Category Archives: Advent

The first beatitude & Protestantism

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marcellino-d'ambrosio
-by Dr. Marcellino D’Ambrosio, PhD

“The Beatitudes rank high on the list of all-time favorite Bible passages. But what is “beatitude,” anyway? In the bible, a “blessed” person is someone who has received gifts of the greatest value, gifts that lead to true fulfillment and lasting happiness.

If I were to ask you to name the first beatitude, you’d probably say “blessed be the poor in Spirit.” According to St. Matthew’s gospel you’d be right, but not according to Luke. At the very beginning of his gospel, Luke reveals that the very first beatitude is uttered by a woman filled with the Spirit, speaking of another woman overshadowed by the Spirit. Elizabeth says, “Blessed is she who has believed.” (Luke 1: 45).

Is Marian devotion important in Christian life? This has been a bone of contention between Christians for nearly five hundred years.

Let’s look at the evidence in just the first chapter of Luke. First, the Angel Gabriel honors her with the greeting “Hail, full of grace” (Luke 1:29). Then Elizabeth prophesies “blessed are you among women.” Next the prophet John leaps for joy in his mother’s womb at the sound of Mary’s voice. Then, in her response to Elizabeth, Mary prophesies “all generations will call me blessed” (Luke 1:48).

But it is Elizabeth’s final words to Mary that provide the key to understanding why Mary is to be honored, namely, her faith.

One of the battle-cries of the Protestant Reformation was “Faith Alone!” One key conviction that united the many disparate strands of the Reformation was that it is impossible to earn God’s favor by our good works . . . that rather we receive His love as a pure gift, a grace, through faith.

Now consider Mary. Did she crisscross the Mediterranean planting Churches like Paul? Did she give eloquent sermons like Stephen (Acts 7)? Did she govern the Church like Peter? No. Her claim to fame is that she simply said yes to God. She believed He could do as He said and would do as He said.

But true faith is not just intellectual conviction that God exists or that He can do thus and such. Faith involves entrusting oneself, abandoning oneself to God, willing to submit to His will. That’s why Paul talks about “the obedience of faith” (Romans 16:26). Mary surrendered her plan for her life, and yielded to God’s plan. And she did this not once, but again and again, even when He left her behind to begin His public ministry. And when that ministry led to the horror of Calvary, Mary’s faith stood its ground at the foot of the cross.

So Catholics honor Mary for being the perfect example of the greatest Protestant virtue. Ironic isn’t it? And the deepest meaning of that disputed doctrine, the Immaculate Conception, is that it was the grace of God working mysteriously from the moment of her conception that made possible Mary’s exemplary life of faith. Even her faith is a gift of His grace. It’s all grace, according to Catholic doctrine.

“My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.” Mary, of course, knew this. That’s why she responded to Elizabeth’s praise with the humble, exuberant prayer known as the Magnificat: She is like the crystal-clear pool that reflects the sun’s rays back to the heavens. So no one needs to fear that honor given her will detract from the majesty of her divine Son. She deflects all the praise given her right back to God, the source of her greatness.

So the answer is that Marian devotion is necessary in Christian life. But what is true devotion to Mary according to the fathers of the Second Vatican Council? Not sentimental piety or gullible preoccupation with every rumored apparition, but rather, imitation of her virtues, particularly her faith (Lumen Gentium 67).”

Magnificat anima mea Dominum,
et exsultavit spiritus meus in Deo salvatore meo,
quia respexit humilitatem ancillae suae.
Ecce enim ex hoc beatam me dicent omnes generationes,
quia fecit mihi magna,
qui potens est,
et sanctum nomen eius,
et misericordia eius in progenies et progenies
timentibus eum.
Fecit potentiam in brachio suo,
dispersit superbos mente cordis sui;
deposuit potentes de sede
et exaltavit humiles;
esurientes implevit bonis
et divites dimisit inanes.
Suscepit Israel puerum suum,
recordatus misericordiae,
sicut locutus est ad patres nostros,
Abraham et semini eius in saecula
Gloria Patri, et Filio, et Spiritui Sancto,
Sicut erat in principio, et nunc, et semper,
et in Saecula saeculorum. Amen.  – Lk 1:45-56.

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 for ever.  Amen. -Lk 1:45-56.

Love,
Matthew

Dec 22 – O Rex Gentium: consoling the garrulous?

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ambrose_arralde
-by Br Ambrose Arralde, OP

What is it that we desire? With today’s O Antiphon, the Church invokes our Savior as “the King of the nations and their desired.” While it is true that the desire for a savior is present in all men, does the savior we meet in Jesus Christ satisfy the expectations and preconceived notions we’ve built up in association with that desire? Popular culture (or, at least, Bonnie Tyler) reveals something of what men naturally desire in a savior, or imagine him to be. We hope for the greatest protector we can conceive of: strong, fast, fresh from the fight, larger than life. We toss and turn for a hero that will come and sweep us off our feet, whisk us away from all our problems and struggles.

With Jesus, what we get is something very different, and in its unexpectedness it is all too often unwelcome. As St. Bernard of Clairvaux puts it, “The infancy of Christ does not console the garrulous.” The same could be said for the rest of the circumstances of Christ’s nativity and earthly life: the humility of Christ’s birth does not console the proud, the poverty of Christ does not console the greedy, the sufferings of Christ do not console the faint-hearted. What at first appears to be less than what we hoped for, however, if instead looked at from a God’s-eye view, is revealed to be more than we could have ever dared to ask for.

