Category Archives: December

Dec 7 – Called to be a contradiction

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-by Br Albert Thomas Dempsey, OP

“Today, the Church celebrates the feast of one of her great doctors, St. Ambrose of Milan, who offers us a model of public Christian witness.

In 374 A.D, against his own wishes, St. Ambrose became archbishop of Milan, a city riven by the Arian heresy and at that time the residence of one of the Roman co-emperors. He quickly embraced an ascetical life, gave to the poor, and reformed the liturgy of his diocese. Enduring many hardships (including, according to the Golden Legend of Bl. James of Voraigne, O.P., an assassination attempt ordered by the Western empress herself), he strove to convert the heretics of his diocese back to belief in the divinity of Christ, soon establishing a reputation as an eloquent speaker and a prolific author on Christian doctrine. In fact, his intelligent exposition of the Christian faith played an instrumental role in the conversion of St. Augustine, whom St. Ambrose baptized in 387 A.D.

St. Ambrose’s life and writings remain a stirring example of the apostolic life, one combining prayer with tireless effort for the salvation of souls. Preacher and scholar, liturgical reformer and defender of the poor, refuter of error and loving shepherd of wayward Christians: the holy archbishop of Milan showed the compatibility of roles too often assumed to be mutually exclusive in our present age.

Since we live at a time in which civil authorities are often at odds with Church teachings, perhaps St. Ambrose is most exemplary as a champion of Christianity in the face of civil excesses. As a prominent churchman and archbishop of an imperial capital, the saint often interacted with the potentates of his day. On three occasions, St. Ambrose, himself a former magistrate, championed the liberty of the faith in the face of imperial encroachment. In 385 A.D., he refused to allow Valentinian II to quarter Arian soldiers in a basilica. In 388 A.D., when a certain bishop expressed his opinion in a way that angered the emperor Theodosius, Ambrose challenged Theodosius’ punishment that the bishop use Church funds to rebuild a house of worship for unbelievers. Most famously, St. Ambrose excommunicated Theodosius for ordering the massacre of 7,000 civilians in the city of Thessalonica. According to St. Augustine, the emperor responded to his chastisement with humility and did penance for his sins; St. Ambrose himself spoke movingly at the emperor’s funeral of the emperor’s contrition for his sin and fortitude in offering public penance. This of course is the salubrious purpose of ecclesiastical censures: to prevent the sinner from inducing others to sin and to encourage him to repent.

Since ours is a time when civil authorities increasingly countenance — and even engage in — immoral activities, St. Ambrose’s courageous actions show us that Christians cannot remain silent. All too often, Americans believe that the separation of Church and State necessitates the exclusion of religious belief from the public sphere. However, St. Ambrose anticipated many of these concerns in a letter pleading with Theodosius not to force the Church to rebuild a non-Christian house of worship: “But it is neither the part of an Emperor to deny liberty of speech, nor of a Bishop not to utter what he thinks.” He continues:

‘For there is this difference between good and bad rulers, that the good love freedom, the bad slavery. And there is nothing in a Bishop so offensive in God’s sight, or so base before men, as not freely to declare his opinions… I prefer then, to have fellowship with your Majesty in good rather than in evil; and therefore the silence of a Bishop ought to be displeasing to your Clemency, and his freedom pleasing. For you will be implicated in the danger of my silence, you will share in the benefits of my outspokenness. I am not then an officious meddler in matters beyond my province, an intruder in the concerns of others, but I comply with my duty, I obey the commandment of our God. This I do chiefly from love and regard to you, and from a wish to preserve your well-being. But if I am not believed, or am forbidden to act on this motive, then in truth I speak from fear of offending God. (Ambrose, Epist. XL.2-3, trans. H. Walford, 1881)’

By faith, Catholics believe that certain actions, such as murder and perjury, are objectively evil, regardless of whether or not the person performing them is a Christian. In such cases, it is, in fact, a work of mercy to rebuke the sinner. Moreover, the Church’s mission is to save all mankind, Catholics and non-Catholics, clergy and rulers, by leading them to accept the deposit of faith entrusted to her. For this reason, and on account of the superiority of the spiritual to the temporal, Pope Boniface VIII wrote in his bull Unam Sanctam, “It belongs to the spiritual power … to pass judgment [on the earthly power] if it has not been good.”

As Christians, we are called to be signs of contradiction. At times, this can mean speaking against the decisions of civil authorities, not seditiously, but for the salvation of all concerned. Doing so, however, in no way diminishes the dignity of Church or State by confusing what ought to remain separate; rather, it affirms the universal scope of the Christian faith and the integrity of all aspects of Christian living, spiritual and political. Let us pray then, through the intercession of St. Ambrose, to be faithful citizens.

