Friday, March 16, 2012

Wombs of Life: Various Stages of Transition

The "various stages of transition" that the pope speaks of is a really good way of expressing what I have been trying to say about "wombs of life".  This is from the Pope's Wednesday audience catechesis on March 14th 2012

Dear friends, human life passes through various stages of transition, often difficult and demanding, which require mandatory choices, sacrifices. The Mother of Jesus was placed by the Lord at the decisive moments of salvation history and has always been able to respond with full availability, the result of a deep relationship with God developed in assiduous and intense prayer. Between Good Friday and Easter Sunday, the Beloved disciple was entrusted to her, and with him the whole community of disciples (cf. Jn 19:26). Between Ascension and Pentecost, she is with and in the Church in prayer (cf. Acts 1.14). Mother of God and Mother of the Church, Mary exercises this motherhood until the end of history. We entrust to her every passing phase of our personal and ecclesial life, not least that of our final transit. Mary teaches us the necessity of prayer and shows us that only with a constant, intimate bond, full of love with her son can we emerge from "our house", by ourselves, with courage, to reach the ends of the world and proclaim everywhere the Lord Jesus, Saviour of the world.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Womb of Stone: Part I

In the second chapter of his 1st epistle, the Apostle Peter describes the way the Lord forms a people for himself as if it were in a womb of stone. He tells how in the purity and innocence of newborn babies we should desire the pure milk of the word of God and grow.

Therefore, laying aside all malice, all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and all evil speaking, as newborn babes, desire the pure milk of the word, that you may grow thereby, if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is gracious. Coming to Him as to a living stone, rejected indeed by men, but chosen by God and precious, you also, as living stones, are being built up a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ (1 Peter 2:1-3).

How do we become "living stones"? In Ezk. 36:26 the Lord tells his people, "I shall give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you. I shall take the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh." The NIV translates a similar text in Ezk. 11:19 as, "I will give them singleness
of heart." Jesus says that the single-hearted will see God in the Beatitudes in Mt. 5. We are to cast away all of our former transgressions as part of the process of our transformation in Jesus Christ (Ezk. 18:31). We lay aside our former ways. This is not something we do on our own. Only with cooperation on our part with God's freely offered unmerited gift of grace can we become living stones.

Therefore it is also contained in the Scripture,
“ Behold, I lay in Zion A chief cornerstone, elect, precious, And he who believes on Him will by no means be put to shame.” Therefore, to you who believe, He is precious; but to those who are disobedient,“ The stone which the builders rejected Has become the chief cornerstone,"and
“ A stone of stumbling And a rock of offense.” They stumble, being disobedient to the word, to which they also were appointed. But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; who once were not a people but are now the people of God, who had not obtained mercy but now have obtained mercy (1 Peter 2:6-10).

The world rejects Jesus Christ and all those who follow Him. Jesus was rejected but God made him the foundation and cornerstone of our lives--of our eternal lives. He is "precious" to us who believe and it is a marvel to behold the goodness of the Lord in our lives. God chose and predestined us in His Son Jesus Christ before the foundation of the world to be precious, living stones built on Him the true Rock and Foundation. In Matthew 16:18 Jesus tells Peter, "You are rock and upon this rock I will build my Church...and the very gates of hell shall not prevail against it." This is done by the Lord.
"Unless the LORD builds the house, its builders labor in vain" (Ps.127:1).

We, with the aid of God, build on the Rock of Jesus Christ. When we keep his commands we show that we love him and that we build our house on rock (Jn. 14:15, Mt. 7:24). We are able to withstand the crashing waves, the howling winds, the torrential rains, because we are built on rock and not shifting sands. God builds us up as precious living stones into a beautiful spiritual house. God the Father gave us His only Son Jesus Christ, who through His life, death, and resurrection has washed us making us without spot, blemish or wrinkle that he might present us to himself as a glorious bride and church (Eph 5:27). Fire will test each one's building on the last day. If we build with hay, straw, wood that will be consumed in the fire (1 Cor 3:9-17). If we build with gold, silver, and precious stones, our work will truly be built on the foundation of Jesus Christ and we will be God's holy temple in which the Spirit of God has been dwelling all along. The precious materials we build our house with are the spiritual sacrifices we have offered throughout our lives on earth. We will be free like our mother, the Jerusalem that is above (Gal 4:26). The heavenly Jerusalem contains the glory and light of God "like a most precious jasper stone, clear as crystal" (Rev 21:11;18-21).

