Saturday, December 9, 2023

Saint Juan Diego – Visionary of Our Lady of Guadalupe

Saint Juan Diego iwas born around 1474 in Cuauhtitlan, in the Kingdom of Texcoco. His name was originally Cuauhtola-toatzin, which meant "the eagle who speaks.” At the age of 48 he was converted, and at his Baptism by the first Franciscans of his land, he received the name of Juan Diego. 

From that moment on, he lived in a holy manner, always occupied with duties related to the Lord’s service. He went regularly to the Doctrine, and to the religious ceremonies. All the Indians of that time considered him a holy man and called him “the pilgrim”, for they would always see him going alone, on Saturdays and Sundays, to the “Doctrine” of Tlatelolco, an area in Mexico City where the first group of Franciscans resided. There he learned the things of God, taught by those whom Juan Diego called “My beloved priests”. The journey was long and he had to leave very early from the village of Tulpetlac, where he was living at that time, and walk southwards, going around the hill of Tepeyac near Mexico City.

At the time of the Apparitions, Juan Diego was a mature man of some 57 years, recently widowed by the death two years earlier of his wife, Maria Lucia, in 1529. Thus on Saturday, December 9, 1531, while walking around the hill of Tepeyac, he heard beautiful singing, and a sweet voice calling him from its summit: "Juanito, Juan Dieguito." When he reached the hilltop, he met there a beautiful Lady, standing, enveloped with a cloak bright as the sun. She introduced Herself as the Mother of the sole God of all times and peoples, whose will was that a church be built at this site. There, this Mother would be able to offer all her love to every human being. She asked him then to communicate her desire to the bishop, Juan de Zumarraga, native of Castille. His meetings with this bishop were difficult for Juan Digo, for he had to wait long hours in the outer apartments, and at first the bishop did not believe him. When Juan saw the Lady again, he asked her to replace him by a nobler messenger, for he was a man of the fields, a person without any importance. And, in affectionate terms, he added: “My Virgin, my littlest daughter, my Lady, my child, please, dispense me. I will bring sorrow to your face. I will fall into disgrace with you, my Queen and Patron.” The Queen of Heaven answered him with the same familiarity and the same tenderness, calling him: “The littlest of my sons”, but she insisted firmly that he should go and seek out the bishop a second time.

Juan Diego went to the episcopal palace again the next day, and Monsignor, still reticent, asked him for a sign as a proof. The visionary was discouraged, above all because when he returned home he found his uncle sick. The latter, sensing that his end was at hand, asked him to go to Mexico City to obtain a priest who would administer Extreme Unction to him.

On December 12th, then, early in the morning, Juan Diego set out for the Franciscan Convent of Tlatelolco. In order not to delay his arrival, he attempted to avoid the Lady and went around the hill by another route; nonetheless, she came to meet him. Confused, he explained to her his anxiety. She answered him in the most beautiful of words, which penetrated to the depths of his soul: "Listen; and may your heart be reassured, My littlest of sons; may nothing afflict you, for what alarms you is nothing. May your countenance and your heart remain serene. Do not fear this sickness or any other sickness, or any other sorrow. Am I not here, I who am your Mother? Are you not under my shadow and my protection? Am I not the source of your joy? Are you not in the folds of my cloak, enveloped by my arms? Is there something else that you need? And the Mother of God reassured him: "Let nothing afflict or trouble you; let not the sickness of your uncle oppress you with sorrow, for he will not die. Be certain that he already is better.” And indeed, at that precise moment, the Most Holy Mary also appeared to his uncle and restored him to health, as Juan Diego would learn later. And in order that he might present the Bishop with a proof of her message, she commanded him to come up to the summit of the hill where they first had met. She said to him, “There you will find flowers; pick them and make a bouquet, then come down, and bring them here before me.” Obeying with confidence, Juan Diego went up the hill, even though he knew there were never any flowers growing in that stony, arid soil. What was more, it was at that moment the full winter season and the ground was frozen. When he reached the summit, he was seized with astonishment, seeing before him a beautiful garden with many flowers in bloom, covered with dew and diffusing a very sweet perfume. Juan Diego began to cut as many Castillian roses as his tilma (cloak) could contain. And the Blessed Virgin told him to go in that way to the Bishop.

