25 December 2010

The Holy Family

First Reading, Sirach 3:2-6, 12-14
The Book of Sirach was formerly known as the Book of Ecclesiasticus; and before that in the early Greek and Syriac versions, it was known as the Wisdom-Book of Ben Sirach. The Old Latin version came from North Africa in the third century which was left virtually untouched by Saint Jerome when he did the pious work of writing the Latin Vulgate. Although the Latin and the English versions of this book both come from Greek sources, there are some noteworthy translational differences. In this Reading, for example, the verse: "Whoever honors his father atones for sins" in the Latin Vulgate translates as: "He that loves God shall obtain pardon for his sins." Obviously there are some misconceptions as to whether the author was referring to God or a biological father. It's an interesting difference when examining this prophetically because Jesus came to do the will of His heavenly Father but grew up in society as the son of Joseph. In the year 1979, however, the Nova Vulgata (New Vulgate) was promulgated and published by Libreria Editrice Vaticana; and this new edition of the Latin Vulgate is more in line with the biological father rendering. These contradictions are not anything to be concerned about when understanding that "father" in every sense of Christian usage is ordained by God, our heavenly Father. It is God Who forgives sins and it is also God Who gave us the Commandment: "Honor your father". It is a spiritual Father and/or priest, who, acting in Persona Christi, is able to absolve sins. The father we honor today, Saint Joseph, was not God the Father, a Catholic priest, or Christ's biological father. Imagine how humble this saintly man must have been to be given the heavenly assignment of living under the same roof with a sinless wife and her sinless Son. This Reading is perhaps a more detailed explanation of the Commandment: "Honor your father and your mother". It offers wise instructions to children on how to esteem their parents. It also lists the rewards for obedience to these instructions. If you have an appreciation for sacred music this Reading is God's composition for family life. When followed according to His plan, it produces a beautiful harmony.

Second Reading, Colossians 3:12-21
Saint John Chrysostom takes notice that in Saint Paul's wisdom he writes that love is the bond of perfection. Commenting on this he adds: "The apostle says not 'love is the crown', but something greater, 'the bond of perfection', the latter being more necessary than the former; for a crown is a heightening of perfection, but a bond is a holding together of the components of perfection." And certainly all those qualities listed by Paul in the preceding verses are landmarks on the road to perfection. The Peace of Christ is the final Authority of our hearts. If His Peace truly reigns in our hearts, then all that is deemed unsuitable of our calling as Christians will be quickly evicted from our hearts. The word of Christ is His teachings; and if those teachings richly dwell in us, then the richness or abundance of them will flow into teaching and admonishing one another as our worship and love of the Almighty will rise up in our hearts. Singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs can be translated to mean "liturgy", in both the Mass and the Liturgy of the Hours. The advice to do everything in the Name of the Lord Jesus could greatly help our personal examination of conscience, for to do anything in His Name requires first discernment to determine if the task or deed would be pleasing to Him. The remainder of this Reading is optional and may not be proclaimed at the Mass you attend because it tends to raise a few eyebrows. But it really doesn't have the dictatorial tone that many give it. After reading through the duties of wives, husbands and children, sadly what has been excluded here is the end result which is: "Knowing that you shall receive of the Lord the reward of inheritance" (Colossians 3:24). In order to understand this more fully, it's best to go to Ephesians where Saint Paul writes similar words. He writes: "Husbands, love your wives, as Christ also loved the Church, and delivered Himself up for it" (Ephesians 5:25). Men, this is a tall order. In the Sacrament of Matrimony a husband must understand that he has been called to love, care, honor, sacrifice and, if necessary, even die for his wife. In other words, since marriage is a sacrament a husband is called to do the things that Christ willingly did and continues to do for His Bride, the Church. Saint John Chrysostom appeals to husbands when he says: "You have seen the measure of obedience; hear also the measure of love. Would you have your wife obedient to you, as the Church is to Christ? Take then yourself the same provident care for her, as Christ takes for the Church." In Genesis we read: "Wherefore a man shall leave father and mother and shall cleave to his wife; and they shall be two in one flesh" (Genesis 2:24). This was reiterated by Saint Paul in Ephesians 5:31. This verse indicates equality and should soften the imperious tone that many see in this Reading. And certainly the Sacrament of Baptism confers equality. Children are to obey their parents as this is pleasing to the Lord. And finally, Christian parents should raise their children in a Christocentric environment because our children will surely face challenges that could easily discourage them; and they will need to know and experience the Peace that only Jesus can give. Of course, our model for married life and family life is the Holy Family, the honorees of this weekend's liturgy.

Gospel, Saint Matthew 2:13-15, 19-23
During a visit to Ireland in 1979, Pope John Paul II offered these words: "Dear fathers and mothers, believe in your vocation, that beautiful vocation of marriage and parenthood which God has given to you. Believe that God is with you - for all parenthood in heaven and on earth takes its name from Him. Do not think that anything you will do in life is more important than to be a good Christian father and mother. The future of the Church, the future of humanity depends in great part on parents and on the family life that they build in their homes." On this Feast of the Holy Family what is placed before us is the model for marriage and family life. As gruesome as it may sound, there is a level of comfort in knowing that the Holy Family endured a great deal of trials and suffering. Marriage and family life requires work on a daily basis and it would be very difficult to relate to a model family if there's no evidence of a struggle. In this Gospel story, Joseph and Mary had to flee because Herod wanted to kill their Child. One underlying theme here is the trust this family had in God. In this story and other Gospel stories which focus on Christ's pre-birth and childhood years, we see this family forced to endure a handful of hardships; and yet there is not one single word recorded in Scripture that was spoken by Saint Joseph - no bickering, no complaints. He did what he had to do for his family and trusted that God would see them through it. And it certainly helps to have the support of Mary, who, needless to say, shared Joseph's trust in the Almighty. The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that the Holy Family's departure from Egypt recalls the exodus and presents Jesus as the definitive Liberator of God's people (cf. CCC 530). Pope John Paul II said the future of the Church in great part depends on the family life that we build in our homes; and perhaps we could extend that to also mean the family life we build together in our parish home.

22 December 2010

Welcoming the Light through Our Lady

In the Divine Office and Our Lady’s Office, the antiphons sort of pave the way or prepare our Christological understanding of the Psalms or Canticles which are to be sung or recited. Advent is a time of preparation to welcome the Light of the world and really is 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! A Merry Christmas to all!

20 December 2010

A Haven of Solitude and Silence

The following was offered in chapter to the monks by Dom Jean-Baptist Porion on the Vigil of Christmas.

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.

