28 February 2011

God's Mercy Spreads Its Waters Over All

I doubt if I can say enough of this on account of my wretchedness. I am a fallen angel! I have left the heights of Being where You placed me when You created me. I did not know how to remain on that divine level, where I was truly in Your presence, in order to receive and reproduce the movement of Your Spirit, and recognize Him and His praise in all the created notes which reproduced Him without their knowing it. I had received the light which reveals this Gift of Self in everything, and the upsurge, conscious, awakened and in full light, which makes it return to You. I have lost that light, and have prevented that upsurge. I turned the light on myself instead of directing it towards You. I have deprived You of that glory and have wanted it for myself. I have reduced it to the measure of my own being, which is 'nothing'. And I have remained in that 'nothingness', and all created things that I should have raised with me to You I have forced to remain there with me. What a loss for us all! The consequences of original sin - and for that matter of all sin - are terrible, if one only knew.

Our Lord knew this and bent beneath the weight of that knowledge. 'My Father, if it be possible, let this chalice pass from Me'(Saint Matthew 26:39), He cried with His Face bowed down to the ground, and His whole Body sweating Blood, while His Soul was sorrowful unto death (cf. Saint Matthew 26:38). He had descended to the terrible depths of my wretchedness, and by His Incarnation used that very wretchedness to raise me up. To the abyss of my misery He opposed an abyss still more profound, that of His mercy. This latter is so deep that we meet God there, and find again our lost Paradise. Our very misery brings us back to God; it completes our movement and, without attempting to define that movement, I have the impression that nothing befits Love more than Mercy. To give Himself to our 'nothingness' is beautiful and is a revelation of God's goodness, but to give Himself to our wretchedness is even better. To raise up calls for more love - is more the gift of self - than to create. The Redemption, the Blood of Jesus which flowed in our Lord's agony, at the flagellation and on Calvary, is Love's final word - if love can have a final word!

And You are that Love: You are this culminating height, and it is there my life of praise must be spent. Nor is creation excluded. I am still the voice of all Your creation, but it is at the foot of the Cross that I must sing my praise, joined by their voices united to mine and to that of the Son of man, commending His soul into your hands (cf. Saint Luke 23:46). There all things are accomplished: all is consummated (cf. Saint John 19:30).

God's mercy, as seen on Calvary, would seem to demand some kind of qualification, an epithet which does not exist. We need something to express - what, of course, is impossible - this God Who dies. We must fathom the depths separating these two words 'God' and 'death'. We would like to have explained to us that death and all the circumstances to which He Who died was willing to submit: simple 'accidents' no doubt and more understandable than the Being Who died and the death of such a Being, but none the less beyond our imagination. We would like to know all His capacity for feeling and consequently for suffering, with a body in which all, literally all, was broken, bruised and crushed as in a winepress(cf. Isaiah 63:3), exacting the last drop of His Blood. But for that we must know the Soul that animated that Body, the Soul that felt the strokes the Body bore. But here, as always, the mind hesitates... Endless perspectives of physical torture and moral martyrdom pass before my gaze and seem to challenge it, to dare my courage - or rather my lack of courage - to gaze to the full. The saints have done it, and did nothing else. And at the end of their contemplation they declared that they had not even crossed the threshold of that abyss.

From Calvary, God's mercy spread its waters over all men, at all times and in all places. It does so still, and will continue to spread them until the end of time. But here still, here always, mystery confronts me, puzzles me, defies and overwhelms me. How is one to penetrate the marvels operated by grace in a single soul? The words of the Psalmist come back to me: 'He has rejoiced as a giant to run the way' (Psalm 18:6). The Redeemer is the Giant Who runs. I see Him set out, but the way escapes me. I only know that it is immense, that the mere idea of knowing it and following in His Steps fills my heart with joy. And yet I must resign myself ever to confess my utter powerlessness, of which every meditation adds to my conviction and awakens my sorrow, were not even this sorrow a praise to the divine Majesty. Fortunately, Holy Scripture is there with its words full of comforting light and consolation; its words telling me almost all without my seeking, at least all I need to know. Perhaps one day I shall see it all more clearly; from that spring, which seems to me so deep, I may catch glimpses of those rivers that water the City of God (cf. Psalm 45:5). For the moment, I recall just one, but one so intensely moving, that its syllables have always been to me like a mother's caress: 'I have loved you with an everlasting love: therefore have I drawn you, taking pity on you' (Jeremiah 31:3).

How well You know, my God, to say these things, how delicate is Your touch. In You there is only love, and I still have not seen it clearly enough. Your mercy is but the reflection of Your love, when its light crosses the zone of the shadow cast by our sins. It is the movement of that light in the darkness(cf. Saint John 1:5). Our Lord, Who is that Light, came to enlighten that darkness. He, so to speak, left His Kingdom in order to meet that darkness and there restore the radiant Image of the Father. He came because He is Love. He is the Son of the Father Who is Love, and is that Love's perfect ray (cf. Wisdom 7:26). From the Father He received that essential movement - the need to give Himself - and thus Love gave birth, and is eternally giving birth, to Mercy. That love, that mercy, needs to spread itself, to communicate itself, to radiate its brightness. It bears this need within itself, because it is born of the paternal Bosom, whence this movement proceeds. The darkness, where that love and mercy do not shine, draws Him, appeals to this need, an appeal which seems to come from within it and says to him: 'Come....' And Mercy cannot resist this appeal, since it corresponds perfectly to this need so essential to His Being that He leaps and rejoices as a giant to run 'the way' (cf. Psalm 18:6). He becomes the Light Who gives Himself to the darkness, and shines therein becoming Mercy, the Love of 'Him Who is' for those who 'are not'.

And to this nothingness He gives the power to give itself, even as He gives Himself: that is, freely and by love. This is man's privilege, his free choice. He can welcome that Love or refuse it. If he responds, he becomes one with Him, and participates in His life and greatness. If he refuses, he remains in himself, in his nothingness, but in a nothingness shorn of all hope, a nothingness that could have been united to Being, to God. It was called to be so united by grace, and was given the necessary powers. It could have enjoyed that union of love, but has failed to fulfil God's plan for it. As a result, it has been left a failure and a ruined thing. This is the real unhappiness that the divine Mercy wants to succour.

~ Dom Augustin Guillerand ~

26 February 2011

Eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time

First Reading, Isaiah 49:14-15
The eighteenth-century French Oratorian biblical scholar, Charles-François Houbigant, defined 'Zion' as the Jewish people; and this Reading is their cry to God for feeling abandoned by Him, but it is a cry that prophetically speaking points to their eventual conversion to Christ in great numbers. Our Lord proclaims: 'I will never forget you'. God Himself, in the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity demonstrated His solidarity with the Jewish people as He hung on the Cross and cried out: 'My God, My God, why have You foresaken Me'? (Saint Matthew 27:46).

