“Sacrifice and offering you did not desire,
but a body you prepared for me;
in holocausts and sin offerings you took no delight.
Then I said, ‘As is written of me in the scroll,
behold, I come to do your will, O God.’”
-Excerpted – Hb. 10:4-10
The Annunciation… absolutely my favorite Marian feast. It’s all about the coming of the body of Christ into the world. It’s the very first instant, the very first moment when Jesus takes flesh in the womb of the Virgin Mary, by the Holy Spirit.
One Body… Three Bodies..
It was only through this Body of Jesus that we could be saved. No other body ever created could satisfy the Divine Justice of the Father, expiating our sins.
“Sacrifice and offering you did not desire, but a body you prepared for me.”
And in the instant that this body, his body, comes into the world, another person’s body is intimately wrapped up with it… The body of Mary: “Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son…” A prayerful young woman receives her mission from God, doing so with perfect submission and self-gift even to the point of bearing a child! “Sacrifice and offering you did not desire, but a body you prepared for me.” This is the ultimate act of worship. And also of holy imitation… because if the Son himself was pleased to descend from heaven and take up a place in the mortal world, sacrificing his body for the sake of the Father’s love… then why should we humans be any different?
And here we find a third body: The Mystical Body of Christ which is the Church. We are called on this Feast… and so appropriately duing Lent… we are called to offer up our whole selves in imitation, in worship… in union with the body of Jesus. We strive during this holy season to make our own bodies more and more like unto his by fasting prayer and almsgiving… by healthy self-possession and self-gift to place ourselves on the Cross with him so we may one day find ourselves with him in heaven. “Sacrifice and offering you did not desire, but a body you prepared for me.”
On the Annunciation, how can we look more and more like the flesh, like the Body of Christ? Blessed John Henry Cardinal Newman may give us some pointers.
Three Guide Posts to Intimacy with the Flesh of Christ
In his Meditations and Devotions, Bl. Cardinal Newman prays over the titles of Mary from her Litany. Among the tiles he associates with the Annunciation are: Mother of the Creator, Mother of Christ, and Mother of the Savior. These titles may can guide us to a closer union with our Lord this feast day and this Lent.
Mother of the Creator – As the Word, Jesus is the creative principle of God. He was sent forth at the beginning of time to create all things. He is a life giver! He is celebration! If, in our lives we are not life-giving, celebratory people, we are doing something wrong! Be a people of life and of joy!!
Mother of Christ – The Christ is precisely the “anointed” one. Anointed for what? In Isaiah we find two strong guide posts. The Anointed one is here to proclaim good news to the poor, healing to the brokenhearted liberty to captives…(Is 61). In other words, he is here to spread word of the great things God has done. The anointed one is also here to offer himself in sacrifice as the suffering servant (Is. 53). A prophet of good news… and a living sacrifice for the sake of love… that’s what we are called to be. Do I speak the GOOD news often? Do I give myself completely for God? Or do I reserve parts of my heart just for me?
Mother of the Savior – Newman describes the Savior as the one who fights for his people, to free them from oppression. But what kind of warriors does God bless? Let’s look to God’s greatest warrior, the one who was a prefigurement for Jesus himself: King David. As a young man fighting for his life, David had a chance to kill his enemy, King Saul (I Sam 24), but he didn’t. David would not touch the one whom God had made king of his people. Again, in later life, when David’s own son Absalom raises a rebellion against him: a soldier think he will please David by killing Abasalom (II Sam 18). Far from pleased, David mourns the death of his child. In both cases, God’s saving warrior David keeps his focus where it belongs, on the providential plan of God… not on his own safety, or even his own suffering. Likewise us: if we are to be close to the flesh of the savior, we need to keep our focus outside ourselves, to save the world through fidelity to the Father…and not to our own visions of what should or shouldn’t be.
This Lent… This Annunciation, draw close to the Flesh of Christ, which first entered the womb of Mary on this night so long ago. Mary, Mother of God, pray for us!
