Sunday, February 25, 2024

Homily For Second Sunday of Lent


After triumphing over the temptations of the Adversary last week, today the Lord Jesus takes us with him from the depths of a dark desert to the shining heights of Mount Tabor. Unlike the dreadful solitude of the desert, here on Tabor we experience a true fullness of communion. The text structures the narrative at three levels, and in three groups of three persons each. First, there's the triad of disciples—Peter, James and John—whom Jesus takes with him up the mountain. A second triad sums up the history of salvation: Moses (the Law), Elijah (the Prophets), and Jesus (the Fullness) converse peacefully with one another, in a profound accord that symbolizes the unity and harmony of all Revelation. But, in this ascending hierarchy, the summit will be the manifestation of the divine Triad: the Father, whose voice can be heard speaking only of the Son; the Son, the Mediator, who is integrated into both the divine and human orders; and the Holy Spirit, whose active presence is signified by the Cloud that covers the disciples with its shadow, just as the Spirit had covered Our Lady at the Annunciation (Lk 1.35). 

The dazzling person of Jesus of Nazareth, son of Mary and Incarnate Word, is at the center of the whole epiphany. Jesus, the uni-versal center where all created and uncreated realities converge, opens for all a passageway to the invisible Heart of God. In his human body, deified by the divine Light that inhabits it, Jesus offers God our humanity, elevated by grace and immersed in divine life. In this sense, the Transfiguration is already a foretaste of the new cosmic order of the Kingdom that will be inaugurated by Jesus’ Resurrection from the dead.

By plunging his disciples into the spiritual and sensual experience of this transformation of his person, Jesus puts them to the test, just as God had tested Abraham, in order to purify their faith and enable them to have access to the torrent of life that is the Holy Trinity. However, Peter didn’t know what to say, so great was their fear: to experience Christ’s glory and intimate secrets in this way, to contemplate with mortal eyes the uncreated Light shining from within Jesus and his very garments, to listen to the eternal words of the heavenly Father with human ears—all this constitutes a difficult and truly frightening experience, even if it is at the same time exhilarating and life-giving. 

The trust that God places in us by revealing his innermost being demands our own total “transfiguration”. From now on, even if we are only half-awake, we cannot remain the same; from now on, we too must shine with the light with which God has flooded us. Among other things, the Transfiguration is a mystery that demands our conversion, and that’s why we climb Tabor with Jesus in the middle of Lent, to be converted to his Light, to accept his Light within us, so that finally we might become, with him, the Light of the world (Jn 8.12; Mt 5.14). 

But why does the Church today present to our contemplation this parallel between the story of Abraham and Isaac on Mount Moriah and the Transfiguration of Jesus on Mount Tabor? What connection can there be between bloody Immolation and light-filled Transfiguration? In my opinion, it’s because both episodes reveal the magnificent beauty of eternal Love, a Love that can only be experienced, by God or man, in the unbreakable unity binding suffering and glory. In the Passion of the Lord Jesus, light and blood merge, becoming one, because both blood and light communicate life. Let’s take a closer look at this challenging mystery of our faith.

In the Genesis account we have just heard, God outrageously orders Abraham, knife in hand, to sacrifice “his only son, the one he loves”, Isaac. Note that this formula of Abraham’s predilection for Isaac (his only son, the one he loves) is almost identical to the words the eternal Father utters from the cloud: This is my beloved Son. What Isaac is to Abraham on the human level, Jesus is to God on the divine level. So God must perfectly understand in his Heart the full scope of what he requires of Abraham. Note as well the astounding fact that Abraham’s “Here I am!” at the moment of God’s second summons—the very moment when, obediently, he is about to plunge his knife into the flesh of his beloved son—is in no way less serene or whole-hearted than his first “Here I am!” at the beginning of the story, when Abraham does not yet know what God is going to demand of him. Even if the whole scene on Mount Moriah doubtless has something keenly repugnant about it that assaults our human sensibilities and our conventional ideas of God, the fact remains that the majestic narrative plunges us into the mystery of God’s absoluteness, something that we moderns have largely lost sight of. Do we even believe that any absolute exists?