Second Reading, 1 Corinthians 4:1-5
William Hessels van Est was a sixteenth-century commentator on the Pauline epistles. His name most often appears under his Latin name: Estius. He has written that what Saint Paul meant by the 'mysteries of God' are the dogmas of faith revealed by the Almighty. Saint Jerome teaches us that Paul’s lack of concern for human judgment is meant to convey that Saint Paul will not be swayed by any judgment rendered by anyone in this life because he is not conscious of anything contrary to trustworthy stewardship of the mysteries of God. He is not conscious of anything that has taken his soul out of a state of grace. While this may sound a bit boastful, actually Saint Paul is instructing us by example -- and that example is: the true judgment will come in the last day and that Judge will be Almighty God Himself; and we are to live each day as if it were the last day, that is, always in a state of grace, not conscious of any mortal sins wounding our soul and separating us from God. This is not arrogance or boasting; otherwise, Saint Paul would have written that the last judgment for him is unnecessary. Again, commenting on this Reading, Estius wrote: 'If this privileged apostle was afraid to form any judgment of his own heart and thoughts, whether they were pure or not, but left the trial thereof to the day of judgment, the day of his death, how presumptuous are they, who dare to pronounce on their election and predestination'!

Gospel, Saint Matthew 6:24-34
If obsession for riches leads to hating God, can there be any more motive to serve God? What is the end result of chasing after what Saint Paul calls a corruptibilem coronam – corruptible crown (cf. 1 Corinthians 9:25)? Anxiety over life in the here and now has a way of pulling one’s heart and soul away from God. The treasures of this world are enticing and could deceive one into thinking that they are the answer to all of life’s problems – that is, what will ultimately lead to happiness. Any joy or comfort received from this life is all too fleeting because nothing in this life can last forever. In the American liturgy’s translation we read: 'Do not worry about your life' – the Latin text translates as: 'Be not solicitous for your life' and is understood to mean 'too solicitous' – in other words, 'don’t worry about your life too much'. The very essence of life on planet earth renders cause for concern. An Italian Jesuit Scripture scholar named Giovanni Stefano Menochio wrote these words in the seventeenth-century: 'Christ does not prohibit all care about temporal concerns, but only what hinders us from seeking the Kingdom of heaven in the first instance; or what makes us esteem more the things of this world, than those of the next'. Thus, living a worry-free life is virtually unattainable except perhaps for the supernaturally gifted soul immersed in constant prayer. Such a soul lived in our modern time – Saint Pio of Pietrelcina or as he is perhaps more affectionately referred to simply as Padre Pio. In fact, among the phrases that is said to have flowed from his lips is: 'Pray, hope, and don’t worry'. Another of the Church’s bible scholars, Father George Leo Haydock, wrote in the nineteenth-century: 'Why should the children of God fear want, when we behold the very birds of the air do not go without provision? Moreover, what possible good can this anxiety, this diffidence procure them? Almighty God gives life and growth, which you cannot do with all your solicitude, however intensely you think. Of how much greater consequence then is it to love and serve Him, and to live for Him alone'! Saint John Chrysostom adds: 'It is not without reason that men are in such great fear and distress, when they are so blind as to imagine that their happiness in this life is ruled by fate. But such as know that they are entirely governed by the will of God, know also that a store is laid up for them in His Hands'. And from Saint Thomas Aquinas are these words: 'He that delivers himself entirely into the Hands of God, may rest securely in both prosperity and adversity knowing that he is governed by a tender Father'. Our Saviour tells us that today has enough burdens of its own and worrying about tomorrow will only add to the load of today. Referring again to William Hessels van Est or Estius, the Pauline epistles’ commentator, he teaches us something about the great gift of faith – he wrote: 'It is the curse of the envious and wicked to be self-tormented, while they who live by faith, can always rejoice in hope, the true balm of every Christian's breast, the best friend of all in distress'.

25 February 2011

Sober Intoxication

The Song of Songs is obscure. It indicates that these songs sung between God and a soul chosen as bride and mated and united to God in the human spirit’s chamber, united in the very Image of God are utterly mysterious and completely inexpressible. Not even the bride herself is able to express what she has perceived. When hearts have been moved to jubilation of this sort, the things that result within the spirit cannot be put into conventional and customary words. Just as people drunk with wine lose the ability to talk in a normal fashion, so the bride drunk with sober intoxication speaks in a way intelligible not to anyone and everyone, but only to lovers loving in a similar way.

~ Expositiones Mysticæ Cantica Canticorum, Dom Nicholas Kempf ~

24 February 2011

Have No Peace with Any Vice

Many complain that they are unapt for contemplation and spiritual life, but their own negligence and sloth is the cause. They carry always about with them a heavy burden of unquiet thoughts filled with labour and vexation; but if you desire to enjoy Me have no peace at all with any vice. Banish from you all unprofitable discourses, cares, and businesses which yield no benefit at all to your soul. And never apply your mind to the thinking of any other matter, nor trouble yourself with any other affairs, but such as tend to My honour, the salvation of your own soul, or the commodity of your neighbour, that you being thus alone, and in this fort retired within yourself, may be possessed with Me, Who will never be matched with any other companion.

~ Alloquia Iesu Christi ad Animam Fidelem, by Lanspergius ~

21 February 2011

Vatican Radio: Master of Papal ceremonies on JPII beatification

“It is very important to make as clear as possible that no tickets are needed, to attend the beatification of John Paul II”, says Master of Papal Liturgical Celebrations, Monsignor Guido Marini.

The Prefecture of the Papal Household has issued a draft program for the Beatification of John Paul II, May 1st this year. Describing it as "a great ecclesial event," the office in charge of organising audiences and handles ticketing for all papal events at the Vatican, issued a statement Friday that began “tickets are not needed to attend the beatification ceremony”.

It added that no individual or institution can demand payment for improper deals as has become particularly common on the Internet. It also reaffirms that tickets are always free at papal ceremonies and general audiences.

Cardinal Jose Saraiva Martins, retired Prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, has also confirmed an initial estimate of over 2.5 million pilgrims and faithful, from all over the world, for the ceremony of beatification of John Paul II.

The ceremonies for the beatification have been divided into five phases. The first event is an open air vigil of preparation that will take place on the evening of Saturday, April 30 at the Circus Maximus. Organized by the diocese of Rome , it will be led by Cardinal Agostino Vallini, Vicar General for the diocese of Rome. Pope Benedict XVI will join spiritually through a live video link.

The second phase is beatification ceremony itself, Sunday, May 1 in Saint Peter's Square. The celebration, which will be presided by the Holy Father, will begin at 10a.m. Immediately after the ceremony, the remains of the newly Blessed will be placed in front of the High Altar in Saint Peter's Basilica, for the veneration of the faithful. On Monday, May 2, Secretary of State Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, will preside at the Mass of thanksgiving at 10:30 a.m. in Saint Peter's Square. Following this Pope John Paul II’s remains will be "privately" reinterred in the side chapel of Saint Sebastian, in Saint Peter’s Basilica.

