; omnes gentes venient, dicentes: Gloria tibi, Domine – A great mystery of inheritance: the womb of one that knew not man has become the temple of God; taking flesh of her He was not defiled; all nations shall come saying, Glory be to You, Lord.”

Let us all try to catch something of these immense thoughts. Let us prepare well to receive our Savior!

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Love and Truth Through the Centuries

Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI reflected on the birth of our Savior. He spoke of it as an “everlasting today” which “has come down into the fleeting today of the world.” Regardless of the conditions of our world “today,” our Lord has made it possible for us to live in an everlasting, peaceful “today”. Christ’s Light, Love and Truth has not been held prisoner in a moment of time but has spread through the centuries; and the Holy Father lists some examples of saints who have received our Savior’s gifts.
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In Jesus Christ, the Son of God, God Himself, God from God, became man. To Him the Father says: "You are My Son". God’s everlasting "today" has come down into the fleeting today of the world and lifted our momentary today into God’s eternal today. God is so great that He can become small. God is so powerful that He can make Himself vulnerable and come to us as a defenseless Child, so that we can love Him. God is so good that He can give up His Divine splendor and come down to a stable, so that we might find Him, so that His goodness might touch us, give itself to us and continue to work through us. This is Christmas: "You are My Son, this day I have begotten You". God has become one of us, so that we can be with Him and become like Him. As a sign, He chose the Child lying in the manger: this is how God is. This is how we come to know Him. And on every child shines something of the splendor of that "today", of that closeness of God which we ought to love and to which we must yield - it shines on every child, even on those still unborn.

Light means knowledge; it means truth, as contrasted with the darkness of falsehood and ignorance. Light gives us life, it shows us the way. But light, as a source of heat, also means love. Where there is love, light shines forth in the world; where there is hatred, the world remains in darkness. In the stable of Bethlehem there appeared the great Light which the world awaits. In that Child lying in the stable, God has shown His glory - the glory of love, which gives itself away, stripping itself of all grandeur in order to guide us along the way of love. The Light of Bethlehem has never been extinguished. In every age it has touched men and women, "it has shone around them". Wherever people put their faith in that Child, charity also sprang up - charity towards others, loving concern for the weak and the suffering, the grace of forgiveness. From Bethlehem a stream of Light, Love and Truth spreads through the centuries. If we look to the Saints - from Paul and Augustine to Francis and Dominic, from Francis Xavier and Teresa of Avila to Mother Teresa of Calcutta - we see this flood of goodness, this path of light kindled ever anew by the mystery of Bethlehem, by that God Who became a Child. In that Child, God countered the violence of this world with His own goodness. He calls us to follow that Child.

Among Christians, the word "peace" has taken on a very particular meaning: it has become a word to designate communion in the Eucharist. There Christ’s peace is present. In all the places where the Eucharist is celebrated, a great network of peace spreads through the world. The communities gathered around the Eucharist make up a kingdom of peace as wide as the world itself. When we celebrate the Eucharist we find ourselves in Bethlehem, in the "house of bread". Christ gives Himself to us and, in doing so, gives us His peace. He gives it to us so that we can carry the light of peace within and give it to others. He gives it to us so that we can become peacemakers and builders of peace in the world. And so we pray: Lord, fulfill your promise! Where there is conflict, give birth to peace! Where there is hatred, make love spring up! Where darkness prevails, let light shine! Make us heralds of your peace! Amen.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Creating Our Own Haven of Solitude

As we enter the final days of Advent here is a marvelous Carthusian meditation that brings deeper meaning to the birth of our Savior. It points out who we are as opposed to who we should be. It makes analogies by comparing interior stillness to “the cave at Bethlehem” while delineating that souls cluttered with concerns and worries are like “a crowded public place”. The writer points out that the Charterhouse or a Carthusian monastery is “a place where our Lord wants to be born anew.” Each of us must create that Charterhouse atmosphere in our living space – a place where we can go to be alone with our Lord. It is there where a pure soul will find Jesus communicating His joy to that soul. There are some tough pills to swallow in this writing because of our fallen nature, but the writer tells us, nevertheless, that “it is a question of cooperating with a supreme desire of God.” While this reflection may promote an examination of conscience, it is the realization of our faults that leads to a deeper understanding of God's love for us and the reason for Christmas.