In any case, this scene leads us to conclude that God’s absoluteness demands of us total submission, boundless trust, even and especially when we don’t understand God’s deepest motivations and intentions, which in fact we never do! The moment Abraham stretched out his hand and seized the knife to immolate his son, the great Patriarch could not have known that the very instant the angel of the Lord would call down to him from heaven to command him not to lay a hand on the boy. It is in this unhesitating obedience, in the depths of his darkness and anguish, that all the greatness and holiness of Abraham, our father in the faith, lies. He risked the absolute absurd and was rewarded, through Isaac himself, with an endless progeny.

Nevertheless, it is elsewhere, in the Mystery of Christ grasped most fully by St Paul in his Letter to the Romans, that we must seek God’s true intention when he commanded Abraham to sacrifice Isaac. With this command, God wanted to prepare what we might call the “way of the three mountains”, that is, he wanted to set in motion the process of salvation history that begins at Mount Moriah, then passes through the splendor of Mount Tabor, and finally arrives at Mount Calvary, the Mount of the Cross. He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, writes St Paul, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? (Rom 8.32). In the final analysis, God’s command to Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac was merely a prefiguration, the anticipation of an unheard-of mystery that makes up the very substance of God’s Heart: I mean God’s eagerness to sacrifice himself in his Son in order to give us life in him.

If we are already overwhelmed by Abraham’s absolute obedience to a commandment that could only have seemed brutal and terrible to him as a human being, what can we then say about the way God was driven, by the love he has for us, to the extreme of plunging the sacrificial knife into his own Heart by delivering his beloved Son to death? We can never repeat it enough: God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life (Jn 3.16). And the precious Blood of this only-begotten and beloved Son of God has truly flowed over our earth, whereas the blood of Isaac, which symbolized it in advance, was never shed: One of the soldiers pierced [Jesus’] side with a spear, and at once there came out blood and water (Jn 19.34). Yes, the Almighty spared Isaac, but he did not spare the Son of his own womb! In the mystery of the Cross of Christ, the out-pouring of the Blood of the Lamb becomes one and the same thing with the shining forth of the Light of God’s Love transfiguring all of creation. There can be no lasting transfiguration without the bitterness of immolation. The unfathomable suffering of our beloved Lord Jesus acts as the hydraulic power of an incomparable Love, driving the light of Salvation through his sacred wounds and making it burst forth out of eternity into the darkness of our world and each of our hearts. And this precious fusion of blood and light reaches us at this altar today under the appearances of Bread and Wine, seeking to transfigure our hearts.  

Saturday, February 24, 2024

Learning to Pray

Oftentimes it’s enough merely to meet one day a true man or woman of prayer for an irresistible desire to pray to emerge in oneself. There are many today, it seems, who carry this wound in their hearts, this obscure but insistent longing. Let us call it an attraction for prayer. It is an initial call of the Spirit in the heart of a believer that moves him to abandon himself to the mysterious current whose meaning and orientation are barely glimpsed. This attraction brings with it a certain facility for recollection, a spontaneous stripping-off of all that could distract from its activity, which takes place entirely in the interior depths.

ANDRÉ LOUF In the School of Contemplation, Ch. 10, pg. 146

Friday, February 23, 2024


"Fasting makes sense if it really chips away at our security and, as a consequence, benefits someone else, if it helps us cultivate the style of the good Samaritan, who bent down to his brother in need and took care of him."


Wednesday, February 21, 2024

True Freedom

“Freedom consists not in doing what we like, but in having the right to do what we ought.”


Tuesday, February 20, 2024

Enduring Darkness in Prayer

Let us not be troubled when it befalls us to be plunged into darkness, especially if we are not responsible for it. You must realize that this darkness enshrouding you has been given you by God's providence for reasons known to him alone. Sometimes indeed our soul is engulfed by the waves and drowned. Whether we give ourselves to the reading of scripture or to prayer, whatever we do we are increasingly imprisoned in darkness… it is an hour filled with despair and fear. The soul is utterly deprived of hope in God and the consolation of faith. It is entirely filled with perplexity and anguish.