Monsignor Marini, notes, “the beatification ceremony will have the same characteristics of every beatification ceremony, so during the Mass there will be the proclamation of the newly Blessed, and a brief summary of the life of John Paul II will be read. The Pope will solemnly proclaim the newly Blessed, then there will be the unveiling of the image, which will hang in front of the Basilica, from the central balcony, and then also the veneration of a relic that will be taken at the time. These are the various phases of the rite of beatification, inserted within the Eucharistic celebration”.

Regarding the exposition of the coffin of the newly blessed Monsignor Marini adds; “it was decided as follows: the coffin containing the remains of John Paul II, suitably embellished – so we cannot see the body of John Paul II - will be placed in the Basilica, before the High Altar, and access will be allowed to pilgrims for a brief moment of prayer. We thought to expose the coffin of the newly Blessed in the Basilica to foster an atmosphere of meditation and prayer, so that pilgrims can do so as a proper, authentically religious act”.

20 February 2011

Banished to Babylon Until Easter

For many monastic communities as well as those who attend the Extraordinary Form of Mass, today begins the time of Septuagesima. It is a Latin term which means 'seventieth' signifying seventy days until Easter, although that is not literally true. The time of Septuagesima is intended to be a time of preparation for the season of Lent. Without Septuagesima, it is difficult for us creatures with our weaknesses, to dive into a period of mourning and penance beginning with Ash Wednesday; a time of preparation seems fitting. During this time of preparation, at Mass purple vestments are worn and the Gloria in Excelsis Deo is absent; at Matins the Te Deum is not said unless there is a feast. The scriptural Readings or Lessons at Matins are from the beginning of the book Genesis, recalling man’s fall from grace. The 'alleluia' is omitted from both Mass and Office. The Benedictine priest and abbot of Abbaye de Solesmes, Dom Prosper Louis Pascal Guéranger (1805-1875), explains this preparatory period in detail in 'The Liturgical Year'. Here’s an excerpt.

The Season, upon which we are now entering, is expressive of several profound mysteries. But these mysteries belong not only to the three weeks, which are preparatory to Lent; they continue throughout the whole period of time, which separates us from the great Feast of Easter. The number seven is the basis of all these mysteries. Let us listen to Saint Augustine, who thus gives us the clue to the whole of our Season’s mysteries. 'There are two times, one which is now, and is spent in the temptations and tribulations of this life; the other which shall be then, and shall be spent in eternal security and joy. In figure of these, we celebrate two periods: the time before Easter and the time after Easter. That which is before Easter, signifies the sorrow of this present life; that which is after Easter, the blessedness of our future state. Hence it is, that we spend the first in fasting and prayer; and in the second, we give up our fasting, and give ourselves to praise'.

The Church, the interpreter of the Sacred Scriptures, often speaks to us of two places, which correspond with these two times of Saint Augustine. These two places are Babylon and Jerusalem. Babylon is the image of this world of sin, in the midst whereof the Christian has to spend his years of probation; Jerusalem is the heavenly country, where he is to repose after all his trials. The people of Israel, whose whole history is but one great type of the human race, was banished from Jerusalem and kept in bondage in Babylon.

Now, this captivity, which kept the Israelites’ exiles from Zion, lasted seventy years; and it is to express this mystery that the Church fixed the number of Seventy for the days of expiation. It is true, there are but sixty-three days between Septuagesima and Easter; but the Church, according to the style so continually used in the Sacred Scriptures, uses the round number instead of the literal and precise one.

After the Septuagesima of mourning, we shall have the bright Easter with its Seven weeks of gladness, foreshadowing the happiness and bliss of Heaven. After having fasted with our Jesus, and suffered with Him, the day will come when we shall rise together with Him, and our hearts shall follow Him to the highest heavens, and then after a brief interval, we shall feel descending upon us the Holy Spirit, with His Seven Gifts. The celebration of all these wondrous joys will take us Seven weeks, as the great Liturgists observe in their interpretation of the Rites of the Church: the seven joyous weeks from Easter to Pentecost will not be too long for the future glad Mysteries, which, after all, will be but figures of a still gladder future, the future of eternity.

Having heard these sweet whisperings of hope, let us now bravely face the realities brought before us by our dear Mother the Church. We are sojourners upon this earth; we are exiles and captives in Babylon, that city which plots our ruin. If we love our country, if we long to return to it, we must be proof against the lying allurements of this strange land, and refuse the cup she proffers us, and with which she maddens so many of our fellow captives. She invites us to join in her feasts and her songs; but we must unstring our harps, and hang them on the willows that grow on her river’s bank, till the signal be given for our return to Jerusalem. There must be no sign that we are content to be in bondage, or we shall deserve to be slaves forever.

These are the sentiments wherewith the Church would inspire us, during the penitential Season, which we are now beginning. She wishes us to reflect on the dangers that beset us, dangers which arise from our own selves, and from creatures. During the rest of the year, she loves to hear us chant the song of heaven, the sweet Alleluia! -- but now, she bids us close our lips to this word of joy, because we are in Babylon. Let us keep our glad hymn for the day of His return. We are sinners, and have but too often held fellowship with the world of God’s enemies; let us become purified by repentance.

19 February 2011

Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time

First Reading, Leviticus 19:1-2, 17-18
Our heavenly Father is calling us to be like Him – holy. We may have an idea as to what constitutes holiness, but to be holy like God is holy is beyond our full understanding, and without Him, completely impossible. In fact, if not for the Incarnation, it still would not be possible; but Jesus came and destroyed all the walls that prevented us from becoming like Him. The only obstacle He left alone, because of His love for us, is our free will. The word of God encourages us to reprove our brothers and sisters in the Lord to avoid harboring hatred for them in our heart. Saint Augustine reminds us, however, in accordance with God’s law, that love should regulate any complaints against another brother or sister. Philo of Alexandria, an ancient Jewish biblical scholar, understands our Lord’s law in this way: 'O Lord, we do not rejoice at the misfortunes of our enemy, having learned from Your holy laws to be compassionate towards the distress of others. We thank You for delivering us from our afflictions'.

Second Reading, 1 Corinthians 3:16-23
Like the First Reading, holiness is a key ingredient to this Reading as well. But again, it’s a brand of holiness that is beyond the grasp of full human comprehension. We all know that we bumble many things, do things we shouldn’t do and get caught up in things we have no business entertaining. And yet, Saint Paul is trying to sell the idea that we are a temple of God – and holy. The holy apostle surely understood this apparent contradiction by writing: 'Let no one deceive himself'. Everyone likes to be 'in' with the 'in crowd' but Saint Paul is teaching us that to be 'in' with heaven’s crowd is to preserve ourselves in innocence of morality and purity of faith – quite a radically different environment from today’s moral structure. It is only by the grace of God, dwelling within us, that we are able to guard ourselves from the things which deceptively seek our ruin. To be fools in this age is a call to return to simplicity – making good use of the gifts of this world – for as Saint Paul assures us: 'Everything belongs to you'. Jesus came to make known the glory of God and all His perfections, to which He calls us to share in. Each of us, as baptized members of the body of Christ, are disciples, like Paul and Cephas. We are sent to promote salvation, which is completely in harmony with the Church’s mission of evangelization.