Love, and a hopeful witness for the Lord,
Matthew

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

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-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

Dark Night of the Soul

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DNOTS:  What is the “Dark Night of the Soul”?

“The concept of the “Dark Night of the Soul” comes from the writings of St. John of the Cross. It refers to the purification of the sensual and spiritual appetites through which one becomes more open to God.

John writes of it in his famous poem The Dark Night as well as in a lengthy prose commentary. He speaks of the dark night of the senses and of the spirit, but he does not want the reader to associate these with depression (or as he calls it, melancholy). He thinks of the night as it gently comes on at dusk, as it becomes darker in its middle hours, and how this night then slowly gives way to the dawn.

What, in particular, does John mean by the “dark night”? John’s desire is to help people come to a profound experience of the reality of God through love. To do this, John teaches that we must pass through a purification of our sensual and spiritual appetites to become open to God alone in love. As he writes, a bird can be kept from flight by a thread or an anchor chain. If we wish to come close to God, we need to break those bonds. In John’s Sayings of Light and Love, he describes the Particular Judgement, saying “at the evening of life, we shall be judged on our love” (p. 64).

St. Paul says, “If you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body you will live” (Rom. 8:13). According to St. John of the Cross, however, purification of the senses is not sufficient; a purification of the spirit is also necessary. We need to let go of our desire for satisfying spiritual experiences, as well as our cozy ideas of what God is like. This purification is a purification of faith. John understands faith to be obscure in the sense that anything we believe about God is always inadequate. We must come to a state in the life of prayer where our ideas, concepts, and formulas are emptied out and erased, not for the sake of emptiness, but to be filled with the power of God, which John calls the “living flame of love.”

Readers of The Dark Night can easily see that John uses a rather forbidding vocabulary, with words such as “nothingness,” and “annihilation” or spiritual “nakedness” and “forgetfulness.” What is often overlooked, though, is that, for John, nothingness brings with it plenitude; nakedness, new garments; and forgetfulness, an awakening. When John speaks of the night, he has in mind both the darkness and the immensity of its giving way to the dawn.

For the person of prayer, St. John’s doctrine is consoling. At the dark moment when we feel spiritually dry or when our faith is tested to the point where God may seem absent, God may be drawing us closer to Him. Jesus Himself was probably never closer to the Father in His humanity as when He cried out “My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?” (Mt. 27:46).

It may be necessary for us to give up warm and fuzzy religious feelings, or have them taken from us by God so we can draw closer to Him. The Dark Night, together with his other book, the Ascent of Mount Carmel, were so valuable in teaching Catholic spirituality that St. John of the Cross was eventually declared a doctor of the Church.”

Love,
Matthew

Dec 14 – St John of the Cross, “The Darkness of Unknowing”

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-by Br Brent Bowen, OP

In darkness and secure
By the secret ladder, disguised,
– Ah, the sheer grace! –
In darkness and concealment,
my house being now all stilled;

We know a lot about God, both through the natural faculty of reason that God gifts to humanity, and through Divine Revelation. However there is a vast difference between knowing about God, and knowing God. The content of theology allows us to know more about God, but all of this knowledge is pointless unless it leads us into deeper intimate communion with the One Who Himself is knowledge.
Saint John of the Cross, vis-à-vis Aristotle, offers us advice in this endeavor:

Let it be recalled that according to a philosophical axiom all means must be proportionate to their end. That is, they must manifest a certain accord with and likeness to the end so that through them the desired end may be attained. For example: those who want to reach a city must necessarily take the road, the means, that leads to the city (Ascent of Mount Carmel, Bk 2, #2).

How can I come to know a God who, in many ways, is so unlike me? Is there a means through which I can truly know God? Saint John seems to answer these questions:

It is noteworthy that among all creatures both superior and inferior, none bears a likeness to God’s being or unites proximately with Him […] Consequently, intellectual comprehension of God through heavenly or earthly creatures is impossible; there is no proportion of likeness (Ascent, Bk 2, #3).

Thus, we can know a lot about God through our study of theology, but we will never exhaust the fullness of God’s being through our study of God. Likewise in the spiritual life we eventually come to the realization that our yearning for God’s presence is never going to be satisfied through any natural means. When we reach this point we certainly should not abandon our quest for union with God, but we need to change tactics. Instead of trying to use our intellectual faculties as the primary means toward union, we must humbly submit to God’s action in prayer.  The mystical tradition often refers to this submission as “darkness.” By entering into the darkness of unknowing, we dispose ourselves to freely receiving God’s presence:

In order to draw nearer the divine ray the intellect must advance by unknowing rather than by the desire to know, and by blinding itself and remaining in darkness rather than by opening its eyes (Ascent, Bk 2, #5).

