Following the Good Shepherd

Greetings on this Good Shepherd Sunday! We wanted to share with you some beautiful thoughts from our friend, Fr. Matthew Furgiuele, a priest of the diocese of Gaylord.

What Is Necessary to Listen to the Voice of the Good Shepherd?

Today’s readings may not seem like it, but they actually present us with a great challenge. None of us, myself included, likes to admit this, but, the words of Peter to the Jewish community in Jerusalem apply just as well in our lives. “God has made both Lord and Christ this Jesus whom you crucified.” Peter’s listener’s at least were able to be “cut to the heart”, and it is this one thing above all else that I need, and that you need. If the word of God does not convict us, if the result of participation in the sacramental life of the Church is not to be cut to the heart, then we are missing the point. This has always been a great mystery to me: to try to understand why it is so hard to acknowledge our own flaws, and why it is that we all insist again and again that we are fine, that while, of course in a generic sense I could be better, when it comes to any specific point, I am fine. We all do this, we all have this need for self-justification, and this, more than anything else is the thing that holds us back from the holiness and the peace that God desires for us. Our Lord’s words could not be more clear: “I came so that they might have life and have it more abundantly.”

These words of our Lord are both simple and out of reach for us at the same time. They are simple because they tell us all that we need to know about God and His love for us, but they are out of reach because they require us to be capable of acknowledging both that we are dead and that something other than ourselves is the cure. As long as we remain closed off, convinced of our goodness, or incapable of acknowledging our shortcomings, we do not really experience salvation. The grace of God cannot function where it is not welcome, and it can never be welcome whenever we chose to deny the need for it.

All of this is true, and I doubt that a single one of us denies it; however, that knowledge alone is incapable of bringing about that which it accepts. In the final analysis, there is one thing that holds us all back: FEAR. When I am afraid of anything, it means that I am closed off, that I am dead, that I have not life in abundance. Fear is the one thing, more than any other that destroys us. Fear is, in a sense, more toxic than sin. We have already seen that Christ is the Lord, that He overcame sin and death, so why then do we continue, day after day, to interfere with that victory?

The answer is simple, we are more afraid of our wretchedness than we are certain of God’s love and God’s power. The more certain we are of God’s love for us, the more we embrace our brokenness, the more we hear the voice of the Good Shepherd. Everything in Scripture points to this fact: those who trust in God are easily corrected, but those who do not cling to their own point of view. Even as he hung on the Cross, Our Lord was faced with this stark contrast: on the one side, a thief who clung to his own point of view, on the other side, a thief who gave thanks for the privilege of encountering his Savior, even though it took the cross to bring it about. Each and every day all of us, myself included, need to ask that question: which thief am I, for thieves we are. If we are able to see Christ, then we are the good thief, but if we see only ourselves, our rights, our perspective, then we are doomed. Look to Christ, speak with Him, worship Him, most of all, listen to Him, He will tell you all that you need to know. Do not be afraid of Him, do not try to justify yourself before Him, it is impossible. Not one of us, and first and foremost me, is justified before God; rather, He is the one who justifies us, not because we deserve it, but because we need it. The price of our salvation is the loss of the fear that makes us hell-bent on saving ourselves.

One of the things which we all fear most, I think, is the discovery that we are nothing special. Each and every one of us, myself included likes to fancy himself important, and for that reason, we increase our fear, and we distance ourselves from The One who can actually give us the importance that we try so hard to give to ourselves. Robert Hugh Benson describes this so well in the chapter on “Christ in the Average Man” and I can think of no better way for us to regain the ability to know the voice of Christ the Good Shepherd than what he describes:

It is not so easy, however, to recognize Christ in the average man — any more than it is easy to recognize the Divine will and guidance in humdrum circumstances. How, we ask ourselves, is it possible for the Unique to disguise Himself under the Ordinary, for the Fairest of the children of men to hide Himself under the merely unattractive, for the One “chosen out of thousands” to be concealed beneath the Average? ‘Yet, if the love of our neighbour means anything, it means exactly this. “Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me”. . . (as well as in the heart of every man who never gives me a thought). “Christ in the mouth of every man who speaks to me. Christ in every eye that sees me. Christ in every ear that hears me…. To do this perfectly and consistently is sanctity. To find Him here is to find Him everywhere….