Gospel, Saint Matthew 5:38-48
What is offered here by our Saviour are admonitions for the banner of authentic Christianity: to forgive one another and to bear our sufferings with patience. These are not easy words to hear from our Lord, and perhaps it’s worth mentioning that these words were also difficult, if not more difficult to hear, by the witnesses of Jesus’ teaching, because of how they understood the old Law. One of the great weaknesses of being human is our stubborn inability to accept a different take on something that has already been engraved into our minds. In action/adventure movies, for example, we like to see the bad guy get what he deserves in the end. To see the victim forgive his/her assailant makes for a disappointing conclusion to the movie. In this Gospel passage and others, this is the Jesus in which we are tempted to keep a safe distance from. It’s a blast to follow Him from town to town and read about the miracles He performed; but suddenly we get a Jesus Who is delivering difficult words – not only difficult to hear – but He wants us to embrace them. After all, a watered down Christianity is much easier to live – isn’t it? But really what Jesus is saying to us is that the way of the world is not the way of God, and we, therefore, have to be radically different. True discipleship demands that each day, little by little, we are being transformed into the Image of Jesus. What makes the difficult sayings of Jesus so difficult is that we’re not divine beings; but, what makes not being divine bearable is that there is a sacrament of healing. Otherwise, love for Jesus could end up in an abyss of disappointment and self-pity due to our failings. Christianity is a courageous act. The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches: 'Christ Jesus always did what was pleasing to the Father, and always lived in perfect communion with Him. Likewise Christ’s disciples are invited to live in the sight of the Father Who sees in secret, in order to become perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect' (CCC 1693). Our Redeemer’s words are about love – not pacifism. Every human being has dignity and is loved by God. Thus, to be perfect as our heavenly Father is perfect requires love. We’re well-trained at voicing four letters words at those who perpetrate something contrary to decency. Our heavenly Father, however, looks at such a person with love and sees him/her as someone who in human weakness succumbed to evil. That is love and that is perfection. Isn’t that really the point of Christ being tempted in the desert: to draw out into the daylight the one who hides in darkness, who crawls under rocks and gets others to do his dirty work – in other words, the real enemy?

18 February 2011

Hearts Must Be Detached and Turned Towards God

Creatures -- and the devil who uses them -- do not let themselves be ousted without a struggle. The life of prayer calls for continuous battles: it is the most important and the longest effort in a life dedicated to God. This effort has been given a beautiful name: it is called The Guard of the Heart. The human heart is a city: it was meant to be a stronghold. Sin surrendered it.

Henceforth it is an open city, the walls of which have to be built up again (cf. Psalm 50:20). The enemy never ceases to do all he can to prevent this. He does this with his accustomed cleverness and strength, with stratagem and fury. He puts before us such happy thoughts, and occasionally useful ones, pictures so attractive or frightening, and he clothes it all with reasons so impressive that he succeeds all along the line to distract us, and entice us away from the divine Presence.

We have always to be starting again. These continual recoveries, this endless beginning again, tires and disheartens us far more than the actual fighting. We would much prefer a real battle, fierce and decisive. But God, as a rule, thinks otherwise. He would rather we were in a constant state of war. He prefers these ambuscades and snares; these precautions and the need for constant vigilance. He is Love, and this continuous warfare calls for more love and develops that love still further. Besides, He is there: He conducts the fight Himself. He holds the enemy in check, watches his every movement and out-maneuvers him. He plays with him, allows him to advance in order the better to attack and overcome him. He prefers striking victories, in spite of temporary setbacks, and sometimes even real disasters.

We must detach ourselves from this world. The simple, mechanical repetition of words is not enough. Distractions voluntarily entertained paralyze it; occupations become preoccupations and are an obstacle. We do not give God His due. We give Him nothing unless we give Him all the attention of which we are capable. To what tasks, what cares, what useless preoccupations do we not attach undue importance, and what a place they take up in our prayers. We think we are seeking only the Kingdom of God and His glory, and all the while we are seeking ourselves. Such things are not inspired by the Holy Spirit but by nature. The devil is at hand to tell us how extremely profitable they are. Indeed, he encourages and helps us, and actually makes them with us, for they weaken the divine union and the heart's sweet contact.

For a heart that is calm and free: that keeps itself detached and turned towards God, all occupation is prayer. For the heart that gives itself up completely to its tasks and thus forgets God, even prayer is sterile and a waste of time.

~ Dom Augustine Guillerand ~

14 February 2011

Celebrated like a Pope

Today is the feast of Saints Cyril and Methodius. The former was a monk and the latter a Bishop. Together they translated the liturgical books into the Slavonic language. At Matins, the Carthusians reflected on this brief Reading from the Slavonic 'Life of Constantine'. Here's what they heard:

When the time had come for Cyril to take his rest and leave this world for his heavenly home, he raised his hands to God and prayed with tears: O Lord, my God, You have created all the choirs of angels and spiritual powers. You have stretched out the heavens and made firm the earth, creating all that exists from nothing. You hear the prayers of those who obey Your will and keep Your commandments. Hear my prayer and protect Your faithful flock, over which You set me as their foolish and unworthy servant.

Free Your people from the impious malice of those unbelievers who blaspheme against You. Build up Your Church and gather all into unity. Make Your Church grow in number, and gather all its members into unity. Make them a chosen people, of one mind in Your true faith and in orthodox profession of it. Inspire the hearts of Your people with Your word and Your teaching. For it is a gracious favour from you that you have accepted us to preach the Gospel of Your Christ by enocouraging people to do good works and by doing what pleases You.

I now return to You, Your people, whom You gave me. Rule them with Your powerful right Hand; keep them under the shadow of Your Wings, that they may all praise and glorify Your Name, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.

Then he kissed them all with a holy kiss and said: Blessed be God, Who did not give us over as a prey to the fangs of our invisible enemies; He has broken their nets and freed us from destruction at their hands. Cyril then fell asleep in the Lord at the age of forty-two.

The Pope commanded all those in Rome, both the Greeks and Romans, to gather for Cyril's funeral. They were to chant over him together and carry candles; they were to celebrate his funeral as if he had been the Pope himself; and this they did.

12 February 2011

Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time

First Reading, Sirach 15:15-20
The Latin Vulgate’s version of this Reading tells us that “God made man from the beginning and left him in the hand of his own counsel.” There’s an eerie tone in that translation which intimates how responsible we must be as individuals when exercising God’s gift of free will. The Latin Vulgate also reveals that the keeping of God’s Commandments is to “perform acceptable fidelity forever.” We have been made executors of a great treasure – our own salvation. No other creature or any other form of creation on earth has been given such a gargantuan responsibility. We do, however, possess something that is perhaps an underestimated aid – the grace of God. Saint Augustine explains: “If we examine the context, it shows that man, in his present state, is declared inexcusable if he yields to sin, as he still has free will, which may avoid it, with the grace of God, which is always ready to support us.” It is often said that our Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI proposes – not imposes. We see in this Reading a proposal – not an imposition. Our Holy Father, however, as Christ’s Vicar on earth, proposes to us what is best for our relationship with God. Through Sirach, God Himself in this Reading proposes what is most advantageous for our soul, regardless of how mysterious or incomprehensible it is. The Law of God has been written on stone tablets and on the tablets of human hearts: man has the free choice of whether or not to comply with it.