Although it can be scary, and one can feel downright alone in the darkness, we must cling to our faith and allow ourselves to be purified by the One Who is Light Itself. Occasionally we may see brief glimpses of this light, and these give us the strength and hope to continue trudging along the dark way. The good news is: the darkness does not last forever – it is only a preparation for something infinitely greater! Enter into the darkness! You will not regret it!”

With Saint Teresa of Avila, St. John of the Cross was called to the exceedingly difficult task to reform a decadent, declining and worldly state of affairs in the Religious life—specifically the Carmelite Order. Neither the men nor the women took a liking to someone rocking their comfortable boat of complacency! God chose these two saints to disrupt their comfortable status quo!

The anger which led to fury leveled against Saint John of the Cross was so intense that violent persecutions descended upon the saint like an unending tempest! John was kidnapped, locked in a small cell in a Carmelite convent. He was scourged, deprived of saying Holy Mass, barely given enough food to eat so as to survive, nor even a bath to take for hygiene purposes. Through Our Lady’s intercession St John escaped.

After all of this unjust abuse both verbal, physical, mental and spiritual, the great mystical doctor of the Church Saint John of the Cross, never uttered an unkind word against any of those who plotted and carried out against his person such unjust and uncharitable actions!

At the end of his life he was asked where he would like to end his days— in a convent where he would be loved and appreciated to end his days or in the convent of a Superior that detested him. St John of the Cross preferred the latter so as to conform his life more and more to the passion, suffering and humiliations of his Lord and Master Jesus Christ.

In conclusion Principle and Foundation teaches us who God is, where we come from, where we are heading and how to get there. An essential component of Principle and Foundation is “Ignatian Holy Indifference”. A key means to attaining Holy Indifference is a constant and dynamic prayer life, which leads to a total confidence in God, which is translated and manifested in a total willingness to give one’s whole self to God as a sacrifice, offering and oblation.

Love,
Matthew

Dec 25 – The Incarnation & The Theological Virtues

Theological-Virtues

Founding Mothers & Fathers of the United States were trained in Virtues, literally, as children.  It was foundational to their education.  See books by Bill Bennett.  The Virtues led and formed the framework in their alphabetical training, reading, and writing.  It does not bode well, this practice & these virtues have fallen out of practice/ fashion in their creation, imho.

In Christian philosophy, theological virtues are the character qualities associated with salvation. The three theological virtues are:

  • Faith – steadfastness in belief.
  • Hope – expectation of and desire of receiving; refraining from despair and capability of not giving up.
  • Love – selfless, unconditional, and voluntary loving-kindness such as helping one’s neighbors.

They occur in the Bible at 1 Corinthians 13:13.

In Catholic theology, it is held that these virtues differ from the Cardinal Virtues in that they can not be obtained by human effort. A person can only receive them by their being “infused”—through Divine grace—into the person.

The theological virtues are so named because the object of these virtues is the divine being (theos). Other virtues have vice at their extremes, and are only virtues when they are maintained between these extremes. In the case of the Theological Virtues, they do not contribute to vice at the positive extreme; that is, there is no vice in having an unlimited amount of faith, hope, or love, when God is the object of that virtue.  (Ed. There is no such thing as “too much of a good thing” with the Theological Virtues, as their ultimate aim is God, Himself.)

More than one vice can be the opposite of each theological virtue:

  • Lack of faith may give place to incredulity (as in atheism and agnosticism), blasphemy or apostasy.
  • Lack of hope may give place to despair or cynicism.
  • Lack of love may give place to hatred, wrath or indifference.

Symbolism:

Theological Virtues are often depicted in art as young women. The symbols most often associated with them are:

Faith – cross, pointing upward, staff and chalice, lamp, candle
Hope – anchor, harp, flaming brand, palm
Charity – flaming heart, with children, gathering fruit

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-by Br John Sica, OP

St. Thomas Aquinas explains the fittingness of the Incarnation in several reasons, including how it raises our minds and hearts to an increase in faith, hope, and charity. Here I highlight a few of these reasons with respect to the Nativity of Christ and its manifestation.

1. Faith.

Faith, as St. Thomas defines it, is the habit of the mind whereby eternal life is begun in us, making the will assent to what is non-apparent. Faith rests in God as First Truth Speaking. St. Thomas says that faith “is made more certain by believing God Himself Who speaks.” In Jesus Christ, we literally hear God’s own words, from His own mouth. St. Augustine says that, “In order that man might journey more trustfully toward the truth, the Truth itself, the Son of God, having assumed human nature, established and founded faith.”

