Category Archives: Christmastide

Epiphany – Pope St Leo the Great, (400-461 AD), Doctor of the Church

“After celebrating but lately the day on which immaculate virginity brought forth the Saviour of mankind, the venerable feast of the Epiphany, dearly beloved, gives us continuance of joy, that the force of our exultation and the fervour of our faith may not grow cool, in the midst of neighbouring and kindred mysteries. For it concerns all men’s salvation, that the infancy of the Mediator between God and men was already manifested to the whole world, while He was still detained in the tiny town.

For although He had chosen the Israelitish nation, and one family out of that nation, from whom to assume the nature of all mankind, yet He was unwilling that the early days of His birth should be concealed within the narrow limits of His mother’s home: but desired to be soon recognized by all, seeing that He deigned to be born for all. To three wise men, therefore, appeared a star of new splendour in the region of the East, which, being brighter and fairer than the other stars, might easily attract the eyes and minds of those that looked on it, so that at once that might be observed not to be meaningless, which had so unusual an appearance. He therefore who gave the sign, gave to the beholders understanding of it, and caused inquiry to be made about that, of which He had thus caused understanding, and after inquiry made, offered Himself to be found.

These three men follow the leading of the light above, and with steadfast gaze obeying the indications of the guiding splendour, are led to the recognition of the Truth by the brilliance of Grace, for they supposed that a king’s birth was notified in a human sense , and that it must be sought in a royal city. Yet He who had taken a slave’s form, and had come not to judge, but to be judged, chose Bethlehem for His nativity, Jerusalem for His passion. But Herod, hearing that a prince of the Jews was born, suspected a successor, and was in great terror: and to compass the death of the Author of Salvation, pledged himself to a false homage. How happy had he been, if he had imitated the wise men’s faith, and turned to a pious use what he designed for deceit.

What blind wickedness of foolish jealousy, to think you can overthrow the Divine plan by your frenzy. The Lord of the world, who offers an eternal Kingdom, seeks not a temporal. Why do you attempt to change the unchangeable order of things ordained, and to forestall others in their crime? The death of Christ belongs not to your time. The Gospel must be first set on foot, the Kingdom of God first preached, healings first given to the sick, wondrous acts first performed. Why do you wish yourself to have the blame of what will belong to another’s work, and why without being able to effect your wicked design, do you bring on yourself alone the charge of wishing the evil?

You gain nothing and carriest out nothing by this intriguing. He that was born voluntarily shall die of His own free will. The Wise men, therefore, fulfil their desire, and come to the child, the Lord Jesus Christ, the same star going before them. They adore the Word in flesh, the Wisdom in infancy, the Power in weakness, the Lord of majesty in the reality of man: and by their gifts make open acknowledgment of what they believe in their hearts, that they may show forth the mystery of their faith and understanding. The incense they offer to God, the myrrh to Man, the gold to the King, consciously paying honour to the Divine and human Nature in union: because while each substance had its own properties, there was no difference in the power of either.

And when the wise men had returned to their own land, and Jesus had been carried into Egypt at the Divine suggestion, Herod’s madness blazes out into fruitless schemes. He orders all the little ones in Bethlehem to be slain, and since he knows not which infant to fear, extends a general sentence against the age he suspects. But that which the wicked king removes from the world, Christ admits to heaven: and on those for whom He had not yet spent His redeeming blood, He already bestows the dignity of martyrdom. Lift your faithful hearts then, dearly-beloved, to the gracious blaze of eternal light, and in adoration of the mysteries dispensed for man’s salvation give your diligent heed to the things which have been wrought on your behalf.

Love the purity of a chaste life, because Christ is the Son of a virgin. “Abstain from fleshly lusts which war against the soul [1 Peter 2:11],” as the blessed Apostle, present in his words as we read, exhorts us, “In malice be ye children [1 Corinthians 14:20],” because the Lord of glory conformed Himself to the infancy of mortals. Follow after humility which the Son of God deigned to teach His disciples. Put on the power of patience, in which you may be able to gain your souls; seeing that He who is the Redemption of all, is also the Strength of all. “Set your minds on the things which are above, not on the things which are on the earth [Colossians 3:2].” Walk firmly along the path of truth and life: let not earthly things hinder you for whom are prepared heavenly things through our Lord Jesus Christ, who with the Father and the Holy Ghost lives and reigns for ever and ever. Amen.”

Love,
Matthew

Epiphany – St Vincent Ferrer, O.P., (1350-1419), “Angel of the Last Judgment”, Great Catholic Reformer, Patron of Reconciliation

“Today’s feast is commonly called Epiphany or Appearance, which is the same. Because the Virgin Birth which had been hidden and secret, today was manifest to the nations. So the churchmen say and call this feast Epiphany, from “epi” which is “above” and “phanos” which is “appearance,” because the star appeared over the nations. In order that God should wish to give us sentiments of sweetness of this feast in our souls, let us salute the Virgin Mary, etc.

“And falling down they adored him.” The assigned reading reveals to us in a few words the great and perfect reverence which the three kings of the east offered today to our Lord Jesus Christ, “falling down, etc.” Not only did they uncover their heads, nor were they content to bend their knees, but they folded their hands and arms, and even their whole body. “And falling down they adored him,” (Mt 2:11).

