Voce mea ad Dominum

Random thoughts from an amateur theologist.

Friday, December 30, 2005

Jesus, Mary and Joseph

God sets a father in honor over his children; a mother’s authority he confirms over her sons. Whoever honors his father atones for sins, and preserves himself from them. When he prays, he is heard; he stores up riches who reveres his mother. Whoever honors his father is gladdened by children, and, when he prays, is heard. Whoever reveres his father will live a long life; he who obeys his father brings comfort to his mother. - Sirach 3:2-7

In the above passage from the Book of Sirach, we see that in the eyes of God, the human family is very good. Perhaps the main reason for this is that through the human family we see so much of the power of God. Human beings united in love bring forth life to the world, and that life brings joy and happiness to the parents. Wisdom rests in the parents, and as such the children should honor their parents, and through that honor, they will learn wisdom as well. Furthermore, this passage not only gives us an image of our relationship with God, our heavenly Father, but also with the Church, our spiritual mother which is personified in Mary, the Mother of God. To honor the Father brings happiness and peace to the Mother, for we all know that Jesus honored his Father and Mother, and we all can learn from his example, and in honoring God our Father, we bring comfort to Mary our Mother. This is truly good.

So, today we honor the earthly family of the Redeemer. Jesus lived his early life in Nazareth where he was obedient to Holy Mary, his mother, and St. Joseph, his earthly Father. In the Holy Family on earth we see a reflection of the Godhead, that of the obedient Son united in love with his Father, the Blessed Trinity, God. This is what our families are called to do, image the Holy Trinity as a communion of life and love, and if we look at the character of the Holy Family, we find that it is truly filled with the virtue of charity, and thus the Holy Family images the true family, the Holy Trinity. St. Joseph loved Mary and Jesus so much that he sacrificed begetting his own children so that he could take care of Jesus. Our Lady loved the Lord so much that she was willing to bear the shame of being an unwed woman who was pregnant so that the world could behold its savior. And Jesus, the eternal God, loved his Mother and earthly Father so much that he completely emptied himself for the salvation of them and for all. That is family, complete unconditional giving of self for the beloved. Come to think of it, that is God as well, and we are back to the beginning, because God in his deepest mystery is family.

Jesus, in the family at Nazareth you grew in wisdom, age, and grace before God and men, help us to grow in all things toward you.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

The Holy Innocents

A voice was heard in Ramah, sobbing and loud lamentation; Rachel weeping for her children, and she would not be consoled, since they were no more. - Matthew 2:18

Today is the feast of the Holy Innocents, those infants and toddlers who according to St. Matthew's gospel were massacred by King Herod in and around Bethlehem in his mad rage against the prophesied newborn King of Israel. Our Lady and St. Joseph were warned of the danger and fled into Egypt in exile. In truth, there is deeper drama going on here than just a crazed king out to slaughter innocent children to destroy the infant Jesus. St. Matthew, who wrote his gospel for the Hebrew Christians, is making a parallel between Jesus and Moses, for the tradition is that Pharoah was warned of the impending birth of him who would lead Israel from bondage in Egypt, so Pharoah makes plans to kill the infant Moses to prevent Israel from being freed, and so he orders the killing of all Hebrew infant and toddler boys. In this manner St. Matthew, who writes for a Jewish audience, draws parallels between the life of Jesus and the life of Moses.

In our world today, we have our own "Holy Innocents": the victims of abortion, and we have a multitude of "Herod's" in the people who would view an innocent child in the womb as a risk to their control of their kingdoms. The innocent victims of abortion cry out for justice in a world where people feel that they must be in absolute control of their own destiny and an infant is a threat, just as Herod felt a threat to his destiny by the newborn Jesus in Bethlehem. The innocent unborn are unique creatures created in the image of God and filled with dignity. They are not evidence of the failure of birth control pills nor are they inconveniences to our level of comfort nor are they strains on our bank accounts. They are not a threat to our "kingdoms", rather, like the infant Jesus which we celebrate in the Incarnation, they are blessings which bring meaning and purpose to our lives.

Let us pray for an end to the tragedy of abortion, for until it is ended the Church, the mother of the faithful, like Rachel cries out in sobbing and loud lamentation for her children, and she will not be consoled, since they are no more.

Through the intercession of the Holy Innocents may God in his mercy protect the sanctity of all human life.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Beloved of Jesus

Then the other disciple (the disciple whom Jesus loved) also went in, the one who had arrived at the tomb first, and he saw and believed. - John 20:8

St. John was perhaps the youngest of all the disciples of Jesus, and he was also the last to die. There are several books of scripture attributed to him or at least to his followers who would most certainly have been speaking what they had learned at the feet of St. John, these books being the Gospel of John, the 3 epistles of John, and the Apocalypse (The Revelation). When John first is called by Jesus he is probably no more than a teenager, full of energy, quick tempered, and quite the zealot. These characteristics are noticeable in St. John when we see him asking for a place of honor in the kingdom, however, St. John matures into a man with great humility. This humility is evidenced by the fact that he allowed St. Peter, the chief of the Apostles appointed by Christ, to enter the tomb first even though St. John had arrived at the tomb first.

John is referred to as "the disciple whom Jesus loved." St. John was particularly beloved by Jesus and vice versa. This is evidenced by the fact that St. John was the only one of the twelve present at the crucifixion. It is also St. John who is given charge of the care of the Blessed Mother by Jesus as he is dying on the cross. Our Lady lived with St. John in Ephesus until her death and Assumption.