Two considerations, however, are worth remarking: (1) We have to remind ourselves constantly of the duty, and to remain discontented with ourselves until we are at least attempting to practise it….(2) A second aid to this recognition of Christ lies in an increase of self-knowledge. My supreme difficulty is the merely superficial and imaginative difficulty of realizing how it is possible to discern the Unique beneath the disguise of the Average. Therefore, as I learn to know myself better, and learn therefore how very average I myself am, and, at the same time, discover that Christ still bears with me, tolerates me and dwells within me, it becomes easier for me to realize that Christ is also in my neighbour. As I penetrate deeper and deeper by self-knowledge into the strata of my own character, learning afresh with each discovery how self-love permeates the whole, how little zeal there is for God’s glory, and what an immensity of zeal for my own, how my best actions are poisoned by the worst motives — and yet, all through, that Christ still condescends to tabernacle beneath it all and to shine in a heart so cloudy as mine — it becomes increasingly easy for me to understand that He can with even greater facility lie hid beneath that exterior of my neighbour whom I find so antipathetic, but of whose unworthiness I can never be so certain as I am of my own.

“Cleave the Wood” — look down into your own wooden stupidity of head, “and you shall find me. Lift the stone ” — wrench out that rocky senseless thing that you call your heart “and I am there.” And then, having found Christ in yourself, go out and find Him in your neighbour too.

 

 

O Life, How Can You Die?

 

In a tomb they laid You, O Christ the Life. The angelic hosts were overcome with awe and glorified Your condescension.
O Life, how can You die? How can You dwell in a tomb? Yet by Your death You have destroyed the reign of death and raised all the dead from Hell.

The music of Holy Week is the most beautiful of all the liturgical year, whether in the Western Church or the East, or in the Orthodox Church.  The words above are taken from the Lamentations for Holy and Great Saturday in the Orthodox Church.  These are sung as part of the Matins of Great and Holy Saturday, during a unique service that takes place on Good Friday  evening.

A tomb festooned with flowers is erected in the church upon which is placed a life-sized icon of the dead Savior, called the epitaphios, or winding sheet, around which the service is centered.  You can read more about the service here.  One beautiful part which struck us is that after a procession around the outside of the church with the epitaphios, the faithful enter the church again by passing under the icon, signifying their entrance into the death and resurrection of Christ.

As with so much of the Eastern and Orthodox liturgy, the words of the many chants are poetic and sublime.  Below are the three Lamentations sung professionally by a Greek Orthodox Church in California.  They make an ethereal and contemplative background for your Holy Saturday as you prepare for the Mother of All Feasts tonight, the Easter Vigil.

The words (though not this exact translation) of the Lamentations, as well as many of the other Holy Week chants may be found here.

 

The Institution of the Eucharist

The Holy Sacrament Altarpiece, by Dieric Bouts, is an important piece of Flemish art with an interesting story. The work presents the Last Supper in the central panel, surrounded by four panels showing Old Testament pre-figurements of the Eucharist. It was commissioned by the Confraternity of the Holy Sacrament for a church in Leuven, with specific instructions given by the two commissioning theology professors. Unlike traditional depictions of the Last Supper, which show Our Lord announcing the betrayal of Judas, they wanted this painting to depict Our Lord and His apostles at the moment when He first instituted the Eucharist.  You can read more about the piece here.

Eucharistic devotion was very strong in the Southern Netherlands, and there were many confraternities there devoted to the Blessed Sacrament.  In fact, there was a special sort of tabernacle in use in Germany and the Low Countries, called a sacrament house.  The Church prohibited them in the 1860s in order to make reservation of the Blessed Sacrament more uniform in tabernacles, but for 400 years they were in use.  The oldest known example is in this same church, St Peter’s in Leuven, where the Bouts altarpiece is located.  Many sacrament houses were destroyed during the iconoclasm of the reformation, but there are still examples extant, and you also see them in many Flemish paintings, although I must say, I have never really noticed them until now.  A sacrament house was a large tower shaped structure, usually located on the north side of the church, intricately carved, sometimes with stairs and a railing leading up to it, where the Blessed Sacrament was reserved.  The door had a grille or lattice, so that the Eucharist could be seen at all times.

