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Archive for the ‘night’ Category

Eastern Orthodox icon of the Praises      of the Theotokos

Before ending this month of May devoted to the Blessed Virgin Mary, a remembrance of the Holy Mother as the day ends seems to be a good thing to recall for those of us devoted to the Virgin.

As Seculars we are exhorted to “try to recite Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer of the Hours in union with the Church spread throughout the world. When it is possible they will also recite Night Prayer.” (Constitutions III, 24)

Night Prayer, also known as Compline, is said as the last prayer of the day. It is at this time that a brief examen of the day is also to take place. At the end of this prayer there is a hymn to the Blessed Mother. The breviary lists several popular Marian hymns to choose from.

During the Easter season the Regina Coeli is appropriate and can be sung throughout Eastertide and through Pentecost. During Ordinary time the Salve Regina or Hail Holy Queen is an appropriate night time hymn. The Advent season is a good time for focusing on the Alma Redemprois Mater which beautifully connects the Incarnation theme of that part of the liturgical year and can be recited until February 2nd (Candlemas). Then from Candlemas to the end of Lent, the Ave Regina Coelorum is most fitting. For more on the singing of these seasonal Marian hymns go here. To hear these check out the chants 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)

Innocents4_1

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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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We are approaching the end of the Christmas Season, which ends this coming Sunday with the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord. We have all been given a clear and intimate inspiration in our souls by God at His coming to us as the babe in a manger. This inspiration has urged us to greater generosity and a closer union with Him. Promptly and generously we will follow this inspiration, this star, with the faith of the Magi. Faith will allow this inspiration to guide us on our journey and it will lead us to the One we too are seeking.

 Three_Wise_Men_Following_The_Star_Wallpaper_mnmg

On this journey to find the One they were seeking, the Magi did not give up even when the star, this inspiration, had disappeared from sight. “We should follow their example and their perseverance, even when we are in interior darkness. This is a trial of faith which is overcome only by the exercise  of pure, naked faith.” (Divine Intimacy, #41, Fr. Gabriel of St. Mary Magdalen, OCD)

 “In this you rejoice, although now for a little while you may have to suffer through various trials, so that the genuineness of your faith, more precious than gold that is perishable even though tested by fire, may prove to be for praise, glory, and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” (1 Peter 1: 6-7)

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The cross is a symbol of all that is difficult and oppressive and so against human nature. In the writings of St. John of the Cross, however, the prevailing symbol is not the cross but night. What is meant by ‘symbol’? In The Science of the Cross, St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross explains that in the broad sense a symbol is everything sensory by which something spiritual is significant. It is everything familiar through natural experience that signifies something unfamiliar (or even that is not perceived naturally). In this broad sense night and cross are symbols.

A sign can be used in place of a symbol; however, a symbol usually represents a broader range of meaning.  An image can also represent someone or something. The difference between a sign and an image is that an image is a likeness; it points to what is image through inner similarity. For example, an image is like a reflection in a mirror. Whoever sees it will immediately be directed through it to the original that is recognized in that image. A sign has no such substantial agreement; the relation is arbitrary. A sign has an arbitrary meaning attached to it that must be told in order to understand it. For instance, a red octagon shape with white letters on it is a commonly recognized sign. A meaning is given to that sign. All, then, understand that meaning and know to stop when it is seen.

The cross is not an image in the strict sense as a symbol is in the broad sense above because there is no immediate perceptibility of similarity between the cross and suffering. The cross has acquired this meaning. It is a sign, but not one that was artificially given to it. It is because of history and its use as a tool that gives the cross this meaning. The cross earned its meaning.

As an emblem the cross is a symbol or figure adopted and used as an identifying mark. Christians identify with this emblem. They will sometimes wear a cross as an identification that they are a Christian.

In contrast with the cross, night is natural, the counterpart of light. It is not literally an object because it is not visible. Night is the absence of light and, though invisible and formless, it can, interestingly, still be perceived.

St. Teresa Benedicta describes, in The Science of the Cross, how night symbolizes the cross, that is in all that is difficult, oppressive and contrary to the will, because it limits the use of the senses, limits the use of movements, weakness strength, banishes in loneliness, and makes shadowy and ghostly.

The physical night, the night of nature, is similar to the spiritual night, or death, that St. John of the Cross describes with this difference: the physical or natural night of human experience is “the moonlight magic night”. Everything in natural night is flooded by a mild soft night. “This softly lit night does not devour things, but instead gives them a glowing nocturnal visage” (appearance). Things can be seen in this “moonlight magic night” only they are not as sharp or clear, rather they are “muted and soothed”. The saint goes on to note that “characteristic traits are revealed that never appear in bright daylight.” What an interesting perspective. An example would be, if while trying to sleep while staying in a noisy, busy part of a town, the quiet hum of the interstate traffic that was drowned out by all the other activity that went on during the day could be heard off in the distance now that it is night and the daytime hustle and bustle has ceased.

So, the night is good and has value, just like the mystical night does. Natural nightfall      “puts an end to the haste and noise of the day, it brings rest and peace.” This has a correlation with the spiritual “night”. The spirit is “freed from the drudgery of the days duties, relaxed and recollected, at the same time it is absorbed in the profound relationships of its own being and life, of the word and the world beyond. And there is a deep, grateful repose in the peace of night.”

In order to understand St. John of the Cross it must be kept in mind one important difference between this mystical, spiritual night and this natural night symbolism. Natural night imposes itself from outside. This mystical night “does not impose itself on us from without, but rather has its origin in the interior of the soul and affects only this single soul in whom it arises.”

The effect this night has on the interior of the soul can be compared to the effects that natural light has:

“it entails a submersion of the exterior world event though outside it is bathed in    bright daylight. It casts the soul into loneliness, desolation and emptiness, stays the activity of all her faculties, frightens her by threatening horrors it conceals within itself.”

Since this is all taking place interiorly in the soul, to look on someone who is experiencing this, would be no different than looking at someone who isn’t experiencing this night. It is all interior.

However, “there is also a nocturnal light that reveals a new world deep in the interior and at the same time illumines the outer world from within so that this outer is given back to us entirely transformed.”

[The Science of the Cross, Edith Stein (pages 35-42), ICS Publications]

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