But those who have been tested by the distress of such an hour know that in the end it is followed by a change. God never leaves the soul for a whole day in such a state, for then hope would be destroyed…rather he allows it to emerge very soon from the darkness.

Blessed is he who endures such temptations… For, as the Fathers say, great will be the stability and the strength to which he will come after that. However, it is not in one hour or at one stroke that such a combat is concluded. Nor is it at one moment, but gradually, that grace comes to take up its dwelling completely in the soul. After grace, the trial returns. There is a time for trial. And there is a time for consolation.

ISAAC OF NINEVEH Ascetic Treatises, 57

Monday, February 19, 2024

Praying in Our Inner Room

We have to take particular care to follow the Gospel precept that bids us go into our inner room and shut the door to pray to our Father. This is how to do it.

We are praying in our inner room when we withdraw our heart completely from the clamor of our thoughts and preoccupations, and in a kind of secret dialogue, as between intimate friends, we lay bare our desires before the Lord.

We are praying with our door shut when, without opening our mouth, we call on the One who takes no account of words but considers the heart.

We are praying in secret when we speak to God with the heart alone and with concentration of the soul, and make known our state of mind to him alone, in such a way that even the enemy powers themselves cannot guess their nature. Such is the reason for the deep silence that it behoves us to keep in prayer…

Thus our prayers should be frequent but short, for fear that if they are prolonged the enemy might have an opportunity to insinuate distraction into them. This is true sacrifice: ‘A broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise’ (Psalm 51.17).

JOHN CASSIAN Conferences, IX, 35-6

Sunday, February 18, 2024

The Angels Ministered to Him

In the Holy Land, the Judean desert, which lies to the west of the River Jordan and the Oasis of Jericho, rises over stony valleys to reach an altitude of about one thousand meters at Jerusalem. After receiving baptism from John, Jesus entered that lonely place, led by the Holy Spirit himself who had settled upon him, consecrating him and revealing him as the Son of God. In the desert, a place of trial as the experience of the people of Israel shows, the dramatic reality of the self-emptying of Christ who had stripped himself of the form of God (Phil 2:6-7) appears most vividly. He who never sinned and cannot sin submits to being tested and can therefore sympathize with our weaknesses (Heb 4:15). He lets himself be tempted by Satan, the enemy, who has been opposed to God's saving plan for humankind from the outset. ...even in the situation of extreme poverty and humility, when he is tempted by Satan he remains the Son of God, the Messiah, the Lord.


Saturday, February 17, 2024

One Life, One Heart

It is not true, as some maintain who are led astray by error, that the human being is irremediably dead and can no longer do anything good. A small child is incapable of anything; it cannot run to its mother on its own legs; it tumbles on the ground, cries out, sobs, calls out to her. And she is gentle with it, she is touched to see her baby seeking her so impatiently with so many sobs. It cannot reach her but cries out to her tirelessly, and she goes to it overcome with love, she kisses it, presses it to her heart and feeds it, with unspeakable tenderness. God loves us and he behaves like her towards the soul that seeks him and cries out to him. In the eagerness of that infinite love that is his…he takes hold of our spirit, unites himself to it, and we become ‘one Spirit with him’, as the apostle says (I Corinthians 6.17). The soul is linked with the Lord, and the Lord, full of compassion and love, unites himself to it and it dwells in his grace. Then the soul and the Lord are one spiritually, they form one life, one heart.

PSEUDO-MACARIUS Forty-sixth Homily

Friday, February 16, 2024

The Mystery of Love Throughout Time

“Every human being who performs a free act thereby projects his personality into infinity. . . . Wherever and whenever it occurs, an act of love, a movement of genuine compassion sings the praise of God from Adam to the end of time, heals the sick, consoles the despairing, quiets tempests, frees prisoners, converts the unbelieving and protects all mankind.”


Wednesday, February 14, 2024

Ash Wednesday Homily

“We love because he first loved us.” I decided to take this Scripture text as my guide this Lent. It puts things in the right order. All our efforts at repentance and reconciliation—important as they are—ultimately, are a response to God’s love. It is God’s love that goes before us, accompanies us, and brings our repentance to completion. Lent is a perfect time to reflect on this love.