A Homily for Quinquagesima Sunday
Readings: I Cor 13:1-13 and Lk 18:31-43
“We see now through a glass in a dark manner: but then face to face…”
Paul sets up our meditation perfectly. In these last days leading up to Lent, Lord we pray for sight… and not just any sight, but specifically Lord we pray for sight that is qualified by your Love, your charity, caritas. Lent being a time of moral renewal, our plea finds special importance on the threshold of Ash Wednesday. “The practice of all the virtues is animated and inspired by charity, which ‘binds everything in perfect harmony;’ it is the form of the virtues; it articulates and orders them among themselves; it is the source and goal of Christian practice.” (CCC 1826)
Man has always been able to practice some degree of charity… at the level of nature, we are unique among animals in our capacity for chosen self-sacrifice. Under the old covenant of course a great degree of charity was possible under the Law, but as our Lord demonstrates over and over again, that was hardly a guarantee. And so we saw darkly as through a glass.
This issue of sight and partial sight also casts charity, and today’s readings as a Kingdom issue: In the Kingdom of this world, illumined as we are by partial charity… we see dimly… but in the Kingdom of heaven we will see as “face-to-face,” our faces and the face of God clearly illumined by the perfect reign of his love. In Jesus this Kingdom becomes present on earth… He incarnates the Charity that should illuminate and guide his Church until he comes again. It’s a charity marked neither by fear, nor by the promise of gain, but rather a charity a Love observed for its own sake. As St. Basil says in his Rule, “If we turn away from evil out of fear of punishment, we are in the position of slaves. If we pursue the enticement of wages we resemble mercenaries. Finally, if we obey for the sake of the good itself and out of love for him who commands us we are in the position of children.”
That same Lord who illumines our practice of Charity gives us a shining example today… And perhaps, as we approach Lent we might consider the unexpected ways Charity can work.
First, there’s the blind man himself. St. John Chrysostom says so beautifully, “it is a source of wonder to reflect, by what inspiration did this blind man, who had not read the Law, nor scanned the Prophets, neither had he yet read the Gospels nor had he been confirmed by the apostles, should so address the Savior of mankind and say to him, ‘Son of David have mercy on me.’” The Love of God was present in this man: this man whose blindness condemned him as cursed, whose blindness mad him shunned by polite society. The Love of God was present in this man giving him a sight that so many with healthy eyes could not enjoy. Perhaps it was a desperate love, perhaps it was only yet a desirous love, but it was planted in his soul and gave him enough light to sense the Son of David, the Messiah when he was near.
We don’t always take time to think about this. So many of our neighbors suffer the effects of a secular world. In their suffering, in their outcries, echo the hunger for something more their desire for charity… Love has a place in those hearts and like Christ we can be there to fan that light into a flame. And that’s the other part… Our Lord constantly had ears and a sacred heart attentive to the cries of sinners, the outcasts, the cursed. He was always ready to take the time to listen… take the time to know and love his Creatures… and then to instruct them as they truly needed. In addition to today’s encounter with the blind man, consider the rich young man, “Jesus looked at him and loved him”…then instructed him. I think we jump at the opportunity to instruct… but that earlier step… taking time to listen, to know, and to love… that can be where we fall short. But our Lord illumines the path before us… incarnating this process he teaches us that taking that time is what we MUST do so that love may come first and guide all the other virtues that follow.
If we can begin, this Lent, to follow Christ’s example that much more deeply. To hear love present in the sinners’ cries, and to love them as he did, then we can truly claim to have been illumined by Him and to be part of that Kingdom where St. Augustine tells us, “we shall rest and see, we shall see and love, we shall love and praise. Behold what will be at the end without end. For what other end do we have, if not to reach the kingdom which has not end.”
On the homilies page (see above):
IV Sunday of Advent – Renewing our Worship by offering up our bodies… why the body matters to spiritual life.
Christmas – The unfinished work of building the manger: The Gospel of Christ vs. The Gospel of Caesar
advent week i – wednesday
Silence and Listening
Advent Week I – tuesday
The Sacred Act – How He Trusts Us!
In today’s Gospel, Jesus praises the Father:
“I give you praise, Father, Lord of heaven and earth,
for although you have hidden these things
from the wise and the learned
you have revealed them to the childlike.
