Best known as the pope of the later Donation of Constantine forgery, the truth is more that his being a contemporary of Constantine was probably the main contribution to the length and efficacy of his papacy compared to those of his predecessors.
But this controversy overshadows Silvester's legacy, such as we can understand it.
I had written much more but the Spirit has seen fit to keep it from seeing the light of day. As the calendar year comes to a close I take that as a sign for me to close; and so I will respect it and just post the beginning of the Gospel for today.
In the beginning was the Word,
and the Word was with God,
and the Word was God.
He was in the beginning with God.
All things came to be through him,
and without him nothing came to be.
What came to be through him was life,
and this life was the light of the human race;
the light shines in the darkness,
and the darkness has not overcome it.
-- John 1:1-5
Anysia was a pious woman of wealth known for her prayer, her vow of chastity, and her charity. She lived during the Diocletian persecution at a time when Maximian (co-emperor) had issued an edict stating that anyone had the right to kill Christians with no fear of punishment. I can only imagine the fear she lived under as the bodies piled up around them.
One day, on her way to liturgy, she was stopped by a Roman soldier demanded that she come along to the festival of the sun to offer sacrifice. It is reported that she refused and when the soldier grabbed her and attempted to tear the veil from her head, she shoved him, spit in his face and said, “My Lord Jesus Christ forbids you!” Either from that slight or from the mere fact that she may have crossed herself in fear, he knew she was a Christian and killed her with his sword.
On a historical note, Roman coins of the first century the civic virtue of pietas (Latin for "piety") is personified as a woman with a veil as well is the personification of pudicitia ("modesty" or "chastity"). The veil was also seen as the sign of a husband's authority over his wife. I would guess that the Roman soldier understood that a woman under a veil was fair game when he approached her. Trying to remove her veil was certainly an action of violence against her vow.
It is the two-fold problem of the powerful over the weak and the dehumanization, especially of women, of others. Anysia falls victim to both, and for that reason we should spend some time thinking about the exercise of authority, in our own lives, and by those we trust to keep order.
There are so many saints that East and West share, a sign to us that we should be more willing to share all of our Faith with one another.
Anysia, pray for all victims of violence and pray that we may understand the violence we cause and allow to happen for our own self interests.
Your lamb Anysia, O Jesus,
Calls out to You in a loud voice:
I love You, O my bridegroom,
And in seeking You, I endure suffering.
In Baptism I was crucified so that I might reign in You,
And died so that I might live with You.
Accept me as a pure sacrifice,
For I have offered myself in love.
By her prayers save our souls, since You are merciful.
-- Troparion (Tone 4)
We like to think of the world of second chances, but that is not what forgiveness nor conversion is. Thomas challenges us to unequate the two and think not as we would think but as God thinks.
Next he challenges us to question what it mean to be a best friend? Obviously Peter was one of Jesus' best friends and yet he denied him vehemently. Jesus tests Peter three times after the Resurrection: "Peter do you love me?" (John 21:15-17) But is it really a 'test' as we often present it or is it Jesus removing the veil of sin, the self-loathing and fear of failure? Is he really moving past the sin to the reason he chose Peter in the first place? Jesus desires that Peter"Feed my sheep."
In this story Jesus asks Peter with the word "agape" and Peter answers with the word "philo". Eventually Jesus shifts to "philo" with Peter but a very strong form of the word. Jesus realizes and acknowledges the place where Peter is, but he warns him in the next passage as to the difference between the two words.
Such must have been the case between Thomas and King Henry. But how different the reaction and the outcome! When Thomas seems to suddenly get religion, Henry reacts exactly the opposite of the true king, Jesus. He refuses to accept Thomas as he is, where he is and though the outcome is the same, Henry fails to forgive and accept that opposite reaction. Thomas dies at the off-handed remark of Henry who refuses the level of 'love' that Thomas can give him.
Certainly, like Peter, Thomas was no saint in his life. As David Knowles observes in his biography, while many of his contemporaries admired Thomas, no one but the king whose words killed him claimed to have loved him. Still while no saints in life both Peter and Thomas certainly were in their death. Jesus makes saints out of sinners, and that is our hope!
Thomas pray that first we may be true to the Truth and second that we may love Christ as best we can.
"It is useless to threaten me. If all the swords of England were over my head, your threats would not shift me from God’s justice and obedience to the pope. I will dispute every inch of ground with you in the Lord's fight. I left England long ago in fear; I have now returned to my church at the pope's behest; I will not again abandon her. If I may hold my office in peace, well and good; if not, may God’s will be done.” An uproar followed, and the knights left the room calling on those present to defy the traitor and prevent his escape. The archbishop started up and followed them to the door, where he heard them telling his servants that the king released them from fealty to the archbishop. “What do you say?” he exclaimed. "Speak! speak! I shall not fly. I shall be here. Here you will find me." And he raised his hand to his head. He then turned calmly back and sat down once more. John of Salisbury, as always the candid friend, made complaint. "You have always been like that. You always act and speak entirely on your own, without taking advice.” The archbishop took him up good-humouredly. “What would you then, master John?’ ‘You should have summoned your council. You must realize that those knights simply want an excuse for killing you.’ ‘We must all die, master John', replied Thomas, ‘and we must not let the fear of death make us swerve from justice. I am ready to accept death for the sake of God and of justice and the Church's freedom—far more ready to accept death than they are to kill me.’"