Second Reading, 1 Corinthians 2:6-10
Saint John Chrysostom explains what Saint Paul means by ‘wisdom’: “By wisdom, here seems to be understood a more sublime doctrine concerning the most abstruse mysteries of faith, which the ignorant could not understand.” It was the Incarnation of the Son of God which revealed this mysterious wisdom, but a wisdom, nevertheless, that continues to remain hidden in many, even among those who are considered wise by human standards. This is why we year after year observe the Lord of glory continuing to be questioned and verbally crucified in various publications and documentaries, especially around the Lent and Easter season. The Spirit of God is a Spirit of grace, knowledge and prophecy – a Spirit which God gives to His faithful, and most particularly to His apostles. This Spirit of God raises one to a higher knowledge of divine mysteries. Among the faithful of God, even if unable to recognize this mysterious knowledge of God within themselves, certainly have witnessed it in our modern day heroes like Blessed Teresa of Calcutta, Saint Pio of Pietrelcina, Father Solanus Casey, and Pope John Paul II.

Gospel, Saint Matthew 5:17-37
Many of the external practices or rituals of the old Law no longer come into play in Christianity, but Jesus is not talking about that. Our Lord is referring to the moral precepts, the spirit of the old Law which not only needs to be adhered to, but practiced with greater perfection: “Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Saint Matthew 5:48). Jesus is the Reality of all the figures of the Old Testament. He is the Perfection of all the imperfections of old, and calls us to this Perfection, which is Himself. The Old Law was extremely protected by its doctors and our Lord’s raising of it to an elevated morality was, to say the least, radical and scandalous. But as Jesus tells us, this is not an abolishment, but a fulfillment. One might say that Jesus accomplishes the will of the Law. Saint John Chrysostom writes: “He [Jesus] fulfilled the Law by reducing all the precepts of the old Law to a more strict and powerful morality.” Our Savior often spoke the words: “Amen, I say to you. . .” That “Amen” is an assurance, a guarantee that what He is about to say is absolute truth. Saint Augustine taught something that is somewhat taboo today basically because no one wants to consider such a possibility: he taught that what Jesus meant by “least in the Kingdom of heaven” is to not be in heaven at all. And thus, this is why Jesus said very clearly, “unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the Kingdom of heaven.” In other words, if it is only the letter of the Law that is adhered to and not the spirit of the Law, then the only thing being satisfied or fulfilled is one’s own vanity. Saint Thomas Aquinas teaches us: “See how necessary it is, not only to believe, but to keep all the Commandments, even the very least. Our Savior makes this solemn declaration at the opening of His mission, to show to what a height of perfection He calls us.” The word “Raqa” is a word of contempt. It was used in ancient Israel. Its root meaning is “to spit”. Jesus uses the setting of a legal court and that setting is something that would have been very familiar to the hearers of His words in first-century Palestine. There were three kinds of tribunals: the first had three judges to try smaller cases, like theft, for example. The second kind of tribunal consisted of twenty-three judges who listened to criminal cases. These twenty-three judges had the power to condemn to death. This was known as the “Little Sanhedrin”. The final type of tribunal was known as the “Great Sanhedrin” which consisted of seventy-two judges who decided on cases involving religion, the king, the high priest, and affairs of the state. While the words, “you fool” are insulting in our modern culture, at the time of Jesus they were considered very contemptuous, spiteful, malicious, and provoking words. Gehenna was in the valley of Hinnom near Jerusalem. Worshippers of an idol named Moloch would go to Gehenna to sacrifice their own children by burning them. It is now symbolic of hell. Jesus does teach us in His examples that there are distinctions of sin – mortal and venial. According to Saints Cyprian and Ambrose as well as Origen, an early Church writer, on a spiritual realm, what Jesus means by “prison” is purgatory. And then, of course, Gehenna is hell, the place of eternal separation from God. Jesus is not suggesting that all oaths are forbidden. Certainly asking God to witness matters in our legal system, for example, are necessary. Most likely what our Lord is referring to is the swearing to God in casual conversations. God’s Name is sacred and should only be spoken with great reverence and respect. We have been called to a perfection that seems impossible by human standards – and without God, it is. But if we are to understand and adhere to the spirit of the Law, then we have to recognize that a key and essential ingredient in the spirit of the Law is mercy. Not only are we called to be merciful, but to trust in God’s love and mercy for us. This ingredient is so important, that our Redeemer made it a sacrament – and the sacraments can raise us to the heights of perfection.

11 February 2011

A Royal Sign Which Makes Devils Flee

On this day 11 February in 1858 Saint Bernadette Soubirous received her first visit from the Mother of God. It was a Thursday which young Bernadette said was “the Thursday before Ash Wednesday.” This is how she described our Blessed Lady:

“She has the appearance of a young girl of sixteen or seventeen. She is dressed in a white robe, girdled at the waist with a blue ribbon which flows down all along her robe. She wears upon her head a veil which is also white; this veil gives just a glimpse of her hair and then falls down at the back below her waist. Her feet are bare but covered by the last folds of her robe except at the point where a yellow rose shines upon each of them. She holds on her right arm a Rosary of white beads with a chain of gold shining like the two roses on her feet.”

The Blessed Virgin comes to Bernadette with a Rosary, and the two would pray the Rosary together. Before Bernadette could lift her right hand to her forehead to begin with the Sign of the Cross, our Lady stopped Bernadette by paralyzing her arm. And then our Blessed Lady made the Sign of the Cross; afterward, Bernadette was permitted to do the same.

Something happened there that is very mysterious. Our Blessed Mother apparently taught Bernadette the proper way to make the Sign of the Cross. As Catholics, we make the Sign of the Cross often, but how many times do we make it with great devotion and reverence?

Saint Cyril of Jerusalem taught that the Sign of the Cross was a royal Sign which makes devils flee trembling with fear.

It is said that many were converted to the faith simply because they witnessed Bernadette make the Sign of the Cross; and she was taught how to do it properly by our Lady. It’s interesting that when Bernadette became a nun, one of the other sisters asked her what must be done to be assured of going to heaven. Bernadette’s response was: “Make the Sign of the Cross well. That in itself is already a great deal.”

As the first apparition of Our Lady continued, Bernadette alone prayed the Rosary vocally; our Lady passed the beads through her fingers in silence. Our Blessed Mother, however, did speak at the end of each decade by praying the Gloria with Bernadette.