In the fullness of time, God could have sent a hero according to the mind of man, but this wasn’t enough for Him. Instead He gave us Himself, a gift too great to be comprehended. Even our wildest dreams are limited, since they stem from limited human reason. But God’s love for us is unlimited, as is the manifestation of that love. Christ did not love us so little that He would merely win for us an undisturbed earthly life, devoid of cares or anxiety. Rather, His incarnation opens up the far greater possibility of the life of grace, by which we are ultimately deified, becoming partakers in the divine nature (CCC 460).

That the greater might not be obscured by the lesser, the heavenly not be hidden by the mundane, Christ spurned all the glory of this passing world. He whom the heavens could not contain chose to dwell in the womb of His lowly handmaid. The King of kings and Lord of lords would not suffer Himself to be made a king by men.(Ed…how foolish, how vain that might have been, Ozymandias. So unlike our great Messiah!) He through Whom all things were made did not show His power by conquering men, but by overcoming the death He allowed them to inflict upon Him. In every way Christ thwarts our earthly desires to open us up to heavenly blessings.

What is it that we desire? If all we want is Bonnie Tyler’s street-wise Hercules, we won’t see very much to be desired in Jesus Christ. But if we allow our natural desire for temporal salvation to open us up to supernatural possibilities, then we will hold out for nothing less than God Himself. It is for this Hero of heroes that we long, as we call out with the whole Church: O King of the nations and their desired, corner stone Who make the two one, come and save man, Whom you formed from the dust.

Love, all hail the True King!
Matthew

Christmas decorations & our salvation…

Tabernacle1
-tabernacle of the Israelites in Exodus
Tabernacle-Glory
-God “pitching His tent” among His people in Exodus

“When Moses came down from Mount Sinai with the two tablets of the covenant law in his hands, he was not aware that his face was radiant because he had spoken with the LORD. When Aaron and all the Israelites saw Moses, his face was radiant, and they were afraid to come near him.”
-Ex 34:29-30

justinmarybolgerop
-by Br Justin Mary Bolger, OP

“Man seeks to dwell. There’s even a magazine dedicated to it. We want some place to identify as home. And we don’t just want any old four walls and a floor. We want an architecturally pleasing place. And then we want to decorate it: find a color scheme that works for the walls, hang paintings, hang pictures, install some wainscoting, find rugs that really tie the rooms together. Having a home and making it beautiful are natural human instincts.

We decorate our homes to reflect our tastes and style. But we also decorate according to seasons. So, it’s Christmas…almost. We’ve bought (or unpacked) the evergreen, the lights, the manger scene, red ribbons, holly, and probably some good old-fashioned Christmas kitsch as well. And after some work, our homes are prepared – prepared for us, and for the holiday parties and extended family visits.

In Advent we emphasize preparation for the Lord. What does this really mean? We decorate our churches in much the same way we do our homes. We use evergreen, lights, and manger scenes. We do this as preparation for our Lord’s coming on Christmas day. But in addition to providing an aesthetically pleasing experience, this effort to make beautiful living and worship spaces is symbolic. It is there to remind us of something – of Someone.

The Word dwelt among us. Or rather, Christ “pitched his tent,” if we want a more biblically connotative translation of “dwelt.” This reminds us of the “tent of meeting” where God came to meet Moses and the Israelites in the desert. Now when Jesus came he did live somewhere. He had a home, just like us. I’m sure Mary and Joseph, once they settled in Nazareth, spruced up their modest home as well as they could. But a deeper point to the Incarnation, this divine tenting, is that the eternal Word took on human nature. Human nature was the home for God. And this humanity, united to God, was filled with the Holy Spirit. As Benedict XVI writes, “The man Jesus is the dwelling-place of the Word.” Jesus shows us the graced fullness of human life in Himself. He shows us that man is meant to live in this grace.

The “tent of meeting” of the Israelites, our homes, our churches – these are all realities that point to something greater. We prepare our homes and churches to remind us that we ourselves are a dwelling place of the Lord. Jesus did not just come once. He comes again and again to each of us. God indwells in the baptized. We especially receive this coming and its effects through the Eucharist. He is present to us in an unimaginably close way in this indwelling. And God changes and moves us by his grace.(Ed….if only we would realize, if only we would pause and take notice! The reason people, mostly, hate silence is that He is calling to us in that silence, deafeningly!!! Will we hear? Will we obey? He will not force us. He will only invite, usually quietly, softly, gently, lovingly, just like the Lover in Song of Songs. He will not violate our free will, for there is not true love without free will. Or, will we merely try to drown Him out again with drugs, alcohol, pornography, lust, ceaseless entertainment, acquisition and activity? 🙁 )

But we can become forgetful of this presence. We can be distracted from that loving call, proposed by the Church in her different seasons – especially Advent – to prepare ourselves for the Lord (Ed. ..towards Whom we are all racing for judgment.) Christ dwelt among us as man. And He still dwells in us by the power of the Holy Spirit. Paul asks in 1 Corinthians, “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God?” This is a good question to ask leading up to Christmas day.

Man seeks to dwell in an earthly home. But God seeks to dwell in man. God came as man so that we could be raised to God. May we prepare our souls for this coming like we prepare our places of living and worship. The lights, the evergreen – these ultimately point to the true light, the ever-new Christ Who comes to us again this Christmas.

You are a home. Prepare the way.”

“And in Him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by His Spirit.” -Eph 2:22

“And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and He will dwell with them. They will be His people, and God Himself will be with them and be their God.” -Rev 21:3

Love & excitedly waiting for Him, all the days of my life,
Matthew

Dec 18 – Our Lady of the Expectation

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While no longer celebrated in the Roman calendar, this feast day is a joy, literally, to remember.