Now to give us a reason for this adoration – for reason begets understanding, and authority confirms belief – I find in sacred scripture that for true, devout and perfect adoration two things are required: a reverent attitude of the interior mind, and a humble gesture of the outward body. As for the first, when man thinks of the infinite and incomprehensible majesty of God and his transcendent power, there comes a reverent trembling interiorly in the soul, and from this there follows exteriorly a humility in the body, joining the hands, genuflecting, or prostrating oneself in prayer to God. Divine adoration consists in these two.

To understand this reason, it must be understood that God created man in his substantial being different than other creatures. Man is a composite, substantially with respect to the soul, and materially with respect to the body. Not so the angels, who are only spiritual substances, nor the animals which are material substances. Because of this man is similar to the angels and animals, because he has both.

So God wishes to be worshipped by both: from the soul thinking of the majesty of God, and from the body through humble gestures. Just like a landowner who leases his field and vineyard for a certain assessment of use. He requires an accounting from both, otherwise he takes back to himself the whole commission. So God is with us. He gives us the vine, the soul which makes the heart drunk with the love of God, and the field of the body that it might bear the fruit of repentance and mercy. So from both he would have a reckoning of devout adoration. Of the angels he asks only spiritual adoration, reverential movements of the mind. Of the animals he asks only a reverential posture of the body, like the ox and ass when they adored Christ in the manger, because they could only bend their knees, but interiorly they had no thoughts. But from us God wishes both, namely the reverent motion of the mind, and bodily actions.

Christ said, “But the hour comes, and is now, when the true adorers shall adore the Father in spirit and in truth. For the Father also seeks such to adore him. God is a spirit; and they who adore him, must adore him in spirit and in truth,” (Jn 4:23-24). Note, “the hour comes,” the time of the law of grace, “when the true adorers shall adore the Father in spirit” with respect to the soul, “and in truth” with respect to the body, because that is truth, when the body conforms and corresponds to the mind. And he gives a reason, saying, “God is a Spirit,” and so it is necessary to “adore him in spirit and in truth.”

Think of the miracle found in John 9, of the man born blind, given sight by Christ, to whom he says: “‘Do you believe in the Son of God?’ He answered, and said: ‘Who is he, Lord, that I may believe in him?’ And Jesus said to him: ‘You have both seen him; and it is he who is talking with you.’ And he said: ‘I believe, Lord. And falling down, he adored him,'” (Jn 9:35-38). See the reverential interior movement in the soul and the external bodily gesture, because “falling down he adored him.”

The three kings acted thus when they saw the infant Jesus. Instantly there entered into their souls a movement of reverential fear from the presence of divine majesty. And so, “prostrating themselves they adored him.”

These three holy kings aptly prepared themselves. We need to know what God promised Abraham and the holy patriarchs, that he would send his son, born into this world of a virgin, true God and true man. About this he gave clear prophecies, not only to the Jews in Judea, but also to diverse parts of the world, as a sign that he would come not only to save the Jews, as they falsely believe, but also all those believing in him and obeying him.

Chrysostom repeats the opinion that there was the image of a child in that star, with a cross on his forehead. Some say that the Magi wanted to adore the star. But Augustine says that the angel of the Lord told them that they should not adore the star, but that they should make their way to adore the newly born Creator.

Then the kings took counsel how they should travel, how they should prepare, and what they should bring to offer to him, saying, “He is a great king and powerful. We should offer him gold. And he is God and creator, because the stars serve him, so we shall offer him incense. And in this sign of the cross it is revealed that he is to die on a cross, and so we shall offer him bitter myrrh.” [Ecclesiast.] The Magi seeing the star, consulted each other. “This is the sign of a great king. Let us go and inquire of him and offer him gifts, gold, frankincense and myrrh.”

I believe, therefore, although it is not written, that the holy kings symbolized in their gifts what they believed about Christ. I believe that also [it was expressed] in their clothing, because the king who brought the gold, was clothed in a gold shirt, and the one who brought the incense, in a purple tunic, and the one with the myrrh, in a red scarf.

St. Thomas says (III Pars, q. 36, a. 7), repeating the opinions of others, that the essence of this star most probably was of a new creation, not in the heaven, but in the atmosphere, which moved according to divine will. Augustine believed namely that it was not of the heavenly stars, because he says in his book Contra Faustum Bk, 2, “Besides, this star was not one of those which from the beginning of the world continue in the course ordained by the Creator. Along with the new birth from the Virgin appeared a new star.” Chrysostom believes this too.

From the example of the kings we ought to offer the gold of our conversion. Such a person can say with David, “I have loved your commandments above gold and topaz,” which is a precious stone, “therefore was I directed to all your commandments: I have hated all wicked ways,” (Ps 118:127-128).

Second, the frankincense of devout prayer, saying, “Let my prayer be directed as incense [in your sight],” (Ps 140:2).

Third we should offer the myrrh of voluntary penance. And such a one can say, “You shall … make me to live. Behold in peace is my bitterness most bitter: but you best delivered my soul that it should not perish,” (Is 38:16-17).”

Love,
Matthew

Baptism of the Lord


-“Baptism of Christ”, Domenico Tintoretto (son of Jacopo; also known as Domenico Robusti), after 1588

“Christ is bathed in light; let us also be bathed in light. Christ is baptized; let us also go down with Him, and rise with Him.

John is baptizing when Jesus draws near. Perhaps He comes to sanctify his baptizer; certainly He comes to bury sinful humanity in the waters. He comes to sanctify the Jordan for our sake and in readiness for us; He who is spirit and flesh comes to begin a new creation through the Spirit and water.