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Whenever God wants to bring about the beginning of a new life, He prepares a sacred place, a haven of purity and silence, where His action can be welcomed unreservedly, safe from all interruption. All beginnings are thus undertaken in recollection and silence. We see this at Bethlehem. Jesus came to be born, not amidst the clamor of a city nor in a crowded public place, but in a mysterious cave, a sacred retreat carved in a rock. And hidden therein – a Virgin: the most chaste, the most silent, and the most humble of creatures. And it was in the heart of that Virgin, where no earthly desire penetrated, that God elected to give Himself to mankind.

Well, it is such analogous conditions as these that each of us must realize if we are to receive the life of grace, and assure our growth until Christ Himself lives in us. A Charterhouse is a place where our Lord wants to be born anew: it is a replica of the cave at Bethlehem, and is a mirror of Mary herself. It is a haven of solitude and silence, where our soul is set apart for God alone, and by the very fact invites Him to fulfill His highest work, which is to communicate His joy.

But a Charterhouse will not be that Virgin and Mother of the life of grace in us, unless we are faithful to its (and her) spirit. By recollection and detachment, we must do all we can to keep our purity of soul.

One of the first faults we are liable to commit against solitude is to remain attached to the world and to our family. No one could wish us to do anything but retain all our love for our parents and those dear to us: indeed, we ought to love them always with an even purer love. If they are in need or are suffering, we should suffer too. But we must learn to leave them to God. And if we suffer, we should do so with confidence and perfect abandonment, so much so that suffering unites us to God still more, instead of being a distraction turning us away from our vocation.

Another fault against solitude, which has even the appearance of a good intention, is to worry ourselves about others, for whom we are not responsible. We should – and must – aid those with whom we live, but spiritually; and we do so by being devoted to them, and ready to serve them, but avoiding all gossip and scandal, and above all always remaining ourselves united to our Lord. Then the gentle flame of charity will shed its light around us, and will contribute to maintain in our religious home that atmosphere of peace, which is a preparation for heaven, while consoling and sanctifying ourselves. Unfortunately, there is an interior talkativeness, which lies at the root of the exterior, and does as much harm. Instead of thinking of the reality of the divine Love Who invites us to serve Him in the present moment, we indulge in daydreams, we think of the past, of the future, of what we could do in the world, in circumstances that are purely imaginary.

Or we encourage over and over again thoughts that are critical of others, or that concern the management of the house. Or, again, we brood over our troubles. I know that interior silence is not easy, and it will always be imperfect. At the same time, we must apply ourselves to it with great patience. Our heart is so indiscreet; it is that which betrays us. If we could keep our heart still, the devil would be baffled, and temptations would find nothing in us to take hold of.

The object of our efforts to preserve our solitude and the spirit of recollection is not merely to assure our calm and preserve our balance; it is a question of cooperating with a supreme desire of God which He wants to realize in our soul, by giving birth therein to His Son. Be the life of a religious as humble and hidden as you will, the love which reigns in his soul is something for the whole of humanity. For the world has need of love, for love alone gives joy. And grace is of itself fruitful; it cannot burn within us without lighting up other souls.

May the Blessed Virgin, hidden and silent in the cave of Bethlehem, help us to imitate her in her recollectedness and purity; in her fidelity as spouse of the Holy Spirit, and in her generosity as the Mother of souls.

Monday, December 15, 2014

4th Sunday of Advent - December 21, 2014

First Reading Commentary
Nathan’s approval of David’s desire demonstrates that the prophets were not always divinely inspired by their actions.  David’s kingdom at that time was not yet fully established.  There would still be wars awaiting him and thus it would not have been wise to build a temple to identify his kingdom.  God’s plan instead to establish a house for David was for the purpose of securing David’s lineage to the kingly nobility of the future Messiah.  This house designed by God would endure forever. 

God says to David: “I will raise up your heir after you, sprung from your loins, and I will make his kingdom firm.”  Scholars have given this both an individual and collective meaning.  In terms of an individual meaning, it refers to David’s son, Solomon.  Collectively it refers to the entire Davidic dynasty including the Messiah. 