-- From Archbishop Thomas Becket: A Character Study By David Knowles
Today I think it appropriate to call all innocents, "holy". Certainly we honor those who lost their lives to sin for merely being born in the wrong place at the wrong time, to quell a man's fear. The misery of their parents and family is incomprehensible to me and is beyond my ability to measure.
But are these not truths all the time? How many innocents die everyday because of someone's fear, or greed, or selfishness? How can we not imagine the pain and suffering endured everyday by children and their families? Families abandoned by weak or corrupt governments? Refugees driven by famine, pestilence, or war; those suffering from indifference, from neglect, from hatred - especially our own.
"It was then that the words spoken through the prophet Jeremiah were fulfilled:
A voice was heard in Ramah,
sobbing and loudly lamenting:
it was Rachel weeping for her children,
refusing to be comforted because they were no more." (Matthew 2:17-18)
Let us pray for all the innocent: the unborn, the young, the abused, the marginalized, the poor, the elderly - all who suffer and innocently bear the burden of sin for and from the rest of us, who should know better. Let us pray that we will be forgiven for the things we have failed to do, for the innocent we have failed to protect.
Then the righteous will answer him and say, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? When did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? When did we see you ill or in prison, and visit you?’ And the king will say to them in reply, ‘Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.’
-- Matthew 25:37-40
John the Apostle and John the writer may seem hard to reconcile with one another. John the Apostle, a son of Zebedee (and with his brother James a "Son of Thunder"), seems very close to Jesus; he is included, along with Peter and James, in many of the central events of Jesus’ life: the Transfiguration, the Crucifixion, is entrusted with Mary, and is first at the Grave after the discovery of the Resurrection. He is mentioned in Acts, but unlike Paul, whose writings and references in Acts go hand in hand, the John of Scripture can seem removed from the writer John.
Except for one fact: he is the "Beloved Disciple".
The writer John produced a Gospel, three letters, and an Apocalypse. That, at least to me, is the connection. His writings are very intimate - not about himself, but about Jesus. It is John who points out to us that "God is Love" (1 John 4:7-21). His central theme is love, something that seems appropriate to the one known by Jesus as the beloved.
I think that the John of Scripture would not want us to see him in his writings - they are all about Jesus. That is probably the disconnect for us. For John, there is nothing but Jesus. His view of Jesus may border on hero-worship, the undying adulation of a youth to an older mentor - but I think that is a mistaken notion. He is not like Plato to Socrates, putting his own words into his mentor's mouth. He is John, the beloved, who is not only loved but loves and speaks the words of his master faithfully. It is he who must fade and Jesus who must rise.
Let us celebrate then this Love that is God.
On the first day of the week, Mary of Magdala came to the tomb early in the morning, while it was still dark, and saw the stone removed from the tomb. So she ran and went to Simon Peter and to the other disciple whom Jesus loved, and told them, “They have taken the Lord from the tomb, and we don’t know where they put him.” So Peter and the other disciple went out and came to the tomb. They both ran, but the other disciple ran faster than Peter and arrived at the tomb first; he bent down and saw the burial cloths there, but did not go in. When Simon Peter arrived after him, he went into the tomb and saw the burial cloths there, and the cloth that had covered his head, not with the burial cloths but rolled up in a separate place. Then the other disciple also went in, the one who had arrived at the tomb first, and he saw and believed.
-- John 20:2-8
Today reminds me that one should never use the Scriptures to test the Truth, only to spread it.
The need to service is great, the openness to it depends upon the willingness to die to self and live for Christ. The Scriptures are very direct on Stephen's vocation. He was obviously in place and ready to go when the call came.
The Church has always taught the two sides of charity: spiritual and physical. Stephen, 'filled with Spirit' readily rolled up his sleeves to do the physical work that needed to be done - even to death.
When I challenged God to show me the way He used my weakness to point to the Scriptures that told me to serve. Stephen is that example: deacon, teacher, evangelist. I have since poorly sought to live my life by his example - and the example of so many other saints - even to death.
“It is not right for us to neglect the word of God to serve at table. Brothers, select from among you seven reputable men, filled with the Spirit and wisdom, whom we shall appoint to this task, whereas we shall devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.”
The proposal was acceptable to the whole community, so they chose Stephen, a man filled with faith and the holy Spirit, also Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicholas of Antioch, a convert to Judaism.
They presented these men to the apostles who prayed and laid hands on them.
Stephen, filled with grace and power, was working great wonders and signs among the people. Certain members of the so-called Synagogue of Freedmen, Cyrenians, and Alexandrians, and people from Cilicia and Asia, came forward and debated with Stephen, but they could not withstand the wisdom and the spirit with which he spoke.
-- Acts 6:2b-6, 8-10
Considered by many to be the "Catholic Luther" (as opposed to Luther being the Lutheran Canisius I guess), Peter created a reform movement in the Church which spread throughout Southern Germany. His patience and humility should guide us today, not just with those who believe differently or are lax in their Faith, but with everyone with whom we disagree on all range and matters of subjects. I can say that I am probably a direct beneficiary of his charity, diligence, and sound theological teachings.
