Category Archives: Christmastide

Dec 26 – St Stephen, Deacon & Martyr – The Armament of Love

1476 — The Demidoff Altarpiece: Saint Stephen — Image by © National Gallery Collection; By kind permission of the Trustees of the National Gallery, London/CORBIS

Acts of the Apostles
6:8 – 7, 2a, 44-59

-from a sermon by Saint Fulgentius of Ruspe, bishop, from the Office of Readings for today, 2nd reading

“Yesterday we celebrated the birth in time of our eternal King. Today we celebrate the triumphant suffering of His soldier. Yesterday our King, clothed in His robe of flesh, left His place in the virgin’s womb and graciously visited the world. Today His soldier leaves the tabernacle of his body and goes triumphantly to heaven.

Our King, despite His exalted majesty, came in humility for our sake; yet He did not come empty-handed. He brought His soldiers a great gift that not only enriched them but also made them unconquerable in battle, for it was the gift of Love, which was to bring men to share in His divinity. He gave of His bounty, yet without any loss to Himself. In a marvelous way He changed into wealth the poverty of His faithful followers while remaining in full possession of His own inexhaustible riches.

And so the Love that brought Christ from heaven to earth raised Stephen from earth to heaven; shown first in the King, it later shone forth in his soldier. Love was Stephen’s weapon by which he gained every battle, and so won the crown signified by His name. His love of God kept him from yielding to the ferocious mob; his love for his neighbor made him pray for those who were stoning him. Love inspired him to reprove those who erred, to make them amend; love led him to pray for those who stoned him, to save them from punishment. Strengthened by the power of His love, he overcame the raging cruelty of Saul and won his persecutor on earth as his companion in heaven. In his holy and tireless love he longed to gain by prayer those whom he could not convert by admonition.

Now at last, Paul rejoices with Stephen, with Stephen he delights in the glory of Christ, with Stephen he exalts, with Stephen he reigns. Stephen went first, slain by the stones thrown by Paul, but Paul followed after, helped by the prayer of Stephen. This, surely, is the true life, my brothers, a life in which Paul feels no shame because of Stephen’s death, and Stephen delights in Paul’s companionship, for love fills them both with joy. It was Stephen’s love that prevailed over the cruelty of the mob, and it was Paul’s love that covered the multitude of his sins; it was love that won for both of them the kingdom of heaven.

Love, indeed, is the source of all good things; it is an impregnable defense, and the way that leads to heaven. He who walks in love can neither go astray nor be afraid: love guides him, protects him, and brings him to his journey’s end.

My brothers, Christ made love the stairway that would enable all Christians to climb to heaven. Hold fast to it, therefore, in all sincerity, give one another practical proof of it, and by your progress in it, make your ascent together.”

Merry Christmas,
Matthew

Dec 28 – Holy Innocents

My novice master, Fr. Ambrose Eckinger, O.P., previously a barber in secular life, who insisted as part of our poverty we learn to cut each other’s hair!, silliest thing I ever was ordered to do, IMHO, and a cliché rotund friar, think jovial cookie jar, an excellent organist, and whose Christian name was previously Joseph, had just returned from Rome prior to accepting the office of novice master for the province of St Joseph.  There he collected “goodies”.  One of the “goodies” he collected were religious medals only to be found in Rome – the good stuff, literally.  Cannot be had/found here, for any price.

Novices and postulants to Catholic religious orders are held in special affection as the youngest, as children would be in a family, and as the future and the potential glory of the Order in the service of God Himself, alone. In some monasteries, the normal order of seniority, aka, order of religion, as in whom entered the order the earliest, not necessarily strictly age, is reversed on the feast, as a kind of humor and lesson in humility for all.

On the Feast of the Holy Innocents 1988, Fr. Ambrose presented to each novice a medal of the Holy Innocents containing a third class relic (LONG, technical explanation, if you are not familiar).  It being very fine, I placed mine on the beautiful, fine, nicest I EVER received, saw, was given, made in France rosary given me by the very young, blonde, most attractive Dominican Sister of Nashville, for whose grade school class I was mascot.

You’re not really Catholic until you’ve got many, high quality, jingly-jangly, coveted religious medals, four to a Pater Noster, as you WORK the beads!, hanging from the rosary you will be buried with, or hope to.  The rosary is held in special esteem by the Order of Preachers.  By legend, given to St Dominic himself by the Blessed Mother, it is the Dominican sword, always worn to the left by the right-handed and vice-versa for easy and immediate withdrawal from the scabbard as a spiritual weapon.  And, oh, what a weapon.  Just ask the Saracens at Lepanto!

We keep that rosary in the safe deposit box along with the wills, jewels, emeralds, diamonds, rubies, krugerrands, (just kidding on the rubies), and other items I require I be buried with including most touching letters of thanks I have received from survivors of clergy sexual abuse.  Proof for Jesus, upon my Resurrection, as if He needed any.  Kelly has express instructions.  God have mercy on our souls.

