Friday, December 31, 2010
Friday, October 8, 2010
Saturday, September 25, 2010
He took me to the gate, the one facing east. I saw the glory of the God of Israel approaching from the east. A sound came with it, like the sound of the ocean, and the earth shone with his glory. This vision was like the one I had seen when I had come for the destruction of the city, and like the one I had seen on the bank of the river Chebar. Then I prostrated myself.
The glory of the Lord arrived at the Temple by the east gate. The spirit lifted me up and brought me into the inner court; I saw the glory of the Lord fill the Temple. And I heard someone speaking to me from the Temple while the man stood beside me. The voice said, ‘Son of man, this is the dais of my throne, the step on which I rest my feet. I shall live here among the sons of Israel for ever; and the House of Israel, they and their kings, will no longer defile my holy name with their whorings and the corpses of their kings, setting their threshold beside my threshold and their pillars beside my pillars, with a party wall shared by them and me. They used to defile my holy name by their filthy practices, and this is why I destroyed them in my anger. From now on they will banish their whorings and the corpses of their kings from my presence and I shall live among them for ever.
‘Son of man, describe this Temple to the House of Israel, to shame them out of their filthy practices. Let them draw up the plan, and, if they are ashamed of their behaviour, show them the design and plan of the Temple, its exits and entrances, its shape, how all of it is arranged, the entire design and all its principles. Give them all this in writing so that they can see and take note of its design and the way it is all arranged and carry it out. This is the charter of the Temple: all the surrounding area on top of the mountain is a most holy area. Such is the charter of the Temple.
‘And say to the rebels of the House of Israel, “The Lord says this: You have gone beyond all bounds with all your filthy practices, House of Israel, by admitting aliens, uncircumcised in heart and body, to frequent my sanctuary and profane my Temple, while you offer my bread, the fat and the blood, and break my covenant with all your filthy practices. Instead of performing your duties to me in the Holy Place, you have deputed someone else to perform your duties in my sanctuary. The Lord says this: No alien, uncircumcised in heart and body, is to enter my sanctuary, none of those aliens living among the Israelites.’
Sunday, September 19, 2010
On weak Christians
You have failed to strengthen the weak, says the Lord. He is speaking to wicked shepherds , false shepherds, shepherds who seek their own concerns and not those of Christ. They enjoy the bounty of milk and wool, but they take no care at all of the sheep, and they make no effort to heal those who are ill. I think there is a difference between one who is weak (that is, not strong) and one who is ill, although we often say that the weak are also suffering from illness.
My brothers, when I try to make that distinction, perhaps I could do it better and with greater precision, or perhaps someone with more experience and insight could do so. But when it comes to the words of Scripture, I say what I think so that in the meantime you will not be deprived of all profit. In the case of the weak sheep, it is to be feared that the temptation, when it comes, may break him. The sick person, however, is already ill by reason of some illicit desire or other, and this is keeping him from entering God’s path and submitting to Christ’s yoke.
There are men who want to live a good life and have already decided to do so, but are not capable of bearing sufferings even though they are ready to do good. Now it is a part of the Christian’s strength not only to do good works but also to endure evil. Weak men are those who appear to be zealous in doing good works but are unwilling or unable to endure the sufferings that threaten. Lovers of the world, however, who are kept from good works by some evil desire, lie sick and listless, and it is this sickness that deprives them of any strength to accomplish good works.
The paralytic was like that. When his bearers could not bring him in to the Lord, they opened the roof and lowered him down to the feet of Christ. Perhaps you wish to do this in spirit: to open the roof and to lower a paralytic soul down to the Lord. All its limbs are lifeless, it is empty of every good work, burdened with its sins, and weak from the illness brought on by its evil desires. Since all its limbs are helpless, and the paralysis is interior, you cannot come to the physician. But perhaps the physician is himself concealed within; for the true understanding of Scripture is hidden. Reveal therefore what is hidden, and thus you will open the roof and lower the paralytic to the feet of Christ.
As for those who fail to do this and those who are negligent, you have heard what was said to them: You have failed to heal the sick; you have failed to bind up what was broken. Of this we have already spoken. Man was broken by terrible temptations. But there is at hand a consolation that will bind what was broken: God is faithful. He does not allow you to be tempted beyond your strength, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.
Saturday, September 18, 2010
Offer the bandage of consolation
Scripture says: God chastises every son whom he acknowledges. But the bad shepherd says: “Perhaps I will be exempt.” If he is exempt from the suffering of his chastisements, then he is not numbered among God’s sons. You will say: “Does God indeed punish every son?” Yes, every one, just as he chastised his only Son. His only Son, born of the substance of the Father, equal to the Father in the form of God, the Word through whom all things were made, he could not be chastised. For this reason he was clothed with flesh so that he might know chastisement. God punishes his only Son who is without sin; does he then leave unpunished an adopted son who is with sin? The Apostle says that we have been called to adoption. We have been adopted as sons, that we might be co-heirs with the only Son, and also that we might be his inheritance: Ask of me and I will give you the nations as your inheritance. Christ gave us the example by his own sufferings.
But clearly one who is weak must neither be deceived with false hope nor broken by fear. Otherwise he may fail when temptations come. Say to him: Prepare your soul for temptation. Perhaps he is starting to falter, to tremble with fear, perhaps he is unwilling to approach. You have another passage of Scripture for him: God is faithful. He does not allow you to be tempted beyond your strength. Make that promise while preaching about the sufferings to come, and you will strengthen the man who is weak. When someone is held back because of excessive fear, promise him God’s mercy. It is not that temptations will be lacking, but that God will not permit anyone to be tempted beyond what he can bear. In this manner you will be binding up the broken one.
When they hear of the trials that are coming, some men arm themselves more and, so to speak, are eager to drain the cup. The ordinary medicine of the faithful seems to them but a small thing; for their part they seek the glorious death of the martyrs. Others hear of the temptations to come, and when they do arrive, as arrive they must, they become broken and lame. Yet it is right that such things befall the Christian, and no one esteems them except the one who desires to be a true Christian.
Offer the bandage of consolation, bind up what has been broken. Say this: “Do not be afraid. God in whom you have believed does not abandon you in temptations. God is faithful. He does not allow you to be tempted beyond your strength. It is not I who say this, but the Apostle, and he says further: Are you willing to accept his trial, the trial of Christ who speaks in me? When you hear this you are hearing it from Christ himself, you are hearing it from the shepherd who gives pasture to Israel. For of him it was said: You will give us tears to drink in measure. The Apostle says: He does not allow you to be tempted beyond your strength. This is also what the prophet intends by adding the words: in measure. God rebukes but also encourages, he brings fear and he brings consolation, he strikes and he heals. Do not reject him.”
Friday, September 17, 2010
Prepare your soul for temptation
You have already been told about the wicked things shepherds desire. Let us now consider what they neglect. You have failed to strengthen what was weak, to heal what was sick, and to bind up what was injured (that is, what was broken). You did not call back the straying sheep, nor seek out the lost. What was strong you have destroyed. Yes, you have cut it down and killed it. The sheep is weak, that is to say, its heart is weak, and so, incautious and unprepared, it may give in to temptations.
The negligent shepherd fails to say to the believer: My son, come to the service of God. stand fast in fear and in righteousness, and prepare your soul for temptation. A shepherd who does say this strengthens the one who is weak and makes him strong. Such a believer will then not hope for the prosperity of this world. For if he has been taught to hope for worldly gain, he will be corrupted by prosperity. When adversity comes, he will be wounded or perhaps destroyed.
The builder who builds in such manner is not building the believer on a rock but upon sand. But the rock was Christ. Christians must imitate Christ’s sufferings, not set their hearts on pleasures. He who is weak will be strengthened when told: “Yes, expect the temptations of this world, but the Lord will deliver you from them all if your heart has not abandoned him. For it was to strengthen your heart that he came to suffer and die, came to be spit upon and crowned with thorns, came to be accused of shameful things, yes, came to be fastened to the wood of the cross. All these things he did for you, and you did nothing. He did them not for himself, but for you.”