The Baptist protests; Jesus insists. Then John says: I ought to be baptized by You. He is the lamp in the presence of the Sun, the voice in the presence of the Word, the friend in the presence of the Bridegroom, the greatest of all born of woman in the presence of the firstborn of all creation, the one who leapt in his mother’s womb in the presence of Him Who was adored in the womb, the forerunner and future forerunner in the presence of Him who has already come and is to come again. I ought to be baptized by You: we should also add, and for you, for John is to be baptized in blood, washed clean like Peter, not only by the washing of his feet.


-“The Baptism of Christ”, Jacopo Tintoretto (born Jacopo Comin, father of Domenico; also known as Jacopo Robusti), circa 1580

Jesus rises from the waters; the world rises with Him. The heavens, like Paradise with its flaming sword, closed by Adam for himself and his descendants, are rent open. The Spirit comes to Him as to an equal, bearing witness to his Godhead. A voice bears witness to Him from heaven, His place of origin. The Spirit descends in bodily form like the dove that so long ago announced the ending of the flood and so gives honor to the body that is one with God.

Today let us do honor to Christ’s baptism and celebrate this feast in holiness. Be cleansed entirely and continue to be cleansed. Nothing gives such pleasure to God as the conversion and salvation of men, for whom His every word and every revelation exist. He wants you to become a living force for all mankind, lights shining in the world. You are to be radiant lights as you stand beside Christ, the great light, bathed in the glory of Him Who is the light of heaven. You are to enjoy more and more the pure and dazzling light of the Trinity, as now you have received – though not in its fullness – a ray of its splendor, proceeding from the one God, in Christ Jesus our Lord, to Whom be glory and power for ever and ever. Amen.”

-SECOND READING, OFFICE OF READINGS, LITURGY OF THE HOURS of this day,
FROM A SERMON BY ST. GREGORY OF NAZIANZUS (ST. GREGORY NAZIANZEN), BISHOP
ORATIO 39 IN SANCTA LUMINA, 14-16, 20; PG 36, 350-351, 354, 358-359

Love,
Matthew

“Those Catholic Men”…Reflections on Christmas from a convert to Catholicism


-by Mr. Jason Craig

“G.K. Chesterton once said, “There is no more dangerous or disgusting habit than that of celebrating Christmas before it comes… It is the very essence of a festival that it breaks upon one brilliantly and abruptly, that at one moment the great day is not and the next moment the great day is.”

As a convert to The One True Faith from American Consumerism and American Protestantism, I am yearly amazed at the wisdom of the Catholic liturgical calendar.  When entered in to, it purifies and constantly prepares us to meet God by helping us meet God in sacred time and in sacramental reality.  When the spirit of the liturgy is alive, so is the festive heart.  True feast days, after all, are only really still kept by Catholics.  All other attempts at celebrating something come and go as they are “proclaimed” into existence by some so-called authority, only later to morph into a bargaining chips in public school and bank calendars (do we get MLK day off or Presidents Day?).  Along with bargaining chips, of course, they are also bones tossed to various groups, but are forgotten unless candy and card companies see a penny worth picking up – Mother’s Day was a winner in this regard, although I wish national dairy month would be more popular.

Catholics keep feasts because we are by nature festive people.  We have not only reason to celebrate, but the sacramental and mystical connection to the thing itself, meaning we don’t try to conjure up feelings of festivity but reflect reality in the form of festivity, living with open eyes in a good world made and redeemed by a good God.  True festivity, in other words, only belongs to those connected to the Divine.  Holidays “proclaimed” by secular authorities for secular ends will always fail to be truly festive and will slip into meaninglessness that is grotesquely rescued only by consumerism or the brute force of special interest.  As Josef Pieper said, man “can make the celebration, but he cannot make what is to be celebrated, cannot make the festive occasion and the cause for celebration.”  Which is why “we encounter artificial holidays” which ultimately leads a man to hopelessly hope he “is able to bring about his own salvation as well as that of the whole world.”[1]  God saves us from our futile attempts at manufacturing meaning, and those living in the gift of salvation are festive in it.

When speaking of true festivity Pieper is, of course, presuming the living of the True Faith, not like men that keep superficial piety.  “They will preserve all the outward form of religion, although they have long been strangers to its meaning (2 Tim 3:5, Knox).

So, as Chesterton said, we don’t celebrate Christmas before it happens, whipping ourselves into sentimental and consuming frenzies that conjure “Christmas spirit” by brute force and endless ditties, but celebrate it after it “happens” liturgically, at the true Christ-Mass.  Our festivity is a response to a reality we encounter in the Christ-mass.  In fact, to see how serious we take this “moment” when Christmas “happens”, we start the party at the precise moment it becomes liturgically possible – at midnight Mass.  Then (and only then) do we begin both the octave of Christmas, which is the liturgical “time-stop” when we rest for 8 days in the 1 day of Christmas, but then we have the “season” up to Epiphany generally, although the spirit of it has been over the years extended all the way to Candlemas on February 2nd.

