Let us go to Bethlehem

“Now there were shepherds in that region living in the fields and keeping the night watch over their flock.

(Luke 2:8)

Suddenly the shepherds hear the voice of an angel. Struck with awe they listen to the angel say, “Behold, I proclaim to you good news”. 

“For today in the city of David a savior has been born for you who is Messiah and Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find an infant wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.”

(Luke 2: 11-12)

The shepherds turn to each other and said, “Let us go, then, to Bethlehem to see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.” (Luke 2:15)

The shepherds make their way to the little town of Bethlehem. Days before their journey, Mary and St. Joseph travel to this place to take part in the census, even though the timing was not convenient for the expectant mother. The time for her to have her child was drawing near. 

The Virgin consented to the impossible. An angel had visited her too. She gave her “fiat” to be the “handmaid of the Lord” and so the savior of the world was conceived. “The most sublime work of God’s mercy was accomplished: one Person of the Blessed Trinity, the second, came to do for us what we could not do for ourselves. Behold the Word, God’s only-begotten Son, “who for us men and for our salvation, descended from heaven and became incarnate” (Credo).” (Divine Intimacy #26, Fr. Gabriel of St. Mary Magdelen)

The shepherds hurry along prodding the sheep with them. What will they see? 

Joseph and Mary arrive in the village, swarming with other pilgrims. It is night, cold and the time for the child’s birth is fast approaching. Joseph’s poverty as the head of the family is palpable. He must trust in God. St. Joseph trusts with “creative courage”. He arrived “in Bethlehem and finding no lodging where Mary could give birth, Joseph took a stable at hand, as best he could, turned it into a welcoming home for the Son of God come into the world.” (Patris Corde, Pope Francis)

With tender care and attention, Mary wrapped the infant Jesus tightly in cloth as any loving mother would do. Swaddling Him in strips of cloth so that He would be warm, snug and safely protected from the outside world now that He has left the womb. Swaddling infants is still something mothers do today. In past years, narrow stripes of cloth wrapped around a newborn helped to restrain a baby’s movement and quieten him to sleep more contently and prevent him from accidentally scratching his soft, fine skin.

St. Cyril of Jerusalem reminds us that Jesus was wrapped in swaddling clothes, placed in a manger, and was poor, vulnerable, dependent, and cold. The swaddling cloths foreshadowed the burial cloths. However, at His next coming, Jesus will be glorious – wrapped in light! 

“For with you is the fountain of life, and in your light we see light.”

(Ps36:10)

The Lord’s binding as an infant was one of love. He submitted to Mary’s love and attention to his tender, fragile needs as an infant. As a matter of fact, all of His bindings were bonds of love. He was bound and taken by his enemies as His hands were tied and He was led away from the Garden of Gethsemane out of love for us. He was wrapped in bands of cloth for His funeral, but at the resurrection – glorified, He removed the cloths that bound Him.

Now the shepherds have their personal encounter with Jesus, led to this encounter by the Star to a poor manger with a little baby. A baby who will “bring peace on earth”. They behold the infant, a poor infant lying in the poverty of a manger, sleeping, resting. Together with the shepherds, we move from this sight of Jesus with faith to follow Him along His way of sorrows with the Cross. 

This Christmas may we welcome the Savior. May Jesus find our hearts empty and poor with the poverty of the manger where He can come and find his rest. Seeing that only a poor heart can truly receive God, let us make room for Grace. 

Ecce ancilla Domini!

Today’s Gospel takes us back nine months to the Annunciation, to Gabriel, the messenger sent from God to a virgin in Nazareth, whose name was Mary.

Mary is humble, docile, and filled with faith in God as she recieves and accepts His message through the angel, Gabriel. Through her acceptance the accomplishment of God’s greatest work – the Incarnation of the Word – is to take place, which will end in His glory. Glory is the end of all of God’s works.