Br_Thomas_Davenport_OP
-by Br Thomas Davenport, OP

“One week until Christmas. Decorations are everywhere. Shopping is shifting from hurried to frantic. There are preparations for travel and guests, for parties and feasts. The expectation is palpable.

Even the Church, in her liturgy, has shifted into high gear. The normal flow of Advent, already overflowing with a sense of longing and preparation, was preempted yesterday eight days before Christmas. The gospel readings begin to recount the events immediately preceding the Nativity and the great “O” antiphons place us in the mindset of the Old Testament prophets, using their Messianic imagery to beg the Lord to come. Here too, the expectation is palpable.

Since the seventh century, this day, one week from the feast of the Nativity, has had a particularly heightened link to this anticipation in that it was set aside to honor the Virgin Mary as Our Lady of the Expectation. It has been some time since the feast of the Annunciation (March 25), which celebrates Mary’s “Fiat” and the coming of the Word of God in the flesh, but we have not yet reached Christmas, which rejoices in His birth and first manifestation to the world. This feast of Our Lady of the Expectation takes the opportunity to contemplate the great longing and anticipation of Advent, in which “all creation is groaning in labor pains,” through the eyes of her who, above all creatures, longed to see the face of Christ, and whose expectation truly was palpable in every fiber of her body.

The bond of mother and child is one of the most powerful and significant human experiences. Physically speaking, the new life depends on the mother for every bodily need and the body of the mother reorients itself, recreates itself, to accept this new life and provide for it. Psychologically, the child’s very first sensations and memories are of the safety and security of its mother’s womb. There is the feeling of warmth and confinement as well as the sound of the mother’s heartbeat and voice. And these feelings of safety and comfort persist in a new way after the child is born. The mother, too, is disposed to love her child whose being and welfare are as present to her mind as they are to her body. This maternal love is a supreme natural image of pure and unconditional love, an image of the love of the Creator for His creation.

All of these insights into motherhood in general apply in the most eminent way to Mary and the Word made flesh, made from her flesh and being formed in her womb for nine months. As great as this natural, maternal bond was, the Fathers of the Church considered Mary’s spiritual union with her Son, her discipleship, as even more important. According to St. Augustine, “She kept truth safe in her mind even better than she kept flesh safe in her womb. Christ is truth, Christ is flesh; Christ as truth was in Mary’s mind, Christ as flesh in Mary’s womb; that which is in the mind is greater than what is carried in the womb.” From the moment of the Annunciation, every aspect of Mary’s humanity, body and soul, was suffused with love for her Son and more and more perfectly united to Him. As His Nativity approached, that love overflowed in a calm yet powerful longing, an expectation, to look on the face of her Son, the Word made flesh.

The word of the Gospel does not simply come forth fully formed from the mouth of preachers without any preparation. To truly be fruitful there must be a period of contemplation, of silent preparation during which the Word takes shape in the preacher’s mind and, more importantly, he is drawn ever closer to the Word. This is especially true of the student brother in formation, whose Dominican life has been conceived in the profession of vows, but has not yet been born, has not yet been made manifest to the world in preaching. This period of waiting can sometimes feel simply busy but not productive. In truth, this formation is meant to be a time of inner growth and activity, laying the foundation for a healthy Dominican life, united to and overflowing with the Word.

While the festivities of Christmas last only a short time, the love that Mary had for her Son, which overflowed in such expectation, did not end at His birth but continued to grow and deepen in new ways. In these last days of Advent, may we unite ourselves to Our Heavenly Mother and ask her to teach us the patience and docility needed to bear Christ in our hearts, trusting that the Word will bear fruit in our lives.”

Sister Maria Philomena, MICM
-by Sister Maria Philomena, MICM

“In Spain, this feast day is Nuestra Senora de la O: Our Lady of the O, the “O” coming from the expression of longing said in the office of the Mozarabic Liturgy. In the Latin Rite, today’s feast comes in the middle of the “O” Antiphons (where we get the words for the hymn Veni, Veni, Emmanuel — in English O Come, O Come Emmanuel).

All this reminded me of a poem combining these ideas that I discovered some years ago when I was doing research for an English Literature class. I found it in the book, I Sing of a Maiden – The Mary Book of Verse, edited by Sister M. Therese of the Congregation of the Sisters of the Divine Savior, Macmillan, 1947. Since the book is out of print, I feel justified in sharing the following with you.

Lady of O
-by James J. Galvin

By the seven stars of her halo
By her seven swords of woe
Oh Holy Spirit anneal my pen
To utter sweet words for the ears of men
In praise of Our Lady of O.

With seven O’s we salute Thee
Each evening as Christmas comes;
We hail thee adazzle with sunset gold
Repeating prophecies new and old
Like salvoes of guns and drums.

O Woman, the Word in Thy keeping
Thy secret from God most High,
Shall soon be whispered over the earth
And men shall listen and leap for mirth
Like stars in the Christmas sky.

O Lady, lone tent in the battle
Where our Leader awaits His time;
Though the day grow darker and Satan scorn
The tide of battle shall veer at morn
When He sallies forth to the cheer of horn
And trumpet and timbrel-chime.

O Stalk on the brink of blossom,
Shooting green through the frosty mire;
The peoples pray for thy Spring to come
And the mighty ones of the earth go dumb
For the Flower of the World’s Desire.

O Tower of Grace untrespassed
Since Eden by God’s decree;
At thine ivory spire and jasper gate
The pining kindred of Adam wait
For the turning of Christ the Key.

O Damsel more welcome than morning
To a world gone blind since the fall;
The stars go pale at Thy sandals’ sound
And skylines glimmer, and men peer round
For a virgin in simplest homespun gowned
With the Sunrise under her shawl.