The temporal kingdom was realized by David’s descendants for a long time, sufficiently enough to verify the use of the word “forever”.  But the spiritual Kingdom of Jesus Christ will last until the end of time and be perfected in eternity.  Since we have the advantage of knowing that the Messiah did indeed come from the house of David, it’s interesting to reflect on something revealed in this Reading and consider how it may also be prophetic.  David’s complaint is that “the ark of God dwells in a tent.”  Moving forward to when the world was nearing the birth of its Lord and Savior, the Ark, better known as the Blessed Virgin Mary was carrying in her womb the New and Everlasting Covenant; but this Ark of God too was not living in royal conditions.  Joseph, Mary and the Fruit of her womb went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth into Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem to be enrolled according to a decree from Caesar Augustus.  When Mary gave birth to Jesus she wrapped Him in swaddling clothes and laid Him in a manger because there was no room at the inn (cf. Luke 2:1-7).  It’s hardly a setting any human mind would conceive to be fit for a king, especially the King of kings!     

Second Reading Commentary
This passage is the final three verses in Saint Paul’s Letter to the Romans.  Saint John Chrysostom tells us that Paul’s reference to the “mystery kept secret” is the mystery of Christ’s work of redemption.  “But now manifested” refers to the Incarnation of Christ and man’s redemption, formerly revealed to the prophets but now “made known to all nations,” in order to bring everyone to the “obedience” of the Gospel, by embracing the faith and doctrine of Christ. 

The Greek text is a bit complicated but can be broken down like this: He “Who can strengthen you, according to my gospel” which means the preaching of Jesus Christ.  Our Lord’s preaching is “the revelation of” a divine “mystery”.  That mystery is God’s plan for salvation which was “kept secret for long ages, but now manifested” through the Incarnation and made known by the apostles.  The preaching of the apostles spread to “all nations” because God’s plan for salvation includes everyone.  

Gospel Commentary
It is one of the most familiar stories in Sacred Scripture.  In the Rosary, this is the First Joyful Mystery: the Annunciation. 

The name “Miriam” or “Mary” is explained by Saint Jerome from different etymologies.  In Hebrew the name signifies “star of the sea,” and in Chaldaic, “lady.”  Mary is quite often referred to as “Our Lady” and some may remember the Latin hymn: “Ave Maris Stella - Hail Star of the Sea” which is sung at Vespers on most Feasts of Our Lady and daily at Vespers in Officium Parvum Beatæ Mariæ Virginis (The Little Office of the Blessed Virgin Mary).  Both interpretations admirably are fitting for our Blessed Mother, the glorious Queen of heaven. 

Saint Bernard says, “Let her name be never absent from your mouth; from your mouth let it constantly descend into your heart; and, that you may obtain the suffrage of her prayers, both in life and death, never depart from the example of her pious conversation.” 

“Hail, full of grace” means the greatest share of divine graces granted to any creature.  This translation agrees with the ancient Syriac and Arabic versions.  The Blessed Mother of God would not have been raised to this highest dignity, had not her soul been first prepared for it by the greatest share of divine graces. 

To dig a little deeper into this theologically, skeptics have asked, how could someone be born from parents who were not free from sin, that is, Mary from her parents, Saints Joachim and Anne, and yet be born without the stain of original sin, when Jesus Christ Who instituted the Sacrament of Baptism and Confession and freed us from our sins by His salvific act, has not yet entered the world?  First, when dealing with matters of God, logic and the natural order of things can at times be thrown out the window “for nothing will be impossible for God”.  Secondly and more specifically, Christ’s death and Resurrection, although it occurred in a moment of time, it is, more importantly, an eternal event.  That is how His Sacrifice is able to be re-presented at Mass.  At each and every Mass it is still that one and same Sacrifice.  Therefore, the fruits of this eternal event were granted to Mary ahead of time to prepare her to be the Mother of God, the highest of all dignities.  As perplexing as all this sounds, it was most likely very confusing for Mary as well since she pondered about the meaning of the greeting she received from the angel Gabriel.  She was equally confused as to how she could carry a Child in her womb if she is a Virgin. 