God called us into existence out of nothing giving us a natural life, but He also gave us a supernatural life. He elevated man to divine sonship so that we might share in the intimate life of the Godhead – the Trinity, and enter into that beatitude that is eternal. This was the Divine plan from the beginning. However, even though the first sin of Adam and Eve destroyed this plan and changed everything, God’s love did not change. God through His immense charity towards man willed to redeem him. So through an even greter act of love, God became man and appeared into the world taking on human flesh as a son, as a small child in the womb of Mary. 

To save us He descended from heaven and became incarnate. With what love God has loved us! Divine Love moved God to become one of us.

The Word comes down from heaven to be with us. This is the greatest manifistation of God’s merciful love. From the Incaranation of the Word comes our salvation, sanctification and our beatitude. Without this supreme act of Charity we would be trapped in a purely human life and would be stripped of a supernatural life now and for eternity.

Fiat!

Our Blessed Mother models for us the effects that graces and divine favors should generate in us – an increase in humility and a consciousness of our nothingness.

The higher God elevated her, the lowlier she became because of her humility. “The Angel called her “full of grace” and Mary “was troubled” ”(Lk 1: 28-29) Because of Mary’s humility, she disliked praise. Her desire was that only God should be praised. “The more she understood the grandeur of the mystery, the immensity of the divine gift, the more she humbled herself, submerging herself in her nothingness. Her attitude was the same when Elizabeth greeted her, “Blessed are thou among women”. (Lk 1:42) (cf. Divine Intimacy #176 by Fr. Gabriel of St. Mary Magdalen)

Inspired by this narrative of St. Luke, let us enter into the dispositions of Mary. She is recollected in solitude when the angel approaches and says to her the words repeated in every Hail Mary. Mary’s reaction to this angelic visitor is one of humility. She is ‘troubled’, that is, astonished at such an unusual greeting addressed to her.

fiat mihi secundum verbum tuum

Then Mary gives her ‘fiat’: “Let it be done to me according to thy word” (Lk 1:38). This is the only proper response to God’s will.

Two virtues are displayed in Mary. First of all, humility reveals her peaceful interior and is reflected in the exterior body of her soul. She is astonished but not disturbed. If we really ponder in great honesty all that disturbs us and trace this disturbance to its root, we will find that our pride in some way has been wounded. Some contradiction, some change to our plans, some insecurity in our comforts; all these disturb our constant grasping for “my will to be done”. The second virtue we see in Mary is her simplicity. Simplicity is looking only at God. Mary is pure and has a desire for only one thing. Our passions and attachments keep us from this disposition. Once a soul is purified of every passion and attachment it is then reduced to perfect simplicity. To reach this goal the soul must look to God for help, leaning on God at every moment seeking Him as sole support and strength. The simple soul does not waste time reasoning about the conduct of others. These souls see the hand of God in everything that happens and in every circumstance.

These two virtues, humility and simplicity, so perfectly modeled in the Blessed Virgin Mary, are necessary for a soul to rest peacefully in any given situation knowing and trusting in God.

Mary’s humble dependence on God and His will is reflected beautifully in her reply, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord.” (Lk 1: 38) This interior attitude of Mary’s is equal to that of Jesus: “Behold, I come to do your will.” (Heb 10:9) This deep interior disposition was constant throughout the Blessed Virgin’s life. Her life was one of docility which is expressed in this attitude of “handmaiden”. We too can make this our attitude of being easily led by God when we accept all that He permits in our lives. God wills the inconveniences, poverty (spiritual and material), privations, separations, persecutions, insults, and hardships as grace. Let us, like Mary, humbly depend on God for everything.

Living on Love

Lent is such a good time of God’s grace. St. Therese of Lisieux expresses this well in this stanza:

Living on Love is keeping within oneself

A great treasure in an earthen vase.

My Beloved, my weakness is extreme.

Ah, I’m far from being an angel from heaven!…

But if I fall with each passing hour,

You come to my aid, lifting me up.

At each moment you give me your grace:

I live on Love.