It is plainly wrong to meet non-Catholics with bitterness or to treat them with discourtesy. For this is nothing else than the reverse of Christ’s example because it breaks the bruised reed and quenches the smoking flax. We ought to instruct with meekness those whom heresy has made bitter and suspicious, and has estranged from orthodox Catholics, especially from our fellow Jesuits. Thus, by whole-hearted charity and good will we may win them over to us in the Lord.
Again, it is a mistaken policy to behave in a contentious fashion and to start disputes about matters of belief with argumentative people who are disposed by their very natures to wrangling. Indeed, the fact of their being so constituted is a reason the more why such people should be attracted and won to the simplicity of the faith as much by example as by argument.
-- From a letter to his superior
At this time of the year, most of us are living hurried lives which distract us from the message of Advent.
These two nuns gave everything to protect the vulnerable and despised. When the world was going crazy with hate and war they hid, fed, and taught Jews. They were eventually caught, imprisoned and killed for this ministry.
Some may complain that they did not do it altruistically, that they were proselytizing or robbing those in their care of their heritage - but to me that is cynicism. One does not risk one's life for others unless one sees them as human and as worth preserving, as friends (cf. John 15:13) - even at the cost of one's life. One does not falsify records or risk imprisonment because one thinks that they are winning converts. Even if all methods or results are optimal, it is the recognition, born from Christ's message that all are God's children, that Christ is in everyone - especially the least of our brothers and sisters.
What are we willing to stand up for and against - not with loud words, gestures, and righteous indignation but with the Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy? Christ came so that we might have life and have it to the fullest (cf. John 15:9-17); we must share that coming!
“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit upon his glorious throne, and all the nations will be assembled before him. And he will separate them one from another, as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will place the sheep on his right and the goats on his left. Then the king will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father. Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me.’ Then the righteous will answer him and say, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? When did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? When did we see you ill or in prison, and visit you?’ And the king will say to them in reply, ‘Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.’
-- Matthew 25:31-40
Today is filled with people who were children of kings and chieftains, people of privilege, power, and status. They were also people of holiness. But I will take today and point again to our Hebrew forefathers in Faith, this time the prophet Malachi.
It is fitting, as we bring this year to a close, to honor the last prophet in the Hebrew Scriptures. It is also fitting that we should be reminded of his message so close to the time of coming.
Our attitudes at this time of year can run parallel to the season itself. We speak of repentance and anticipation but we live carelessly and with selfish focus. We allow ourselves to be overcome with the minutia of commercialism and forget the joy that should be ours.
So it was for Israel; so it can be for the rich and powerful, especially as highlighted in the priests. We too become complacent in God's goodness. Malachi is a 'minor prophet' meaning that his book is very short, and as the shortest is last. He was probably not the last of the prophets but he is the last we hear from in Scripture. His focus reveals the attitudes and behaviors of the Jewish community just a few generations after the end of the Babylonian exile, when God has restored them to Israel and the Temple. He also expounds upon God’s response to that complacency.
So like the many saints today who could have lived lives of complacency, Malachi calls us as he calls Israel, to change our ways and appreciate and return to God the love that He gives to us.
What a fitting message for Advent!
A son honors his father, and a servant fears his master; If, then, I am a father, where is the honor due to me? And if I am a master, where is the fear due to me? So says the LORD of hosts to you, O priests, who disdain my name. But you ask, “How have we disdained your name?”...
So now implore God’s favor, that he may have mercy on us! You are the ones who have done this; Will he show favor to any of you? says the LORD of hosts....
From the rising of the sun to its setting, my name is great among the nations; Incense offerings are made to my name everywhere, and a pure offering; For my name is great among the nations, says the LORD of hosts....
You say, “See what a burden this is!” and you exasperate me, says the LORD of hosts; You bring in what is mutilated, or lame, or sick; you bring it as an offering! Will I accept it from your hands? says the LORD....
You have wearied the LORD with your words, yet you say, “How have we wearied him?” By saying, “All evildoers are good in the sight of the LORD, And he is pleased with them,” or “Where is the just God?”...
Now I am sending my messenger— he will prepare the way before me; And the lord whom you seek will come suddenly to his temple; The messenger of the covenant whom you desire— see, he is coming! says the LORD of hosts.
-- Malachi 1:6,9,11-12,13; 2:17; 3:1
Though we often only think of them as one song (O Come, O Come Emmanuel), the O! Antiphons spread over a seven day period - the seven days before Christmas. And just like the way we cram all of Advent into Christmas nowadays, we forget to celebrate each day until Christmas. Advent is about anticipation, and waiting; each day has its own splendor, its own part of the journey to redemption. Each day calls us to marvel at the wonder, splendor, and grace of God in our lives. Like an Advent Calendar, each day opens to reveal another surprising aspect of Jesus, ever deepening our understanding and awe. O! Sometimes just thinking about it takes my breath away! Perhaps that is the best way to approach each day. Think of each O! as a gasp of surprise and joy and let wonder fill you day!
Of course I am guilty as charged, cramming them all into one meditation! I have got to work on that....
O Sapiéntia, (Oh Wisdom - 17th)
quæ ex ore Altíssimi prodísti,
attíngens a fine usque ad finem,
fórtiter suavitérque dispónens ómnia:
veni ad docéndum nos viam prudéntiæ.
