Category Archives: Christmastide

Dec 25 – “Timete Deum et date illi honorem quia venit hora iudicii eius”, “Fear God, for the hour of His judgment is coming.” (cf. Apoc. 14.7)


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June 26, 2019, Barneby’s Auction House, London, UK

On 22 June, a painting by Renaissance painter Nicolas Cordonnier, which was discovered in a French apartment, sold for £84,200 – almost ten times its estimate.

The Preaching of St. Vincent, an oil on board painted between 1515-20, was found after it had been collecting dust in an apartment in downtown Pau, a city in southwestern France, for many years. Presented on 22 June at auction house Carrère and Laborie, the work sold to a French collector for €94,000 (£84,200) including fees, against an estimate of €10,000- 15,000 (£9,000-15,200).

More than a success for the auction house, this painting is also a great discovery for art historians. As explained by Old Master’s expert Patrick Dubois at the Gazette Drouot, this work was known only from a photocopy. The art historian and curator of the Louvre from 1929 to 1961, Charles Sterling, had made a photocopy of the work to insert it in the ‘Burgundy-Champagne’ section of the museum’s archives, while another reproduction appeared more recently in the research of specialists Frédéric Elsig and Dominique Thiébaut. The location of the original work remained unknown, until today.

The painting’s artist, Nicolas Cordonnier, known as the ‘Master of the Legend of the Santa Casa’, in reference to his eponymous triptych of 1525-30, now preserved in the museum of Vauluisant in Troyes, was a prominent painter in the Champagne region of France during his time. Coming from a family of artists, his style was influenced by the work of Provencal painter Josse Lieferinxe, whom he discovered in Marseille during a visit to his brother Jean.

“Its owners did not suspect that they held one of the few works of the most important painter from Troyes of the early 16th century” reported the Gazette Drouot. This major period in the history of French painting saw artists embark on the path of the Renaissance.

The work depicts Vincent Ferrer, a Dominican preacher who travelled to France, Italy and Spain to warn the population against the end of the world. His audience was said to be captivated, terrified and seduced by his words, although he spoke only in Spanish and Latin. In Cordonnier’s painting, St. Vincent is preaching from a pulpit to a mixed reaction from the audience. In fact, several men wearing turbans, visible to the left of the composition, show their disapproval.

The painting’s auctioneer Patrice Carrère, who orchestrated the sale, immediately noticed the work when he visited the apartment in Pau. He said of the work, “It is a painting whose patina made me say that it was probably 15th century.”

This discovery will allow historians to deepen their research and knowledge about the Troyes-born artist, who is still somewhat unknown. The difference between the estimate and the final auction price of the work can be explained not only by the rarity of this kind of painting, but also because, according to Carrère, “it is the first time that this artist’s work went to a public auction.”


-by Br Vincent Antony Löning, OP, English Province

“My Dominican patron, S. Vincent Ferrer, especially liked preaching about the end of the world. In the picture above, he is doing precisely that. With his finger he points to the sky: just as Christ has ascended into heaven, so He will also come down from heaven! We even see a little Christ, floating on some clouds, as if ready to come back. And out of his mouth issues S. Vincent’s stark warning: “Fear God, for the hour of his judgment is coming.” (cf. Apoc. 14.7). This is almost a mediaeval comic-strip! This painting by Nicolas Cordonnier dates to the early 16th century, and was rediscovered only as recently as this summer in Pau, in southern France. As apocalyptic prophecies might do, Vincent Ferrer is clearly getting a pretty mixed reaction from his audience… His enthusiasm for this kind of preaching even earned him the nickname ‘the Angel of the Apocalypse’.

Although we might often be tempted to leave to one side such doom-and-gloom warnings, the crux of this message is ever-relevant. Christ wants to save us, and has already come once to do that, and yet He will still come again to usher in His  reign of glory—and our own, if we will follow Him. Before then, it is never too late for us to repent: we all have to recognise that we only ever follow Him imperfectly at best, and cannot even begin doing that without God’s grace. If we do, the promise of judgment becomes a promise of glory. And then, perhaps we can await the last days a little more joyfully and eagerly!”