But what sort of shepherds are they who for fear of giving offence not only fail to prepare the sheep for the temptations that threaten, but even promise them worldly happiness? God himself made no such promise to this world. On the contrary, God foretold hardship upon hardship in this world until the end of time. And you want the Christian to be exempt from these troubles? Precisely because he is a Christian, he is destined to suffer more in this world.
For the Apostle says: All who desire to live a holy life in Christ will suffer persecution. But you, shepherd, seek what is yours and not what is Christ’s, you disregard what the Apostle says: All who want to live a holy life in Christ will suffer persecution. You say instead: “If you live a holy life in Christ, all good things will be yours in abundance. If you do not have children, you will embrace and nourish all men, and none of them shall die.” Is this the way you build up the believer? Take note of what you are doing and where you are placing him. You have built him on sand. The rains will come, the river will overflow and rush in, the winds will blow, and the elements will dash against that house of yours. It will fall, and its ruin will be great.
Lift him up from the sand and put him on the rock. Let him be in Christ, if you wish him to be a Christian. Let him turn his thoughts to sufferings, however unworthy they may be in comparison to Christ’s. Let him centre his attention on Christ, who was without sin, and yet made restitution for what he had not done. Let him consider Scripture, which says to him: He chastises every son whom he acknowledges. Let him prepare to be chastised, or else not seek to be acknowledged as a son.
Thursday, September 16, 2010
A faith that is alert and unshaken
Cyprian to his brother Cornelius.
My very dear brother, we have heard of the glorious witness given by your courageous faith. On learning of the honor you had won by your witness, we were filled with such joy that we felt ourselves sharers and companions in your praiseworthy achievements. After all, we have the same Church, the same mind, the same unbroken harmony. Why then should a priest not take pride in the praise given to a fellow priest as though it were given to him? What brotherhood fails to rejoice in the happiness of its brothers wherever they are?
Words cannot express how great was the exultation and delight here when we heard of your good fortune and brave deeds: how you stood out as leader of your brothers in their declaration of faith, while the leader’s confession was enhanced as they declared their faith. You led the way to glory, but you gained many companions in that glory; being foremost in your readiness to bear witness on behalf of all, you prevailed on your people to become a single witness. We cannot decide which we ought to praise, your own ready and unshaken faith or the love of your brothers who would not leave you. While the courage of the bishop who thus led the way has been demonstrated, at the same time the unity of the brotherhood who followed has been manifested. Since you have one heart and one voice, it is the Roman Church as a whole that has thus borne witness. Dearest brother, bright and shining is the faith which the blessed Apostle praised in your community. He foresaw in the spirit the praise your courage deserves and the strength that could not be broken; he was heralding the future when he testified to your achievements; his praise of the fathers was a challenge to the sons. Your unity, your strength have become shining examples of these virtues to the rest of the brethren. Divine providence has now prepared us. God’s merciful design has warned us that the day of our own struggle, our own contest, is at hand. By that shared love which binds us close together, we are doing all we can to exhort our congregation, to give ourselves unceasingly to fastings, vigils and prayers in common. These are the heavenly weapons which give us the strength to stand firm and endure; they are the spiritual defenses, the God-given armaments that protect us.
Let us then remember one another, united in mind and heart. Let us pray without ceasing, you for us, we for you; by the love we share we shall thus relieve the strain of these great trials.
Wednesday, September 15, 2010
The martyrdom of the Virgin is set forth both in the prophecy of Simeon and in the actual story of our Lord’s passion. The holy old man said of the infant Jesus: He has been established as a sign which will be contradicted. He went on to say to Mary: And your own heart will be pierced by a sword.
Truly, O blessed Mother, a sword has pierced your heart. For only by passing through your heart could the sword enter the flesh of your Son. Indeed, after your Jesus – who belongs to everyone, but is especially yours – gave up his life, the cruel spear, which was not withheld from his lifeless body, tore open his side. Clearly it did not touch his soul and could not harm him, but it did pierce your heart. For surely his soul was no longer there, but yours could not be torn away. Thus the violence of sorrow has cut through your heart, and we rightly call you more than martyr, since the effect of compassion in you has gone beyond the endurance of physical suffering.
Or were those words, Woman, behold your Son, not more than a word to you, truly piercing your heart, cutting through to the division between soul and spirit? What an exchange! John is given to you in place of Jesus, the servant in place of the Lord, the disciple in place of the master; the son of Zebedee replaces the Son of God, a mere man replaces God himself. How could these words not pierce your most loving heart, when the mere remembrance of them breaks ours, hearts of iron and stone though they are!
Do not be surprised, brothers, that Mary is said to be a martyr in spirit. Let him be surprised who does not remember the words of Paul, that one of the greatest crimes of the Gentiles was that they were without love. That was far from the heart of Mary; let it be far from her servants.
Perhaps someone will say: “Had she not known before that he would not die?” Undoubtedly. “Did she not expect him to rise again at once?” Surely. “And still she grieved over her crucified Son?” Intensely. Who are you and what is the source of your wisdom that you are more surprised at the compassion of Mary than at the passion of Mary’s Son? For if he could die in body, could she not die with him in spirit? He died in body through a love greater than anyone had known. She died in spirit through a love unlike any other since his.
Tuesday, September 14, 2010
The cross is Christ's glory and triumph
We are celebrating the feast of the cross which drove away darkness and brought in the light. As we keep this feast, we are lifted up with the crucified Christ, leaving behind us earth and sin so that we may gain the things above. So great and outstanding a possession is the cross that he who wins it has won a treasure. Rightly could I call this treasure the fairest of all fair things and the costliest, in fact as well as in name, for on it and through it and for its sake the riches of salvation that had been lost were restored to us.
Had there been no cross, Christ could not have been crucified. Had there been no cross, life itself could not have been nailed to the tree. And if life had not been nailed to it, there would be no streams of immortality pouring from Christ’s side, blood and water for the world’s cleansing. The legal bond of our sin would not be cancelled, we should not have attained our freedom, we should not have enjoyed the fruit of the tree of life and the gates of paradise would not stand open. Had there been no cross, death would not have been trodden underfoot, nor hell despoiled.
Therefore, the cross is something wonderfully great and honourable. It is great because through the cross the many noble acts of Christ found their consummation – very many indeed, for both his miracles and his sufferings were fully rewarded with victory. The cross is honourable because it is both the sign of God’s suffering and the trophy of his victory. It stands for his suffering because on it he freely suffered unto death. But it is also his trophy because it was the means by which the devil was wounded and death conquered; the barred gates of hell were smashed, and the cross became the one common salvation of the whole world.
The cross is called Christ’s glory; it is saluted as his triumph. We recognise it as the cup he longed to drink and the climax of the sufferings he endured for our sake. As to the cross being Christ’s glory, listen to his words: Now is the Son of Man glorified, and in him God is glorified, and God will glorify him at once. And again: Father, glorify me with the glory I had with you before the world came to be. And once more: “Father, glorify your name.” Then a voice came from heaven: “I have glorified it and will glorify it again.” Here he speaks of the glory that would accrue to him through the cross. And if you would understand that the cross is Christ’s triumph, hear what he himself also said: When I am lifted up, then I will draw all men to myself. Now you can see that the cross is Christ’s glory and triumph.
Monday, September 13, 2010
For me, life means Christ, and death is gain
The waters have risen and severe storms are upon us, but we do not fear drowning, for we stand firmly upon a rock. Let the sea rage, it cannot break the rock. Let the waves rise, they cannot sink the boat of Jesus. What are we to fear? Death? Life to me means Christ, and death is gain. Exile? ‘The earth and its fullness belong to the Lord. The confiscation of goods? We brought nothing into this world, and we shall surely take nothing from it. I have only contempt for the world’s threats, I find its blessings laughable. I have no fear of poverty, no desire for wealth. I am not afraid of death nor do I long to live, except for your good. I concentrate therefore on the present situation, and I urge you, my friends, to have confidence.