But note that Jesus became an object of faith before He began His public ministry. Indeed, Simeon takes the child Jesus in his arms and proclaims Him “a light for revelation to the Gentiles” (Lk 2:32). St. Thomas says that “the Magi were the ‘first-fruits of the Gentiles,’ who were to believe in Christ.” Simeon’s prophecy was already fulfilled in the Magi, who sought Him in response to the sign of the star and who did Him homage.

2. Hope.

Consider what hope is. The theological virtue of hope relies firmly on God for what is necessary for eternal life. In hope, our human will clings to the goodness of God for us. Augustine says, “Nothing was so necessary for raising our hope as to show us how deeply God loved us. And what could afford us a stronger proof of this than that the Son of God should become a partner with us of human nature?” Why should the Incarnation correspond to hope, as St. Augustine suggests? In hope, we formally depend on God’s merciful omnipotence: that He is omnipotent shows us that He can save us, and that He is merciful—as shown by the Incarnation—shows us that He wants to.

In the Incarnation, God pulls out all the stops. One Dominican commentator has noted that “no greater way is intelligible by which God could communicate Himself to the creature” than by uniting human nature to His Person. Seeing the Christ child in the manger, we know that God took the most extreme means to save us from sin, and we have confidence that He will continue to offer us the means to be rescued from our sin and given sanctifying grace.

3. Love.

While hope clings to God as good for us, charity clings to God as good in Himself. The divine goodness is what primarily motivates us to charity. But secondarily, St. Thomas explains, it is aimed at “other reasons that inspire us with love for Him, or which make it our duty to love Him,” and these “are secondary and result from the first.” The Incarnation is the greatest of these secondary reasons. The history of Christ’s Nativity and infancy counts powerfully towards this. Seeing that Christ became a weak and helpless infant becomes, for us, a motive to love in return. As Augustine said, “If we have been slow to love, at least let us hasten to love in return.”

Love breaks forth in acts of joy and peace. We experience joy in the possession of the good and peace when we are at concord, even within ourselves. At the Nativity the angels announce good news of a “great joy” (Lk 2:10), and their hymn of praise wishes “peace” among men of good will (Lk 2:14). All of this is because the Savior is born in the city of David, whose Nativity incites us to the acts and effects of love.”

Love,
Matthew

Dec 26 – Jesus, welcome to our nightmare!!! Exactly.

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-Andrei Rublev, Nativity, 15th century (please click on the image for greater detail)

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-by Br Luke Hoyt, OP

“St. Stephen’s memorial is always the day after Christmas. But somehow, it always surprises me. We’ve only just arrived at the cozy stable with the little baby under the shining stars, and now we have to commemorate the Church’s first martyr, a guy who was stoned to death?

Sometimes I feel a similar surprise when I see traditional iconographic depictions of the Nativity. I mean, I know that “Away in the Manger” is a little saccharine. But some of these icon Nativity scenes make it look like Jesus was born in a haunted graveyard. In his swaddling clothes, Jesus looks like a little mummy child. Not only is Mary not holding her baby – she’s not even looking at him. Instead of a stable with a dusting of snow on the roof, they’re in a cave – a cave which looks like some rent in the earth which reveals the realm of Hades. And where is Joseph? He’s huddled in a corner with a serious expression on his face, being addressed by some creepy old guy – who happens to be the devil.

After the kinds of Nativity scenes that many of us are used to, this is like a Christmas-themed nightmare.

The question arises, then: what is the Church’s Tradition saying to us in all of this, in its artistic tradition and its liturgical calendar?

It’s saying that Christmas is not a holiday for the content of the world.

Jesus was not born in a secret oasis, removed from the world’s darkness and pain. He was born in that battleground which is our earthly existence, in this world which is indeed something of a haunted graveyard.

We sometimes suppose that the holidays (and perhaps especially Christmas) are events which only happy people with lots of friends and family are entitled to enjoy. And maybe that is the case with some holidays. But it’s not the case with Christmas.

Christmas is a holiday for the broken of the world. It is a holiday for those who feel the darkness and loneliness of the cave; for those who experience, with St. Joseph, the temptations of the Evil One, struggling to maintain faith in the Christian mystery; for those who, like Jesus in his swaddling burial clothes, feel the weight of their feeble mortality; for those who, like St. Stephen, experience the hatred of the world.

Each Christmas, to all the broken and lonely people in the world, Jesus says: this one’s for you.”

Mt 11:5-6

Paolo_Uccello_-_Stoning_of_St_Stephen_-_WGA23196

-Paolo Uccello, 1435 (please click on the image for greater detail)

St Stephen Martyr, Protomartyr of Jesus Christ, pray for us sinners!

