Sunday, December 31, 2023

The Holy Family

Today we shift our gaze from the grotto of Bethlehem where the Saviour was born on Holy Night to the humble house of Nazareth, to contemplate the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph, whose feast we celebrate in the festive, family atmosphere of Christmas. 

The Redeemer of the world chose the family as the place for his birth and growth, thereby sanctifying this fundamental institution of every society. The time he spent in Nazareth, the greater part of his life, continues to be shrouded in deep silence. Very little information about it has been passed on to us by the Evangelists. However, if we aspire to a deeper understanding of Jesus' life and mission, we must draw close to the mystery of the Holy Family of Nazareth to observe and listen. Today's liturgy offers us a providential opportunity to do so. 

For every believer, and especially for Christian families, the humble dwelling place in Nazareth is an authentic school of the Gospel. Here we admire, put into practice, the divine plan to make the family an intimate community of life and love; here we learn that every Christian family is called to be a small "domestic church" that must shine with the Gospel virtues. Recollection and prayer, mutual understanding and respect, personal discipline and community asceticism and a spirit of sacrifice, work and solidarity are typical features that make the family of Nazareth a model for every home. 

I wanted to highlight these values in the Apostolic Exhortation Familiaris consortio whose 20th anniversary occurred this year. The future of humanity passes through the family which in our time has been more marked than any other institution by the profound and rapid changes in culture and society. However, the Church has never ceased "to speak and offer her help to those who are already aware of the value of marriage and the family and seek to live it faithfully, to those who are uncertain and anxious and searching for the truth, and to those who are unjustly impeded from living freely their family lives" (Familiaris consortio, n. 1). She is aware of her responsibility and today too intends to continue "to offer her services to every person who wonders about the destiny of marriage and the family" (ibid.). 

The Church relies especially on the witness and contribution of Christian families to fulfill her urgent mission. Indeed, in the face of the dangers and difficulties that beset the family institution, she invites families to have greater spiritual and apostolic boldness, knowing that the family is called to be "a sign of unity for the world" and thus to bear witness to "the Kingdom and peace of Christ, towards which the whole world is journeying" (ibid., n. 48). 

May Jesus, Mary and Joseph bless and protect all the world's families, so that within them may reign the serenity and joy, justice and peace that the newborn Christ has given as a gift to humanity. 

 ST. POPE JOHN PAUL II Given at the Angelus, Feast of the Holy Family; Sunday Dec. 30, 2001

Saturday, December 30, 2023

Spiritual Treasure

The pressing need of devoting ourselves to the consideration of the one thing necessary is especially manifest in these days of general chaos and unrest, when so many men and nations, neglecting their true destiny, give themselves up entirely to acquiring earthly possessions, failing to realize how inferior these are to the everlasting riches of the spirit.  And yet St. Augustine's saying is so clearly true, that "material goods, unlike those of the spirit, cannot belong wholly and simultaneously to more than one person."  The same house, the same land, cannot belong completely to several people at once, nor the same territory to several nations. And herein lies the reason of that unhappy conflict of interests which arises from the feverish quest of these earthly possessions. 

On the other hand, as St. Augustine often reminds us, the same spiritual treasure can belong in its entirety to all men, and at the same time to each, without any disturbance of peace between them. Indeed, the more there are to enjoy them in common the more completely do we possess them. The same truth, the same virtue, the same God, can belong to us all in like manner, and yet none of us embarrasses his fellow-possessors. Such are the inexhaustible riches of the spirit that they can be the property of all and yet satisfy the desires of each. Indeed, only then do we possess a truth completely when we teach it to others, when we make others share our contemplation; only then do we truly love a virtue when we wish others to love it also; only then do we wholly love God when we desire to make Him loved by all. Give money away, or spend it, and it is no longer yours. But give God to others, and you possess Him more fully for yourself.