But if we take a close look at the Gospel of St. John, we are able to find that we are the "beloved disciple" as well. We, in reading the Passion narratives in the gospels are present with Jesus all the way to the crucifixion. Jesus looks down from the cross and gives his mother to us as well, so it is up to us to open our hearts to receive her as Jesus wished. And when we first read the account of St. John and St. Peter running to the tomb, and we find it is empty with the burial cloths still there, we believe. Today, thank God for the gift that is the beloved disciple, and pray for the grace to live for Jesus according to St. John's example.

Holy Father John, pray for us.

Monday, December 26, 2005

He had the face of an angel

But Stephen, filled with the Holy Spirit, looked up intently to heaven and saw the glory of God and Jesus standing at the right hand of God, and he said,“Behold, I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.” But they cried out in a loud voice, covered their ears, and rushed upon him together. They threw him out of the city, and began to stone him. - Acts 7:55-58a

St. Stephen was among the first group of what we in the Catholic Church refer to as deacons. The role of the deacon is to assist the bishop and priests in service to the Church for the poor and needy, and also to preach the gospel. St. Stephen was a man of great wisdom who was filled with the Holy Spirit and like Jesus, performed many signs and wonders, and like Jesus, his preaching outraged the Jews. His wisdom was such that he became a thorn in the side of the Jews (sound familiar?), and because of his faith in the Gospel, he was accused of blasphemy. Like Jesus, St. Stephen was dragged before the Sanhedrin, and through the use of false witnesses, he was accused of blaspheming the name of Moses and of God, essentially treason against the House of Israel. When St. Stephen points out that the House of Israel even rejected those whom God had sent before, and then he has a vision of Jesus sitting at the right hand of God, they are infuriated to the point of grinding their teeth. At this point, they seize him and begin to stone him, all the while St. Stephen prays for those who murder him. Until the end, St. Stephen lives as Christ, giving even his life for God, the ultimate sacrifice.

Christians today are still faced with similar circumstances for their faith in Christ and his teachings which are put forth through his body, the Church. Although it is not often that Christians are put in a position to be put to death for their faith in Christ, Jesus tells us to be prepared to give all for our faith in him because it may come down to that. More often we find ourselves ridiculed for our devotion to the Lord and his teachings. In this day where people are "enlightened", darkness seems to prevail. People will do like the Jews in the day of St. Stephen and stop their ears and scream and yell to voice their disagreement with the teachings of Christ. Acts of holiness and public piety are frowned upon, such as the example our priest gave during his homily this evening of hesitating when blessing ourselves with the sign of the cross while at a public restaurant in thanksgiving for the food which we are about to eat lest we be frowned upon. What we need to realize is that it is through our acts of piety and devotion to the Lord that the heavens are opened, and we see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of God, and when seen in this light, we will be much less likely to hesitate in proclaiming our devotion to the Lord.

It is at times like this that we can learn from the example of St. Stephen, who was persecuted yet remained angelic in his appearance confident in the knowledge of the saving grace of Jesus. We can learn from St. Stephen the way to proclaim the Truth with peace in our hearts and to pray for the grace of God to sustain us and help us to hold our tempers when we are ridiculed, to have the countenance of an angel. We can know like St. Stephen that no matter what, nothing, not even humiliation and death, will ever separate us from the love of God that is revealed to us through His Son.

Through the intercession of St. Stephen, the first Christian martyr, may Christ have mercy on us and save us.

Sunday, December 25, 2005

Et verbum caro factum est

Today, the twenty-fifth day of December, unknown ages from the time when God created the heavens and the earth and then formed man and woman in his own image. Several thousand years after the flood when God made the rainbow shine forth as a sign of the covenant. Twenty-one centuries from the time of Abraham and Sarah; thirteen centuries after Moses led the people of Israel out of Egypt. Eleven hundred years from the time of Ruth and the Judges; one thousand years from the annointing of David as king; in the sixty-fifth week according to the prophecy of Daniel. In the one hundred ninety-fourth Olympiad; the seven hundred and fifty-second year from the foundation of the city of Rome. The forty-second year of the reign of Octavian Augustus; the whole world being at peace, Jesus Christ, eternal God and Son of the eternal Father, desiring to sanctify the world by his most merciful coming, being conceived by the Holy Spirit, and nine months having passed since his conception, was born in Bethlehem of Judea of the Virgin Mary.

Today is the Nativity of Our Lord Jesus Christ according to the flesh.

And with these words, the Incarnation is proclaimed, and Christ becomes the center point of history as important events both sacred and secular are recounted in time in relation to his birth. Jew and Gentile histories are proclaimed, and the two are symbolically linked, and it is revealed that Christ comes not merely to save the House of Israel but as the sanctifier and savior of all people. This is the true Spirit of Christmas, a tangible and glorious event, the birth of the eternal God, an event which changed history forever. O Come, let us adore him!

Alleluia! Born today our justice and our mercy, God in flesh among us! Lord Jesus Christ! Alleluia!

Friday, December 23, 2005

O Emmanuel

O Emmanuel, God with us, our King and lawgiver, the expected of the nations and their Savior: come to save us, O Lord our God.

When Israel was being led from Egypt through the desert, God was with them in a pilar of fire and smoke that showed the way. God also was present in the tent of meeting in the Holy of Holies. This is where he spoke with Moses. As time passed, David wished to build God a magnificent Temple, a house for God. We read in the scriptures that God protested, not because he was too awesome to be confined to the grandeur of a Temple, but because he wished to pitch his tent with us, he wanted to be with and among his people. Isaiah prophetically reiterates this when he says, "the virgin shall be with child, and bear a son, and shall name him Emmanuel."