Love & Merry Christmas,
Matthew

Dec 24 – Protestant Existential Angst with Christmas

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-Santa Calvin, by the author

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-by Br Bonaventure Chapman, OP (prior to joining the Order, Br Bonaventure received an M.Th. in Applied Theology from Wycliffe Hall, Oxford University, where he studied for the Anglican priesthood.)

“Tomorrow is the day that every child (young and old!) has been waiting for: Christmas. We keep vigil on this Eve of the Nativity and anxiously await the celebration of Christ’s first coming in humility, with anticipation for his second coming in glory. Who would deny such a celebration to the Church? Surprisingly, some bearing the name Christian!

When in 1519 Huldrych Zwingli took to his pulpit in the newly Reformed city of Zurich, he did not follow the custom of preaching from the lectionary but began with Matthew’s Gospel and preached through the whole book, in what became known as lectio continua.

Holy days and feasts were ignored in this Scripture-centered form of worship. The most famous Reformer, John Calvin, largely followed Zwingli’s tradition: the city of Geneva had stopped celebrating holy days outside of Sunday. Even Christmas was not to be commemorated in any special way. On Christmas Day 1550, Calvin welcomed a larger than usual church crowd with the following:

“Now I see here today more people than I am accustomed to having at the sermon. Why is that? It is Christmas Day. And who told you this? You poor beasts. That is a fitting euphemism for all of you who have come here today to honor Noel.”

The Puritans in England under Oliver Cromwell would go even further: in 1647 the English Parliament officially abolished celebrating Christmas. The Puritans of New England largely followed suit. In Massachusetts a fine was even imposed on those caught celebrating in secret!

Why this Christmas animus? The Westminster Confession of Faith offers a Protestant principle cited for such a suppression:

“The acceptable way of worshiping the true God is instituted by himself, and so limited by his own revealed will, that he may not be worshiped according to the imaginations and devices of men, or the suggestions of Satan, under any visible representation, or any other way not prescribed in the Holy Scripture. (WCF XI.1)”

Christmas Day, December 25th, is not in the Scriptures; therefore, it is not to be celebrated – the simplicity of sola scriptura strikes again!

Happily the majority of modern Protestant churches do not follow their fathers in faith, even if the denial of Christmas liturgy does follow this Protestant principle quite naturally and straightforwardly. Yet, as with many Protestant beliefs, sometimes simplicity is simply too simple for reality. (Ed. It is generally known, the intelligentsia of Europe did not defect during the Reformation.)

Take, for instance, the Protestant detestation of any notion of mediation between God and man in the sacraments of the Church. The Protestant claim of immediacy between God and man sounds simpler, but what of this mortal flesh and physical world we find ourselves surrounded by: all a dream, a vision, an unreality? What of the Incarnation of Jesus, the taking on of this supposedly unseemly medium of creatureliness? It strikes me, at least, that the Catholic teaching on mediation in sacraments, among other things, is exactly and simply right. We are creatures of space and matter. If we are to be met at all, it will be in this space and this matter.

But we are not only creatures of space; we are also creatures of time. St. Augustine, in his famous discourse on time in his Confessions, admits as much: “I confess to you, Lord, that I still do not know what time is, and I further confess to you, Lord, that as I say this I know myself to be conditioned by time” (XI.xxv.32). And this conditioning by time is part of the fabric of the cosmos. As Joseph Ratzinger says in The Spirit of the Liturgy: “Time is a cosmic reality. The orbiting of the sun by the earth… gives existence the rhythm that we call time.” This means, Ratzinger continues, that “man lives with the stars. The course of the sun and the moon leave its mark on his life.”

While the rhythms of time make up creatureliness in general, they especially mark man. We are creatures enveloped by time. We remember the past, perceive the present, and anticipate the future in ways that other animals, let alone plants and stars, can only be represented as doing in fictional and fabulous tales.

For just this reason God seeks to meet us in temporal fashion as the Church celebrates the rhythms of salvation history in time. Seasonal cycles bring about ecclesial and personal remembrances and anticipations of God’s mighty deeds. We, lowly creatures of time, are being educated into God’s time of salvation in preparation for the eternal now of heaven. Worship is about the changing seasons and the developing of God’s story in time and beyond it. As Ratzinger reminds us: “The liturgy is the means by which earthly time is inserted into the time of Jesus Christ and into its present.”