(Poem 17, p. 91 The Poetry of Saint Therese of Lisieux, trans. Fr. Donald Kinney, OCD, ICS Publications)

Isn’t this just what we are all doing?!?! Keep on living on love faithful readers!

The Unwelcome Savior

'The Adoration of the Shepherds' Guido Reni

‘The Adoration of the Shepherds’  Guido Reni

God enters the world as a small infant. There is no room for him. . . no crib.

We are ungrateful children and haven’t known the value of Jesus’ visit. Light came to disperse the darkness; His message has gone unheeded. For on that cold winter night the angels did sing, but in vain. Our indifference has stifled their glad tidings. We were astonished, but only for a moment.

Jesus came into the darkness, the darkness of sin and death, but the darkness did not receive His light. Oh! if this Advent our darkness would desire and comprehend His light! Even if we don’t, the day will come when His justice will burst upon us in all its brilliance, and He will disperse all the spiritual darkness in man’s heart.

During Advent reflect on the state of our world before Christ’s coming. It was a world filled with darkness and sin. Then let us fill our hearts with gratitude towards Jesus who came down from heaven so that He might know our miserable state experiencing all of it, except for sin, and saving us from death.

Then let us reflect on His mysterious coming that He desires to accomplish in hearts. Let us open our hearts to receive Him more fully than ever before. He desires to enter there, to dwell there and transform us. Let us consent to receive this Divine guest. He knocks and asks to be let in. He delights to be born in our hearts. Do not refuse Him. Receive Him and let Him in.

This Advent let Him in and preserve Him within you as a great treasure. Let Him rest there where He can shape your thoughts and guide your actions to be like His. Welcome Him with love and care more than before.

The Virgin, weighed
with the Word of God
comes down the road:
if only you’ll shelter her.

~St. John of the Cross

Fire of Love

Bernini's St. Teresa of Jesus

Bernini’s St. Teresa of Jesus

 

St. Teresa is best known for her love of God. Jesus Christ increased this virtue and many others in this saint. She experienced many visions and revelations from Christ. One time she saw an angel with a flaming dart piercing her heart. She explains this mystical experience in her autobiography, chapter 19:

“I saw an angel beside me toward the left side, in bodily form…He was not very large, but small, very beautiful, his face so blazing with light that he seemed to be one of the very highest angels, who appear all on fire. They must be those they call Cherubim…I saw in his hands a long dart of gold, and at the end of the iron there seemed to me to be a little fire. This I thought he thrust through my heart several times, and that it reached my very entrails. As he withdrew it, I thought it brought them with it, and left me all burning with a great love of God. So great was the pain, that it made me give those moans; and so utter the sweetness that this sharpest of pains gave me, that there was no wanting it to stop, nor is there any contenting of the soul with less than God”.

This heavenly gift, this flame of divine love in her heart, which penetrated her being and made her so strong that she vowed to always do what seemed to her most perfect and for God’s glory.

St. John of the Cross explains this fire of love in his work The Living Flame of Love:

“When he wills to touch somewhat vehemently, the soul’s burning reaches such a high degree of love that it seems to surpass that of all the fires of the world: for he is an infinite fire of love. Because the soul in this case is entirely transformed by the divine flame, it not only feels a cautery, but has become a cautery of blazing fire.”

“…it does not afflict it: rather, commensurate with the strength of the love, it divinized and delights it, burning gently.”

May God’s love transform our hearts and may our love of God grow, blazing like fire, burning gently.

The Queen of Angels

On the Feast of the Assumption the Lord showed St. Teresa in a rapture the Queen of Angels in her ascent into heaven and how she was received there with all solemnity and great joy. The effects St. Teresa received were “a deeper desire to undergo difficult trials” and she was also “left with a longing to serve our Lady”. (The Book of Her Life, Chap 39:26)

mary-angels2.211142909_std

Following all the many trials and persecutions St. Teresa received in setting up the first foundation, she fell into a rapture on the Feast of the Assumption. This time she was reflecting upon her many sins when the rapture occurred. In it she saw herself “vested in a white robe of shining brightness” but at first didn’t see who was clothing her in it. Later she saw that it was the Blessed Mother and St. Joseph that were putting this robe on her.