Emmanuel, God is with us, reveals to us the most personal title of all of the Old Testament titles for Jesus. Now, not only will God be with and among us, he will take flesh and be one of us. Israel had prayed so long to see the face of the Almighty, to reveal to them his true nature, and he did so by being born in the manger in Bethlehem. God's desire is not for us to seek him confined in the concrete and plastered walls of a Temple. God wants us to seek him as he truly is, love beyond all telling. Love so immense that he is willing to stoop down, shed his glory, take on flesh, and live among us as one of us. It is only by becoming one with us that he can teach us to love as he loves. It is only by becoming the Son of Man that he can lead us to life and right the wrong of Adam which led to death. Only problem is that God went so far in revealing himself that he was rejected because it was unfathomable that God would take on flesh! This is the scandal of the Incarnation, scandalous yet wondrous, that God in his infinite love would take on our flesh in order to save us. What a wonderful paradox

So, we come to the end of the O Antiphons. There is a word play that the Latin words make when you combine the first letters starting with Emmanuel and going back to Sapientia which is lost in English translations (Emmanuel, Rex, Oriens, Clavis, Radix, Adonai, Sapientia). Ero cras in Latin means "Tomorrow, I will be here." In the medieval mind, this pointed Christians to the Vigil Mass of the Nativity of Our Lord that was and continues to be celebrated at midnight on December the 25th throughout the world.

You are Lord, our justice and our mercy. Show us how to live. Lord Jesus, come!

Thursday, December 22, 2005

O Rex Gentium

O King of the Gentiles and the Desired of all, you are the cornerstone that binds two into one. Come, and save man whom you fashioned out of clay.

After the fall of man in the beginning, God allowed us to follow our own path and desires, and as a result we wandered in the desert, our judgment clouded. But God was determined to bring us back to himself. So, little by little, God made contact with his fallen creatures through making covenants with them. A covenant entailed a sacrifice and a sacred meal and the swearing of an oath to be faithful, and with each successive covenant, God increased his family. First was Adam and Eve, a simple covenant of marriage between one man and one woman and their children. Next was Noah through whom God enlarged his family by making it more than the nuclear family, it was an extended family. Next was Abraham through whom God enlarged the family even further by including not only blood relatives but also servants and slaves, a tribe or clan. Next was Moses through whom God enlarged his family by uniting the tribes under one law and creating a holy nation. Next was David, through whom God enlarged his family by uniting surrounding nations thus creating a kingdom, a dynasty. So it was through his covenants with mankind that God worked to undo the damage that was done at the fall and revealed a path that mankind could take which would bring us back to him. The Jews for the most part had returned to the Almighty, yet through inheriting Adam's fault (by which I mean spiritual defect), the original sin, the Jews quite often were unfaithful to the covenants they forged with God, but God was forever faithful. To rectify this, God had one final plan up his eternal sleeve.

The bible says, "in the fullness of time" when it refers to God's final and everlasting covenant. This means, when it was the right time, when the world was ready. When the world was ready, God revealed his plan for mankind, which was hinted at with each of the prior covenants. God took flesh through the Virgin Mary and became fully man while remaining fully God in the God-man, Jesus. In this way, God was able to forge a covenant with mankind yet do so in a way that God himself was the guarantor of the covenant, and since God is always faithful, Jesus, the Son of God, the God-man, would remain faithful. But the interesting thing is that it is no accident that Jesus was judged and condemned by not only by the Sanhedrin, a Jewish Court, but also by Pilate, a Gentile Judge, for as such, the blood of the sacrificial Lamb of God was on the hands of both the Jews and the Gentiles, essentially, the blood was sprinkled on representatives of all humanity. Therefore, through the new and everlasting covenant, God enlarges his family once again, but this time he unites the Jews and the Gentiles through the sacrifice of his own Son, thus swearing the oath with himself, and instituting a sacred meal, the Holy Eucharist. It is Christ who binds together the hearts of all human beings, both Jew and Gentile, and through this binding, the universal human family becomes the family of God. God's universal family is the Catholic Church of which Christ is the cornerstone.

Alleluia! You are the joy of every human heart, king of all the nations! Lord Jesus, come! Alleluia!

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

O Oriens

O Rising Dawn, Radiance of the Light eternal and Sun of Justice: come and enlighten those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death.

When I was a kid, I remember going to bed on Christmas Eve filled with anticipation of what the morning would bring. It was difficult to sleep, and the night seemed to go on forever. The anticipation was incredible, that feeling that you would bust if morning didn't get here soon. But finally, the dawn arrived, and with it came the sheer joy of the many gifts under the Christmas tree and the stockings filled with candies, fruits, and fireworks (that is what my parents gave us). For a kid it was overwhelming to receive so much.

In Judea at the time of Augustus Caesar, there was just such an anticipation. The feeling that God would redeem his people and send the long awaited Messiah was palpable. The world which lay in darkness longed for the dawn to break which would reveal the path to liberation from sin and death. This is what the world anticipated prior to the great gift which is God's Incarnation. The night which seemed to last forever was coming to an end with the dawning of the Son of the Most High. In a similar fashion, we await Christ, the dawn from on high, whose first dawning which we celebrate at Christmas shattered the dark night of sin and death and bathed the world in the warm radiance of heavenly light and thus brought salvation and pure joy to a weary world which longed for redemption. Christ's coming revealed a focal point from which light shone and illuminated the path to freedom for all who sat in enslaved in darkness. Through our Advent preparations may we focus on Christ our Light so that we may be found awake and ready to greet him with the same joy when he comes again in glory.

Eternal Light and Sun of Justice shine in all our darkness!

Saint Peter Canisius, pray for us.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

O Clavis David

O Key of David and Scepter of the House of Israel; you open and no man closes; you close and no man opens. Come, and deliver from the chains of prison those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death.