Do you not hear the Lord saying: Where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in their midst? Will he be absent, then, when so many people united in love are gathered together? I have his promise; I am surely not going to rely on my own strength! I have what he has written; that is my staff, my security, my peaceful harbor. Let the world be in upheaval. I hold to his promise and read his message; that is my protecting wall and garrison. What message? Know that I am with you always, until the end of the world!
If Christ is with me, whom shall I fear? Though the waves and the sea and the anger of princes are roused against me, they are less to me than a spider’s web. Indeed, unless you, my brothers, had detained me, I would have left this very day. For I always say “Lord, your will be done”; not what this fellow or that would have me do, but what you want me to do. That is my strong tower, my immovable rock, my staff that never gives way. If God wants something, let it be done! If he wants me to stay here, I am grateful. But wherever he wants me to be, I am no less grateful.
Yet where I am, there you are too, and where you are, I am. For we are a single body, and the body cannot be separated from the head nor the head from the body. Distance separates us, but love unites us, and death itself cannot divide us. For though my body die, my soul will live and be mindful of my people.
You are my fellow citizens, my fathers, my brothers, my sons, my limbs, my body. You are my light, sweeter to me than the visible light. For what can the rays of the sun bestow on me that is comparable to your love? The sun’s light is useful in my earthly life, but your love is fashioning a crown for me in the life to come.
Sunday, September 12, 2010
We are Christians as well as leaders
You have often learned that all our hope is in Christ and that he is our true glory and our salvation. You are members of the flock of the Good Shepherd, who watches over Israel and nourishes his people. Yet there are shepherds who want to have the title of shepherd without wanting to fulfil a pastor’s duties; let us then recall what God says to his shepherds through the prophet. You must listen attentively; I must listen with fear and trembling.
The word of the Lord came to me and said: Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel and speak to the shepherds of Israel. We just heard this reading a moment ago, my brothers, and I have decided to speak to you on this passage. The Lord will help me to speak the truth if I do not speak on my own authority. For if I speak on my own authority, I will be a shepherd nourishing myself and not the sheep. However, if my words are the Lord’s, then he is nourishing you no matter who speaks. Thus says the Lord God: Shepherds of Israel, who have been nourishing only themselves! Should not the shepherds nourish the sheep? In other words, true shepherds take care of their sheep, not themselves. This is the principle reason why God condemns those shepherds: they took care of themselves rather than their sheep. Who are they who nourish themselves? They are the shepherds the Apostle described when he said: They all seek what is theirs and not what is Christ’s.
I must distinguish carefully between two aspects of the role the lord has given me, a role that demands a rigorous accountability, a role based on the Lord’s greatness rather than on my own merit. The first aspect is that I am a Christian; the second, that I am a leader. I am a Christian for my own sake, whereas I am a leader for your sake; the fact that I am a Christian is to my own advantage, but I am a leader for your advantage.
Many persons come to God as Christians but not as leaders. Perhaps they travel by an easier road and are less hindered since they bear a lighter burden. In addition to the fact that I am a Christian and must give God an account of my life, I as a leader must give him an account of my stewardship as well.
Saturday, September 11, 2010
Make our lives new as they were at the beginning
God the Word of the great and good Father did not abandon human nature as it was falling into corruption and decay. By offering his own body he wiped out the death towards which mankind was heading. By his teaching he healed their ignorance, and by his power and might he re-founded the whole of human nature.
If you want confirmation of this, look to the authority of Christ’s own disciples and what they have written about God: The love of Christ overwhelms us when we reflect that if one man has died for all, then all men should be dead; and the reason he died for all was so that living men should live no longer for themselves, but for him who died and was raised to life for them, our Lord Jesus Christ. And again: We see in Jesus one who was for a short while made lower than the angels and is now crowned with glory and splendour because he submitted to death; by God’s grace he had to experience death for all mankind. Then he gives the reason why only God the Word could become man: It was appropriate that God, for whom everything exists and through whom everything exists, should make perfect, through suffering, the leader who would take them to their salvation. These words mean that the rescue of mankind from corruption and decay was the task of none other than God the Word, by whom they were originally created.
The Word’s purpose behind taking on a body was that he should become a sacrifice for bodies of the same kind, as scripture says: Since all the children share the same blood and flesh, he too shared equally in it, so that by his death he could take away all the power of him who had power over death, and set free all those who had been held in slavery all their lives by the fear of death. So by offering up his own body he brought an end to the law that had been condemning us, and by giving us the hope of resurrection he gave our lives a new beginning.
It was through the act of man that death received power over man, and through the act of God the Word for man that death lost its power and the resurrection of life took its place. Thus Paul said: Death came through one man and in the same way the resurrection of the dead has come through one man. Just as all men die in Adam, so all men will be brought to life in Christ... and so on. We no longer die to be condemned, we die to be raised up and await the resurrection of all, which God will bring about at a time of his choosing, the creator of all things and the giver of all gifts.
Friday, September 10, 2010
It is not Christ's will to forgive without the Church
There are two things that are God’s and God’s alone: the honour of receiving confession and the power of granting forgiveness. Confession is what we must make to him, and forgiveness is what we must hope to receive from him. The power to forgive sins belongs only to God, and this is why we must confess them to him.
But God has taken a bride. The Almighty has taken the feeble one, the Most High has taken the lowly one – out of a servant he has made a queen. She was behind and beneath him and he raised her to be at his side. From out of his wounded side she came, and he took her to be his bride.
Just as all that the Father has is the Son’s, so too what the Son has is the Father’s, since they share the same undivided nature. In just the same way the bridegroom gave all that was his to the bride and shared all that she had, making her one with himself and the Father. Hear the Son making his plea to the Father for his bride: I desire that just as you and I are one, so these should be one with us.
The bridegroom is one with the Father and one with his bride. Whatever in her was foreign to her nature he took away from her and nailed to the cross. He carried her sins with him onto the tree and by the tree he took them away from her. Whatever was natural and and proper to her he took on and clothed himself in it. Whatever was divine and proper to him, he bestowed on her. He took away what was diabolical, took on what was human, conferred what was divine, so that all that the bride possessed should be the bridegroom’s also. Thus it is that he who has committed no sin, on whose lips is no deceit, can say Take pity on me, Lord, for I am weak – for he who shares in his bride’s weakness must share in her lament, and thus all that is the bridegroom’s is the bride’s also. Here is where the honour of confession comes from, and the power of forgiveness, so that it can truly be said: Go and show yourself to the priest!
The Church can forgive nothing without Christ, and it is Christ’s will to forgive nothing except with the Church. The Church can forgive no-one except the penitent – that is, one who has been touched by Christ – and Christ does not wish to forgive anyone who does not value the Church. What God has united, man must not divide, says Christ, and Paul adds, I am saying that this great mystery applies to Christ and the Church.
Do not sever the head from the body so that Christ is whole no longer. For Christ is not whole without the Church, nor is the Church whole without Christ. This is why he says No-one has gone up to heaven except the Son of Man who is in heaven. He is the only man who can forgive sins.
Thursday, September 9, 2010
If I forget you, Jerusalem
How delightful is your dwelling-place, Lord of hosts!
That is, for the broad spaces of the heavenly Jerusalem, which is the city of God.
Blessed are they who dwell in your house:
they will praise you for ever.
Now the psalmist shows why he desires to enter the courts of the Lord: Lord, God of all powers in heaven, my king and my God, blessed are they who dwell in your house. It is as if he said, ‘Who would not wish to enter your courts, since you are God, that is, the Creator, the Lord of the powers, the King, and since all are blessed who live in your house?’ Because ‘courts’ and ‘house’ mean the same thing here. When he says ‘blessed’ he means that they have all conceivable blessedness. And they are surely blessed, because they will praise you with loving devotion for ever, that is, for all eternity. They would not be able to praise the Lord for all eternity unless they were blessed for all eternity.
Blessed the man whose help comes from you,
who has set his heart on climbing to you.
