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

Mother of God & Our Mother

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Agiosoritissa (Mother of God) Icon – 7th century, one of the oldest images of Mary

On this Octave Day of Christmas we begin 2017, as we begin every new year, under the patronage of Mary, Mother of God.  May she keep us safe in her maternal embrace as we face the blessings and the crosses God has in store for us this year.

The above is one of the oldest images of the Mother of God, dating from the 7th century. screen-shot-2017-01-01-at-12-29-01-pm And this Egyptian papyrus fragment contains the oldest known prayer to the Theotokos (Bearer of God), dating from the third century. This is written in Greek, but you would be familiar with its Latin name, the Sub Tuum.  There is an informative little article about it here, as well as a link to hear the prayer chanted in the original Greek.

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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.

The Power of the Rosary

Our Lady of the Rosary with Saints, artist unknown, Brooklyn Museum

Today we celebrate the Feast of Our Lady of the Rosary, formerly known as the feast of Our Lady of Lepanto, commemorating the decisive and miraculous victory of the Christian fleet over the large Turkish force.  Many of you have been participating in the 54 day Rosary Novena for our nation which concludes today.  We take hope from the many miracles Our Lady has wrought throughout history through the power of the rosary.  Here is another miracle story, which we originally posted a couple years ago:

In this month dedicated to the Holy Rosary we wanted to draw your attention to the power this prayer has in the most dire situations.  The rosary is one of the greatest weapons we have in the Catholic arsenal and stories of its power abound.  In fact, the reason we celebrated the Feast of the Holy Rosary on the seventh of this month is because the miraculous victory of the Christian fleet over the Turks at Lepanto is credited to the intercession of Our Lady through the rosary, which the whole Church was praying.

Last month we had the privilege of hearing Immaculee Illibagiza speak about her experience during the Rwandan genocide in the 1990s.  If you aren’t familiar with her story you need to read her book, Left to Tell, which has made a deep impact on each of us Continue reading

Our Lady of Unity

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Shine on us, dear Lady, with thy bright countenance, like the sun in his strength, O stella matutina, O harbinger of peace, till our year is one perpetual May. From thy sweet eyes, from thy pure smile, from thy majestic brow, let ten thousand influences rain down, not to confound or overwhelm, but to persuade, to win over thine enemies. O Mary, my hope, O Mother undefiled, fulfil to us the promise of this Spring.

-Bl. John Henry Newman

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It was 20 years ago that I became a Catholic, and a couple years after that, when I first began attending the parish named after her, that I first came to know the Mother of God as Our Lady of the Atonement.  But even then, it wasn’t until I entered the monastery in Alabama that I actually began to take a greater interest in her.  I think it started with homesickness, and a longing for everything I was missing from Texas.  But then I came to know her story in much greater depth when I stumbled upon a book called Our Lady and Reunion, in the cloister library.  Imagine my surprise when I opened it up to find Our Lady of the Atonement herself, looking up at me from the title page!IMG_6982

It’s been almost 15 years since I’ve read the book, but one thing that that’s always stuck with me is something that Cardinal Newman wrote about Our Lady’s role in the return of England to the Catholic faith.  Our Lady of the Atonement is the Mother of Unity – this is what her title denotes the At-One-Ment of man with God, and with all men in the Church founded by Christ.  It’s all there, even in the beginning of devotion to her under this new Continue reading

The American Madonna

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We must understand by virtue of our new birth into the Kingdom of God that the Blessed Virgin is our real mother and not merely a mother that has just adopted us. By baptism we are incorporated into the Mystical Body of Christ and by that process of incorporation we are also brought into relationship with the Blessed Virgin, which is intrinsically similar to the relationship which Christ has to the Blessed Virgin as his mother. The Blessed Virgin is not our stepmother. She is our real mother as far as are the Sons and Daughters of the Atonement and members of the Mystical Body of Christ.               -Fr. Paul of Graymoor

On this Independence Day we wanted to remind you of a uniquely American title of Our Lady, one which is lesser known, but no less important, than many of her more well-known titles.  Devotion to the Blessed Mother as Our Lady of the Atonement began with an Episcopalian priest, Fr. Paul Wattson, who was inspired to found a religious congregation devoted to the work of unity, reconciling men with God, particularly by leading those outside the sheepfold home to Christ’s Church.  With the help of Mother Lurana Mary White they founded the Society of the Atonement in the late 1800s.  They eventually came to realize the they couldn’t wait for the entire Episcopalian church to reunite with the Chair of Peter, and so, they and the members of the society made their profession of faith in 1909 and were received into the Catholic Church.  They brought with them this devotion to Our Lady of the Atonement, whose feast day they celebrated on July 9th.

In Rome She is known as “the American Madonna”.  She is Our Lady suffering with her Son at the foot of the Cross.  She wears a red mantle to symbolize the Precious Blood of Jesus, the Blood which makes us at-one with God.  The red mantle is worn over a blue tunic, and together with her white veil, the colors remind one of the American flag.  Independence Day always falls in the middle of the novena leading up to her feast day, and so it is yet another reminder of her special connection with our nation.

May Our Lady of the Atonement, Mother of Unity, protect and guide our country, that we may truly be one nation under God, made at-one with Him by the Precious Blood of Jesus.