It is a great grace to be able to fully interiorize the Rosary; that is, to mentally pray the Pater Noster, Ave Maria and Gloria, while still being able to enter deeply into the mysteries of the Gospel. A great grace indeed, but our Blessed Lady, of course, was gratia plena – full of grace. Our Lady can assist us in receiving this grace if we ask her to reveal to us the treasures in her Immaculate Heart. Sacred Scripture tell us that: “Maria… conservabat omnia verba hæc, conferens in corde suo – Mary kept all these words, pondering them in her heart” (Luke 2:19).

It was on the Feast of the Annunciation, 25 March 1858 that the Lady of Bernadette’s visions revealed in Bernadette’s Bigourdan dialect: “Que soy era Immaculada Councepciou – I am the Immaculate Conception.” Bernadette had no idea what that meant but was later told that it was a title for the Blessed Virgin Mary. It was nearly four years earlier on 8 December 1854 that Pope Pius IX in the Apostolic Constitution, Ineffabilis Deus, pronounced that the Blessed Virgin Mary “was preserved exempt from all stain of original sin.”

10 February 2011

The Waiting is the Hardest Part

Why does God, Who is Love, keep us waiting? Because He is Love, and seeks love. Love that does not know how to wait is not love. To love is to give oneself. Not only for a fraction of a lifetime, nor with a part of its strength: love is, and seeks, the total gift of self.

Love is based on esteem. We only love what we value and admire. We love only the 'good'. What is too easily and too quickly come by does not attract deep souls. It becomes a superficial good, which cannot satisfy the rich capacity of their nature. And they are right! The relations between beings are governed by laws, which they guess at but cannot always define. It is a law that real treasures are deeply buried and carefully hidden; that serious acquisitions call for proportionate efforts. What exceptions there are do not weaken the argument.

God is the treasure beyond price. Were He to give Himself too easily, even the best would turn their backs upon Him. Saint John Climacus gives an almost similar reason, but with an interesting difference. 'Prayer', he says, 'is an activity which develops and enriches enormously. It is a source of merit and satisfaction, and of spiritual progress of every kind'. God imposes repetitions and a certain persistence in prayer in order to increase our merit. Delays in union are not time lost: far from it. God sees very far ahead; He makes wonderful use of what we call evil -- of our wanderings, our hesitations and detours, although He does not love them or want them. It is at these moments, above all, that we need confidence and perseverence. The prayer, whether for ourselves or for others, which is not discouraged, which persists and besieges heaven, touches God's Heart: and that is why He tells us to persevere.

God is love. He loves, and wants to be loved; it is the basic law of His being. To realize this is to find the solution to all our problems.

A soul that tends towards Him cannot tire Him. It always delights Him and the soul should know this. Its persistency displeases Him only when it is for something it wants inordinately. For example, I want good health, and I insist. Such a request could displease Him, because I must want -- at all costs, that is -- only what He wills; and health is not in His Eyes essential. He is saddened, not by my persistence, but because an irregular wish such as this separates me from Him.

When it is a question of the real good, of such things as He always wills and for which we can ask Him without being separated from Him, our persistence pleases Him. It is what our Lord Himself commended in two or three delightful parables -- the child asking his father for bread; the friend knocking repeatedly at his friend's door for the same reason; the widow who persevered in asking a judge, and a wicked one at that, for justice, until she obtained it.

God is a Father, a Friend and a Judge. But He is a Father Whose love is boundless, and Whose power is as great as His love. He is a Friend, Whose friendship knows no change, and is at the mercy of all our needs. He is a Judge, but always just, always moved by our appeals and quick to answer them. He loves our persistence, He wants us to appeal to Him, to ask of Him, so that He can be sure of our love, and taste the joy of having a proof of it, even if it be a selfish one.

~ Dom Augustin Guillerand ~

09 February 2011

Mother of Grace

Chosen soul, living image of God and redeemed by the precious Blood of Jesus Christ, God wants you to become holy like Him in this life, and glorious like Him in the next.

It is certain that growth in the holiness of God is your vocation. All your thoughts, words, actions, everything you suffer or undertake must lead you towards that end. What a marvelous transformation is possible! Dust into light, uncleanness into purity, sinfulness into holiness, creature into Creator, man into God!

Chosen soul, how will you bring this about? What steps will you take to reach the high level to which God is calling you? The means of holiness and salvation are known to everybody. These means are: sincere humility, unceasing prayer, complete self-denial, abandonment to Divine Providence, and obedience to the will of God.

The grace and help of God are absolutely necessary for us to practice all these. A person who corresponds to great graces performs great works, and one who corresponds to lesser graces performs lesser works. The value and high standard of our actions corresponds to the value and perfection of the grace given by God and responded to by the faithful soul. No one can contest these principles.

My contention is that you must first discover Mary if you would obtain this grace from God. Mary alone found grace with God for herself and for every individual person. No patriarch nor prophet nor any other holy person of the Old Law could manage to find this grace. It was Mary who gave existence and life to the Author of all grace, and because of this she is called the “Mother of Grace.”

As Saint Bernard says, “The will of God is manifested to her in Jesus and with Jesus.” God chose her to be the treasurer, the administrator and the dispenser of all His graces, so that all His gifts and graces pass through her hands. According to Saint Bernardine, “She gives the graces of the eternal Father, the virtues of Jesus Christ, and the gifts of the Holy Spirit to whom she wills.”

Since Mary produced the Head of the elect, Jesus Christ, she must also produce the members of that Head. If anyone, then, wishes to become a member of Jesus Christ, and consequently be filled with grace and truth, he must be formed in Mary through the grace of Jesus Christ, which she possesses with a fullness enabling her to communicate it abundantly to true members of Jesus Christ, her true children.

~ Saint Louis-Marie Grignion de Montfort ~

05 February 2011

Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time

First Reading, Isaiah 58:7-10
In the Hebrew text the opening verse literally translates as, “Break bread with the hungry.” While it would be proper to interpret this Reading very literally and see in it the Christian duty of taking care of the less fortunate, it’s also necessary to go deeper, past the physical aspects and allow this Reading to speak to us spiritually and prophetically. It is our Lord Jesus Christ Who feeds the hungry with the Bread of Life. He lifted and removed our state of oppression when He allowed Himself to be lifted up on the Cross which obliterated our slavery to sin and death. We are strangers in a foreign land who are journeying to our heavenly homeland. Being naked speaks of vulnerability and conveys to us how much we depend on our Lord. The light breaking forth like the dawn is the Light of Christ Who heals our wounds of sin and suffering. Our submission to our Saviour allows His Light to shine on our darkness and the Light will always overpower the darkness; and when we do His bidding, His Power working through us becomes very evident as He speaks to our spirit proclaiming, “Here I am!”