But no-one can reach this blessedness on his own, even if he has hope, faith and love. Blessed is the man whose help comes from you – in other words, only the man whose help comes from you will attain the blessedness he has set his heart on. That is to say: the only people who will attain blessedness are those who set their hearts on climbing many steps of virtue and good works, but also receive the help of your grace. No-one can climb by himself, as the Lord himself has said: No-one has gone up to heaven except the Son of Man who is in heaven.
I say that he is climbing to you because he now lives in the valley of tears, that is, in this present life, which is lowly and filled with the tears of tribulation; as opposed to the other life, which can be called a mountain in comparison, a mountain full of joy.
Since the psalmist has said, Blessed the man whose help comes from you, one might ask, ‘Will God give his help?’ The answer is that help is truly offered by God to the blessed. For the lawgiver, that is, Christ, gave us the law and he gives us and will go on giving us blessings (that is, the many gifts of grace) by which he blesses his own people. This means he will raise them up to blessedness, and so they will go from strength to strength as they climb. In the future heavenly Zion Christ will be seen, the God of gods, and since he is God he will make his people divine also. Or, if you prefer, you can say that the God of gods, God the Trinity, will be visible in a spiritual sense in those who dwell in Zion. By the light of their understanding they will see God in themselves in a way that now they cannot, for God
Wednesday, September 8, 2010
The old has passed away: all things are made new
‘The fulfillment of the law is Christ himself, who does not so much lead us away from the letter as lift us up to its spirit. For the law’s consummation was this, that the very lawgiver accomplished his work and changed letter into spirit, summing everything up in himself and, though subject to the law, living by grace. He subordinated the law, yet harmoniously united grace with it, not confusing the distinctive characteristics of the one with the other, but effecting the transition in a way most fitting for God. He changed whatever was burdensome, servile and oppressive not what is light and liberating, so that we should be enslaved no longer under the elemental spirits of the world, as the Apostle says, nor held fast as bondservants under the letter of the law.
This is the highest, all-embracing benefit that Christ has bestowed on us. This is the revelation of the mystery, this is the emptying out of the divine nature, the union of God and man, and the deification of the manhood that was assumed. This radiant and manifest coming of God to men most certainly needed a joyful prelude to introduce the great gift of salvation to us. The present festival, the birth of the Mother of God, is the prelude, while the final act is the fore-ordained union of the Word with flesh. Today the Virgin is born, tended and formed and prepared for her role as Mother of God, who is the universal King of the ages.
Justly, then, do we celebrate this mystery since it signifies for us a double grace. We are led toward the truth, and we are led away from our condition of slavery to the letter of the law. How can this be? Darkness yields before the coming of the light, and grace exchanges legalism for freedom. But midway between the two stands today’s mystery, at the frontier where types and symbols give way to reality, and the old is replaced by the new. Therefore, let all creation sing and dance and unite to make worthy contribution to the celebration of this day. Let there be one common festival for saints in heaven and men on earth. Let everything, mundane things and those above, join in festive celebration. Today this created world is raised to the dignity of a holy place for him who made all things. The creature is newly prepared to be a divine dwelling place for the Creator.
Tuesday, September 7, 2010
I shall stand upon my watch-tower to see what the Lord will say to me
We read in the gospel that when the Lord was teaching his disciples and urged them to share in his passion by the mystery of eating his body, some said: This is a hard saying, and from that time they no longer followed him. When he asked the disciples whether they also wished to go away, they replied: Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.
I assure you, my brothers, that even to this day it is clear to some that the words which Jesus speaks are spirit and life, and for this reason they follow him. To others these words seem hard, and so they look elsewhere for some pathetic consolation. Yet wisdom cries out in the streets, in the broad and spacious way that leads to death, to call back those who take this path. Finally, he says: For forty years I have been close to this generation, and I said: They have always been faint-hearted. You also read in another psalm: God has spoken once. Once, indeed, because for ever. His is a single, uninterrupted utterance, because it is continuous and unending.
He calls upon sinners to return to their true spirit and rebukes them when their hearts have gone astray, for it is in the true heart that he dwells and there he speaks, fulfilling what he taught through the prophet: Speak to the heart of Jerusalem. You see, my brothers, how the prophet admonishes us for our advantage: If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts. You can read almost the same words in the gospel and in the prophet. For in the gospel the Lord says: My sheep hear my voice. And in the psalm blessed David says: You are his people (meaning, of course, the Lord’s) and the sheep of his pasture. If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts.
Hear also the prophet Habakkuk in today’s reading. Far from hiding the Lord’s reprimands, he dwells on them with attentive and anxious care. He says: I will stand upon my watch-tower and take up my post on the ramparts, keeping watch to see what he will say to me and what answer I will make to those who try to confute me. I beg you, my brothers, stand upon our watch-tower, for now is the time for battle. Let all our dealings be in the heart, where Christ dwells, in right judgment and wise counsel, but in such a way as to place no confidence in those dealings, nor rely upon our fragile defenses.
Monday, September 6, 2010
Whoever loves your law will have abundant peace
The blessedness of seeing God is justly promised to the pure of heart. For the eye that is unclean would not be able to see the brightness of the true light, and what would be happiness to clear minds would be a torment to those that are defiled. Therefore, let the mists of worldly vanities be dispelled, and the inner eye be cleansed of all the filth of wickedness, so that the soul’s gaze may feast serenely upon the great vision of God.
It is to the attainment of this goal that the next words refer: Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God. This blessedness, dearly beloved, does not derive from any casual agreement or from any and every kind of harmony, but it pertains to what the Apostle says: Be at peace before the Lord, and to the words of the prophet: Those who love your law shall enjoy abundant peace; for them it is no stumbling block. Even the most intimate bonds of friendship and the closest affinity of minds cannot truly lay claim to this peace if they are not in agreement with the will of God. Alliances based on evil desires, covenants of crime and pacts of vice – all lie outside the scope of this peace. Love of the world cannot be reconciled with love of God, and the man who does not separate himself from the children of this generation cannot join the company of the sons of God. But those who keep God ever in their hearts, and are anxious to preserve the unity of the spirit in the bond of peace, never dissent from the eternal law as they speak the prayer of faith. Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
These then are the peacemakers; they are bound together in holy harmony and are rightly given the heavenly title of sons of God, co-heirs with Christ. And this is the reward they will receive for their love of God and neighbor: when their struggle with all temptation is finally over, there will be no further adversities to suffer or scandal to fear; but they will rest in the peace of God undisturbed, through our Lord who lives and reigns with the Father and the Holy Spirit for ever and ever. Amen.
Sunday, September 5, 2010
The Lord then goes on to say: Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be filled. This hunger is not for bodily food, this thirst is not for any earthly drink: it is a longing to be blessed with righteousness, and, by penetrating the secret of all mysteries, to be filled with the Lord himself.
Happy is the soul that longs for the food of righteousness and thirsts for this kind of drink; it would not seek such things if it had not already savored their delight. When the soul hears the voice of the Spirit saying to it through the prophet: Taste and see that the Lord is good, it has already received a portion of God’s goodness, and is on fire with love, the love that gives joy of the utmost purity. It counts as nothing all that belongs to time; it is entirely consumed with desire to eat and drink the food of righteousness. The soul lays hold of the true meaning of the first and great commandment: You shall love the Lord God with your whole heart, and your whole mind and your whole strength, for to love God is nothing else than to love righteousness.
Finally, just as concern for one’s neighbor is added to love of God, so the virtue of mercy is added to the desire for righteousness, as it is said: Blessed are the merciful, for God will be merciful to them.
Remember, Christian, the surpassing worth of the wisdom that is yours. Bear in mind the kind of school in which you are to learn your skills, the rewards to which you are called. Mercy itself wishes you to be merciful, righteousness itself wishes you to be righteous, so that the Creator may shine forth in his creature, and the image of God be reflected in the mirror of the human heart as it imitates his qualities. The faith of those who live their faith is a serene faith. What you long for will be given you; what you love will be yours for ever.