We look to our mother the Blessed Virgin Mary as our example of someone who contained God's very self: Glory and Light Incarnate. She gave forth light to a world plunged into darkness: being precious jasper that is clear as crystal. Mary was a living stone in whom the Rock not made by human hands took form. More on this in Womb of Stone Part II

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Womb of the Baptistery

The Gospel for the first Sunday of Advent this year is from Matthew 24.  In it Jesus says that as in the days of Noah so too will it be when the Son of Man returns.  There will be marrying, eating, drinking and making merry.  There will be a new creation brought about through the destruction of the old heavens and the old earth.  Peter tells us that Noah's ark was a type pointing to baptism which saves us. (1 Peter 3:21).  We go down into the water of baptism united with Christ in his and death and burial, then we rise with Him in the new life of Resurrection and Grace.   Death is killed and sin is destroyed, now ourselves, but Christ lives in us (Gal. 2:20).

In the early Church, baptism was seen as a regeneration and resurrection.  The area where the baptismal fount was or the baptistery was seen as being a type of womb because of the rebirth in the Spirit and water that took place there.  In his book,  Ambrose of Milan's Method of Mystagogical Preaching, Craig A. Satterlee tells how St. Ambrose preached on this.

"Finally, in De Mysteriis, Ambrose asserts that in the blessing of the font, the Holy Spirit comes upon the font, or upon those receiving baptism, in the same way that the Holy Spirit came upon the Blessed Virgin Mary.  As the Holy Spirit brought forth a miraculous birth in the womb of the Virgin, so too in the womb that is the baptismal pool the Spirit brings forth the birth of a new creation in a miraculous way."

In the time of Noah the world was destroyed because of its wickedness through a great deluge; in the time of Christ's second coming, the world will pass away in fire according to Peter (2 Peter 3:10).
In the time of our baptism we received the Holy Spirit through water, when we celebrated our Confirmation we received the Holy Spirit through chrism and the laying on of hands.  We heard the reading from Acts of the Apostles of how fire descended upon the Apostles. 

In water and fire there is purification.  Water destroys impurity and washes it away.  Fire burns away stubble and chaff and is used to heat molten gold and silver so hot that the impurities of the dross rise to the surface to be removed (1 Peter 1:7).  The Holy Spirit wells up in us as living waters giving drink to a dry and thirsty world (John 4:14).  The Holy Spirit goes forth from our mouth in fire with the Word of God setting the world ablaze; baptizing, purifying, and Christening it. (Luke 12:49; Rev. 11:5).

Friday, May 14, 2010

Womb of Fire

Jesus said, "I have come to send fire on the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled!".  (Lk 12:49)
He also said, "If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father from heaven give the Holy Spirit to them that ask him?" (Lk. 11:13)  When we ask anything in Jesus name that is in accord with the will of the Father, He will give it to us.  How much more then should we be asking for the fire of the Holy Spirit to rain down upon us.

Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful and kindle in them the fire of your love.

V. Send forth your Spirit, and they shall be created.

R. And You shall renew the face of the earth. (Ps 104:30)

Let us pray.

O, God, who by the light of the Holy Spirit, did instruct the hearts of the faithful, grant that by the same Holy Spirit we may be truly wise and ever enjoy His consolations. Through Christ Our Lord. Amen.

Happy Pentecost!