Today I would like to look at one particular form of God’s love, a rather extreme one, at least as St. Paul describes it. In the second reading, Paul as God’s ambassador was imploring us to be reconciled to God. He builds his case by showing us how God has closed the gap between us and to what lengths he will go to break down the dividing wall of enmity between us: "For our sake he made him to be sin who did not know sin, so that we might become the righteousness of God in him.”

But how can it be that “…he made him to be sin who did not know sin…”? Our Lord Jesus never sinned. He was wholly ordered to the will of his Father. What does it mean that he was made sin? A passage from Galatians sheds light on this: “Cursed be everyone who hangs on a tree.” On the cross Our Lord endured every estrangement, every aspect of shame, every misery that human beings could inflict, because he wanted to offer us his friendship and make reconciliation a possibility from God’s side. Jesus became a curse for us to show us that nothing can separate us from his love. And from that extreme point of the cross, the blessing of Abraham has been extended to us, “…so that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith,” as Paul says.

This is the good news of Lent: we have a co-worker in the work of reconciliation—the Spirit of Jesus. Out of love Jesus took upon himself the curse of all sin, and because of this the Father has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts. The Spirit of Jesus makes it possible for us to be faithful and upright in the Father’s sight. By the Spirit we can become holy—we must become holy as Jesus is holy. Let us believe in this gospel and be reconciled to God, for he loved us first.

Ash Wednesday

It was a common practice within the early Church that those who were found guilty of grave public sin needed to do public penance before they were admitted back into communion with the Church and admitted to the Most Holy Eucharist. The public sinners came forward in sackcloth forty days before Easter and were sprinkled with ashes, in keeping with many Old Testament examples of public penance. They fasted and prayed for forty days and then, on Easter, were readmitted into full communion with the Church. Eventually, prior to the end of the first millennium, this practice was extended to the entire Church as a way of highlighting everyone’s need for penance. One of the earliest mentions of this practice becoming universal comes from an English Benedictine monk who wrote: 

We read in the books both in the Old Law and in the New that the men who repented of their sins bestrewed themselves with ashes and clothed their bodies with sackcloth. Now let us do this little at the beginning of our Lent that we strew ashes upon our heads to signify that we ought to repent of our sins during the Lenten fast.

As we come forward to receive ashes, the minister traditionally says, “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” This line is taken from the Book of Genesis when God expelled Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden. He told Eve that she would suffer the pains of childbirth and be subjected to her husband. God told Adam that he would labor for his food through sweat and toil. To both of them, God said this curse would last “Until you return to the ground, from which you were taken; For you are dust, and to dust you shall return” (Genesis 3:19). Thus, the final curse of original sin is death: “…to dust you shall return.”

As we come forward to receive ashes, we should hear God saying to us, as He said to Adam and Eve, that we also suffer the consequences of original sin and will die. But that curse must be seen in the light of God’s final plan of salvation. Today, we acknowledge that the curse of death will endure but also hold onto the hope of resurrection made possible through Christ. Lent is a time of repentance for our sin and hope in redemption. Ash Wednesday is our liturgical and public statement that we have chosen both repentance and redemption.

Tuesday, February 13, 2024

You Were Called to Freedom

Let not the Christian say: “I am free; I have been called unto liberty. I was a slave, but have been redeemed, and by my very redemption have been made free so I shall do what I please; no one may restrict my will, if I am free.” But if you commit sin with such a will, you are the servant of sin. Do not then abuse your liberty for freedom in sinning, but use it for the purpose of not sinning. For only if your will is pious will it be free. You will be free if you are a servant still—free from sin, the servant of righteousness.

SAINT AUGUSTINE Tractates on the Gospel of John

Monday, February 12, 2024

God’s “Being-For-One-Another"

This unity [among the three Persons of the Trinity] is nothing other than pure being-for-one-another. If there were a definition of God, then one would have to put it in the form: unity as being-for-one-another…. One cannot understand the Father except in his giving of himself in the begetting of his begotten Son, nor can one understand the Son except in his being for the Father. The self-giving of both to each other’s further a “being-for-one-another” which in the writings of the New Covenant is clearly distinguished as “Holy Spirit” both from the Father and from the Son; it is personified “being-for-one-another" itself and the total self-giving of God to men.