Since it is by giving alms that everything is pure for you, you will also receive that blessing which is promised next by the Lord: Blessed are the pure of heart, for they shall see God. Dear friends, great is the happiness of those for whom such a reward is prepared. Who are the clean of heart if not those who strive for those virtues we have mentioned above? What mind can conceive, what words can express the great happiness of seeing God? Yet human nature will achieve this when it has been transformed so that it sees the Godhead no longer in a mirror or obscurely but face to face – the Godhead that no man has been able to see. In the inexpressible joy of this eternal vision, human nature will possess what eye has not seen or ear heard, what man’s heart has never conceived.
Friday, September 3, 2010
For the love of Christ I do not spare myself in preaching him
‘Son of man, I have appointed you as watchman to the house of Israel.’ Note that Ezekiel, whom the Lord sent to preach his word, is described as a watchman. Now a watchman always takes up his position on the heights so that he can see from a distance whatever approaches. Likewise whoever is appointed watchman to a people should live a life on the heights so that he can help them by taking a wide survey.
These words are hard to utter, for when I speak it is myself that I am reproaching. I do not preach as I should nor does my life follow the principles I preach so inadequately.
I do not deny that I am guilty, for I see my torpor and my negligence. Perhaps my very recognition of failure will win me pardon from a sympathetic judge. When I lived in a monastic community I was able to keep my tongue from idle topics and to devote my mind almost continually to the discipline of prayer. Since taking on my shoulders the burden of pastoral care, I have been unable to keep steadily recollected because my mind is distracted by many responsibilities.
I am forced to consider questions affecting churches and monasteries and often 1 must judge the lives and actions of individuals; at one moment I am forced to take part in certain civil affairs, next I must worry over the incursions of barbarians and fear the wolves who menace the flock entrusted to my care; now I must accept political responsibility in order to give support to those who preserve the rule of law; now I must bear patiently the villainies of brigands, and then I must confront them, yet in all charity.
My mind is sundered and torn to pieces by the many and serious things I have to think about. When I try to concentrate and gather all my intellectual resources for preaching, how can I do justice to the sacred ministry of the word? I am often compelled by the nature of my position to associate with men of the world and sometimes I relax the discipline of my speech. If I preserved the rigorously inflexible mode of utterance that my conscience dictates, I know that the weaker sort of men would recoil from me and that I could never attract them to the goal I desire for them. So I must frequently listen patiently to their aimless chatter. Because I am weak myself I am drawn gradually into idle talk and I find myself saying the kind of thing that I didn’t even care to listen to before. I enjoy lying back where I once was loath to stumble.
Who am I — what kind of watchman am I? I do not stand on the pinnacle of achievement, I languish rather in the depths of my weakness. And yet the creator and redeemer of mankind can give me, unworthy though I be, the grace to see life whole and power to speak effectively of it. It is for love of him that I do not spare myself in preaching him.
Thursday, September 2, 2010
I shall put my laws within them
Dearly beloved, when our Lord Jesus Christ was preaching the Gospel of the kingdom and healing various illnesses throughout the whole of Galilee, the fame of his mighty works spread into all of Syria, and great crowds from all parts of Judea flocked to the heavenly physician. Because human ignorance is slow to believe what it does not see, and equally slow to hope for what it does not know, those who were to be instructed in the divine teaching had first to be aroused by bodily benefits and visible miracles so that, once they had experienced his gracious power, they would no longer doubt the wholesome effect of his doctrine. In order, therefore, to transform outward healings into inward remedies, and to cure men’s souls now that he had healed their bodies, our Lord separated himself from the surrounding crowds, climbed to the solitude of a neighboring mountain, and called the apostles to himself. From the height of this mystical site he then instructed them in the most lofty doctrines, suggesting both by the very nature of the place and by what he was doing that it was he who long ago had honored Moses by speaking to him. At that time, his words showed a terrifying justice, but now they reveal a sacred compassion, in order to fulfill what was promised in the words of the prophet Jeremiah: Behold the days are coming, says the Lord, when I shall establish a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah. After those days, says the Lord, I shall put my laws within them and write them on their hearts.
And so it was that he who had spoken to Moses spoke also to the apostles. Writing in the hearts of his disciples, the swift hand of the Word composed the ordinances of the new covenant. And this was not done as formerly, in the midst of dense clouds, amid terrifying sounds and lightning, so that the people were frightened away from approaching the mountain. Instead, there was a tranquil discourse which clearly reached the ears of all who stood nearby so that the harshness of the law might be softened by the gentleness of grace, and the spirit of adoption might dispel the terror of slavery.
Concerning the content of Christ’s teaching, his own sacred words bear witness; thus whoever longs to attain eternal blessedness can now recognise the steps that lead to that high happiness. Blessed, he says, are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. It might have been unclear to which poor he was referring, if after the words Blessed are the poor, he had not added anything about the kind of poor he had in mind. For then the poverty that many suffer because of grave and harsh necessity might seem sufficient to merit the kingdom of heaven.
But when he says: Blessed are the poor in spirit, he shows that the kingdom of heaven is to be given to those who are distinguished by their humility of soul rather than by their lack of worldly goods
Tuesday, August 31, 2010
You thunder your judgments upon me, O Lord; you shake all my bones with fear and dread, and my soul becomes severely frightened. I am bewildered when I realize that even the heavens are not pure in your sight.
If you discovered iniquity in the angels and did not spare them, what will become of me? The stars fell from heaven, and I, mere dust, what should I expect? Those whose works seemed praiseworthy fell to the depths, and I have seen those who once were fed with the bread of angels take comfort in the husks of swine.
There is no holiness where you have withdrawn your hand, O Lord; no profitable wisdom if you cease to rule over it; no helpful strength if you cease to preserve it. If you forsake us, we sink and perish; but if you visit us, we rise up and live again. We are unstable, but you make us firm; we grow cool, but you inflame us.
All superficial glory has been swallowed up in the depths of your judgment upon me.
What is all flesh in your sight? Can the clay be glorified in opposition to its Maker?
How can anyone be stirred by empty talk if his heart is subject in the truth to God?
If a man is subject to truth, possession of the whole world cannot swell him with pride; nor will he be swayed by the flattery of his admirers, if he has established all his trust in God.
For those who do nothing but talk amount to nothing; they fail with their din of words, but ‘the truth of the Lord endures for ever’.
Monday, August 30, 2010
I taught my prophets
My son, says the Lord, listen to my words, the most delightful of all words, surpassing all the knowledge of the philosophers and wise men of this world. My words are spirit and life and cannot be comprehended by human senses alone. They are not to be interpreted according to the vain pleasure of the listener, but they must be listened to in silence and received with all humility and great affection.
And I said: Blessed is the man whom you teach, Lord, and whom you instruct in your law; for him you soften the blow of the evil day, and you do not desert him on the earth.
The Lord says, I have instructed my prophets from the beginning. Even to the present time I have not stopped speaking to all men, but many are deaf and obstinate in response.
Many hear the world more easily than they hear God; they follow the desires of the flesh more readily than the pleasure of God. The world promises rewards that are temporal and insignificant, and these are pursued with great longing; I promise rewards that are eternal and unsurpassable, yet the hearts of mortals respond sluggishly.
Who serves and obeys me in all matters with as much care as the world and its princes are served?
Blush, then, you lazy, complaining servant, for men are better prepared for the works of death than you are for the works of life. They take more joy in vanity than you in truth.
Yet they are often deceived in their hope, while my promise deceives no one, and leaves empty-handed no one who confides in me. What I have promised I shall give; what I have said I will fulfil for any man who remains faithful in my love unto the very end. I am the rewarder of all good men, the one who rigorously tests the devoted.
Write my words in your heart and study them diligently, for they will be absolutely necessary in the time of temptation. Whatever you fail to understand in reading my words will become clear to you on the day of your visitation.
I visit my elect in a double fashion: that is, with temptation and with consolation. And I read to them two lessons each day: one to rebuke them for their faults; the other to exhort them to increase their virtue.