After a long wait he found himself in the Bishop's presence for the third time. He opened his cloak, from which the flowers fell, and on the cloak was the picture of the Holy Virgin Mary as it can still be seen today. The Bishop and his associates were stupefied. He wept and asked pardon for not having fulfilled the will of Heaven at once. Juan Diego then revealed the exact name of the Lady: The perfect Holy Virgin Mary of Guadalupe. Guadalupe in Spain was already the site of a Marian pilgrimage. The entire city was in astonishment. The miraculous way in which the picture had been painted was admired: no man could have done that.

After the Apparitions, Juan Diego received authorization to reside alongside the hermitage where the image was kept. He wanted to be near the sanctuary in order to take care of it every day, above all to clean it, which for the natives is a true honor, since they maintain great deference for holy things. The external grace which accompanied the vision and the miracle was intensified by an interior grace for Juan Diego personally; he prayed, fasted and sought silence. Always at the disposition of any who came to venerate the image, he would continually repeat his story, in such wise that the history of the apparitions spread rapidly, and not only within the confines of Mexico, but throughout all the Americas. The evangelization of the natives afterwards was very rapid, contradicting all expectations, since at first it had scarcely advanced at all. The Indians understood that this affair concerned them also, and that Our Lady loved them. From the first, the inexplicable impression of the image was for the Mexicans a proof of the veracity of the Message.

Juan Diego died in 1548, loved and known by his fellow-citizens. Recent and very advanced scientific analyses of the image have only confirmed its extraordinary character, especially because the fabric of the tilma, which was made from agave leaves, normally has a maximum life of 20 years. But the tilma has remained intact since the apparitions, despite the humidity of this region. In contrast, certain retouches of the image, made over the centuries, have already begun to deteriorate or disappear. When in 1921 a bomb was placed near the image to destroy it, everything around it was fragmented, even the marble steps of the main altar and the glass windows of the surrounding houses. But the tilma with its image remained intact, as well as the glass globe covering it.


Friday, December 8, 2023

Immaculate Conception of Mary

On this day we celebrate the moment when Almighty God, in a vision telescoping the ages, showed Mary both to our first parents and to the demon, as the Virgin Mother of the future Divine Redeemer, the woman destined to crush the proud head of the serpent. This episode is narrated in the first book of Scripture, Genesis chapter 3. We find her again in the last canonical prophecy of the Bible, the Apocalypse or Revelation of Saint John the Apostle, as the Woman clothed with the sun, having on her head a crown of twelve stars. In this beautiful vision she is also identified with the persecuted Apostolic Church, obliged to flee into the desert, and as the Mother of a great Head of that Church, destined to govern the flock of the latter times in the final combat, who like that flock is her own Child. Mary, like her Son, is at the beginning and the end of all God's intentions, an integral part of His designs for the Redemption of the human race.

Since by eternal decree Mary was exempted from all stain of original sin from the first moment of her creation, and was endowed with the richest treasures of grace and sanctity, it is fitting that we honor her glorious prerogatives by this special feast of the Immaculate Conception. We should join in spirit with the Blessed in heaven and rejoice with our dear Mother, not only for her own sake, but for ours, her children, for we are partakers of her glory and happiness. The treasures of the mother are the heritage of the children, said Saint Thérèse of the Child Jesus.

We celebrate at the same time December 8th of 1854, which raised the Immaculate Conception of Our Blessed Lady from a pious belief to the dignity of a dogma of the infallible Church, causing a great and universal joy among the faithful. The Holy See had already permitted the feast day from the time of Sixtus IV, by his papal bull Cum Praecelsa (1477), formally allowing its celebration for all dioceses desiring it.

The Holy Bible: Old and New Testaments; Little Pictorial Lives of the Saints, a compilation based on Butler's Lives of the Saints and other sources, by John Gilmary Shea (Benziger Brothers: New York, 1894). 

Thursday, December 7, 2023

Saint Ambrose

Saint Ambrose repelling Emperor Theodosius

Johann Jakob Thurneysen, the Elder Swiss
After Charles Claude Dauphin French 1652–1711

The Met Collection — Used with permission

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.