O Adonái (Oh Adonai [Lord] and Ruler - 18th)
et Dux domus Israel,
qui Móysi in igne flammæ rubi apparuísti
et ei in Sina legem dedísti:
veni ad rediméndum nos in bráchio exténto.
O radix Iesse, (Oh Stem of Jesse - 19th)
qui stas in signum populórum,
super quem continébunt reges os suum,
quem gentes deprecabúntur:
veni ad liberándum nos, iam noli tardáre.
O clavis David (Oh Key of David - 20th)
et sceptrum domus Israel;
qui áperis et nemo claudit;
claudis et nemo áperit:
veni et educ vinctum de domo cárceris,
sedéntem in ténebris et umbra mortis.
O Oriens, (Oh Light of the East [the Dawn] - 21st)
splendor lucis ætérnæ
et sol iustítiæ:
veni et illúmina sedéntes in ténebris et umbra mortis.
O Rex géntium (Oh King of all People [Nations] - 22nd)
et desiderátus eárum,
qui facis útraque unum:
veni et salva hóminem,
quem de limo formásti.
O Emmánuel, (Oh God Among Us - 23rd)
rex et légifer noster,
exspectátio géntium et salvátor eárum:
veni ad salvándum nos,
Dómine Deus noster.
(You can also visit them in English here)
Family can be tough. Abuse, especially at the hands of family is the unthinkable but an all to prevalent problem.
How do we, amidst family pressure and out right abuse understand love? Being a victim of abuse can push one into being further victimized or force one into survivor mode. I do not want to belittle or diminish the effects of abuse but discuss how those of us who have been the victims of abuse can think about it and live beyond it, towards forgiveness and strength.
First we are neither survivors or victims, but individuals of worth and substance as God's children first, who have been taken advantage of by predators and thoughtless people. Our abuse does not define us as either a victim or a survivor; it is but a part of who we are, part of our experience, part of our understanding of the soft under-belly of human behavior and sin. We are not a group set aside, nor are we a unable to live life due to shame or criticism. We cannot use our abuse as an excuse to treat others without love or respect.
Still we are human. We seek redress from those who often should be the ones who love us best, but we, we are broken sinners - at best our human love is insufficient to overcome the effects of human abuse.
Adelaide can guide us because she kept God and God's love before her. She persevered throughout her life and managed to do good (mainly by outliving everyone who abused her - as they say, the best revenge). In order to have lived so long with so much repeated damage from abuse at the hands of those who should have loved her means that she operated in Hope and Faith, guided by Love.
Seeking God's love first, seeking to understand through God's love, allows for the ability for us to live our lives fully even amidst abuse. We truly forgive, not in human terms but in God's terms. By not making abuse our problem we live our lives and vocations as wounded healers, compassionate healers, and faithful servants of the suffering servant himself.
If those who should love us do not, we always have the deep love of Christ to heal and set us free.
So Jesus said again, “Amen, amen, I say to you, I am the gate for the sheep. All who came [before me] are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the gate. Whoever enters through me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture. A thief comes only to steal and slaughter and destroy; I came so that they might have life and have it more abundantly. I am the good shepherd. A good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. A hired man, who is not a shepherd and whose sheep are not his own, sees a wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away, and the wolf catches and scatters them. This is because he works for pay and has no concern for the sheep. I am the good shepherd, and I know mine and mine know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I will lay down my life for the sheep.
-- John 10:7-15
Mystics. Can't live with 'em, can't live without 'em. Wha' cha gonna do, eh? They can be difficult to understand and are couched mainly within the 13th to 16th centuries which can also remove them from our lingua franca using terms and references we may not understand. At the same time they are also declared Doctors of the Church, which means that they have deep insights into the Faith which are important for us to delve into.
John is one such saint. He was urged on by Theresa of Avila and her desire for reformation; he pursued God and wrote about what he found. Mystics as we think of them today, though, can seem a bit removed from us mere mortals. They see and speak of things which seem far beyond us. For John, what does it take to get through all of that as well as the historical baggage to the true meat of his thought? Does he even hold anything for us in this age of skepticism and science?
John can seem very strict - even harsh, but he writes at a time crisis in the Church and in Europe as a whole. His poetry cuts through to the heart of the matter, images calling us to cast aside the corruption, the division, the human sinfulness and re-focus on what is important: Christ.
John is very Christocentric; his nickname, "of the Cross" tells us a lot about his focus. He definitely hold high the Cross and admonishes us with it. We call him a "mystic" but I doubt that he would have understood the term. He spoke about "mystical theology", the finding of God not in the images and concepts of God but in the depths of the heart. God is the ineffable mystery.
John is probably best read by us mere mortals in his poetry. Like Dante for the Italians, he is considered one of the greatest Spanish writers. But it is in his message that we seek him out. Agony leads to ecstasy, dark to light, suffering to redemption, denial of self to God. Discipleship has a cost, but it is a purification to union with God. And, John asks, what could be greater than that?
On a dark night,
Kindled in love with yearnings–oh, happy chance!–
I went forth without being observed,
My house being now at rest.
In darkness and secure,
By the secret ladder, disguised–oh, happy chance!–
In darkness and in concealment,
My house being now at rest.