Monday, March 15, 2010

Womb of the Wilderness Part II

"Remember not the former things, nor consider the things of old.  Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert. The wild beasts will honor me, the jackals and the ostriches; for I give water in the wilderness, rivers in the desert, to give drink to my chosen people, the people whom I formed for myself (in the womb of the wilderness) that they might declare my praise" (Is. 43:18-21)

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Womb of the Wilderness

     Lucifer and his angels rebelled against God when they saw a great sign in the heavens and were given to understand that God would become Incarnate through this Woman and that the greatest of angels would have to worship and serve God Incarnate as a lowly man.  Not only would he have to worship God Incarnate, he would also have to serve this Woman would be Queen of Heaven and of Earth by what the sign portended.  In addition the mystery was revealed to Lucifer that through the Incarnation, the weaker and inferior human creatures would be given a share in the very Life of God Himself. 

"Now a great sign appeared in heaven: a Woman, clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and with a crown of twelve stars on her head.  She was pregnant, and in labor, crying aloud in the pangs of childbirth.  Then a second sign appeared in the sky a huge red dragon which had seven heads and ten horns and each of the seven heads was crowned with a coronet.  Its tail dragged a third of the stars from the sky and dropped them to the earth, and the dragon stopped in front of the woman as she was giving birth to the child so he could devour it as soon as it was born from its mother.  The woman brought forth a male child into the world, the son who was to rule all the nations with an iron scepter, and the child was taken straight up to God and to his throne, while the woman escaped into the wilderness, where God had made a place of safety ready...And now war broke out in heaven, when Michael with his angels attacked the dragon.  The dragon fought back with his angels, but they were defeated and driven out of heaven.  The great dragon, the ancient serpent, known as the devil or Satan, who had deceived all the world, was hurled down to the earth and his angels with him... but for you earth and sea, trouble is coming-- because the devil has gone down to you in a rage because he knows his time is short.  As the devil found himself thrown down to the earth, he sprang in pursuit of the woman, the mother of the male child, but she was given a huge pair of eagle's wings to fly away from the serpent into the wilderness...Then the dragon was enraged with the woman and went away to make war on the rest of her children, that is all who obey God's commandments and bear witness for Jesus" (Rev. 12: 1-14,17).

     Adam and Eve sinned against God in the garden of Eden giving into the temptation of Satan.  They ate the forbidden fruit and brought spiritual and physical death on them and their descendants.

"I will put emnity between you and the Woman, your offspring and her offspring. He will crush your head, and you will strike at his heel" (Gen. 3:15b).

"So the Lord God expelled him from the garden of Eden, to till the soil from which he had been taken. He banished the man, and in front of the garden of Eden he posted the cherubs, and the flame of a flashing sword to guard the way to the tree of life" (Gen. 3:23-24).

     The pangs of birth and the struggle for power with her husband were given to the woman. The struggle to survive and tilling of a soil which would yield thistle and thorn against his efforts to bring about a fruitful harvest were given to the man. But when God cursed the serpent, he also blessed humanity promising a Redeemer.

"Yet God did make man imperishable, he made him in the image of his own nature; it was the devil's envy that brought death into the world, as those who are his partners will discover" (Wis. 2:23-24).

     Adam's descendants were fruitful and multiplied filling the earth, with sin and death accompanying them every step of the way. Through covenants with Noah, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; God began calling a people apart for himself. The descendants of Jacob were brought to Egypt through Joseph. After many years the Egyptians began to fear the Hebrews and they enslaved them. They were so afraid of them that the male child of every Hebrew was killed save one named Moses who was hidden from harm. He was raised as part of the Pharoah's own household. After killing an Egyptian task master for maltreating a Hebrew slave, Moses escaped to the wilderness of Midian where God called to him. God revealed his name to Moses and sent him back to bring the slaves of Egypt in the freedom of being God's people.

"God led the people by a roundabout way of the wilderness to the Sea of Reeds...The Lord went before them, by day in the form of a pillar of cloud to show them the way, and by night in the form of a pillar of fire to give them light, thus they could continue their march by day and by night" (Ex. 13:21-22).

