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Archive for December, 2013

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Jesus spent most of his life hidden living within the context of a family. Today is the Feast of the Holy Family and the lives of Jesus, Mary and Joseph provide us with some important lessons. Their home life at Nazareth is a school:

The home of Nazareth is the school where we begin to understand the life of Jesus – the school of the Gospel. First, then, a lesson of silence. May esteem for silence, that admirable and indispensable condition of mind, revive in us. . . A lesson on family life. May Nazareth teach us what family life is, its communion of love, its austere and simple beauty, and its sacred and inviolable character. . . A lesson of work. Nazareth, home of the “Carpenter’s Son”, in you I would choose to understand and proclaim the severe and redeeming law of human work. . . To conclude, I want to greet all the workers of the world, holding up to them their great pattern their brother who is God. (CCC 533)

This quote from the Catechism of the Catholic Church was taken from a beautiful address given by Pope Paul VI at Nazareth, 5 January 1964, on the occasion of the Feast of the Holy Family. Read more of that address here.

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Following Christmas the Church celebrates three other important people and events closely related to the Incarnation and Redemption: December 26th – the Feast of St. Stephen, the first martyr; December 27th – St. John, the beloved disciple; and December 28th – the infants of Bethlehem, the Holy Innocents. St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross writes in The Mystery of Christmas that these all have a place around the Child in the manger:

st. stephen

One the day after Christmas the Church removes her white garments and clothes herself in the colour of blood, and on the fourth day in the violet of mourning: Stephen, the first marytr, the first to follow his Lord to death, and the infants of Bethlehem and Judea who were brutally slaughtered by crude henchmen, all have a place around the Child in the manger. What is the meaning of this message? Where now are the jubilant sounds of the heavenly choir? Where the peaceful bliss of Holy Night? Where the peace on earth? Peace to those of good will; but not all are of good will. Therefore, the Son of the Eternal Father must leave the splendour of heaven because the mystery of evil has wrapped the earth in dark night.

Darkness covered the earth and he came as light to illumine the darkness, but the darkness did not comprehend him. To those who received him, he brought light and peace; peace with the Father in heaven, peace with everyone who like them are children of light and children of a heavenly Father, a deep interior peace of the heart; but no peace with the children of darkness. To them the Prince of Peace brings no peace but the sword. He remains for them a stumbling block of scandal against which they charge and are smashed. That is the one hard and serious fact which we may not allow to be obscured by the visible attraction of the Child in the manger. The mystery of the Incarnation and the mystery of evil belong together. The dark night of sin stands in stark and sinister contrast with the Light which came down from heaven. The Child in the manger extends its little hands and its smile seems to be saying what would come forth later from the lips of a man: ‘Come to me all you who are weary and heavy burdened’; and the poor shepherds out on the hills of Bethlehem, who heard the good news of the angel, follow his call and make their way with the simple answer, ‘Let us go to Bethlehem’. Also from the kings from the orient lands, who followed the wondrous star with like simplicity, there dropped from the infant hands the dew of grace and ‘they rejoiced with great joy’. These hands give and request at the same time: you wise men, lay down your wisdom and become like children; you kings, give up your crowns and your treasures and bow down meekly before the King of kings; do not hesitate to take up the burdens, sorrows and weariness which his service demands.You children, you cannot yet give of your own free will, of you these little hands will request your gentle life before it has even begun; it can serve no better purpose than sacrifice in praise of the Lord.

baby jesus

‘Follow me’ say the little hands, words which later will come from the lips of the Man. Thus they spoke to the disciple whom the Lord loved and who is now also a part of the group at the manger. St. John, the young man with the pure, youthful heart followed without asking, ‘where to? why?’ He left his father’s boat and went with the Lord along all his ways, even to Golgotha. ‘Follow me’ – young Stephen understood this also. He followed the Lord in the struggle against the powers of darkness, the blindness of obstinate unbelief; he bore witness to him with his word and his blood; he followed him in his Spirit, the Spirit of love, which resists sin but loves the sinner, and even in death intercedes with God on behalf of the murderer. These are the figures of light that kneel around the manger: the gentle, innocent children, the faithful shepherds, the humble kings, Stephen, the enthusiastic youth and beloved apostle, John – all of them follow the call of the Lord.

St. John

In contrast to them, there is the night of incomprehensible callousness and blindness: the scribes who have information as to the time and place where the Saviour of the world was to be born, but who say nothing about ‘Let us go to Bethlehem!’ and King Herod who wants to kill the Lord of life. In the presence of the Child in the manger, the spirits line up to take sides. He is the King of kings and Lord of life and death. He utters his ‘follow me’ and whoever is not for him is against him. He also speaks for us and invites us to choose between light and darkness.