The brilliant mind of Saint Augustine sees something else in Mary’s response about having “no relations with a man”.  The great saint explains that these words from the Blessed Virgin would have been to no purpose had she not made a vow to God to live always a Virgin.  The angel tells her she shall conceive; but she insists upon her virginity, holding her purity in higher estimation than the promised dignity.  She did not doubt the truth of what the angel said, but she wished that it might not happen if it meant giving up her vowed virginity. 

With this thought from Saint Augustine, perhaps it can be said that since the angel explained to Mary that she would conceive by the power of the Holy Spirit, this indicates that God did not wish her to relinquish her virginity.  In God’s plan, then, most likely Saint Joseph is called to be not only the foster and adoptive father of Jesus, but also a guardian of Mary’s virginity.  Safe to say, when the angel Gabriel was finished with his words, Mary was still in the fog; but impressively in what can be considered a complete act of submission and also a lesson for us is that Mary, because her faith dictates that God is in charge, responds thus by saying: “May it be done to me according to your word.”  Just before that response is perhaps the one moment in human history where one could hear a pin drop from anywhere in the universe because all ears are waiting to hear Mary’s answer to God’s proposal.  After all, what was at stake was the salvation of humanity. 

There are things that occur in this life that simply are beyond comprehension.  Some of those occurrences are wonderful and some are tragic.  And since all the “Why’s” cannot be answered, we have to conform to Mary’s faith and say: “Fiat, fiat! -- So be it, so be it!” 

Being born without the stain of original sin is not a requirement for surrendering to God.  Saint Luke’s depiction of Mary’s commitment to total surrender is designed to show that abandoning our will for the will of God is an essential feature of the Kingdom of God.  And because the angel Gabriel conveys that of Christ’s “Kingdom there will be no end,” we are given an indication of something that is far greater than a temporal kingdom.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Extraordinary Purity of Heart

These wonderful thoughts about our Blessed Lady come from a monk, ascetic and writer of the Carthusian Order named, Ioannes Iustus Lanspergius. This is the Latinized name of John Gerecht of Landsberg. His name, however, most often appears simply as “Lanspergius.” He lived in the late fifteenth and early sixteenth century. He was born in Bavaria, Germany. He joined the Carthusian Order at twenty years of age after studying philosophy at the University of Cologne. After spending ten years in Cologne he was made Prior of the Charterhouse of Cantave. Along with his duties as Prior, he gave himself completely to God in prayer, asceticism, mysticism and writing. In this post, Lanspergius plunges deeper into Sacred Scripture, most specifically the scene of the Annunciation. We can see the mind of a contemplative at work in how this is written.

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The good and gracious Creator became intolerant in seeing man fall into the abyss. Overcome by inexpressible mercy, He sent an angel, chosen among the most worthy, the archangel Gabriel – to a town in Galilee called Nazareth.

The angel came into the house which was inhabited by the parents of the future Mother of God, the Blessed Virgin, who had now returned from the temple, and was betrothed to Saint Joseph.

The angel then appeared to the Virgin. And what a Virgin! A Virgin in body and having the pure soul of an angel; a Virgin whose beauty is so bright, that the King of heaven, the Son of the Most High, would have her for His Mother, choosing her from the boundless crowd of humanity.

The angel came to greet the Virgin and bring a message from God – an unheard of message – no words of this kind had ever been brought to the earth until that day.

It is written that the angel came to her. But where did He enter? Mary had withdrawn to her father’s residence, sitting in her small bedroom, totally absorbed in entreating God to free humanity. She was immersed in divine contemplation and was completely suspended in God as her spirit remained closely united to Him constantly, due to the extraordinary purity of her heart. For as often as she wished, she could move towards the Almighty through contemplation.

And so, there she sat, earnestly beseeching the Lord to send into the land the Christ, the long-awaited Messiah. The angel enters into the room where Mary is devoted only to God, by herself, absorbed. Gabriel turns with the utmost respect towards her who is about to become the Mother of God, and greets her: Hail, full of grace.

Hail, full of grace. You are free from every stain, even the slightest shadow. You’re so perfectly beautiful and Immaculate that nothing in you has ever displeased God.