18 December 2010

Fourth Sunday of Advent

First Reading, Isaiah 7:10-14
If you're a student of the ancient biblical languages, this is the type of Reading that could cause you to abruptly abandon your studies and decide that your native tongue is quite sufficient for scriptural studies. This Reading has been and continues to be a source of theological debate; and the topic always seems to pop up around this time every year in the media. The problem is that the ancient Hebrew word used here for "virgin" also could mean "young woman". Supporters of the Virgin Birth obviously like the "virgin" translation and equally obvious is that "young woman" is the preference of those who deny the Virgin Birth and the Divinity of Jesus. The Hebrew word in question is "almah" which more precisely means "unmarried maiden" which has led to the translation of "virgin" because of the strict ancient Hebrew moral code. At the heart of the debate, though, is the Hebrew word "betulah" which more accurately means "virgin". "Betulah" is used several times in Isaiah which naturally raises the question of why it wasn't used in this passage. Absent from this English translation proclaimed at American liturgies is the word "behold". In the ancient texts as well as in various modern translations the announcement of a son named Emmanuel is preceded by the word "behold". And "behold" in ancient usage is designed to demand your attention because something of great importance is about to be announced. This is some added ammo for believers of the Virgin birth because "Emmanuel", although popularly translated as "God with us", in Hebrew usage implies "God's omnipotent aid" and thus the "son" referenced in this Reading seems to be the source of deliverance. In this coming weekend's Gospel, the writer, Saint Matthew, explains to his readers that Christ was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit and makes use of this prophecy from Isaiah to show that it has been fulfilled. Matthew may have had first hand knowledge that Jesus was born of Mary who was a Virgin. Minimally, the story of the Virgin Birth was told to him; but perhaps more important is his use of this prophecy. If the author of Matthew's Gospel is the apostle Matthew, then that may give us a clue as to why he used this prophecy from Isaiah. Matthew, also known as Levi, was employed by the Romans as a tax collector. As an employee of the Romans, he most likely had some knowledge of the Latin language and if he's a writer of the New Testament, most assuredly he was knowledgeable in the Greek language. In Greek, the Hebrew word "almah" translates as "virgin". In Latin, "almah" translates not only as "virgin", "young woman" and "unmarried maiden", but also has the distinction of meaning "holy woman". This is not true of the Hebrew word "betulah". Is there any woman more deserving of this distinction than Mary? Laying all of this aside, we are a people of faith and most of the truths we cling to in our faith are not supported by indisputable evidence. We walk by faith, see with the eyes of faith and trust our faith; and it is this faith of ours which we boldly profess in the Creed. It doesn't matter how many articles, books or documentaries dispute the authenticity of Jesus Christ; we as faithful Christians know that if death couldn't eliminate Him two-thousand years ago - nothing else will ever succeed because He is Almighty God.

Second Reading, Romans 1:1-7
This is one of those Readings where it behooves us to prepare for Mass by looking over the Readings ahead of time because if during Mass is the first time you hear this Reading, you would be fortunate to comprehend it. This is the beginning of Saint Paul's letter to the Romans in which he makes use of the Jewish, Greek and Roman custom of beginning correspondence by including a sender [Paul, an apostle], an addressee [to all the beloved of God in Rome], and a greeting [Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ]. Paul does break away from tradition, however, by filling up space with Christian thoughts and ideas in between the sender, addressee and greeting; and he may have been the first to do this. What's most important about this letter is that it contains the basics of early Christian teachings: 1) The Gospel is the fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecies. 2) Jesus descended from David and is the Son of God. 3) Jesus Christ was resurrected from the dead. Paul expresses his allegiance to Christ by calling himself a slave. He also makes it clear that his apostleship comes from Jesus. And finally, he proclaims the purpose of his apostleship: To bring about the obedience of faith among the Gentiles, who are called to belong to Jesus Christ. Paul was not one to back down from adversity and what he doesn't do in this Reading is offer proof that Jesus is from the lineage of David which most likely means he was unaware of anyone questioning it. Of course, what Paul wrote to the Romans as far as what they're called to be is not exclusive to the inhabitants of ancient Rome; we are all called to belong to Jesus Christ, called to be among the beloved of God, and called to be holy.

Gospel, Saint Matthew 1:18-24
Saint Joseph exhibits exemplary sanctity. He surely felt betrayed before he knew that the Holy Spirit was the Source of this Child, and yet he had no intentions of humiliating Mary or subjecting her to public scrutiny. There's nothing in the text that suggests that Mary had any inkling as to what Joseph's intentions were, and so, we might conclude that Joseph even spared Mary's feelings by not divulging his own inner emotions. This Gospel is preceded by the genealogy of Christ and is careful not to express that Joseph begot Jesus: "Jacob begot Joseph, the husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus, Who is called Christ" (Saint Matthew 1:16). Since that verse could leave newcomers to the Jesus story scratching their heads, the text of this weekend's Gospel explains the circumstances. Joseph's appearance in this Gospel is apparent for two reasons: First, to show his legal paternity which justifies his part in the genealogy; and secondly, to show his virginal relationship with Mary and his ultimate conviction of the miraculous conception. In ancient Jewish law, betrothal honored the status of husband and wife. Conceiving a child during this period was legitimate but the marriage was considered incomplete until the husband formally took his bride into his home; and the husband was free to do this at any time. It's assumed that Joseph was unaware of Mary's condition until after she returned from visiting Elizabeth (cf. Saint Luke 1:39-56) but before he took her into his home. It's unclear as to how Joseph found out about Mary's condition. Since Joseph had decided to quietly divorce Mary, that's pretty clear evidence he was unwilling to acknowledge the Child as his own. It was his supernatural dream which changed his course of action. This Child, although not biologically his, was now his more than any other man could lay claim to because Jesus was the miraculously conceived Child of Joseph's betrothed. The name Jesus or Yeshua means "Yahweh is Salvation" and the text is clear that the purpose of His birth is to save us from our sins.

16 December 2010

Simplicity of Heart and Soul

Today on the Carthusian calendar is the feast of Blessed Guglielmo da Fenoglio. His name in English most often appears as William of Fenoli or William of Fenol. An English-language publication on Carthusian saints written by a Carthusian monk shares the following about Blessed William:

William was born in the early twelfth century, in the township of Monferrato, in the diocese of Alba, in Northern Italy. His family was no doubt an ordinary, but very devout family. He was drawn to solitude and did in fact become a hermit. We may think that his life of prayer as a hermit deeply united him to God. However, a woman of ill repute came to disturb him in his hermitage. He was able to resist her temptations, but afterwards he realized that he needed the protection of a cloister.

So he took the road to the nearby Charterhouse of our Lady of Cazotto, Asti, and asked to be admitted as a brother. As Brother William, he became an outstanding member of the community. He faithfully followed the observance of the Rule. He looked upon his superiors only with the eyes of faith and was always disposed to obey them immediately. The virtue by which he shone the most was that of simplicity. “If the eminent practice of virtue is admirable when joined to the splendor of doctrine, better still is its charm when it has for its company the ingenuity, the candor, the simplicity of soul. This simplicity must serve as the supreme wisdom especially for those called to live in the obscurity of the cloister” (Statement of the Postulator). How well Saint Bruno’s words to the lay brothers of the Grande Chartreuse apply to William:

“As regards you lay monks, brothers so close to my heart, I have only this to say: My soul glorifies the Lord, since I can perceive the glories of His mercy toward you from the account of your beloved Father and Prior, who boasts a great deal about you and rejoices over you. I share in this joy, since God in His power never ceases to inscribe on your hearts, however little education you may have, not only love, but understanding, of His holy law. For you show by your lives what it is you really love, and what you know. That is to say, when you are careful and zealous to observe a genuine obedience, conceived not only as the carrying out of God’s commands, but as the original key to the spiritual life and its final stamp of authenticity, demanding as it does deep humility and outstanding patience, as well as sincere love for the Lord and our brothers, then it is clear that you are gathering with relish no less than the most delectable and life-giving fruits of Holy Scripture.”

His simplicity of heart was a great preparation for contemplation. His piety focused on Christ crucified and he could not think of the Passion of our Lord without becoming deeply afflicted. And so, freed from all fear and earthly plans, his only desire was for Eternity, preparing himself for it with constancy until his death, which occurred around the year 1200.