Since the earliest days of the Church, Jesus has been viewed as the heir to the throne of David, thus his kingdom restored the Davidic dynasty of the House of Israel. For this reason, the Church is ruled as the Davidic Kingdom was ruled, with Christ as priest and king, and all authority and power in heaven and on earth at his disposal. Jesus himself used the idea of keys as symbols of authority and power when he said to St. Peter, "And I will give to you the keys of the kingdom of heaven." He could give St. Peter that authority because it was his to give. This authority has been passed in succession to all of those who occupy the Chair of St. Peter in the Diocese of Rome. Christ gives the Pope the authority to shepherd his flock on earth. This is why the Petrine ministry of the Pope has keys as its symbol.

But even deeper is this. Jesus is the key and the scepter himself. A key is necessary to unlock something, be it a door, or the correct answers to a test, or to reveal some mystery that is hidden. Christ unlocks the door to heaven. He is the answer to everything in heaven and on earth. He is the key to unlocking the mysteries hidden in the Old Testament. It is Christ the Key of David who opens and closes, for without Christ, the door remains locked, and the answers elude us. Without Christ, we are left in darkness unable to find our way. Without Christ we remain bound in our own prison, enslaved to sin and death.

So we pray, Christ, come to us. Be for us the key that unlocks the chains which bind and imprison us in the darkness which is sin and death. Save us by your power and might, and open for us the door which leads to peace.

Eternal light and sun of justice shine in all our darkness. Lord Jesus, come!

Monday, December 19, 2005

O Radix Jesse

O Root of Jesse, you stand as a sign for the peoples; before you kings shall keep silence and to you all nations shall have recourse. Come, save us, and do not delay.

From Jesse was born David, a man after God's own heart. David united the nation of Israel and formed Israel into a Kingdom, a dynasty. But following his death, David's kingdom was divided and ultimately this great dynasty which held so much promise was reduced to ruins, ultimately being decimated by the Assyrians or exiled to Babylon. However, the Lord was in control, and a small group remained faithful to the law. A root remained.

When the angel Gabriel announced to the Virgin Mary that God would become incarnate through her, he also revealed that the kingdom of David would be restored. It would flower forth from this remaining root. Gabriel tells Our Lady, "The Lord God will give him the throne of David his father. He will rule over the house of Jacob forever and his reign will be without end." (Luke 1:32-33) The restoration of the Davidic dynasty will not be a political entity, rather it will be divinely instituted as a kingdom which will transcend political realities and will encompass all people from the most simple peasant to the greatest king. It will be universal. It will be Catholic. It will extend salvation to all people for all time, and it will never end. All will stand in silent awe at the majesty of Christ, the root of Jesse. All will turn to him for refuge and security.

Emmanuel, the joy of all nations, come to us and save us!

Sunday, December 18, 2005

O Adonai

O Lord and Ruler the house of Israel, who appeared to Moses in the flame of the burning bush and gave him the law on Sinai: come, and redeem us with outstretched arms.

Adonai is the term that the Jews used to refer to God in place of YHWH, God's personal name, which they found too sacred to pronounce. It is translated as LORD and reveals God as "he who is" and the transcendent ruler of all that is. It is the God "who is" that makes covenants with his people: with Noah, Abraham, and Moses. Through these covenants God agrees to guard his people and save them. He first reveals himself to Moses as a fire clothed in the branches of a thorn bush which did not consume the thorn bush. It was through Moses that he led the house of Israel from bondage to Pharoah in Egypt through the Red Sea into the desert where he revealed the law to Moses on Sinai. He redeemed them from slavery with outstretched arms and led them to the promised land.

All of this was merely a foreshadowing of the everlasting covenant that God would forge with his people through his Son, Jesus. All of the other figures who entered into covenants with God throughout history, Noah, Abraham, Moses, David, these were all types of Christ. They were images who pointed to the ultimate man, Jesus, who would fulfill all the other covenants with a new and everlasting covenant and ratify it with his blood. Yet, where God revealed himself through theophanies, lightning, and thunder to the house of Israel, he now reveals himself to us as a newborn infant born in humble circumstances to a virgin named Mary. Where to Moses God clothed himself with the burning bush, to us he clothes himself with human flesh. As God led Israel from bondage in Egypt through the desert to the promised land with outstretched arm, Christ, the eternal Son of God redeems us from bondage to sin and death and leads us to the promised land, our heavenly home, with arms outstretched, but this time on a cross. This is the Lord we welcome at Christmas. This is the Lord whose coming in glory we await.

Come, Lord Jesus, and do not delay.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

O Sapientia

O Wisdom, who came from the mouth of the Most High, reaching from end to end and ordering all things mightily and sweetly: come, and teach us the way of prudence.

Today begins the final stretch of Advent, at the end of which we will welcome Christ born in Bethlehem. In the liturgical prayer of the Church, the "O Antiphons" are recited prior to and after the Magnificat during Vespers, and each one addresses Jesus in terms of his Old Testament titles.

Wisdom is more than just knowledge. It is not something gained merely from experience and age because some of the oldest and smartest people I know lack wisdom. Wisdom in its purest form is perfected through faith. It is a human characteristic which originates in the fear of the Lord, which is to say in the realization that we are nothing without him who called us into existence, and when we realize this, we stand in awe of the majesty of the Creator. We realize our lowliness, humbly bow in love, and desire to understand our world through seeking God. This is wisdom: desiring knowledge through love of and seeking the Lord.