HANS URS VON BALTHASAR Elucidations, 92-93

[Christ’s “forness”] has no other goal than to free men from the prison of “for self” and to introduce them to the shape of divine freedom.

HANS URS VON BALTHASAR You Have Words of Eternal Life, 89

Saturday, February 10, 2024

Consciousness of God

At times in the silence of the night, and in rare lonely moments, I come upon a sort of communion of myself and something great that is not takes on the effect of a sympathetic person and my communion has a quality of fearless worship.


Friday, February 9, 2024

Finding the True Infinite in God

The Knowledge of God without a perception of man's misery causes pride, and the knowledge of man's misery without a perception of God causes despair. Knowledge of Jesus Christ constitutes the middle course, because in Him we find both God and our own misery.


Thursday, February 8, 2024

Absolute Truth

God's own being is not only conformed to His intellect, but His act of understanding is the measure and cause of every other being and of every other intellect, and He is Himself His own existence and act of understanding. Whence it follows not only that Truth is in Him, but He is Truth itself, and the Sovereign and First Truth.

SAINT THOMAS AQUINAS Summa Contra Gentiles, i, q. 16, a. 5.

Wednesday, February 7, 2024

Stay Awake and Watch!

Do you know the feeling in matters of this life, of expecting a friend, expecting him to come, and he delays? Do you know what it is to be in unpleasant company, and to wish for the time to pass away, and the hour strike when you may be at liberty? Do you know what it is to be in anxiety less something should happen which may happen or may not, or to be in suspense about some important event, which makes your heartbeat when you are reminded of it, end of which you think the first thing in the morning? Do you know what it is to have a friend in a distant country, to expect news of him, and to wonder from day today what he is now doing, and whether he is well? Do you know what it is so to live upon a person who is present with you, that your eyes follow his, that you read his soul, that you see all it changes in his continents, that you anticipate his wishes, that you smile in his smile, and are sad in his sadness, and our downcast when he is vexed, and rejoice in his successes? To watch for Christ is a feeling such as all these; as far as feelings of this world are fit to shadow out those of another.

He watches for Christ who has a sensitive, eager, apprehensive mind; who is awake, alive, quick-sighted, zealous in seeking and honoring him; who looks out for him in all that happens, and who would not be surprised, who would not be over-agitated or overwhelmed, if he found that he was coming at once.

SAINT JOHN HENRY NEWMAN Parochial and Plain Sermons

Tuesday, February 6, 2024

Understanding the Scriptures

But for the searching and right understanding of the Scriptures there is need of a good life and a pure soul, and for Christian virtue to guide the mind to grasp, so far as human nature can, the truth concerning God the Word. One cannot possibly understand the teaching of the saints unless one has a pure mind and is trying to imitate their life. Anyone who wants to look at sunlight naturally wipes his eye clear first, in order to make, at any rate, some approximation to the purity of that on which he looks; and a person wishing to see a city or country goes to the place in order to do so. Similarly, anyone who wishes to understand the mind of the sacred writers must first cleanse his own life, and approach the saints by copying their deeds. Thus united to them in the fellowship of life, he will both understand the things revealed to them by God and, thenceforth escaping the peril that threatens sinners in the judgment, will receive that which is laid up for the saints in the kingdom of heaven. Of that reward it is written: "Eye hath not seen nor ear heard, neither hath entered into the heart of man the things that God has prepared"71 for them that live a godly life and love the God and Father in Christ Jesus our Lord, through Whom and with Whom be to the Father Himself, with the Son Himself, in the Holy Spirit, honor and might and glory to ages of ages. Amen.

