Father & Son

It’s kind of appropriate that Corpus Christi and Father’s Day have fallen on the same day this year.  In addition to thanking our earthly fathers for their love and care, we can also thank our Heavenly Father for giving us the gift of His Only Son.  Had He not been so immeasurably generous in sending His Son to die for our sins, not only would we not have been saved, but we would never had the joy of being joined to Christ in the intimacy of Holy Communion.  The Eucharist is deeply tied to Our Lord’s Passion, Death and Resurrection – indeed we find all three in the Holy Eucharist and at each Mass.

While our sins would have made it impossible for us to share in the life of God, Jesus Christ was sent to remove this obstacle. His death was a sacrifice for our sins. Christ is “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (Jn 1:29). Through his death and resurrection, he conquered sin and death and reconciled us to God. The Eucharist is the memorial of this sacrifice. The Church gathers to remember and to re-present the sacrifice of Christ in which we share through the action of the priest and the power of the Holy Spirit. Through the celebration of the Eucharist, we are joined to Christ’s sacrifice and receive its inexhaustible benefits...The eternal high priest Jesus offers the perfect sacrifice which is his very self, not something else…Jesus’ act belongs to human history, for he is truly human and has entered into history. At the same time, however, Jesus Christ is the Second Person of the Holy Trinity; he is the eternal Son, who is not confined within time or history. His actions transcend time, which is part of creation. “Passing through the greater and more perfect tabernacle not made by hands, that is, not belonging to this creation” (Heb 9:11), Jesus the eternal Son of God made his act of sacrifice in the presence of his Father, who lives in eternity. Jesus’ one perfect sacrifice is thus eternally present before the Father, who eternally accepts it. This means that in the Eucharist, Jesus does not sacrifice himself again and again. Rather, by the power of the Holy Spirit his one eternal sacrifice is made present once again, re-presented, so that we may share in it.

-From the USCCB’s The Real Presence of Jesus Christ in the Sacrament of the Eucharist: Basic Questions and Answers

So even if you have no father to send a card to today, or perhaps you do but your relationship is broken, don’t lose sight of the most important relationship you can have with a parent:  Your relationship with God the Father.  He longs for our hearts, that we might call upon Him with complete trust and confidence in every trial.  He wants to give us life in the Family that is the Holy Trinity, no matter what our family situation is here on earth.

God’s whole plan for our salvation is directed to our participation in the life of the Trinity, the communion of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Our sharing in this life begins with our Baptism, when by the power of the Holy Spirit we are joined to Christ, thus becoming adopted sons and daughters of the Father. It is strengthened and increased in Confirmation. It is nourished and deepened through our participation in the Eucharist. By eating the Body and drinking the Blood of Christ in the Eucharist we become united to the person of Christ through his humanity.  “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him” (Jn 6:56)…By being united to Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit dwelling in us, we are drawn up into the eternal relationship of love among the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit…The ultimate promise of the Gospel is that we will share in the life of the Holy Trinity. The Fathers of the Church called this participation in the divine life “divinization” (theosis). In this we see that God does not merely send us good things from on high; instead, we are brought up into the inner life of God, the communion among the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. In the celebration of the Eucharist (which means “thanksgiving”) we give praise and glory to God for this sublime gift.                              -USCCB

Being adorers of the Blessed Sacrament, we sometimes describe Jesus as the Sun around which our whole universe revolves.  This is really what each soul is called to, no matter their state in life.  While no past age was perfect, and trials, struggles and sin have been present from Eden until now, past ages did have a greater love for the Holy Eucharist.  They made Him the center of their lives, as He is the center of the Church, and this Kingdom-building bore fruit that changed the course of history and set the west apart (read How the Catholic Church Built Western Civilization, by Thomas E. Woods, for a great explanation of just what I’m talking about).

If the God who pours Himself out like a libation for our salvation is not the center of our universe, the measuring rod by which we measure all we think, do, say, and desire, then we end up with man as the center, and the result is what we have today, a society of selfishness, which puts myself and my own needs before all else.  This way of thinking is at odds with what Jesus teaches us about Himself, His Father, and the Holy Spirit.

This “sublime gift” that is the Eucharist has spurred the saints to pour out their lives and the martyrs to lay down their lives; it has inspired the composition of the most beautiful sacred music; it has driven the construction of awe-inspiring churches and cathedrals, marvelous buildings that, despite their age, still speak to us of the majesty of God.  One of these masterpieces, St. Peter’s Basilica, so overwhelmed a friend of mine that he sent a postcard saying “the fact that man could build an edifice like this is proof to me of God’s existence.”

Love of the Holy Eucharist has been the catalyst for man to create so much beauty throughout the ages, and still there is nothing we can build, sculpt, paint, or compose which even touches the splendor of this mystery:  that God is hidden beneath the veil of bread and wine; that the Eternal Word Who became Incarnate in Mary’s womb is also present in every tabernacle, silent and humble and hidden, just as He was at the Incarnation, and He wants to feed us with Himself.  May God give us the eyes of faith to see and believe.

Down in adoration falling,
Lo! the sacred Host we hail,
Lo! o’er ancient forms departing
Newer rites of grace prevail;
Faith for all defects supplying,
Where the feeble senses fail.
To the Everlasting Father,
And the Son Who reigns on high
With the Holy Spirit proceeding
Forth from Each eternally,
Be salvation, honour, blessing,
Might, and endless majesty.
Amen.

 

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