O milk-and-honey-run Mountain
Whence the crystal Cornerstone
Shall issue unsullied by tool or hand
The Stone that shall fasten each race and land
Together like flesh and bone.

O City ashine on the hill-tops
The nations uplift their eyes
From rainy island and sunken sea
And the ends of the earth they throng to Thee
To dwell in thy Christ-lit skies.

By the seven stars of Thy halo
By Thy seven swords of woe
Forgive us, O Lady, these phrases worn
In praise of Thy season with God unborn
O ineffable Lady of O.”

Love & full of joyous expectation,
Matthew

Who can satisfy God’s Infinite Justice? Who can save us? – only God.

holy_t1

‘Let the nations be glad and exult, for you rule the world with justice.’ Ps 66:2

“What will become of me who have so many faults with which to reproach myself? But where sin abounds, Grace also abounds (Rom 5:20). And as Your mercy, O God, is eternal, I shall sing Your goodness forever, Your goodness, Your justice, not mine. I have only hours because You are my justice. Should I fear that it will not be enough for both of us? But, Your justice is infinite and remains forever and it will cover both of us with its immensity. In me it will cover the multitude of my sins, while in You, O Lord, it will only conceal the treasures of Your goodness which await me in the wounds of Christ. Here I shall find Your infinite sweetness, hidden, it is true, and only for those who are willing to surrender themselves.” St Bernard of Clairvaux, Doctor of the Church

‘The judgement of God is hope, both because it is justice and because it is grace. If it were merely grace, making all earthly things cease to matter, God would still owe us an answer to the question about justice—the crucial question that we ask of history and of God. If it were merely justice, in the end it could bring only fear to us all. The incarnation of God in Christ has so closely linked the two together—judgement and grace—that justice is firmly established: we all work out our salvation “with fear and trembling” (Phil 2:12). Nevertheless grace allows us all to hope, and to go trustfully to meet the Judge whom we know as our “advocate”, or parakletos (cf. 1 Jn 2:1).’ (Spe salvi 47)

augustine_marogi
-by Br Augustine Marogi, OP

“We can tell a great deal about someone by learning about his or her family tree. Names of ancestry can reveal many things about a person, such as ethnicity, language, history, and perhaps even his or her geographical location. For today’s Gospel reading, the Church gives us Christ’s genealogy, His human family tree. Some Church Fathers have noted that St. Matthew’s genealogy proves the Messiah’s Davidic royal ancestry, which was an important feature of the Christ who was to restore the Davidic Kingdom to the Jews. Others have appealed to Christ’s genealogy to refute the heretical claims of those who tampered with the Saviour’s human or divine nature. Genealogies for the modern audience can be a tedious endeavour, one to which the natural response is a mixture of exacerbation and dutiful compliance.

For a voracious reader of the Scriptures, however, entire narratives unfold when certain biblical names are mentioned in Christ’s genealogy, and usually these narratives reveal a horrific aspect of our human condition. Among the names that stand out are those whose conduct is notably condemnable. Here are some examples:
Judah and Tamar both appear in Christ’s genealogy. Tamar was married to Judah’s firstborn, Er, who was so “wicked” that the “Lord slew him” (Gen 38:7). Judah’s second son, being obliged to marry his deceased brother’s wife (according to the practice of levirate marriage), refused to fulfil his duty of begetting children from her. Instead, he engaged in a contraceptive conjugal act, and as a result the Lord “slew him” as well (Gen 38:10). Judah had a third son, who should have married Tamar. But seeing that both of his older sons had died as a result of their marriage to Tamar, Judah sent her to her father’s house to live as a widow, while making the excuse that his youngest son, Shelah, was a minor. Even though Shelah had reached the age of maturity, he declined to marry Tamar. In the end, Tamar resorted to dressing up like a prostitute to lure her father-in-law, Judah. She bore twins and named them Perez and Zerah. Perez is a great grandfather (many times removed) of Our Lord.

Other sundry characters are in Christ’s family tree. Solomon’s mother was Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah the Hittite, whom David killed after having committed adultery with his wife. Rahab was a “harlot” (Jos 2:1), and Ahaz was the king of Judah who “burned his son as an offering” to Molech (2 Kgs 16:3), “shut up the doors to the house of the Lord” (2 Chron 28:24), “built” an “altar” in Jerusalem for the gods of Damascus, and “threw the blood of his peace offerings” on his idolatrous altar (2 Kgs 16:11,13). David, Solomon, the wife of Uriah (Bathsheba), Rahab and King Ahaz all appear in Christ’s genealogy.

How do we reconcile this deplorable succession of Christ’s human lineage with the holiness, purity, and majesty of His Divine Person?

This question begs itself. The reader cannot help but make the comparison between Christ’s sinlessness and humanity’s wickedness. On one hand, there is degenerate, contemptible, and shameful humanity, which is screaming for a saviour and begging for someone to rescue it from its brokenness. On the other hand, there is God in His infinite perfection and holiness. God and humanity were separated through a great chasm called original sin, and a mediator was necessary to bridge the two together again. When we read about the deplorable condition of humanity, which manifests itself in Christ’s genealogy, we are looking at a mirror image of ourselves, and while we were originally made in God’s image, sin entered the world and disfigured that image in us. A quick look at the list of names in Christ’s genealogy will reveal that no human being, despite how holy he or she may be, can satisfy God’s infinite justice and restore the human image of God to its former beauty. Thus, God chose to become man. He “became human to make humans divine.”