FR. GARRIGOU-LAGRANGE, Excerpt from The Three Conversions of the Spiritual Life

Thursday, December 28, 2023

The Holy Innocents

The wily king Herod, who was reigning in Judea at the time of the birth of Our Saviour, learned from three Wise Men from the East that they had come to Jerusalem, advised by a star in the heavens, in search of the newborn King of the Jews. Herod's superstitious fear of losing his throne was awakened, and he grew troubled. He called together the chief priests, questioned them, and learned from them that the awaited Messiah was to be born in Bethlehem, the city of David. He said to the strangers: When you have found Him, bring me word, that I too may go and adore Him.

The star which had guided the Magi re-appeared over Bethlehem, and they found the Infant and adored Him, and offered Him their royal gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh, recognizing by these His perfect Divinity, His royalty, and His prophesied sufferings. God warned them in a dream afterwards not to go back to Herod, and they returned to their lands, rejoicing, by a different route. Saint Joseph, too, was warned during his sleep by an Angel to take the Child and His Mother and flee into Egypt, for Herod will seek the life of the Infant.

When Herod realized that the Wise Men would not return, he was furious, and in his rage ordered that every male child in Bethlehem and its vicinity, of the age of two years or less, be slain. These innocent victims were the flowers and first-fruits of the Saviour's legions of martyrs; they triumphed over the world without having ever known it or experienced its dangers.

The New Testament: Acts of the Apostles; 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).

Wednesday, December 27, 2023

Saint John the Apostle and Evangelist

Plaque with Saint John the Evangelist


On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 3

From the Met Collection: Used with permission

Saint John, brother of Saint James the Greater, the Apostle of Spain, is the beloved disciple. He was privileged, with his brother and Saint Peter, to behold the Savior raise up a dead child to life, then saw Him transfigured on the mountaintop; he alone reposed his head on His breast at the Last Supper. After the crucifixion it is he who, with Saint Peter, hastened to the empty tomb on the morning of the Resurrection. Standing beside Mary at the Cross, he heard his Master confide the Blessed Mother to him to be his Mother also. He took Mary to Ephesus when the persecution of the Jerusalem Christians became too intense; and from there he went out to evangelize Asia Minor, of which he became the first Archbishop. He was later exiled to the Island of Patmos, where he wrote the Apocalypse, but afterwards returned to Ephesus.

Compared with an eagle by his flights of elevated contemplation, Saint John is the supreme Doctor of the Divinity of Jesus of Nazareth. Endowed with an astounding memory, he was able even in his later years, to reproduce the discourses of Christ in such a way as to make the reader experience their power and impact on their audiences as if present to hear them. He is the author of five books of the New Testament, his Gospel, three Epistles, and the last canonical prophecy, the Apocalypse or Revelation of Saint John — all of which were composed after the ruin of Jerusalem in 70 A.D.

In his extreme old age he continued to visit the churches of Asia, and Saint Jerome relates that when age and weakness grew upon him so that he was no longer able to preach to the people, he would be carried to the assembly of the faithful by his disciples, with great difficulty; and every time said to his flock only these words: My dear children, love one another.

Saint John died in peace at Ephesus in the third year of Trajan, that is, the hundredth of the Christian era, or the sixty-sixth from the crucifixion of Christ, Saint John then being about ninety-four years old, according to Saint Epiphanus.

The New Testament: Acts of the Apostles; Heavenly Friends, by Rosalie M. Levy (St. Paul: Boston, 1958).

Tuesday, December 26, 2023

Saint Stephen - Protomartyr

Manuscript Illumination with the Martyrdom of Saint Stephen

Niccolò di Giacomo da Bologna
Italianca. 1394–1402
From The Met Collection: Used with permission

The Jewish origin of Saint Stephen is universally acknowledged; he is known and loved everywhere as the first follower of Christ to give to his martyred God love for love, blood for blood. It is not certain whether he was among the seventy-two disciples of Jesus; some believe he was of the Greek tongue and not a native of Palestine. He studied with Saint Paul and Saint Barnabas under the famous Doctor of the Law, Gamaliel, who, being a member of the Sanhedrin, attempted to stop the persecution of the Apostles. (Acts of the Apostles 5:34-40) What is certain, however, is that he distinguished himself among his brethren as an admirable Christian, replete with the gifts of the Holy Spirit. To his great beauty and angelic chastity were joined humility, patience, gentleness and charity, so perfect that they drew from all the faithful great admiration and esteem for him.