He was buried in the cloister cemetery of the Charterhouse, but God let it emphatically be known that He wanted him to be buried at the gatehouse, outside the enclosure, so that the faithful could come to pilgrimage to his tomb. It is this popular veneration century after century, with accompanying miracles, which are the proof of the sanctity of this humble brother of whom we know so little. Pope Saint Pius V authorized the transfer of his relics in 1568, and Pope Blessed Pius IX authorized in 1862 the veneration of Brother William, whose body was still incorrupt.

13 December 2010

Temporal Things

Temporal goods say: ‘If God cures us of the malady of corruption, what will you do? Consider in what, when you actually use us, we make you better, or what you hope for from us in the future. You have tried us. What then? Do you wish to be changed into us, or to change us into you? What do we have in common? (cf. Saint Matthew 8:29). Why do you grieve at our going? We wished to perish at the Lord's good pleasure rather than to stay at your cupidity. No thanks give we to you for this love you bear us; rather we smile at you as at a fool. For whom above all should we obey, God or you? Say “you” if you dare. About the only role you have to play is, by devouring us, to turn us into bits of rottenness. This is your contribution, this is what you can do: to have by your offices your hunger for us hastily pass; for it is not in you to make it stay. This is your pursuit, this your happiness, that you lack not our vile selves to which you devotedly succumb, while the devil through them corrupts and debauches you, not without his own great delight and joy at your deception and ruin. O image of God, is it in this that you are like God? Is it thus that God makes? He is not subject to inducement, not to force’.

Again, temporal things say: ‘Is it we you use freely? Are you not drawn by us to will at all, or to nil? Do not I, cold, a passing and insensate thing, force you to wish warmth? So for the rest; see if you can not wish warmth when cold pinches. Therefore, you are our slave’.

If rottenness, loathsome and not to be named, when felt in the flesh, so delights and ravishes the soul, what will the greatest good do?

Experience excites affection by attraction or repulsion. Although your strength lie in temporal goods, and you are at peace, you are nevertheless exposed to harm from mice, lice, fleas and flies.

You desire peace for three years (cf. Saint Luke 13:7). Why not rather for years without end, and eternal? Your brother who has quit his reason offends you, and you are in a rage; mice do you ruin and you rage not, because they are without reason.

Towards him who does you an injury show yourself affable rather than aloof; to him whom you have injured, humble and ashamed.

~ Meditations of Guigo, Prior of the Charterhouse ~

11 December 2010

Gaudete Sunday

First Reading, Isaiah 35:1-6a, 10
The Third Sunday of Advent is traditionally known as "Gaudete Sunday" – "gaudete" is a Latin word meaning "rejoice". Advent is actually considered a penitential season which originally involved a forty day fast leading up to Christmas. It wasn't until the ninth century that Advent was reduced to a four week season. The penitential atmosphere of Advent is deliberately sidetracked on the Third Sunday because we are getting ever so near to the birth of our Savior and the liturgy calls us to rejoice, thus the Church changes the color of its vestments on that Sunday. This First Reading, of course, prophesies the coming of Christ and is gushing with rejoicing. When you consider a desert and parched land in a biblical text, it's normal to think of the area of the Middle East and most especially that which was inhabited by the people of Israel. Thus the exultation of the desert is referring to the Jews. The steppe, however, is generally a grass covered area of land – not what you would normally think of in the biblical history of the Jewish people. Thus the steppe rejoicing and blooming refers to the Gentiles and their eventual conversion to Christ. Lebanon is considered glorious most likely because of its cedar trees. Cedar was used in the building of sacred temples and sanctuaries. The prophet Ezekiel tells us that the cedars of Lebanon had fair branches, were full of leaves and of a high stature (cf. Ezekiel 31:3). Cedar wood was also used in purification rituals. When trying to understand the splendor of Carmel, Gregory of Nyssa writes: "Elijah lived on Mount Carmel, which is celebrated and illustrious above all because of the virtue and reputation of him who lived there." And Sharon's splendor likely refers to its fertility as Sharon is a plain famous for its vegetation, its large oak trees and its beauty due to the floral landscaping. In the New Testament a paralytic named Aeneas was healed by Saint Peter; and when the inhabitants of Sharon saw him, they were converted unto the Lord (cf. Acts 9:33-35). These are all images of beauty which the prophet Isaiah is using to try and describe as best he can the glory and splendor of the coming of the Lord. What follows in the text are words of healing: Hands being strengthened, knees made firm, hearts are strengthened by abolishing fear, the blind will see, the deaf will hear, the lame will leap and the mute will sing. Thus Isaiah prophesies that the Messiah will be a healer and most importantly, the Messiah is our God Who comes to save us. Our Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI in his Encyclical titled, "Spes Salvi" writes about a type of healing that comes from hope which comes through prayer. He writes: "A first essential setting for learning hope is prayer. When no one listens to me any more, God still listens to me. When I can no longer talk to anyone or call upon anyone, I can always talk to God. When there is no longer anyone to help me deal with a need or expectation that goes beyond the human capacity for hope, He can help me. When I have been plunged into complete solitude, if I pray I am never totally alone." This Reading calls to us to be confident in the love our God has for us; and when we can push aside all obstacles that hinder our trust in Him, then our lives become a perpetual cause to "Gaudete in Domino semper" (Rejoice in the Lord always ~ Philippians 4:4).

Second Reading, James 5:7-10
If you've ever experienced any form of suffering - and who hasn't - then this Letter of Saint James is for you. It is because of our sufferings that he exhorts us to be patient. The word patience in itself suggests that there will surely be something to endure or to bear. Suffering comes in many forms and degrees. The farmer's patience in waiting for fruit bears fruit and impacts others. If the farmer were impatient about waiting on his fruit, then there would be less fruit to be consumed. Our own level of patience impacts others. Scripture tells us that God is our patience and our hope (cf. Psalm 70 [71]:5). The farmer needs to wait for the early and the late rains. This is completely dependent upon God. The same is true for us; and only God knows why His time is more beneficial for us than our time. The Greek text exhorts us to establish our hearts because the coming of the Lord is near. Establish is a good word to use because it conjures up the image of an immovable foundation in which our heart can be placed. That is an edifying image for understanding patience. But again, we have to know that the foundation is God and without Him as our foundation, our heart will rest on sand and when the storms come, patience will be washed away. Generally when the train comes off the track, we're all pretty good at pointing fingers as to who is to blame. Saint James warns us, however, that the Judge is standing before the gates. In the ancient languages the word "gates" is more precisely translated as "door". In the first book of the bible God said to Cain: "If you have done evil, shall not sin forthwith be present at the door?" (Genesis 4:7). Saint James offers the examples of the Old Testament prophets. They waited for the Messiah – we wait for His return but also have the privilege and joy of recalling every year in the liturgy that great day in salvation history when God became Man. Our Savior calls us to take up our cross daily and follow Him. It's a tall order but let us recall the angel Gabriel's words to the Blessed Virgin Mary: "No word shall be impossible with God"