Consider how different this is from the world’s “celebration” of Christmas, and Protestants as well who, like the malls, “do” Christmas before Christmas.  The local Protestant radio channel where I live starts Christmas music as close to Thanksgiving as possible, singing songs and offering commentary as if it were already Christmas.  It’s awkward.  It hasn’t happened.  Anyone that has had a baby knows that the lead up is preparation, and only after the fact of birth do you live in a way proper to, well, after the fact of birth.  It can feel nice to act like its Christmas before Christmasbut nicety is far from festivity.  Of course the stores love this because each year they can just “extend” the “season” earlier and earlier so as to get us to spend more.  I think with each “extension” backwards it makes it harder to rest in the peace of Christmas afterwards.

This whole charade has the effect of a cheap bottle rocket.  It feels like its going to be big, but it really just shoots into the air with some sparks and noise (this is the “season” before Christmas that is actually Advent), and then it #pops# with some bigger sparks and a bang, but then is over quickly, in a flash, with an air of disappointment.  Before Catholicism December 26th always felt like a metaphysical hangover – like I was supposed to still be excited, but it’s all just sort of over.

Compare this to the truer celebration of Christmas, the reflection of and response to the encounter with Christ.  Prior to the arrival of the King there is a season of preparation and reckoning where one must deal with the fact that his heart is attached to this world and not well prepared for the coming salvation.  Done well this will temper the consumerism that rises so incessantly from early November through Christmas.  Then the day comes and we burst forth into a series of Masses and feasts that draw our minds to the paradox – the sign of contradiction –the King that has arrived to rule in ways man does not understand.  We get the baby Jesus, then St. Stephen’s stoning, Holy Innocents, Thomas Becket, the Epiphany – and more!  It’s a whirlwind of the reality of faith.  Then we are allowed to rest in this through a season, as it slowly recedes from us.

This type of celebration is more like a large wave on a hot day.  You may see it coming and brace for it, desiring its refreshment but knowing it could be more than you’re ready to handle, but then it hits you with the immensity of what it is, and then it slowly recedes back from where it came – the ocean of God’s mercy –drawing you a little closer to the Source each time it hits.  Or so it should.  (My wife said she didn’t like the analogy because she’s scared of waves, but I think a little fear could help us avoid artificiality in Christmastide.)

The bottle rocket just ends.  It’s over when it’s over.  Nothing shows from it, except maybe some paper trash left on the ground, and an occasional burnt finger.  This is the “artificial” festivity Piper warns us of and the “danger” Chesterton mentions.  The wave of Catholic Christmas, however, hits us hard, but then pulls us back to the place it came from.  It’s not easy, but it’s good.  Christmas, celebrated in the proper context of Catholicism, can knock us over.  For a sinner like me, I need that liturgical weight to hit me and draw me in.

Remember, we’re not done yet.  Keep the party going.”

Love, & Merry Christmas, still,
Matthew

Epiphany of the Lord

-by Rev Gabriel of St Mary Magdalen, OCD, Divine Intimacy, Baronius Press, (c) 1964

Presence of God – I recognize in You, O little Jesus, the King of heaven and earth; grant that I may adore You with the faith and love of the Magi.

MEDITATION

“He whom the Virgin bore is acknowledged today by the whole world…. Today is the glorious Feast of His Manifestation” (Roman Breviary). Today Jesus shows Himself to the world as God.

The Introit of the Mass brings us at once into this spirit, presenting Jesus to us in the full majesty of His divinity. “Behold the sovereign Lord is come; in His hands He holds the kingdom, the power, and the empire.” The Epistle (Isaiah 60:1-6) breaks forth in a hymn of joy, announcing the vocation of the Gentiles to the faith; they too will acknowledge and adore Jesus as their God: “Arise, be enlightened, O Jerusalem: for thy light is come…. And the Gentiles shall walk in thy light, and kings in the brightness of thy rising…. All they from [Sheba] shall come, bringing gold and frankincense, and showing forth praise to the Lord.” We no longer gaze upon the lowly picture of the shepherds at the manger; passing before us now is the resplendent procession of the Wise Men from the East, representing the pagan nations and all the kings of the earth, who come to pay homage to the Child-God.

Epiphany, or Theophany, means the Manifestation of God; today it is realized in Jesus who manifests Himself as God and Lord of the world. Already a prodigy has revealed His divinity—the extraordinary star which appeared in the East. To the commemoration of this miracle, which holds the primary place in the day’s liturgy, the Church [formerly added] two others [which She now celebrates separately]: the changing of water into wine at the wedding feast of Cana, and the Baptism of Jesus in the Jordan, when a voice from heaven announced, “This is My beloved Son.” The Magnificat Antiphon [still] says, “Three miracles adorn this holy day”—three miracles which should lead us to recognize the Child Jesus as our God and King, and to adore Him with lively faith.”

COLLOQUY

“O Jesus, I adore You, for You are the Lord my God. “For You, my Lord, are a great God, and a great King above all kings. For in Your hand are all the ends of the earth, and the heights of the mountains are Yours. For the sea is Yours, and You made it; and, Your hands formed the dry land…. We are the people of Your pasture and the sheep of Your hand” [cf Psalm 95]. Yes, O Jesus, I am one of Your lambs, one of Your creatures; and I am happy to acknowledge my nothingness in Your presence, and still happier to adore You, O lovely Infant, as my God and my Redeemer. O that all nations would acknowledge You for what You are, that all might prostrate before You, adoring You as their Lord and God!

O Lord, You can do this. Reveal Your divinity to all mankind, and just as once You drew the Magi from the East to You, now in like manner unite all peoples and all nations around Your manger.