The wisdom from the mouth of the Lord is Jesus himself. He is the Logos or the meaning/reason/Word through whom all things came to be. Without Jesus nothing would exist, for he is the eternal Word of the Father present from all eternity. God spoke and through him all that is came into existence and order was brought to the chaos which was in the beginning. It is through Christ that the material universe, things visible and invisible, are ordered mightily yet gently. God knows our need for order in our lives, both individually and as a society. Wisdom shows us the way to order things with conviction and strength while at the same time showing concern for the good of the individual or society. This is the wisdom which is Christ. He has absolute power yet cares for his people like a shepherd cares for his sheep.

The focus of the antiphon is summed up in the concept of prudence. Prudence is an act whereby we choose what is good rather than simply avoiding what is not. It is through the grace of God and his wisdom that we are able to recognize those things that will help us to salvation while avoiding those things which put our relationship with God in peril. It is a function of the theological concept of Charity where we put love of God before all else. So we beg Christ to come and to teach us the way to choose wisely so that our lives will be ordered toward God.

Father, all-powerful God,
your eternal Word took flesh on our earth
when the Virgin Mary placed her life
at the service of your plan.
Lift our minds in watchful hope
to hear the voice which announces his glory
and open our minds to receive the Spirit
who prepares us for his coming.
We ask this through Christ our Lord.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

And his bride is prepared to welcome him

For he who has become your husband is your Maker;
his name is the LORD of hosts;
Your redeemer is the Holy One of Israel,
called God of all the earth
. - Isaiah 54:5

In Isaiah Chapter 54, the prophet is speaking of Israel's return to Jerusalem after being in bondage in Babylon. It is for Israel's unfaithfulness that God "forsakes" her for a brief moment in his anger, he gives her up. However, God is forever faithful and when Israel repents, he is quick to take her back with great tenderness and mercy. So, the prophet calls for Jerusalem to raise a glad cry at the return of her children, to make room for her innumerable children who are the returning exiles.

In a larger sense, Isaiah 54 speaks to the Gentiles as well, specifically the Gentiles who are brought into the family of God through Christ. After the fall, humanity spiralled away from the one God, and worshiped in his place idols which are created things. The only group left to worship the true God was a small nomadic group of Hebrews which were surrounded by a sea of pagans. It was left to the Hebrews to reveal God to the world, so that through them, all the world may return to God. God enters a successive number of covenants with his people, Israel, the Hebrews, which they fail to keep thus incurring the curses which are inherent to those who do not keep their covenant oath. The result, Israel often wandered and suffered as an unfaithful wife who was left by her faithful husband.

With the coming of Christ, the Son of the living God, a new and everlasting covenant is forged, but this time, God himself swears the oath on behalf of mankind (through the God-Man, Jesus), and since God is always faithful, this covenant will never be broken and fulfills the requirements of all the other covenants. So when we revisit Isaiah 54 in light of the new and everlasting covenant, we see the deserted wife is an image of the Gentiles who were forsaken by God for a "brief moment" after the fall of Adam and Eve, but now are to be incorporated through Christ into the "new Israel" which is the Church, the bride of Christ.

As we approach the coming of the Lord, let us be mindful that God has wedded himself to us through his Son by the incarnation. He is the bridegroom, we are the bride. May he find us faithful when he comes again in glory.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

The circle will be unbroken

I am the LORD, there is no other;
I form the light, and create the darkness,
I make well-being and create woe;
I, the LORD, do all these things.
Let justice descend, O heavens, like dew from above,
like gentle rain let the skies drop it down.
Let the earth open and salvation bud forth;
let justice also spring up!
I, the LORD, have created this.
- Isaiah 45:6c-8

Through Isaiah, God speaks not only to the Jews, but also to the Gentiles, for the Gentiles worshipped a multitude of gods, and the Jews, the small band of people "hand picked" by God to make himself known, were apt to fall into the bad habits of their neighbors if they weren't careful (and many was the time that they weren't). Therefore, in the first place there is but one God and there is no other. In the second place, all that is, visible and invisible was created by him, and thus, he is in absolute control. Period. The end.

The concepts of justice and salvation flow from the fact that there is but one God. Justice takes a multitude of definitions, and quite often I will scratch my head and wonder just what does "justice" mean? I think simply put, justice is Truth, moral rightness. God alots to each of us what is rightfully ours, and since God is in control he knows what is best for each of us, and in his justice, he gives to each of us in fairness. Now, it doesn't always seem that way to us, and I will give an example of what I mean. I am privileged to know and work with a nurse who is absolutely one of the most delightful people I have ever met. She is the mother of a mentally retarded young man. As I was discussing the concept of God's justice with her today, she mentioned, "How is it fair and just to me that I have a retarded child?" In one of those moments of absolute clarity, the Holy Spirit led me to say, "What about justice for your son? Would you not say that your son's justice is such that God made you his mother?" She smiled and said, "I like the way you put it." You see, since there is but one God, and he is in absolute control, situations which make little sense to our limited minds take on a whole new dimension when we allow God to open our eyes to his justice.

As God's justice rains down from the heavens as dew or gentle showers upon the earth, so salvation will burst forth. Salvation is another one of those concepts that often has me scratching my head saying, "what does it all mean?!" I have been asked before "what are we being saved from?" That is a fair question, but I don't think it is only that we are saved from something, although that is part of it. Salvation is being freed from the bonds of sin which leads to spiritual death (in a sense, we are sort of saved from ourselves), but it is also sharing in the life of the triune God, so we are not only saved from something, but we are also saved for something, saved from sin and death for grace and life. This is a function of God's justice, for when we respond to God's justice, we are incorporated into the life which is God himself, we are saved. We become like God and therefore we are able to put his justice in action, which is why Isaiah says, "let justice also spring up!" Justice leads to salvation which leads to justice. It is a nice circle.