SAINT ATHANASIUS On the Incarnation

Monday, February 5, 2024

The Practice of the Presence of God

I do not advise you to use multiplicity of words in prayer. Many words and long discourses are often the occasions of wandering. Hold yourself in prayer before God, like a dumb or paralytic beggar at a rich man's gate. Let it be your business to keep your mind in the presence of the Lord. If your mind sometimes wanders and withdraws itself from Him, do not become upset. Trouble and disquiet serve rather to distract the mind than to re-collect it. The will must bring it back in tranquillity. If you persevere in this manner, God will have pity on you. One way to re-collect the mind easily in the time of prayer, and preserve it more in tranquillity, is not to let it wander too far at other times. Keep your mind strictly in the presence of God. Then being accustomed to think of Him often, you will find it easy to keep your mind calm in the time of prayer, or at least to recall it from its wanderings. I have told you already of the advantages we may draw from this practice of the presence of God. Let us set about it seriously and pray for one another.

BROTHER LAWRENCE OF THE RESURRECTION The Practice of the Presence of God

Sunday, February 4, 2024

Homily for 5th Sunday in Ordinary Time

He approached, grasped her hand, and helped her up. Then the fever left her, and she waited on them.

Last week, we heard the story of Jesus’ first exorcism. Today, we heard his first physical healing, each of them a manifestation of the presence of the kingdom in our midst.

Peter’s mother-in-law was healed through physical contact with Jesus. She lay sick with a fever, restricted to her bed, prone, in the posture of a dead person. Jesus came to her, entered her house, and helped her up, literally, “he raised her” (ἤγειρεν αὐτὴν (Mar 1:31)), grasping her by the hand. This is the same word used by the angel to announce the resurrection at the empty tomb at Easter: “He has risen, he is not here” ἠγέρθη (Mar 16:6). Mark presents us here, at the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry, with an intimate connection between the physical touch of Jesus, his power to heal, and his resurrection. His resurrection, of course, implies his Cross and cannot be separated from it. By faith, we know that by it we have been healed, made whole, freed from the curse of sin and death. In this sense, Jesus’ healing of Peter’s mother-in-law is already a fruit of Jesus’ death and resurrection and a share in it; yet it remains only a pointer, a foreshadowing of the resurrection on the last day (12:24-26), where, clothed in our resurrected bodies, sickness and death will no longer harm us, and we will share in the Lord’s glory. 

Yet how does this very concrete experience of being touched by the very hand of Jesus and healed by him fit in with our present condition; our state of being in the between, in which we no longer know Jesus according to the flesh, but we have not yet received the resurrected body and vision of God that lies on the other side of this life, in heaven? 

One of the ways in which the Church has responded to this mystery is the rich tradition of the spiritual senses, which can be found in Origen and many others in the patristic period and beyond, including, as we well know, our Cistercian Fathers. The Song of Songs provided a particularly fertile ground for this thinking. I have chosen to look at this teaching by means of a few well-known texts from St. Augustine. In Augustine’s teaching, just as we have bodily senses for knowing the material world, so are we equipped with a sense capacity that is able to perceive God and his presence in the world; to our five bodily senses, there correspond five spiritual senses.

For Augustine it is the inner self that knows God. If we are to know and love him, we will not find him with the outer man (homo exterior) which uses the bodily senses to know the material world, but by turning to the interior man (homo interior). For Augustine, God is the object of all five senses of the interior self. We see this movement from the outer to the inner, from the perception of the splendors of God’s creation to God himself, presented magnificently in the famous vision at Ostia in Book IX of the Confessions. 

Monica is near the end of her life. She and Augustine are on their back to Africa, and are waiting in this port city outside Rome for their ship. In this scene, they are alone, leaning against a window which looked out on a garden within the house where they were staying, conversing very intimately about God, his Son, and what the eternal life of the saints would be like. Recalling the moment, Augustine says to God: “Eye has not seen nor heard not human heart conceived it, yet with the mouth of our hearts wide open we panted thirsting for the celestial streams of your fountain, the fount of life which is with you…

He continues: “Our colloquy led us to the point where the pleasures of the body’s senses, however intense and in however brilliant a material light enjoyed, seemed unworthy not merely of comparison but even of remembrance beside the joy of that life, and we lifted ourselves in longing yet more ardent toward That Which Is, and step by step traversed all the bodily creatures and heaven itself, whence sun and moon and stars shed their light upon the earth. Higher still we mounted by inward thought and wondering discourse on your works, and we arrived at the summit of our own minds; and this too we transcended, to touch that land of never-ending plenty where you pasture Israel forever with the food of truth. Life there is the Wisdom through whom all these things are made; …And as we talked and panted for it, we just touched the edge of it by the utmost leap of our hearts…” 

There is much that could be said about this rich and beautiful text, but sticking to the spiritual senses, here at Ostia, Augustine highlights the sense of touch, the most intimate of the senses, by which he and Monica came to the very edge of the land of never-ending plenty, where Wisdom, the Word of God, his Son our Lord, dwells; a place ‘eye has not seen nor heard nor human heart conceived.’ 