The way to reconcile the two opposites, God’s holiness and human misery, was through the Incarnation, Passion, and Resurrection of Christ. God’s holiness united itself to the weakness of human flesh. When God’s love in Jesus Christ encountered man’s hatred, Christ’s human flesh was subjected to an instrument of torture and death: the Cross. That vile object was an image of our fallenness, while He who was nailed to it was the Incarnation of God’s love. Overcoming the enmity between God and men, glorified in the Resurrection, Christ establishes a new family tree, one born from Him, one with many children in the Church: Christ’s family of sinners becomes a family of saints.”

Love, and on my knees weeping, begging for His mercy, always,
Matthew

We don’t know why God loves us.

god-loves-me

timothydanaher
-by Br Timothy Danaher, OP

Thomas Aquinas asks a fascinating question: What happened in your soul when it had its first thought? How did you first react when you looked out at life? He answers: With desire.

Technically, he says in his own language, “The first movement of the will is love.” For him, love has two parts: it begins in desire, which leads the mind to search the world, search our experience for something to match that desire; second, love ends in rest, in finally finding the thing we most desired from the beginning and being united to it. A fascinating idea, really, that since the very first moment of our life, we haven’t been happy by ourselves. We immediately began looking for something else to make us whole.

In this life, however, we struggle to ever reach that end, that rest. We remain stuck at the beginning, wrestling with desire. If our life had a soundtrack, it would be U2 playing “Desire”, on repeat, with us searching and sighing always for something more…

Early on, we think we can get beyond desire and be at rest. A boy may grow up dreaming of the perfect girl, of living married life “happily ever after.” Then he actually gets married, and happy though he may be, desire remains. Desire for something he can’t quite name, or understand, churns inside of him. “Even after the most thrilling experience… when you are quiet and alone, you perceive deep down a small voice saying, ‘Is that all there is?’ Nothing is enough: not praise, not success, not youth, not love. You are a thirst,” writes Thomas Dubay.

Desire is a central theme of the season of Advent. As the People of God, we again fix our attention on the coming of Christ, the “Desired of Every Nation,” into our world and into our lives. Still, it would be too easy to say, “Desire placed in material things or human relationships will disappoint us, but in Christ we find our rest.”

Did not He himself say, “Come to me… and I will give you rest?” Is He not the one thing our souls have been desiring, the one thing we’ve always been looking for since our first moments? Only God can fill that God-shaped hole in us, and He so happens to be Emmanuel, God-with-us. Then why are we still not satisfied?
Once again, we can reference another U2 song, “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For”. If we’ve found God, and we’re still not satisfied, it must be something about us, then, and not Him.

There is another song written by my Uncle Mark (whom I’ve written about in a previous blog post). He works as a lawyer in Pittsburgh but writes music as a passion and a way of processing. The song is simply called “Desire.”

Talking to him about it, he explained:

‘I’ve always had a desire to make sense of everything. But life has a way of beating you down, and there’s an instinct to not fight to make sense anymore. The tide’s coming, and you go with it and make the best of it. This life is so contingent… But through that, there’s still a desire you can’t shake. You can’t dismiss the greater purpose. If we’re supposed to just ‘get along,’ why does this continue?’

Christ doesn’t take away our desire. He actually gives us a new desire, a thirst for God, not always easy to reconcile with our busy, contingent lives, filled with so much desire for other things. God, it so happens, is very different from us, and it takes a long time (and some very elaborate strategies on His part) for us to acquire a real taste for Him. Sometimes He blesses us, other times He lets our mortal dreams and mortal expectations crumble, like castles built in the sand. He does it all so we might learn to desire Him, which might seem selfish of Him, but after all, He’s God. He’s different. And He alone is worthy of our whole hearts.

So I, a Christian, sit here in this mortal life, still trying to make sense of things, still trying to love an eternal God. “We do not know how to pray as we ought,” how to love as we ought, and yet “the Spirit itself intercedes with inexpressible groanings” (Rom 8:26).

When pondering these things, there are two questions I love to ask, which I hope to take up again this Advent.

The first: Is Christ enough for me? If He doesn’t seem to be, I must beg Him to be. “Be enough for me, Jesus. You are what I seek. You are my life.”

And the second: Why does God love us? No theologian can help us here. We don’t know why God loves us. We only know that He loves us.

“For to you is born this day… a Savior, who is Christ the Lord” (Lk 2:11). Some questions are not asked to receive an answer, but only as a way to express our wonder at being loved.

He is the pearl of great price that has been placed in our hands, in our lives. But we need to be constantly reminded of this, bombarded as we are by a million other thoughts and emotions, we who are always tempted to believe that those other things are more real than Christ is. So God speaks to us this Advent, and in all times of our life, in the words of the song: “Why are you so sad? Don’t you know what’s in your hand?”

Love, and just accepting that He loves me, and you. He does. Otherwise, why are we here? Random accident? How terrible, pointless, and nihilist an answer is THAT.
Matthew

Be vigilant!!!

be-pure-be-vigilant-and-behave

-by Aquinas, etc.

“Advent is a unique season of the ecclesial year and one that is uniquely misunderstood. It is not solely about the coming of the Lord as the Son of Mary, a baby in the manger. It is also about the coming of the Lord in judgment at world’s end. This is why it is a penitential season. And it is also why the first Gospel reading of Advent includes this from the book of Luke.

Be vigilant at all times and pray that you have the strength to escape the tribulations that are imminent and to stand before the Son of Man. (Luke 21:36)

Be vigilant and pray, says the Lord Jesus. Why? So that we may have strength. Strength for what? Strength to escape “the tribulations that are imminent” and also to stand before the Son of Man. That is rather alarming. Please note that Jesus is not talking to just anyone here; He is telling this to His disciples, including the Apostles. Why should they of all people need to pray for strength to stand before Him?

This does not mean that He considered them to be unbelievers (Judas excepted of course). In fact I suspect that there are at least a few people who would confirm that strength is just exactly what one needs when he stands before God.