And this is the crux of Fr. Guardini’s meditation on the nature of our sacred act. Throughout natural history, man has responded to God action in the world. In salvation history, more specifically, God takes initiative and invites man to build an altar of sacrifice after encountering him. God has, throughout time, invited us to partake in covenants responding to him. With the coming of Christ though, something changes. The covenant tools he gives us, the sacraments, aren’t bound to a calendar date, but only to doing what we do in memory of him. Jesus has given man the capacity to initiate a sacred act… He has made us, in the words of St. Paul, “stewards of the mysteries of God.” (I Cor 4).
Whether our role in these mysteries is as part of the ordained priesthood of the clergy or the royal priesthood of the faithful, what an awesome responsibility we have to engage in sacred actions well. To use the words of the Second Vatican Council, we are called to engage in “full, active and conscious participation.” (“participatio actuoso”). Now this does not mean being overly raucous or effusive in worship, but rather taking it seriously… engaging with our full selves, SEVEN DAYS-A-WEEK… since – after all – our sacred acts are not specifically bound by time any more…
Do I give worship my all? Do I pray conscientiously, meditatively at home using Scripture and the lives of the saints to guide me? Do I confess regularly to prepare myself for mass? Do I attend mass fully engaged from my dress to my decorum to my attentive prayer and offering of the week’s work to the Lord? Good questions as we engage in sacred action and renew our worship this Advent.
Advent Week I – Monday
Expectation as a starting point for renewing worship
Do I expect the Lord. As Father Romano Guardini – a wonderful forerunner of the Second Vatican Council – points out in his excellent book Meditations Before Mass, expectation is a key component of worship. Certainly, today’s Advent Scriptures bear this out (Is 2:1-5). How often we hear Isaiah’s words, “In days to come…” or, “On that day…”. Throughout Advent, the prophets expect the coming of Jesus in time at Bethlehem. We expect him in our prayer life, and in the sacraments. BUT… do we look forward to and expect him at the end of our lives… at the end of time? Jesus tells us the fullness of the Kingdom is coming… and that the Son of Man will return on that day, but do we really expect that? The rapid fire Christian response is, “of course we do.” But our lives don’t always bear this out.
The first generation of Christians believed that Jesus would return in person, in their own lifetimes. St. Paul’s letters testify to this imminent sense of expectation. As time went on, our ancestors settled in for a longer haul. Still, a deep sense of Jesus’ personal concern for us, and hope that he would be part of our future, deeply marked the experience of the early Church. This sense was very much in display at the time of the Roman persecutions. Only people who fully expect to see the Lord on the other side of death can readily walk into the arena and face the lions with hymns of praise. Expectation was at the foundation of the Christian emotional experience when our ancestors worshipped.
As Fr. Guardini points out however, a subtle shift happened when Christianity became not only legal, but the official religion of the Empire after Constantine. Suddenly, there was security… and the desperate need to look for Christ, the yearning to see him at the end of our lives and the end of time… it all began to cool. To co-opt a contemporary ministry slogan: worship became a mater of daily maintenance instead of daily mission. Going to mass became simply “what we do,” instead of a matter of life and death on which all hope rides.
It’s a worthwhile question to explore: Do I expect Jesus… in my life? after my death? at the end of all time? Looking to and renewing our worship this Advent can be a great way to check-in on this question, and begin to address is for the future.
Consider these words, the verses of the ancient Latin hymn for Monday Morning Prayer during Advent:
Hark, a herald voice is calling;
“Christ is nigh,” it seems to say;
“Cast away the dreams of darkness,
O ye children of the day.”
Startled at the solemn warning,
Let the earth-bound soul arise;
Christ, her sun, all sloth dispelling,
Shines upon the morning skies.
Lo, the Lamb, so long expected,
Comes with pardon down from heaven;
Let us haste, with tears of sorrow,
One and all to be forgiven.
So when next he comes with glory,
Wrapping all the earth in fear,
May he then as our defender
On the clouds of heaven appear.
Honour, glory, virtue, merit,
To the Father and the Son,
With the co-eternal Spirit,
While eternal ages run.
During the season of Advent, the Church prepares to worship the Christ Child in the manger with Mary, Joseph and the shepherds. It’s fitting then that the Church traditionally turns an eye toward her worship practices during this holy season. And I’d propose, as a start to our considerations, that worship begins with receptivity.