Love & joy, Come Lord Jesus!  Maranatha!  Come!
Matthew

Dec 25 – Light of the World


-The Light of the World (1851–1853) is an allegorical painting by the English Pre-Raphaelite artist William Holman Hunt (1827–1910) representing the figure of Jesus preparing to knock on an overgrown and long-unopened door, illustrating Revelation 3:20: “Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if any man hear My voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with Me”. According to Hunt: “I painted the picture with what I thought, unworthy though I was, to be by Divine command, and not simply as a good Subject.” The door in the painting has no handle, and can therefore be opened only from the inside, representing “the obstinately shut mind”. Hunt, 50 years after painting it, felt he had to explain the symbolism. Please click on the image for greater detail.


-by Bede Mullins, OP, English Province

“We have heard it said, “Knock, and the door shall be opened unto you”; our prayer is a knocking at the Lord’s door, the thud of our needs and desires (our need and desire, finally, for Him) crying out to Him. But now He says to us, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if any man hear My voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with Me.” He awaits our response; He is left in the cold and dark, Who alone brings us light and warmth. This is the mystery that St John expresses when he says that love means, not the love with which we love God; it is really the love with which He loves us – God’s motion, not our own.

The shaggy, crowned and luminous figure – light and salvation – knocks at the world’s door; “but his own knew him not”. We have heard it said that God shall pass judgment on those who knock at his door too late: “I do not know you,” he shall say to them, and they shall be left in the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Only, now we see, it is not God who abandons them; we may be unfaithful, but he is not unfaithful. “I stand at the door and knock – and you have not answered to me. I was hungry and you gave me no food, thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me.” He came among his own, and his own received him not.

He knocks at the dead wooden door of an unyielding world. (Maybe Dickens was wrong; maybe there is something really dead about a doorknob, when it cannot, will not be turned.) And as He knocks, His eyes gaze out at us. The world’s door, our hearts. He who will come at the end of the ages, to open the doors that were closed and reveal the things that were hidden – He who comes to judge the world with fire: He comes now and every moment to each of us, to see if we will open even a chink to Him the doors to our hearts, wherein He wishes to enter and make His abode. Holman Hunt painted his Christ with an emphatic solidity: this is no mythic figure, no spiritual vapour, he wrote, but “the Christ that is alive for ever more…firmly and substantially there waiting for the stirring of the sleeping soul”.

St Antony went out to the desert, to find Christ in the lairs of demons. Christ comes to our hearts, lairs of vice and demons and perverse desires – those weeds massing up in front of the door as if to block His way – to drive them out and take up His abode there. St Antony purifying his heart in the desert; Christ knocking at the hearts of each of us individually, Who yet is High Priest and King of the world, the Slayer of cosmic demons as well as personal vice. I want to say that we inhabit our interiority or our spirituality externally. Or that Christ inhabits our temporality timelessly.

Either way, the season stretching from Advent to Epiphany is a season of contradictions. We muddles ourselves up with Christ’s several comings: we take on the mourning cast of violet, awaiting a Saviour we know has already come to save us, awaiting judgment from One Who has been our Redeemer. And following Advent we shall have the Christmas paradox: the Almighty and Infinite scaled into the crib. Epiphany caps it all. John the Baptist must baptise the One Who will give Baptism its saving power, miracles begin at Cana, and the wise men have their worldly wisdom upturned.

This Advent confusion is in fact the confusion that the world necessarily inhabits, in the twilight between Christ’s definitive paschal victory, and His manifestation at the world’s end. “The night is far gone, the day is at hand,” says St Paul – very nearly, but not yet here, and we are perplexed. T. S. Eliot gives these words to one of the wise men:

“Birth or death? There was a Birth,
We had evidence and no doubt. I had seen birth and death,
But had thought they were different; this Birth was
Hard and bitter agony for us, like death, our death.
We returned to our places, these Kingdoms,
But no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation,
With an alien people clutching their gods.
I should be glad of another death.””