For our community, Holy Thursday is an important feast: The beginning of the Sacred Triduum, and the day on which Our Lord instituted the Holy Eucharist.  His Real Presence is the Sun around which our lives as adorers revolve.  And mixed with the joy of this gift He gives us, we have the sorrow of the Passion, about to begin in earnest after the Mass of the Lord’s Supper.  For all our PCPA houses this is a sad day because Jesus is removed from the monstrance, removed from the tabernacle, and taken to the altar of repose.  And though we follow him there, the open tabernacle is like a gaping wound, there is no mistaking the empty feeling that takes over the darkened chapel during these three days that He is absent.  We will follow Him to the Garden, follow Him as He is dragged before His many accusers, Annas, Caiaphas, the Sanhedrin; we will follow Him to prison, to Pilate, to Herod, and finally, we will follow Him along the Via Dolorosa, and to Calvary.  With Our Lady as Mother and guide, we will accompany Him, in our own inadequate way, throughout the events of our redemption, awaiting His victory over death and hell, and His return to our midst.

The King’s Welcome: Calvary

1846 Christs_Entry_into_Jerusalem_Hippolyte_FlandrinFrom Fulton J. Sheen’s Life of Christ:

It was the month of Nisan.  The Book of Exodus ordered that in this month the Paschal Lamb was to be selected, and four days later was to be taken to the place where it was to be sacrificed.  On Palm Sunday, the Lamb was chosen by popular acclaim in Jerusalem; on Good Friday He was sacrificed.

His last Sabbath Our Lord spent in Bethany with Lazarus and his sisters.  news was now circulated that Our Lord was coming into Jerusalem.  In preparation for His entrance, He sent two of His disciples into the village, where they were told they would find a colt tethered on which no man had ridden.  they were to untie it and bring it to Him.

And if anybody asks you,
Why are you untying it?
This must be your answer,
The Lord hath need of it.
Luke 19:31

Perhaps no greater paradox was ever written than this – on the one hand the sovereignty of the Lord, and on the other His “need.”  This combination of Divinity and dependence, of possession and poverty was the consequence of the Word becoming flesh.  Truly, He who was rich became poor for our sakes, that we might be rich.  He borrowed a boat from a fisherman from which to preach; He borrowed barley loaves and fishes from a boy to feed the multitude; He borrowed a grave from which He would rise; and now He borrowed an ass on which to enter Jerusalem.  Sometime God pre-empts and requisitions the things of man, as if to remind him that everything is a gift from Him.  It is sufficient for those who know Him to hear:  “The Lord hath need of it.”

As he approached the city, a “great multitude” came to meet Him; among them were not only the citizens but also those who had come up for the feast and, of course, the Pharisees.  The Roman authorities also were on the alert during great feasts lest there be an insurrection.  On all previous occasions, Our Lord rejected the false enthusiasm of the people, fled the spotlight of publicity, and avoided anything that savored of display.  At one time:

He strictly forbade them to tell any man
That He, Jesus, was the Christ
Matthew 16:20

When He raised the daughter of Jairus from the dead:

He laid a strict charge on them
To let nobody hear of this.
Mark 5:43

After revealing the glory of His Divinity in the Transfiguration:

He warned them not to tell anyone what they had seen,
Until after the Son of Man has risen from the dead.
Mark 9:8

When the multitudes, after the miracle of the loaves, sought make Him king:

He withdrew on to the hillside all alone.
John 6:15

When His relatives asked Him to go to Jerusalem and publicly astound the festival with miracles, He said:

My Hour is not yet come.
John 7:6

But the entrance into Jerusalem was so public, that even the Pharisees said:

Look, the whole world has trend aside to follow Him.
John 12:19

All this was in opposition to His usual manner.  Before he dampened all their enthusiasms; now He kindled them.  Why?

Because His “Hour” had come.  It was time now for Him to make the last public affirmation of His claims.  He knew it would lead to Calvary, and His Ascension and the establishment of His Kingdom on earth.  Once He acknowledged their praise, then there were only two courses open to the city: confess Him as did Peter, or else crucify.  Either He was their King, or else they would have no king but Caesar.  No Galilean seacoast or mountaintop, but the royal city on the Passover was the best time to make His last proclamation.