Grace has invaded you and you possess it completely. The Lord is with you, in you the Trinity dwells, and not in an ordinary manner, but in a special way. The Lord is pleased with you, He created you and enjoys dwelling in you always, enamored by your beauty. He has completely enveloped you, protecting you from the invasion of the enemy. The Lord is always with you, He strengthens you, surrounds you with His grace which will never abandon you.

Almighty God has prepared in you a worthy and adequate dwelling for His Son, Who wished to be born in your lap.

Blessed are you among women, among all creatures. The sweetness of God you have received with so many blessings that the Omnipotent Creator decreed to be your Son. The Immense One desired to be born like a child, thanks to you.

Blessed are you among women, you who enjoy the honor of virginity and are the Mother of the Almighty.

Unique among all women you have conceived without the stain of sin and without suffering. This conception made you even more pure and more holy.

You have favor with God. I know that your bewilderment and your fear are not from defects, but are the fragrant flowers of your virtues. With certainty you have found favor with God, appreciated and likened unto Him beyond measure.

Your eminent virtues, your continuous prayer, and the fire of your love has asked for and obtained His grace.

Blessed are you, Mary, for you have received not the grace of men, but of God.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

A Virtuous Woman Has Been Found

Many changes occurred in the Roman Breviary during the 1900’s starting at 1911. The feast of the Immaculate Conception used to be celebrated with an Octave. This permission first began with Pope Clement IX when he granted this favor to France, and later that permission was extended to the universal Church by Pope Innocent XII, although not privileged - meaning that other feasts were also celebrated within those eight days. This lasted until changes were made in 1955. For that eight day period, in the early twentieth-century Roman Breviary, most of those days at the hour of Matins for the Second Nocturn contained extracts from Ineffabilis Deus, the Apostolic Constitution issued by Pope Pius IX in December of 1854 which declared that “in the first instance of her conception,” Mary “was preserved free from all stain of original sin.” In fact, also in that Apostolic Constitution, the Holy Father wrote: “Moreover, Our said Predecessors with great joy ordained that the Feast of the said Conception should be observed as of the same rank as that of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin, and appointed that it should be kept with an Octave throughout the whole Church.” Well, those days may be gone but some interesting reflections were contained in the Breviary during those eight days at the hour of Matins in the Third Nocturn. Today would have been Day Three within the Octave and what was in the Roman Breviary is this Homily from Saint Bernard of Clairvaux.

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Rejoice, father Adam, and you even more mother Eve, you who are the source of all, and the ruin of all, and the unhappy cause of their ruin before you gave them birth. Be comforted both in your Daughter, and such a Daughter; but chiefly you, O woman, of whom the first evil came, and who has cast your slur upon all women. The time has come for the slur to be taken away, and for the man to have nothing to say against the woman. At first, when he unwisely began to make an excuse, he did not scruple to throw the blame upon her, saying: The woman whom You have given to be with me, she gave me from the tree, and I ate. Wherefore, O Eve, betake yourself to Mother Mary, betake yourself to your Daughter; let the Daughter answer for the mother; let her take away her mother's reproach; let her make up to her father for her mother's fault for if man is fallen by means of a woman, it is by means of Woman that he is raised up again.

What did you say, O Adam? The woman whom You have given to be with me, she gave me from the tree, and I ate. These are wrathful words, by which you would rather magnify than diminish your offence. Nevertheless, Wisdom has defeated your malice. God asked you that He might find in you an occasion of pardon, but, in that He did not find it, He has sought and found it in the Treasure of His own mercy. One woman answers for another; the wise for the foolish; the lowly for the proud; for her that gave to you from the tree of death, another that gives to you to taste from the tree of life; for her that brought you the bitter food of sin, another that gives you from the sweet fruits of righteousness. Wherefore accuse the woman no more, but speak in thanksgiving, and say: Lord, the Woman whom You have given to me, she has given to me from the tree of life, and I have eaten; and it is in my mouth sweeter than honey, for thereby You have quickened me. Behold, it was for this that the angel Gabriel was sent to the Virgin, to the most admirable of women, a Woman more wonderful than all women, the restorer of those that went before, and the one that quickens those that come after her.

