Saturday, December 9, 2023
Friday, December 8, 2023
Thursday, December 7, 2023
Saint Ambrose repelling Emperor Theodosius
When in the year 369 Saint Ambrose, the young son of a Roman Senator, was sent by Probus, the Prefect of Italy, to the large province of Liguria Emilia in Italy, the officer said to him, Go and act not as a judge, but as a bishop. Ambrose, though not Christian, had already resisted by his probity the corrupting influence of the Roman youth of his day. In Liguria he showed himself to be clement as directed, and his great erudition also became well known to the inhabitants of the region. In the year 374 he was already governor of the province, at the moment when at Milan, in this same region, a bishop was needed for that great see. Since the heretics in Milan were many and fierce, he went to preserve order during the election of the new prelate. Though he was still only a catechumen, it was the Will of God that the provincial governor be chosen by acclamation. Despite his protestations and his subsequent flight from Milan when they were not accepted, he was found, baptized and consecrated for the archiepiscopal see.
Monday, December 4, 2023
We say that the divine Person of God the Word exists before all things, timelessly and eternally… And we say that it has all things that the Father has since it is consubstantial with him… At the same time, we say that in latter times, without leaving the bosom of the Father, the Word came to dwell in the womb of the holy Virgin…
Thus he was in all things and above all things, and at the same time he was existing in the womb of the holy Mother of God… He was made flesh and took from her the first-fruits of our clay, a body animated by a rational and intellectual soul, so that the very Person of God the Word was accounted to the flesh. [The Incarnate Word] had those properties of the divine nature in which he is one with the Father and the Spirit, and also had those features of human nature in which he is one with his Mother and us… And so we confess that even after the Incarnation he is the one Son of God, and we confess that the same is the Son of Man–one Christ, one Lord, the only–begotten Son and Word of God, Jesus our Lord. And we venerate his to begettings–one from the Father before the ages and one in latter times for our own sake, because it was for the sake of our salvation… We do not proclaim him God alone, stripped of our humanity, nor do we despoil him of his divinity and proclaim him man alone. We proclaim him to be one and the same, at once both God and man, perfect God and perfect man.
SAINT JOHN DAMASCENE The Last of the Greek Fathers of the Church
Sunday, December 3, 2023
Christ comes not once only, but a second time, and far more splendidly. His first coming was part of God's forbearance with us; his second coming will be in the manifest power of God's kingdom. At his first coming he was wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid in a manger; at his second he will be robed in light. In his first coming he endured the cross and rose above its shame; at his second he will come gloriously with an army of angels. We are not content, then, with his first coming but look forward to the second. Of the first we said: “Blessed is he who comes in the Lord’s name”; we shall say it again when we meet the Lord with his angels and adore him.
The savior is not coming a second time to be judged, but to call to his tribunal those who once judged him. His first coming was in mercy, as he persuaded people to follow him; at his second coming, people will be subjected to his rule whether they want to be or not.
Of that twofold coming Malachi prophesied: “Straightway the Lord whom you seek shall come into his temple.” Of the second alone he says: “and the angel of the covenant whom you seek shall also come. Lo, the Almighty Lord is coming, and who shall abide the day of his coming or stand up to his gaze? For he comes like a refiners fire or a fullers lye, and he shall take his seat to refine and cleanse.” Of the two comings Paul, too, speaks to Titus: “the kindness of God the savior has manifested itself to all, teaching us to put aside wickedness and worldly desires and to live modestly, piously, and justly in the present age, while we wait for the blessed object of our hope to appear, the coming of our great God and savior Jesus Christ.” You can see how he speaks of the first coming, for which we give thanks, end of the second, which we await.
Our faith, then, is in him who “ascended to heaven and sits at the Father's right hand. He will come in glory to judge the living and the dead, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”
SAINT CYRIL OF JERUSALEM Catecheses
Saturday, December 2, 2023
One who has found love feeds on Christ every day and at every hour and he becomes immortal thereby. For Jesus said: ‘Whoever eats this bread that I shall give him shall never see death’ (cf. John 6.58). Blessed is he who eats the bread of love that is Jesus. For whoever feeds on love feeds on Christ…as John bears witness saying: ‘God is love’ (I John 4.8). Therefore one who lives in love receives from God the fruit of life. He breathes, even in this world, the air of the resurrection… Love is the kingdom… such is the ‘wine to gladden the heart of man’ (Psalm 104.5). Blessed is he who drinks of this wine…the sick have drunk of it and become strong; the ignorant have drunk of it and become wise.