He drew attention to His Kingship in two ways, first by the fulfillment of a prophecy familiar to the people, and second by the tributes of Divinity which He accepted as His own.

Matthew explicitly states that the solemn procession was to fulfill the prophecy made by Zacharias years before:

Tell the daughter of Sion,
Behold Thy King is coming to Thee,
Humbly riding on as ass.
Matthew 21:5

The prophecy came from God through a prophet, and now God Himself was bringing it to fulfillment.  The prophecy of Zacharias was meant to contrast the majesty and the humility of the Savior.  As one looks at the ancient sculptured slabs of Assyria and Babylon, the murals of Egypt, the tombs of the Persians, and the scrolls of the Roman columns, one is struck by the majesty of kings riding in triumph on horses or in chariots, and sometimes over the prostrate bodies of their foes.  In contrast to this, here is One Who comes triumphant upon an ass.  How Pilate, if he was looking out of his fortress that Sunday, must have been amused by the ridiculous spectacle of a man being proclaimed as a King, and yet seated on the beast that was the symbol of the outcast – a fitting vehicle for one riding into the jaws of death!  If He had entered into the city with regal pomp in the manner of conquerors, He would have given occasion to believe that He was a political Messias.  But the circumstance He chose validated His claim that His Kingdom was not of this world.  There is no suggestion that this pauper King was a rival of Caesar.

The acclaim of the people was another acknowledgment of His Divinity.  Many took off  their garments and spread them before Him; others cut down boughs from the olive trees and palm branches and strewed them on the way.  The Apocalypse speaks of a great multitude standing before the Throne of the Lamb with palms of victory in their hands.  Here the palms, so often used throughout their history to signify victory, as when Simon Maccabeus entered Jerusalem, witnessed to His victory – even before He was vanquished.

Then taking verses from the great Hillel which referred to the Messias, the multitudes followed Him, shouting:

Blessed is the King
Who comes in the name of the Lord;
Peace in heaven; glory above.
Luke 19:38

Admitting now that He was the One sent by God,  they practically repeated the song of the angels of Bethlehem, for the peace He brought was the reconciliation of earth and heaven.  Repeated too is the salutation the Wise Men gave Him at the crib: “The King of Israel.”

Hosanna for the Son of David;
Hosanna in heaven above
Matthew 21:9
King of Israel.
John 12:13

He was the promised Prince of David’s line; the One Who came with a Divine Mission.  Hosanna, which was originally a prayer, was now a triumphant welcome to a Savior King.  Not wholly understanding why He was sent, nor the kind of peace He would bring, they nevertheless confessed that He was Divine. The only ones who did not share in their acclaim were the Pharisees:

Some of the Pharisees who were among the multitude
Said to Him:  Master, rebuke They disciples.
Luke 19:39

It was unusual that they should have appealed to Our Lord, since they were disgusted with Him for having accepted homage from he crowds.

With awful majesty, Our Lord retorted:

I tell you, if they should keep silence
The stones will cry out instead.
Luke 19:40

If men were silent, nature itself would cry out and proclaim His Divinity.  Stones are hard, but if they would cry out, then how much harder must be the hearts of men who would not recognize God’s mercy before them.  If the disciples were silent, enemies would have nothing to gain, for mountains and seas would become vocal.

The entry has been called triumphant; but well He knew that “Hosannas” would change to “Crucify,” that palms would be turned into spears.  Amid the shouts of the multitude He could hear the whispers of a Judas and the angry voices before Pilate’s palace.  The throne to which He was hailed was a Cross, and His real coronation would be a Crucifixion.  Garments aplenty beneath His feet today, but on Friday He would be denied even His own.  From the very beginning He knew what was in the heart of man, and never once did He suggest that the Redemption of men’s souls could be accomplished by vocal fireworks.   Though He was a King, and though they now admitted Him as their King and Lord, He knew the King’s welcome which awaited Him was to be Calvary.