Throughout his works Augustine speaks beautifully and profoundly of our call to see God ‘face to face’. For him, human happiness consists in the perpetual vision of God, but we only attain the full ‘face to face’ vision in the world to come, where we receive our resurrected body. In this world, as the eyes and ears of our heart are purified, we can come to see God more clearly, and sometimes even hear the music of heaven, as Augustine puts it, nevertheless, it is only a beginning, and the experience of it is brief. Here, we live by faith and look toward God ‘through a mirror in an enigma’. For Augustine, all human perception in this life – whether bodily or spiritual – is a dim reflection of this future life. In the meantime, touch is the closest we come, that grace by which Monica were caught up to the edge of eternal life “by the utmost leap of [their] hearts”. Here they touch God and one another in a profound unity and intimacy that is bestowed on them from above, in a way utterly appropriate to mother and son. This is a social mystical experience that, as such, is a model for all contemplative communities, in the first place, in the liturgy. 

In another famous text, from Book X of the Confessions, Augustine uses all five senses to describe the new vision of God that he received upon his conversion: “…the sky and the earth too, and everything in them – all these things around me are telling me that I should love you…But what am I loving when I love you? Not beauty of body nor transient grace, not this fair light which is now so friendly to my eyes [sight], not melodious song in all its lovely harmonies [hearing], not the sweet fragrance of flowers or ointments or spices [smell], not manna or honey [taste], not limbs that draw me to carnal embrace [touch]. He goes on:

“Yet there is a light I love, and a food, and a kind of embrace when I love my God – a light, voice, odor, food, embrace of my inner man, where my soul is floodlit by light which space cannot contain, where there is sound that time cannot seize, where there is a perfume which no breeze disperses, where there is a taste for food no amount of eating can lessen, where there is a bond of union that no satiety can part That is what I love when I love my God. (Conf. X. 6. 8)

It is love that pushes him to withdraw from created things to God himself, ‘as he is.’ Consistently, Augustine moves from the most remote of the senses, sight and hearing, to the most intimate, smell, taste and touch. In the next life, in the beatific vision, sight will fill our hearts to overflowing with light and joy, but here below the highest union is expressed by touch. There is an order here, but none of the senses are to be left behind in progression to the other. Each are essential to the experience of God and bring to it their own essential characteristic. 

Augustine is clear that ultimately only God can bring about this new sensory life. A bit later in the Confessions, retelling his conversion in the famous text beginning, “Late have I loved you, Beauty so ancient and so new” he says to God: “You called, shouted, broke through my deafness [hearing]; you flared, blazed, banished my blindness [sight]; you lavished your fragrance [smell]; I gasped, and now I pant for you; I tasted you, and I hunger and thirst; you touched me, and I burned for your peace.” 

This peace is the fruit of a restored sensorium. Because of sin our senses have become confused, fragmented and individual, pulling us in every direction and rendering us incapable of distinguishing between material things and God; Originally, they had functioned as a unity, and were directed wholly toward God. As such, they were at peace.  Christ came to restore this original unity and movement toward him of all our faculties. Biblical man stands before God as a whole, so when Christ touches him, he touches the whole man with his whole sensorium, bodily and spiritual, and stands him upright, so that restored as a whole, he may love him and serve him in freedom just as Peter’s mother-in-law was raised up by the hand and served Jesus and his disciples.  As contemplatives, we are called to this mission: to be caught up in the vision of God together in a restored sensorium, bodily and spiritual, given by God, through love, caritas, toward God, and toward one another. Our life is ordered around this task. The food we need for this journey is provided for us, right here, in this Eucharist. 