You have shown me that You want my poor cooperation in order to bring about the coming of Your Kingdom. You wish me to pray, suffer, and work for the conversion of those who are near and of those who are far away. You wish that I, too, place before the manger the gifts of the Wise Men: the incense of prayer, the myrrh of mortification and of suffering borne with generosity out of love for You, and finally, the gold of charity, charity which will make my heart wholly and exclusively Yours, charity which will spur me on to work, to spend myself for the conversion of sinners and infidels, and for the greater sanctification of Your elect.

O my loving King, create in me the heart of an apostle. If only I could lay at Your feet today the praise and adoration of everyone on earth!

O my Jesus, while I beg You to reveal Yourself to the world, I also beseech You to reveal Yourself more and more to my poor soul. Let Your star shine for me today, and point out to me the road which leads directly to You! May this day be a real Epiphany for me, a new manifestation to my mind and heart of Your great Majesty. He who knows You more, loves You more, O Lord; and I want to know You solely in order to love You, to give myself to You with ever greater generosity.”

Love & epiphany of Him,
Matthew

Jan 3 – Most Holy Name of Jesus, “Every knee shall bend!” -Phil 2:10

The Irish are particular with the name of Mary, too. Traditionally, no Irish girl-child would be named Mary. However, this custom loosened and variations, in Gaelic, such as Moire’, which means “star of the sea”, meaning, similar to the North Star, by which sailors are ever guided at night, Mary guides to Jesus. Or, Maire’, yet still, Muire’, even today, traditionally reserved ONLY for the Blessed Mother, in Gaelic.

Ave Maris Stella
Dei Mater alma
Atque semper Virgo
Felix coeli porta.

Sumens illud Ave
Gabrielis ore,
Funda nos in pacem,
Mutans Hevae nomen.

Solve vincla reis,
Profer lumen coecis,
Mala nostra pelle,
Bona cuncta posce.

Monstra te esse matrem
Sumat per te presces
Qui pro nobis natus
Tulit esse tuus.

Virgo singularis,
Inter omnes mitis,
Nos culpis solutos,
Mites fac et castos.

Vitam praesta puram
Iter para tutum,
Ut videntes Iesum
Semper collaetemur.

Sit laus Deo Patri,
Summo Christo decus,
Spiritui Sancto,
Tribus honor unus.

Amen.

Hail, o star of the ocean,
God’s own Mother blest,
ever sinless Virgin,
gate of heav’nly rest.

Taking that sweet Ave,
which from Gabriel came,
peace confirm within us,
changing Eve’s name.

Break the sinners’ fetters,
make our blindness day,
Chase all evils from us,
for all blessings pray.

Show thyself a Mother,
may the Word divine
born for us thine Infant
hear our prayers through thine.

Virgin all excelling,
mildest of the mild,
free from guilt preserve us
meek and undefiled.

Keep our life all spotless,
make our way secure
till we find in Jesus,
joy for evermore.

Praise to God the Father,
honor to the Son,
in the Holy Spirit,
be the glory one. Amen.


-by Br Josemaria Guzman-Dominguez, OP

“…Many Anglophone Christians find (the) Latino custom (of naming boy infants Jesus) peculiar and are even discomfited by it. They might ask, “How is it that faithful Christians would name their son with the Name above every other name? Wouldn’t this open the floodgates to pronouncing the Holy Name in vain? And isn’t it too great a burden, too high an expectation, for a small boy to bear the name by which we are to be saved?” These are fair questions. Indeed, we should revere the Lord’s Name, and we should be careful not to misuse it. And certainly, we would not want any ordinary person to be led to think that he needs to save the world, or that all our sins rest on him, or much less that he is the Only-Begotten Son of God!

Does that mean some Latino parents are mistaken in naming their son Jesús? I don’t think so. Look at this sentence again and reflect on it: “When he was baptized, he was named Jesús.”

When we ponder these words, we can see that, in a way, they apply to any Christian. As St. Paul puts it, “through faith you are all children of God in Christ Jesus. For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.” Through the grace given in baptism, each Christian is brought into Christ; each receives the Spirit of adoption, becoming a son or daughter of God; each is named Jesús.

In baptism, a soul is transformed into the image of Jesus. Beyond the day of baptism, God calls every Christian to become ever more intensely an image of Jesus, the perfect Image of the Father. But this imitation of Christ is not one that keeps Jesus as a model in the distance. No, it is a most intimate movement of conversion, which if left unimpeded by sin, changes every aspect of one’s being. By grace, a Christian can reach union with Jesus and say with St. Paul, “It is no longer I that lives, but Christ lives in me.”

Why do we desire to be called by the Lord’s name, to be baptized into his mystery? The words of Richard Rolle give some incentives. “The name of Jesus,” he says, “purges your sin and kindles your heart; it clarifies your soul, it removes anger and does away with slowness. It wounds in love and fulfills charity. It chases the devil and puts out dread. It opens heaven, and makes you a contemplative.”

In this life, only some of us, perhaps oddly, will actually be called Jesús. However, the fact that there are such men can remind us of our common Christian vocation. If by grace we live the life of Jesus, in the end our true name will be known. We will all be named Jesús because we will be perfectly one with him. For “we shall see his face, and his name shall be on our foreheads. And night shall be no more; we will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be our light, and we shall reign for ever and ever” (Rev 22:4-5).”