Tears were in His eyes, not because of the Cross which awaited Him, but because of the woes impending over those whom He came to save and would have none of Him.  Looking over the city:

He wept over it, and said;
Ah, if Thou too couldst understand
Above all in this day that is granted thee,
The ways that can bring Thee peace!
As it is, they are hidden from they sight.
Luke 19: 41, 42

He saw with historical accuracy the descent of the forces of Titus, and yet the eyes that saw the future so clearly were almost blinded with tears.  He spoke of Himself as willing and able to have averted that doom by gathering the guilty ones under HIs wing as the hen doth gather chickens, but they would not.  As the great patriot of all ages, He looked beyond His own suffering and fixed His eye on the city that rejected Love.  To see evil, and to be unable to remedy it because of human perversity, is the greatest anguish of all. To see the wickedness and be baffled by the waywardness of the evildoer is enough to break a heart.  The father is cast down with anguish when he sees the wrongdoing of his son. What prompted His tears were the eyes that would not see and the ears that would not hear.

In the life of every individual and in the life of every nation, there are three moments:  a time of visitation or privilege in the form of a blessing from God; a time of rejection in which the Divine is forgotten: and a time of doom or disaster.  Judgment (or disaster) is the consequence of human decisions and proves that the world is guided by God’s presence.  His tears over the city showed Him as the Lord of History, giving men grace, and yet never destroying their freedom to reject it. But in disobeying His will, men destroy themselves; in stabbing Him, it is their own hearts they slay; in denying Him, it is their city and their nation that they bring to ruin.  Such was the message of His tears as the King goes to the Cross.

The Incarnation

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Moved by love and wishing to reconcile the human race to yourself, you gave us your only-begotten Son. He became our mediator and our justice by taking on all our injustice and sin out of obedience to your will, eternal Father, just as you willed that he take on our human nature. What an immeasurably profound love! Your Son went down from the heights of his divinity to the depths of our humanity. Can anyone’s heart remain closed and hardened after this?

We image your divinity, but you image our humanity in that union of the two which you have worked in a man. You have veiled the Godhead in a cloud, in the clay of our humanity. Only your love could so dignify the flesh of Adam. And so by reason of this immeasurable love I beg, with all the strength of my soul, that you freely extend your mercy to all your lowly creatures.

-St. Catherine of Siena

The Incarnation of the Lord, the central point of all human history, has been the source of countless songs, poems, art and meditations throughout the history of the Church.  We can never plumb the depths of this mystery, that God, moved by love for fallen man, would take on human flesh in the womb of the Virgin Mary, to redeem us.  As Fulton Sheen famously said, Jesus Christ was the only man born to die.  The Incarnation is also the beginning of His Passion, so this mystery, like so many, holds joy tinged with sorrow that leads to the Resurrection.  This is the mystery of Christ’s earthly life, and it is also the mystery of our lives, that whether we are rejoicing or bearing the cross, we can be assured that it’s purpose is for our sanctification and salvation.

The Annunciation usually falls within Lent, a welcome reprieve, and this year it falls on the day before Laetare Sunday, another moment to relax our Lenten discipline a bit before we enter into the final weeks of our Lenten journey towards Calvary and Our Lord’s Passion.  The sorrow and the joy, rather than contradicting each other, actually serve to deepen and sweeten each other. By God’s grace we can grow to understand this more and more, adding a depth and authenticity to our lives and our relationships, both with God and each other.  When we can learn to endure suffering, rather than run from it, to not just endure it but grow from it, become more Christ-like and docile to His Will, then we can, like Our Lord and the saints, eventually come to find some joy in it – not some kind of masochistic dysfunction, which is how the world characterizes the Catholic understanding of suffering, but a peace and joy that comes from being conformed to God’s Will, that comes from bearing a part of the Cross with Our Lord.  Like the saints and martyrs, we can then experience the Resurrection, even in the midst of the Crucifixion.

[Well, we didn’t intend to talk about suffering and the cross on such a joyful day, but we hope you can enjoy the beautiful song at the top of the page anyway.  It’s by The Medieval Baebes.]