ISAAC OF NINEVEH Ascetic Treatises, 72
Friday, December 1, 2023
‘The kingdom of God is within you’ (Luke 17.21). From this we learn that by a heart made pure…we see in our own beauty the image of the Godhead… You have in you the ability to see God. He who formed you put in your being an immense power. When God created you he enclosed in you the image of his perfection, as the mark of a seal is impressed on wax. But your straying has obscured God's image… You are like a metal coin: on the whetstone the rust disappears. The coin was dirty, but now it reflects the brightness of the sun and shines in its turn. Like the coin, the inward part of the personality, called the heart by our Master, once rid of the rust that hid its beauty, will rediscover the first likeness and be real… So when people look at themselves they will see in themselves the One they are seeking. And this is the joy that will fill their purified hearts. They are looking at their own translucency and finding the model in the image. When the sun is looked at in a mirror, even without any raising of the eyes to heaven, the sun’s brightness is seen in the mirror exactly as if the sun’s disc itself were being looked at. You cannot contemplate the reality of the light; but if you discover the beauty of the image that was put in you at the beginning, you will obtain within yourself the goal of your desires… The divine image will shine brightly in us in Christ Jesus our Lord, to whom be glory throughout all ages.
GREGORY OF NYSSA Homilies on the Beatitudes, 6
Thursday, November 30, 2023
I only appreciate fully that God is my "highest good" when I learn (in the Son) that I am a "good" to him, affirmed by him; this is what guarantees my being and my freedom. And it is only when I learn that I represent a "good" and a "thou" to God that I can fully trust in the imparted gift of being and freedom and so, affirmed from and by eternity, really affirm myself too.
HANS URS VON BALTHASAR Theo-Drama II: The Dramatis Personae: Man in God, 287
Wednesday, November 29, 2023
There is no question that the spirit, when it begins to be frequently under the influence of the divine light becomes wholly translucent, to the point of itself seeing the fullness of its own light… But Saint Paul clearly teaches that everything which appears to it in bodily shape…comes from the malice of the enemy, when he says that the enemy disguises himself as an angel of light (2 Corinthians 11.14). The ascetic life must not therefore be undertaken with such a hope in mind… It's sole purpose is to come to love God with a sensation in the heart of total certainty, which means ‘with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind’ (Luke 10.27).
DIADOCHUS OF PHOTIKE Gnostic Chapters, 40
Tuesday, November 28, 2023
We are said to drink the blood of Christ not only when we receive it according to the right of the mysteries, but also when we receive his words, in which life dwells, as he said himself: ‘The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life’ (John 6.63).
ORIGEN Homilies on Numbers, 16,9
In truth, before Jesus, Scripture was like water, but since Jesus it has become for us the wine into which Jesus changed the water.
ORIGEN Commentary on St. John’s Gospel, 13,60
Monday, November 27, 2023
It can happen that when we are at prayer some brothers come to see us. Then we have to choose, either to interrupt our prayer or to sadden our brother by refusing to answer him. But love is greater than prayer. Prayer is one virtue amongst others, whereas love contains them all.
JOHN CLIMACUS The Ladder of Divine Ascent, 26th Step 43(52)
Sunday, November 26, 2023
With God there are never halfway measures, and when with loving compassion he descends into the womb of Mary, he takes on our flesh, all of it. God loses himself in love for his own creation. This exquisite loving “lostness” of God is who Jesus is. And in today’s Gospel this compassionate “lostness” of Jesus is given new pitch and poignancy as he identifies himself completely with those who are hungry, thirsty, naked, sick, imprisoned or strangers: “ ‘Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of the least brothers of mine, you did for me.’ ” These words of the Lord were in the first place directed to all those who cared for his first disciples. Nonetheless, in the prayer and pondering of countless generations, Jesus’ words have been amplified, broadened and understood to include any and all “least ones;” who are to be esteemed as sacraments of his presence among us. How many saints and holy founders, and brave missionaries have heard these words of Jesus and put everything else aside to serve him in his least brothers and sisters.
Indeed, God has lost himself into the very fiber of our ordinariness, clothed himself with our wounded, sin-ridden humanity, all of its pain, its sorrow and neediness. He has infused all of it, all of our precarity and desperation, with his very own Self. And so he assures us that we will encounter him in the least the lowest and the last.