He was head of the seven disciples whom the Apostles named as deacons, to execute the works of charity which their mandate to preach did not permit them to carry out. Stephen manifested all the qualities one could wish for in a minister of charity and of the Gospel. He knew Scripture to perfection and was steeped in its divine spirit; he was endowed with invincible force because he feared nothing in the service of God. Everywhere in Jerusalem, he was proving Jesus of Nazareth to be the Messiah, and working great prodigies to confirm the truths he taught. Some believe he was the cousin of Saul, later Saint Paul; in any case, the latter, still a fire-breathing Pharisee, took offense at his boldness and presided at the scene of his martyrdom by stoning. The fervent deacon, insensible to his own fate, defended Christ before the Jerusalem tribunal with a perfection which enraged the proud authorities of Jerusalem, unwilling to recognize a humble carpenter of Nazareth for their Saviour. He boldly upbraided the chief priests with their hard-hearted resistance to the Holy Spirit. And when he accused them of putting to death, just as their forebears had treated the prophets who foretold Him, the long-awaited Just One announced by Moses, they stoned him without further delay. (Acts of the Apostles, chapter 7)

Saint Stephen died, beholding his Lord standing at the right hand of God. He imitated Him in death; crying out, Lord Jesus, receive my spirit! He concluded on his knees, Lord, do not impute to them this sin! And then he fell asleep, the narrative says.

His mortal remains were left outdoors to be devoured by beasts, but were protected by God; and Gamaliel, the Doctor of the Law, took the body of the martyr to his own country home, a few leagues from the city, where he buried him. His tomb was discovered miraculously in the fifth century, by the intervention of Gamaliel himself in a priest's dream. The greater part of his relics are still conserved in the Basilica of Saint Lawrence and Saint Stephen in Rome. His death was the signal for a great persecution of the Christians in Jerusalem, spurred on by Saul, who had approved his death. But Saint John Chrysostom remarks that because Stephen prayed, we have Saint Paul, whose conversion miraculously came about soon afterwards.

The New Testament: Acts of the Apostles; Les Petits Bollandistes: Vies des Saints, by Msgr. Paul Guérin (Bloud et Barral: Paris, 1882), Vol. 14

Monday, December 25, 2023

Midnight Mass Homily

The Gospel says, “The angel of the Lord appeared to the (shepherds) and the glory of the Lord shone around them…” It is no wonder the shepherds were struck with great fear. The glory of the Lord is radiance. It is light. It is majesty and power. But we are not struck with great fear, but with great awe and wonder and admiration, for the glory of the Most Holy Trinity is all around us. It is bringing to light the knowledge of the glory of God shining on the face of Jesus Christ, and showing us its reflection on the face of his mother Mary. 

Unlike the shepherds, we have no fear, because we are united with our heavenly Father who gazes with delight upon the glorious face of his Son. We have no fear, because the veil that covered our faces has been removed, and we are transformed from glory to glory by the Lord who is the Spirit. We have no fear, because we are united with our Lord through Our Lady who ponders all these things in her heart, reflecting the glory of her child as the moon reflects the brilliance of the sun. Keeping our night watch, we have no fear, because we are surrounded by the glory of the most Holy Trinity and the loving care of Our Lady.

We should not be surprised that fear is being cast out tonight. We are hearing good news, and all good news comes from God, the most Holy Trinity. To begin with, we see the Father’s love which has made us his children by giving us all he has in the lowliness of his Son. His mysterious plan is now revealed and made visible in this child’s face We have but to look toward him and be radiant, and let our faces not be abashed. 

We are experiencing a new creation and a new covenant prepared by the Father in his beloved Son and sealed with his Spirit, a covenant of peace and freedom. For where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. In this covenant of peace, the Spirit is opening doors to all those who walk in darkness and shadow of death! The absolute praise of the Father for his Son is the Spirit shining on the face of Christ; at the same time, the Spirit is the absolute thanksgiving of the Son for all the Father has given to him, including the Son’s utter helplessness, his utter dependence, and his absolute childhood. This is the new covenant we celebrate.