(Taken from The Mystery of Christmas, the title of a lecture given by Edith Stein (St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross on January 13, 1931 in Ludwigshafen)

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St. John of the Cross was a wonderful poet, probably the best poet Spain has ever known. One set of his poems titled, “The Romances”, expounds on themes of salvation history. Below is part of this poetry that expresses his thought on the Incarnation.

7. The Incarnation
Now that the time had come
when it would be good
to ransom the bride
serving under the hard yoke
of that law
which Moses had given her,
the Father, with tender love,
spoke in this way:
“Now you see, Son, that your bride
was made in your image,
and so far as she is like you
she will suit you well;
yet she is different, in her flesh,
which your simple being does not have.
In perfect love
this law holds:
that the lover become
like the one he loves;
for the greater their likeness
the greater their delight.
Surely your bride’s delight
would greatly increase
were she to see you like her,
in her own flesh”.
“My will is yours,”
the Son replied,
“and my glory is
that your will be mine.
This is fitting, Father,
what you, the Most High, say;
for in this way
your goodness will be more evident,
your great power will be seen
and your justice and wisdom.
I will go and tell the world,
spreading the word
of your beauty and sweetness
and of your sovereignty.
I will go seek my bride
and take upon myself
her weariness and labors
in which she suffers so;
and that she may have life,
I will die for her,
and lifting her out of that deep,
I will restore her to you”.
8. Continues
Then he called
the archangel Gabriel
and sent him to
the virgin Mary,
at whose consent
the mystery was wrought,
in whom the Trinity
clothed the Word with flesh
and though Three work this,
it is wrought in the One;
and the Word lived incarnate
in the womb of Mary.
And he who had only a Father
now had a Mother too,
but she was not like others
who conceive by man.
From her own flesh
he received his flesh,
so he is called
Son of God and of man.
9. The Birth
When the time had come
for him to be born,
he went forth like the
bridegroom
from his bridal chamber,
embracing his bride,
holding her in his arms,
whom the gracious Mother
laid in a manger
among some animals
that were there at that time.
Men sang songs
and angels melodies
celebrating the marriage
of Two such as these.
But God there in the manger
cried and moaned;
and these tears were jewels
the bride brought to the
wedding.
The Mother gazed in sheer wonder
on such an exchange:
in God, man’s weeping,
and in man, gladness,
to the one and the other
things usually so strange.

20 days old baby sleeping in a christmas nativity crib

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The Vigil Mass on Christmas Eve tells about how the birth of Jesus came about. The Gospel of Matthew 1:18-23 is read at this Mass. During the Christmas Eve Vigil we hear that, “She will bear a son and you are to name him Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” and that “God is with us.” No one could know God is charity, except through this most important event in all of history – the Incarnation.

On Christmas Day the Church celebrates three Masses. The first Mass is the Mass at Midnight. This is also known as the Angel’s Mass since the scripture passages are highlighted with the visit of angels. “The angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid; for behold I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For today in the city of David a savior has been born for you who is Christ the Lord’. . . And suddenly there was a multitude of the heavenly host with the angel praising God. . .” The Gospel reading is taken from Luke 2:1-14 which describes how the birth of Jesus took place.

Traditionally it is believed that Christ was born at midnight. Midnight is when it is darkest and this can be seen to represent spiritual darkness that is in the world. Only Christ, the Light of the world, can dispel this darkness. The birth of Jesus, the Word made flesh, has shown us the love of God. With allusions to Christ’s birth in our souls by grace – through the Word, God’s love is manifested and now tangible in this little baby who holds out his arms to us.

The Shepherd’s Mass or Mass at Dawn is celebrated early Christmas morning. Continuing with the theme of light, this Mass takes place at dawn when the natural light is increasing. The shepherds go to the crib to see the Christ child – a light in the darkness. In our consideration of these three Masses it would be incomplete without a visit to the creche, to see and worship the Infant Jesus.

creche

The third Mass of the day is known as the Mass of the Divine Word. The Word is a light that shines in the darkness. The Word is life. The Word became flesh. The Word is God. The Word enlightens and dwells among us. (Jn 1:1-14) And the Word ushers in a new law.

This is how St. John of the Cross speaks of the new law of grace now that it has entered into time, explaining how we do not need to question God and have him reply as it was necessary in the Old Testament because:

 “in this era of grace, now that the faith is established through Christ and the Gospel law made manifest, there is no reason for inquiring of him in this way, or expecting him to answer as before. In giving us his Son, his only Word (for he possesses no other), he spoke everything to us at once in this sole Word – and he has no more to say.” (The Ascent of Mount Carmel, Book II, 22. 3)

God has spoken through his Son. The Son speaks the Divine Word. We are to listen to that Word and carry the love that God has revealed into the dark places of our world.