Love,
Matthew

Dec 28 – Feast of the Holy Innocents, Martyrs, “They cannot speak, yet they bear witness to Christ”


-detail of Une Scene du Massacre des Innocents (A Scene of the Massacre of the Innocents), Jean-Baptiste Marie Pierre (1714-1789), undated

[Feast of the Holy Innocents, also called Childermas, or Innocents’ Day, festival celebrated in the Christian churches in the West on December 28 and in the Eastern churches on December 29 and commemorating the massacre of the children by King Herod in his attempt to kill the infant Jesus (Matthew 2:16–18). These children were regarded by the early church as the first martyrs, but it is uncertain when the day was first kept as a saint’s day. At first it may have been celebrated with Epiphany, but by the 5th century it was kept as a separate festival. In Rome it was a day of fasting and mourning.

It was one of a series of days known as the Feast of Fools, and the last day of authority for boy bishops. Parents temporarily abdicated authority. In convents and monasteries the youngest nun and monk were allowed to act as abbess and abbot for the day. These customs, which mocked religion, were condemned by the Council of Basel (1431).

In medieval England the children were reminded of the mournfulness of the day by being whipped in bed in the morning; this custom survived into the 17th century.

The day is still observed as a feast day and, in Roman Catholic countries, as a day of merrymaking for children.]


-partially restored and enhanced St Quodvultdeus mosaic portrait (San Gennaro catacombs, Naples), Unknown artist, 5th century

-from a sermon by Saint Quodvultdeus, bishop (Sermo 2 de Symbolo: PL 40, 655) and spiritual student or “directee”, friend, and correspondent of St. Augustine, Second Reading, Office of Readings, Liturgy of the Hours for December 28th, Feast of the Holy Innocents, Martyrs.

“A tiny child is born, Who is a great king. Wise men are led to Him from afar [Matthew 2:1]. They come to adore One Who lies in a manger and yet reigns in heaven and on earth. When they tell of One Who is born a king, Herod is disturbed [cf Matthew 2:3]. To save his kingdom he resolves to kill Him, though if he would have faith in the Child, he himself would reign in peace in this life and for ever in the life to come.

Why are you afraid, Herod, when you hear of the birth of a king? He does not come to drive you out, but to conquer the devil. But because you do not understand this you are disturbed and in a rage, and to destroy one child Whom you seek, you show your cruelty in the death of so many children.

You are not restrained by the love of weeping mothers or fathers mourning the deaths of their sons, nor by the cries and sobs of the children. You destroy those who are tiny in body because fear is destroying your heart. You imagine that if you accomplish your desire you can prolong your own life, though you are seeking to kill Life Himself.

Yet your throne is threatened by the source of grace – so small, yet so great – Who is lying in the manger. He is using you, all unaware of it, to work out His own purposes freeing souls from captivity to the devil. He has taken up the sons of the enemy into the ranks of God’s adopted children.

The children die for Christ, though they do not know it. The parents mourn for the death of martyrs. The Child makes of those as yet unable to speak fit witnesses to Himself. See the kind of kingdom that is His, coming as He did in order to be this kind of king. See how the deliverer is already working deliverance, the savior already working salvation.

But you, Herod, do not know this and are disturbed and furious. While you vent your fury against the child, you are already paying Him homage, and do not know it.

How great a gift of grace is here! To what merits of their own do the children owe this kind of victory? They cannot speak, yet they bear witness to Christ. They cannot use their limbs to engage in battle, yet already they bear off the palm of victory.

Love,
Matthew

Dec 26 – St Stephen, (d. 34 AD), Deacon & Martyr, Radiant (Acts 6:15) “so that we might become like God!!!”(CCC 460)


-site of the stoning of St Stephen, Greek Orthodox Church of St Stephen, Kidron Valley, Jerusalem


Br Philip Nolan, OP

“Yesterday we celebrated the birth of the Son of God. Today we remember the death of a man. Through Advent we watched for the coming of God, before being surprised to see angelic hosts and to hear the cry of a baby. Now, the day after Christmas, we see a man whose “face was like the face of an angel” (Acts 6:15), and the first sound we hear is his death cry.

Why did Stephen’s face look like an angel’s? Did he regress decades of aging and take on the visage of a putto: “And all were amazed at how adorable he was”? No. When the Scriptures speak of angels, they describe beings of great might, frightening to behold. In the book of Judges, when the mother of Samson is informed by a messenger from God that she will conceive and bear a son, she “went and told her husband, ‘A man of God came to me; he had the appearance of an angel of God, terrible indeed” (Jg 13:6). Zechariah was “troubled” by the angel announcing the birth of his son, John; the shepherds “were struck with great fear”; and even the Virgin Mary needed to be assured by Gabriel, “do not be afraid” (Lk 1–2).

In all these examples, the presence of angels communicates something momentous. Their appearance and words cause fear and unease. Angels correct, instruct, reveal; they make us change our plans and offer us a life more closely united with God. Stephen preached forcefully in the Sanhedrin, calling the people to repent of their hard-heartedness. His words, like the words of angels, caused unrest. His face, like the face of an angel, overwhelmed those gathered. But those listening to Stephen did not (at that moment) repent and acquiesce to the divine words. Instead, when they saw Stephen’s face and heard his words, “they were infuriated” and proceeded to make him the first martyr.