Is it not of this your Daughter, O Adam, that God spoke of when He said to the serpent: I will put enmity between you and the Woman? And if you will still doubt that He speaks of Mary, hear what follows: She shall bruise your head. Who won this conquest but Mary? She brought to nothing all the wiles of Satan, whether for the pollution of her body or the injury of her soul. Was it not of her that Solomon spoke of when he said: Who shall find a virtuous Woman? He had read that God had promised that the enemy, who had prevailed by means of a woman, was by a Woman to be overthrown, and he believed. But he wondered greatly, and said: Who shall find a virtuous Woman? That is to say: If our salvation, and the bringing back of that which is lost, and the final triumph over the enemy, is in the hands of a Woman, it must be that a virtuous Woman has been found, prepared to work in that matter.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Free from All Shadow of Self

“Meek among mankind” is how our Blessed Lady is described in the praises of her evening Office. Everything that Mary is comes from God and reflects God as in a mirror. And like us, she is a creature which should make her example compelling to meditate upon and deeply immerse ourselves in. Meekness is the topic of this Carthusian monk's reflection and is most appropriate for the season of Advent as well as for the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception.

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Virgo singularis, inter omnes mitis (Virgin all excelling, meek among mankind) . . . It is thus that Mary is described in the hymn we say every day (Ave Maris Stella, Vespers of Our Lady), and it is concerning her meekness that I would meditate with you for a few moments.

The Gospel tells us that the meek shall inherit the earth; but it also reminds us that the Kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and that the violent shall bear it away (cf. Matthew 11:12). The paradox disappears when we realize that in this spiritual warfare we must be meek towards others, but violent in the unhesitating promptitude with which we answer the call of divine love. It is exactly the opposite of what the unspiritual man does. He is brutal towards others, but interiorly without any zeal for justice or passion for truth. The violence of the spiritual man is inseparable from his meekness, which is quickly lost if he does not know how to meet with a categorical refusal the lie which hides itself in all excuses or softness towards oneself. To dismiss all interior discussion with a Yes or No, that resoluteness which our Lord recommends to us, is the very first condition that must be fulfilled if the soul is to disentangle itself and be given the marvelous grace of meekness.

This virtue which distinguished our Blessed Lady among all women, cannot but be a most necessary virtue. Note first that Mary’s meekness is, as it were, a reflection of God’s. Mary is, indeed, a pure mirror, so free from all shadow of self, that the divine Essence finds its perfection fully reflected in her humility. That is why the Immaculate Virgin can be an object of contemplation, since her purity so mirrors that of God that we see Him, Who is Pure Act in her.

For meekness is a disposition truly divine. Violence proceeds from an authority conscious of its weakness. God has no need to break us in order to impose His will; His meekness is only another name for His all-powerfulness. Mary, on the other hand, is all-obedient, and it is in her total abandonment that she comes very close to God’s omnipotence. To abandon all pretensions to self-love without a struggle; to consent quietly to all that is asked of us: it is this that makes us resemble Mary, and allows us to partake of her graciousness and power. For God refuses us nothing – provided we abandon ourselves to Him with all our heart.

Meekness towards creatures is the result of patience and of respect for them. It has been said of meekness that it is the crown of the Christian virtues: indeed almost more than a virtue. It is, indeed, a unique grace, which penetrates one’s whole being, and influences one’s whole conduct; it even extends its influence to beings lower than man, to things inanimate. A meek person does even the simplest things in a different way from those who are not meek. Wisdom is meek; so too is understanding, since one must necessarily respect an object if one is to understand it. What is more, meekness implies sympathy; it wrests their secret from beings who would withdraw into themselves in face of impulsiveness as they would from violence. Meekness is both virginal and maternal; without it the approach to souls can never be deep or effective.

We have said that meekness is the fruit of patience and of respect – of patience above all. A soul will not be meek unless it is firmly resolved repeatedly to forgo its rights, and to suffer continuously, at times cruelly. On the other hand, it is true that meekness disarms our adversaries, and robs suffering of its venom. Our suffering, for the most part, comes from revolt, from a want of adaptability and abandonment.