But the unfathomable mystery of this holy night can be penetrated even further by turning to the Our Lady. Mary has been waiting patiently for the Father’s plan to mature and to see the face of her child. Already her union with the Spirit has given her an unfading glory, unlike the passing glory of Moses. Like her son, she has emptied herself, she has taken the last place, she has glorified the God of Israel who has done such great things for her. She has resolved not to do her own will but to let it be done to her according to God’s will. Although her son is bone of her bone and flesh of her flesh, she does not grasp her divine motherhood as a badge of honor, but pours out her glory so that he may increase and she decrease. Like mother, like son. 

Tonight, we are like the shepherds who have gone to Bethlehem to see this great thing that the Lord has made known to us. But will it really make any difference in our chaotic world? What can we do, hidden away in a monastery? It all depends—it depends on whether we treat this kindness and love of God our savior as somehow caused by our righteous deeds rather than his mercy. It depends on whether the grace of God which has appeared leads us to live our monastic life temperately, justly, and devoutly in this age. It depends on turning our gaze once again to the glory shining on the face of Christ. If we do that, the glory of God will be imprinted on our faces, too, just as it was with Moses. We will become intimate friends of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit and reflections, like Our Lady and St. Joseph, of that glorious peace which the Trinity wants for our war-torn world.

Quotes on Christmas

1. St. Thérèse of Lisieux: “A God who became so small could only be mercy and love.” 

2. St. Paul VI: “We consider Christmas as the encounter, the great encounter, the historical encounter, the decisive encounter, between God and mankind. He who has faith knows this truly; let him rejoice.”

3. St. Alphonsus Liguori: “Arise, all ye nobles and peasants; Mary invites all, rich and poor, just and sinners, to enter the cave of Bethlehem, to adore and to kiss the feet of her new-born Son…Let us enter; let us not be afraid.”

4. St. Augustine: “Awake, mankind! For your sake God has become man…I tell you again: for your sake, God became man.”

5. St. John Paul II: “If we celebrate with such solemnity the birth of Jesus, it is to bear witness that every human being [is] somebody unique and unrepeatable…somebody thought of and chosen from eternity, some[one] called and identified by his own name. It is as it was with the first man, Adam. It is as it was with the new Adam, born of the Virgin Mary in the cave at Bethlehem: ‘You shall call his name Jesus.’”

6. St. John Chrysostom: “This day He Who Is, is born; and He Who Is becomes what He was not.”

7. Venerable Fulton Sheen: “The world might have expected the Son of God to be born—if He was to be born at all—in an inn. A stable would be the last place in the world where one would have looked for Him. Divinity is always where one least expects to find it.”

8. St. Peter Chrysologus: “That the Creator is in his creature and God is in the flesh brings dignity to man without dishonour to him who made him. Why then, man, are you so worthless in your own eyes and yet so precious to God?”

9. St. Anthony of Padua: “O Father, in your Truth (that is to say, in your Son, humbled, needy and homeless) you have humbled me. He was humbled in the womb of the Virgin, needy in the manger of the sheep, and homeless on the wood of the Cross. Nothing so humbles the proud sinner as the humility of Jesus Christ’s humanity.”

10. St. Teresa of Calcutta: “My prayer for you is that when Christ comes to you in Christmas, He may find in you a warm home, warm love like that of a heartful of love, like that of a simple shepherd who was the first one chosen to see Christ.”

11. St. Leo the Great: “Sadness should have no place on the birthday of life. The fear of death has been swallowed up; life brings us joy with the promise of eternal happiness. No one is shut out from this joy; all share the same reason for rejoicing. Our Lord, victor over sin and death, finding no man free from sin, came to free us all.”

12. St. John the Apostle: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came to be through him, and without him nothing came to be. What came to be through him was life, and this life was the light of the human race; the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it…And the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.”