Thus the Church rightly celebrates the Seasons and Holy Days of the Church calendar, and our anticipation on Christmas Eve as children, waiting for the decorated dawn of morning, is taken up in the liturgy in our anticipation of the second coming of Christ. We, creatures of time, need particular Holy Days and Seasons just as we, creatures of space, need particular sacraments and signs. And thankfully God has given us the gift of liturgical time with its special celebrations – especially Christmas, that liturgical day of remembering when God took on human flesh and dwelt amongst us.

This post started off polemically, but on a day such as this, the Eve of our Savior’s birth, perhaps it is fitting to end on a more irenic note with some words from one of John Calvin’s Christmas Sermons (yes – he did occasionally preach them!):

“Let us note well, then, that the peace which the angels of Paradise preach here carried with it this joy, which the first angel had mentioned, saying ‘I announce to you a great joy,’ that is, the salvation you will have in Jesus Christ. He is called our Peace, and this title declares that we would be entirely alienated from God unless he received us by means of his only Son. Consequently we also have something to boast of when God accepts us as his children, when he gives us freedom to claim him openly as our Father, to come freely to him, and to have our refuge in him.”

Love & Merry Christmas,
Matthew

Dec 17-23: The Great O Antiphons – O Radix Jesse

Harley 1892 f. 31v Tree of Jesse

-Harley 1892 f. 31v Tree of Jesse 

athanasius murphy
-by Br Athanasius Murphy, OP

“O Radix Jesse, qui stas in signum populorum,
super quem continebunt reges os suum,
quem Gentes deprecabuntur:
veni ad liberandum nos, jam noli tardare.

O Root of Jesse, Who stands as the sign for the peoples,
at Whom kings will shut their mouths,
Whom the nations will entreat:
Come now to free us, and do not delay!

The O Antiphons we sing in Advent give many names to Christ: Wisdom, Lord, Key, Dayspring, King, Emmanuel. One name on the humbler side of titles is Root.

Roots are the hidden plant-parts that keep the rest of the organism aloft. They’re the source of life that make growth and nourishment possible. Christ, by his Incarnation, is no different. Fashioned in the womb and born of Mary, Christ makes us grow from the same shoot that sprung from Jesse. Christ, as God and through his humanity, keeps the Church alive. Here are a few things to remember this Advent about Christ’s human life, and how he’s the root and foundation of our lives.

His obedience. To be obedient means that there’s a good and loving Boss in charge Who’s calling the shots, and you’re okay with that. The Eternal Son of God shares everything equally with the Father, but by His becoming man He also became obedient to the Father. Christ gave His whole life to the Father, becoming obedient even to death on a cross. This is why the Father says throughout the gospels, “This is my Son in Whom I am well pleased” (Mk 1:11, Lk 3:22 Mt 17:5). We may have to learn obedience the hard way, but Christ gives us prodigal sons the grace and example to be newly adopted sons that share the Father’s embrace.

His humility. A humble man recognizes what is above him, and what is below him; what raises him up and what brings him down. Christ humbled himself in taking on our humanity to redeem it. We are made humble when we recognize the sin we’ve chosen below us, and are raised up to God by his mercy when we ask for his help. We learn from Christ because He is meek and humble of heart, and He wants us to take on that same light and easy yoke. The Savior of the universe kneels before his disciples to wash their feet. Pray for humility. You may not wash anybody’s feet this Advent, but you may find the clarity and courage to say sorry for that thing you did months ago to your friend, even if he isn’t expecting an apology. Who knows? You may even find yourself wanting to go back to confession before Christmas.

His prayer. When Christ as man prayed He spoke not to a distant God, but to the Father from Whom He as the Son proceeds eternally and loves infinitely. Christ prayed in the depths of His soul about His life and for us. His prayer, like His life, was always directed toward the Father. He begged the Father on our behalf to forgive our sins and keep us away from our misgivings, temptations, annoyances, and anything else that keeps us from the Father’s love. Jesus wants us to pray like He does, and we learn to pray well when we learn to be beggars for God’s grace. Jesus tells us “whatever you ask in My name I will do it” (Jn 14). Take Him up on His word, and pray in the name of Jesus that the person in your life who really needs divine help will get it in the best way God knows how.

His patience. To have real patience is a rare thing. It’s not only enduring serious trials but doing so because your eyes are fixed on a further goal that makes the present pains worth bearing. The greatest goal we can hope for while on earth is heaven. Christ’s gaze in His earthly life never left heaven, not because He lacked or needed it, but because He wants us to have by grace the sonship that He has by nature. Christ became man to live a fully human life, but also to die a fully human death, and this took patience. He had patience with sinners, pharisees and puppet kings, and Roman soldiers trained in torture. He did this for us, with His eyes fixed on the Father, so that we could one day behold the Father face to face ourselves.