    God took this stiff-necked people to be his own and through many trials in the wilderness, he made this people his own; making a covenant with them that he would never break. They complained against God and Moses several times. God took bitter water and made it sweet. God gave them manna--bread from heaven. Just as the serpent first tempted Adam and Eve with food, so it is the first thing that the Hebrews were tempted with and also the first thing Jesus is tempted with in the Gospel of Matthew. Does there seem to be a modus operandi here?

"Then Jesus was led by the Spirit out into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. He fasted for forty days and forty nights, after which he was very hungry,..." (Mt. 4:1-2a).
"Immediately afterward the Spirit drove him out into the wilderness and he remained there for forty days, and was tempted by Satan. He was with the wild beasts and the angels looked after him" (Mk. 1:12-13). 

"Filled with the Holy Spirit, Jesus left the Jordan and was led by the Spirit through the wilderness, being tempted there by the devil for forty days. During that time he ate nothing and at the end he was hungry" (Lk 4:1-2).
     Mark is silent about the temptations that Jesus underwent, but the Greek word 'ekballei' Mark uses is translated at drove or thrust force. After his baptism Christ is driven by the Spirit to begin his mission as redeemer and save what was lost by facing the ancient serpent. He is tempted to use his power to fill his own belly which would make him an enemy of the Cross (Phil 3:18) which he was born to take up. He is also tempted to adore Satan and receive power from Satan over all the kingdoms of the earth. Jesus rebukes him saying that the Lord God alone shall be worshiped. The angel Gabriel had told Mary that Jesus would sit on the throne of his father David forever. He is the Lamb of God who was found worthy to receive glory, laud, honor and power forever by God the Father. The fatherhood of Satan, a liar and murderer from the beginning (Jn 8:44) is rejected by Christ. Jesus was lastly tempted to put God to the test and cast himself off the top of the temple to see if the angels would really bear him up lest he dash his foot against a stone. Jesus quoted Deut 6:16 to Satan and said "You shall not temp the Lord your God." This referred back to the day when the people of Israel were departing the Wilderness of Sin and had no water and they wondered aloud if God was truly among them. God gave them water from the Rock to drink (Ex 17).

     The temptations Christ underwent in wilderness at the end of forty days of fasting shows Christ as the New Moses and the New Elijah. Moses spent forty days and forty nights on the mountain top in Exodus 24. Elijah fasted as he journeyed for forty days and forty nights through the wilderness to Mount Horeb to the Craig of Moses. Jesus is also the King of the Jews, the head of the people Israel who wandered for forty years in the wilderness. As the first born of all creation, he is every man and woman resisting temptation by denying the appetite that the rest of humanity had developed for sin. We were exiled to the spiritual Wilderness of Sin because of our sin. Jesus has led us out of the wilderness into the Promised Land of Salvation by overcoming Satan in every way. He is victorious over the world, the flesh and the devil and gives us by His Holy Spirit, His Blood and Water the power to overcome and cast out the accuser (1 Jn 5:8; Rev. 12:10-11). 

     Just as Jesus overcame Satan, so also to God's glory, Mary conceived without sin overcame him. Whenever and whereever the dragon has sat ready to devour the children of the Woman, she has been among her children nourishing them and teaching them of her firstborn Son. Through the midwifery of the Holy Spirit and Mary's intercessorial midwifery, Jesus Christ has come to be born in each child of the Woman, making them one in Jesus and therefore children of the Father. We are born from a womb of safety in the wilderness prepared for us by God.

     Whether Mary comes in extraordinary means such as at Lourdes, Fatima, or Rwanda to help prepare the people for a time of great suffering, or if she comes in the ordinary way of helping us to ponder the mysteries of the Gospel of the Rosary in our hearts she comes as our Mother. She comes as Mother who will not abandon her children to the dragon. The Woman of promise in Genesis 3 is the Woman crowned with the stars in Revelation 12 who has the head of the serpent and the moon under her feet. Though the dragon wages war on us her children, so we too wage war on him.

May "the God of peace ...soon crush Satan under your feet" (Rom. 16:20).
“For we contend not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, powers, the rulers of the darkness of this age and against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the high places” (Eph 6:12).