Woe is me, I am doomed! For I am a man of unclean lips, living among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts! (Isaiah 6:5)

And:

We will certainly die, for we have seen God. (Judges 13:22)

And:

Now, why should we die? For this great fire will consume us. If we hear the voice of the Lord, our God, any more, we shall die. (Deuteronomy 5:25)

Do not the Lord’s words of warning sound very much in keeping with what Isaiah, Manoah, and all Israel thought when they were in God’s presence? “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Hebrews 10:31. So it makes sense, it seems to me, for this to be a penitential season. We are preparing to meet our God at His coming! Yes, there will be joy for His people but God is an infinitely awesome God. Who can have the heart to stand in the presence of such a great God? I think this is why Jesus tells us to pray that we may have strength to stand before Him. Advent is not only about Christmas. The Day of the Lord is both great and terrible (Malachi 3:23).

But who can endure the day of his coming?
Who can stand firm when He appears? (Malachi 3:2)

Love, striving, through His grace, to be vigilant & strong! He comes!!!
Matthew

Advent, 4th, 5th, & 6th Circumstances – St Bernard of Clairvaux, Doctor of the Church

Fra_bartolomeo_02_Vision_of_St_Bernard_with_Sts_Benedict_and_John_the_Evangelist
-The Vision of St Bernard, by Fra Bartolomeo, 1504, Uffizi Gallery, Florence, Italy

Circumstance 4: For what end must we believe that He came?

“This question is the next in order to be examined; nor will the search demand much labour, for the end and purpose of His coming is proclaimed by His words and His works. To seek after the one sheep of the hundred that had strayed He hastened from the mountains. For our sake He came down from heaven, that His mercies and His wonders might be openly proclaimed to the children of men. O wonderful condescension of God in this search! O wonderful dignity of man who is thus sought! If he should wish to glory in this dignity, it would not be imputed to him as folly. Not that he need think anything of himself, but let him rejoice that He Who made him should set so high a value on him. For all the riches and glory of the world, all that is desirable therein, is far below this glory–nay, can bear no comparison with it. “Lord, what is man that thou should magnify him? and why settest thou thy heart upon him?” (cf Job 7:17).

I still further desire to know why He should come to us, and not we rather go to Him, for the need was on our side, and it is not usual for the rich to go to the poor, though otherwise willing to assist them. It was indeed our place to go forward to Him, but there stood a twofold impediment in the way; for our eyes were heavy, and He “dwelt in light inaccessible.” We lay as paralytics on our beds, and could not raise ourselves to the Divine elevation. Wherefore this most benign Saviour and Physician of souls descended to us from His lofty throne, and tempered His brightness to the weakness of our sight. He clothed Himself with His most glorious and spotless body as with the shade of a lantern, thus attempering to us His splendour. This is that bright and shining cloud upon which the Lord was to descend upon Egypt, as the Prophet Isaiah foretold. (cf Isaiah 19:1).

Circumstance 5: It is now fitting that we should consider the time of our Lord’s coming.

He came, as you know, not in the beginning, nor in the midst of time, but in the end of it. This was no unsuitable choice, but a truly wise dispensation of His infinite wisdom, that He might afford help when He saw it was most needed. Truly, “it was evening, and the day was far (Luke 24:29); the sun had well nigh set, and but a faint ray of his justice light and heat remained on earth. The light of Divine knowledge was very small, and as iniquity abounded, the fervour of charity had grown cold. No angel appeared, no prophet spoke. The angelic vision and the prophetic spirit alike had passed away, both hopelessly baffled by the exceeding obduracy and obstinacy of mankind. Then it was that the Son of God said “Behold, I come” (Hebrews 10:7). And “while all things were in quiet silence, and the night was in the midst of her course, the almighty word leaped down from heaven from thy royal throne” (Wisdom 18:14-15). Of this coming the Apostle speaks: “When the fullness of time was come, God sent his Son” (Galatians 4:4). The plenitude and affluence of things temporal had brought on the oblivion and penury of things eternal. Fitly, therefore, did the Eternal God come when things of time were reigning supreme. To pass over other points, such was the temporal peace at the birth of Christ that by the edict of one man the whole world was enrolled.

You have now heard Who He is that comes, whence, whither, and to whom He comes; the cause, likewise, and the time of His coming are known to you.

Circumstance 6: One point is yet to be considered namely, the way by which He came.

This must be diligently examined, that we may, as is fitting, go forth to meet Him. As He once came visibly in the body to work our salvation in the midst of the earth, so does He come daily invisibly and in spirit to work the salvation of each individual soul; as it is written: “The Spirit before our face, Christ the Lord.” And that we might know this spiritual advent to be hidden, it is said: “Under his shadow we shall live among the Gentiles” (Lamentations 4:20). Wherefore, if the infirm cannot go far to meet this great Physician, it is at least becoming they should endeavour to raise their heads and lift themselves a little to greet their Saviour. For this, O man, you are not required to cross the sea, to penetrate the clouds, to scale the mountain-tops. No lofty way is set before you. Turn within thyself to meet thy God, for the Word is nigh in thy mouth and in thy heart. Meet Him by compunction of heart and by confession of mouth, or, at least, go forth from the corruption of a sinful conscience, for it is not becoming that the Author of purity should enter there.