Love & Light, He comes,
Matthew

Dec 25 – “Wimmelbilder” & Flight into Egypt


-by Pieter Bruegel der Ältere – Landschaft mit der Flucht nach Ägypten, Landscape with the Flight into Egypt, 1563, 37.1 × 55.6 cm (14.6 × 21.9 in), Pieter Bruegel the Elder – The Courtauld Institute of Art, London, UK.  Please click on the image for greater detail.


-by Br Gabriel Theis, OP, English Province

“The motif seems all too familiar, and maybe not related to Advent itself: We see the Holy Family after Jesus’ birth on their flight to Egypt (Mt 2:13–14). Pieter Bruegel the Elder’s depiction of the scene, which I saw in an exhibition in Vienna, is set in an alpine landscape familiar to the artist. Bruegel’s interpretation follows the conventions of his time: While the broad and beautiful landscape captivates our attention, the small protagonists can easily escape our eyes. The naiveté and plainness of this depiction deceives us though: Bruegel’s famous Wimmelbilder or ‘swarm pictures’ require special concentration for their hidden details. This may remind us of our contact with biblical texts or matters of faith in general: While they appear rather simple and straightforward on the surface, we discover more and more depth by reflecting on them time and time again.

In the case of the Flight into Egypt, Bruegel hides some details that stir up the superficial tranquility of the scene and, I think, our approach to Advent as well. One of the trees that the Holy Family has just passed contains an idol falling to the ground: Bruegel thereby hints at an apocryphal story about Jesus’ arrival at an Egyptian temple, where all idols fell to the ground, thus bowing to His Divinity. By coming into our own lives, Jesus necessarily also overthrows all false idols, concepts and expectations – everything that wants to force Him into our little schemes, even if it is just our longing for the wrong kind of peace. Yes, Advent exists to console us – but not with the riches of this world, but with the poor boy in the crib, who “became poor, so that by His poverty you might become rich” (2 Cor 8:9). We find truth not in vain kinds of philosophy (Col 2:8) or cleverly devised myths (2 Pet 1:16), but in Christ alone; and our lives should give testimony of our bowing to His truth that often contradicts our worldly standards.

Another example of this ‘stirring-up’ of our desire for harmony and cosiness is found even closer to the Holy Family: Two lizards symbolise the evil that fights against Christ from the moment of His birth, and which he has to defeat in order to bring harmony and peace. We should understand Advent as a time in which our remembrance of Christ’s arrival in the world encourages us to take up our own fight against all restlessness and wickedness in our lives.

This will not work without an honest effort: And if we look closely, we see Joseph struggling to keep the donkey on his path, as we often fight against our own limitations; we also notice how Our Lady has sunk down on the donkey, obviously exhausted from the tiring journey. We are often tired of personal and professional duties and obligations; and looking at the vast landscape in Bruegel’s painting, we might feel discouraged by the long path that lies ahead.

However, these emotions of emptiness and darkness must not have the final say. We are not alone on our paths: Bruegel hides three other wanderers on the left side of his painting, which pave the way for the Holy Family; and most of us know someone who helps us carry the burden of life, and many of us bear at least a small part of someone else’s load. And of course, we have Christ, who carried all our afflictions when He put the cross on His shoulder; He came into this world to take our burden from us and to give us His own yoke, which is light and easy (Mt 11:30).

In this time of Advent, when we remember and look forward to His coming, let us stand up and raise our heads, because our redemption is drawing near (Lk 21:28).”

Love & safety,
Matthew

Dec 25 – Joseph, Dreams, & Christmas

I have a medical condition which causes me terrible nightmares. Not a guilty conscience or some unresolved issue, my soul is at peace; just a medical condition. I had no idea this being awakened from sleep first three to four, and then five to six times a night by these nightmares had anything to do with an otherwise known condition for which I was being treated. Oh, a year before this began, I read a story about Pope Francis having a sleeping St Joseph on his desk. I fell in love with the devotion immediately, and ordered one; St Joseph, the Protector, silent and attentive.

The idea, although I have never done this, I believe God already knows my cares and concerns better than I do and therefore does not need to be told, but the idea is to write down your cares, concerns, intentions, etc. and place those underneath the sleeping St Joseph and he will attend to them while you sleep. This comes from Scripture, where St Joseph received his revelations from God in his sleep.