Second Reading, 1 Corinthians 2:1-5
The message Saint Paul is proclaiming here is that for the spiritual person, the wisdom, power and eloquence which derives from God is far superior to that which the world esteems. In this letter, Saint Paul tries to accentuate this point by asking the Corinthians to recollect his example of total reliance on the Lord when he visited Corinth. Paul’s weakness, fear and trembling are probably a reference to his sufferings experienced in Macedonia. At the time of this writing, Saint Paul’s physical health may have also been a challenge for him. When reading Saint Paul’s letters, it’s only natural to be curious about what it must have been like to have seen this man of God in action. Truthfully, we are not deprived of this because it is not Saint Paul but God Who is seen in action through representatives like Saint Paul. Today we are fortunate to have seen God in action through individuals like Pope John Paul II, Padre Pio, Father Solanus Casey and Mother Teresa of Calcutta to name several. Have you seen God work and move in your own life?

Gospel, Saint Matthew 5:13-16
Salt is added to food as a seasoning which makes the food tastier. While your doctor might tell you to avoid excessive use of it, spiritually speaking you and I as disciples of Christ are called upon to be the moral seasoning for the world in which we live. In ancient Palestinian usage, when the salt of Christian discipleship becomes impure, then there is nothing left in the world to restore its savor. Saint John Chrysostom points out that the merits of Christ delivers us from the corruption of sin; but the care and labour of His disciples preserves us from returning to it again. The next example is light. In a world of darkness, followers of Christ are obligated to light the path which leads to the Lord. Our negligence in this is a nonuse of our gifts which is comparable to a lamp put under a bushel basket. Looking at the big picture, the Church is the light of the world built upon Christ Who is the Mountain. We are a people of God through baptism and our destiny is the Kingdom of God which has been begun by God Himself on earth and which must be further extended until it has been brought to perfection by Him at the end of time (cf. CCC 782).

Given to Us as a Gift by God Himself

Today the Church celebrates the feast of Saint Agatha who at a very young age devoted herself to God and resisted any temptations to have relationships with men. If fact, one high ranking official had her arrested because she resisted him. His hopes were that Agatha, a professed Christian in a time when Christianity was highly persecuted, would give in for fear of torture and death. But she held firmly to her faith and prayed: “Jesus Christ, Lord of all things, You see my heart, You know my desires. Possess alone all that I am. I am Your sheep, make me worthy to overcome the devil.” After being tortured the first time, she received from God a vision of Saint Peter who healed all her wounds. While enduring her final agonizing torture, before she died, she prayed: “Lord, my Creator, You have ever protected me from the cradle; You have taken me from the love of the world, and given me patience to suffer: receive now my soul.” Saint Agatha is often depicted in art as holding her breasts on a platter because it is said that one of the tortures administered to her was having her breasts cut off. At Matins, the Carthusians listened to a brief lesson about Saint Agatha written by Saint Methodius of Sicily. Here is what they heard.

The annual commemoration of Saint Agatha has brought us together; she is a martyr of ancient times who achieved renown in the early Church for her noble victory; she is also well known in modern times, for she continues to triumph through her divine miracles, with which she is daily crowned and beautifully adorned.

Agatha, who invites us to this religious feast is the bride of Christ, the virgin who wore the glow of a pure conscience and the crimson of the Lamb's Blood for her cosmetics. Again and again she meditated on the death of her Divine Lover.Her robe is the mark of her faithful witness to Christ. It bears the indelible marks of His crimson Blood and also that of her virginity. Saint Agatha thus becomes a witness of inexhaustible eloquence for all generations.

Saint Agatha is truly good, coming forth from her Spouse in Whose goodness she shares, bearing the meaning of her name, Agatha, that is, “good,” given to us as a gift by God Himself, the Source of all goodness.

What can be more beneficial than the Highest Good? And who could find something more worthy than a celebration with hymns of praise than Agatha? Agatha means “good” whose goodness fits both her name and her reality. Agatha, whose magnificent achievements delivers a glorious name while at the same time shows us the glorious deeds she accomplished. Agatha, who even by her name draws us, in order that everyone comes eagerly to meet her, and by her example teaches everyone to strive with her, without delay, towards the true “Good” Who is God alone.

04 February 2011

A Man of Sincerity and Religious Zeal

Today the Carthusians celebrate one of their own: Blessed Lanuin, a companion of Saint Bruno, who faithfully followed the Carthusian founder even to his deathbed where Lanuin succeeded him as Prior in Calabria. Like Saint Bruno, Blessed Lanuin was of German heritage. He went with Saint Bruno to Rome when Pope Urban II asked Bruno to be a papal adviser. With Saint Bruno and a few others, they kept their monastic/semi-eremitic lifestyle as much as they possibly could while in Rome. The friendship between Saint Bruno and Blessed Lanuin was very close and they were mentioned together on a couple of occasions: Count Roger of Calabria had a deed for a monastery in the names of Bruno and Lanuin. And in 1098 a papal bull contained the words, “To our very dear and honourable sons, Bruno and Lanuin.” On 6 October 1101 Saint Bruno died and Blessed Lanuin, with the rousing approval of Pope Paschal II, was elected Bruno’s successor as Prior. Lanuin was a holy man and was entrusted with many things which included the responsibility given by Pope Paschal II to reform the monasteries of other Religious Orders in the region.

The Holy Father’s letter to Lanuin included these words:
The sanctity, the sincerity and the religious zeal of which you
have given proof in the reform of churches and monasteries,
urges us strongly to regard you in high esteem and to render
acts of thanksgiving to the Almighty. We, then, are moved by
your piety and to confide fully to your fervour, we exhort and
oblige you to take to your charge the care of monasteries belonging
to our jurisdiction, which are in your vicinity. Examine
that in these there would be nothing contrary to the monastic
discipline and enforce to reform all abuses with great moderation
and discretion.

The many responsibilities entrusted to Blessed Lanuin did not, however, obstruct his wonderful gift of contemplation. His true place was the silence of his desert. He lived nearly nineteen years after the death of Saint Bruno. He died on 11 April 1120 and was buried in Saint Bruno’s tomb. His reputation for holiness continues even today and is especially celebrated by the Carthusian Order.

From the Carthusian diurnal:
Lord God, You called Lanuin to be one of
Saint Bruno’s companions in solitude.
Through the merits of these our first fathers
may we also reach the eternal glory of heaven.

03 February 2011

We Have a Duty to Contribute Our Meager Offerings

On this feast of Saint Blaise, his martyrdom was the theme for the Carthusians at Matins. Here is the short lesson from Saint Augustine that was proclaimed to the monks.

The Son of Man has come not to be served, but to serve, and to give His own life as a ransom for many (Saint Matthew 20:28). Consider how the Lord served, and see what kind of servants He bids us to be. He gave His own life as a ransom for many; He ransomed us.

But who among us is able to ransom anyone? We have been redeemed through His Blood and we were ransomed from death by His death and His humility; and we who lay prostrate were raised up by His humiliation. And yet we, too, have a duty to contribute our meager offerings to His members, for we have become His members. He is the Head; we are the body.

In his letter, the apostle John exhorts us to follow the example of the Lord. Christ said: Whoever wishes to be the greater among you will be your servant, just as the Son of Man has come not to be served but to serve and to give His own life as ransom for many (Saint Matthew 20:27-28). Thus this is the model that the apostle advises us to follow when he says: Christ laid down His life for us; so we, too, ought to lay down our lives for our brothers (1 Saint John 3:16).