The Church gives us the feast of St. Stephen immediately after Christmas to make something clear. Yesterday, we learned “the son of God became man,” and today we see the purpose—“so that we might become God” (CCC 460). The account of Stephen’s preaching and martyrdom shows us what it looks like to become like God. At the beginning of Christ’s life, his mother laid him on the wood of the manger; at the end of his life, she watched as he suffered on the wood of the cross. On the cross, Jesus prays for his persecutors, “Father, forgive them.” Stephen, too, prays for his killers, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” Jesus cried to his Father, “Into your hands, Lord, I commend my spirit.” Stephen cried to Christ: “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.”

The Psalmist exhorts, “Look towards Him and be radiant / let your faces not be abashed” (Ps 34). As Stephen preached, he did not hide his face in shame, and the Lord made his face radiant. Stephen did not produce this radiance; rather it was given to him. But men preferred darkness to light, so they killed him. And in that death he was born to eternal life.”

Merry Christmas,
Matthew

“Chreasters”, C&Es, CEO=Christmas/Easter Only, Holiday Catholics, The Third Commandment, & Easter Duty

Mara just, by requirement of the Diocese of Madison for all her age in Catholic schools in the diocese, had an examination on the Ten Commandments. Kelly & I tutored. She got a perfect score. There are standards in this household. There are standards.

-by Noble Kuriakose, Pew Research Center

“Priests and ministers have long noted a sharp increase in church attendance around the two most significant Christian holidays, Christmas and Easter. Some have given those who attend services only at those times of year a name — “Chreasters” — and churches have launched campaigns to get them to attend more regularly.

Google searches for “church” spike during Easter and Christmas seasons. More Americans search for “church” around Easter than at any other time, with the Christmas season usually ranking second, according to Google Trends data between 2004 and 2013. Google’s Trends tool measures the popularity of a search term relative to all searches in the United States. Data are reported on a scale from 0 to 100.

Easter is Christianity’s oldest and most important holiday, during which Christians celebrate Jesus’ Resurrection three days after he was crucified. In liturgical terms, Easter Sunday is a moveable feast. Its observance, which comes at the end of a 40-day period of penance, fasting and self-examination called Lent, changes within a range of time each spring. Between 2004 and 2013, Easter was in March three times and April seven times.

In 2013, the highest share of searches for “church” are on the week of Easter Sunday, followed by the week of Christmas and the week of Ash Wednesday, the day that marks the beginning of Lent; Mother’s Day is next, and Father’s Day is near the bottom.

The lowest share of searches occur on the week of Thanksgiving in November each year, and the summer months have consistently low levels of interest in web searches for “church.” Sociologists also have previously reported low levels of church attendance during the summer months. Laurence Iannaccone and Sean Everton analyzed weekly attendance records from churches and argued that people are less likely to attend church when the weather outside is just right in a journal article titled “Never on Sunny Days.”

The Precepts of the Church – Catechism of the Catholic Church

Before going further, it is important to note what the Catechism of the Catholic Church tells us about Catholic Mass attendance.

The first precept (“You shall attend Mass on Sundays and holy days of obligation and rest from servile labor”) requires the faithful to sanctify the day commemorating the Resurrection of the Lord as well as the principal liturgical feasts honoring the Mysteries of the Lord, the Blessed Virgin Mary, and the saints; in the first place, by participating in the Eucharistic celebration, in which the Christian community is gathered, and by resting from those works and activities which could impede such a sanctification of these days.

The second precept (“You shall confess your sins at least once a year”) ensures preparation for the Eucharist by the reception of the sacrament of reconciliation, which continues Baptism’s work of conversion and forgiveness.

The third precept (“You shall receive the sacrament of the Eucharist at least during the Easter season”) guarantees as a minimum the reception of the Lord’s Body and Blood in connection with the Paschal feasts, the origin and center of the Christian liturgy. (CCC 2042)

The precept of the Church specifies the law of the Lord more precisely: “On Sundays and other holy days of obligation the faithful are bound to participate in the Mass.” “The precept of participating in the Mass is satisfied by assistance at a Mass which is celebrated anywhere in a Catholic rite either on the holy day or on the evening of the preceding day.”

The Sunday Eucharist is the foundation and confirmation of all Christian practice. For this reason the faithful are obliged to participate in the Eucharist on days of obligation, unless excused for a serious reason (for example, illness, the care of infants) or dispensed by their own pastor. Those who deliberately fail in this obligation commit a grave sin. (CCC. 2180 and 2181)

The Code of Canon Law, the legal code of Christ’s Church, states:

On Sundays and other holy days of obligation, the faithful are obliged to assist at Mass. They are also to abstain from such work or business that would inhibit the worship to be given to God, the joy proper to the Lord’s Day, or the due relaxation of mind and body.

The obligation of assisting at Mass is satisfied wherever Mass is celebrated in a Catholic rite either on a holy day itself or on the evening of the previous day. (Can 1247, 1248)

Both the code of Canon Law and the Catechism clearly state the obligation. There was some general teaching prior to Vatican II that one had to be present for the offertory through reception of Holy Communion to fulfill the obligation. However this is not a part of the canon and the faithful are to participate in the complete Mass in order to fulfill the Sunday obligation.