At the seat of all these virtues is Christ’s love. Jesus loves more than any human heart can ever love, and it’s this love that brought the Son to take on our humanity in the first place. We call Christ the root because He’s the source of any good and any grace we can have. We’re grafted onto the same tree of Jesse that tears us away from death.

O come, Thou Rod of Jesse, free
Thine own from Satan’s tyranny;
From depths of hell Thy people save,
And give them vict’ry o’er the grave.
Rejoice! Rejoice!
Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.”

“There is a flower sprung of a tree,
The root thereof is called Jesse,
A flower of price;
There is none such in paradise.

This flower is fair and fresh of hue;
It fades never, but ever is new;
The blessed branch where this flower grew
Was Mary mild who bore Jesu,
A flower of grace!
Against all sorrow it is solace.

The seed thereof was of God’s sending,
Which God himself sowed with his hand;
In Bethlehem, in that holy land,
Within her bower he there her found.
This blessed flower
Sprang never but in Mary’s bower.

When Gabriel this maiden met,
With “Ave, Maria,” he her gret [greeted]
Between them two this flower was set,
And was kept, no man should wit, [know]
Til on a day
In Bethlehem, it began to spread and spray.

When that flower began to spread,
And his blossom to bud,
Rich and poor of every seed, [i.e. kind]
They marvelled how this flower might spread,
Until kings three
That blessed flower came to see.

Angels there came out of their tower
To look upon this fresh flower,
How fair He was in His color,
And how sweet in His savor,
And to behold
How such a flower might spring amid the cold.

Of lily, of rose on ryse, [branch]
Of primrose, and of fleur-de-lys,
Of all the flowers at my devyse [I can think of],
That flower of Jesse yet bears the prize,
As the best remedy
To ease our sorrows in every part.

I pray you, flowers of this country,
Wherever ye go, wherever ye be,
Hold up the flower of good Jesse,
Above your freshness and your beauty,
As fairest of all,
Which ever was and ever shall be.

-John Audelay’s beautiful fifteenth-century carol ‘There is a floure’.

Love,
Matthew

Doctrine Saves?….Doctrine Saves!

christian doctrine

Basic Christian Doctrine is the study of the revealed word of God. It is Christian Theology regarding the nature of truth, God, Jesus, salvation, damnation, the Trinity, the Holy Spirit, the Gospel, resurrection, and more.

“holding fast the faithful word which is in accordance with the teaching, so that he will be able both to exhort in sound doctrine and to refute those who contradict,” (Titus 1:9).

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-by Br Dominic Mary Verner, OP

“It’s a bold claim. “Doctrine”—the word doesn’t exactly conjure images of heavenly harbors or paradisal sands. It hits the ears about as pleasantly as “doctor exam,” “doctoral dissertation,” or “indoctrination.” If the word had a smell, it would probably be the smell of old-book must—the smell of dead letters on acidic paper playing host to acrid fungal spores (I’d rather not think of its taste). Doctrine divides. The letter kills. How can we say that doctrine saves?

To see the goodness of Christian doctrine, how sweet its sound, it first helps to recall what it was like to be aged about three. Yes, you, dear reader, like me, were once three. And at the time, we had the rather obnoxious habit of asking all who would listen, “Why?” It was the most sensible question for us to ask at the time, because we knew, as if by instinct, that the world had a lot of explaining to do.

This is in part because, truth be told, neither you nor I chose to exist—not at that time, not in that place, not to those parents, not as this type of creature, not in this strange world with its storied history. No one asked us. Then, subito! There we were, thrust into history, tuned into season three of The Human Drama without a clue as to what happened in seasons one or two. What are we doing here? What are we to do? How did it begin? How does it end?

Perhaps our despair of these questions is the reason “doctrine” sounds so dismal. Perhaps we never got satisfying answers. Perhaps the answers seemed too abstract, too impersonal, too frightful or demanding. Perhaps we heard the telling of so many fragmented and conflicting stories that we gave up on ever putting the pieces together. Whatever the reason, somewhere along the line, we grew out of our questions. Doctrine lost its existential spice, its invigorating aroma, its sweet saving sound.

There is hope, of course, to recapture the flavor. Advent is a time when the Author of doctrine sets us up to be awestruck again. In times past, the God who placed us dazed and confused in season three of the cosmos spoke to us through the prophets, but in these later days, he sent us His Son. The Word became flesh, doctrine incarnate:

“In these later days, he spoke to us through a Son, Whom He made heir of all things and through Whom He created the universe, Who is the refulgence of His glory, the very imprint of His being, and Who sustains all things by His mighty word.” (Heb 1:1-2)

By the voice that creates, we learn our origin. By the Word that sustains, we know our way. By the Son that radiates glory, we achieve our destiny. Divine love that creates, redeems, and saves; a glorious company forged in filial obedience, self-denial, and hope; an inspired Church commissioned to pass on the flame of God’s teaching—not exactly acrid book must, that!