After His Resurrection our Lord asked: Peter, do you love me? And Peter replied: I do love You. The question and the answer were repeated three times. And each time the Lord added: Feed My sheep. In other words, if you want to show that you love Me, then feed My sheep. What will you give Me if you love Me, since you look for everything to come from Me? Now you know what you are to do if you love Me: Feed My sheep. Thus we have the same question and answer once, twice, three times. Do you love Me? I do love You. Feed My sheep. Three times Peter had denied in fear; three times he confessed out of love. By his replies and his profession of love, Peter condemned and wiped out his former fear. And so the Lord, after entrusting His sheep to him for the third time, immediately added: When you were a young man, you would gird yourself and go wherever you wished. But when you are old, another will gird you and take you where you do not wish to go. This He spoke signifying by what death he was about to glorify God (Saint John 21:19). Thus He foretold Peter's own sufferings and crucifixion.

By this the Lord suggested that feed My sheep meant suffer for My sheep.

02 February 2011

The Light that Enlightens Every Man

Today is the feast of the Presentation of the Lord. Jesus certainly desired to grasp firmly His Humanity by taking our humanity upon Himself and willfully accepting all the joys and sorrows associated with being human with the exception of committing sin, but nevertheless would take our sins upon Himself. His most holy Mother, attuned to the will of God in an extraordinary way, in a sense makes this decision for Jesus, since He is but an Infant. Speaking in terms of His Divine Person and Nature, circumcision is completely unnecessary for Him.

The exegete, Nicholas of Lyra, suggests that circumcision is how Jesus manifests the reality of His Humanity. He also explains that as God, Jesus instituted circumcision, and therefore undergoing this process Himself, demonstrates His approval of it; and for our Lady and Saint Joseph, this was necessary according to the law which they knew so well. There is a mysterious level of humility here as well: as an Infant, He is incapable of making decisions, but as God He accepts upon Himself a procedure that is unnecessary – in other words, He makes Himself subject to His own law.

Our Blessed Lady also accepts upon herself the ritual of Purification, which for her is unnecessary. Saint Lawrence Justinian in a homily on the Purification points out that Mary was raised above the law by extraordinary grace, but her humility subjected her to it.

The poverty of the Holy Family is intimated in the Gospel account of the Presentation because turtledoves and pigeons was the offering of the economically poorer classes.

Simeon, thought to be a Jewish priest, witnesses first hand the embodiment of the consolation of Israel, the long-awaited Messiah. Simeon holds Jesus, given to him by His holy Mother. At Mass, a priest holds Him at the altar, given to him by the power of ordination and the words of Consecration through holy Mother Church.

In Simeon’s Nunc Dimittis, which the Church prays during her Night Prayer, there is an air of “it doesn’t get any better than this” in that prayer, considering that Simeon was now prepared to die. But it did get better than that. Simeon was able to hold Jesus and see Him; but through the Eucharist we get to receive Him into our souls. Still, there is much we can learn from Simeon’s disposition: if he was prepared to die at the sight of Jesus, how much joy should we have in receiving Him? If Simeon had the opportunity to stand in line waiting to receive Holy Communion, the wait would probably have made him antsy with anticipation. Are we? Jesus offers us Himself, our salvation, the Light and the glory of the Church. Isn’t this our highlight of the day or week?

It is fitting on this day to read at least some of the words of Saint Sophronius of Jerusalem. He was a seventh-century Patriarch of Jerusalem, but before his hierarchal appointment, he was a monk of great simplicity and he was also a theologian. He was born in Damascus and thus was of Arabian descent, but was often referred to as a Sophist because of his skills with the Greek language. Here is a piece of his homily which perhaps starts out by suggesting an interior dispostion in that we “run to Christ.”

We all run to Christ, we who sincerely and profoundly adore His mystery; we set out towards Him full of joy, carrying lighted candles, as a symbol of His divine splendour.

Thanks to Him all creation is radiant; in truth it is inundated by an eternal light which dissipates the shadows of evil and makes the whole universe radiant with the brilliance of His eternal light. But let these lighted candles be especially the symbol of the eternal splendour with which we wish to prepare ourselves for our meeting with Christ. Indeed, just as His Mother, the most pure Virgin, carried Him in her arms, Who is the true light, and showed Him to all who find themselves in darkness, so may we also, who hold in our hands this light that is visible to all, and who are illuminated by its shining, hasten to go to meet Him, Who is the true light.

The Dayspring from on High has visited us and given light to those who lived in darkness. This, then, is our feast, and we join in procession with lighted candles to reveal the light that has shone upon us and the glory that is yet to come to us through Him. The light that enlightens every man who comes into the world, has come. All together we come to Christ, to let ourselves be clothed with His splendour and, together with the old man Simeon, welcome Him, the eternal living light. With him we exult with joy and sing a hymn of thanksgiving to God, Father of light, Who sent us the true light to lead us out of darkness and make us luminous.

Through Simeon’s eyes we too have seen the salvation of God which He prepared for all the nations and revealed as the glory of the new Israel, which is ourselves. As Simeon was released from the bonds of this life when he had seen Christ, so we too were at once freed from our old state of sinfulness.

By faith we too embraced Christ, the salvation of God the Father, as He came to us from Bethlehem. Gentiles before, we have now become the people of God. Our eyes have seen God Incarnate, and because we have seen Him present among us and have mentally received Him into our arms, we are called the new Israel. Never shall we forget this presence; every year we keep a feast in His honour.

01 February 2011

Present unto Me a pure heart

Diligently examine yourself, and look most nearly and narrowly into yourself, that you may know what is in you, which is an impediment to you, for the receiving of My grace, that is to say, what is in you which displeases Me, that you may correct and amend it. Consider to what things, and by what means, you are tempted, and where you see yourself most sharply and often tempted, there seek to resist them with greatest diligence, and most earnestly endeavour. Where you find yourself weaker, there apply more forcible remedies quickly to vanquish them. Where you perceive any occasion which moves you to sin, or not to profit in this spiritual course, there cut off that scandal and impediment from you.

Have special care to present unto Me a pure heart; free from all uncleanness, and neither infected with any inordinate love to My creatures, nor occupied with any unnecessary business in this world, and labour evermore with all that you are able wholly to cleave unto Me, and still to rely upon Me. The cause why I do exhort you to a continual exercise of compunction is that by it you may keep yourself free from foreign or wandering thoughts, which you can never attain unto, except you be recollected in your mind. Neither can you come to be thus recollected, unless you lead an internal and solitary life, private to yourself and withdrawn from all worldy affairs. Wherefore mark with a watchful eye those vices, concupiscences, and wicked inclinations which reign in you, that you may never cease with all your might to persecute them, and willingly to mortify in yourself all inordinate affections.

~ Alloquia Iesu Christi ad Animam Fidelem, by Lanspergius ~