Sunday, December 24, 2023

Saint Bernard of Clairvaux's Christmas Prayer

Let Your goodness Lord appear to us, that we,
made in your image, conform ourselves to it.
In our own strength
we cannot imitate Your majesty, power, and wonder
nor is it fitting for us to try.
But Your mercy reaches from the heavens
through the clouds to the earth below.
You have come to us as a small child,
but you have brought us the greatest of all gifts,
the gift of eternal love
Caress us with Your tiny hands,
embrace us with Your tiny arms
and pierce our hearts with Your soft, sweet cries.


Friday, December 22, 2023

A Sign Not Expected or Hoped For

The Lord has given us a sign 'as deep as Sheol and as high as heaven', such as we should not have dared to hope for. How could we have expected to see a virgin with child, and to see in this Child a 'God with us' (Isaiah 7.11 & 14) who would descend into the depths of the earth to seek for the lost sheep, meaning the creature he had fashioned, and then ascend again to present to his Father the 'man' [humanity] thus regained?

IRENAEUS OF LYONS Against Heresies, III,19,3

Thursday, December 21, 2023

The Word of God Made Flesh

This is the reason why the Word of God was made flesh, and the Son of God became Son of Man: so that we might enter into communion with the Word of God, and by receiving adoption might become Sons of God. Indeed we should not be able to share in immortality without a close union with the Immortal. How could we have united ourselves with immortality if immortality had not become what we are, in such a way that we should be absorbed by it, and thus we should be adopted as Sons of God?

IRENAEUS OF LYONS Against Heresies, III,19,1      

Wednesday, December 20, 2023

Going To God

How could the human race go to God if God had not come to us? How should we free ourselves from our birth into death if we had not been born again according to faith by a new birth generously given by God, thanks to that which came about from the Virgin’s womb?

IRENAEUS OF LYONS Against Heresies, IV,33,4

Tuesday, December 19, 2023

God Takes Our Nature

His Love for me brought low his greatness.

He made himself like me so that I might receive him.

He made himself like me so that I might be clothed in him.

I had no fear when I saw him,

For he is mercy for me.

He took my nature so that I might understand him,

My face so that I should not turn away from him.

Odes of Solomon 7 (The Odes and Psalms of Solomon

R. Harris and A. Mingana II, pp. 240-1) 

Monday, December 18, 2023

The "O" Antiphons

Beginning Dec. 17 of each Advent season, and for the next seven days, a special antiphon known as an O Antiphon is read before the Magnificat during evening prayer or before the gospel at Mass. Sometimes called the Greater Antiphons, or the O’s of Advent (because they begin with that exclamation), the O Antiphons differ from the daily antiphons because they herald the coming birth of Christ. Originally written in Latin around the seventh or eighth centuries, these special antiphons are verses extracted from the Old Testament prophets — namely, Isaiah — and express the longing for the coming of the Christ. The word “come” is used in every O Antiphon. Each of the seven antiphons begins by addressing Jesus using an Old Testament title for the Messiah. These seven names or titles, all from the Book of Isaiah, are:

Dec. 17, O’ Sapientia (meaning O Wisdom), from Isaiah 11:2-3.

Dec. 18, O’ Adonai (O Lord or Ruler), 11:4-5 and 33:22.

Dec. 19, O’ Radix (O Root of Jesse), 11:1.

Dec. 20, O’ Clavis (O Key of David), 22:22.

Dec. 21, O’ Oriens (O Radiant Dawn), 9:1.

Dec. 22, O’ Rex Gentium (O King of the Nations), 2:4.

Dec. 23, O’ Emmanuel (O God with Us), 7:14.

It is widely pointed out that if you take the first letter of each Latin name and reverse the order — that is, begin with E from Emmanuel, then Rex Gentium and so on you will spell the phrase ERO CRAS, which in Latin means “I shall come tomorrow.”

Sometime before the 12th century, the exact date and author being unknown, selected verses from the seven antiphons were compiled into the hymn we today call “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.” During the Middle Ages this hymn was an important teaching and worship aid to a society that was largely illiterate and had few Bibles. In the 19th century, the Latin version of the hymn was translated into English by an Anglican priest named John Neale. He called his original translation “Draw Neigh, Draw Neigh, Emmanuel,” but in 1854 he renamed the song, “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel,” which, given its history, is believed to be among the oldest of all the Christmas hymns.