He who possesses my words, yet spurns them, earns his own judgement on the last day.
Saturday, August 28, 2010
O Eternal Truth, true love and beloved eternity…Urged to reflect upon myself, I entered under your guidance the innermost places of my being; but only because you had become my helper was I able to do so. I entered, then, and with the vision of my spirit, such as it was, I saw the incommutable light far above my spiritual ken and transcending my mind: not this common light which every carnal eye can see, nor any light of the same order; but greater, as though this common light were shining much more powerfully, far more brightly, and so extensively as to fill the universe. The light I saw was not the common light at all, but something different, utterly different, from all those things. Nor was it higher than my mind in the sense that oil floats on water or the sky is above the earth; it was exalted because this very light made me, and I was below it because by it I was made. Anyone who knows truth knows this light.
O eternal Truth, true Love, and beloved Eternity, you are my God, and for you I sigh day and night. As I first began to know you, you lifted me up and showed me that, while that which I might see exists indeed, I was not yet capable of seeing it. Your rays beamed intensely on me, beating back my feeble gaze, and I trembled with love and dread. I knew myself to be far away from you in a region of unlikeness, and I seemed to hear your voice from on high: “I am the food of the mature: grow, then, and you shall eat me. You will not change me into yourself like bodily food; but you will be changed into me”.
Accordingly I looked for a way to gain the strength I needed to enjoy you, but I did not find it until I embraced the mediator between God and man, the man Christ Jesus, who is also God, supreme over all things and blessed for ever. He called out, proclaiming I am the Way and Truth and the Life, nor had I known him as the food which, though I was not yet strong enough to eat it, he had mingled with our flesh, for the Word became flesh so that your Wisdom, through whom you created all things, might become for us the milk adapted to our infancy.
Late have I loved you, Beauty so ancient and so new, late have I loved you!
Lo, you were within,
but I outside, seeking there for you,
and upon the shapely things you have made
I rushed headlong – I, misshapen.
You were with me, but I was not with you.
They held me back far from you,
those things which would have no being,
were they not in you.
You called, shouted, broke through my deafness;
you flared, blazed, banished my blindness;
you lavished your fragrance, I gasped; and now I pant for you;
I tasted you, and now I hunger and thirst;
you touched me, and I burned for your peace.
Friday, August 27, 2010
Let us gain eternal wisdom
Because the day when she was to leave this life was drawing near – a day known to you, though we were ignorant of it – she and I happened to be alone, through (as I believe) the mysterious workings of your will. We stood leaning against a window which looked out on a garden within the house where we were staying, at Ostia on the Tiber; for there, far from the crowds, we were recruiting our strength after the long journey, in order to prepare ourselves for our voyage overseas. We were alone, conferring very intimately. Forgetting what lay in the past, and stretching out to what was ahead, we enquired between ourselves, in the light of present truth, into what you are and what the eternal life of the saints would be like, for Eye has not seen nor ear heard nor human heart conceived it. And yet, with the mouth of our hearts wide open we panted thirstily for the celestial streams of your fountain, the fount of life which is with you.
This was the substance of our talk, though not the exact words. Yet you know, O Lord, how on that very day, amid this talk of ours that seemed to make the world with all its charms grow cheap, she said, “For my part, my son, I no longer find pleasure in anything that this life holds. What I am doing here still, or why I am still here, I do not know, for worldly hope has withered away for me. One thing only there was for which I desired to linger in this life: to see you a Catholic Christian before I died. And my God has granted this to me more lavishly than I could have hoped, letting me see even you spurning earthly happiness to be his servant. What am I still doing here?”
What I replied I cannot clearly remember, because just about that time – five days later, or not much more – she took to her bed with fever. One day during her illness she lapsed into unconsciousness and for a short time was unaware of her surroundings. We all came running, but she quickly returned to her senses, and, gazing at me and my brother as we stood there, she asked in puzzlement, “Where was I?”
We were bewildered with grief, but she looked keenly at us and said, “You are to bury your mother here”. I was silent, holding back my tears, but my brother said something about his hope that she would not die far from home but in her own country, for that would be a happier way. On hearing this she looked anxious and her eyes rebuked him for thinking so; then she turned her gaze from him to me and said, “What silly talk!” Shortly afterwards, addressing us both, she said, “Lay this body anywhere, and take no trouble over it. One thing only do I ask of you, that you remember me at the altar of the Lord wherever you may be”. Having made her meaning clear to us with such words as she could muster, she fell silent, and the pain of the disease grew worse.
Thursday, August 26, 2010
You, God, are everything to us
My brethren, let us follow this call. We are called to the source and fountain of life, by the Life who is not just the fountain of living water but also the fountain of eternal life, the fountain of light, the fountain and source of glory. From this Life comes everything: wisdom, life, eternal light. The Creator of life is the fountain from which life springs; the Creator of light is the fountain of light. So let us leave this world of visible things. Let us leave this world of time and head for the heavens. Like fish seeking water, like wise and rational fish let us seek the fountain of light, the fountain of life, the fountain of living water. Let us swim in, let us drink from the water of the spring welling up into eternal life.
Merciful God, righteous Lord, grant that I may reach that fountain. There let me join the others who thirst for you, drinking living water from the living stream that flows from the fountain of life. Overwhelmed by its sweetness let me cling close to it and say “How sweet is the spring of living water that never runs dry, the spring that wells up into eternal life!.”
O Lord, you yourself are that spring, always and for ever to be desired, always and for ever to be drunk from. Christ our Lord, give us this water as the Samarian woman once asked you, so that in us also it can be a spring of living water welling up into eternal life. It is an enormous gift I am asking – everyone knows that – but you, King of glory, have given great gifts in the past and made great promises. Nothing, after all, is greater than you; and yet you have given yourself to us and given yourself for us.
Therefore we beg you that we should come to full knowledge of the thing that we love; for we pray to be given nothing other than you yourself. You are everything to us, our life, our light, our health and strength, our food, our drink, our God. Jesus, our Jesus, I beg you to fill our hearts with the breath of your Spirit. Pierce our souls with the sword of your love so that each of us can say truthfully in his heart, “Show me the one with whom my soul is in love, for by love I am wounded.”
Lord, let me bear such wounds in my soul. Blessed is the soul that is wounded by such love and, thus wounded, seeks the fountain and drinks, thirsts even while it drinks: it seeks by loving, and the very wound of love brings it healing. May Jesus Christ, our righteous God and Lord, our true and healing doctor, deign to wound our innermost hearts with that healing wound. With the Father and the Holy Spirit he is one, for ever and for ever. Amen.
Wednesday, August 25, 2010
Let him who thirsts come to me and drink
Beloved brethren, turn your ears to my words, for there are things that it is necessary for you to hear. I shall be speaking of the waters of God’s fountain: refresh your thirst at that spring but do not entirely quench it. Drink without sating yourselves, for the living spring, the fount and source of life, is calling us: if anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink.
Understand what it is that you are to drink. Let Jeremiah tell you, let the fountain himself tell you: they have abandoned me, the fountain of living water, says the Lord. So you see that the Lord himself, our God Jesus Christ, is the fountain of life; and he calls us to himself so that we may drink from him. Who will drink? Whoever loves; whoever is filled with the word of God; whoever adores enough, whoever desires enough; whoever is on fire with the love of wisdom.
See the source from which that fountain flows. It comes from the same place that the manna came from in the wilderness – for the same person is both bread and fountain, Christ our Lord and God, for whom we should always hunger. Even if we eat him, the bread, with love, even if we devour him with desire, let us still hunger for him like starving men. So when we drink him, the fountain, let us always drink him with overflowing love, filled with longing and delighting in the gentle taste of his sweetness.
For the Lord is gentleness and delight. We may eat and drink of him but still we will be hungry and thirst for more; for he is our food and drink that can never be entirely consumed. He can be eaten but there will always be more left. He can be drunk but he can never be drained dry. Our bread is eternal; our fountain lasts for ever, our fountain is sweet. So Isaiah says: come to the water all you who are thirsty; the fountain is for the thirsty, not for the surfeited. He calls the hungry and the thirsty to himself, and they can never drink enough: the more they drink, the more they desire to drink.