Sacred doctrine saves because it is the last speech of the first Son, the living legacy of the God-man born in a manger, destined to conquer death by a death born of love: “I AM the resurrection and the life; whoever believes in Me, even if he dies, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die” (Jn 11:25-26).

His doctrine has the power to change everything—to give hope to the hopeless, to give sight to the blind—and the power, praise God, to save even a wretch like me.” (Ed…& me, too!) 🙂

She's a Christian

Love,
Matthew

Dec 10 – St John Roberts, OSB, (1577-1610), Priest & Martyr

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John was born in Wales in 1577. Although he was not a Catholic, he was taught by an elderly priest. So, as he said later, he was always a Catholic at heart. John went to Oxford University in England for a while. Even though he was a Protestant, his respect for the Catholic Church prevented him from signing the Oath of Supremacy, which denied the authority of the pope. He had to leave Oxford, so he went to Paris, where, it is reported, upon viewing Notre Dame, he converted to Catholicism.

John lost no time after this in taking steps to become a priest. He went to an English college in Spain and became a Benedictine monk. His great dream of going back to England came true three years later. He and another monk were given permission to set out for that land. They knew the dangers they would meet. In fact, they did not have long to wait before trouble began. They entered England wearing plumed hats and swords at their sides. Soon, however, they were arrested for being priests and sent out of the country.

St. John Roberts went back to London again in 1603 to help the thousands of people who fell victim to the plague. He worked day and night to keep the faith alive during a time when Catholics were persecuted mercilessly. Several times he was captured, put in prison, and exiled, yet he always came back. The last time Father John was arrested, he was just finishing Mass and there would be no escape, having been followed by former priest turned spy John Cecil, who had compiled a dossier on the unfortunate Roberts for James I. He was taken to Newgate prison in his vestments.

When asked, he declared he was a priest and a monk. He explained that he had come to England to work for the salvation of the people. “Were I to live longer,” he added, “I would continue to do what I have been doing.” When he refused to sign the Oath of Supremacy, he was condemned to death.

The night before he was to be hanged, a good Spanish lady arranged for him to be brought into the company of eighteen other prisoners. They were also suffering for their faith. During their supper together, St. John was full of joy. Then he thought perhaps he should not show so much happiness. “Do you think I may be giving bad example by my joy?” he asked his hostess. “No, certainly not,” she replied. “You could not do anything better than to let everyone see the cheerful courage you have as you are about to die for Christ.”

On 5 December he was tried and found guilty under the Act forbidding priests to minister in England, and on 10 December was hanged, drawn, and quartered, at the age of thirty-three, along with Thomas Somers, at Tyburn, London.

It was usual for the prisoner to be disembowelled while still alive, but he was very popular among the poor of London because of the kindness he had shown them during the plague and the large crowd which gathered at his execution would not allow this.

They insisted he be hanged to the death so as not to feel the pain. His heart was then held aloft by the executioner who proclaimed: “Behold the heart of the traitor!” But the angry crowd did not provide the standard response of: “Long live the King!” There was deathly silence.

Roman Catholic Bishop Edwin Regan, a currently living Welsh prelate, said: “Although the name St John Roberts, OSB, isn’t as well known today, he is a major figure in our religious history.” He was the first monk to return to Britain following the Protestant Reformation; the hostility between the Catholics and Protestants was at its height at this stage, when a Catholic priest could only expect to live for approximately two years in Britain during that period.”

On 17 July 2010, Metropolitan Seraphim of Glastonbury of the British Orthodox Church, accompanied by Deacon Theodore de Quincey, attended an Ecumenical Service at Westminster Cathedral in celebration of the 400th Anniversary of the Martyrdom of St. John Roberts.

Abba Seraphim noted that as a Londoner he wanted to honor the humanitarian and pastoral ministry of the saint to Londoners; and that all those who are conscious of the problems of exercising Christian ministry in times of persecution would immediately value the saint’s determination as well as realizing the extraordinary sacrifice he made to fulfill his priestly vocation.

Large contingents from Wales were in attendance and the service was bi-lingual. Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams addressed the congregation in both English and Welsh. It was the first time Welsh had been spoken in a ceremony at Westminster Cathedral.

The choral piece, “Beatus Juan de Mervinia” in both Latin and Welsh, was specially commissioned for the service from the Welsh composer Brian Hughes.

Love,
Matthew