On our own, human beings don’t have much that God wants. Throughout the Psalms the Lord reminds us that he made everything, so our earthly activities -unto themselves- don’t mean much. The meaningful gift that we give to God in sacred worship must come from him, grow to perfection in us under his guidance and then be rendered back to him as a gift. Put another way, in the words of St. John, “The Love of God consists in this, not that we have loved him, but that he loved us first and sent his Son as expiation for our sins.” (I Jn. 4:10).
Certainly, receptivity marks Advent in a particular way. On the coming feast of the Immaculate Conception, we recognize the gift of Christ received by Mary in anticipation of what he would do for us. Throughout this month we’ll think about how Mary received the Word, the Son into her womb. We might even hear a bit about Elizabeth and Zechariah who received John the Baptist in a miraculous conception during Elizabeth’s old age. Aside from these births unto themselves, we also see in these figures people who were receptive of God’s plan, God’s timeline rather than their own. …And by that receptivity they launched the New Covenant.
Our Lord himself, though he needed nothing, received loving kindness from God his Father all those times he “went off to a lonely place to pray.” Receiving and doing the Father’s will was the Lord’s sustenance (Jn 4:34). And as if to highlight this reality by contrast, at the height of his earthly ministry, the Passion, one of the most striking facets of the experience is precisely that Christ seemed to have lost all perception of the Father’s consolations, experiencing – as St. John of the Cross would name it – a dark night of the soul on the Cross.
Receptivity is the beginning of worship!
But here’s the challenge: Receptivity demands of us, has built into it, vulnerability. In today’s first (EF) reading from Romans, St. Paul advises us to rise up and put on the armor of light (Rm 13:12). He doesn’t tell us to put on the armor of steel or of silver, but of light. What’s that supposed to do for us? The armor of light is our ticket to Resurrection. It means, like Jesus, we are called to be receptive to God’s grace… and to the nails, and to the thorns… and to the lance in our side. Like Christ though, these wounds don’t have to stop us. Resurrection isn’t just for the end of time. We experience little deaths through life… we also experience little resurrections. And with each new experience of the Cross, our confidence grows in the next resurrection… so that one day we’ll be ready to face physical death itself. But we must let our hearts be vulnerable. There’s the rub…
Human hearts, when wounded, tend to get hard, or “stony,” as the Gospel says. Stony hearts are ok at fending off more wounds, but they never let in healing… and they never leave us open to wonderful new possibilities. Overtime they end up hurting us more than protecting us. We’ve all been there. AND… thanks be to God , we have wonderful examples of the kind of hearts God wants for us: The Immaculate Heart of Mary, pierced by seven swords; and the Sacred Heart of Jesus, aflame with love, crowned with thorns.
In my own life I’ve experienced both a stony heart and a fleshy one. Let me tell you, much as it hurts sometimes, the fleshy heart is better because it’s alive… it’s moving forward, pushing me on pilgrimage toward heaven.
So this first week of Advent, put a special emphasis on receptivity. It asks a lot of us, but it promises a hundredfold reward. Blessed Advent everyone!
I guess I’ve been on a bit of a translation kick lately, but it’s rocking my prayer life in a really good way!
Meditating on the psalms of Morning Prayer today I came across a phrase that always sticks in my mind… and beautifully so:
“This is what causes me grief, that the way of the Most High has changed…” (Ps. 76 :11)
Now that’s the English Translation in the Breviary. Both the vulgate and the neo-vulgata Latin render the verse thus:
Et dixi “Hoc vulnus meum, mutatio dexterae Excelsci.“
And I said, “This is my wound/my vulnerability, a change in the right hand of the Most High.”
The modern English isn’t bad… there’s certainly a legitimate understanding that the Right Hand of the Lord guides things in his way… but simply saying “the way” of the Lord removes from this Psalm so much beautiful color!
The right hand of the Lord is his strength… the saving strength that brought his people out of Egypt. That right hand has lifted us up with paternal strength and tenderness. If it goes… it’s not just that his way has changed, but that God is no longer capable… his strength is gone… and so we are made vulnerable… Vulnerability is grief, to be sure, but it’s a specific kind of grief: personal, visceral, at the level of survival.
This beautiful little verse is all about CONFIDENCE in God’s ability to be God. That sense is only confirmed as we read on “I remember the deeds of the Lord, I remember your wonders of old, I muse on all your works and ponder your mighty deeds.” By going back to the good old days, the Psalmist’s confidence is renewed, and with it his faith.