Saturday, February 3, 2024

The New Ark of the Covenant

What is the meaning of the ark? What appears? For the Old Testament, it is the symbol of God's presence in the midst of his people. However, the symbol has given way to reality. Thus the New Testament tells us that the true Ark of the Covenant is a living, real person: it is the Virgin Mary. God does not dwell in a piece of furniture, he dwells in a person, in a heart: Mary, the one who carried in her womb the eternal Son of God made man, Jesus our Lord and Savior.


Friday, February 2, 2024

Feast of the Presentation of the Lord

When the days were completed for their purification according to the law of Moses, Mary and Joseph took Jesus up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord, just as it is written in the law of the Lord, “Every male that opens the womb shall be consecrated to the Lord,” and to offer the sacrifice of “a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons,” in accordance with the dictate in the law of the Lord. ~Luke 2:22–24

Mary and Joseph were faithful Jews who obeyed the Law of Moses. Jewish Law prescribed that two ritual acts needed to take place for a firstborn son. First, the mother of a newborn son was ritually unclean for seven days, and then she was to “spend thirty-three more days in a state of blood purity” (Leviticus 12). During these forty days she was not to “touch anything sacred nor enter the sanctuary till the days of her purification are fulfilled.” For this reason, today’s feast has at times been called the “Purification of Mary.” Second, the father of the firstborn son was to “redeem” the child by making an offering to the priest of five shekels so that the priest would then present the child to the Lord (see Numbers 18:16). Recall that the firstborn male of all the Egyptians, animals and children, was killed during the tenth plague, but the firstborn males of the Israelites were spared. Thus, this offering made for the firstborn son in the Temple was a way of ritually redeeming him in commemoration of protection during that plague. Since Jesus was presented in the Temple for this redemption, today’s feast is now referred to as the “Presentation in the Temple.”

“Candlemass” is also a traditional name given to today’s feast because as early as the fifth century, the custom of celebrating this feast with lighted candles had developed. The lit candles symbolized Simeon’s prophecy that Jesus would be “a light for revelation to the Gentiles.” Lastly, this Feast has been referred to as the “Feast of the Holy Encounter” because God, in the Person of Jesus, encountered Simeon and Anna in the Temple.

Today’s feast is celebrated in our Church forty days after Christmas, marking the day that Mary and Joseph would have brought Jesus into the Temple. Though Mary was pure and free from sin from the moment of her conception, and though the Son of God did not need to be redeemed, Mary and Joseph fulfilled these ritual obligations.

At the heart of this celebration is the encounter of Simeon and Anna with the Christ Child in the Temple. It is in that holy encounter that Jesus’ divinity is manifested by a human prophet for the first time. At His birth, the angels proclaimed His divinity to the shepherds, but in the Temple, Simeon was the first to understand and proclaim Jesus as the Savior of the World. He also prophesied that this salvation would be accomplished by a sword of sorrow that would pierce the Immaculate Heart of Mary. Anna, a prophetess, also came forward and “gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were awaiting the redemption of Jerusalem” (Luke 2:38). Thus, these ritual acts were also a moment in which Jesus’ divine mission was made manifest to the world.

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Thursday, February 1, 2024

The Angelus

Three times a day the bells toll and I interrupt whatever I have been doing, turn towards the church or the tabernacle and silently recite the Angelus. The words of this prayer repeat the dialogue of the annunciation scene: God’s invitation to Mary through the angel, and Mary's response. The Angelus, which developed in stages beginning at least in the 13th century, is more than a manifestation of monastic devotion to Mary. It is possible to discern a connection between the Angelus and the central goals of monastic life. The annunciation scene recalls the mystery of God’s respect for human freedom to accept or refuse his continual gift of self-manifestation. God will not enter my life or my heart without my free consent. The Angelus is a daily opportunity, presented in a ritual way, for me to consent to God's gift of himself to me, and to say, ‘Here I am, Lord… I am ready’. Repeating Mary's words of acceptance becomes my act of yielding to God's will for me in the present situation. Day after day this places me before God in an attitude of total personal surrender…

CHARLES CUMMINGS, OCSO Monastic Practices, Ch. 4