I recall the story of a young woman dishing out soup, a sandwich and a generous helping of dessert for a homeless man at a soup kitchen in Providence. She is vibrant and kind and greets him so warmly. The poor old guy is puzzled; accustomed to being avoided and unseen, he is completely baffled by her attention and says, “Wow. You must know me.” He has at last been seen, recognized.
How will I ever learn that I need not, must not avoid those who are in need, no matter how distressing, even repugnant, the poor one I am liable to miss in my world, here in this house, in my prayer, in my heart, in my mirror? Day in day out, all those photographs in the newspaper, always rubble, a little child sobbing, another old woman in a hijab or a babushka sad, displaced, mourning a dear one lost in war, pictures I get tired of looking at but that I must see and allow my heart to be wrenched, my prayer expanded.
We remember dear Saint Francis, realizing one day that he must embrace a leper, the one he had shunned as the most repugnant outcast. Soon after this embrace, Francis will hide in a cave and cry his heart out, grieving over his past sins. In the leper he has come dangerously, wonderfully close to the trauma of bitter self-recognition, the place, the reality to be avoided at all costs has become the scene of encounter, healing and freedom. In the repugnant leper, Francis has embraced his wounded brother, his wounded self, the wounded Christ. Jesus was there, of all places, in his “distressing disguise." It is compassion that leads to this union and intimacy, recognizing God most high who has become God most lowly.
Today’s Gospel scene is often referred to as the scene of Final Judgment; perhaps more than that, it is the scene of final consummation when Christ as King is revealed as All in all, the Axis of all creation, when all divisions are finally abolished, and we understand our co-inherence in Him and in one another. The damnation, the curse Jesus speaks of at the close of today’s Gospel, is perhaps most of all the misery of blindness to his presence, the lack of recognition, which results in a failure of compassion. For all sin is simply blindness or worse, refusal to even look and notice Christ Jesus coming to us disguised in ten thousand places, “lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his” through the features of our own faces. A God who is not in competition with his creation, but so in love with it all that he has lost himself within it.
Far beyond Ezekiel’s wildest dream in today’s First Reading, God Most High has not only come down to shepherd his sheep but has become himself the wounded Lamb. He has taken on the worst we have to offer, clothed forever in the flesh of our sin-ridden nature, and it is there that we can find and truly recognize him. The Lamb of God, pierced, forever full of holes, those marks of his love, disguised forever as one of his own wounded sheep. Beyond our imagining, well beyond Ezekiel’s vision, beyond imagination, Jesus enfleshes the self-forgetful love that God is in Trinity. Jesus only exists within the reality of this self-forgetfulness of God. And this, above all, is what God has done for us in Christ, what he is doing for us even now- incessantly giving himself away to us.
And so once again this morning we are invited into the understated amplitude of Christ’s Kingship. We may name him King and Messiah, only if we remember that he has redefined the concept - through his nonviolence, his welcome of sinners and outsiders and above all by his free acceptance of persecution and death. Where is Christ as King is finally enthroned? On the hard wood of the cross, humiliated, mocked, bleeding out, wearing the only crown we ever gave him, one made of thorns. There he shows us how far God will go to prove his love.
King is a title Jesus most often avoided. Still king is a title we need, especially today, when leaders routinely “lie without restraint, tread human rights under foot and rely on violence to get their way.” Celebrating Christ Jesus as our King, we expose all of that, its falsehood and offensiveness. Jesus our wounded King, the Lord of compassion goes before us; he leads by falling down, being spat upon, shoved and tortured. Not to teach us how to be doormats but showing us how to absorb hurt because God is beside us, within us, showing us the path to life and fullness of joy.
In humble disguise, Christ Jesus comes to us, truly present in the afflicted and the needy, but ever and always worshipped and consumed only in the Blessed Sacrament we are about to share. A “sacramental realism” impels us in both directions. For if I have not noticed him in the refectory or passing in the cloister, or when I went to the dentist there in the waiting room; if I haven’t noticed him in the check-out line at the Big Y when on a brief shopping errand, I have little chance of recognizing him in a small morsel of broken Bread or a sip of Wine from the chalice. “When did we see you?” We are desperately hungry for this Holy Communion so that our blindness may be healed, and we may see him.
Only true love for Christ our King can sustain us in lives that are too often hard, obscure and laborious. Only the love of Christ Jesus our King keeps and guards us within these walls. Nothing else- no one else- is worth our whole selves, all we have to give.
For all that I have held back for myself in selfishness and fear, please join me in begging his forgiveness, as we prepare to celebrate these most sacred Mysteries.