At a time when Pew reports that American’s confidence in the Pope’s handling of sex abuse-related issues has plummeted… and likewise when confidence in the US Bishops is at an all time low… when many fear for the unity and sustainability of the Church… the right reading of the Psalms lifts me up and gives me what I need this morning to go forward. If you’re feeling vulnerable… turn to the right hand of the Lord… it’s always been there for us and it always will.
Inspired by my friends The Suspicious Cheese Lords and their preparations for singing a motet and mass based on this text, I offer the following reflection:
Illumina oculos meos, ne unquam obdormian in morte,
Nequando dicat inimicus meus, “Praevalui adversus eum.” -Ps. 13:4-5
Illumine my eyes, that I sleep not in death.
Lest my enemy say, “I have prevailed against him.”
Have you ever walked into a really beautiful cathedral? Dappled light floods the space translated, sanctified by stained glass windows. Candles flicker, reflecting their humble light off mosaics and polished stone. It’s a different sort of light, the light that fills these hallowed spaces. It’s translated, enhanced, reengineered -as it were- for a special task; it lights not only the path of our five senses, it illumines the inner darkness, inspiring and empowering us to continue on the path to heaven. St. Paul strikes the right note when he writes to the Ephesians, “May the eye of your hearts be enlightened that you may know what is the hope that belongs to [Christ’s] call, what are the riches of glory in his inheritance among the holy ones.” (Eph. 1:18) The cathedral experience manifests the experience of the human person each and every day.
St. Gregory of Nyssa gives dramatic context to this moment. He describes our illuminative experiences in relation to Moses (Ex. 3). Called by God, Moses leaves his sheep to discover the famed burning bush. The wonder of the moment enthralls him: what is this bush burning yet not destroyed? And in the wonder of that moment he begins to speak with the Most High about the incredible direction his life would take. St. Gregory calls this precisely the, “illuminative phase,” of prayer… the first stage of our encounter with the God who is Love and Life. Unlike St. Ignatius who insists on a first “purgative” phase in which suffering clears our spiritual palate, Gregory suggests that it is first and foremost love and through wonder that inspire us to put aside all other cares in order to follow God. And isn’t this just the dynamic that St. John describes in his first letter (4:11) “In this is love, not that we have loved God, but that he loved us first and sent his son as expiation for our sins.” Such is the illumination the Father desires for our souls.
We experience this holy light, not only in the noble architecture of our columns, arches and galleries, but preeminently in the rites of sacred worship: that divine work on earth known as the liturgy. At holy mass we are transported from the earthly the to the heavenly. The triumphal procession of the ministers is not a triumph over earthly powers, but over death itself. The lights of the candles enter the sanctuary and us… A single cantor calls out, “Kyrie eleison”… that one voice pierces our awareness, inviting us to realize our sins and failings… to consciously invite more light into our hearts. Light does not hesitate; it explodes on the scene in the Gloria and… and as our inner eyes adjust to their newly bright surroundings they gradually perceive the Word in all its splendor, detailing in human terms the awesome contours of the Father’s merciful love for us. Thus emboldened by the light, the faithful dare to make a response: sacrifice. The mass of the catechumens gives way to the mass of the faithful as those who have learned the Love of God now make a return to him, offering up their lives, praying for yet more light and strength to press on toward heaven. On the Fourth Sunday After Pentecost that offering begins right where we began today, Illumina oculos meos, ne unquam obdormian in morte, nequando dicat inimicus meus, “Praevalui adversus eum.”
Like Moses, we can’t stay with the burning bush forever. We must eventually leave the comfort of illumination and return to the world. This, St. Gregory calls the purgative phase. With Moses we cross the desert and climb the holy Mountain surrounded by a cloud. The journey will be difficult. We will trip. Thorns may tear at our flesh, but for all the pain, we know that the cloud is precisely the manifestation of God’s presence… and when doubt assails us on the journey we can always return to that first illumination. It happened, it was real. The truth of it does not change. It keeps us going until we reach the fullness of God’s presence atop the mount, becoming one with him in the unitive phase. Illumina oculos meos, ne unquam obdormian in morte, nequando dicat inimicus meus, “Praevalui adversus eum.” And how apropos of the divine symmetry that what began with the light of the burning bush should end with Moses staring directly at the presence of God… a God who’s Love is so brilliant it illumines the prophet’s face… illumines it so much so that he must wear a veil the rest of his life lest he blind his fellow man… Illumination, Purgation, Unity manifest by a change/conversion of life. “Late have I loved thee, beauty ever ancient, ever new.” “Illumine my eyes O Lord!”