Gospel, Matthew 11:2-11
In our spiritual journey we're all eventually faced with a similar question that Saint John the Baptist asks: "Jesus, are You really Who You say You are?" Some Christians deal with this question more times than others but the question itself is not a bad thing. In fact, during His Ministry Jesus Himself presents that very question to us (cf. Mark 8:29). In our walk of faith there's really no reason to not treat this question like any other question brought forth in normal conversation: Ask the question, then kind of get out of the way of ourselves and wait silently for the answer. Before Jesus asks that question of us, however, He asks something else first: "Who do men say that I am?" (Mark 8:27). That question is frequently answered for us in various television documentaries and books which seem to doubt the Divinity of Jesus. Sometimes it's the influence of those very types of shows and books that lead us to ask Who Jesus is and other times it may be prompted by some form of suffering or just at present going through a rough time. Our faith needs to be challenged in order to strengthen and grow. John the Baptist dedicated his life to proclaiming the coming of the Messiah; and when He finally did arrive to begin His Ministry, John ended up in prison. That is faith being challenged. With John's experience in dealing with human corruption, he may have been a little surprised by Christ's gentle way and was expecting from our Lord demonstrative denouncements of human institutions. Jesus answers John's question by citing examples of physical miracles. John the Baptist was a prophet and a man of faith, therefore his questioning of Jesus was not likely based on a lack of faith, but rather to satisfy the curiosity of his own followers as whether or not to follow Jesus now that John has been imprisoned. As a prophet, John may have already known that his arrest marked the end of his calling, the end of the Old Testament prophets and marked a new beginning which would have eternal value. How has Jesus answered your question of Who He is? He is the Savior of the world, and so, what has He said or done in your life that offers assurance to your own convictions of Who Jesus is? Certainly, individual reflection will produce various answers but in this season of hope amidst all the hustle and bustle of Christmas shopping, it's good to sit quietly and reflect on what Jesus has done and continues to do in your own life. There's a lot of noise pollution in the shopping malls and yet what Christmas celebrates is God becoming a Baby and entering into the world in the stillness of the night. As Jesus begins to speak to the crowds about John, it's not so much John's personal sanctity that our Lord is praising, although he certainly was a very holy man, but Christ is pointing out where John fits in according to the Divine plan which he so faithfully carried out. As our Lord proclaims, it was not the scenery of the desert with its reeds swayed by the wind; nor was John a well-dressed man, therefore, many were convinced that John was a prophet and it is for this reason that they journeyed into the desert to hear him preach. And Jesus confirms that John was indeed a prophet, and more than a prophet. He was a prophet because he proclaimed the coming of the Messiah, and more than a prophet because he saw the Messiah which was a privilege not given to any other prophet. Although John had many followers, it was probably a shock to all present to hear Christ proclaim him as the greatest prophet of all; and yet the least in the Kingdom of heaven is greater than he. Most likely the "least" is a reference to ordinary people like you and I. John, as great as he was, was slain before Christ's crucifixion and therefore did not witness nor have any knowledge of the Gospel in its fullness; and we, the children of the post-Resurrection, have been blessed with this knowledge. Saint Paul writes: "When the fullness of time had come, God sent His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to ransom those under the law, so that we might receive adoption. As proof that you are children, God sent the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying out, 'Abba, Father!' Therefore, you are no longer a servant but a child, and if a child then also an heir, through God" (Galatians 4:4-7). Adoption, therefore, is greater than servitude.

10 December 2010

She has given to me from the Tree of Life

This is a beautiful reflection from Saint Bernard of Clairvaux:

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.

08 December 2010

The nature of Mary's grace at the Immaculate Conception

In Luke 1:28 the archangel hails her as, "full of grace". Most versions today do not use that rendering, but greatly weaken it. Yet it is the correct translation as we can see from the Magisterium (Pius XII, Fulgens Corona, AAS 45, 579, and constant use of the Church) and also from philology.

For the Greek word in the Gospel is kecharitomene. It is a perfect passive participle of the verb charitoo. A perfect passive participle is very strong. In addition, charitoo belongs to a group of verbs ending in omicron omega. They have in common that they mean to put a person or thing into the state indicated by the root. Thus leukos means white, so leukoo means to make white. Then charitoo should mean to put into charis. That word charis can mean either favor or grace. But if we translate by favor, we must keep firmly in mind that favor must not mean merely that God, as it were, sits there and smiles at someone, without giving anything. That would be Pelagian: salvation possible without grace. So for certain, God does give something, and that something is grace, a share in His own life. So charitoo means to put into grace. But then too, kecharitomene is used in place of the name "Mary". This is like our English usage in which we say, for example, someone is Mr. Tennis. That means he is the ultimate in tennis. So then kecharitomene should mean "Miss Grace", the ultimate in grace. Hence we could reason that fullness of grace implies an Immaculate Conception.

Overflowing grace: Pius IX, in the document, Ineffabilis Deus, defining the Immaculate Conception in 1854 wrote: "He [God] attended her with such great love, more than all other creatures, that in her alone He took singular pleasure. Wherefore He so wonderfully filled her, more than all angelic spirits and all the Saints, with an abundance of all heavenly gifts taken from the treasury of the divinity, that she, always free from absolutely every stain of sin, and completely beautiful and perfect, presented such a fullness of innocence and holiness that none greater under God can be thought of, and no one but God can comprehend it."

What about the words of Jesus in Luke 11:27-28 (cf. Matthew 12:46-50 and Mark 3:35)? A woman in the crowd exclaimed: "Blessed is the womb that bore you...." He replied: "Rather blessed are they who hear the word of God and keep it."

The dignity of being Mother of God is a quasi infinite dignity, as we just saw from the words of Pius XI. Yet here, our Lord is teaching us that the holiness coming from hearing the word of God and keeping it is something greater still. Her holiness must indeed be great -- so great that "none greater under God can be thought of, and no one but God can comprehend it."

Even though Mary was full of grace at the start of her life, yet she could still grow, for, as it were, her capacity for grace could increase.

In general, a soul will grow in proportion to these things: (1) The greater the dignity of the person, the greater the merit. In her case, the dignity of Mother of God is the highest possible for a creature. (2) The greater the work, the greater the merit: her cooperation in the redemption was the greatest work possible to a creature. (3) The greater the love, the greater the merit. Love of God means the attachment of our will to His. Her will adhered supremely, with no obstacle at all, so that even ordinary household duties, which she saw as the will of the Father for her, were supremely valuable.

Excerpted and adapted from Theology 523: Our Lady in Doctrine and Devotion, by Father William G. Most.
Copyright (c) 1994 William G. Most.

07 December 2010

Mary: A Pure Mirror

“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 into. 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 which the Church celebrates tomorrow.

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. Saint 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. Saint 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.

03 December 2010

A Virgin in Body and Having the Pure Soul of an Angel

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.

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.

01 December 2010

O Virgin, Receive Our Last Breath

This reflection was written by the Carthusian, Dom Louis Rouvier. It really allows us to take a peak into some Carthusian gems concerning our Blessed Lady. There is some namedropping in this writing which gives us a rare opportunity to read about some Carthusians who have had personal experiences with our Blessed Mother. Unless we were in the Order, these are monks that otherwise we probably would never hear of. Most likely, Dom Louis Rouvier’s intention was that this was to be shared only with his own and other Carthusian Houses. But his thoughts here have found their way outside of monastery walls. There is one name, however, that is mentioned who has some accolades outside of the Order, and that is Dom Henry Kalkar. He was also a writer in the Carthusian Order and was the Prior of several Charterhouses in Germany. He died at 80 years of age in the year 1408 where he was serving as Prior of Cologne. Dom Louis Rouvier, in this writing, also shares some Carthusian prayer customs. The main theme of this reflection is death, and how a strong devotion to our Lady doesn’t come to full fruition until that most mysterious moment of transition from this life into eternity.