St. Teresa goes on to explain, “I was given to understand that I was now cleansed of my sins. After being clothed and while experiencing the most marvelous delight and glory, it seemed to me than that our Lady took me by the hands. She told me I made her very happy in serving the glorious St. Joseph, that I should believe that what I was striving for in regard to the monastery would be accomplished, that the Lord and those two would be greatly served in it, that I shouldn’t fear there would ever be any failure in this matter even though the obedience which was to be give was not to my liking, because they would watch over us, and that her Son had already promised us He would be with us, that as a sign that this was true she was giving me a jewel. It seemed to me she placed around my neck a very beautiful golden necklace to which was attached a highly valuable cross.” (The Book of Her Life, Chap 33:14)

Because of St. Teresa’s work and devotion, Carmelites strive to serve Our Lady and St. Joseph and to foster personal devotion to both of them. In a previous post, I mentioned how St. Teresa set St. Joseph at one door and Our Lady at the other in each of the foundations that she set up. She had great trust in their protection and intercession and we should too.

Our Lady of Clemency

One evening while St. Teresa was the prioress at the monastery of the Incarnation she had a vision of Mary. In this vision, she saw Mary sit in the prioress’ chair where St. Teresa had previously placed a statue of the Virgin Mother. There were angels all around and this intellectual vision lasted during the whole length of the Salve Regina.

The Salve is the traditional Marian hymn sung at the end of the day to conclude Night Prayer. One can probably assume that this vision took place while the nuns were in the choir reciting the Liturgy of the Hours.

Our Lady told St. Teresa that it was good that she had placed her in the prioress’ chair for our Lady told her that:

“ I shall be present in the praises they give my Son, and I shall offer these praises to Him.”

(Spiritual Testimonies #21

As a Secular Carmelite I would like to think that Our Lady is also present whenever I praise her Son, and that she “offers these praises to Him”. What a pleasant thought to have in mind when praying the Liturgy of the Hours!

mary-baby-jesus2

. . . O clement, O loving, O sweet Virgin Mary. Pray for us!

Three Christmas Masses

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.

Desires, Reason and Guardian Angels

jnangllarge

Reflect that your guardian angel does not always move your desire for an action, but he does always enlighten your reason. Hence, in order to practice virtue do not wait until you feel like it, for your reason and intellect are sufficient.   (The Sayings of Light and Love #37 – St. John of the Cross)

Peace and Good Will

Thomas ColeThe Angel Appearing to the Shepherds, 1833–34

Thomas Cole
The Angel Appearing to the Shepherds, 1833–34

“Glory to God in the highest

and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”   ~Luke 2: 14

Only those who obey God’s law can enjoy peace. Peace is tranquility, a tranquility that can be experienced as that one finds on a still sea – gentle, calm water.

peaceful water

The opposite of this peaceful scene would be wind and waves tossing one about here and there. Therefore, peace is the serenity of order. Order is established by God’s law and obedience to His will.

stormy sea

Peace for the soul would be experienced in the refreshment and repose it has in following God’s law and adhering to His will in spite of the struggles, challenges and sorrows that life offers.

This peace comes to men in “whom his favor rests”. God’s favor rests on those whose will is good and conforms to His. This “good will” is upright, directed sincerely and entirely to God. It is also good when it is docile. A docile will is ready to follow every inspiration of God’s will. Finally, a “good will” is resolute, promptly adhering to the will of God even when sacrifices are required or when obstacles and difficulties come.

A soul filled with peace and following the laws of God is a soul that gives glory to God.

(Divine Intimacy #33, Fr. Gabriel of St. Mary Magdalen, O.C.D.)