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

St. Augustine & Humility

St.-AugustineSomehow it didn’t seem so long, but we’ve been away from the blog for a while, so the feast of St. Augustine seems as good a time as any to dust the cobwebs from our digital parlor.

Though he’s been bumped today because his feast falls on a Sunday, it’s not difficult to tie this great Father of the Church into today’s Gospels, since he had so much to say about so many things.  It seems as though half of the patristic readings in the Office of Readings come from him, so we spend a good part of our lives listening to his sermons.  And while we didn’t find a specific homily on today’s reading from Luke (Lk 14:1,7-14), where Jesus encourages us to take the lowest place at the table because every one who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted, he did have a lot to say on humility.  In fact, he said it was central to the Christian faith and the first rung on the ladder to perfection.

It is significant that Augustine saw his moment of moral conversion in the garden at Milan as being prompted by a little child (he professed unawareness of the gender of the child, or even of the ditty the child was singing). (Confessions 8, 12, 29) It was not a conversion moment that happened in a dialogue with the Bishop [Ambrose], but through the unintended singing of an unseen child who was unaware of the impact being made.  This was a perfect vehicle of conversion for one sorely tempted by pride.   (From augnet.org)

Here is what St. Augustine himself said to us this morning in the Office:

Let us then follow Christ’s paths which he has revealed to us, above all the path of humility, which he himself became for us. He showed us that path by his precepts, and he himself followed it by his suffering on our behalf. In order to die for us—because as God he could not die— the Word became flesh and dwelt among us. The immortal One took on mortality that he might die for us, and by dying put to death our death.

This is what the Lord did, this the gift he granted to us. The mighty one was brought low, the lowly one was slain, and after he was slain, he rose again and was exalted. For he did not intend to leave us dead in hell, but to exalt in himself at the resurrection of the dead those whom he had already exalted and made just by the faith and praise they gave him. Yes, he gave us the path of humility. If we keep to it we shall confess our belief in the Lord and have good reason to sing: We shall praise you, God, we shall praise you and call upon your name.

St. Augustine, bishop and doctor, pray for us!

Hail Thee, Kingly Heart

sacred heart good shepherd

“I hail Thee, kingly Heart most high.”  This is the first line of the first hymn written in honor of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, Summi Regis Cor Aveto, ascribed to Bl. Herman Joseph a Norbertine of the 13th century.  Unfortunately, it’s difficult to find a translation, so we can’t give you more than the first line in English.

Christ and Priest at MassWe intended to talk about the origins of devotion to the Sacred Heart (which grew out of devotion to the Five Wounds, particularly the lance wound in the side of Our Lord), but when we found the above icon, it prompted us to think about all the men who are being ordained to the priesthood and transitional diaconate at this time of year.  Let us pray for each one of them, that Our Lady may form them into true images of her Divine Son, the Good Shepherd.  It is the Divine Love of His Sacred Heart, burning for souls, which prompts Our Lord to seek every lost sheep (that is, each one of us), and He has chosen to do this in a particular way through His priests.  Without the priesthood we could not have the sacraments, most especially the Most Blessed Sacrament, our consolation and our food.

The link between the Eucharist and the Sacred Heart is affirmed in the many Eucharistic miracles which the Church has approved over the  centuries.  In cases where the miracles have been found authentic, scientists examining the host-turned-tissue find human heart muscle!  Most recently in Poland Bishop Kiernikowski has approved a miracle which took place in 2013.  Upon examination “the histopathological tissue fragments were found containing a fragmented part of the skeletal muscle. … The whole image … is most similar to the heart muscle … as it appears under the strains of agony. Genetic studies indicate the origin as human tissue.”

Jesus promised He would not leave us orphans, and so He does not leave us without shepherds, nor without occasional confirmations of His Word and His Presence in the Holy Eucharist.

jesus-precious-bloodIllo fonte me fecunda,
Salva, sana, fove, munda,
Ex te laute qui manavit
Totum hominemque lavit,
In te hasta dum flectitur.

Joyful Mystery

Corpus Christi ProcessionHow appropriate that this year the Solemnity of Corpus Christi falls just two days before the Feast of the Visitation.  You could say that the Visitation was the first Corpus Christi procession, and surely the longest one, since Our Lady traveled somewhere between 80 and 100 miles from Nazareth to the Hill Country of Judea.  In fact, as I was praying the rosary yesterday, it struck me how this celebration of Our Lord’s Real Presence is a joyful mystery, which actually encompasses all the Joyful Mysteries of the Rosary. 