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Womb of Untimeliness

It seems that God's timing is always something that catches us off guard.  We get caught up in the cares of life such as what we are to eat, where we will get the money for bills, what we are to wear, etc...  Jesus tell us to seek first the kingdom of God and these things shall be added unto us. 

The prophet Hosea describes how the sin and iniquity of Ephraim was stored up against him.  He says, "The pangs of childbirth come for him, but he is an unwise son, for at the right time he does not present himself at the opening of the womb" (Hs. 13:13).  Ephraim had been making for himself idols and sacrificing children to Baal.  He did not remember that it was God who had been a faithful Redeemer; who had brought him from the land of Egypt.  The people had gotten away from remembering the Lord first in their daily lives.  How often I get away from remembering God first.  The difficulties in life and the increased pangs created by my own sins put me at odds with God.  I am not where God wants me.  God wants me at the opening of the womb of life ready for his light, life, and love to both bring me forth in birth and to be born from me.
Instead I am unable to see what God wants to do in my life because I am as blind, mute, and deaf as the sins and idols I worship.

God goes on to say through Hosea, "Shall I ransom them from the power of Sheol?  Shall I redeem them from Death?  O Death, where are plagues?  O Sheol, where is your destruction?  Compassion is hid from my eyes" (Hs. 13:14).  Ephraim's punishment is declared and the hot breath of God shall dry up his springs and his land shall be stripped of its treasure.  Samaria is told that her people will fall by the sword, her children will be dashed to pieces, and her pregnant women ripped open. (Hs. 13:15-16).

The wages of sin is death.  It is more than just physical death, but also spiritual death.  The light, life, and love of God which are in us are aborted by mortal sin.  We are ripped open and the good things that God wants to be born in and through us are dashed to pieces.  We are spiritually slaughtered.  Those in the family and community around us are also hurt by our sins.  However, we are not without hope of salvation.

 There is a Greek Syriac manuscript of  verse 13 which uses the words, "I will be" in place of the word "where".  Rendered that way the passage reads:  "O Death, I will be your plague.  O Sheol, I will be your destruction."

The Greek Orthodox Study Bible quotes St. Jerome in a foot note to this passage as follows: 

"Moreover the Lord liberated everyone, and redeemed them through the suffering of the Cross and the shedding of His blood, when His soul descended into Hades, and He did not experience corruption to His flesh; and He speaks of the death itself as well as Hades: 'I will be your death, O Death!'  For that reason I have died so that you may die through My death.  'I will be your death, O Hades' for you devoured all with your throat."

When Christ descended to hell, he broke the very jaws of death, and when he rose from the dead, he was victorious over the grave.  In the book of Revelation, Jesus refers to himself saying, "Fear not, I am the first and the last, and the living one: I died, and behold I am alive evermore and I have the keys of Death and Hades" (Rev. 1:17b-18).

The Apostle Paul illustrates Christ's victory over sin and death in telling of his own salvation.

"For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures,  that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures,
and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve.  Then he appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep.  Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles.  Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me.  For I am the least of the apostles, unfit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God.  But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God which is with me (1 Cor. 15:3-11).

Paul calls his conversion an "untimely" birth.  Despite his great sins as a persecutor of Christ and his Church, God had mercy on him and saved him through grace.  God then had a mission for Paul to the Gentiles.  Paul, by grace, was able to present himself at the opening of the womb of God's plan.  God's plan for Saul to be born again as Paul was in God's time (kairos), not his time (chronos). For God, "Now is the acceptable time and now is the day of salvation" (2 Cor: 6:2, Is. 49:8).

Paul goes on to explain the mystery of the resurrection of the dead and how the last enemy to be destroyed will be death (v. 26).   "When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written:  'Death is swallowed up in victory.'  'O death, where is your victory?  O death, where is your sting?'" (vv. 55-56). 

May we all be wise children ready to present ourselves at the opening of the next womb that God has ready for us.