Unwearied then in every pastoral duty, full of sympathy and charity, gentle and condescending in matters of indifference, he was inflexible in questions of principle. He manifested his fearless zeal when it was necessary to brave the anger of the Empress Justina, by resisting and foiling her impious attempt to give one of the churches of Milan to the Arians. He distributed all that he had of gold and silver to the poor, and confided all financial administration of his archdiocese to his brother, Saint Satyrus, who came to reside with him in Milan. To master theology, he studied the Sacred Scriptures and the Fathers of the Church, and conferred with learned Christians concerning the rules of ecclesiastical discipline. He was very active, and took such great care of the catechumens' instruction that no one could surpass him in that duty.

His zeal in rebuking and bringing to penance the great Emperor Theodosius, who in a moment of irritation had cruelly punished a sedition by the inhabitants of Thessalonica, is a well known fact of history. The Saint met him at the door of the cathedral to prevent his entering, and said to him that if he had imitated David in his crime, he must now imitate him in his penance. Later the chastened and humble Emperor said that in his life he had known but one true bishop — Ambrose.

Saint Ambrose was the friend and consoler of Saint Monica in all her sorrows, and in 387 had the joy of admitting to the Church Saint Augustine, her son. He died in 397, full of years and of honors, and is revered by the Church of God as one of her greatest Doctors.

Little Pictorial Lives of the Saints, a compilation based on Butler's Lives of the Saints and other sources, by John Gilmary Shea (Benziger Brothers: New York, 1894); Les Petits Bollandistes: Vies des Saints, by Msgr. Paul Guérin (Bloud et Barral: Paris, 1882), Vol. 14

Wednesday, December 6, 2023

Saint Nicholas

Saint Nicholas, the patron Saint of Russia, has won the warmest of praises from other Saints such as Saint John Chrysostom and Saint Peter Damian, who called him the glory of young men, the honor of the elderly, the splendor of priests and the light of Pontiffs. All the world was filled with his praises, Saint Peter added. The universal Church, in the Collect of his office, claims that God made known his nobility by an infinite number of miracles.

He was born during the third century, nephew of the Archbishop of Myra. He had lost his parents while still very young, and he desired not to conserve his rich heritage. Gradually he gave away everything of which he could dispose, establishing dowries for poor maidens and seeking out the needy wherever they could be found. The Archbishop, his uncle, already aware of his vocation to sanctity, ordained Saint Nicholas priest and appointed him Abbot of the monastery of Holy Sion near Myra. He undertook a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, resurrecting a sailor who fell from a mast during the voyage; he prayed for the frightened passengers in a near-fatal tempest and calmed it. He visited Saint Anthony of the Desert and healed many sick persons in Alexandria during a stopover in Egypt.

On the death of the Archbishop of Myra, he was elected to the vacant see. Immediately after the pontifical Mass, he resurrected an infant who had fallen into a fire.

A persecution broke out under the emperor Licinius; Saint Nicholas was banished and kept in chains. He suffered from severe mistreatment but returned to his church when Constantine the Great defeated Licinius, and in 313 then put a definitive end to the persecutions. Saint Nicholas labored in his domains to stop the worship of false gods, still practiced there as elsewhere. With his own hands he cut down a huge tree, site of a sacrilegious cult of the goddess Diana. During a famine his prayers multiplied the provisions of wheat which he had ordered for the port of Myra, to such an extent that what would have sufficed for his people for only a few days, was found to be sufficient for more than two years. He rescued from death, just before they were hanged, three innocents condemned by a judge who had been corrupted by money, reprehended the latter for his crime and sent these liberated ones home, entirely exonerated.

Throughout his life he retained the bright and simple manners of his early years; no one could converse with him without finding himself spiritually renewed. Saint Nicholas was the special protector of the innocent and the wronged. He is usually represented at the side of a container in which a cruel butcher had concealed the bodies of three young persons, whom he had killed and was intending to use in his commerce, but who were restored to life by the Saint. This miracle was reported by Saint Bonaventure in a sermon.