Sunday, December 17, 2023

Homily For Third Sunday of Advent

 Again this morning, John the Baptist, that odd and frightening figure, probably more than a bit scraggly and smelly. A guy who lives on the fringes. He doesn’t dress like other Galileans (he wears scratchy camel hair); he doesn’t eat what they eat (only grasshoppers and wild honey); he doesn’t do what they do. He doesn’t fit in. and he doesn’t try to. The son of Zechariah of the priestly tribe, he should have simply followed his father’s lead and become part of the Temple establishment. But he wants none of it. He has gone out to a place, loaded with political and religious significance - the Jordan River the final waterway crossed by Israel as they entered the Promised Land centuries before. Recognizing that the end is near, John is calling everyone in Israel to repentance and a change of heart, for they have squandered their calling and will surely be judged by God. A new Exodus has got to happen now. Radical repentance with baptism in the Jordan will be the only thing that can rescue them from a fiery final judgment. So people start coming to him from all sides, their hearts resonate with his message. The religious establishment is flummoxed and alarmed, and with good reason. Envoys are sent to the Jordan to inquire. Who are you? What’s going on? Are you the Christ or not?  Just who do you think you are? 

Now what is always so moving, even heartbreakingly beautiful to me, is that for all his fame, even with all his fire and fury, shouting at the crowds that come to him at the Jordan, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you? Bear fruits of repentance!” Even with all of that, John the Baptist is always docile and deferential, and truly reverent, when he speaks of Jesus. “Look,” he says. “The Lamb of God. He must increase, I must decrease. He is the Bridegroom whose voice I rejoice to hear, the one who is coming after me, whose sandal strap I am not worthy to untie.” And so he insists this morning, “No, I am not the Christ, I am not the one.” And then these words which are so evocative, “but there is one among you whom you do not recognize.” These words haunt me. Someone we love and long for, the royal Bridegroom foretold by Isaiah, is hidden among us though too often we do not recognize him. 

We can recognize him only with the eyes of our hearts. And that is why we have come here in faith and hope to seek him for a morning, a weekend or a lifetime. But so often he eludes our grasp. This is the place where we live as monks, as people who pray, this in-between place, this “land of desire,” suspended between heaven and earth, getting glimpses of Christ’s presence and peace, but more often left hanging in a place of deep, dark faith, never seeing enough to fully recognize him, yet never losing hope and faith in his presence among us. And so we are left stranded in our desiring because we are meant for the more that Jesus is, the more that he draws us toward, the more that is God. And so we wait, and we pray confidently because the Spirit is always groaning on our behalf. 

But it can be exasperating. I’m reminded of one night trying to pray, frustrated and cranky, wanting something more and saying to the Lord something like, “Are you around? You know, if I had given my life to someone, I think I’d show up a little bit more often than you seem to be doing with me.” His response, sensed deep in my heart, was something like, “What’s the problem? I am here; I am with you always; I’m not going anywhere.” The message? Trust the relationship. Well, if prayer is indeed relationship, and relationships can truly only exist between equals, this, I suppose, is the great hoax of prayer – puny me lured into intimate relationship with God. 

Faith is the assurance of Someone - unseen, not felt but recognized with eyes of faith. Not a place of elation but of quiet confidence. This is where we live and pray, a place of mystery between Christ’s first coming on earth and the full vision of him in majesty to come, this in-between place of his constant coming toward us yet always necessarily detained, because our desire will always outstrip our present ability to see. 

Still foolishly we dare to venture out toward Christ Jesus our Lord, our faith always a leap in the dark, “because only this leap respects the dignity of the infinite God,” and we discover ourselves suspended in him, raised up in the arms of his Grace. Then best of all, the life we live is not our own. 