The word of God on high is the fountain of Wisdom. So, my brethren, it is right that we should desire it, seek it and love it. In it all the jewels of wisdom and knowledge are hidden, as St Paul says; and God calls anyone who thirsts to drink from that fountain.
If you are thirsty, drink from the fountain of life; if you are hungry, eat the bread of life. Blessed are they who hunger for that bread and thirst for that fountain; they eat and drink for ever and still they desire to eat and drink. For it is lovely above all things, that which is always eaten and drunk, always hungered and thirsted for. Thus David, king and prophet, was moved to say: taste and see that the Lord is good.
Tuesday, August 24, 2010
The weakness of God is stronger than men
It was clear through unlearned men that the cross was persuasive, in fact, it persuaded the whole world. Their discourse was not of unimportant matters but of God and true religion, of the Gospel way of life and future judgment, yet it turned plain, uneducated men into philosophers. How the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and his weakness stronger than men!
In what way is it stronger? It made its way throughout the world and overcame all men; countless men sought to eradicate the very name of the Crucified, but that name flourished and grew ever mightier. Its enemies lost out and perished; the living who waged a war on a dead man proved helpless. Therefore, when a Greek tells me I am dead, he shows only that he is foolish indeed, for I, whom he thinks a fool, turn out to be wiser than those reputed wise. So too, in calling me weak, he but shows that he is weaker still. For the good deeds which tax-collectors and fishermen were able to accomplish by God’s grace, the philosophers, the rulers, the countless multitudes cannot even imagine.
Paul had this in mind when he said: The weakness of God is stronger than men. That the preaching of these men was indeed divine is brought home to us in the same way. For how otherwise could twelve uneducated men, who lived on lakes and rivers and wastelands, get the idea for such an immense enterprise? How could men who perhaps had never been in a city or a public square think of setting out to do battle with the whole world? That they were fearful, timid men, the evangelist makes clear; he did not reject the fact or try to hide their weaknesses. Indeed he turned these into a proof of the truth. What did he say of them? That when Christ was arrested, the others fled, despite all the miracles they had seen, while he who was leader of the others denied him!
How then account for the fact that these men, who in Christ’s lifetime did not stand up to the attacks by the Jews, set forth to do battle with the whole world once Christ was dead – if, as you claim, Christ did not rise and speak to them and rouse their courage? Did they perhaps say to themselves: “What is this? He could not save himself but he will protect us? He did not help himself when he was alive, but now that he is dead he will extend a helping hand to us? In his lifetime he brought no nation under his banner, but by uttering his name we will win over the whole world?” Would it not be wholly irrational even to think such thoughts, much less to act upon them?
It is evident, then, that if they had not seen him risen and had proof of his power, they would not have risked so much.
Saturday, August 21, 2010
The song of the Church
The collection of psalms found in Scripture, composed as it was under divine inspiration, has, from the very beginnings of the Church, shown a wonderful power of fostering devotion among Christians as they offer to God a continuous sacrifice of praise, the harvest of lips blessing his name. Following a custom already established in the Old Law, the psalms have played a conspicuous part in the sacred liturgy itself, and in the divine office. Thus was born what Basil calls the voice of the Church, that singing of psalms, which is the daughter of that hymn of praise (to use the words of our predecessor, Urban VIII) which goes up unceasingly before the throne of God and of the Lamb, and which teaches those especially charged with the duty of divine worship, as Athanasius says, the way to praise God, and the fitting words in which to bless him. Augustine expresses this well when he says: God praised himself so that man might give him fitting praise; because God chose to praise himself man found the way in which to bless God.
The psalms have also a wonderful power to awaken in our hearts the desire for every virtue. Athanasius says: Though all Scripture, both old and new, is divinely inspired and has its use in teaching, as we read in Scripture itself, yet the Book of Psalms, like a garden enclosing the fruits of all the other books, produces its fruits in song, and in the process of singing brings forth its own special fruits to take their place beside them. In the same place Athanasius rightly adds: The psalms seem to me to be like a mirror, in which the person using them can see himself, and the stirrings of his own heart; he can recite them against the background of his own emotions. Augustine says in his Confessions: How I wept when I heard your hymns and canticles, being deeply moved by the sweet singing of your Church. Those voices flowed into my ears, truth filtered into my heart, and from my heart surged waves of devotion. Tears ran down, and I was happy in my tears.
Indeed, who could fail to be moved by those many passages in the psalms which set forth so profoundly the infinite majesty of God, his omnipotence, his justice and goodness and clemency, too deep for words, and all the other infinite qualities of his that deserve our praise? Who could fail to be roused to the same emotions by the prayers of thanksgiving to God for blessings received, by the petitions, so humble and confident, for blessings still awaited, by the cries of a soul in sorrow for sin committed? Who would not be fired with love as he looks on the likeness of Christ, the redeemer, here so lovingly foretold? His was the voice Augustine heard in every psalm, the voice of praise, of suffering, of joyful expectation, of present distress.
Friday, August 20, 2010
I love because I love, I love that I may love
Love is sufficient of itself, it gives pleasure by itself and because of itself. It is its own merit, its own reward. Love looks for no cause outside itself, no effect beyond itself. Its profit lies in its practice. I love because I love, I love that I may love. Love is a great thing so long as it continually returns to its fountainhead, flows back to its source, always drawing from there the water which constantly replenishes it. Of all the movements, sensations and feelings of the soul, love is the only one in which the creature can respond to the Creator and make some sort of similar return however unequal though it be. For when God loves, all he desires is to be loved in return; the sole purpose of his love is to be loved, in the knowledge that those who love him are made happy by their love of him.
The Bridegroom’s love, or rather the love which is the Bridegroom, asks in return nothing but faithful love. Let the beloved, then, love in return. Should not a bride love, and above all, Love’s bride? Could it be that Love not be loved?
Rightly then does she give up all other feelings and give herself wholly to love alone; in giving love back, all she can do is to respond to love. And when she has poured out her whole being in love, what is that in comparison with the unceasing torrent of that original source? Clearly, lover and Love, soul and Word, bride and Bridegroom, creature and Creator do not flow with the same volume; one might as well equate a thirsty man with the fountain.
What then of the bride’s hope, her aching desire, her passionate love, her confident assurance? Is all this to wilt just because she cannot match stride for stride with her giant, any more than she can vie with honey for sweetness, rival the lamb for gentleness, show herself as white as the lily, burn as bright as the sun, be equal in love with him who is Love? No. It is true that the creature loves less because she is less. But if she loves with her whole being, nothing is lacking where everything is given. To love so ardently then is to share the marriage bond; she cannot love so much and not be totally loved, and it is in the perfect union of two hearts that complete and total marriage consists. Or are we to doubt that the soul is loved by the Word first and with a greater love?
Thursday, August 19, 2010
A flower grew up from the root of Jesse
To the angel’s greeting, with which we greet the blessed Virgin daily with such devotion as is granted us, we are accustomed to add, ‘and blessed is the fruit of thy womb.’ It was Elizabeth who, after she had been greeted by the Virgin, added these words, as though repeating the end of the angel’s salutation, ‘Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb.’ This is the fruit of which Isaiah speaks: ‘In that day the branch of the Lord shall be beautiful and glorious, and the fruit of the land shall be the pride and glory of the survivors of Israel.’ What else is this fruit but the holy one of Israel, himself the seed of Abraham, the Lord’s branch, and the flower growing up from the root of Jesse, the fruit of life which we share?
Blessed truly in the seed and blessed in the branch, blessed in the flower, blessed in his office, blessed in our thanksgiving and praise, Christ the seed of Abraham was made of the seed of David according to the flesh.