It is true that we must do violence to ourselves if we would cease to be violent; but in a manner more general and profound, the respect and patience which, in imitation of Mary and even of God Himself, we must acquire in our relations with others, we have need of also towards ourselves. We need much patience with our own soul, to say nothing of the body. All the natural energy in the world will not enable us to change to any appreciable degree the character, unsatisfactory as it is in general, which our nature and upbringing have provided for us (cf. Matthew 6:27). But anyone who recognizes himself frankly for what he is, who by that fact alone is freed from the temptation to criticize others, and who in spite of his self-knowledge does not omit to renew his effort every day, keeping his eyes fixed on God, persevering for God’s sake alone and counting solely on His bounty – such a one, I say, does more than grow better; he leaves and abandons himself to God, to Whom such loving humility gives more glory than all success. Each one of us must respect his soul, remembering that it comes from God and belongs lovingly to Him; welcoming the action of the Holy Spirit in it, whatever form that action may take. The soul is so delicate that only God can handle it.

Let us, then, beg our Blessed Lady something of her meekness. It is she who shields us for God, and makes us chaste in the highest sense: that is to say, free from all resistance, awaiting the coming of our Spouse.

3rd Sunday of Advent - December 14, 2014

First Reading Commentary
The prophet Isaiah here is speaking of himself and his mission of consolation in which he foretells a future glory for Zion; therefore, prophetically his words point to Christ, thus making Isaiah a figure of the Messiah.  Jesus is the fulfillment of these words and proclaims them in Saint Luke’s Gospel when He reads the prophet’s words in a synagogue (cf. Luke 4:16-21). 

“A year of favor” refers to the Jubilee year in which slaves were set free.  “A day of vindication” is the judgment that will come on those who oppressed God’s people; and so, the freedom of slaves and the judgment of oppressors represent Christ’s work of redemption. 

Isaiah expresses his joy over the prospect of salvation as if it has already been attained.  As a figure of Christ, Isaiah represents the community as wearing “a robe of salvation and wrapped in a mantle of justice” which is compared to the diadem of a bridegroom and the jewels of a bride.  The joy of salvation, then, is being compared to the joy of the wedding day.  God is faithful, therefore, salvation will come as surely “as the earth brings forth plants and a garden makes its growth spring up.”
Second Reading Commentary
It’s difficult to believe that Saint Paul would call for such a demanding Christian life: one of constant rejoicing, ceaseless prayer and refraining from evil unless Paul himself displayed these qualities.  Maintaining the standard of a good Christian life is very difficult in the world in which we live but cheerfulness is a characteristic of true virtue.  Authentic Christian joy is unshakeable and permanent.  Certainly we all experience sadness from time-to-time as it is a part of life; but Christians endure sadness, sorrow, and strife with Christian joy which means that in suffering trust is given to God’s care and promises. 

To “quench the Spirit” is to oppose the interior gifts of the Holy Spirit, which are His graces.  “Prophetic utterances” are the Holy Spirit’s exterior gifts.  To “test everything” means to be prudent and cautious so as not to be deceived. 

We may seek an intimate union with God but we have an enemy seeking to separate us from God.  Because of original sin we are not immune from deception.  Human beings can deceive and be deceived, but the Spirit of God can neither deceive us nor be deceived. 
Gospel Commentary
It might get a little confusing if we were all named “John” but aren’t each of us called to “testify to the Light?”  This is evangelization and the call of every Christian.  Saint John the Baptist is a perfect example of what our response should be to the greatness that God calls us to.  John was quick to point out that “he was not the Light.”  John would also say elsewhere that “He [Jesus] must increase but I must decrease” (John 3:30). 

It would be very easy for us to let our egos soar because of the wonders that God does through us.  Recognize, though, that this is the tempter saying: “Look at what you can do; you don’t need God.”  Ah, but the reality is: we can’t do it without God.  Jesus Himself assures of this when He said: “Without Me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). 

“The Jews from Jerusalem” were priests and Levites who most likely were sent and deputed by the Sanhedrin to ask of John the Baptist, who was held in great esteem, if he was their Messiah.  They knew by the predictions of the prophets that the Messiah was to come about that time.  John declared to them he was not.  To their next question, if he was not Elijah?  He answered, he was not because in person he was not, though our Savior (see Matthew 11:14) says he was Elijah, but in spirit and office only.  Their third question was, if he was a prophet?  He answered, no.  Yet Jesus (see Matthew 11:9) tells us, John was a prophet, and more than a prophet. 