All during Advent we have been reminded to be vigilant at all times. Now we know why. Because Jesus’ approach is most often so unassuming, unremarkable, and forgettable. And on this Gaudete Sunday we dare to rejoice because One we love and long for, One who longs for us is drawing near, closer to us than we know. He is the One who has recognized us first, though we do not, cannot always recognize him fully, the One who is always coming to us small, hidden, quiet, almost unrecognizable.

Saturday, December 16, 2023


(Readings: Sir 48:1-4,9-11; Mt 17:10-13)

Fire from Heaven

Three great figures tower before us in today’s readings: Elijah, John the Baptist, and the Lord Jesus. What seems to bind the persons and mission of all three of them together may be summed up in the one word fire. Sirach uses this word four times in connection with Elijah, while John the Baptist says with reference to his own ministry: Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire (Mt 3:10). And of his cousin Jesus, John affirms: He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire (Mt 3:11). We may say that, in each of these three looming Advent figures, their private persons were fused into one with their mission by the fire of God’s love for them and their love for God. In their inmost heart and whole being, they became their mission.

And what about ourselves and our own persons and mission? How do we fit into this picture as disciples of Jesus? What is the fire driving us? Is it the fire of our blind passions, the fire of our reckless self-will? Or rather, in union with the Lord Jesus, is it the fire of the Holy Spirit, of divine charity, which made Jesus hand himself over into the hands of sinners, knowing very well the suffering this would entail? 

Let us now, then, brothers and sisters, confess our sins and so prepare ourselves to receive transforming Fire from Heaven: the Blessed Eucharist.

Thursday, December 14, 2023

Saint John of the Cross – Mystical Doctor

John is a saint because his life was a heroic effort to live up to his name: “of the Cross.” The folly of the cross came to full realization in time. “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me” (Mark 8:34b) is the story of John’s life. The Paschal Mystery—through death to life—strongly marks John as reformer, mystic-poet, and theologian-priest.

Ordained a Carmelite priest in 1567 at age 25, John met Teresa of Avila and like her, vowed himself to the primitive Rule of the Carmelites. As partner with Teresa and in his own right, John engaged in the work of reform, and came to experience the price of reform: increasing opposition, misunderstanding, persecution, imprisonment. He came to know the cross acutely—to experience the dying of Jesus—as he sat month after month in his dark, damp, narrow cell with only his God.

Yet, the paradox! In this dying of imprisonment John came to life, uttering poetry. In the darkness of the dungeon, John’s spirit came into the Light. There are many mystics, many poets; John is unique as mystic-poet, expressing in his prison-cross the ecstasy of mystical union with God in the Spiritual Canticle.

But as agony leads to ecstasy, so John had his Ascent to Mt. Carmel, as he named it in his prose masterpiece. As man-Christian-Carmelite, he experienced in himself this purifying ascent; as spiritual director, he sensed it in others; as psychologist-theologian, he described and analyzed it in his prose writings. His prose works are outstanding in underscoring the cost of discipleship, the path of union with God: rigorous discipline, abandonment, purification. Uniquely and strongly John underlines the gospel paradox: The cross leads to resurrection, agony to ecstasy, darkness to light, abandonment to possession, denial to self to union with God. If you want to save your life, you must lose it. John is truly “of the Cross.” He died at 49—a life short, but full.

Wednesday, December 13, 2023

Saint Lucy of Syracuse - Virgin and Martyr

Saint Lucy was a young Christian maiden of Syracuse in Sicily. She had already offered her virginity to God and refused to marry, when her mother pressed her to accept the offer of a young pagan. The mother was afflicted afterwards for several years by an issue of blood, and all human remedies were ineffectual. Lucy reminded her mother that a woman in the Gospel, suffering from the same disorder, had been healed by the divine power. They determined to make a journey to Catania, a port of Sicily, where the tomb of Saint Agatha, martyred in 251, was already a site of pilgrimage. Saint Agatha, Lucy said, stands ever in the sight of Him for whom she died. Only touch her sepulchre with faith, and you will be healed. The Saint of Catania had already saved that city, when Mount Etna had erupted the year after her martyrdom: some frightened pagans, seeing a course of lava descending directly toward the city, had uncovered her tomb, and at once it had stopped.