The ultimate justice of God is his Son, Jesus. He came down from heaven "like gentle showers" and taught us of God's goodness. The earth opened and salvation budded forth through the birth of the Church as a response to God's justice. Likewise justice now springs forth from the earth through the Church, the body of Christ. Now the last statement in the above passage from Isaiah, (I, the LORD, have created this.) kind of puzzled me because if Christ is God's ultimate justice, and we believe that Christ was begotten but not created, how could God have "created this?" So, I contemplated it for a while and realized, it all goes back to "God is in absolute control." It is not that God created Christ, rather God created the environment wherein his justice leads to salvation and subsequent justice. Therefore, by creating a means for fallen man to choose to share in the life of God, God's justice is revealed all over again, and the circle goes unbroken.

St. John of the Cross, pray for us.

Monday, December 12, 2005

The Visitation

When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting,
the infant leaped in her womb,
and Elizabeth, filled with the Holy Spirit,
cried out in a loud voice and said,
“Most blessed are you among women,
and blessed is the fruit of your womb.
And how does this happen to me,
that the mother of my Lord should come to me?
For at the moment the sound of your greeting reached my ears,
the infant in my womb leaped for joy.
Blessed are you who believed
that what was spoken to you by the Lord
would be fulfilled.”
And Mary said:
“My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord;
my spirit rejoices in God my savior.”
- Luke 1:41-47

Mary's visitation with Elizabeth is important in several ways. First of all, Mary has learned of Elizabeth's good fortune to conceive in her old age through the angel, Gabriel, and therefore, she goes hastily to the hill country to share in Elizabeth's joy. When she first sees Mary, Elizabeth, filled with the Holy Spirit, announces the blessedness of the fruit of Mary's womb, and thus Mary's blessedness. She recognizes that Mary is carrying the light of the world in her womb, a recognition that can only come about through the grace of the Holy Spirit. The utter joy that permeates the scene is such that even the baby in Elizabeth's womb leaps in the presence of Christ in Mary's womb. So, the first aspect of the visitation that is important is the joy which is experienced by all present, even the unborn.

Second, Mary in a way became an evangelist through her visitation with Elizabeth. Mary brought to Elizabeth knowledge that God's plan of salvation had been put into place. She brought to Elizabeth the good news of the incarnation of God which ultimately would lead to reconciliation between God and humanity. Think about it; is this not what evangelists do? Mary led the way in proclaiming the coming of salvation through her acceptance of God's will, and unlike evangelists that have come since her, she did not have the benefit of knowing how the story would end. She merely had great faith that God was true to his promise that from her womb, the salvation of the world would spring forth.

And lastly, Mary does not revel in her good fortune and hoard it over Elizabeth. Despite Elizabeth's proclaiming Mary blessed of all women, Mary takes no glory for herself, rather, she "magnifies the Lord." Makes you wonder how anyone can make the Lord bigger. What Mary does is she brings the greatness of God into focus for all to see. His glory is revealed through his favor to the lowest of his servants not through favor to the haughty. Mary is "lowly" not because she is worthless in God's eyes, but because she is aware that without the Lord, she is nothing, and therefore, her soul proclaims with joy God's greatness which is revealed in his plan of salvation, a plan in which she plays an integral part.

Our Blessed Mother brought forth the savior of the world. She has revealed God's favor to mankind through the birth of her Son, Jesus. Let us never cease to give God glory for the wonderful gift of Mary, the Most Holy Mother of God.

Our Lady of Guadalupe, pray for us.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Gaudete Sunday

The spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me,
because the LORD has anointed me;
he has sent me to bring glad tidings to the poor,
to heal the brokenhearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives
and release to the prisoners,
to announce a year of favor from the LORD
and a day of vindication by our God. -

Isaiah 61:1-2a

A man named John was sent from God.
He came for testimony, to testify to the light,
so that all might believe through him.
He was not the light,
but came to testify to the light.
John answered them,“I baptize with water;
but there is one among you whom you do not recognize,
the one who is coming after me,
whose sandal strap I am not worthy to untie.” -

John 1:6-8, 26-27

Isaiah's prophecies play a prominent role in the Advent liturgies of the Church. In this particular passage we find Isaiah is anointed to proclaim a year of favor and a day of vindication by God. This is in response to the Jews being released from their captivity in Babylon. They are told to "make straight a path in the wasteland for our God" as the Jews return to Jerusalem and to the temple. Their long night has ended, and light has shined forth on the people who walked in darkness. This enlightenment will bring about the prophecies that Isaiah foretells: glad tidings, healing, liberty, and release.

In the bigger picture of the story of salvation, John the Baptist heralds the coming of Christ through just such proclamations. All that he is testifies or points to Jesus as the long awaited Messiah who is the light and will usher in glad tidings, healing, liberty, and release. However, notice John is quick to point out to the Pharisees and Levites that they do not recognize the man whom he very much recognizes as is evidenced by the statement that he is not worthy to untie the sandal strap of him who is to come. John the Baptist knows his place in the story of salvation.

The question then becomes, do we recognize our place in the story of salvation? How do we live our lives? Both Isaiah and St. John the Baptist give us the answer. When we are focused on Jesus, the Lord, our lives bring, proclaim, and announce the hope that is Christ, for Christ is the glad tidings, the healing, the liberty, the release, the year of favor, and the day of vindication. For those of us who are fortunate to cooperate with God's grace and recognize Jesus, those of us who are aware that we are not worthy to untie the strap of his sandal, we become modern day John the Baptists heralding the Lord. We become the voice in the desert crying "Prepare the way of the Lord! Make straight in the wasteland a highway for our God!" We know our place in the story of salvation.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Ave gratia plena!