One of my favorite places in all of DC is Dumbarton Oaks. The most recent owners of the famed Georgetown mansion and gardens were the Bliss Family who punctuated the gardens with their family credo, “Quod severis metes.” (What you sow you shall reap) in mosaics and even topiary throughout the property. I’ve been thinking about that as I read this coming Sunday’s readings in both the Extraordinary Form (Latin) and the Ordinary Form (English).
In the Latin readings for this Sunday we hear, “For what a man sows in the flesh, from the flesh also will reap corruption.” (cf Gal. 5:25-6:10). In the English readings we hear, “Humbly welcome the word that has been planted in you and is able to save your souls.” (cf Jas. 1:17-27). Finally, in the English Gospel we hear, “Hear me, all of you, and understand.
Nothing that enters one from outside can defile that person; but the things that come out from within are what defile” (Mk 7). Only the Word of Jesus… the Living Word preserved in Scripture and Tradition brings about unbounded life. Anything that comes from me will always be corrupted, ultimately limited by my own human sinfulness. Often today we lay blame for our personal issues at the world around us, or at what other people may have done to us: “There’s just so much suggestive imagery out there, I couldn’t help it.” Or “Well, if you knew what my mom did to me as a teenager…”. Certainly our external circumstances – whether they be the images that surround us or the details of our past – have an immense effect on us. But ultimately, if we want to be happy, we need to follow Jesus’ Word today, because all that is from outside can eventually pass through us… it’s what we choose to originate, or what we allow to fester for that matter, that determines whether we will be happy or not. As Shakespeare put is, “The fault is not in our stars…” (Julius Caesar)
A couple of years ago I was in a very politically-charged parish. Each week I’d inevitably get beaten up by a few parishioners for either being too strong or too soft on an issue. Didn’t matter what the issue was you were always going to hear about it from someone. I was down and my Pastor noticed. He asked me what was going on and I told him. His response, “That’s fine, but what are YOU going to do about it?” In my prayer, I started focusing less on the outer circumstances and more on the inner… and not so much on my own feelings (though those were taken into account) but on what Christ was doing for me and with me each day… His Word planted in me. Life became sunnier day-by-day, week-by-week and soon ministry opportunities were blossoming left and right and I was visibly joyous.
We’re surrounded by a lot of outer circumstances in Church life right now. What are YOU going to do about it? Over the last week I’ve gotten some wonderful offers of help and volunteerism from folks. We need more!! A group of young professional men are getting together to form a men’s group to grow in their Catholic identity. Amazing!! A woman approached me about entering the Church and asked if her instruction could take place in the context of a small group with her and her friends. ABSOLuTELY. Jesus has planted a Word in each of these folks’ hearts… and he’s planting one in yours. Water it, let it grow and let’s see what happens. If each of us engages this process we can grow a joyful helpful and worshipful community here at St. Mary’s for our good, our neighbors’ and for the Glory of God!
Fr. De Rosa
This Sunday I preached at both or parish’s EF (Latin) mass with its readings, and our OF (English) mass with its.
At the EF mass we meditated on serving the One True God and not the false gods of our passions. In the present moment that means channeling those passions through the lens of our prayer and our reason to address needed reforms in the Church in positive effective ways. I also discussed practical concrete considerations and examples:
At the OF Mass I talked about how Jesus invites us into nuptial relationship with him, whether through the sacrament of marriage or celibate Holy Orders. The witness offered by both forms of nuptial giving is an essential witness to hope for the world… demonstrating -on the one hand- the Trinitarian love of God hasn’t abandoned us… and on the other the infinite possibilities of original solitude wherein God is the spouse of the soul. Both forms of nuptial love remind us that with God ALL things are possible… and to lose either form of love in the life of the Church would be to limit God’s capacity to help us.