A Sign of Contradiction

6bc34ad8ad29151deed7006b4caab9f6We wanted to share with you some thoughts on today’s Feast of the Presentation from Venerable Fulton J Sheen excerpted from his book Life of Christ:

We find here another instance of how God in the form of man shared the poverty of mankind.  The traditional offerings for purification were a lamb and a turtledove if the parents we6bc34ad8ad29151deed7006b4caab9f6re rich, and two doves or two pigeons if they were poor.  Thus the mother who brought the Lamb of God into the world had no lamb to offer–except the Lamb of God.  God was presented in the temple at the age of forty days. About thirty years later He would claim the temple and use it as the symbol of His Body in which dwelt the fullness of Divinity.  Here it was not the Firstborn of Mary alone Who was presented, but the Firstborn of the Eternal Father.  As the Only begotten of the Father, He was now presented as the Firstborn of restored humanity.  A new race began in Him…

Simeon was like a sentinel whom God had sent to watch for the Light.  When the Light finally appeared, he was ready to sing his Nunc Dimittis.  In a poor Child brought by poor people making a poor offering, Simeon discovered the riches of the world.  Asscreen-shot-2017-02-02-at-10-09-52-am this old man held the Child in his arms, he was not like the aged of whom Horace speaks, He did not look back, but forward, and not only to the future of his own people but to the future of all the Gentiles of all the tribes and nations of the earth.  An old man at the sunset of his own life spoke of the sunrise of the world; in the evening of life he told of the promise of a new day.  He had seen the Messias before by faith; now his eyes could close, for there was nothing more beautiful to look upon.  Some flowers open only in the evening.  What he had seen now was “Salvation” –not salvation from poverty, but salvation from sin…

…He saw furthermore that there were sorrows in store for her, not for Joseph.  Simeon said:

Behold, this Child is destined for the fall
And for the rise of many in Israel,
And for a sign that shall be contradicted.

Luke 2:34

It was as if the whole history of the Divine Child were passing before the eyes of the old man.  Every detail of that prophecy was to be fulfilled within the lifetime of the Babe.  Here was a hard fact of the Cross, affirmed even before the tiny arms of the Babe could stretch themselves out straight enough to make the form of a cross.  The Child would create terrible strife between good and evil, stripping the masks from each, thus provoking a terrible hatred.  He would be at once a touchstone that would reveal the motives and dispositions of human hearts.  Men would no longer be the same once they had heard His name and learned of His life. They would be compelled either to accept Him, or reject Him.  About Him there would be no such thing as compromise:  only acceptance or rejection, resurrection or death.  He would, by His very nature, make men reveal their secret attitudes toward God.  His mission would be not to put souls on trial, but to redeem them; and yet, because their souls were sinful, some men would detest His coming.

It would henceforth be His fate to encounter fanatical opposition from mankind even unto death itself, and this would involve Mary in cruel distress.  The angel had told her, “Blessed screen-shot-2017-02-02-at-10-51-08-amart thou among women,” and Simeon was now telling her that in her blessedness she would be the Mater Dolorosa.  One of the penalties of original sin was that a woman should bring forth her child in sorrow; Simeon was saying that she would continue to live in the sorrow of her Child.  If He was to be the Man of Sorrows, she would be the Mother of Sorrows.  An unsuffering Madonna to the suffering Christ would be a loveless Madonna.  Since Christ loved mankind so much that He wanted to die to expiate its guilt, then He would also will that His mother should be wrapped in the swaddling bands of His own grief.

From the moment she heard Simeon’s words, she would never again lift the Child’s hands without seeing a shadow of nails on them; every sunset would be a blood-red image of His Passion.  Simeon was throwing away the sheath that hid the future from human eyes, and letting the blade of the world’s first sorrow flash in front of her eyes.  Every pulse that she would feel i the tiny wrist would be like an echo of an oncoming hammer.  If He was dedicated to salvation through suffering, so was she.  no sooner was t his young life launched than Simeon, like an old mariner, talked of shipwreck.  No cup of the Father’s bitterness had yet come to the lips of the Babe, and yet a sword was shown to His mother.