In the happy night,
In secret, when none saw me,
Nor I beheld aught,
Without light or guide, save that which burned in my
This light guided me
More surely than the light of noonday
To the place where he (well I knew who!) was awaiting me–
A place where none appeared.
Oh, night that guided me,
Oh, night more lovely than the dawn,
Oh, night that joined Beloved with lover,
Lover transformed in the Beloved!
Upon my flowery breast,
Kept wholly for himself alone,
There he stayed sleeping, and I caressed him,
And the fanning of the cedars made a breeze.
The breeze blew from the turret
As I parted his locks;
With his gentle hand he wounded my neck
And caused all my senses to be suspended.
I remained, lost in oblivion;
My face I reclined on the Beloved.
All ceased and I abandoned myself,
Leaving my cares forgotten among the lilies.
-- Dark Night
Before I start, I must admit to smiling every December 13th because in my parish we have a statue of Lucy holding a plate with a pair of eyeballs on it. It is a bit of a disturbing presentation (though maybe not as bad a the one with the sword through her neck) and consequentially has never been displayed in the church. It has, however, made the rounds into various spots where its presence, upon being discovered, causes some merriment at the expense of the discoverer.
That said, Lucy is one of the saints mentioned by name in the the First Eucharistic Prayer. Her cult developed early and obviously captivated those to whom she witnessed. Still such notoriety does not mean that we really know anything about her. She was most likely martyred in a late persecution, perhaps Diocletian's. For me, this thought, about those who died so close to the reign of Constantine, causes me to be of two minds.
First, who would she have been had there been freedom of religion which came a scant 20 years or so later? So close and yet so far. On the other hand, where would we be without such continuous witness, even so late (at least as we understand it in hindsight) in the game? Especially when there was no end in sight?
Hope, Faith, Love. These sustain us, urge us, fulfill us. It is not Faith in the face of persecution and troubles but in spite of these things. Then we can know the peace of the martyrs.
O God, our Creator and Redeemer, mercifully hear our prayers that as we venerate your servant, Saint Lucy, for the light of faith you bestowed upon her, you would increase and preserve this same light in our souls that we may be able to avoid evil, to do good, and to abhor nothing so much as the blindness and the darkness of evil and of sin. Relying on your goodness, O God, we humbly ask you, by the intercessory prayers of your servant, Saint Lucy, that you would give perfect vision to our eyes, that they may serve for your greater honor and glory and for the salvation of our souls in this world, that we may come to the enjoyment of your unfailing light of the Lamb of God in paradise. Saint Lucy, virgin and martyr, hear our prayers and obtain our petitions.
While this feast is often seen as a Mexican or Hispanic feast, Our Lady belongs to the whole of the Americas. She is the vision on our side of the world, of our home. Her message of hope to the down-trodden and humility to the powerful speaks to the good and bad things that have molded the Americas.
It is the Faith of the locals, the people, that Mary builds on. It is the actions of the powerful that she addresses.
The Franciscans and Jesuits had helped to establish Christianity in the Americas, and we bless them, especially those that paid with their blood. While many native vocations developed, the hierarchy were for the most part foreigners, often dismissive of the local population. Mary's appearance to a humble peasant with the command to build a Church signals the establishment of a local Church, not one ruled from Spain or Europe, but by the local people. It seems to me to be a statement that the Americas had come of age. The Americas needed to shine and lead the Church with humility and justice. In many ways we have led the world to recognize the morality and values of Christ. But perhaps we have become complacent and have not been the leaders that we need to be.
Today we see the Church developing in other places where oppression and injustice seem to have the upper hand. As the world learned from us, so should we learn from them. Let us celebrate the spiritual coming of age of the Americas and the grace and power of Christ to move and transform the world. Let us celebrate the spiritual coming of age of all the peoples and places of the world and continue to work for the Kingdom, that it may be realized in the lives of every person, the poor, the rich, the proud, the humble, the mighty, the lowly.
My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord,
my spirit rejoices in God my Savior;
for he has looked with favor on his lowly servant.
From this day all generations will call me blessed:
the Almighty has done great things for me,
and holy is his Name.
He has mercy on those who fear him
in every generation.
He has shown the strength of his arm,
he has scattered the proud in their conceit.
He has cast down the mighty from their thrones,
and has lifted up the lowly.
He has filled the hungry with good things,
and the rich he has sent away empty.
He has come to the help of his servant Israel
for he has remembered his promise of mercy,
the promise he made to our fathers,
to Abraham and his children forever.
-- The Magnificat (Luke 1:46-55)
The arrangement of the names of Christ, however, is manifold: Lord, because He is Spirit; Word, because He is God; Son, because He is the only-begotten son of the Father; Man, because He was born of the Virgin; Priest, because He offered Himself as a sacrifice; Shepherd, because He is a guardian; Worm, because He rose again; Mountain, because He is strong; Way, because there is a straight path through Him to life; Lamb, because He suffered; Corner-Stone, because instruction is His; Teacher, because He demonstrates how to live; Sun, because He is the illuminator; Truth, because He is from the Father; Life, because He is the creator; Bread because He is flesh; Samaritan, because He is the merciful protector; Christ, because He is anointed; Jesus, because He is a mediator; Vine, because we are redeemed by His blood; Lion, because he is king; Rock, because He is firm; Flower, because He is the chosen one; Prophet, because He has revealed what is to come.