And coming to her, he said,
“Hail, full of grace! The Lord is with you.”
But she was greatly troubled at what was said
and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. - Luke 1:28-29

Today we celebrate the Immaculate Conception of Our Mother, Mary. In a singular and unique act of God, the Blessed Mother was preserved from the state of original sin and thus was filled with God's sanctifying grace from the very moment of her conception. This is a troubling dogma for some, but it need not be.

The Immaculate Conception confirms to us the natural state of humanity, that of people completely attuned to the will of God. While it is normal to sin, it is not natural. In our natural state, our wills are united with God even to the point of denying ourselves. It was through our first parents' disobedience that our wills became corrupted, and sin entered the world. It was through Mary and her obedience, which was made possible by being filled with sanctifying grace, that salvation entered the world, and sin was destroyed thus making it possible for us to be returned to our original state of union with God which was lost at the fall.

There are those who would say that the dogma of the Immaculate Conception means that Mary, free from original sin, would not need a savior. On the contrary, Mary participates in the salvific work of Christ in a most unique way. Through her fiat mihi, Mary fully acknowledges her need for a savior and cooperates with God's grace in such a powerful way through giving birth to the Son of God. Her consent paves the way for the plan of salvation instituted by God from the dawn of creation, for through her faith and trust in the Lord, she and the rest of the world are saved.

In this time where human beings are seen as mere animated pieces of flesh who must follow their base urges, the Immaculate Conception reaffirms our dignity. It returns humanity to its original state. It returns humanity to a state younger than sin. Today I thank God for his wonderful plan of salvation, and I rejoice with Mary, my mother, as I prepare for the coming of her Son.

O Maria, sine labe concepta,
Ora pro nobis qui ad te confugimus.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

His yoke is easy, his burden light.

Though young men faint and grow weary,
and youths stagger and fall,
They that hope in the LORD will renew their strength,
they will soar as with eagles’ wings;
They will run and not grow weary,
walk and not grow faint. - Isaiah 40:30-31

Have you ever noticed how the world is so fast paced these days that people always seem to be in a rush to get things done? They never take time to just stop and notice the world around them, as though everything would come to a screeching halt if they even slowed down for a few minutes. The burden of this fast paced world that we live in can be overwhelming, and it's no wonder self-help books are so numerous today. These verses give a different approach to the advice given by the self-help gurus.

Those that put their trust in God will be renewed and invigorated. Why? Because humans are finite beings designed with limits. We are guaranteed to function extremely well only up to a point, and then we are apt to falter from fatigue be it mental or physical or spiritual. If we attempt to ground ourselves on our own strength, we sometimes find that we quickly begin to sink when push comes to shove, and in our finite mortal states, we will begin to flail around while we are sinking which tends only to increase the fatigue and make us sink lower and faster. God, on the other hand, is infinite. He is eternal. Immortal. His strength never falters. He never tires. This is why it is so important to ground yourself in the Lord and trust Him, for when life's little surprises catch you unaware, the tendency of all of us is to start to grasp on to whatever is near, like the man in deep water who cannot swim and will begin grasping for anything to keep his head above water. Those who are grounded in the Lord will not grasp since there will be no need for grasping. The Lord will be their strength and will deliver them.

Now, think of it this way. What if your child was faltering at a task and was refusing your help, relying only on his own strength. Imagine the inner strength it would take for you to restrain yourself from helping until you were asked! This is what God does for all of us. Despite his knowing that we are in need of redemption, that we need a rock to ground us, he loves us enough to allow us to go our own and come to the realization of our need for redemption through self-discovery our own weakness. Wow. THAT is strength. But, as Isaiah demonstrates, the whole time he is there ready to lighten the load so that we can soar as with eagles' wings and run and not grow weary.

Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened,
and I will give you rest. - Mattew 11:28

Monday, December 05, 2005

Seized with astonishment

Then astonishment seized them all,
and they glorified God,
and, struck with awe, they said,
"We have seen incredible things today.” - Luke 5:26

I contemplated the passage from the Gospel according to St. Luke which was proclaimed at Mass tonight, and the above statement stood out and stuck with me long after it was over. Of note, the story leading up to the proclamation of the awed crowd was one of healing. Jesus is teaching the crowds with Pharisees and teachers of the law present, when a paralyzed man is brought to him for healing. Since the crowd is so large that the man is not able to get to Jesus, they lower him on a stretcher through a hole in the roof of the building. Jesus sees the faith they have displayed through their persistence and announces that their sins are forgiven which sends the Pharisees and scribes into a tailspin with cries of blasphemy. Always quick to realize the mindset of the scribes and Pharisees (I am pretty sure that Jesus liked to get their goats), he asks which is easier, to tell the paralyzed man that his sins are forgiven or to ask him to walk. Of course, the kicker is that he does both, and the man walks home stretcher in hand, much to the amazement of the crowd.

The interesting thing is that even today people decry priests accusing them of blasphemy for announcing absolution of sins in the confessional with the same cries that the scribes and Pharisees used: "Who but God alone can forgive sins?" Christ responds by saying that "the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins", an authority which he passed to his disciples and their successors through the ordination received in the ministerial priesthood of the Church (John 20:22-23). It is not that the priests have power in and of themselves to forgive sins, however, through ordination Christ bestows his authority on the priest, and sins are forgiven in the Name of Christ, whom the priest represents in the confessional. So in a profound way, Christ says to the people who question the authority left by him to the ministerial priesthood of the Church which is his body, "Is it not easier to tell a person their sins are forgiven?"