The nearer Christ comes to a heart, the more it becomes conscious of its guilt; it will then either ask for His mercy and find peace, or else it will turn against Him because it is not yet ready to give up its sinfulness.  Thus He will separate the good from the bad, the wheat from the chaff.  Man’s reaction to this Divine Presence will be the test:  either it will call out all the opposition of egotistic natures, or else galvanize them into a regeneration and a resurrection.screen-shot-2017-02-02-at-10-55-45-am

Simeon was practically calling Him the “Divine Disturber,” Who would provoke human hearts either to good or evil.  Once confronted with Him, they must subscribe either to light or darkness.  Before everyone else they can be “broadminded”; but His Presence reveals their hearts t one either fertile ground or hard rock.  He cannot come to hearts without clarifying them and dividing them; once in His Presence, a heart discovers both its own thoughts about goodness and its own thoughts about God…

After saying that He was a sign to be contradicted, Simeon turned to the mother, adding:

As for thy own soul, it shall have a
Sword to pierce it.

Luke 2:35

She was told that He would be rejected by the world, and with His Crucifixion there would be her transfixion.  As the Child willed the Cross for Himself, so He willed the Sword of Sorrow for her.  If He chose to be a Man of Sorrows, he also chose her to be a Mother of Sorrows!  God does not always spare the good from grief.  The Father spared not the Son, and the Son spared not the mother.  With His Passion there must be her compassion.  An unsuffering Christ Who did not freely pay the debt of human guilt would be reduced to the level of an ethical guide; and a mother who did not share in His sufferings would be unworthy of her great role.

Simeon not only unsheathed a sword; he also told her where Providence had destined it to screen-shot-2017-02-02-at-10-53-48-ambe driven.  Later on, the Child would say, “I came to bring the sword.”  Simeon told her that she would feel it in her heart while her Son was hanging on the sign of contradiction and she was standing beneath it transfixed in grief.  The spear that would physically pierce His heart would mystically be run into her own heart.  The Babe came to die, not to live, for His name was “Savior.”

-From Life of Christ, by Fulton J Sheen

The Woman & the Dragon, Life & Death

guadelupeAnd a great sign appeared in heaven: A woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars:  And being with child, she cried travailing in birth, and was in pain to be delivered.

And there was seen another sign in heaven: and behold a great red dragon, having seven heads, and ten horns: and on his head seven diadems:  And his tail drew the third part of the stars of heaven, and cast them to the earth: and the dragon stood before the woman who was ready to be delivered; that, when she should be delivered, he might devour her son. (Rev 12:1-4)

This day I call the heavens and the earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live  and that you may love the Lord your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him. For the Lord is your life, and he will give you many years in the land he swore to give to your fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. (Deut 30: 19-20)

Recently we’ve been talking about spiritual warfare – the war between satan and Saint Michael, the war between the prince of this world and the Kingdom of God.  It becomes even more tangible when you see the occult connection between a party’s platform and their personal life, as we saw in recently released emails regarding “spirit cooking” (if you don’t know what that is, look it up, it’s not just “performance art”).

I think sometimes we hear phrases like “culture of life” and “culture of death” and we can grow deaf to their full meaning.  When the Church speaks of the life vs death culture war we are engaged in, this is actually what She is talking about, this battle between the dragon, who wants to devour the Child, and the Woman, who represents both Our Lady and the Church, who gives birth to the King of kings and so defeats the dragon.  When you hear the Church say that we must put the life principles above all other issues, and at the top of that is the right to life of the unborn, She knows what She’s talking about. One political party has been called the Party of Death by many Catholics and Christians because of their unwavering commitment to abortion on demand and their alignment with anti-life principles. This naturally moves into attacks on religious liberty, two obvious examples are the court cases filed by EWTN and the Little Sisters of the Poor in response to the HHS Mandate. They, and many, many other Catholic and religious groups, want to continue operating without violating their deeply held religious convictions (convictions which one candidate stated publicly “have to be changed”)  by being forced to provide contraceptive coverage to employees.