“In me is all grace of the way, and of the truth; in me is hope of all life and virtue” (Ecclesiasticus 24:25). These words the Church puts on the lips of our Lady in her Office that we say every day. It is at death and only at death that devotion to Mary receives its final fruit. Thus it is particularly with this moment in view that we address to the Queen of Heaven our most ardent entreaties. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us… now… and at the hour of our death.

In our Carthusian liturgy, five times a day, in the hymn of her Office, the… religious repeat to the most powerful Protectress of the dying, the words:

Per tuum, Virgo Filium,
Per Partem, per Paracletum,
Adsis prœsens ab obitum,
Nostrum muni exitum.

O Virgin, by your Son,
By the Father, and the Holy Spirit
Receive our last breath
And protect us at our departure from this world.

What has been her response to a plea made to her name of all that is dearest to her heart?

In this prayer, so frequently renewed, is largely the secret of the interior peace which most always surrounds the death of a Carthusian. Often enough in the course of the ages, God has revealed by exterior signs the efficacy of this assiduous recourse to her who is called Consoler of the Afflicted (Litany of Our Lady).

First, there is the incident recorded in our annals of the professed monk of the Charterhouse of Vallis Christi in Spain, Dom Giles de Bidon, who had the happiness of leading two Moslems to the Christian faith. As he lay dying, a third follower of the Prophet, whom he had tried in vain to convert, entered his cell. The good monk earnestly recommended him to our Blessed Lady, who at that moment had appeared to him to announce his approaching death. Suddenly, touched by grace, the follower of the Prophet asked for baptism, and Dom Giles breathed his last breath in a rapture of gratitude for the supreme consolation granted him (Le Vasseur: Ephemerides, Volume II).

Dom James Saline of the Charterhouse of Porta Cœli, near Valencia, loved to address his Mother often with this greeting: Salve, Sancta Parens (Introit of the Mass of Our Lady). Now, three days before he died, it being a Wednesday, when the community had gathered around him to assist him with their prayer, he said: “Do not be anxious, dear Fathers, I shall not die until next Saturday when you are singing the Salve, Sancta Parens.” And so it came about. At the Introit of the conventual Mass, it being the Mass of Our Lady, as the first words of the Introit were being sung, the soul of the Father took flight (Le Vasseur: Ephemerides, Volume III).

Dom Cyril Abendaño, a monk of Vallis Christi, after receiving the Last Sacraments, was transported in spirit, as he himself related after coming out of his rapture, to the Spring called Ribas, which gushes forth at the foot of a mountain, at the summit of which is found a grotto where there is a statue of the Madonna. “Our Lady of the Grotto,” he said, “purify me in the fountain.” At that, he came to himself, filled, as he said, with heavenly consolations. And as he lay dying, he had the strength to sing the Salve Regina, and the prayer Sub tuum præsidium (We fly to thy protection, O holy Mother of God). His last prayer was: “O Maria, absque peccati originalis labe concepta… O Mary, conceived without sin.”

O most beloved Mother of the Carthusians, continue to grant to the sons of Saint Bruno your assistance at the hour when their eternity is at stake. Extend to all the Houses of the Order the favor which you declared to a novice of the Charterhouse of Montrieux. “I promise,” you told him, “the religious of this House that they will all enjoy in their last moments the perfect purity of conscience, and that they will fall asleep with tranquility and in peace” (Molin: Historia Cartusiana, Volume I). For all our brethren still suffering in exile, we address to you, O heavenly Mother, this prayer which you yourself taught to one of your most devout servants, Dom Henry Kalkar: “O Queen of virgins, surpassing Tabernacle of the august Trinity, Mirror of the angels, Ladder of saints, and sure Refuge of sinners – behold our distress, O loving Mother, and pray for us now and in the hour of our death. Amen” (Le Vasseur: Ephemerides, Volume IV).

29 November 2010

The Ideal Form of Virtue

The following is excerpted from Saint Ambrose’s treatise titled, ‘De Virginibus’. It is written for those living the life of virginity, with our Blessed Lady being presented as the perfect model. But this treatise goes far beyond that. It is also a wonderful reflection on the virtues of Mary, offering some gems for one's interior life. And there’s more: this treatise may also add to and enhance one’s meditations on the Holy Rosary, most especially the Joyful Mysteries. As the text itself proclaims, our Blessed Mother's life ‘is an education for all’. As we have now entered into the season of Advent, and the expectation of the Saviour, it seems fitting to re-visit the Annunciation and the important role of Our Lady in salvation history; and Saint Ambrose does that for us here.

Let Mary’s life for you be an image of virginity itself, as from a mirror, the shining model of chastity and the ideal form of virtue. Take, then, the existential life of Mary as an example, as the perfect model, showing you what you need to correct, and keep in you.

Mary was chosen by the Holy Spirit, who is visited by an angel, which is told by the evangelist. Why delay about details? How her parents loved her, strangers praised her, and her worthiness that the Son of God should be born of her.

When the angel entered, he found her at home, in the inner room, without company, that no one could distract her attention or disturb her. In fact, she did not even desire the company of women, who had the companionship of good thoughts. Indeed, she seemed so much less alone when she was alone, for how could she be alone, and how could she be isolated, who had with her so many books, so many archangels, so many prophets?

When the angel salutes Mary, she remains silent, but when addressed she answered. Initially, she feels troubled, but then promises to have done to her the words of the angel.

Scripture depicts Mary as modest towards her neighbours. She became even more humble when she realized she was chosen by God, and immediately goes to her cousin in a mountainous area. She did not go there to see the evidence adduced by the angel, because she had already believed in his prophecy. The sacred text says in fact: ‘Blessed are you who have believed’ (Saint Luke 1:45).

Mary remains with Elizabeth for three months. In such an interval of time, it is not faith that is being sought, but she shows kindness to her cousin. And this was after the child leapt for joy in Elizabeth when greeting the Mother of the Lord. Thus John expressed an affection that exceeds the natural rate. Many miraculous signs came one after another: the barren will give birth, a Virgin conceives, a mute regains his speech; there is the Adoration of the Magi, the expectation of Simeon, the stars gave notice. Mary, who is moved by the angel’s entrance, is not shaken by these miracles. The text says that she kept all these things in her heart (cf. Saint Luke 2:19).

Although the Mother of God, Mary wants to learn the precepts of the Lord God; and she who brought forth God yet desired to know God.

Every year she went to Jerusalem for the Passover with Joseph. Why do you go with him? For a virgin, modesty always accompanies all the virtues. It is so inseparable from virginity, that this cannot exist without that. Thus, Mary did not even go to the temple without the guardian of her modesty.

Mary shines in the true image of virginity. Her life alone is an education for all. There is a proverb which says: ‘If the author does not displease us, let us make trial of the production, that whoever desires the rewards of Mary may imitate the example’. How many virtues shine forth in one Virgin: the confidentiality of modesty, the emblem of faith, the service of devotion, the Virgin within the house, the companion for the ministry, the Mother at the temple.

What a triumph in the heavens, what a great joy of jubilant angels, when she is found worthy of living in heaven, after living a heavenly life in this world. Then Mary, with her timbrel, will stir up choirs of virgins who sing to the Lord, because they have crossed the seas of this world without suffering the storms. Then, each shall rejoice saying: I will go to the altar of God, to God Who makes my youth glad; and, I will offer unto God thanksgiving, and pay vows to the Most High.