-- Decree attributed to Damascus
Though Pope Francis has declared today for Our Lady of Loreto, and though not in the Canon, I choose to give honor to Thomas today. I view him as the thinking man's mystic - a modern Doctor of the Church. I had the graceful gift to spent many years in Catholic schools, but while hungry for deeper theological exploration, was often just given the facts, ma'am - until my junior and senior years when the depths of Biblical scholarship and the richness of Church documents were opened to me. Until then I had cut my teeth on modern and mainly secular philosophers. Merton answered through the eyes of Faith all of these philosophers. What Bertrand Russel believed he had done for secular humanism Merton had done for Catholicism: how do we use the language of the modern to illuminate the ancient truths?
Merton did that for me. His Faith journey inspired me and his writings opened up for me the door to the depths of theology and the richness of the Faith I had been brought up in.
My only regret was being just a few short years away from his writings by the time he died. Still, even today his words ring true, even though they are misunderstood or misused. People have cherry-picked his works to shore up their desires to make him theirs or to denounce him.
They all miss his deep love of the Eucharist, the foundations of our Faith, his deep commitment to Trappist spirituality, and they miss his deep wonder at finding God in places that others dismiss.
Every one of us is shadowed by an illusory person: a false self.
This is the man that I want myself to be but who cannot exist, because God does not know anything about him. And to be unknown of God is altogether too much privacy.
My false and private self is the one who wants to exist outside the reach of God's will and God's love – outside of reality and outside of life. And such a self cannot help but be an illusion.
...All sin starts from the assumption that my false self, the self that exists only in my own egocentric desires, is the fundamental reality of life to which everything else in the universe is ordered. Thus I use up my life in the desire for pleasures and the thirst for experiences, for power, honor, knowledge and love, to clothe this false self and construct its nothingness into something objectively real. And I wind experiences around myself and cover myself with pleasures and glory like bandages in order to make myself perceptible to myself and to the world, as if I were an invisible body that could only become visible when something visible covered its surface.
...The secret of my identity is hidden in the love and mercy of God.
But whatever is in God is really identical with Him, for His infinite simplicity admits no division and no distinction. Therefore I cannot hope to find myself anywhere except in Him.
Ultimately the only way that I can be myself is to be identified with Him in Whom is hidden the reason and fulfillment of my existence.
Therefore there is only one problem on which all my existence, my peace and my happiness depend: to discover myself in discovering God. If I find Him I will find myself and if I find my true self I will find Him.
...That is something that no man can ever do alone.
Nor can all the men and all the created things in the universe help him in this work.
The only One Who can teach me to find God is God, Himself, Alone.
-- New Seeds of Contemplation
It is by the miracle in which Juan Diego participated that we have such a significant event in the Americas. And make no mistake - it is for all the Americas. Millions of converts came to Christ, not through the efforts of the missionaries - who fought so often with authorities, but through this man. Yet the man remained humble.
If we think of ourselves as small in the eyes of the world then rich, poor, convert, it does not really matter. Once you give your life over to God you give it over to others. Miracles? Yes! Selfless service to others? God's true will!
I beg you, my Lady, Queen, my Beloved Maiden, to have one of the nobles who are held in esteem, one who is known, respected, honored, (have him) carry, take your dear breath, your dear word, so that he will be believed. Because I am really (just) a man from the country, I am a (porter's) rope, I am a back-frame, a tail, a wing, a man of no importance: I myself need to be led, carried on someone's back, that place you are sending me to is a place where I'm not used to going to or spending any time in, my little Virgin, my Youngest Daughter, my Lady, Beloved Maiden. "Listen, my youngest-and-dearest son, know for sure that I have no lack of servants, of messengers, to whom I can give the task of carrying my breath, my word, so that they carry out my will. But it is very necessary that you personally go and plead, that my wish, my will, become a reality, be carried out through your intercession. For his part, Juan Diego responded to her and said to her "My Lady, Queen, my Beloved Maiden, let me not give you anguish, let me not grieve your face, your heart. I will most gladly go to carry out your breath, your word; I will absolutely not fail to do it, nor do I think the road is painful.
-- Nican Mopohua [Here It Is Told] 54-55, 58-59, 63
Why do we Romans celebrate such difficult feasts?
How many rush to Mass on December 8th because they are dying to celebrate this feast as opposed to the number who come because of obligation - not to mention the number who do not come at all because, in ignorance or confusion, they cannot see a reason to? If Pius IX declared this feast to bring us together, it does not seem like he accomplished that goal.
And to add to the confusion, it is not a holy day of obligation throughout the Church, especially if it falls on a Sunday and gets moved.
Additional confusion comes from the name: it is Mary's conception - not Jesus' -- that one is celebrated on the Feast of the Annunciation.
And then there is the "why?" Why declare this feast? Why declare the doctrine?
While theologically and devotionally Mary has been considered the greatest and holiest of the saints by the Church Fathers and Doctors and that the greatest amount of honor (hyper-dulia) was due her, it took a long time for this doctrine to develop. Most had difficulty in seeing the human Mary as sinless — whether at her conception or at any other time of her life. Would not that kind of thinking take her out of reach of the everyday faithful? Why would God want to do that when everything else He does is to help us? Even the likes of the Mary bandwagon drivers Thomas Aquinas and Bernard of Clairvaux could not completely justify a theological reason for this teaching. So, the secret? This is one of the Church teachings that arose from a grass-roots devotion; it developed more from the piety of the faithful than from the insights of brilliant theologians. So, when Pius declared it, it was something that bound the faithful together.