In ordinary acceptation, prophets were called such because they foretold of things to come.  John then, with truth and humility, could say he was not a prophet because he was not sent to foretell the coming of the Messiah; but instead to point him out as already here and present among the people of God. 

When John the Baptist says, “There is one among you Whom you do not recognize,” he is not suggesting that Jesus was at the present time standing amongst them, but these words may be understood in two different ways.  In regard to His Divinity, Jesus was always by His Divine Presence among them; or in regard to His Humanity, He lived among their countrymen.  Once a year, however, Jesus was physically present among them because He was accustomed to go up to Jerusalem on the festival of the Passover.  Imagine what must’ve been going through the minds of John’s hearers.  Who would even be enthused at the thought of untying another man’s sandal strap?  And yet, what would go through your mind if you were told you’re not even worthy enough to untie this mysterious Man’s sandal strap?

Sunday, December 7, 2014

The Holy Baptizer

Saint Gregory, Pope and Doctor of the Church gave a homily at the Basilica of Saint John the Baptist during Advent. This particular part extracted from it is about John the Baptist. It kind of prods us to examine who we are and what we do to prepare the way for Jesus: Am I a voice that precedes the Word or am I a voice which proudly attempts to overpower the Word? Do I try to make crooked paths straight? If I use my gifts well, do I take credit for them or am I prepared to proclaim that there is “One mightier than I?” Do I really try to get out of the way of myself and let Christ increase in my life? These and other questions are intimated for self-examination of conscience.

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John the Baptist, being asked who he was, replied saying: “I am a voice of one crying in the wilderness,” who is called a “voice” by the prophet, because he preceded the Word. What the voice was to cry is made plain: “Prepare the way of the Lord and make straight His paths.” Everyone that preaches true faith and good works, what does he do but prepare the way of the Lord so that He may come into the hearts of hearers, and may make straight the path for God, forming right dispositions within them by the words of exhortations, so that this power of pardon may enter in there, and the light of truth shine there.

“Every valley shall be filled and every mountain and hill brought low.” What is here meant by valleys unless the humble, and by the hills and mountains the proud? At the Coming of the Redeemer, therefore, the valleys shall be filled, the mountains and hills brought low, according to His Word: “Everyone that exalts himself shall be humbled, and he that humbles himself shall be exalted.”

As water falls away from the mountain, so the words of truth forsake the mind of the proud. But springs well up in the vales because the minds of the humble accept the words of prophecy. We already behold, we already look upon the valleys abounding in corn, because the mouths of those who are mild and gentle and who seem to the world contemptible, are now filled with the food of truth.

Because they had seen that he was endowed with rare holiness, the people began to believe that John the Baptist was that high and solid mountain of which it had been written: “And it came to pass in the last days, that the mountain of the house of the Lord, shall be prepared in the top of the mountains.” For they began to think that he was the Christ, as the Gospel relates. But unless that same John was a valley in himself, he would not have been filled with the Holy Spirit; who, that he might show who he truly was, said: “There comes One mightier than I, the latchet of Whose shoes I am not worthy to stoop down and loose.”

“He must increase but I must decrease.” Here we must ask in what manner Christ increased, and in what manner John decreased. In the minds of the people Christ increased, because He came to be acknowledged for that which He was; and John was decreased because he ceased to be thought that which he was not. John did not change, but remained steadfast in holiness, because he remained humble in his heart, while many in like circumstances have fallen away because in their vanity they had become blown up through some vain notion.

“The crooked ways shall be made straight and the rough ways plain.” Crooked ways become straight when the hearts of sinners, twisted by evil, conform to the way of righteousness. And rough ways are changed to smooth when cruel and wrathful men turn to the mildness of clemency, through the infusion of heavenly grace.

“And all flesh shall see the salvation of God.” Since all flesh means every man, and in this life every man cannot see the salvation God, which is Christ, where then does the prophet in this sentence turn his prophetic vision unless towards the day of the last judgment? Then, with opened eyes, in the presence of the adoring angels, and of the apostles seated there, Christ will appear upon His Throne of Majesty, and all, the elect and the reprobate, shall behold Him; the elect that they may without end enjoy the possession of their reward, the reprobate to grieve forever in the torment of retribution.