But is the most amazing aspect of the story that the man arose and walked home with his stretcher? Perhaps to some. I, on the other hand, think that the most amazing aspect is that the man was freed from his sin, for while paralysis cripples the body, sin cripples the soul. Paralysis interferes with a man's ability to move about in his surroundings, alienating him to a degree from the world around him, but sin clouds his judgment and interferes with his ability to reason soundly thus enslaving him to his own selfish passions and alienating him from the source of happiness which is God.

Now, return to the story of the paralyzed man. It would seem that the man's sins have resulted in his physical paralysis, yet I think there is something greater underlying the story. Jesus first forgives his sins, and only after being accused of blasphemy does he demonstrate his authority and ask the man to rise, or you could say he demonstrated to the people around him through a physical sign that the man received spiritual grace which led to the forgiveness of his sins. In other words, Jesus demonstrated a sacrament or the physical manifestation of received spiritual grace. This is exactly what happens in the confessional, albeit not always in such a dramatic fashion. Regardless, the grace received is the same, and the assurance of forgiveness is a priceless gift to the soul of the penitent.

The cool thing is that after confessing, when I hear these words from the priest:

God, the Father of mercies, through the death and resurrection of His Son has reconciled the world to Himself and sent the Holy Spirit among us for the forgiveness of sins; Through the ministry of the Church may God give you pardon and peace, and I absolve you from all your sins in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

I rejoice, give glory to God, am struck with awe, and then pick up my own stretcher and go home. Incredible things indeed!

Friday, December 02, 2005

Believing is seeing

As Jesus passed by, two blind men followed him, crying out,
“Son of David, have pity on us!”
When he entered the house,
the blind men approached him and Jesus said to them,
“Do you believe that I can do this?”
“Yes, Lord,” they said to him.
Then he touched their eyes and said,
“Let it be done for you according to your faith.”
And their eyes were opened. - Matthew 9:27-30a

In several accounts in the gospels, Jesus is described as "passing by" as he is in the above account from St. Matthew's gospel. In these verses, the Lord is sought after by two blind men seeking his mercy. The cool thing is that these men were blind, yet they knew Jesus was there, and they "recognized" him as "Son of David," a Messianic title. Not bad for a couple of blind guys. For their faith in him, they were rewarded with vision.

This passage presents wonderful challenges to us. First of all, we need to be attuned to the world around us, especially the people we meet, for who knows when the Lord himself will come passing by. I for one do not want to be caught unaware when the opportunity to meet the Lord is presented to me. Second, the blind men sought Jesus; they didn't wait for Jesus to come to them. One thing I have come to understand is that God does not force us to choose to follow him, to seek him out. Our choice to follow Jesus is the first step in our journey of faith. It is only if we choose to seek him that he can be found, that our eyes can be opened, and we can be aware of his mercy. And lastly, as with all miracles performed by Christ, the recipients are informed that they have been healed by their faith. It is only through faith working in love that we receive God's grace, and through that grace, healing. As the blind men were rewarded by their faith with the opening of their eyes, so through the eyes of faith are we able to see God's wonderful plan as it is revealed through Christ. There is no greater reward.

One other thing, the fact that the Lord is "passing by" tells us that he is near to the blind men, near enough for them to know it. As we wait for the coming of the Lord this Advent, let us be mindful that he is near us as well, that he is always "passing by." You never know when the opportunity will arise for our eyes to be opened. Let us have courage and faith, so that when he inquires of us, "Do you believe I can do this?" our answer will be, "Yes, Lord. I believe. Open my eyes."

Then will the eyes of the blind be opened,
the ears of the deaf be cleared;
Then will the lame leap like a stag,

then the tongue of the dumb will sing. - Isaiah 35:5-6a

Thursday, December 01, 2005

The poor in spirit and the eternal Rock

Trust in the LORD forever!
For the LORD is an eternal Rock.
He humbles those in high places,
and the lofty city he brings down;
He tumbles it to the ground,
levels it with the dust.
It is trampled underfoot by the needy,
by the footsteps of the poor. - Isaiah 26:4-6

Have you ever contemplated why the poor seem to be in the Lord's favor more than the rich? Is it because God doesn't like the rich? Are all poor people pleasant people and all rich people horrible wretches? The answer to this question is actually found in the above verses of scripture taken from the prophet Isaiah, and the key is in the first 2 lines.

The rich and the poor that the scriptures so often discuss are not those who are full or lacking in material goods. The scriptures are describing spiritual states rather than material states. The poor are those who are aware of their lowliness and complete reliance on God. The rich are those who are puffed up with their own importance and so express it either through their own assurance of divine favor or their unbelief in God period. Interestingly, these spiritual conditions quite often will spill over into the material, for people who have little materially will not be as likely to be distracted by the things of this world and be more open to hearing the voice of the Lord, however that is not to say that having great material wealth is incompatible with being open to the voice of the Lord, but we need to keep in mind that the rich and the poor of which the scriptures speak are largely spiritual entities.

So, what do these verses say? It would seem that the poor will trample over the rich, but I don't think it is a matter of the poor triumphing as it is the rich being humbled. Those who understand their complete reliance on God and his mercy will be exalted, while those who are puffed up with pride will be brought low. Why is this? Because according to Jesus, in God's eyes, we are all on a level playing field. God, who is love, wills all of us to be. He holds each of us in his hand and each of us is at his mercy since we all are sinners. Those who are aware of this, the poor in spirit, will be more attuned to their need for this mercy and deeply appreciate it, while those who are rich will simply take it for granted or reject it altogether.

We all know the result. Those who rely on themselves quite often lose their way, while those who trust in the Lord, the eternal rock, will never be led astray. The greatest in the Kingdom are those who are humble like Mary, the Mother of God, the poorest in spirit yet the richest in grace.