It is delightful to contemplate the manner of His visible coming, for His “ways are beautiful, and all his paths are peace” (Proverbs 3:17). “Behold,” says the Spouse of the Canticles, He cometh leaping upon the mountains, skipping upon the hills” (Song of Songs 2:8). You see Him coming, O beautiful one, but His previous lying down you could not see, for you said: “Shew me, O thou whom my soul loveth, where thou feedest, where thou liest” (Song of Songs 1:7). He lay feeding His angels in His endless eternity with the vision of His glorious, unchanging beauty. But know, O beautiful one, that that vision is become wonderful to thee ; it is high, and thou canst not reach it. Nevertheless, behold He hath gone forth from His holy place, and He that had lain feeding His angels hath undertaken to heal us. We shall see Him coming as our food, Whom we were not able to behold while He was feeding His angels in His repose. “Behold, he cometh leaping upon the mountains, skipping upon the hills.” The mountains and hills we may consider to be the Patriarchs and the Prophets, and we may see His leaping and skipping in the book of His genealogy. “Abraham begot Isaac, Isaac begot Jacob” (Matthew 1:2), etc. From the mountains came forth the root of Jesse, as you will find from the Prophet Isaiah: “There shall come forth a rod out of the root of Jesse, and a flower shall rise up out of his root, and the Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him” (Isaiah 11:1-2a). The same prophet speaks yet more plainly: “Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a Son, and his name shall be called Emmanuel, which is interpreted, ‘God with us’ ” (Isaiah 7:14). He Who is first styled a flower is afterwards called Emmanuel, and in the rod is named the virgin. But we must reserve for another day further consideration of this sublime mystery, as there is ample material for another sermon, especially as to-day’s has been rather long.”

Love, Joyful Advent, He comes!!!
Matthew

Advent, 2nd & 3rd Circumstance – St Bernard of Clairvaux, Doctor of the Church

Heiligenkreuz.Bernard_of_Clervaux
-St Bernard of Clairvaux, as shown in the church of Heiligenkreuz Abbey near Baden bei Wien, Lower Austria. Portrait (1700) with the true effigy of the Saint by Georg Andreas Wasshuber (1650-1732), (painted after a statue in Clairvaux with the true effigy of the saint)

Circumstances 2 and 3: Behold, you have heard Who He is that comes; consider now whence and to whom He comes.

“He comes from the heart of God the Father to the womb of a virgin mother; He comes from the highest heaven to this low earth, that we whose conversation is now on earth may have Him for our most desirable companion. For where can it be well with us without Him, and where ill if He be present? “What have I in heaven, and besides Thee what do I desire upon earth? Thou art the God of my heart and the God that is my portion for ever” (Psalm 73:25-26) and “though I should walk in the midst of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil,” if only “thou art with me” (Psalm 23:4).

But here I see that our Lord descends not only to earth, but even to hell; not as one bound, but as free among the dead; as light that shines in the darkness, “and the darkness did not comprehend it.” Wherefore His soul was not left in hell, nor did His holy body on earth see corruption. For Christ “that descended is the same also that ascended…that he might fill all things” (Ephesians 4:10) “who went about doing good, and healing all that were oppressed by the devil” (Acts 10:38). And elsewhere we read, He “hath exalted as a giant to run his way…His going forth is from the highest heavens, and his circuit even to the end thereof” (cf Psalm 19:7). Well might St. Paul cry out: “Seek the things that are above, where Christ is sitting at the right hand of God” (Colossians 3:1). In vain would the Apostle labour to raise our hearts upwards if he did not teach us that the Author of our salvation is sitting in heaven.

But what follows? The matter here is indeed abundant in the extreme; but our limited time does not admit of a lengthened development. By considering Who He is that comes, we see His supreme and ineffable majesty, and by contemplating whence He comes, we behold the great highway clearly laid out to us. The Prophet Isaiah says: “Behold, the name of the Lord cometh from afar” (Isaiah 30:27). By reflecting whither He comes, we see His inestimable and inconceivable condescension in His descending from highest heavens to abide with us in this miserable prison-house. Who can doubt that there was some grand cause powerful enough to move so sovereign a Majesty to come “from afar,” and condescend to enter a place so unworthy of Him as this world of ours. The cause was in truth great. It was His immense mercy, His multiplied compassion, His abundant charity.”

Love, Joyful Advent!! He comes!!!
Matthew

Advent, 1st Circumstance – St Bernard of Clairvaux, Doctor of the Church

Bernard_of_Clairvaux_-_Gutenburg_-_13206
-St Bernard

“The name of this great annual commemoration is sufficiently familiar to us; its meaning may not be so well known.

When the unhappy children of Eve had abandoned the pursuit of things true and salutary, they gave themselves up to the search for those that are fleeting and perishable.

To whom shall we liken the men of this generation, or to what shall we compare them, seeing they are unable to tear themselves from earthly and carnal consolations, or disentangle their minds from such trammels? They resemble the shipwrecked who are in danger of being overwhelmed by the waters, and who may be seen catching eagerly at whatever they first grasp, how frail soever it may be. And if anyone strive to rescue them, they are wont to seize and drag him down with them, so that not infrequently the rescuer is involved with them in one common destruction. Thus the children of the world perish miserably while following after transitory things and neglecting those which are solid and enduring, cleaving to which, they might save their souls. Of truth, not of vanity, it is said: “You shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” (John 8:32).

Do you, therefore, to whom as to little ones God has revealed things hidden from the wise and prudent, turn your thoughts with earnestness to those that are truly desirable, and diligently meditate on this coming of our Lord (cf Matthew 11:25). Consider:

1. Who He is that comes,
2. Whence He comes,
3. To whom He comes,
4. For what end He comes,
5. When He comes, and
6. In what manner He comes.

This is undoubtedly a most useful and praiseworthy curiosity, for the Church would not so devoutly celebrate the season of Advent if there were not some great mystery hidden therein.