I believe God and a mother’s love are the two most powerful forces in the Universe.  I witnessed this as a son.  I witness this even more profoundly and have ever more irrefutable proof of said every day.  I stagger back and fall down.  My breath is withdrawn from me.  I tremble, literally, in fear, so powerful is this force.  The very incarnation (small “I”) of God’s love for His people.  I am not being facetious.  Fatherhood has NOTHING analogous.

Mt 2:18

Hymn: Salvete Flores

All Hail! ye infant Martyr flowers,
Cut off in life’s first dawning hours:
As rosebuds snapt in temptest strife,
When Herod sought your Savior’s life.

You, tender flock of lambs, we sing,
First victims slain for Christ your King:
Beside the very altar, gay
With palms and crowns, ye seem to play.

All honor, laud, and glory be,
O Jesu, Virgin-born, to Thee;
All glory, as is ever meet,
To Father and to Paraclete.

Merry Christmas,
Matthew

Baptism of the Lord – St John the Baptist

BaptismOfLord

“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.”

-from a Sermon by Saint Gregory of Nazianzus, bishop

Love,
Matthew

Solemnity of the Epiphany: Why did God become a man?

epiphanyaus

charles_shonk_op
-by Br. Charles Shonk, OP

“Would God have become man if man had never sinned? An odd question, perhaps, but one which St. Thomas [Aquinas, O.P.] takes the trouble to answer with characteristic intellectual humility:

“Such things as spring from God’s will, and are beyond the creature’s due, can be made known to us only through being revealed in Sacred Scripture, in which the Divine Will is manifested to us. Hence, since everywhere in Sacred Scripture the sin of the first man is assigned as the reason of the Incarnation, it is more in accordance with this to say that the work of the Incarnation was ordained by God as a remedy for sin; so that, had sin not existed, the Incarnation would not have been. And yet the power of God is not limited to this; even had sin not existed, God could have become incarnate.”

God’s omnipotence, on the one hand, and the testimony of Scripture, on the other, lead us to believe that, although God could have become incarnate in a sinless world, He would not have done so. Still, we may ask, if He had done so, why would He have done so? St. Thomas does not answer this question directly, but, when considering the Incarnation in a more general way, he does say that it was fitting, not only as a remedy for sin, but also simply as an expression of God’s goodness: “It belongs to the essence of goodness to communicate itself to others… [and] it belongs to the essence of the highest good to communicate itself in the highest manner to the creature.”

It is stupefying, really, to think of God becoming incarnate merely to communicate his goodness to unfallen mankind – even more stupefying, in a certain sense, than God becoming incarnate to redeem us from our sins. It may also seem a rather fruitless piece of speculation. I would suggest, however, that this hypothetical scenario can help us better appreciate at least one aspect of the mystery of Christ’s birth, namely, the humble circumstances in which it occurred.

If Christ had been born into a world without sin, it follows – we might almost say it follows “by definition” – that the whole of creation would have welcomed him as jubilantly as the angels did on Christmas night: “Glory to God in the highest!” There would have been no search for hospitality, no rude feeding-trough for a bed, no flight from murderous Herod. The King of kings would have come into a world that recognized him as such, a world that worshiped and adored His ineffable love and majesty; He would not have silently slipped into a world that had become enemy territory. Indeed, although it is fitting that we now see the stable and the manger through the “rose-colored glasses” of our Savior’s love for us, we must also see them as what they were: the contemptuous rebuff of a sinful and fallen world.

Yet God, by submitting to the indignity of such poverty and obscurity, blesses it. In effect, He tells us that a poor and obscure life is the appropriate, natural, and beneficial condition of mankind after the Fall, the fitting exterior sign of our interior wretchedness, a salutary obstacle to our pride and self-sufficiency. Accordingly, the angels announce tidings of peace, not to the wise and powerful, but to the poor and simple shepherds, because, to the shepherds, who know their own need so well, the coming of God’s kingdom does, in fact, mean peace. Herod, on the other hand, and, with him, all who are persuaded by their power or prosperity that they are not wretched and poor, can only see the coming of God’s kingdom as unsettling, inconvenient, or irrelevant.

We moderns have our own pride and blindness, even if it is less obvious than Herod’s. In this egalitarian, scientific, “information” age, we habitually approach the mysteries of the Faith as so many mere facts, as items to be reviewed in a more or less casual way, analyzed from a critical distance, even evaluated on a strictly evidential basis. We respect, but do not reverence. We are interested, but not ravished. We read, but do not meditate. We experiment, but do not commit. These are signs of a spiritual and moral disease, and, if we would overcome that disease – if we would hear the Christmas Gospel afresh – we must learn from the shepherds, who teach us that the mysteries of God are revealed, not to the proud and the subtle, not to the “well-informed” and sophisticated, but to the humble and to those who suffer, to the innocent and to those who know their own sinfulness, to the teachable, and to those whose hearts are prepared.”

Merry Christmas,
Matthew