He alone among men is found perfected in every good, he who has been given the Spirit not by measure, so that he alone can fulfil all justice. His justice is sufficient for all peoples, according to the scriptures: ‘As the earth brings forth its shoot, and a garden makes its seed sprout up, so will the Lord bring forth justice and glory before all peoples.’ This is the shoot of justice which grows by blessing and is adorned by the flower of glory. And of what glory? A glory as sublime as can be imagined — indeed so sublime as cannot be imagined. For the flower grows up from the root of Jesse. To what height? To the highest possible point, since ‘Jesus Christ is in the glory of God the Father.’ His greatness is raised up above the heavens, so that he may be the Lord’s branch in magnificence and glory, and the fruit of the earth on high.
What fruit is there for us in this fruit? What else but the fruit of blessing from the blessed fruit? From this seed, this shoot, and this flower, proceeds the fruit of blessing; it reaches as far as ourselves: first, as it were the seed, through the grace of forgiveness; then, as in the shoot, through growth in righteousness; lastly, as in the flower, through the hope or the attaining of glory. For he is blessed by God, and in God — that is, so that God may be glorified in him; he is blessed also for us, so that blessed by him we may be glorified in him, since through the promise spoken to Abraham God gave him the blessing of all nations.
Tuesday, August 17, 2010
She was prepared by the Most High and prefigured by the patriarchs
There was only one mode of birth that was worthy of God, and that was to be born of a Virgin. Equally, who could come from a Virgin birth except God himself? The maker of mankind, if he was to be made man and destined to be born of man, would have to choose, to create a mother whom he knew to be worthy of him, who he knew would be pleasing to him.
It was his will that she should be a virgin, so that he could proceed from an unstained body, stainless, to purify mankind of its stains.
It was his will that she should be meek and humble of heart, since he was to become the outstanding example of these virtues, so necessary for the health of humanity. He granted childbirth to her, having first inspired her vow of virginity and filled her with the virtue of humility.
To put it another way, how could the Angel have addressed her as full of grace if any, even a little, of these virtues had been present in her already and not given to her by grace? It was given to her to be made holy. She, who was to conceive and give birth to the Holy of holies, was made holy in body by the gift of virginity and holy in mind by the gift of humility.
Adorned with the jewels of such virtues and radiant in both mind and body, the royal Virgin’s beauty draws the attention of the citizens of heaven itself, and its King is filled with desire for her and sends his messenger to her from on high.
The Angel was sent to the Virgin, it says. A virgin in body and a virgin in mind, a virgin by her own choice, a virgin, as the Apostle describes her, holy in mind and body. Not someone just now found by chance, but chosen from the beginning of time, foreseen and prepared by the Most High, waited upon by the angels, prefigured by the patriarchs, preached by the prophets
Monday, August 16, 2010
Fights without and fears within
The saints are caught up in a turbulent war of troubles, attacked at the same time by force and by persuasion. Patience is their shield against force, and doctrine makes the arrows that they shoot against persuasion.
See the skill with which they prepare themselves for both fights. The perversity within, they straighten out and teach and correct. The adversity without, they face and endure and suppress. They despise the enemies that come from outside to attack them, they resist them and stop them from subverting others. But to the weak and feeble citizens within they give compassion, afraid that they might otherwise lose the life of righteousness completely.
Let us look at St Paul, the soldier of God’s army, as he fights both enemies: as he says, quarrels outside, misgivings inside. He lists the enemies he has to resist: danger from rivers and danger from brigands, danger from my own people and danger from pagans, danger in the towns and danger in the open country, danger at sea and danger from so-called brothers. He lists the weapons he fires against them: I have worked and laboured, often without sleep; I have been hungry and thirsty and often starving; I have been in the cold without clothes.
In the middle of all these battles the army’s camp must still be patrolled and safeguarded: and, to leave out much more, there is my daily preoccupation: my anxiety for all the churches. You see how bravely he takes the war upon himself and how compassionately he devotes himself to keeping his neighbours safe. First he lists the evils he suffers, then he lists the good things he is giving.
Let us ponder what a burden it is to endure attacks from outside and at the same time to give protection to the weak inside. From without, he suffers attack: he is beaten, he is chained. From within, he endures fear: the fear that his sufferings might discourage not him, but his disciples. So he writes to them: Let no-one be unsettled by the present troubles: as you know, they are bound to come our way. In the middle of his own sufferings, it was the downfall of others that he feared: if they saw him being beaten because of his faith, they might hold back from professing that faith themselves.
What an immense love he has within him! He neglects what he himself is suffering and worries only that his disciples might suffer temptation because of it. He thinks nothing of the wounds of his body and he heals the wounds of other people’s hearts.
This is something characteristic of the righteous. Just because they suffer pain themselves it does not stop them caring for the needs of others. They grieve for themselves and the adversity they face but they still give the needed teaching to others. They are like some great doctor who is struck down by sickness: they endure their own wounds while giving healing medicines to their patients.
Sunday, August 15, 2010
Please Pray for Sister Barbara Massar, TOCD and Sister Marie Paz, erem dio. These sisters are making their vows today.
God bless you both
The Apostolic Constitution
of Pope Pius XII on the
Assumption of the Blessed
Your body is holy and glorious
In their sermons and speeches on the feast day of the Assumption of the Mother of God, the holy fathers and the great doctors of the church were speaking of something that the faithful already knew and accepted: all they did was to bring it out into the open, to explain its meaning and substance in other terms. Above all, they made it most clear that this feast commemorated not merely the fact that the blessed Virgin Mary did not experience bodily decay, but also her triumph over death and her heavenly glory, following the example of her only Son, Jesus Christ.
Thus St John Damascene, who is the greatest exponent of this tradition, compares the bodily Assumption of the revered Mother of God with her other gifts and privileges: It was right that she who had kept her virginity unimpaired through the process of giving birth should have kept her body without decay through death. It was right that she who had given her Creator, as a child, a place at her breast should be given a place in the dwelling-place of her God. It was right that the bride espoused by the Father should dwell in the heavenly bridal chamber. It was right that she who had gazed on her Son on the cross, her heart pierced at that moment by the sword of sorrow that she had escaped at his birth, should now gaze on him seated with his Father. It was right that the Mother of God should possess what belongs to her Son and to be honoured by every creature as the God’s Mother and handmaid.
St Germanus of Constantinople considered that the preservation from decay of the body of the Mother of God, the Virgin Mary, and its elevation to heaven as being not only appropriate to her Motherhood but also to the peculiar sanctity of its virgin state: It is written, that you appear in beauty, and your virginal body is altogether holy, altogether chaste, altogether the dwelling-place of God; from which it follows that it is not in its nature to decay into dust, but that it is transformed, being human, into a glorious and incorruptible life, the same body, living and glorious, unharmed, sharing in perfect life.
Another very ancient author asserts: Being the most glorious Mother of Christ our saviour and our God, the giver of life and immortality, she is given life by him and shares bodily incorruptibility for all eternity with him who raised her from the grave and drew her up to him in a way that only he can understand.
All that the holy fathers say refers ultimately to Scripture as a foundation, which gives us the vivid image of the great Mother of God as being closely attached to her divine Son and always sharing his lot.
It is important to remember that from the second century onwards the holy fathers have been talking of the Virgin Mary as the new Eve for the new Adam: not equal to him, of course, but closely joined with him in the battle against the enemy, which ended in the triumph over sin and death that had been promised even in Paradise. The glorious resurrection of Christ is essential to this victory and its final prize, but the blessed Virgin’s share in that fight must also have ended in the glorification of her body. For as the Apostle says: When this mortal nature has put on immortality, then the scripture will be fulfilled that says “Death is swallowed up in victory”.
So then, the great Mother of God, so mysteriously united to Jesus Christ from all eternity by the same decree of predestination, immaculately conceived, an intact virgin throughout her divine motherhood, a noble associate of our Redeemer as he defeated sin and its consequences, received, as it were, the final crowning privilege of being preserved from the corruption of the grave and, following her Son in his victory over death, was brought, body and soul, to the highest glory of heaven, to shine as Queen at the right hand of that same Son, the immortal King of Ages.