Circumstance 1: Wherefore, in the first place, let us with the Apostle consider in astonishment and admiration how great He is Who comes.

According to the testimony of Gabriel, He is the Son of the Most High, and consequently a coequal with Him. Nor is it lawful to think that the Son of God is other than coequal with His Father. He is coequal in majesty; He is coequal in dignity. Who will deny that the sons of princes are princes, and the sons of kings kings?

But how is it that of the Three Persons Whom we believe, and confess, and adore in the Most High Trinity, it was not the Father, nor the Holy Ghost, but the Son that became Man? I imagine this was not without cause. But “who hath known the mind of the Lord? Or who hath been his counselor?” (Romans 11:34). Not without some most deep counsel of the Blessed Trinity was it decreed that the Son should become Incarnate. If we consider the cause of our exile, we may perchance be able to comprehend in some degree how fitting it was that our deliverance should be chiefly accomplished by the Son.

Lucifer, who rose brightly as the morning star, because he attempted to usurp a similitude with the Most High, and “it was thought robbery in him to equal himself with God,” an equality which was the Son’s by right, was cast down from heaven and ruined; for the Father was zealous for the glory of the Son, and seemed by this act to say: “Vengeance is mine, I will repay.” And instantly “I saw Satan as lightning falling from heaven” (Luke 10:18).

Dust and ashes, why art thou proud? If God spared not pride in His angels, how much less will He tolerate it in thee, innate corruption? Satan had committed no overt act, he had but consented to a thought of pride, yet in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, he was irreparably rejected because, as the Evangelist says, “he stood not in the truth” (John 8:44). Fly pride, my brethren, I most earnestly beseech you. “Pride is the beginning of all sin” (Sirach 10:13) and how quickly did it darken and overshadow with eternal obscurity Lucifer, the most bright and beautiful of the heavenly spirits, and, from not only an angel, but the first of angels, transform him into a hideous devil! Wherefore, envying man’s happiness, he brought forth in him the evil which he had conceived in himself by persuading man that if he should eat of the forbidden tree he would become as God, having a knowledge of good and evil. Wretch! what dost thou promise, when thou knowest that the Son of God has the key of knowledge yea, and is Himself the “key of David, that shutteth and no man openeth” (cf Revelation 3:7) that “in Him are hidden all the treasures of the wisdom and knowledge of God?” (Colossians 2:3). Wouldst thou, then, wickedly steal them away to give them to men?

You see, my brethren, how true is the sentence of our Lord, “The devil is a liar and the father of lies” (John 8:44). He was a liar in saying, “I will be like unto the Most High” (Isaiah 14:14) and he was the father of lies when he breathed his spirit of falsity into man. “You will be as gods” (Genesis 3:5). And wilt thou, man, “seeing the thief, run with him?” (Psalm 50:18). You have heard, my brethren, what has been read this night from Isaiah. The Prophet says to the Lord, “Thy princes are faithless, companions of thieves” or, as another version has it, “disobedient companions of thieves” (Isaiah 1:23). In truth, Adam and Eve were disobedient companions of thieves, for, by the counsel of the serpent, or, rather, of the devil in the serpent, they tried to seize upon what belonged by birthright to the Son of God. Nor did the Father overlook the injury, for the Father loveth the Son. He immediately took revenge on that same man, and let His hand fall on us all, “for in Adam all have sinned” and in his sentence of condemnation we have shared.

What, then, did the Son do, seeing His Father so zealous for His glory, and for His sake sparing none of His creatures? “Behold,” He says, “on My account My Father has ruined His creatures: the first of the angels aspired to My throne of sovereignty, and had followers who believed in him; and instantly My Father’s zeal was heavily revenged on him, striking him and all his adherents with an incurable plague, with a dire chastisement. Man, too, attempted to steal from Me the knowledge which belongs to Me alone, and neither doth My Father show him mercy, nor doth His eye spare him. He had made two noble orders sharing His reason, capable of participating in His beatitude, angels and men; but behold, on My account He hath ruined a multitude of His angels and the entire race of men. Therefore, that they may know that I love My Father, He shall receive back through Me what in a certain way He seems to have lost through Me. ‘It is on my account this storm has arisen take me and cast me into the sea’ (Jonah 1:12). All are envious of Me; behold I come, and will exhibit Myself to them in such a guise as that whosoever shall wish may become like to Me; whatsoever I shall do they may imitate, so that their envy shall be made good and profitable to them.”

The angels, we know, sinned through malice, not through ignorance and frailty; wherefore, as they were unwilling to repent, must of necessity perish, for the love of the Father and the honor of the King demand judgment. For this cause He created men from the beginning, that they might fill those lost places, and repair the ruins of the heavenly Jerusalem. For He knew “the pride of Moab, that he is exceedingly proud” (Isaiah 16:6) and that his pride would never seek the remedy of repentance, nor, consequently, of pardon. After man’s fall, however, He created no other creature in his place, thus intimating that man should yet be redeemed, and that he who had been supplanted by another’s malice might still by another’s charity be redeemed.

Be it so, dear Lord, I beseech Thee. Be pleased to deliver me, for I am weak. Like Joseph of old, I was stolen away from my country, and here without any fault was cast into a dungeon. Yet I am not wholly innocent, but innocent compared with him who seduced me. He deceived me with a lie: let the truth come, that falsehood may be discovered, and that I may know the truth, and that the truth may make me free. But to gain the freedom I must renounce the falsehood when discovered, and adhere to the known truth; otherwise the temptation would not be human, nor the sin a human sin, but diabolical obstinacy. To persevere in evil is the act of the devil, and those who persevere in evil after his example deservedly perish with him.”

Love, Joyful Advent, He comes!!!
Matthew