Praying for strength for you & I, when we least feel like going to Mass. It happens. Offer it up, as we work out our salvation in fear and trembling. (Phil 2:12)

Love,
Matthew

Dec 31 – St Catherine Laboure’, DC, (1806-1876), Marian visionary, “Catechism in your pocket”

Catherine Laboure icon
Catherine Laboure icon

I remember, as a teenager, our local parish in Stone Harbor, NJ, St Paul’s, would always host a Miraculous Medal Mission in the Summer months. The town was packed with vacationers seeking the pleasures of the beach and sun and sea, and a quaint little, quiet town on the Jersey shore. The crowd was never standing room only but certainly more than would have been there in the Winter!! Just right. Just right. For quiet, for reflection, in the languid months of Summer, to reflect on the Blessed Mother, and her “fiat/yes”. “Ecce Ancilla Domini, fiat mihi secundum verbum tuum…I am the handmaid of the Lord. Let it be done unto me according to thy word.”

Zoe’ Laboure’ was born in the Burgundy region of France to Pierre Labouré, a farmer, and Louise Madeleine Gontard, the ninth of 11 living children. Catherine’s mother died on October 9, 1815, when Zoe’ was just nine years old. It is said that after her mother’s funeral, Catherine picked up a statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary and kissed it saying, “Now you will be my mother.”

She was extremely devout, of a somewhat romantic nature, given to visions and intuitive insights. As a young woman, she became a member of the nursing order founded by Saint Vincent de Paul. She chose the Daughters of Charity after a dream about St. Vincent De Paul. She took the religious name Catherine.

In April 1830, the remains of St. Vincent de Paul were translated to the Vincentian church in Paris. The solemnities included a novena. On three successive evenings, upon returning from the church to the Rue du Bac, Catherine reportedly experienced in the convent chapel, a vision of what she took to be the heart of St. Vincent above a shrine containing a relic of bone from his right arm. Each time the heart appeared a different color, white, red, and crimson. She interpreted this to mean that the Vincentian communities would prosper, and that there would be a change of government. The convent chaplain advised her to forget the matter.

Catherine stated that on July 19, 1830, the eve of the feast of St. Vincent, she woke up after hearing the voice of a child calling her to the chapel, where she heard the Virgin Mary say to her, “God wishes to charge you with a mission. You will be contradicted, but do not fear; you will have the grace to do what is necessary. Tell your spiritual director all that passes within you. Times are evil in France and in the world.”

On November 27, 1830, Catherine reported that the Blessed Mother returned to her during evening meditations. She displayed herself inside an oval frame, standing upon a globe, rays of light came out of her hands in the direction of a globe. Around the margin of the frame appeared the words “O Mary, conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee.” As Catherine watched, the frame seemed to rotate, showing a circle of twelve stars, a large letter M surmounted by a cross, and the stylized Sacred Heart of Jesus and Immaculate Heart of Mary underneath. Asked why some of the rays of light did not reach the Earth, Mary reportedly replied “Those are the graces for which people forget to ask.” Catherine then heard Mary ask her to take these images to her father confessor, telling him that they should be put on medallions. “All who wear them will receive great graces.”

Catherine did so, and after two years’ worth of investigation and observation of Catherine’s normal daily behavior, the priest took the information to his archbishop without revealing Catherine’s identity. The request was approved and the design of the medallions was commissioned through French goldsmith Adrien Vachette. They proved to be exceedingly popular. The dogma of the Immaculate Conception had not yet been officially promulgated, but the medal with its “conceived without sin” slogan was influential in popular approval of the idea. Pope John Paul II used a slight variation of the reverse image as his coat of arms, a plain cross with an M in the lower right quadrant of the shield.

Sister Catherine spent the next forty years caring for the aged and infirm. For this she is called the patroness of seniors. She died on December 31, 1876 at the age of seventy. Her body is encased in glass beneath the side altar at 140 Rue du Bac, Paris.

laboure_tomb

Catherine Labouré’s cause for sainthood was declared upon discovering her body was incorrupt, which currently lies in the Chapel of Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal. She was beatified on May 28, 1933 by Pope Pius XI and canonized on July 27, 1947 by Pope Pius XII.

Her feast day is observed on November 28 according to the liturgical calendar of the Congregation of the Mission, the Daughters of Charity of Saint Vincent de Paul and the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Paris. She is listed in the Martyrologium Romanum for December 31.

bro-ignatius-weiss-o-p-160x160
-by Br Ignatius Weiss, OP

““The Blessed Virgin is waiting for you,” the child whispered.

St. Catherine Labouré, a novice in the Daughters of Charity, was gently woken from her sleep by a small, luminous child beckoning her to follow him to the chapel. It was nearly midnight.

“The Blessed Virgin is coming; here she is,” the child said as Catherine heard the swishing of silk. There she was, the Mother of God.

This nocturnal journey to the chapel in mid-July would be the first of three apparitions where Our Lady would appear to the young Catherine over the course of 6 months. During the second appearance, the Blessed Virgin asked her to have a medal struck of the image she displayed before her, and she began explaining the meaning of the figures to be portrayed.

“These rays are a symbol of the graces that I pour out on those who ask them of me.”

This medal was originally known as the Medal of the Immaculate Conception, but it earned its current name for the many miracles and conversions that came to be associated with this sacramental. This token is not Catholic jewelry; it is an occasion for grace and truth.

“All who wear it will receive great graces, especially if they wear it suspended around the neck. Graces will be showered on all who wear it with confidence.”

The Miraculous Medal is a sacramental that uses words and images to increase our devotion to the Immaculate Queen of Heaven, and its symbols can explain the Church’s teachings on the Blessed Virgin. In a way, the Miraculous Medal is an “infographic” designed by heavenly artists.

Here’s an infographic about this Marian devotion.

miraculous-medal-infographic

Love,
Matthew