Saint Lucy and her mother spent an entire night praying by the tomb, until, overcome by weariness, both fell asleep. Saint Agatha appeared in vision to Saint Lucy, and addressing her sister in the faith, foretold her mother's recovery and Lucy's future martyrdom: You will soon be the glory of Syracuse, as I am of Catania. At that instant the cure was effected; and in her gratitude the mother allowed her daughter to distribute her wealth among the poor, and to conserve her virginity.

The young man who had sought her hand in marriage denounced her as a Christian during the persecution of Diocletian, but Our Lord, by a special miracle, saved from outrage this virgin He had chosen for His own. The executioners who would have taken her to a house of ill fame were unable to move her. The exasperated prefect gave orders to attach her by cords to harnessed bulls, but the bulls, too, did not succeed, and he accused her of being a magician. How can you, a feeble woman, triumph over a thousand men? She replied, Bring ten thousand, and they will not be able to combat against God! A fire kindled around her did her no harm, though she was covered with resin and oil. When a sword was plunged into her heart, the promise made at the tomb of Saint Agatha was fulfilled. Saint Lucy died, predicting peace for the Church.

Les Petits Bollandistes: Vies des Saints, by Msgr. Paul Guérin (Bloud et Barral: Paris, 1882), Vol. 14; Vie des Saints pour tous les jours de l'année, by Abbé L. Jaud (Mame: Tours, 1950).

Tuesday, December 12, 2023

Our Lady of Guadalupe

Day of the Virgin of Guadalupe Day is a story of miracles and faith that marks an important shift in the history of Mexico. The Spaniards, after they conquered Mexico, wanted to convert the indigenous Indians to Catholicism. But the Spaniards encountered many difficulties because the Mexican had their own faith and spirituality in which they strongly believed. However, indigenous people started to become fascinated with Catholicism when the story of the Virgin of Guadalupe and Juan Diego came to the fore.

According to tradition, Mary, mother of Jesus, appeared to Juan Diego, who was an Aztec convert to Christianity, on December 9 and again on December 12, 1531. Juan Diego was a young indigenous Indian who was walking toward the Hill of Tepeyac when he was stopped by an appearance of the Virgin Mary. According to Diego, the Virgin Mary was a young woman with black hair and dark skin who looked more like the women in his community. She ordered Diego to go to the Bishop and ask him to build a church at the Hill of Tepeyac. Diego then ran to the Bishop to tell him what the Virgin Mary had told him. The Bishop did not believe Diego at first and disregarded his request to build a church at the Hill of Tepeyac, demanding a sign before he would approve the construction of a church.

Mary then appeared a second time to Juan Diego and ordered him to collect roses. In a second audience with the bishop, Juan Diego opened his cloak, letting dozens of roses fall to the floor and revealing the image of Mary imprinted on the inside of the cloak — the image that is now venerated in the Basilica of Guadalupe.

Although the traditional view has been questioned by various scholars, defenders of the Virgin of Guadalupe — including Pope John Paul II, who canonized Juan Diego and declared Our Lady of Guadalupe the patroness of the Americas — accept the authenticity of the early documents and the various oral accounts of the apparition. Since 1556, a shrine devoted to the Virgin has existed in Tepeyac Hill.

Veneration of Our Lady of Guadalupe has been particularly strong among women, especially in Mexico, and since at least the early 18th century the devotion was spread throughout the world by the Jesuits and other religions. However, it’s not only limited to religious matters.

Our Lady of Guadalupe’s role has also played an important role in Mexican nationalism and identity. For example, in 1810, Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla promoted her as the patroness of the revolt he led against the Spanish.

During a religious revival in Mexico in the late 19th century, preachers declared that the foundation of Mexico could be dated to the time of the apparition of Our Lady of Guadalupe because she freed the people from idolatry and reconciled the Spanish and indigenous peoples in a common devotion. Her continuing significance as a religious and national symbol is attested by the hundreds of thousands of pilgrims who visit her shrine every year.