St. Ignatius urges us to “wake up”, to be aware of evil within and without, in our own hearts and in the world around us.  We do ourselves, our country, and countless innocent children, born and unborn, a great disservice if we shut our eyes to the evil which is being revealed.  We might feel discouraged, we might feel hopeless but we actually have so many reasons to hope.  Jesus Christ is our first hope; He has defeated death and the kingdom of death, and we are united with Him in our baptism, and can be united to Him daily in Holy Communion.

jesus2He has given Our Lady to us as a mother and protector, and it’s her job to crush the serpent’s head.  She is working, and it may be that her time of triumph is quite close.  Remember the vision of Pope Leo XIII? On October 13, 1884, he was standing at the foot of the altar after Mass when he overheard two voices in conversation, that seemed to come from near the tabernacle.  A harsh voice said “I can destroy your Church.” A gentle voice replied, “You can? Then go ahead and do so.” The wicked voice said it needed more time, 75-100 years, and more power over those who would give themselves to his service. The gentle voice acceded saying, “You have the time, you have the power.  Do with them what you will.”  After hearing this conversation the Holy Father immediately went and composed the prayer to St. Michael which he requested  be recited after every low Mass.  Exactly 33 years later, on October 13, 1917, Our Lady’s final apparition to the three children in Fatima took place and the miracle of the sun was witnessed by tens of thousands of people.  Our Lady called for prayer and sacrifice for peace, for the conversion of Russia.  She foretold suffering and war if her message was not heeded, but that in the end her Immaculate Heart would triumph.

Perhaps the 100 year reign of satan is in its final stage, and that is why he reveals himself so blatantly now – he knows the end is near and he’s pulling out all the stops.  We don’t know what will happen this week, but we can be sure of a few things.  Firstly, that we must pray, pray, pray and fast for God’s Will to be done, for hearts to be converted, and for evil to be expelled from our nation.  We must vote according to the Church’s teachings on the non-negotiable issues: the dignity of human life from conception to natural death; the dignity of marriage and the family, the building block of every society; and religious freedom, including the rights of parents to educate their children. We must trust in God and speak the Truth – it is a weapon, a sword, Our Lord tells us, and a powerful weapon it is.  Truth is not just an opinion or a thought, it’s actually a Person:  Jesus Christ, the Way, the Truth, and the Life.  When we speak in truth we are united to Him.  In prayer, especially through meditating on His life in the Rosary, we come  to know Him more deeply, and to be conformed more and more into His image.  Our Lady can teach us so much about her Son, and we need to stay close to her through the Rosary.

It’s become commonplace in our culture for people to deny God, but also to deny the reality of evil.  It’s even tempting for those of us who believe in God to deny evil at times because it is so frightening.  But seeing evil so starkly presented can be an occasion for souls to turn to good, to turn to God.  Our Lady will triumph, we can be certain of that, and she is already working in the hearts and minds of many who don’t yet know her or her Son.  Continue to pray for the protection of all the truth-tellers who are putting their life and work on the line, we are so grateful to God for their courage.

I love listening to the Rosary with Fr. Groeschel which airs on EWTN.  In his meditations for the sorrowful mysteries we hear that whenever good confronts evil there is suffering.  Right now this confrontation is happening on a grand scale in our country.  And there will be suffering.  We don’t really know what that might look like, but we must keep in mind that we worship a Crucified Savior.  He saved us through the Cross, and we are called to follow in His footsteps.  Suffering, even dying, is not the worst thing that can happen to us.  Sin and spending eternity without God are what we should fear.  Put on the armor of God, pray, support all those who fight with the sword of Truth by your prayers and sacrifices – I’m sure many of them aren’t familiar with spiritual warfare, but they are committed to truth and transparency.  We can aid them in the fight by intercessory prayer.

When Our Lady of America spoke to Sr. Mildred Neuzil she said that America was called to be a beacon of purity for the entire world.

“I wish it to be the country dedicated to my purity. The wonders I will work will be the wonders of the soul. They must have faith and believe firmly in my love for them. I desire that they be the children of my Pure Heart. I desire, through my children in America, to further the cause of faith and purity among peoples and nations…I do not promise miracles of the body, but of the soul.” … “Pray and do penance, my sweet child, that this may come to pass.” (Diary, Pgs. 10-15.)

America is consecrated to the Immaculate Conception, she who was conceived free from original sin, the Purissima.  May she intercede for our nation and make it pure, God-fearing, and committed to protecting the most vulnerable members of our society.  May she build in each of our hearts a culture of life.