Blessed Virgin, I will not hesitate to say that you have access to the true altar of God, for you yourself are the altar in which Christ is daily offered for the redemption of the body, which is the Church.

For if the virgin's body is a temple of God, what is her soul, which, the ashes, as it were, of the body being shaken off, once more uncovered by the hand of the Eternal Priest, exhales the vapour of the divine fire.

Blessed Virgin, you emit a fragrance through divine grace as gardens do through flowers, temples through religion, altars through the priest.

26 November 2010

Consumed by Love

As yesterday was the Thanksgiving holiday in the United States, I didn’t have the opportunity to post that yesterday was also on the Carthusian calendar the feast of Blessed Béatrice d’Ornacieux. At the very young age of thirteen she joined the Carthusian Order and became a nun of the Order at Parménie where her novice mistress was another well-known Carthusian, Marguerite d’Oingt.

Béatrice was subject to demonic torments and often was attacked with impure illusions and nightly fantasies which included seeing dangerous animals and hearing frightening sounds. Like anyone would do in these types of occurrences, she pleaded with God to be delivered from these attacks and even asked Him to be taken from this earth. Her prayers received a miraculous response with a Voice that said: “Receive the consolations that I give you and do not refuse the sufferings that I send you.” After that encounter she was able to completely surrender herself to the will of God.

Béatrice was intensely in love with Jesus Christ and lived a life of penance in order to follow Him in His sufferings. In response to her love, Jesus gave her the wonderful gift of possessing an intimate knowledge of Himself but she would, however, later experience the “dark night of the soul” in which she felt completely abandoned by the Lord. This caused her great suffering. After that period of refinement she once again regained full intimate union with Jesus, a union that would never again be interrupted.

In the year 1300, Béatrice was the foundress and Prioress of a new monastery at Eymeu where she continued to live in holiness until her death in 1309.

When the Carthusian Order gave up the monastery at Eymeu, Béatrice’s relics were moved to Parménie. An uprising of the Albigensians caused the nuns to flee Parménie. Shortly after, the monastery was burned down and Béatrice’s relics were lost. In the seventeenth century her relics were found and in the year 1697 pronounced authentic by a Cardinal of that region. Later, in the year 1839 the relics were once again inspected by the Bishop of Grenoble and thirty years later in 1869 Pope Pius IX gave permission for her feast to be celebrated by the Carthusian Order.

24 November 2010

Nothing Should Cause You Joy Except God

Prepare yourself to live with the wicked, but with an uncorrupted mind: this is angelic. What glory is there in doing this with the saints? He who loves all will be saved without doubt. But he who is loved by all will not on that score be saved. Just as hatred for you keeps all men from life, so your hatred for them blocks your way. Therefore it is expedient for you to love all men; they too profit from loving you. Prosperity is a snare. The knife that cuts this snare is adversity. A prison for one's love of God is prosperity; the battering-ram for breaking down this prison is adversity. A single fever takes away all the things against which you are fighting, namely, the delights of the five senses. What remains, therefore, but to give thanks to God for the victories granted? (cf. 1 Corinthians 15:57). But you, on the contrary, are looking for something to which you may succumb, hating liberty.

What hope is there if you put yourself not recking into the snares and nets of the enemy, if you not only do not avoid them, but even freely embrace them and expose yourself to them? You flee from these to those; you think these a remedy, those a comfort; you desire them, and do not bear their absence.

Adversity teaches one to desire peace; but in your blindness you desire that which, as long as you love and desire it, is quite impossible, namely, to have peace. In joy receive the truth, as the Lord; bear with a lie peacefully, or else fix the charge. You are unaware that you are bound, and you do not resist your chains, like a dog.

Consider two experiences, filling and voiding. What makes you happier, what you experience by the latter or by the former? The former burdens you with useless things the latter unburdens. Look well at what each profits. To have experienced something, this is to have devoured it all. Nothing further remains to be hoped for. So it is in all sensual things. See, then, what happiness all such things, whether in actuality or in hope, have effected in you; and judge accordingly to future things. Reflect, I say, that pleasures belong to the past, and judge that future ones will too. What you hope for will all pass away. And what have you after them? Love and hope for such a thing as will not pass away.

Absolutely nothing in you or in another should cause you joy, except God. While the shapes and bodily forms, by whose clinging you are soiled, perish -- as do syllables at the appointed beats in God's song -- you are in great distress. For the rust which had accumulated is being, scraped off.

Adversity says to you: ‘You try to get me to go. This, should you strongly wish it, you most certainly cannot prevent; for I cannot stay when the Lord leads the song. I, you see, am a syllable’.

~ Meditations of Guigo, Prior of the Charterhouse ~

22 November 2010

The Fullness of the Life of Christ Within Us

Transforming Union or possessing the fullness of Christ is something most of us will never experience in this lifetime. But certainly we’re familiar with stories of saints and mystics who have been there. But what is this transforming union? Why do so few experience it? Is it available to everyone? A Carthusian writer tackles this subject.

‘My Beloved is mine, and I am His’ (Song of Songs 2:16).

Transforming union is the full development on earth of sanctifying grace, that is, the fullness of the life of Christ within us. Sadly, it is a state which is rarely reached, for it implies a plenitude of love. But, however far we may be from that state, we should know something about it, so as to be able to distinguish what is only transitory in the spiritual life, from that which pertains to its perfection.

There is one last trial, a testing of love, in which the soul, intensely drawn to the One it loves, aspires with its whole being to heavenly union. It is the desire to die, to break the chains of this life. If the Lord inspires this desire in the soul, it is in order to fulfil it, but in an unexpected way, by giving the grace of transforming union.

Sanctifying grace is the free gift of alliance contracted by God with each one of us, in the Church. It consists in the gift of the Holy Spirit Who communicates divine life to us: the knowledge and love which enable us to know and love God in an intimate exchange of personal friendship. He says to each of us, ‘I am calling you and you are My friend’. And His Creator Word establishes us in a sort of equality with Him, of friend to Friend (or, in other words, makes us share in the divine nature). The life of prayer is all about learning to live this friendship. We have to be gradually raised to this dignity, purified, and slowly transformed, until our will is one with the will of the Lord and our heart belongs totally to Him. Love is at the heart of transforming union, it is the substance of it. The phenomena which usually manifest this state are secondary, and in some cases are quite hidden, or even absent.

The life of grace becomes conscious. God is experienced not only as the objects of our acts of faith, hope and love, but as the interior source, the indwelling co-principle, of these acts. The sap of divine life flows in our faculties.

The term ‘spiritual marriage’ is sometimes used to indicate this fusion of two lives: an intimate and stable union, based on the total, mutual gift of love between two persons, a gift with implications of rights and duties. ‘All that is Mine is yours, and all that is yours is Mine’ (Saint John 17:10).

The soul shares in the knowledge of God. It is given a mysterious knowledge, both luminous and obscure, by the love poured into it by the Holy Spirit. Love is itself a form of knowledge that goes further than any knowledge that can be formulated in images or ideas. It plunges into the infinite reality of divine life. The Spirit is the flame of love in the soul, a brightly burning flame.