If possible make plans to attend all three of these Christmas Masses. Reflect on these themes: angels, shepherds and the Divine Word. Worship the Infant Jesus, let his Word enter your heart and bring the law of light and love to our dark world.

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The Incarnation is the greatest work of God accomplished in time. This great work was accomplished in silence and obscurity. Its ultimate purpose is for the glory of God.

The Incarnation leads us again to the Trinity. In the beginning the Trinity, when creating man said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.” (Gen 1:26) Let us make man in our image; however, sin entered and destroyed this image.  Christ comes in to restore it. Because of the Incarnation the Trinity comes to our souls at baptism so that we may come to share in the divine nature. (2 Peter 1:4)

St. Teresa in her Spiritual Testimonies #51, bears witness to this presence within her soul.  “Once while with this presence of the three Persons that I carry about in my soul…”  Our saint bears witness that we are never alone since God dwells with us.

The purpose of the Incarnation was beautifully described by Pope Benedict XVI in a homily given at Loreto,Italy (October 4, 2012):

“The purpose of the Incarnation and Redemption was to unite in a real fashion heaven and earth. That unity could only take place if there were in the universe beings who were free, who could know and act. We sometimes think of heaven and earth as antagonistic to each other. We know they can be….The Incarnation tells us that we are never alone, that God has come to humanity and that he accompanies us.”

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St. John of the Cross pic

What we need most in order to make progress is to be silent before this great God with our appetite and with our tongue, for the language he best hears is silent love.  –St John of the Cross, OCD

Advent is a time of waiting…waiting in the darkness where it is still and quiet. This season is also a time to establish the conditions I need to have in order to bring Christ into my life.

Night, these long winter nights, can be a time for prayer, waiting prayer. In this night of waiting prayer, I can remain before the Lord in silence. St. John of the Cross teaches that silence is the language the God hears best.

As St. John of the Cross reminds me, I need to remain in silence with my desires and tongue silenced. Thoughts and words are limiting. They limit my time with the Lord; therefore, I need to be present before Him with these silent and remain there in a state of interior quiet. It is in this silent waiting of my prayer through faith and love that will bring me to the God I am seeking.

In the darkness of Advent I can then see and adjust my responding after this time in silence. My response can then be to bring Christ into the lives of others, but first I need to begin by bringing Him into my own interior life.

Today is the Feast of St. John of the Cross who was and still is a good guide through the darkness that is faith. With him and his writings he will draw me to seek God in faith and love.

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“In those days he departed to the mountain to pray, and he spent the night in prayer –  to God.”

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In Luke 6:12 we see Jesus praying in the night.  Sometimes He would spend the entire night in prayer. It is highly unlikely that the Lord did this every night, but it was a common practice of His. This is something that we can do too, not in a legalistic way which would not be profitable, but also not to neglect this practice completely. An easy way to do this would be to pray whenever we awaken in the middle of the night.

We could pray to repair the damage that is often done at night in the cover of darkness.

 “the night is advanced, the day is at hand. Let us then throw off the works of darkness [and] put on the armor of light; let us conduct ourselves properly as in the day, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in promiscuity and licentiousness, not in rivalry and jealousy.” Romans 13: 12-13

We could also pray for those in need: those suffering some sickness or who are enduring some incredible pain or those who are lonely, lost and downtrodden.

“the prayer of faith will save the sick person, and the Lord will raise him up.”                                                                               James 5 :15

Whenever we awaken in the night, we can start praying for anyone who comes to mind or perhaps pick up the rosary meditating on the mysteries of our Lord and His mother. We should not pray with anxiety about all this that goes on in the world but with great calm, trusting that the prayers are doing good in the world. And if we should happen to drift off back to sleep before completing the prayers, this too should not disturb our peace and calm.

We should pray even before going to sleep, spending at least 15 minutes in prayer before drifting off to sleep.  Then when some time in the night we awaken, we can begin prayer again. Praying at night, however, should always be in God’s control. 

Praying in our beds when we awaken in the middle of the night is an ideal place to pray. It is a place that is solitary, quiet and undistracting for the senses, since it is dark. (cf. Ascent of Mount Carmel, Book 3, ch 39) These night hours or minutes when the world is hushed in slumber are precious alone moments with God in undisturbed communion with Him and is a way to pray always.

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