Today though, there does not seem to be much grass-roots support for this feast; it feels more flipped, like a theological movement rather than a grass-roots one. Probably because of the theological attempts to make sense of it. The logic of an at-birth sinless Mary is difficult to explain, though even if the reasons can be logically accepted.
So why keep at it? First off, we Catholics should not be afraid of a bit of Mystery. We are surrounded by Mysteries, we embrace them. Perhaps the how and why of Mary being "full of grace" are not as necessary to understand as the fact that we have all been given this same grace through the Death and Resurrection of Christ - and that, just maybe, she was given this grace early in order for her to be truly free in order to say "yes", as we are now truly free to say "yes". That is what we can celebrate on this or any difficult feast, and why we should flock to Mass to do so.
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.”
-- Luke 1:41-45
How many people could you and I turn to the Faith with our lives? Take a moment and think about it; try to put some names to it. Try to think of someone who has told you that you changed their lives and/or deepened their Faith.
This is not just an idle speculation or mind experiment. Ambrose, in addition to all of his other accomplishments and capabilities, managed to impress Augustine when no other catholic Christians - even his mother, mind you - did not.
Ambrose pray for us that we too might have the grace to live lives of holiness so that "...your light must shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly Father." (Matthew. 5:16)
As the Apostle says: "Your life is hidden with Christ in God." (Colossians 3:3) Let, then, no one here strive to shine, let none show pride, let none boast. Christ willed not to be known here, He would not that His Name should be preached in the Gospel while He lived on earth. He came to lie hidden from this world. Let us therefore likewise hide our life after the example of Christ, let us shun boastfulness, let us not desire to be made known. It is better to live here in humility, and there in glory. "When Christ," it says, "shall appear, then shall we also appear with Him in glory." (Colossians 3:4)
-- On the Duties of the Clergy (Book III, 36)
Who do you pray to intercede for you, Saint Nicholas or Santa Claus? Think about it for a minute, especially since his feast day screams in under the radar this time of year when you think more about the presents you are going to receive and less about the reason Nicholas is associated with Christmas.
Let us sing!
O kto kto Nikolaja l'ubit,
O kto kto Nikolaja sluzit,
Tomu svjatyj Nikolaj,
Na vsjakj cas pomahaj:
An example of the Faith and a life of humility, as a teacher of abstinence you did inspire and lead your flock, and through the truthfulness of your deeds were exalted by greatness, through your humility uplifting all and by poverty gaining wealth. Father and hierarch Nicholas, intercede with Christ our God that our souls may be saved.
-- THE APOLYTIKION (HYMN) OF ST. NICHOLAS
Sometimes what seems to be intolerance is an ardent understanding of the truth. One would not give John high marks for tolerance but it was not about personal feelings - it was about orthodoxy. This was not about whether you like or dislike something, or your opinion about the interpretation of Scripture, or your personal experience of God, but the very meaning of Revelation.
How we see God, how we use our whole body and mind to know Him, depends upon the teachings that we have received and hold dear. Logically, truth is truth; it cannot be that it is true in one place but not true another. As we are whole, one communion, as Christ was wholly God and wholly human we must continue to see the whole. One teaching about God is not greater than another teaching. Nor can one teaching overcome and out truth another. We cannot consider the 2nd commandment without considering it within all the other Commandments. There is no cafeteria in Christianity.
So John had little patience for the things which were not orthodox, Islam and Iconoclasts among them. But that did not mean he was unwilling to work with everyone in order to explain the truth. What we must see is John's voice of reason during a historical period of great upheaval. We honor the things of the world like saints and icons, but we do not worship them - that is reserved for God alone.
And finally, while John belongs to the whole Church, in the West we might think of Thomas Aquinas as the John of Damascus of the West!
Of old, God the incorporeal and uncircumscribed was never depicted. Now, however, when God is seen clothed in flesh, and conversing with men, I make an image of the God whom I see. I do not worship matter, I worship the God of matter, who became matter for my sake, and deigned to inhabit matter, who worked out my salvation through matter. I will not cease from honoring that matter which works my salvation. I venerate it, though not as God. How could God be born out of lifeless things? And if God’s body is God by union, it is immutable.
The nature of God remains the same as before, the flesh created in time is quickened by a logical and reasoning soul. I honor all matter besides, and venerate it. Through it, filled, as it were, with a divine power and grace, my salvation has come to me. Was not the thrice happy and thrice blessed wood of the Cross matter? Was not the sacred and holy mountain of Calvary matter? What of the life-giving rock, the Holy Sepulcher, the source of our resurrection: was it not matter? Is not the most holy book of the Gospels matter? Is not the blessed table matter which gives us the Bread of Life? Are not the gold and silver matter, out of which crosses and altar-plate and chalices are made? And before all these things, is not the body and blood of our Lord matter?