There is no longer any distance. God communicates Himself to the soul by substantial touches, that is, directly, substance to substance, without passing by the faculties. Plunged into the divine fire, the soul becomes fire. Immersed in the vast sea, the drop of water becomes sea. Traversed by light, the pane of glass becomes light, without however ceasing to be what it is. No image can adequately express the reality. The saints and great mystics of all times have tried to speak of it, but this irruption of infinite life into the tiny space of a human soul is beyond words; do we not however, each one of us, recognize in this, in some obscure way, our deepest desire? How strange. But not so strange really, for our heart is made for You, Lord.

This union is the source of special insights on God and on the mysteries of the faith: sparks from the furnace at the centre, that the intelligence receives by way of intuitive knowledge. The faculties no longer operate in their usual way, which is more or less discursive, but in the mode of the Holy Spirit acting through the gifts of intelligence and wisdom.

In this state, there is an habitual vision of the presence of God in the centre of the soul, which is perceived, without mediation, as the dwelling of God. The higher faculties are drawn passively and imperiously towards the deep centre of the soul where God dwells. They are plunged into this source of life, and emerge from it transformed, to act at the exterior. The activity of the soul flows from this deep centre, the initiative comes from the interior and not from outside, from the Spirit and not from the world. This is why it is so important for the person of prayer to be able to enter into the interior depths of his or her soul, to remain there habitually, and to act from that centre.

The soul often possesses habitually, but with differing degrees of intensity, the vision of the Holy Trinity, or of the divine nature. This is the highest point of spiritual illumination, but paradoxically is sometimes called ‘the Great Darkness’, for in drawing nearer, God reveals Himself to be supreme mystery, and totally different.

Whether this vision concerns the divine Persons or their unique nature, seems to depend on the religious sensitivity of the soul and the path followed. There is an Eastern tradition particularly directed towards experience of the divine nature, without however excluding, or regarding as secondary, loving intimacy with the Persons of the Holy Trinity. But at this level of mystical experience, however necessary the concepts of nature and person may be, they are very inadequate with regard to the incandescent reality of the union of God.

The Holy Spirit is in charge of the whole of this transformation. It is the Spirit Who acts in us as the principle of our sanctification. He inclines the soul to these supernatural acts, not by passing through the faculties, from outside, but from inside, from His dwelling in the centre, in the substance of the soul. Thus the Spirit moves the faculties, but in His own particular way, enabling them to attain their objects directly with an assurance and strength beyond their normal possibilities. Paradoxically, there is great liberty in this, for the soul is not moved like a lifeless puppet, but as someone who is free. This is a great mystery. The spiritual acts flow freely from a person transformed in his very substance by the Spirit; and these acts express perfectly the most intimate depths of that person, there where he adheres to God so closely that, with God, he is spirit, and source of life (cf. 1 Corinthians 6:17).

It is easy to say words that mean nothing, or say too much. It has been suggested – and by the mystics sometimes – that the soul breathes the Spirit with the Father and the Son; that it creates the world; that, placed within God’s creative act, it is maintaining all things; that, in a game of love, it gives God to God, since God in all truth has given Himself to the soul… All this is true, but in a sense that in no way diminishes the infinite transcendence of the Lord which is radically beyond our grasp. What is clear is that, by grace, in transforming union, the soul is plunged into a life that is infinitely beyond anything that we can possibly imagine. The fine shell of its little personality becomes perfectly transparent to the marvellous light in which it bathes. The soul is known and it knows. It is loved and it loves: perfectly, beyond anything we can possibly imagine or hope for.

And all of us, with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord, the Spirit (cf. 2 Corinthians 3:18).

We set off to seek God, following in the steps of Jesus, on the path of the beatitudes of poverty and purity of heart, by the way of the cross and love, towards the Father. Now at the end, we find Christ again, but the risen Christ. The extraordinary phenomena of the mystical life are an irruption in our world of the life of the resurrection, rays of light from Mount Tabor. If we can come to the Father in all confidence, as sons, it is because of the grace of Christ communicated to us through the Spirit. We are taken up into the life of Christ, we become as it were one person with Him, to constitute what Augustine called ‘the total Christ’. ‘It is no longer I who live, but it is Christ Who lives in me’ (Galatians 2:20).

When the Word became flesh, He did not eliminate human nature, but raised it, rather, to the fullness of its liberty and perfection; and in the same way, when divine life takes flesh, so to speak, in us – not hypostatically, but by union of grace – our humanity is not eliminated, but radically transformed. It is really our own self that is transformed; myself, with my own features, my character, my feelings, my personal history, my wounds, my limits, my sufferings, my sensitivity… Christ in His glory bears the marks of the nails. The glory He communicates to us is the glory of humanity redeemed, and is all the more luminous because of that. The bread that we offer to be consecrated is the bread of our whole nature. That is why the Eucharist is so important: for there, the Body and Blood of Christ, the living humanity of Christ, touches us, penetrates us, in order to transform us into Himself.

The spiritual person does not become an angel, he or she becomes Christ. And just as so few were able to recognize God in Jesus, so we too often pass by the saints. We look out for the extraordinary and the spectacular, and all we find is something marvellously human, a humanity that is in the likeness of God.

Generally there are not many extraordinary sensory phenomena, and hardly any more ecstasies. The human nature of the mystic is now used to God’s action, and has adapted to it. On the level of the senses, there is no resistance, and the higher faculties have been strengthened in their usual mode of activity.

We are so concerned with the outward show of sanctity, with appearances! Yet the whole life of a monk, and especially of the solitary monk, is on the level of being, where all show is ridiculous comedy. The ‘little’ Thérèse said once: ‘There is no need for appearances, as long as the reality is there. Our Lord died of love on the Cross, and yet look at His agony’.

And all is humility, because humility is born of truth. In this ultimate intimacy with the Lord, the monk knows, he experiences, that all is grace, that all comes from God. He takes stock in his own minute little self in the shadow of the greatness of God, the greatness of infinite Love. He makes no effort to be humble. We do not need light to see daylight.

In the mystic, the struggle between attention to God and contact with the world no longer exists. Throughout the whole development of the life of prayer, we have seen a ligature of the powers of the soul, from the partial withdrawal from the world in the prayer of quietude, up to the point of ecstasy, when all its usual activity in relation to the surrounding world becomes impossible: it has to be Martha or Mary. But from now on, we find Martha and Mary living together in harmony. Interior union with God is not hindered by the activity of Martha, and vice versa.

There are two levels of conscience, simultaneously occupied each with its own object, natural or supernatural, without hampering one another. This is the secret of the activity of the great saints, which is so fruitful spiritually: it flows from the source, without leaving it. Everything in the saints is unity, and they have tremendous strength to act – if God calls them to do so – and to suffer.

The soul is not exempt from temptations and trials, which are usually of short duration; but it is not deeply affected by them. The great peace in the depths of the heart is not troubled, even when the surface is tossed by the storm. ‘My peace I leave with you’ (Saint John 14:27).

Let us not forget that, except for a few moments on Mount Tabor, Christ offered us the humble, hidden image of the Servant. He renounced, precisely, the outward show of glory that so attracts our ambivalent desires. The light of a soul transformed by grace often dwells in a humanity which seems quite ordinary, sometimes even in one that is heavily burdened, always in one that is simple. Christian perfection does not lie in the Greek ideal of an earthly fulfilment of all one’s human potential; its aim is the plenitude of charity, which, in a world marked by sin, can take the form of sacrifice and suffering assumed in a consent of faith, and of which the fulfilment is on the other side of death, in eternal life.