With medication and understanding, my condition is much improved, although I still have unpleasant dreams. I have no doubt the nightmares would return if I stopped taking the medicine, but I am more able to sleep through the night, and I am not passing out at 8pm from lack of sleep which I thought was just getting older. I’m much more awake in the evenings, now. Deo gratias.


-“Joseph’s Dream” by Rembrandt 1645 or 1646, oil on mahogany panel, Gemäldegalerie, Berlin, Germany. Please click on the image for greater detail.


-by Br Joseph Bailham, OP, English Province

“The person of St Joseph is not generally the focus of a great deal of attention during this Advent and Christmas period, though admittedly he receives a great deal more attention now in the Mass readings than at any other time of the liturgical year!

There a few paintings around which depict St Joseph dreaming, a trait characteristic of him, but also of the Patriarch Joseph in the Old Testament. Having taken the name Joseph in religion, I have always felt somewhat obliged to embrace the yoke of this particular charism of sleeping and dreaming!

Unlike my dreaming, the dreams of St Joseph in Scripture are far more poignant. In the Gospel of Matthew we have four mentioned: in the first, ‘an angel of the Lord appeared to him… and said, “Joseph, son David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the One conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit;’ the second, when ‘an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream [and said], “Get up!… Take the Child and His mother and flee to Egypt… for Herod is going to search for the Child to kill Him;’ the third, when he is told to go back to the Land of Israel for Herod was now dead; and fourthly, being afraid to go back to the Land of Israel after he learned that the son of Herod, Archelaus, was now reigning in Judea, he was warned in a dream to withdraw to Galilee.

St Joseph is presented as the earthly guardian of Our Lord and Blessed Mother. In the Litany of St Joseph, he is referred to as ‘Head of the Holy Family,’ ‘Chaste Guardian of the Virgin,’ and, ‘Diligent Protector of Christ.’ His headship is intimately bound up with his guardianship of Our Lord and Lady. This is reflected in the dreams that St Joseph has: protecting and guarding Our Lord and Lady are at the heart.

I have a soft spot for St Joseph because he was much like us: he did not have two natures like Our Lord, nor was he immaculately conceived like Our Lady. But he was a just person, a good person, a holy person, all the things we can be if we but cooperate with God’s grace.

Paintings of St Joseph dreaming vary slightly, sometimes with Our Lady and the Christ child in the background, and other times just Our Lady alone (presumably representing the initial dream of taking Mary as his spouse). But when I look at these paintings of St Joseph dreaming, I often let my imagination run a little free and imagine what else he might be contemplating. Maybe he is pondering on the reality of what he has entered or is about to enter into: this rather unusual and wonderful family set-up. Maybe he is contemplating the weight of responsibility on his shoulders, and how he will best live up to his newfound vocation. What I see in these depictions of St Joseph dreaming is his pondering and meditating on the mystery before him, and its implications for his conduct in life. In this regard, I think he is a great model for us, especially in this season of Advent. Maybe like St Joseph, we can stop, close our eyes, and just ponder of the mystery before us, that the Eternal God has visited us; he has taken to himself a human nature and become incarnate as a child, born of a woman, in order to save us from our sins. Like St Joseph, we can ponder on the significance of this event for our own lives and conduct. What does this all ask of us?

We might do well at this holy time of the year to ask St Joseph to pray for us, that we, like him, may be able to protect and safeguard Our Lord and Lady. Of course, we have no need to protect them from historical Herod, but we do need to carve out a place in our hearts for them both, to be that inn with doors wide open. We need to protect their place in our lives from those ‘spiritual Herods’ which seek so often to kill them, to push them both out our view, offering us alternative and apparently easier paths in life, or things which inevitably fall short of what God actually offers us.

Joseph most just, most chaste, most prudent, most strong, most obedient, most faithful, pray for us in this holy season, and help us to ponder on the significance of the Incarnation of your foster Son, Our Lord Jesus, and help us to be, like you, guardians of Our Lord and Lady in our own lives and in the wider world today.”

St Joseph, Guardian of Jesus and Mary, pray for us!

Love,
Matthew

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