Annunciation –   In one sense, the Eucharist is a continuation of the mystery of the Incarnation. God, in an extraordinary and mysterious way,  comes to His beloved children, to be physically with them and among them.  This happened first at the Incarnation and it happens every time the Eucharist is confected at Mass.  God’s love compels Him to do something which is beyond our comprehension, and just as His Divinity was hidden from us during His earthly life, so too, It is veiled behind the forms of bread and wine in the Holy Eucharist.

Visitation – Our Lady takes the love which God has lavished on her, His own Divine Love, the fruit of which is Jesus, and shares that with her cousin Elizabeth. Our Lady, from a young age according to tradition, has been consecrated to God.  Her complete self-giving to God bears this fruit: she is completely other-oriented; she takes Jesus to her cousin and serves her both spiritually and physically, by lending her care and support as she nears childbirth.  As I mentioned above, her long trek to Elizabeth’s home was the first Corpus Christi procession.  Just as today Jesus is hidden in the Blessed Sacrament, at the Visitation He was also hidden in Mary’s womb, although by the power of the Holy Spirit and faith Elizabeth and John both recognized the presence of their Savior.

Nativity – We are present at Calvary, stepping out of time and into that eternal moment, each time we attend Mass. But the Crucifixion began at the Incarnation and is visible to us first at the Nativity of Our Lord. Each Christmas we are reminded of the link between the birth of Our Lord and His passion and death. The wood of the manger presages the wood of the Cross. Not to mention, the word manger means “to eat” and, as Our Lord is first laid in the trough where animals are fed we see a prefigurement of the Eucharist, in which He gives Himself to us as food. He was born in Bethlehem, which means “House of Bread.”  It was at the Birth of Our Lord that He was first looked upon and adored.  Each time we adore Him in the Eucharist we are joining with Mary and Joseph in that first “Holy Hour”.

Presentation – The infant Jesus was presented in the Temple by Mary and Joseph. On Corpus Christi He is presented to the world, though it is a hidden presence behind the appearance of bread, as we process with Him through the streets.

Finding of the Child Jesus in the Temple – Just as Mary and Joseph were so relieved to find Him after a stressful search, we find Him always in the tabernacle.  Jesus waits for us there, just as He waited for his Mother and foster-father to come to Him in the temple.  We are blessed because for us He is never “lost”, He is always present and He waits patiently for us to “find” Him.

The overflowing love of the Church for her Eucharistic Lord gives us this Solemnity of Hans_Or_Jakob_StrubxxThe_VisitationCorpus Christi, as well as all of the Eucharistic devotions which have arisen over the lifetime of the Church. All of Her Eucharistic devotions are a response to the extraordinary love of God for us which compels Him to remain with us until the end of time. Our Lady was a beautiful mirror of God’s love, reflecting back to Him in a most perfect and pure way His own Divine Love.  May Our Lord find a reflection of His love, His abiding love which abides with us in the Blessed Sacrament, reflected back to Him by our loving devotion to His Eucharistic Presence. Let us ask Our Lady, the first monstrance, the first Corpus Christi procession, the first to adore the Word made flesh, to help us grow in our love for Jesus truly present in the Most Blessed Sacrament.

Fair as the Moon, Bright as the Sun

Joan_de_Joanes_-_The_Immaculate_Conception_-_Google_Art_Project-1As beloved as the works of Tolkien are, it is impossible to fully appreciate them without an understanding of his deep Catholic faith, particularly his devotion to Our Lady.

To Our Lady… upon which all my own small perception of beauty, both in majesty and simplicity, is founded.

–JRR Tolkien

Today’s solemnity of the Immaculate Conception brings so many thoughts to mind. Firstly, it’s astounding to think that from our own microscopic beginnings at the first moment of life, when we are too small to be visible, God has already created us with a purpose, with a Screen Shot 2015-12-07 at 10.39.29 PMplan, with a destiny. Our own free choices determine how closely we cooperate with His plan for our lives, but the possibilities and the graces are all available to us. As clichéd as it sounds, God creates us with greatness in mind – not necessarily in the worldly sense of being a noteworthy person, or making a name for oneself, but spiritual greatness. And what could be greater than being called into relationship with the Trinity, being adopted into God’s Family by our baptism? Our Lady was conceived without sin because of God’s purpose for her. He created her to become the Mother of His Only Son.

Catholic fans of The Lord of the Rings know that Galadriel reflected Our Lady – which is why we took such issue with Peter Jackson’s depiction of her in the movies (the Continue reading