20 November 2010

Domini Nostri Iesu Christi, Universorum Regis

First Reading, 2 Samuel 5:1-3
The Solemnity of Christ the King was instituted in 1925 by Pope Pius XI in his encyclical Quas Primas. It was originally celebrated on the last Sunday of October, immediately preceding the Solemnity of All Saints. The revision of the liturgical calendar placed it at the final Sunday in Ordinary Time. In this First Reading we read about the crowning of David as king of Israel. He was God's choice. And it is from his lineage that the Messiah would come. In Saint Matthew's Gospel, Jesus Christ is listed as ‘the son of David, the son of Abraham’ (Saint Matthew 1:1). David's kingship has its limitations as he is crowned to be the shepherd and commander of Israel. Jesus Christ's Crown is not a result of victory over flesh and blood, but of victory over the mystery of evil which seeks the ruination of souls. In an incredible act of love God became Man to redeem sinful humanity; and because of our sinful ways, all we could do was crown Him with thorns. Christ's love is not only beyond the means of human expression, but also logically it doesn't make sense: the God-Man Who was crowned with thorns is offering us who continue to crown Him with thorns by our sins, eternal glory. As our Lord says: ‘My thoughts are not your thoughts; nor your ways My ways’ (Isaiah 55:8).

Second Reading, Colossians 1:12-20
In this Reading there is a spirit of gratitude to Almighty God for the gift of salvation through Jesus Christ. The ‘holy ones in light’ represents all the supernatural benefits of salvation including God Himself Who is the Source of all benefits. God the Father has delivered us from the adversary and transferred us to the perfect, well-ordered Kingdom of His beloved Son. We have been liberated from a state of guilt. Jesus ‘is the Image of the invisible God’. The Catechism of the Catholic Church reads: ‘By His revelation, the invisible God, from the fullness of His love, addresses men as His friends, and moves among them, in order to invite and receive them into His own company’ (CCC 142). Saint Thomas Aquinas relates ‘image’ with ‘prototype’ and says that image has three qualities at the same time:
It must have a likeness with the original prototype.
It must be derived from the prototype.
It must belong to the same species as the prototype.
This explanation of ‘image’ delineates that mere likeness alone would not be sufficient. A photograph, for example, is a likeness but it is not an image in the sense that is applied here. By Saint Paul writing that Jesus is the Image of the invisible God, he most certainly means God the Father. Therefore, Christ is the Image of God the Father because He exemplifies the Father. Saint John Damascene explains that image in itself does not demand equality with the original model, but we know that Christ, the Image, is identical and equal to the Father in every way. The only difference is that Jesus is begotten. Saint Paul continues this letter by writing that Christ is ‘the firstborn of all creation’. This is not a reference to being born of the Virgin Mary. Paul's meaning is that Jesus was before all creatures, proceeding from all eternity from the Father. Firstborn, then, as it is applied here is a metaphor for pre-existence before creation. Christ is Supreme, eternal and the final revelation of God because ‘all things were created through Him and for Him’. He is the reason and cause of all things and yet as our Creator He does not distance Himself from us, but instead, He wishes to have communion with us by means of His boundless love. Christ is ‘Head of the Body, the Church’, and yet His Sovereignty over the members does not deter Him from a close and intense union with them. He is ‘the firstborn from the dead’ in the sense that He is the first to rise to a New Life and in His glorious Triumph He is the cause of our resurrection. ‘For in Him all the fullness was pleased to dwell’. Generally, ‘fullness’ is synonymous with ‘totality’. In this case, however, ‘all the fullness’ more appropriately means ‘all existence’. Being reconciled to God through Christ with those on earth primarily means the human race; but what does Paul mean by reconciliation with those in heaven? Saint John Chrysostom defines those in heaven as angels. This doesn't mean, however, that Christ sacrificed Himself for angels. Angels are totally and unequivocally devoted to the cause and glory of Almighty God. This suggests, then, that before Christ's redeeming Sacrifice, the angels were at enmity with the human race because our sins separated us from God. Christ put an end to this division by restoring us to God's favour ‘through the Blood of His Cross’.

Gospel, Saint Luke 23:35-43
The Solemnity of Christ the King kicks off the final week of Ordinary Time; and perhaps this scene in the Gospel might remind you more of Holy Week than the celebration of Jesus Christ as King. But that's just it! Christ is no ordinary King. It is usually the king's loyal subjects who are dying on the battlefield to save the life of the king. Here, the King is dying for the life of His subjects, who just happen to be sinners and therefore not all that loyal. In the biblical days, mockery aimed at the king could very well mean death for the mocker. Here, mockery is aimed at the King with statements like: ‘He saved others, let Him save Himself if He is the chosen One, the Christ of God’ - and – ‘If You are King of the Jews, save Yourself’. In this case, not only will the mockers not be executed, but the King is being executed to save the lives of those who are like these mockers - in other words, sinners. Could Christ have come down from the Cross? Absolutely! Then why didn't He? It was not the nails that held Him to the Cross. Rather, it was His love for humanity collectively and His love for each and every one of us individually. He sacrificed Himself to defeat an enemy that we, left to ourselves, would never be able to overcome - death. Earthly kings have servants; our heavenly King, however, was a Servant. Earthly kings sit on a throne in all their glory - that is until they are overtaken or deceased. Our heavenly King also sits on a Throne, but in eternal glory; and what really makes our heavenly King so special beyond human logic is that He has secured eternal glory for His people, sinners that we are. It seems fitting to reiterate what was written in the First Reading's commentary: ‘My thoughts are not your thoughts; nor your ways My ways’ (Isaiah 55:8). Who really understands this immeasurable love freely given by Love Himself? A wonderful sense of hope is given to us in this Gospel because Jesus promises Paradise to the repentant criminal. Something else in this scene could also leave one with a sense of hope which perhaps isn't as strong as the former but nevertheless does shed at the very least a dimmer ray of hope. The repentant criminal reminds the reviling criminal – and really all of us - of the condemnation we could be subject to. What does the reviling criminal see when he looks at Jesus after hearing that promise of Paradise given to the repentant criminal? Does He see that Divine Love which cannot be explained by mere words? Does He see hope for himself even after he tempted God? What we do know is that Jesus does not condemn him in this Gospel scene. At the funeral of Soviet Premier Leonid Brezhnev, Victoria Petrovna, the wife of Brezhnev, traced the Sign of the Cross on her husband's chest as the casket was about to be closed to begin the state funeral service. This was quite remarkable for an empire that embraced the principles of atheistic socialism. But Victoria Petrovna held fast to that virtue of hope. She trusted that a boundless God could produce redemptive grace that also knew no bounds. Original sin dealt us a nasty blow. We want the bad guy to get what he deserves. But the kind of love that we operate with has boundaries on all sides; and we're quite good at deciding for ourselves who should reside within those boundaries. But making God number One in our lives and trying to grow closer to Him by means of persistent efforts at climbing the often rugged terrain of the spiritual mountain could indeed begin to punch holes into those boundary walls. It's quite natural from a human perspective to assume that the criminal pretty much made his reservations for hell by reviling Jesus. On the other hand, what he witnessed in the exchange between Jesus and the repentant criminal may have triggered the beginning of his own conversion. And since Jesus doesn't even so much as lecture this man in this scene, could it be because our Omniscient God could see changes for the better awaiting this man – even if it would come at his last moment of breath?