Saint Nicholas rejoiced when God made known to him that the end of his pilgrimage was near. He retired to his Monastery of Holy Sion, and after a short but intense episode of fever, died in the year 342. He is the patron of schoolchildren, sailors, travelers and pilgrims, prisoners and many others. His relics were translated in 1087 to Bari, Italy, where a church was built in their honor. And there, after fifteen centuries, the manna of Saint Nicholasstill flows from his bones and heals all kinds of illnesses.

Little Pictorial Lives of the Saints, a compilation based on Butler's Lives of the Saints and other sources, by John Gilmary Shea (Benziger Brothers: New York, 1894); Les Petits Bollandistes: Vies des Saints, by Msgr. Paul Guérin (Bloud et Barral: Paris, 1882), Vol. 14

Tuesday, December 5, 2023

Saint Sabas

Saint Sabas, one of the most renowned patriarchs of the monks of Palestine, was born in the year 439, near Caesarea. At the age of fifteen, in the absence of his parents, he suffered under the conduct of an uncle, and weary of the world's problems decided to forsake the world and enter a monastery not far from his family home. After he had spent ten years in religious life, his two uncles and his parents attempted to persuade him to leave the monastery to which he had migrated in Palestine. He replied: Do you want me to be a deserter, leaving God after placing myself in His service? If those who abandon the militia of earthly kings are severely punished, what chastisement would I not deserve if I abandoned that of the King of heaven?

When he was thirty years old, desiring greater solitude, he began to live an angelic life so far above nature that he seemed no longer to have a body. The young sage, as he was called by Saint Euthymius, Abbot of a nearby monastery, dwelt in a cavern on a mountain near Jerusalem, where he prayed, sang Psalms and wove baskets of palm branches. He was forty-five years old when he began to direct those who came to live as hermits, as he did, and he gave each of them a place to build a cell; soon this was the largest monastery of Palestine. He left the region when certain agitators complained of him, for he considered himself incapable of maintaining good discipline. The Patriarch of Jerusalem, Sallustus, did not easily credit the complaints, and instead ordained Sabas a priest, that he might say Mass for his disciples — for they had been displeased by his lack of desire for that honor. He was at that time fifty-three years old. The Patriarch presented him to them as their father, whom they should obey and honor, and made him Superior of all the Palestine monasteries. But several monks remained obstinate, and Saint Sabas again went elsewhere, to a cavern near Scythopolis.

As the years passed, he was in charge of seven monasteries; but his influence was not limited to Palestine. The heresies afflicting religion were being sustained by the emperor of Constantinople, who had exiled the Catholic Patriarch of that city, Elias. Saint Sabas converted the one who had replaced Elias, and wrote to the emperor that he should cease to persecute the Church of Jerusalem, and to impose taxes on the cities of Palestine which they were unable to pay. In effect, the people were reduced to extreme misery. The emperor died soon afterwards, and the pious Justin replaced him. Justin restored the true faith by an edict and recalled the exiles, re-establishing the exiled prelates in their sees.

When Saint Sabas was ninety-one years old, he made the long journey to Constantinople to ask Justinian, successor to Justin, not to act with severity against the province of Palestine, where a revolt had occurred by the non-submission of a group of Samaritans. The emperor honored him highly and wished to endow his monasteries with wealth, but the holy Patriarch asked him to use the riches he was offering to build a hospice for pilgrims in Jerusalem, to decorate the unfinished Church of the Blessed Virgin, to build a fortress where the monks could take refuge when barbarians invaded the land, and finally, to re-establish preaching of the true Faith, by edicts proscribing the various errors being propagated. The holy Abbot lived to be ninety-two years old, and died in 531, in the arms of the monks of his first monastery.

Source of content:

Monday, December 4, 2023

Saint John Damascene – On the Divinity and Humanity of Christ

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

The Two Comings of Jesus Christ

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.”


Saturday, December 2, 2023

Love and Inebriation

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 Divine Image Within Us

‘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

God, My Highest Good

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

Sole Purpose of the Ascetic Life

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

Scripture, the First Sacrament

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

Love is Greater Than Prayer

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

Homily for Christ The King

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.