Either do away with the veneration and worship due to all these things, or submit to the tradition of the Church in the worship of images, honoring God and His friends, and following in this the grace of the Holy Spirit. Do not despise matter, for it is not despicable. Nothing is that which God has made. This is the Manichean heresy. That alone is despicable which does not come from God, but is our own invention, the spontaneous choice of will to disregard the natural law,—that is to say, sin.
-- From Against Those who Decry Holy Images
How many times does it seem that we play second-fiddle to someone else? So often we know of saints but know so little about them. So often many stand in the shadow of their better-known brothers and sisters. But what would the Church be like if they had given up because they were not famous and so not lived out their callings!
King John of Portugal asked Ignatius for priests to send to the Portuguese missions in India. Knowing he would never see his beloved friend again, Ignatius chose Francis Xavier. Francis dutifully left for India and arrived in the city of Goa.
I wonder what it must have been like for the two men - Ignatius sending Francis out knowing that he would never see him again and Francis leaving all behind knowing that he would never see home again. It must of been like a death.
But like a death, there must have been hope. The fact that we die does not stop the good we do for Christ as part of the Communion of Saints. The fact that they would never see one another again in life does not mean that Francis did not continue on the work of salvation, unseen by Ignatius until they met again in everlasting life.
Though we more often think of Ignatius, especially as the founder of the Jesuits, without Francis joining him immediately in his vision, where would Ignatius have been? If Francis had not left for the East, then the Christians in India - children of the Apostle James, as well as their European colonists would have been poorer and we as a Church would be poorer. Sometimes the second violins get the theme but they always give it back with grace.
As a final note, Francis died of exhaustion in China - oh that I could work myself to death for Christ!
We have visited the villages of the new converts who accepted the Christian religion a few years ago. No Portuguese live here, the country is so utterly barren and poor. The native Christians have no priests. They know only that they are Christians. There is nobody to say Mass for them; nobody to teach them the Creed, the Our Father, the Hail Mary and the Commandments of God’s Law.
I have not stopped since the day I arrived. I conscientiously made the rounds of the villages. I bathed in the sacred waters all the children who had not yet been baptized. This means that I have purified a very large number of children so young that, as the saying goes, they could not tell their right hand from their left. The older children would not let me say my Office or eat or sleep until I taught them one prayer or another. Then I began to understand: “The kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.”
I could not refuse so devout a request without failing in devotion myself. I taught them, first the confession of faith in the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, then the Apostles’ Creed, the Our Father and Hail Mary. I noticed among them persons of great intelligence. If only someone could educate them in the Christian way of life, I have no doubt that they would make excellent Christians.
Many, many people hereabouts are not becoming Christians for one reason only: there is nobody to make them Christians. Again and again I have thought of going round the universities of Europe, especially Paris, and everywhere crying out like a madman, riveting the attention of those with more learning than charity: “What a tragedy: how many souls are being shut out of heaven and falling into hell, thanks to you!”
I wish they would work as hard at this as they do at their books, and so settle their account with God for their learning and the talents entrusted to them.
This thought would certainly stir most of them to meditate on spiritual realities, to listen actively to what God is saying to them. They would forget their own desires, their human affairs, and give themselves over entirely to God’s will and his choice. They would cry out with all their heart: Lord, I am here! What do you want me to do? Send me anywhere you like – even to India.
-- Letter to St. Ignatius
I will neither pretend to be an expert on the English Reformation nor pretend that what I say here is not a gross over-simplification, but merely that it is how I see what happened then and what happens so often now and to that I will comment.
The political nature of the English Reformation, much like the period before Henry and Parliament declared him head of the English Church, was a time of violence and harsh punishment for crimes less of religion and more of loyalty to the crown.
It also meant a hodge-podge of laws and rationals for what constituted heresy and treason (the two being closely linked). Without a consistent and Faith-led reform movement, over too long years many suffered arbitrarily at the hands of state representatives and the newly emboldened laity.
Nor was it applied evenly. To be a commoner and accused meant horrible tortures and horrific deaths; to be nobility meant long imprisonments but quick ends.
Yet, and probably because of the uneven enforcement, many were able to continue to hold fast to the Faith and practice it, until such time as lax enforcement became unbending enforcement.
The English Reformation movement is hard to pin down; through the centuries it has taken on many forms, until it deteriorated into simple prejudice. Until then, many suffered for no good reason, except that they refused to fall into lax Faith and confusing creeds. For that reason we recognize all of the martyrs who suffered over the years.
I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingly power: proclaim the word; be persistent whether it is convenient or inconvenient; convince, reprimand, encourage through all patience and teaching. For the time will come when people will not tolerate sound doctrine but, following their own desires and insatiable curiosity, will accumulate teachers and will stop listening to the truth and will be diverted to myths. But you, be self-possessed in all circumstances; put up with hardship; perform the work of an evangelist; fulfill your ministry. For I am already being poured out like a libation, and the time of my departure is at hand. I have competed well; I have finished the race; I have kept the faith. From now on the crown of righteousness awaits me, which the Lord, the just judge, will award to me on that day, and not only to me, but to all who have longed for his appearance.
-- 2 Timothy 4:1-8
Truth to Ponder
I decided to spend a year thinking about the Faith celebrated in the sanctoral calendar. There are also just some events, Scriptural, and other quotes that strike me on random days; or randomly on days, as the case may be.
Saint's Days by Month
Days by Entry